Having worked on supporting better Jewish and Muslim relations for the last 7 years, I can honestly say that I have felt despair over the last week. Once again the Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock mosque compounds in Jerusalem have been drawn into the politics of those who want to make it a Muslim and Jewish conflict, something that is so readily accepted within Europe and the US and which is so far from the truth of what I hear on the ground in the region. The conflict should not be seen through the prism of a Muslim and Jewish conflict and those on either side who push this, push a very dangerous line by using religion in what is a conflict of resources.
Just before any reader attempts to blame any one faith, I must say that no particular religious community in the City is clean of this charge. There is instigation and counter-reaction and so the cycle continues, but the last 10 years have seen the increased use of faith and it’s symbolism within Jerusalem which is a very worrying trend. All religious sites deserve the respect and the protection of their sanctity within the City. Has it not been said that whoever has charge of this Holy City has the weight of the world on their shoulders and the added responsibility of global peace? Has it also not been said that each decision on faith related sites in the City needs a lifetime of thoughts before any action is taken? Yet, what we see today can ignite a regional crisis and before we blame another faith community, should we not ask ourselves the question, “Is my faith about peace and the protection of life and belief?” I think this is the core question that people of faith ask themselves at some point in their life and this question is very relevant in the context of what is happening in Jerusalem.
Yet, whatever the future holds, Muslim and Jewish communities in Jerusalem will have to learn to live with one another. Today, respect and understanding towards each other are sadly missing and power dynamics play heavily on activities and the way that each community views each other. What I hope is that religious sites are not drawn into the conflict and that politicians do not use them. The last person that did that, a certain Ariel Sharon, started the Second Intifada and both communities I know are tired of the violence. Furthermore, Jerusalem needs no more violence, oppression and blood and the life of a Palestinian Muslim or Christian Jerusalemite should be viewed with the same value as the life of a Jewish Jerusalemite. Their differences in faith do not mean that one person’s life is more superior to another for every faith believes in the sanctity of all life.
I for one will always defend the right of any faith to practice and to practice in safety and security. No faith group should practice their faith at the detriment of another. For example in Arab countries in my opinion, the loss of Jewish communities through fear to Israel was a loss that affected them financially and socially and that is why the loss of Muslims and the Islamic identity in Jerusalem will be a loss for the City in the future. Jerusalem is a city for all of the three Abrahamic faiths and I for one will defend the rights of all three faiths to practice to the hilt. Whoever uses religion to cause divisions and to drive wedges in the history of the City should ask themselves; is this what God really wants? I for one, think not.