King Abdullah used his speech to the UN General Assembly on September 20 to attack Israeli control of Jerusalem where, he claimed, “Christianity is under threat.” A report on his charge can be found here: “King Abdullah blasts Israel: Christianity in Jerusalem is under fire,” by Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post, September 20, 2022:
Christianity is under attack in Jerusalem, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned as he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday morning prior to his meeting with Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
“The rights of churches in Jerusalem are threatened,” said Abdullah, who as the head of the Hashemite Kingdom is also considered to be the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in the city.
King Abdullah controls the Waqf Council that manages Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. This was recognized by Israel the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and the Jewish state, whose ninth article says that Israel commits to “respect the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem.” Nothing was said about Jordan’s “custodianship” over Christian sites in the city. The King may hold himself out as the “custodian of Christian sites” in Jerusalem, but certainly neither the Vatican nor any of the Protestant denominations have granted him that role. He’s self-appointed.
“Christianity in the holy city is under fire. This can not continue,” King Abdullah said.
“We are committed to defending the rights, the precious heritage and the historic identity of the Christian people of our region,” King Abdullah stated.
Is King Abdullah “committed” to defending the Copts in Egypt from attacks by Muslims? Or reassuring the Assyrians and Chaldeans who have fled Iraq since Saddam Hussein was overthrown, reducing the Christian population in the country from 1.5 million to 150,000, that they will be safe in Jordan? Has he demanded of the Saudis that they permit Christian worship in the Kingdom? Did he denounce Erdogan for turning the Hagia Sophia, once the greatest church in Christendom, from a museum into a mosque? Where else in the region, other than Jerusalem, does King Abdullah claim to be defending Christianity?
And what about Bethlehem itself? Christians have been steadily leaving the city, driven out by the hostility of local Muslims. Bethlehem had a population that was 80% Christian in 1950, but is only 11% Christian today. Isn’t that worth talking about, and raising the alarm about a “Bethlehem without Christians” at the General Assembly?
“Nowhere is that more important [defending the rights of Christians] than in Jerusalem,” he added.
Overall, King Abdullah explained, “the future of Jerusalem is an urgent concern. “The city is holy to billions of Muslims, Christians and Jews around the world.
And in Jerusalem, as King Abdullah well knows, the Israelis have scrupulously protected the religious rights of all. Christians are not leaving Jerusalem, as they are leaving Gaza and the PA-ruled areas of the West Bank. The main factor driving that Christian emigration is persecution by Muslims. In a survey conducted by the Philos Project, over 40% of Palestinian Christians surveyed indicated that they feel that Muslims do not wish to see them in Palestine. But King Abdullah has nothing to say about the pressures from Muslims that cause those Christians to leave.
“Undermining Jerusalem’s legal and historical status quo triggers global tensions and deepens religious divides,” he said. “The holy city must not be a place for hatred and division.”
Shouldn’t Abdullah be deploring such expressions of “hatred and division,” as the rocks and bottles that Palestinians stockpile in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and then use to pelt Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount, as well as bombarding with rocks Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall far below? Don’t those attacks “deepen religious divides”? And what about the former imam of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Khaled al-Mughrabi, who in his sermons called for the “extermination of the Jews”? Can Abdullah point to any Christian or Jewish clerics in Jerusalem calling for violence against, much less extermination of, Muslims?
With respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, King Abdullah called for a two-state resolution to the conflict based on the pre-1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.
The phrase “pre-1967 lines” is a milder way of saying “the 1949 armistice lines.” Those lines left Israel with a nine mile-wide waist from Qalqilya to the sea. If Israel were to be squeezed back within those lines, the Jewish state would be stripped of any strategic depth; the 1949 lines are, as Abba Eban once said, “the lines of Auschwitz.” Israel has a claim to the entire West Bank, based on the Palestine Mandate itself. Furthermore, UN Security Council Resolution 242 gives Israel the right to retain any territory taken in the Six-Day War that it needs if it is to have “secure [i.e., defensible] and recognized boundaries.” King Abdullah would prefer that we forget about both UNSC 242 and, still more troubling from his point of view, the Mandate for Palestine.
The Palestinian people deserve a state, King Abdullah said, “explaining that the Palestinian people with their resilient national identity cannot be denied the right to self-determination.”
If the Palestinian people “deserve a state,” then perhaps King Abdullah can explain why, between 1949 and 1967, when Jordan held the West Bank, it did not establish that Palestinian state? Could it be because the “Palestinian people” had not yet been invented?
He spoke as tensions have risen between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and amid concern about an outbreak of violence on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount during the upcoming holidays.
The Temple Mount, also known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, is the holiest religious site for Jews and the third holiest for Muslims.
The Palestinians have routinely accused Israel of violating a status quo arrangement put in place after the 1967 Six-Day war in which Jews and Christians may visit the site, but only Muslims may worship there.
That “status quo” shows just how far Israel has been prepared to go to avoid offending Muslims. Israel chose to severely limit what Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount could do. They are not allowed to bring Jewish prayerbooks, or prayer shawls, or tefillin, onto the Mount. They are prohibited from saying prayers either openly or silently. They are restricted to visits during only five hours a day, and five days a week, while Muslims have no such restrictions. Those limits remain in force.
Lapid and his prime ministerial predecessors Naftali Bennett and Benjamin Netanyahu have all insisted that Israel is committed to that status quo arrangement and that there is no change in policy.
The police, however, have not fully prevented Jewish worshippers from praying at the site, and the number of those who successfully do so has grown, with one NGO estimating that 50,000 Jews prayed this year.
It is true that recently some Jews have managed to say prayers very quietly; that is a change in practice rather than In policy. And if that policy itself were to change, would that be wrong? Should Jews not have the right to pray, quietly, at the holiest site in Judaism? And if 50,000 Jews in the course of a year — that’s about 200 a day, five days a week — visit the Temple Mount, how does that interfere with the worship by vast numbers of Muslims (200,000 came at the last Eid al-Fitr) who pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and compound?
Within weeks of taking office in July Lapid visited King Abdullah in a meeting symbolized by the warm way the two men grasped each other’s shoulders. But King Abdullah’s speech at the UNGA [on Sept. 20], introduced an element of antagonism into the relationship, which appeared to attack Israel on the issue of Jerusalem, particularly given that the speech was delivered just hours before the two men were scheduled to meet.
In his speech to the UN General Assembly, King Abdullah offered not a single example of the supposed threat to Christianity in Jerusalem. There have been no attacks on churches or on Christian worshippers, as has happened repeatedly in Egypt. No Christians have been fleeing from the city, as they have been doing from Gaza and the PA’s territory in the West Bank. There has been no catastrophic decline in the Christian population of Jerusalem, as has happened in Bethlehem, where Muslim hostility has caused so many Christians to leave that they now constitute only 11% of the population.
King Abdullah’s speech at the UNGA on Sept. 20, attacking Israel – preposterously — for its supposed threats to Christianity in Jerusalem, was delivered in a very different spirit from that July meeting with Prime Minister Lapid. Is there something in the very air of the UN that deepens antagonism to Israel? Abdullah’s speech was unfair and unhinged. Let’s hope that he regains his moral equilibrium, lest he topple into malevolent irrelevance.