This originally appeared in CQ Researcher on April 13, 2018.
Since 2001, the international community has become increasingly aware of the fact that holy sites across the Middle East and South Asia have lost the immunity that they were thought to have had. The current era was ushered in by the Taliban’s destruction of the 2,000-year-old statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan. It intensified with the church bombings by ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Egypt.
This international experience is something Israelis understand well. In 1948, Jerusalem was put under siege by invading Arab armies and much of its Jewish legacy was assaulted. By the time armistice agreements were reached in 1949, some 55 synagogues and religious academies had been destroyed or desecrated. The residents of the Jewish Quarter faced exile, imprisonment or extermination. For 19 years, Jews were not allowed to visit their holy sites in Jerusalem. These experiences hovered in the minds of Israelis in 1967 when the Israeli army was ordered to retake the Old City of Jerusalem and guarantee the security of its holy sites.
How best to resolve the question of Jerusalem has defied diplomats for decades since. In 1947, the U.N. proposed that the city be internationalized. But when it was invaded in 1948, the U.N. did not lift a finger to protect its residents. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared in 1949 that Jerusalem would be Israel’s capital. It was hoped and expected that states would establish their embassies in Jerusalem as a result.
While President Trump did not envision the future borders of Jerusalem when he recognized the city as Israel’s capital this year, implicitly he gave an important boost to Israel’s claim from the days of Ben-Gurion. Today, the international community has to ask itself, who will protect Jerusalem? Will it be the Fatah movement or Hamas? In 2002, a joint unit of the two Palestinian organizations invaded the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and took its clergy as hostages. Should they become the protectors of Jerusalem? Should we turn to internationalization again? What is the English expression? “Been there, tried that.”
Only a free and democratic Israel will protect Jerusalem for all faiths. Trump is carrying out the bipartisan will of Congress, which passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 calling on the administration to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. He is also setting the stage for the protection of our common religious legacy in Jerusalem from those who threaten our common civilization.