The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has once again displayed its unrelenting bias against the state of Israel. In conjunction with this summer's Olympics in London, it has posted a BBC Olympic website containing basic information about the competing countries, including a map which indicates the capital of each country. In its text of Israel, the site lists Jerusalem as "the seat of government though most foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv," an observation factually correct.
It appears, however, that Israel has no capital -- certainly not Jerusalem. In comparison, the BBC lists "East Jerusalem" as "the intended seat of government of Palestine," a state which does not yet even exist. The question arises whether the BBC is intentionally describing Jerusalem in this way to add to the ongoing campaign to delegitimize the state of Israel. A brief explanation of Jerusalem's political and religious significance might be useful.
Politics and religion have always been intertwined in Jerusalem, a city that bears the weight of a history that started about 3000 years ago. David became the king of Judea around 1010 B.C.; he unified the Israelite tribes, and established Jerusalem as his capital in the City of David. In 964 B.C., during the reign of David's son, Solomon, the Israelites built a Temple to establish a physical expression of their religion in the city they considered sacred. Jerusalem thus became both the political capital and the religious capital: the Holy Place for Jews.
Although Jerusalem was captured again and again by invading armies, the Jewish people maintained its identity until the Second Temple was finally destroyed in 70 A.D.
After a revolt led by Bar Kokba in 132 A.D. against the Roman Empire, and his creation of a State of Israel, the Romans made a determined effort to "dejudaize" the area. They renamed the area of Israel Syria Palaestina. and the city of Jerusalem became Aelia Capitolina.
In 135 A.D., Jews were banned from the city. Since then, their liturgy, every day, has repeated their yearning for a return to the Temple and to Jerusalem.
The First Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. during the Babylonian invasion, which led to the exile of many Jews, whom King Cyrus of Persia allowed to return only in 539. Immediately, they began building the Second Temple in their sacred city, an edifice that became the political symbol of a Jewish state.
Two other religions, Christianity and Islam, also established a presence in Jerusalem. Even though it was the place where Jesus was crucified, the city only became holy for Christians in the 4th century A.D, after the Emperor Constantine and his mother, Helen, converted to Christianity and, in 326 A.D., ordered the building of the Basilica of Saint-Sepulcre, which has become for many Christians the most important destination for pilgrimages. It was with Constantine that the city once again became Jerusalem.
Muslims, commemorating the Prophet's experience in the city about which there are different versions, began building there in 638 A.D, on the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock. Although this is not a mosque, the Al-Aqsa mosque has been built close to it. Mecca and Medina are the two important Holy Places for Muslims; only in recent years have some Muslims regarded Jerusalem as a third Holy Place.
For many years especially during the Abbasid Caliphate starting in the 8th century, Jerusalem had little significance for Muslims. After a brief period of rule by the Christian Crusaders, started by Geoffrey of Bouillion in 1099 after repelling Muslim invaders, the city was retaken by Saladin in 1187 and remained under various kinds of Islamic control until the end of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.
Political rivalries over the Middle East have always existed among the great powers. With the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the Holy Places became rallying points for both Zionists and Arab nationalists. Political passions were shown at both the Western Wall and at the Dome of the Rock. But, after Britain was given the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1920 at the San Remo conference, it established Jerusalem as the capital of the British Mandate in 1922.
The decisive proposal for settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict was the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947, which partitioned the entire area between Jews and Arabs, with Jerusalem as a corpus separatum [separate body] under a special international regime, and under the administration of the United Nations. Whether this was a feasible solution or not was never tested: the armies of five Arab nations invaded the new state of Israel immediately after it declared its birth in May, 1948.
As a result of this 1948-49 war, Jerusalem was divided by the so-called Green Line of April 1949 -- an armistice line between Israel and Jordan where the fighting had stopped. Between 1949 and 1967, Jordan controlled the old city, including the Jewish quarter, and used ancient Jewish gravestone from the Mount of Olives as floors for their latrines. Moreover, Arabs controlled the Holy Places of all three religions,
West Jerusalem was officially declared the capital of Israel; in January 1950. the Israeli Parliament, called the Knesset, moved to Jerusalem.
During the Six Day War in June 1967, after Jordan invaded Israel on the fifth day of the war, despite warnings from Israel not to, Israeli paratroopers landed in east Jerusalem, which remains in Israeli hands. Although the area was not annexed, on July 27, 1967, Israeli law and jurisdiction were extended to east Jerusalem and to a few miles of the West Bank. On July 30, 1980, a fundamental law adopted by the Knesset declared that, "Jerusalem complete and unified is the capital of Israel." It is the seat of the President of the state, the Knesset, the government, and the Supreme Court.
Palestinian leaders have also claimed Jerusalem. Their statement on November 15, 1988 about the establishment of a state proclaimed the capital as Jerusalem: Al-Quds al-Sharif.
It is ironic that the BBC should be aware of this declaration, which has never been implemented, but unaware of the 3000 years of Jewish history in which Jerusalem has been the cardinal and capital feature, politically, religiously and historically.
Michael Curtis is author of Should Israel Exist? A Sovereign Nation under attack by the International Community.