Jerusalem's Deep Divide

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Jerusalem's Deep Divide

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Overshadowed by the passage of a health care bill this week was the growing rift between the United States and the state of Israel over plans to continue building additional housing in portions of Jerusalem long contested between the Israelis and Arabs.

The problems erupted a couple of weeks ago while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel at the same time the planned expansion was announced. This created an embarrassing furor. This week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington and held more than three hours of private talks on Tuesday with President Obama.

At issue is not only this planned housing expansion, but also the special alliance between the two countries. America has been Israel's biggest supporter, something that takes its toll on American relations in the Arab world. Israel will push ahead with its housing plans, but it cannot afford to lose America's support.

I have been watching this carefully. In recent trips to Israel I have clearly seen the growth of the city and the new housing springing up in disputed neighborhoods. I have a personal interest because I spent a summer living in one of the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, which is now the focus of this expansion. In the Sheik Jarrah section sits the now abandoned Shepherd Hotel where, in 1971, I lived while working on an archaeological dig. The building is slated to be torn down and a 20-unit apartment complex is due to be built by a wealthy Jew from New York.

Since 1967 Jerusalem has been a unified city under Israeli control. During the period it has gone through unprecedented growth while being the focus of religious and ethnic strife. It is the capital of Israel while Palestinians want part of the city to form the capital of their independent state. It is an impenetrable conflict that threatens the stability of the region, which is always on the verge of a wider conflict. What began as a conflict between two peoples has become a clash of civilizations.

Regardless of how one falls in the arguments between Palestinians and Israelis, and I have personally heard the stories of both Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlers, there is the undeniable fact that since 1967 all major faiths have had access to the religious and historical shrines of the city. If you go to Jerusalem as a tourist today, you can visit the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and other sites throughout the city virtually unencumbered. You could not do this before 1967. It is now an open city. But it is also a city of dispute and contention because of the politics and religious tension.

Jerusalem today is far from being the "City of Truth" (Zechariah 8:3). It is still a "heavy stone" before the nations (Zechariah 12:3). It is a city I love to visit and one in which I feel safe and quite comfortable. Jerusalem gets in your blood and excites the senses. It takes nothing more than a walk through the narrow streets of the Old City or across its sprawling hills to see why it has been a magnet through the centuries for pilgrims and prophets and all who seek to understand God's will on earth.

Jewish tradition calls Jerusalem the center of the world. One day it will indeed be the center of a world at peace under the reign of Jesus Christ the Messiah. All nations will stream to it to learn of God's eternal way of truth (Isaiah 2:3).

God speed the day when Jerusalem truly becomes the City of Peace.

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