Denis MacEoin’s letter to William Hague concerning Jerusalem

(The following letter was written by Dr. Denis MacEeoin and sent separately to William Hague, Alistair Burt and Simon Fraser at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It concerns the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. MacEoin is editor of Middle East Quarterly and blogs at ‘A Liberal Defence of Israel‘ – A.L.)

Dear Mr Hague:

I write in support of a petition I have recently signed, asking the British Foreign Office to alter its position on what has become an unnecessarily vexed question concerning the capital of Israel. As you know, Israelis are unanimous in regarding Jerusalem as their capital, not Tel Aviv (where the British embassy is currently located), nor Haifa nor Jaffa nor Petah Tikva nor anywhere else in the country. 

It is not hard to understand why the first Israeli parliament chose Jerusalem as its seat, even before it had built an edifice suitable to the needs of the men and women who sat in its chamber.  For many centuries, Jews in the Diaspora had clung to a hope, not only of a return to the Holy Land, but to Jerusalem in particular, the erstwhile home of its holiest Temple and the scene of so many primary events in Jewish and Christian history. This might be dismissed on the grounds that religious belief should not determine a city’s status, but many cities derive their significance from their role as religious centres, from Mecca and Medina (the latter having been the first capital of Islam), to Karbala’ and Mashhad, to Varanasi (Benares) and the Vatican City. This original attachment, intensified by daily prayers while facing Jerusalem and repeated wishes to return there, was later supplanted by the governmental, educational, trading, defensive, legal and bureaucratic concerns of the capital of a secular state.

As a people who have been deeply wronged in the past, Jews have tried to build their own state along lines of equal citizenship, a single legal system, human rights, and the protection of all holy places. But when Jordan occupied East Jerusalem from 1949 to 1967, Muslim holy places were renovated while 58 synagogues were destroyed and 38,000 Jewish graves were demolished. In addition, Jews were not allowed to set foot in their own holy places, notably on the Temple Mount. By contrast, when Israel retook Jerusalem in 1967, the Temple Mount was handed to a Muslim authority on account of two Islamic structures built on top of it, the al-Aqsa mosque and the Qubbat al-Sakhra or Dome of the Rock.

Such depredations and a lack of reciprocity have made Israelis wary of a Muslim takeover of East Jerusalem, where the holiest sites are located: the Temple Mount, the Western Wall (the Kotel), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, and the famous Jewish graveyards, still vandalized horribly by Arab criminals.

But the Palestinians have made it their business to turn Jerusalem into a bastion of Islamic holiness, not just because the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock are there, but because they now claim that there has never been any Jewish connection to the city or to the land of Israel. There was, they boast, no Jewish Temple there. All Biblical references to the Temple and to Jerusalem as a city built by King David are summarily and ahistorically dismissed. 

Given that Muslims have demolished the holy places of more than one religion, the Jews are rightly concerned lest Jerusalem fall under Islamic control. In Saudi Arabia for decades now, the government has been engaged in the destruction of Islamic holy places in Mecca and Medina. Lest you think me in the grip of some obscure fantasy, I should explain that the Wahhabi form of Islam, which governs Saudi Arabia, is utterly ruthless in its condemnation of anything that may be worshipped instead of God. They have demolished over 200 historical sites to prevent pilgrims praying at them. In Mali, a similar form of Islam – Salafism – has recently demolished dozens of shrines belonging to the Sufi form of Islam. And in Iran, the government has demolished all the holy places and cemeteries of the persecuted Baha’i religion. Israel, by way of contrast, protects and nourishes the large international headquarters and two holiest shrines of the Baha’is, places now recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Is it surprising that the Israelis, backed by Jews and others like myself round the world, are desperate to maintain the integrity of the city, knowing as they do that Muslim Arab rule would carry a greatly heightened risk to the Old City and its environs? Israel has been generous towards Muslims and their holy places, but they fear that if increased pressure were to come from Saudi Arabia or Iran or, nearer to hand from Hamas, everything Jewish might be eliminated. Palestinians have taken control of the Jewish Tomb of Rachel, the third holiest site for Jews. They have commandeered most of the Ma’arat Ha-Machpelah, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and made access for Jews to a tiny space very difficult, as I can personally attest. This is the second holiest site for Jews, containing as it does the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah.

In the earliest days of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad adopted from his Jewish neighbours the practice of turning towards Jerusalem during the five daily prayers. But in the year 622, a few months after his arrival in Medina, he did an about turn during one prayer session and from then on directed his followers to pray towards his home city of Medina. He severed all direct ties with Jerusalem, and in the centuries that followed Jerusalem was never a provincial capital, nor the heart of a Muslim country or empire. Medina in the first years, then Damascus, Baghdad, Istanbul and other cities became the capitals of Islam. Cairo was the major city in North Africa, Fez and Rabat capitals of the west, Esfahan, Tabriz, Tehran and others the royal cities of Iranian dynasties. And so on. But Jerusalem was never given such signal importance. This is significant. Palestinian wishes to make Jerusalem defy centuries of insignificance would lock us into a dispute that could last one thousand years.

For this reason, Jews everywhere will refuse to relinquish a city that was theirs from the beginning, and they will not reward people who have tried to take what was never theirs, who have tried to deny the historical record concerning the Jewish presence in a city that has been Jewish for 3000 years. To confirm the place of Jerusalem at the heart of Jewish life and prayers and as the eternal capital of their only homeland, Jews and Israelis appeal to honest governments to do the right thing and recognize that Jerusalem is the city where all the key aspects of Israeli life converge. No Israeli regards Tel Aviv as his or her capital. It is demeaning to treat Israelis as children by telling them this or that foreign government knows better than they and their government when it comes to designating Jerusalem their capital. I do not think you treat any other capital city in this way. You do not call Cork the capital of Ireland, nor Glasgow the capital of Scotland, nor the cathedral city of St. David’s the capital of Wales, nor Marseilles the capital of France. I do not believe the Foreign Office means to be insulting in this matter; but if foreigners called Birmingham the capital of England and the UK, would you not feel aggrieved?

Israel’s enemies call in all seriousness for the destruction of the country. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called on all Islamic nations to ‘exterminate Israel’ (my translation). The Arabs, faced by their repeated failure to achieve this by military means or terrorism, have turned to secondary means, saying that there never any Jews in Israel, that they themselves were there first, an impossible 9000 years ago, and that Jerusalem was always an Arab city (a claim that directly contradicts the accounts of Arab historians like al-Tabari). It is a cheap and dishonest attempt to rewrite history itself and to introduce confusion into a simple narrative. Denying the historicity and modern reality of Israel, of Jerusalem, and of Israelis by refusing to liberate the city from the string of fictions that has tied so many in knots, allows falsehood and deceit to rule in international affairs. Britain is still a great country that is admired the world round for its probity. I do not doubt that you, like myself, wish to see that image remain untarnished. But I have to say that it is in some measure tarnished when you try to steal the Israeli capital from the Israelis themselves.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin

44 replies »

  1. Spot on Dr MacEoin. You are a dear friend and a mensch.

    One can add another desecrated site to that list of yours: the 1700 year old Buddhas in Bamiyan, so callously destroyed by the Taliban. And for what? Is Afghanistan better off?

      • Quite simply this Pretzelberg.From the list provided, religious sites under Salafist/Wahabi Muslim control do not offer freedom of worship for other religions.With Palestinians, from their declared aims they obviously have a problem with the Jews.( I can cite the Hamas and Fatah Charters for you, but I believe you already can quote them yourself), and with Jews living in a future Palestinian state. Now the Taliban,( some say may even have descended from Jewish origin) I can assure you have no truck with Jews or any other religion either and for much the same reason as the salafists in Egypt and in Palestine or anywhere else in these regions. They can just about tolerate 2 jews who remained in Afghanistan!

        • Have the Palestinians been razing churches to the ground? No.

          I repeat: What on earth do the Palestinians have to do with the Taliban?
          Neither you nor any other poster seems to have a valid answer.

          I can cite the Hamas and Fatah Charters for you, but I believe you already can quote them yourself

          I can’t. Not sure what gave you that idea.

          • Your comments are truly breathtaking pretz

            Today (and before) Israel is on constant security to prevent wanton destruction and the murdering of innocents. Do you honestly think, that without it, that the mob would hesitate in killing Jews Pretz?

            What happened in 1948 in the Old City of jerusalem, to the Jews who lived there Pretz? What happened to the old synagogues and seminaries? What happened in hebron 1948.? The Arab revolt? Mmmmm?

            As for Christians, they are persecuted everywhere throughout the ME. Try being a Catholic in Pakistan?

            And what about the Christians in Palestine? Their numbers have dramatically fallen and many have left.The only place where numbers have increased exponentially is in Israel.

            I will leave you to google Fatah and Hamas Charters and take a good look.

            Now the Taliban….

            • You are talking about the Jordanian occupation 50 years ago.

              I repeat: the Palestinians been not been razing churches to the ground, have they?

              • They have not been “razing” recently, but they have been firing missiles at civilians EVERY OTHER DAY and damaging buildings and terrorising people’s lives, and given the chance they would raze not just holy places of worship. Are you really that dim or are you trying to get me to admit that Palestinians have not destroyed a church or synagogue this week (in which case Pretz you win)?

                The fact is , Hamas and Fatah do not have full control over Israel. But you can get a good idea of things to come, if they got their chance, by looking at how Arabs are dealing with their own affairs across the ME today, to know that it will not be the peaceful Muslims who will be running the show.

                have you googled and read the charters yet?

                • Are you really that dim or are you trying to get me to admit that Palestinians have not destroyed a church or synagogue this week (in which case Pretz you win)?

                  When devoid of valid arguments, resort to childish remarks and insults.

                  • Frankly, I have run out of arguments or comment, hence my disbelief at your breathtaking comments that appear to be detatched from reality. You split hairs to get one to concede. I have already admitted : no synagogues or churches have been razed this week. You, on the other hand, expect me to give credit to the PA for this.? The PA names streets after martyrs for a murderous cause – is it not plain to you, what the position would mean if the PA and Hamas had the upper hand? Obviously not, from the rubbish you write sometimes.

                    Have you read the Charters yet Pretz, or is that too much to ask? Find me a kind word in those documents about Jews.

                    • I have already admitted : no synagogues or churches have been razed this week. You, on the other hand, expect me to give credit to the PA for this?

                      In your increasing desperation – after sneakily linking the Palestinians with the Taliban without any proof to back it up (because you know there is none) – now you just start making things up about me! Join the peterthehungarian club!

                  • Of course you are right Pretz. I also admit that the Taliban are not on the phone with Hamas as to what to do with the infidel .

          • Have the Palestinians been razing churches to the ground? No

            This diamond of wisdom of you is a perfect mirror of your breathtaking ignorance pretzel. They destroyed all synagogues in East-Jerusalem between 1949 qnd 1967. Or synagogues are not houses of worship – churches any more?

            • Yet again you resorts to insults due to a lack of sound argument. I was talking specifically about the PA – and you are being dishonest.

              • Again the lapses of your short term memory pretzel. Maybe you should reread your posts to discover that you never used in them the word “PA” or “Palestinian Authority”, you only wrote about “Palestinians”.
                And you speaking about insults instead of arguments must be joke of the century.

  2. A superbly argued case from Dr MacEoin.

    I wonder if the Foreign Office will reply to the letter, or whether they are so terrified of #MuslimRage they will quietly ignore it.

  3. AG,

    The FO will quitly ignore this but not because they are scared of Muslim Rage.
    They will ignore it for the same reason the royals did not made 1 official visit to Israel since 1948.

    Not one visit!

    The only visit a royal made was by Phillip and it was not official but to visit his mother’s grave site in Jerusalem.

    Why do you think that is?

      • Gerald you are right but, like Prince Philip’s visit before, it was stressed that Prince Charles went in a “personal” rather than an “official” capacity. There has to date been NO official visit by any member of the royal family to Israel.

        • Labenal yes.
          That is why I emphasised in my last sentence that it was wrong that there had not been an official visit.
          But as you know official visits by the ‘Head of State’ are undertaken on the ‘advice’ of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
          I repeat what I have written before the FCO needs a major clean out, and we need a Foreign Secretary with some ‘backbone’ to do it.

  4. In a letter to the Jewish Chronicle this morning, Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes writes that the government of Israel is in Tel Aviv.

    If this reflects the ignorance of other politicians, no wonder Dr MacEoin needs to explain things to Hague

  5. Great article Dennis. Please do sign the petition and continue to write to the Foreign Office and local MPS and MEPs on this matter it is greatly appreciated. With your help this campaign can go from strength to strength. A link to the petition is here http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/39036. We currently have 251 people who have signed it— I am sure we can get a lot more than that so get signing!

  6. It is a cheap and dishonest attempt to rewrite history

    Coming from Maceoin, that is precious.

    There are sound and valid reasons for recognising J’lem as the Israeli capital – but Denis won’t win many people over with this arrogant nonsense.

    • Why do you call his assertions “arrogant nonsense”? Which part is arrogant? The part that stresses how Islam destroys any vestiges of other religions on their territory? Or the part that displays the millennia-long connection of the Jews to Jerusalem?

      And which of any of these parts is nonsense?

      • ,i>Why do you call his assertions “arrogant nonsense”?

        Because he knows about the subject what I know about the history of the British association of Honeymakers – means he knows absolutely nothing.

      • Islam destroys any vestiges of other religions on their territory

        That’s bullshit – and hate speech.

        • Not bullshit. Didn’t you read the letter? Everything McEoin lists in the letter is true and is documented.

          They have demolished over 200 historical sites to prevent pilgrims praying at them. In Mali, a similar form of Islam – Salafism – has recently demolished dozens of shrines belonging to the Sufi form of Islam. And in Iran, the government has demolished all the holy places and cemeteries of the persecuted Baha’i religion.

          Not to mention the Hagia Sophia mosque which was once a cathedral, as mentioned in a comment above; not to mention the wilful, disgraceful destruction ongoing at the Temple Mount… how many more examples to you want.

          This is not hate speech. It is factual. The fact that the Muslims hate other religions is not disputed and it is not hate speech to point it out. It is burying your head in the sand, and you are falsely accusing me of a thought crime.

          • Pretzelberg’s problem is that he believes (and clearlyand regularly keeps on misunderstanding),that when someone writes like this , that he believes that one is referring to ALL Muslims ibeing involved in the destruction and the writer is not distinguishing the nasty muslims from the good Muslims.Though to most it is quite clear who the responsible category of people , who happen regularly to be Muslim that MaCeoin and Adam Levick is talking about.

            He does the same thing with the Guardian. When most who contribute to this site have concluded long ago that the Guardian is overall hateful towards israel and stone cold to most Jews’ sensibilities, up pipes Pretzelberg to defend it citing a few examples to prove an accuser wrong, even though he himself will condemn when it is blatantly obvious when that newspaper steps out of line as it so regularly keeps doing.

            No doubt, in his support of Muslims looking after a synagogue in Libya, or Iraqis protecting a few Jews left, there he will say that clearly there are some decent people. The bigger picture of destruction: Pretzelberg tries to reason or ignore.He still hasn’t answered me why the Buddhas and Bamyan should not be incuded in the list of destruction of religious sitesMuslims have had a hand in.

            • But above anneinpt clearly is referring to Muslims in general – just as MacEoin wishes to make statements about the entire religion.

              And you yourself have many times posted anti-Muslim prejudice on this site – the sort of comments that if made about Jews would (rightly) make you outraged.

              • No, I’m not referring to ALL Muslims, all 1 billion+ of them. I am speaking of Islam in general, and if you couldn’t infer that from my comment, and from previous knowledge of my comments, then I’m afraid you have a comprehension problem – a deliberate comprehension problem it seems.

            • Let’s ask Pretzelberg:
              1.Do you agree that the Muslim Brotherhood has wide support among many Muslims? Is the movement’s history peaceful or threatening?
              2. Do you believe Al-Qaeda Muslims are good or bad?
              3.Is wahabi Islam tolerant to other religions or would they prefer to be the only religion on earth dispensing Sharia (according to wahabism)?
              4. Do you believe Hamas practise a more moderate form of Islam?
              5. Do you believe most of the above would like to see Israel finished off (including you Pretzelberg)?
              6. Is Iran’s political and religious ambition good for the world or bad for the world?
              6. Is Dr MaCeoin (or me ) advocating hate speech against the people who are devoted to a faith (or even not practising) in a peaceful way ?
              Answer to Q6 is a resounding no.
              7.Are you really that silly?

              As regards to Islam in general,,most of these organisations thrive within the boundaries of this troubled and often confused faith and that many who follow it are from regions of deprivation and profound ignorance that allows for easy indoctrination, cruel punishment, abuse of children and women and ridden with conspiracy theories with sayings of the Holy Quran weaved into the fabric of an ideology of hatred engendered and reinforced by tribalism and the codes that inform it. This, coupled with billions of dollars to fund it has created a real threat to the enlightened world that can be thrown back to the 6 century. It has never happened in history in that way yet, but it is not unforseeable.

              This is not hate speech pretzelberg. .Many millions (including muslims) suffer as a result and there no clear resolve or solution to calming it as yet been found.