The statement over the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem puts the position of Islam clearly. “There is no god but the God, and Abraham is His friend.” For it is a city for all the children of Abraham: Jews, Christians, Muslims.
The second destruction of Jerusalem under Emperor Hadrian in 130 CE, after which Jews were expelled from the land forever, was a policy maintained by the Christian Eastern Roman Empire.
The taking of control of the city from Byzantium in 628 CE is often portrayed as just another imperial conquest. It was not.
Under the Byzantines, not only Judaism, but dissenting interpretations of Christianity were under threat. The Jews were facing the continuing ban on their living in the re-built city of Aelia Capitolina (which had replaced the destroyed Jerusalem) and they were slowly disappearing.
David J Wasserstein starts his article in the Jewish Chronicle with “Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth.”
Dealing with the situation in the Roman Empire, he wrote: “Great and permanent reductions in numbers through conversion, between the fourth and the seventh centuries, brought with them a gradual but relentless whittling away of the status, rights, social and economic existence, and religious and cultural life of Jews all over the Roman empire.” [Jewish Chronicle May 24, 2012]
The taking of control over the city by the second Caliph of Islam, Omar Ibn al-Khattab, was an opening up of the city to the three monotheistic faiths and not just the Christianity endorsed by Constantinople.
Much has been made of the so-called “Pact of Omar” with the Christians of the city. The text exists in several different forms.
One version, transmitted by the tenth-century Muslim historian, al-Tabari, reads, in part:
“In the name of God, the Merciful Benefactor! This is the guarantee granted the inhabitants of Aelia by the servant of God Umar, Commander of the Believers. He grants them the surety of their persons, their goods, their churches, their crosses – whether these are in a good or bad condition – and the cult in general. ……… No Jew will be authorized to live in Jerusalem with them.” [al-Tabari, Annals I, 2405]
The modern Iraqi historian Abdul Aziz refutes these claims about the re-imposition of the Roman ban upon Jews in the Holy City. He asserts that details pertaining to prohibiting a certain population from living in a conquered city were unusual and never appear in the texts of similar sulh (covenant) in the Syrian region.
Reference to Jews in the covenant was apparently absent from most Arab sources. It is believed today that this information first appeared in the Chronique of Michael the Syrian, Patriarch of Antioch 1126-1199. [Abdul Aziz Duri, “Jerusalem in the Early Islamic Period, 7th-11th Centuries AD,” in Kamil J. Asali, Jerusalem in History (Brooklyn, NY: Olive Branch Press, 1990), p. 107.]
The Geniza records indicate that 70 Jewish families from Tiberias relocated to Jerusalem with Umar’s approval. It was also during this early Muslim period that Jerusalem was divided into different quarters for each religious community.” [Dan Bahat, “The Physical Infrastructure,” in Prawer and Ben-Shammai, eds., The History of Jerusalem, p. 53]
The Islamic control of Jerusalem guaranteed the rights of Jews and Christians to their shrines and holy sites.
The attempt of the American Administration to return Jerusalem to the total control of an intolerant occupier, echoing Byzantium, which wants to expel non-Jews from the Holy City, cannot stand.
Indeed this act of endorsing illegal occupation of Palestinian land has intensified the moral and political isolation of the USA, as well as mobilising Muslims and supporters of the rights of the Palestinian people all over the world.
What appears to be bad may, in fact, be good.