Three thousand years ago, around 1,000 BC, modern-day Jerusalem was conquered by King David, one of the most prolific and narrated figures of the Old Testament. David’s victory was the first in modern recorded history over a city sieged more than twenty times since, and which has seen so many rulers come and go, it has more than seventy different names, recorded in more than a dozen languages, spoken and dead.
During his forty-year rule, David’s Hebronian army repelled incursion after incursion. The first to attack after the city had initially fallen into Jewish hands were the Philistines, a nomadic tribe dotted throughout the Judean valleys. David, who was on a mission out of the city at the time the Philistines attacked, asked God if he should return to help the city or carry on. God replied ‘Go, for I will surely deliver the Philistines into your hand’.
With the belief that God is on their side no matter what, it’s not difficult to understand what the epistemological brains of some Jewish Israelis are processing when the rhetoric of millennia ago is their default source for reconciling what they view as their justified belief and rational opinion.
The City of David, as it was known then, wasn’t to last however, and after a Babylonian sacking, the emergence of the first, second and third temples, Jerusalem, Judea surrounding it, a large swathe of Mesopotamia and as far west as the Gallic vineyards, were under the control of the Roman – and later Holy Roman Empire. Judaism would not have another permanent homeland for tens of centuries.
While different incarnations of the Jewish state — and more pertinently, the Jewish people, fought off, and were victims of, some of history’s most ruthless and all conquering factions, the empires of Rome, Assyria, Egypt, Babylon and Macedonia have come and gone, but the Philistines, or many of the modern descendants, in the Palestinian community, remain.
In a modern world, where electronic communication happens at the speed of light, and the traditional Palestinian dishes of musakhan and mansaf are prepared on streets in elbows reach of hamantash and charoset, tensions are bound to get a bit frayed. And while US President Donald Trump’s much decried recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital caught the plebiscite — and the media — off balance, it wasn’t a total surprise – he had promised to move his pullout bed from Tel Aviv on the campaign trail; then again so did Barack Obama, George Bush Jr and Bill Clinton before him.
The world today is a lot more skeptical than it was in David’s time, and while it’s not required to have the ear of God to rule most countries, the United States, with its large bible belt, mega churches and faith healers is as close to a holy empire as you’ll find anywhere on earth. It’s incorporation of religious affairs in political life is not unique by any means though, and is matched most closely by the South American continent and Arab nations, a cohort of which are meeting as we speak to discuss a response to Trump’s acknowledgement.
As the Arab League closes its curtains, and regional rivals exchange frank views in a smokey conference room in downtown Cairo, only Islam, and Donald Trump’s apparent dislike for the belief system held by ninety-plus percent of the region will be on the agenda. What appears as a statement of fact from the US President is likely to be perceived by most nations attending the summit as a brash attack on their belief, and a disruption to the already unbalanced ecosystem in the Middle East.
Jordan’s involvement in the Six-Day War with Israel, along with Syria and Egypt, complicates the scenario. During the 1967 conflict — which ended in a decisive Israeli victory — Egypt lost Gaza, Syria ceded the Golan Heights and Jordan, most pertinently, was forced out East Jerusalem. All three nations will be represented at this week’s Arab Leaguesummit. Although Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994 officially ending hostilities and opening up diplomatic relations, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, a former army commander and ally of the rookie American president will cut an interesting figure.
Perhaps the most important delegate at the conference is Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine. Abbas, considered a moderate in relation to his PLO predecessors, has worked closely with Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu and the late Ariel Sharon in the past, but this week refused to meet with US Vice President Mike Pence to discuss his boss’ decision to recognise Jerusalem as capital of Israel. There has been strain aplenty between the top brass of both nations since Trump, having initially been impressed by President Abbas’ moderate stance and words of calm, verbally attacked his opposite number during a visit to Bethlehem, rising from a banquet table to declare that Abbas has ‘tricked him in DC’ at an earlier meeting between the two.
While Trump and Netanyahu, recently re-appointed as prime minister with the backing of a Zionist extreme right wing party propping up his Likud – National Liberal Movement, appear to share a genuine warm relationship, it wasn’t always easy for the allies. Barack Obama and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy were famously overheard by a close-by camera mic expressing their frustration at the Israeli premier’s behaviour; “I don’t like him, he’s a liar”, Sarkozy told Obama, who responded, “How do you think I feel? I have to deal with him every day”.
At the time of that 2011 G20 meeting in Paris, it was impossible to predict the events to come. Palestine’s response to the latest encroachment on their fragile pseudo-sovereignty has been benign by precedents set in the last few years, and although Hamas, south-west of Jerusalem in the Gaza strip, and Hezbollah, north of the city in Lebanon, have voiced their anger, and called for a ‘Day of Rage’, violence so far has been rare, confined to a handful of demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza, with more peaceful larger-scale protests passing off without incident around the rest of the Arab World. What appears a loud, bellicose and defiant declaration by the US President, may turn out to be a damp squib, not worthy of the kings of Israel before.