Jerusalem: sacred home of three world religions

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A big argument has been going on between Israel and Egypt over whether the new Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, should visit Jerusalem. President Mubarak says ''yes'' he'll go to Israel, but ''no'' he refuses to visit the city of Jerusalem now ruled by Israel.

Israelis are upset because they regard Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. They feel it's only natural that President Mubarak should visit their capital city.

The problem is that Egypt doesn't recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Nor does any other country in the world, except Israel.

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It's all because Jerusalem is like no other city in the world.

It is the only city in the world that is holy to three great world religions. That is why the Egyptians, and the rest of the world's nations, feel that Jerusalem should not be the capital of Israel. This explains President Mubarak's refusal to go to Jerusalem. To go there would mean he agrees with the idea that Jerusalem belongs only to Israel which is the Jewish state .

The three great world religions that regard Jerusalem as holy are Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Judaism is the religion of the Jews. Islam, also known as the Muslim or Muhammadan religion, is the religion of most, but not all, Arabs. It is also widespread in Africa and Asia.

For each of these religions Jerusalem holds a very special and sacred importance.

Here in Jerusalem can be found those sites that are so familiar to readers of the Bible: the Mount of Olives, the pool of Bethesda, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the road, known as the Via Dolorosa, along which Jesus carried the cross to Calvary. Most important to Christians is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is supposed to mark the place where Jesus was entombed. Christians believe that was the site where Jesus Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.

Muslims who practice the Muslim or Islamic religion believe that their prophet, Muhammad, also ascended to heaven from Jerusalem. This is supposed to have occurred at a site on the Temple Mount now marked by a mosque called the Dome of the Rock.

For Jews, the holiest of all holy Jewish sites is the Wailing Wall, more accurately called the Western Wall. The Wailing Wall is the outside wall of the enclosure that surrounds the Dome of the Rock. The wall is the last surviving relic of Temple Mount where Solomon's Temple was built and where Jews of antiquity prayed.

For centuries Jews prayed at this wall. But the Jewish practice of praying as they had always done ended in 1948 when Israel, which formed part of Palestine, became a brand new state. That act sparked a war between Jews (Israelis) and the Arabs because the Arabs were opposed to the new Jewish state being created out of their own lands.

At the end of that war, Jerusalem was divided into two parts. The Israeli sector included most of the more modern western part of the city. The eastern part of the city, which took in the old walled city with its holy places, including the Wailing Wall, came under the rule of Jordan, an Arab nation. This older or more Arab part of the city is sometimes called East Jerusalem. As a result of that war all Jews were evacuated (forced to leave) from the old city.

It was not until 1967 that Israelis were again allowed to pray at the Wailing Wall. This was because of another Middle Eastern war involving Israel and Jordan (as well as some other Arab nations). Because Israel was the winner it was able to annex (take over) East Jerusalem and bring all of Jerusalem under its control.

While Jews were delighted after all those years to pray again at the Wailing Wall, many people in the world felt it was wrong that Israel had taken over control of that part of Jerusalem which included the Wailing Wall.

The reason is not just because many nations feel Israel should hand East Jerusalem back to Jordan (that is to say, back to Arabs). There is also the feeling that Jerusalem should not belong to just one nation, in this case Israel. The United Nations has voted that Jerusalem should be internationalized -- that is to say be made an international city -- so it could belong to everyone -- and be run by the UN. Because of that UN resolution in 1947 there are no foreign embassies -- offices that house diplomats -- in Jerusalem. Instead the embassies are in another Israeli city, Tel Aviv, which many countries like Britain and the United States do recognize as the capital of Israel.

This shows why Jerusalem is one of the most heated subjects in Middle East politics. Now we can see why three great religions in the world are concerned about it.

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