Israel’s territory immediately west of the Jordan river, known as the West Bank, a part of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years (1517-1917), includes the significant historical and cultural centers of East Jerusalem, in which is situated the Old City, but also parts of the littoral western Dead Sea. This region, officially referred to by Israel now as Judea and Samaria, occupies more than one-fifth of the former Mandatory Palestine; then under occupation and administration of Jordan, since the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, before its formal annexation in 1950.
Though a small part of the Israeli economy, the West bank represents a sizeable portion of Jordanian Gross National Product. Jordan is obviously keen to hang onto land afforded them from partition of the Ottoman Empire by a Sykes-Picot agreement, between the United Kingdom and France, during WW1.
The Six-Day War changed everything.
Since, the international community has considered East Jerusalem as occupied by Israel. Certainly, Israel gained some long-lost territory as well as an improved hand in negotiations. For afterwards, Israel allowed Jordan to retain authority over the Temple Mount through the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf: a Jordanian-led Islamic trust for administration of the compound, with Israel responsible for security outside it. Importantly, only Muslims would be allowed to pray at the site.
But one or other form of waqf has governed access to the Temple Mount since Muslim reconquest of Jerusalem in 1187.
There are, however, now incredible claims that it was only the rare very recent chance at Arab-Israeli rapprochement, manifest in the 13 August 2020 compact with the United Arab Emirates, that averted annexation of the West Bank by Israel. and all that that might entail in these heady days; an annexation alleged to have otherwise been planned for July 1st.
However incredible that claim may seem (if taken at face value, a crisis averted for now, it seems), the point is that the Middle East is currently at a tipping point not seen since 1967.
The point of the Six-Day War, in 1967, was to recapture the Old City.
The Old City of Jerusalem is currently divided into four regions according to prevailing ethnicity of its inhabitants. The Old City has: a Christian Quarter; an Armenian Quarter; a Muslim Quarter, by far the largest quarter but beyond the main thoroughfares of which it is not considered safe for Jews or Christians to roam; and, of course, a Jewish Quarter.¹ The holiest of holy parts of the Old City (if you will), the Temple Mount, straddles the two eastern Quarters, the Muslim and the Jewish.
Eleven city gates were originally spread about the perimeter of this one-square kilometre of land, only eight of which now remain and one of which is closed. Located above ground level but below the Temple Mount, visible only from without the city, one of these, is The Golden Gate; the gate Jews anticipate as point of entry for the coming Messiah when he enters Jerusalem. Two gates lead into the Old City’s Jewish Quarter itself. Just beyond the Western Wall, a lasting stronghold after Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, is The Dung Gate. In antiquity, refuse was dumped just outside this gate where prevailing winds would carry the odour away from the city.
And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire.Nehemiah 2:13 (NKJV)
The other entrance to the Jewish Quarter is the Zion gate, named after the nearby mount.
Israel claims sovereignty over East Jerusalem, affording Palestinians administrative authority over the Old City’s Muslim and Christian Quarters. In 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert circumvented the issue proposing instead a temporary international trusteeship administered by Israel, the Palestinian state, the US, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
In contrast to Jews, most Arabs enter the city through the Damascus Gate straight into the souk (bazaars) and below which stands Hadrian’s Arch, built in 135 AD as main entrance to the city the Roman Emperor called Aelia Capitolina. As the Arch indicates, the Muslim Quarter is home to more than just articles of interest to those of Islamic faith. For all Christians who have visited the Holy City know that The Via Dolorosa, and most of the Way of the Cross, are in the city’s Muslim Quarter. More recently, and rather provocatively, despite its history as a place Jews have lived for decades, there is also a return by some Jews back into this part of the city.
Just up from the Western Wall plaza is the 40-acre plateau dominated by two shrines from the seventh century, the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque. This plateau, the Temple Mount or Haram es-Sharif (Arabic: “Noble Enclosure”) confirms Jerusalem as the “Remote Place” of the Koran, third only in importance to Mecca and Medina.³ But Jews remain divided about walking up onto the Temple Mount for fear of defiling the place where forefathers once offered sacrifice, while others avoid so doing for fear of provoking Muslims. Tensions are always—always—high on the Mount.
Nonetheless, one of Christianity’s most holy places does indeed stand within the Christian Quarter. Christian reverence for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as site of death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is however based on the conviction of Helena, mother of fourth-century Roman Emperor Constantine. Unsurprisingly, the site is zealously guarded by different Christian denominations: Greek Orthodox; Roman Catholic; Armenian; and Coptic. Yet just such disputes, in the twelfth-century, led Arab conqueror Saladin to entrust the keys to the Sepulcher to Muslims.
Eight centuries later and the 10-inch metal key is still safeguarded in the house of the Joudeh family. Every morning at dawn, Wajeeh Nuseibeh, who took over the job of doorkeeper from his father 20 years ago, picks up the key and opens the massive wooden church doors. Every night at 8:00 p.m. he returns to shut and lock them.¹
Of the Armenian and smallest of the quartet, established in the fourteenth century, two-thirds is taken up by The St. James Monastery. With room for only one Armenian church, Syrian, Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Anglican denominations all boast churches in this part of the city. Armenians claim a presence in Jerusalem since a first-century battalion fought under Roman emperor Titus, remaining ensconced in Jerusalem for the last 1,700 years and not infrequently caught in its crossfire.¹ Armenians are renowned for so readily adopting Christianity as their official religion in 286 CE, well before even the Romans.
Providing fortifications for the city, at some 40-feet tall, the Old City walls were built between 1537 and 1541 under orders of Ottoman Emperor, Suleiman. The Zion Gate was the last of the gates constructed, in 1540. The Zion Gate provides access to Jewish-Quarter sites like the Tower of David and to the apparent resting place of King David’s himself. Here also is the Cenacle, considered site of the Last Supper.
The present-day Jewish Quarter dates to antiquity, remains of the upper city of the Herodian period (37 BC–70 AD). Testament to Ottoman prohibition of Jewish and Christian buildings reaching higher than Muslim structures, the Jewish Quarter boasts 400-year-old synagogues that sit below street level. More conventionally, however, as the Old City’s second oldest active synagogue, founded in 1267, the Ramban Synagogue stands in honour of Rabbi Moshe Ben-Nahman (Ramban) who helped rejuvenate Jerusalem’s Jewish community after it had been wiped out by Crusaders.¹
Up on the east wall of the Temple Mount, dating to 1541, the Golden Gate is oldest of eight gates of present-day Jerusalem and the only one that opens—if it were open—onto the Temple Mount.² During the First (Solomon’s) Temple period (c.1000–586 BCE), an eastern Gate was also main entrance into the Temple area but it was farther south and at lower level than its rebuilt successor. This lower originary eastern gate was used by Jesus on his original entrance to Jerusalem in 30 AD. The rebuilt eastern Gate was main entrance to the Second Temple area, the gate of the Lord’s triumphal entry on Palm Sunday (c. 33 AD).
Fittingly called also the Gate of Eternal Life, the outer aspect to this Golden Gate, perhaps equally fittingly, faces the Mount of Olives—where Jesus is believed to have given his Sermon on the Mount—and the Jewish cemetery. The gate is, in fact, made of two now sealed archways: the southern Gate of Mercy and the northern Gate of Repentance. Rather than at the pejoratively called “Wailing Wall,” an appellation from outsiders regarding modern-day Western-Wall Jewish prayer and vigil, Jews of yesteryear prayed opposite this eastern gate, facing the Temple. As Paula Lawlor at Magdalene Publishing says, “they began praying at the Gate of Repentance before proceeding to the Gate of Mercy;” moved to repent before asking God for mercy. As Lawlor notes, Christians later named this the Golden Gate, a gate that, according to the Koran, the just will pass through on the Day of Judgment.³
Closed by the Muslims in 810, reopened in 1102 by Crusaders, the Golden gate was walled off by Saladin, first sultan of Egypt, after regaining Jerusalem in 1137. The gate has been closed ever since. Not satisfied, in 1530 the paranoid Ottomans piled great stones atop the gate before placing a cemetery right at its front thinking that the Jewish Messiah would not set foot in a cemetery. Unbeknown to them, however, Muslims were merely fulfilling Hebraic prophesy of more than 1000 years earlier:
And the LORD said to me, “This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the LORD God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.Ezekiel 44:2 (NKJV)
Though Suleiman rebuilt the Eastern Gate together with the ruined walls of the Old City, in 1535, he nonetheless sealed the new gate shut. To prevent Messiah from coming, he sealed the Golden Gate—the only one of the eight extant of an original eleven gates that remains walled off.
No man shall enter by it. Because the LORD God of Israel has entered by it.
Articles of Interest
Aelia Capitolina. Land of the Bible. Available at https://www.land-of-the-bible.com/Aelia_Capitolina.
Greenwald, Glenn. “With the World Focused on the Pandemic, Israel Prepares to Annex Large Swaths of the West Bank.” The Intercept. June 19, 2020. Available at https://theintercept.com/2020/06/18/with-the-world-focused-on-the-pandemic-israel-prepares-to-annex-large-swaths-of-the-west-bank/.
The Six-Day War (June 1967). Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2013. Available at https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/aboutisrael/history/pages/the%20six-day%20war%20-%20june%201967.aspx.
Samuel, Sigal. “How the Six-Day War Transformed Religion: Six perspectives on how the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict changed Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Mormonism.” The Atlantic. June 5, 2017. Available at https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/06/how-the-six-day-war-changed-religion/528981/.