Jerusalem Isn't the Capital of the Jews

Research shows that the city has existed for about 4,000 years. During the first 1,000 it had no connection to the Jewish people.

Gideon Biger.
Gideon Biger
Israelis celebrate Jerusalem Day, outside the Old City walls, on May 17, 2015.
Israelis celebrate Jerusalem Day, outside the Old City walls, on May 17, 2015.Credit: AFP
Gideon Biger.
Gideon Biger

Once again Jerusalem Day arrived, and once again the prime minister repeated the clichéd mantra: “Jerusalem was and is the capital city of the Jewish people only.”

Is that really so – or is Benjamin Netanyahu, known for historic declarations that do not always accord with the historical truth, once again mistaken and misleading the masses?

Jerusalem, according to scientific research, has existed for about 4,000 years. During the first 1,000 years it had no connection to the Jewish people. Even in the Bible, the Book of Genesis tells about Melchizedek, the king of Salem, who came out to bless Abraham, who had no connection to Jerusalem. During the time of the patriarchs, Jerusalem did not figure in their activity at all. Even when the Israelites were in Egypt, Jerusalem was never mentioned, and when they wandered in the desert they spoke about the Land of Canaan – but not about Jerusalem.

The conquest of "the land" by Joshua, son of Nun, did not include taking over Jerusalem. It was actually the king of Jerusalem who organized the coalition of five monarchs against Joshua, and at the time the city was apparently the capital of another nation, not the Israelites.

The conquest of Jerusalem by the tribe of Judah, following the death of Joshua, led to the burning of the city rather than to settlement of the tribe there. Later on it was inhabited by the Jebusites, and only 1,000 years after its establishment did King David capture the city and turn it into his capital.

The city maintained the status of capital of the Jewish people during the reign of David and his son Solomon, and at the beginning of the reign of his son, Rehoboam. During the latter's rule, the Israelite kingdom separated from Jerusalem, which became the capital of the small Judean kingdom. It no longer served as capital of the Jewish people as a whole during the entire period of the First Temple.

Four-hundred years after the destruction of the Temple, with the establishment of the Hasmonean state, Jerusalem once again became the capital of the Jewish people, but for only 100 years, until the Romans conquered it and crowned Herod its king. Folllowing the destruction of the Second Temple, Jerusalem once again did not serve as a capital city for the Jews, just as it wasn’t the capital of the Romans, the Byzantines or the Arabs who conquered it. However, in 1099 the Crusaders succeeded in their conquest of it, making it the capital of Crusader Jerusalem, which of course was not Jewish.

Jerusalem was the capital of the Crusader kingdom for 88 years. Afterward, and indeed for hundreds of years, the city did not serve any political entity, until British Mandatory forces captured it in 1917, and later turned it into the capital of the political entity called Palestine (Eretz Israel). Jerusalem was then capital of the people living in the land – the majority of whom were Arabs.

Only after the establishment of the State of Israel did West Jerusalem become the country's capital (but not the capital of the Jewish people per se!). Since 1967 what is known as Greater Jerusalem has constituted the capital of Israel, but not the capital of the Jewish world. Indeed, Jews worldwide see Jerusalem as their religious or even their spiritual capital, but not as their national capital. American Jews have Washington, British Jews have London, and Paris is the capital of French Jews

Let the prime minister therefore be careful about what he says to the public. Even if it’s on Jerusalem Day.

The writer is a professor emeritus of geography.

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