Jerusalem in controversy

Faith leaders speak out

President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has stirred controversy in the world. Some say it should have been done long ago. Others argue that it will disrupt and annihilate the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Who has sovereignty over the city has been a stumbling block in efforts to stage a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has continued since Israel was re-established as a nation in 1948.

Palestinians want Jerusalem as their capital if an agreement is ever reached. Israelis believe Jerusalem was established as their capital during the time of King David about 3,000 years ago. Since that time, Jerusalem has been conquered or destroyed numerous times.

For Jews, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the United States is a welcome decision. Some evangelical Christians believe it is a fulfillment of prophecy while other Christians believe it may affect the peace process. Muslims, who also have sacred sites in Jerusalem, focus more on their other holy sites in Saudia Arabia.

Locally, leaders of the three faiths recently commented on the president’s decision to move America’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Rabbi Josh Wohl of Agudath Achim Congregation said: “It’s wonderful that Jerusalem is being recognized as the capital of Israel.”

He said that God promised Israel to Abraham and his descendants. King David established his capital there and his son, Solomon, built the first Temple in the city.

“Jerusalem is our spiritual home,” Wohl said. “When we pray, we actually pray toward Jerusalem. Jews all over the world face Jerusalem when they pray. It is the most important place in the Jewish religion.”

He also said that the peace process will continue and the issue of borders and final status decisions are still up in the air.

Bill Wallen, executive director of the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation, said the Jewish people have always had an emotional and spiritual attachment to Jerusalem. He said Mount Moriah, where God provided a lamb for a sacrifice after testing Abraham’s willingness to give up his son, Isaac, is the site of the Temple Mount.

“The name of Jerusalem is mentioned 669 times in our Scriptures,” he said, adding that Zion, a reference to Jerusalem, is mentioned more than 130 times. Although two temples have been on the site known as the Temple Mount, both have been destroyed — Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians in about 600 BCE and the second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.

All that remains is a retaining wall known as the Western Wall, which holds up the Temple Mount.

“To Jews, it represents the Temple,” said Wallen, who added they feel close to God there.

Wallen noted that to Israel, Jerusalem is its capital and it has its seat of government in the city.

In 1995, The U.S. Congress passed a law requiring the U.S. Embassy to be moved there from Tel Aviv, but gave the president the option of signing a waiver on implementation of the law every six months.

In the past, presidents have signed the waiver. They have been reluctant to recognize it because of political and economic reasons as well as concerns for intensifying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.

He said some American Jews also oppose Trump’s implementation of the law because they fear an uprising and the loss of lives.

Dr. Mohammad N. Dowlut, president of the Islamic Center of Central Pennsylvania in Altoona, said Muslims, too, have spiritual ties to Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque are there. The Dome of the Rock is a shrine built in 688-691 CE atop the earlier location of the Temple. Al-Aqsa Mosque is located about 656 feet south of it. It was originally built in 715 CE and is the third-most holy place in the Muslim faith, with shrines in Mecca and Medina in Saudia Arabia being the most holy.

It is believed that the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey to heaven started from the rock at the center of the Dome of the Rock. Dowlut explained that Muhammad later returned to earth and is buried in Medina.

He said although Jerusalem is a holy site for Muslims, pilgrimages to the Middle Eastern city are no longer common. He said his grandfather visited Jerusalem, but Muslims today concentrate on participating in Hajj in Mecca one time to fulfill one of the five pillars of Islam and visit Muhammad’s burial site in Medina.

He said Muslims believe in Moses and Abraham and the biblical prophets, including Jesus.

He emphasized that Jesus, like Muhammad, is a prophet. Muslims do not believe he is God, nor that he died on the cross. They believe God took him to heaven, that God spared his life, Dowlut said. He said the Quran states that he will return someday, but to Damascus and then to Jerusalem.

Dowlut said after Jesus comes back to the earth, he will die like any other human being.

“I am a human being and so is Jesus,” he said. “We are very, very careful with that.”

Dowlut said he believes Jerusalem should be open to all three Abrahamic faiths and should be considered a universal city.

Christians are divided on Trump’s decision.

Pastor Gary Dull of Faith Baptist Church said Jerusalem is recognized as Israel’s capital by its people. He said Trump’s decision was no surprise to him or other conservative evangelicals because it was one of his campaign promises.

He said they support the Jewish nation and that biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.

Reflecting on Israel’s history from the time that the land was promised to Abraham, Dull noted that prophecies foretold that the Jews would leave and return to the land several times. But he believes those times have ended.

From a biblical perspective, there is no indication that the Jews will exit the land again until the Messiah comes, Dull said.

Monsignor Michael Becker, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Lakemont, disagrees with moving the embassy.

He said it takes sides against the Palestinians, many of whom are Christians.

He said support for Palestinians is being cut and more and more Christians are being pushed out of the Holy Land and unable to find jobs there.

He said while Jerusalem is well protected, Trump’s decision could affect tourism to the Holy Land where Christians visit Jesus’ birth site in Bethlehem and historic Christian places in Old Jerusalem.

Becker said neutrality in Jerusalem has been broken.

He said he also believes some evangelicals are misreading Scripture and not all prophecies point to present-day events.

“We cannot guide or drive prophecy,” Dull said, “but must recognize prophecies as what they are when they are being fulfilled.”

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