The Politicized Sanctity of Jerusalem
Karen Armstrong's approach in "the Holiness of Jerusalem: Asset or Burden" treating the Jerusalem question is sound and unique. Unbound by the chronology of Jerusalem's history, she succeeded in her own way in informing about the different historical stages of Jerusalem questioning its sanctity. From 1800 BCE when it was a pagan pilgrimage site for the indigenous people of Canaan, to King David's conquest, to the Muslim Caliphs and Crusaders era, and until the current situation. Armstrong's uniqueness writing about Jerusalem resides in the odacity to question the sanctity of Jerusalem, how peaceful is the city of peace and how much of dividing politics came out of a city that we all thaught was uniting.
The politicization of Jerusalem is as old as the city itself. For those seeking a few historical examples, Armstrong is an authoritative scholar with well founded ideas explaining how politics infused in religion made a city of peace to become a city of war. She reminds us, as most seem to have forgotten, that the Zionist movement behind the creation of Israel did not even try to control the holy city of Jerusalem and accepted the 1947 UN partition plan. Yet, the infusion of religious ideas -mainly from the Ashkenazy rabbinic school of Isaac Kook- preaching that the messiah is soon to come back and build the temple on the Muslim shrine, led to the radicalization of Zionism to a point where Gush Emunim expanded settling on Arab lands and plotted to destroy the Dome of the Rock (Armstrong 1998).
Christianity, on the other hand, in its essence does not teach its followers to find god in a specific physical place. Armstrong finds that Christians started considering Jerusalem as a pilgrim only after Emperor Constantine converted from paganism to Christianity. He incorporated several pagan practices among which was the unearthing and marking of Jesus tomb for organized pilgrimage (Ibid). Muslims, I add, never made Jerusalem a major political or religious center. Jerusalem was the first direction for Muslims prayers that the prophet Muhammad himself changed to Mecca. A change that made the removal of Jerusalem's centrality to Islam conspicuous.
Armstrong has shown that Jerusalem can only be a sacred city when it becomes a city of peace where all different people live together with equal rights. She did not suggest a specific political status for that to be possible, but from her criticism of the claims that Jerusalem must be a political capital of the Jews in one hand, or the Palestinians, on the other, alongside with bringing up the UN partition plan signals that she is with an apolitical city of religions -perhaps a city state or a jurisdiction run by the UN.
Armstrong, Karen. 1998. "The Holiness of Jerusalem: Asset or Burden". Journal of Palestine Studies. Vol. 27, No.3 (Spring 1998). http://people.uncw.edu/ricej/SOC490/The%20Holiness%20of%20Jerusalem%20As...