|THE HOLY CITY|
Sanctified by religion and tradition, by history and theology, by holy places and houses of worship, Jerusalem is a city revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It reflects the fervor and piety of the three major monotheistic faiths, each of which is bound to Jerusalem by veneration and love.
The Jewish bond to Jerusalem was never broken. For three millennia, Jerusalem has been the center of the Jewish faith, retaining its symbolic value throughout the generations. The many Jews who had been exiled after the Roman conquest and scattered throughout the world never forgot Jerusalem. Year after year they repeated "Next year in Jerusalem." Jerusalem became the symbol off the desire of Jews everywhere to return to their land. It was invoked bv the prophets, enshrined in daily prayer, and sung bv Hebrew poets in far-flung lands.
Mount Moriah, where the Temple once stood; the Western Wall, the only remnant of the Temple, which has been the focus of prayer and longing of Jews for nineteen centuries; the Tomb of David on Mount Zion; and the ancient cemetery on the Mount of Olives where Jews have been buried for centuries – all these are indelibly etched on Jewish consciousness.
Hundreds of synagogues identified with various trends in Judaism as well as with ethnic and geographic groupings from Tunisia to Afghanistan and from Warsaw to New York, serve Jerusalem’s Jewish population.
For Christians, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus lived, preached, died, and was resurrected. While it is the heavenly rather than the earthly Jerusalem which is emphasized by the Church, places mentioned in the New Testament as the sites of his ministry and passion have drawn pilgrims and devoted worshipers for centuries. Among these sites are the the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Site of the Last Supper, and the Via Dolorosa with the fourteen stations of the Cross.
The rights of the various Christian churches to custody of the Christian holy places in Jerusalem were defined in the course of the nineteenth century, when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire. Known as the ‘status quo arrangement for the Christian holy places in Jerusalem.’ these rights remained in force during the period of the British Mandate and are still upheld today in Israel.
The Christian community of Jerusalem is divided into Eastern Orthodox, Monophysite, Roman Catholic, Uniate and Protestant denominations. Apart from the Armenian community, most of whom are descendants of refugees who arrived from Turkey in the 1920’s, the overwhelming majority of Christians in Jerusalem are descendants of the ancient Christian communities of the Byzantine period.
According to Islam, the prophet Mohammed was miraculously transported from Mecca to Jerusalem, and it was from there that he made his ascent to heaven. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa ("the remote") Mosque, both built in the seventh century, made definitive the identification of Jerusalem as the "Remote Place" that is mentioned in the Koran, and thus a holy place after Mecca and Medina. Literature praising the virtues of Jerusalem – the fadhall al kuds – flourished in the Muslim world.
Jerusalem’s first encounter with Islam – in the seventh century – was also its first encounter with the Arabs who were Islam’s apostles, and who, under its banner, acquired a vast empire. Most of the Muslims living in Jerusalem today are Sunnis.
Freedom of religion and the safeguarding of all holy places are anchored in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. The holy places are administered by their respective religious communities, and free access to them is guaranteed by law.