For Jerusalem: Answer to Elie Wiesel
by Rev. Frank Julian Gelli
Dear Mr Wiesel,
Your impassionate For Jerusalem plea in that bible of corporate America, The Wall Street Journal, prompts me to address you. A man of your awesome moral fame – a ‘messenger to mankind’, as the Nobel Prize people termed you – demands proper attention. For that reason, however, the message you bear calls for scrutiny, lest, God forbid, should the bearer himself incur moral censure.
‘For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics’, you declare. As a priest, a messenger of peace, I could not agree more. But you add that Jerusalem ‘belongs to the Jewish people’. Astonishing. Because that is an exquisitely political statement. To belong to means to be the property of someone. Jerusalem belongs to, is the property of the state of Israel, you therefore must mean – unless some occult, cabbalistic meaning is intended. How can you then say that Jerusalem is above politics? You are contradicting yourself, methinks. Being illogical is not being unethical, no. Just a little intellectually inconsistent. Join the club – but, from a messenger to mankind I would expect a tad more rigour.
Jerusalem ‘is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture – and not a single time in the Koran’ you assert, inferring politics straight from theology. Puzzling contention. Because statistical and numerical arguments are tricky. Consider: Mecca, the holiest city of Islam, is named explicitly only twice in the whole Qur’an – a third time under the name of ‘Bakka’. Would you then conclude that Mecca is only of minor importance to Muslim? Absurd.
Further, you seem less than knowledgeable about the Muslims’ holy book. Jerusalem is mentioned in the Qur’an. Not directly, by name, but implicitly, by description. In one of the most famous passages in the book:
‘Glory to him who took his servant for a journey by night from the sacred mosque to the farthest mosque’ 17:1 – a surah appropriately named ‘the Children of Israel’. ‘The farthest mosque’ – masjid al-Aqsa - here refers to the site of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. From which Muhammad began his Mi’raj, a night journey to Heaven. A miraculous event that Muslims joyfully celebrate every year. It makes Jerusalem the third holy city of Islam, after Mecca and Medina.
Anyway, if it is explicit and direct references to Jerusalem you seek, you will find many in the hadith, the Prophetic traditions or utterances. Islamic consciousness and Islamic law are authoritatively shaped by the hadith, as much as by the Qur’an, you may wish to know.
‘Jerusalem must remain the world’s Jewish spiritual capital’, you contend. Once again, I wholeheartedly agree. But two points. First, a spiritual capital is not the same as a political capital. Rome is the spiritual capital of Roman Catholics. It is not, however, their political capital. Canterbury is Anglicanism’s spiritual centre but Anglicans have no political allegiance to it. Orthodox Christians still regard Constantinople as their spiritual navel, but few would ask the Turks to give it back. Moreover, you seem to conflate Judaism with the state of Israel. Not all Jews accept that identification but, even waving that, why should Jerusalem the spiritual necessarily be Jerusalem the political? Namely, the capital of the Israeli state? Unclear, to say the least.
Second, spiritual imperialism must have limits. Jerusalem is not sacred only to Jews. This is not a political claim. It is a straightforward factual, historical statement. In the New Testament – as you are fond of statistics - Jerusalem is named 159 times – a very high number, given also that the NT is much smaller than the OT. You might have heard a Jew called Jesus of Nazareth once preached, taught, suffered, was crucified and arose from the grave in the very city of David. Sites like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives have been and still are much revered, the objects of pious pilgrimages from the worldwide followers of that Jewish Jesus.
You know, my heart overflows with emotion and my eyes with tears when I think about my beloved Lord’s life, his ministry, his passion, his agony in Jerusalem. So you see, you are not the only one to be moved, anguished or rejoiced, by ancestral memories connected with the holy city. Christians are, too. And amongst mankind, Christians – nominal or actual - number 2.1 billion. It is fair to conclude they too have at least as rightful and as strong a claim to the spiritual Jerusalem as 1.5 billion Muslims and 14 million Jews.
You announce that Jerusalem should not be ‘a symbol of anguish and bitterness, but a symbol of trust and hope’. Absolutely. A godly intention we share. But that intention is undermined by your peremptory claim that Jerusalem ‘belongs to the Jewish people’. That is not an expression of trust and hope. It is not what one would expect from a messenger to mankind. I, as an occasional meek Christian, might bow my head and turn the other cheek. Muslims will not and you have no right to expect them to do so. Strife and bloodshed will surely follow.
‘What is the solution?’ Your non-answer appears to postpone the matter to a later date. That to me smacks of the March Hare’s solution: ‘I am tired of this. Let us change the subject.’ That will not do. Immodestly, this poor priest has a modest but constructive proposal. Jerusalem should be an abode of peace. Laying proprietary claims to it – by whatever side - will turn it more and more into an abode of war. That would be a sin against the God who is author and father of us all. My modest proposal is not original. For once the UN shows the way. ‘The city of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and should be administered by the United Nations’ – I quote from General Assembly Resolution 181. That means full territorial internationalisation of Jerusalem. In this wise, the City of David, of Jesus and of Muhammad will belong to all and none.
If your message is truly to all mankind, this is your chance. Let us be together messengers of hope to all children of Adam. God won’t forgive us if we don’t.
Revd Frank Julian Gelli
FATHER FRANK’S RANTS
Rant Number 394 19 April 2010