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About Jerusalem

Jerusalem is the most important location in the world to Jews. The temple was built there to house the Ark of the Covenant. The most sacred location there is the Wailing Wall where part of the foundation of the second temple remains standing. Jerusalem is the third holiest location in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. It is also important to Christians, because, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus conducted most of his ministry in or near Jerusalem. He was also executed there by the Roman Army circa 30 CE

United Nations Resolution 181 partitioned Palestine into an Arab and Jewish sections. It declared Jerusalem a "corpus separatum" and placed the city under international jurisdiction. That was never implemented. The city has been occupied by Arab and Jewish forces until 1967, when Israel occupied the entire city. It remains occupied territory as of early 2000.

Some feel that its international status should be generally recognized. King Abdullah, King of Jordan, stated at a World Conference on Religion and Peace in Amman Jordan on 1999-NOV that: "Jerusalem is too sacred and too symbolic for it to belong exclusively to one party. It can accommodate two capitals, one Palestinian and one Israeli, and belong - as it should - to the entire world at the same time."

In 1980, the Government of Israel passed a law declaring Jerusalem to be its capital. The law was declared null and void in The UN's Security Council Resolution 476 (1980-JUN-30). As of early 2000, Costa Rica and El Salvador maintain embassies in the city; other countries' embassies are located in Tel Aviv.

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Christian anticipation of Jesus' return in Jerusalem

As the 20th century came to a close, a substantial percentage of American adults expected the "second coming" of Jesus Christ to earth within their lifetime -- many in the year 2000 CE. Jerusalem played a major role in the anticipation of this event, for many reasons. Perhaps the most important is that many conservative denominations teach the Christ will descend towards earth over the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. In a miraculous event called the rapture, both dead and living "saved" Christians, will rise into the air to meet him. This is obviously a time of heightened religious awareness and hope. Unfortunately, this brings with it the potential for violence by certain small, radical elements within conservative Christianity. Much of this possibility for violence was centered on Jerusalem in the year 2000.

On 1999-OCT-20, the FBI announced the completion of a report called "Project Megiddo". 1 It is intended to alert U.S. law enforcement to what the FBI describes is "the potential for extremist criminal activity in the United States by individuals or domestic groups who attach special significance to the year 2000." An accompanying FBI statement mentioned that "The threat posed by extremists as a result of perceived events associated with the Year 2000 (Y2K) is very real. The volatile mix of apocalyptic religious and (New World Order) conspiracy theories may produce violent acts aimed a precipitating the end of the world as prophesied in the Bible..."

Perhaps the most religiously sensitive spot in the world is a small piece of land in Jerusalem which the Muslims call Haram al-Sharif, ("Noble Sanctuary" in Arabic) Jews refer to it as Har HaBayit, ("Temple Mount" in Hebrew.) It is generally referred to as the Temple Mount by the North American media.

According to the FBI's Project Megiddo (1999):

VII The Significance of Jerusalem

The city of Jerusalem, cherished by Jews, Christians and Muslims, faces many serious challenges as the year 2000 approaches. As already evidenced by the deportation of various members of the religious cult known as the Concerned Christians, 2 zealotry from all three major monotheistic religions 3 is particularly acute in Israel, where holy shrines, temples, churches, and mosques are located. While events surrounding the millennium in Jerusalem are much more problematic for the Israeli government than for the United States, the potential for violent acts in Jerusalem will cause reverberations around the world, including the United States. The extreme terrorist fringes of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all present in the United States. Thus, millennial violence in Jerusalem could conceivably lead to violence in the United States as well.

Within Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, holds a special significance for both Muslims and Jews. The Temple Mount houses the third holiest of all Islamic sites, the Dome of the Rock. Muslims believe that the prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven from a slab of stone -- the "Rock of Foundation"-- located in the center of what is now the Dome of the Rock. In addition, when Arab armies conquered Jerusalem in 638 A.D., the Caliph Omar built the al-Aqsa Mosque facing the Dome of the Rock on the opposite end of the Temple Mount. The Western (or Wailing) Wall, the last remnant of the second Jewish temple that the Romans destroyed in 70 A.D., stands at the western base of the Temple Mount. The Western Wall has long been a favorite pilgrimage site for Jews, and religious men and women pray there on a daily basis. Thus, the Temple Mount is equally revered by Jews as the site upon which the first and second Jewish Temples stood.

Israeli officials are extremely concerned that the Temple Mount, an area already seething with tension and distrust among Jews and Muslims, will be the stage for violent encounters between religious zealots. Most troubling is the fact that an act of terrorism need not be the catalyst that sparks widespread violence. Indeed, a simple symbolic act of desecration, or even perceived desecration, of any of the holy sites on the Temple Mount is likely to trigger a violent reaction. For example, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is expected to coincide with the arrival of the year 2000. 4 Thus, even minor provocations on or near the Temple Mount may provide the impetus for a violent confrontation.

The implications of pilgrimages to Jerusalem by vast numbers of tourists are ominous, particularly since such pilgrimages are likely to include millennial or apocalyptic cults on a mission to hasten the arrival of the Messiah. There is general concern among Israeli officials that Jewish and Islamic extremists may react violently to the influx of Christians, particularly near the Temple Mount. The primary concern is that extreme millennial cults will engage in proactive violence designed to hasten the second coming of Christ. Perhaps the most likely scenario involves an attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock. Some millennial cults hold that these structures must be destroyed so that the Jewish Temple can be rebuilt, which they see as a prerequisite for the return of the Messiah. Additionally, several religious cults have already made inroads into Israel, apparently in preparation for what they believe to be the end-times.

It is beyond the scope of this document to assess the potential repercussions from an attack on Jewish or Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. It goes without saying, however, that an attack on the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque would have serious implications. In segments of the Islamic world, close political and cultural ties between Israel and the United States are often perceived as symbolic of anti-Islamic policies by the Western world. Attacks on Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, particularly by Christian or Jewish extremists, are likely to be perceived by Islamic extremists as attacks on Islam itself. Finally, the possibility exists that Islamic extremist groups will capitalize upon the huge influx of foreigners into Jerusalem and engage in a symbolic attack.

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What happened in the year 2000:

No violent outbursts orchestrated by Christians were observed in the year 2000. However, the FBI's predictions that "even minor provocations on or near the Temple Mount may provide the impetus for a violent confrontation" turned out to be accurate. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli opposition leader, visited the Temple Mount on 2000-SEP-29. He said that it was "inconceivable" that the site could be off-limits to Jews. This triggered an extended demonstration and uprising by the Palestinians which continued into the year 2002. Many thousands died -- almost all Muslims; about a third were Jews.

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  1. "Megiddo Report, VIII. The Significance of Jerusalem," FBI, at: http://www.cesnur.org/testi/FBI_006.htm
  2. There have been a few expulsions of religious groups from Israel.
  3. Actually, there are four large monotheistic religions in the world. Christianity is the largest at 33% of the world's population. Islam is followed by about 22% of the population. Sikhism and Judaism are almost of equal size.
  4. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It was scheduled to begin in 1999-DEC-9. However the exact date is sometimes delayed a day or two until the new moon is sighted by eye. The religious observance lasted for a full lunar month of about 28 days, and ended in early 2000-JAN. 
  5. Barry Schweid, "State Department criticizes Sharon visit to Temple Mount," Associated Press, 2000-SEP-30, at: http://cnews.tribune.com/

Copyright © 1999 to 2001, incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-NOV-4
Latest update: 2005-APR-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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