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Isi Leibler on The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City

Filed under: Jerusalem, Radical Islam
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 19:3-4 (Fall 2007)


A Timely Warning on Jerusalem

The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City by Dore Gold, Regnery, 2007, 371 pp.

Reviewed by Isi Leibler

Dore Gold, Israel’s former UN ambassador and currently president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, previously wrote the New York Times bestseller Hatred’s Kingdom exposing Saudi Arabia’s façade as a moderate Muslim state, and more recently Tower of Babble, an incisive critique of the United Nations.

The Fight for Jerusalem surpasses Gold’s previous efforts. It will undoubtedly be regarded as one of the best Israeli overviews of Jerusalem in the context of history and the contemporary Arab-Israeli struggle.  Although a scholarly work, it also is eminently readable for laymen.

The book deals comprehensively with many of the sensitive issues relating to Jerusalem. These are frequently distorted not only by Muslims but also by Christian and Western groups opposed to Jerusalem remaining the capital of the Jewish state.

Gold surveys the wide and complex gamut of historical, archeological, religious, and political issues relating to Jerusalem. He elaborates on the Jewish people’s religious and historical relationship to the Old City, reiterating that since the 1850s Jews have comprised the majority in Jerusalem.

He details how under Israeli sovereignty, the rights of all religions have consistently been upheld. Churches, mosques, synagogues, and religious sites have been administered in an exemplary nondiscriminatory manner. The implicit message is that, other than Israel, there is no group or country that could today conceivably control the city and guarantee the religious rights of all faiths-least of all the United Nations.


Dangerous Concessions

In that context Gold recalls the behavior of the Jordanians, the most enlightened of Israel’s Arab neighbors, who held custody of the Old City of Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967. The Jordanian destruction of Jewish houses of worship in the Old City, particularly the razing of the famous Hurva and Ramban synagogues along with the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, are facts that speak for themselves. Moreover, throughout the entire period Jews were denied access to the Western Wall and other holy sites. The world, including the United Nations, stood by and did nothing.

Jews and Jewish holy sites would face a grim fate if the latter were ever to be controlled by Fatah or Hamas administrations. The recent behavior of some of the Islamic counterparts to Hamas affords a preview. The Taliban’s demolition of the ancient Buddhist statues, the Sunni-Shiite carnage in Iraq, the ongoing persecution of Christians in many Islamic countries, the desecration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the destruction of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus are indicators of what could be expected.

In a section on the Islamic relationship to Jerusalem, Gold stresses that, in contrast to Judaism, the city is never explicitly mentioned in the Koran and was never a central element in Islam. Indeed it is only in recent years, undoubtedly motivated by opportunistic political factors, that Jerusalem began to assume a prominent role in Islamic preaching. Today Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the radical northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, proclaims that Jerusalem will one day become the capital of the global caliphate.

The book does not address Jerusalem’s demographic problems including the high Arab and ultra-Orthodox Jewish birthrates and the declining Jewish proportion of the city’s population. That could be the subject of a separate study. However, Gold is adamant that dividing the city would not only be counterproductive but would represent a major step toward undermining the Jewish state and emboldening Islamic extremists everywhere.

Various solutions have been proposed including ceding portions of the densely Arab-populated suburbs to a future Palestinian entity. But to relinquish the Old City with its religious, cultural, and historical treasures would surely be a prescription for disaster.

In that context Gold outlines the near-catastrophe that occurred when Prime Minister Ehud Barak, in stark contrast to his predecessor Yitzhak Rabin who staunchly refused to engage in negotiations over Jerusalem, offered Yasser Arafat effective control of the Temple Mount. Barak apparently was desperate to reach accommodation with Arafat at any price even though the PLO leader and his acolytes were promoting a preposterous lie described by Gold as “Temple Denial,” insisting that a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem had never existed. Had Arafat-for reasons that still are not clear-not refused Barak’s offer but instead accepted it, Jerusalem and all of Israel would today confront a disastrous situation including possible Sderot-type scenarios of rocket attacks on civilians.

Gold argues convincingly that proposed concessions of Israeli control over Jerusalem, designed to appease the Palestinians and placate international public opinion, merely strengthen the most recalcitrant terrorists. He is adamant that using Jerusalem as a bargaining chip with the Palestinians under present conditions would inevitably lead to virtual capitulation and a repeat of what transpired after the unilateral disengagement from Gaza. That in turn would be exploited by jihadist elements as confirmation of apocalyptic prophecies about the imminent coming of the Mahdi and the Day of Judgment, as in the visions of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.


Wakf Machinations and Israeli Passivity

The book also depressingly describes how successive Israeli governments have ignored and failed to counteract the machinations of the Wakf custodians of the mosques on the Mount, who are controlled by the Islamic Movement in Israel. The Wakf has been systematically breaching the law, displaying contempt for archeological regulations, and conducting illegal excavations on the Temple Mount compound while dispersing vast quantities of soil from one of the world’s richest religious-historical sites. The objective is to destroy evidence of the ancient Jewish presence in the land, especially near the Temple Mount.

Israeli governments have failed to deal with these transgressions for fear of violent public disturbances or giving Palestinians means to inflame international public opinion. However, Israel thus merely postpones the inevitable confrontation and will almost certainly face a more difficult situation once the world becomes accustomed to the Wakf authorities having free rein.

Gold shows how, in parallel to these activities, radical Muslims have been making common cause with biblical skeptics seeking to deny the Jewish component of biblical events related to Israel. Summarizing the evidence, Gold demonstrates that the efforts to deny Jerusalem’s link with ancient Judaism have no basis in reality.

The Fight for Jerusalem is a powerful summation of why Israel must remain firm and not succumb to intensifying pressures, which may soon also emanate from the United States. Jerusalem today is under assault by jihadists and their fellow travelers. What is at stake is not jurisdiction over territory or holy sites, but a critical phase in Islamic fundamentalists’ efforts to delegitimize Israel. Gold contends persuasively that making unrealistic concessions over Jerusalem will merely pave the way for Islamic radicals and terrorists to make further demands and will strengthen the forces behind the global jihad, including al-Qaeda.

This is a book that Christian and Jews should be encouraged to read and absorb.

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ISI LEIBLER, a vereran international Jewish leader, headed the Australian Jewish community for many years. He also served in various senior capacities with the World Jewish Congress, including chairman of the Governing Board. Leibler’s main international involvement was first Asian-Jewish Colloquium including a historic encounter in Beijing between international Jewish and Chinese scholars preceding diplomatic relations with Israel. He now lives in Israel and heads the JCPA’s Israel-Diaspora Commission.