Israeli tourism officials have been caught red-handed trying to forge history. Gone are the days when Israeli officials in Jerusalem – like the former Israeli mayor Teddy Kollek – would stress ad nauseam the city’s religious and cultural “mosaic” pluralism and diversity.
Today’s Israeli officials are throwing down the gauntlet and are attempting to deny – or greatly minimise – everything that is not Jewish in Jerusalem while highly exaggerating the city’s Jewishness.
Israel’s actions were revealed recently when the Tourism Ministry, headed by the right-wing’s Yair Lavin from the Likud Party, put out a distorted map of the old city of Jerusalem.
The map highlights 57 locations in the old city of which only one Muslim site and five Christian locations are identified. The map includes some 25 so-called Jewish locations about which Israeli tour guides know nothing.
Rich Islamic heritage
The only Muslim location mentioned in the Israeli tourism map can hardly be missed. Nearly a quarter of the old city is dominated by the Haram al-Sharif or al-Aqsa mosque.
The Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, includes Islam’s third holiest mosque, al-Aqsa mosque, the gold-covered Dome of the Rock, the Islamic Museum and al-Aqsa Library, as well as numerous religious and historical locations that reflect 1,400 years of continuous Islamic presence.
Historic locations throughout the old city also point to graves and other references to the rich Islamic heritage in the city.
The mosque of Omar, which was established by the respected Islamic Caliphate in the 7th century, and is the quintessential location for inter-religious tolerance, is absent from the one-sided Israeli map.
When Caliph Omar Bin Khattab took Jerusalem in 638AD, he refused to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for fear that his followers might destroy the Christian church and he chose instead to pray outside the church where a mosque and a minaret sit, until now deep inside the Christian quarter. They stand as witness to Christian-Islamic mutual respect. Every Arab and Muslim student is taught this story of inter-religious reverence.
While the Israeli tourism map totally reduces the Islamic presence to a single entry, the Christian presence is also greatly diminished to five locations.
A Christian pilgrim of the old city would most definitely visit the 14 Stations of the Cross in the Via Dolorosa and the small chapels and churches built around them. TheLutheran Church of the Redeemer, whose towers majestically fill the Jerusalem skyline, is marked on the Israeli map, but not identified.
Of course, Jerusalem, and especially the old city, have suffered continuous Israeli attempts since the 1967 occupation to make it a Jewish city.
Huge settlement efforts have taken place throughout East Jerusalem and a concerted attempt to reduce the Palestinian population using administrative means have been documented by local and international human rights organisations.
Despite these, and the controversial shenanigans of Jewish extremists, the number of Jewish Israelis living in the old city remains under 9 percent of the old city’s population.
According to the official Institute of Israeli studies statistical yearbook, of the 38,700 people living in the old city of Jerusalem in 2014 only 3,350 are Jewish Israelis. Palestinian Muslims are 29,090 (75 percent). Palestinian and Armenian Christians are twice as large as the Jewish population numbering 6,260, which amounts to 16 percent of the old city’s populace.
Yet despite this combined 91 percent population and between 14 and 21 centuries of history, Christian and Muslim holy places are relegated to a tiny minority of named locations in the Israeli tourism map.
The Israeli map was totally rejected by Palestinian and Jordanian officials, as well as by Christian and Muslim religious leaders. Jordan, whose peace agreement with Israel stipulates that the Hashemite Kingdom, whose monarch is a direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammad, rejected the map.
Important to all
Jordan’s Tourism Minister Nayef Al-Fayez told the Washington DC-based Al-Monitor news website that the attempt to monopolise Jerusalem will not work.
“The attempts to divert Jerusalem to one group or one faith is not helpful. Jerusalem is holy for the three monotheistic religions and is rich with many sites for Muslims, Christians and Jews. For us, Jerusalem is important to all,” he said.
It is not clear if the one-sided tourism map will continue to be used after all the criticism. Israeli media reported that the Tourism Ministry has no plans to withdraw itand claims that the map is based on advice from tourism “experts” without naming them.
While the controversial map has been condemned by Jordanian and Palestinian officials as well as by religious leaders, it has yet to produce any public statement from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), the Vatican or from UNESCO.
If anything, the one-sided Israeli map proves that the struggle for the heart of Jerusalem and for the sympathy of its visitors is still wide open. This means that the opportunity to win the battle for a diverse and pluralistic Jerusalem exists. There is a clear need for this multi-religious, multi-cultural city to be reflected as such in maps and other documents.
Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.