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Herbert A. Opalek: Jerusalem, heart of Mideast quagmire

Herb Opalek

The "sounds of silence" have recently resounded in the Gaza Strip, and we are all hopeful of a long-term peace where, in scriptural terms, nations will not carry on war with each other and the art of warfare will no longer be studied.

Much has been written on the art of peacemaking and much ink, as well as much blood, has been spilled since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 in attempting to bring a permanent peace to that region.

In our latest attempt, our new Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has appointed former senate majority leader George Mitchell to be her special envoy to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Mitchell, a well-respected politician, has brokered a successful peace between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland and then turned his attention to the problem of drug and steroid misuse in Major League Baseball.

Evidently, he is the modern American version of Thomas More -- a man for all seasons.

The sticking point for all previous efforts to fashion an Israeli-Arab peace treaty has been the status of Jerusalem. It is for many people much more than a historical and biblical entity. The poet describes it in this way:

"The mountain air is clear as wine

and the scent of pines

is carried on the breeze of twilight

with the sound of bells.

And in the slumber of tree and stone

Captured in her dream

the city that sits solitary

and in its midst is a Wall.

Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze, and of light

Behold I am a violin for all your songs."

It is that "wall" that Jew, Arab, and Christian consider sacred and of prime significance to their faiths. Isaiah (52:1) called Jerusalem the "holy city" and the Arabs also refer to it in that same terminology, "al Quds."

The early rabbis interpreted Jerusalem etymologically to mean "the perfect city" and it is the site of the Holy Temple that Scripture often refers to. The "wall" is the sole surviving remnant of that Temple.

Jerusalem and its "wall" is, also, the third holiest site for adherents of the Muslim faith who believe that Muhammad was miraculously transported one night from Mecca to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, whereupon he ascended to heaven to meet previous prophets of Islam.

For Christians, who build their faith upon the Old Testament prophecies, Jerusalem is home for much of what takes place in the Gospels and early Christendom.

Indeed, for a short period of history, Jerusalem was under Christian hegemony. In July 1099, the city was captured by the First Crusaders and it became the capital of a "Latin Kingdom" under the authority of the pope.

Of greatest significance, we find, in Christian apocalyptic, that the Book of Revelation ends with a vision of a New Jerusalem where Christ will dwell again among his people.

It makes for difficult peacemaking and an almost impossibility to determine the place and role of Jerusalem in Middle East political reality.

As we all know, it is almost impossible to argue issues of faith among disparate beliefs and believers. The psychology of religion has, for most of its history, tried to define religion in ways that would apply in all religions. But it has recently come to appreciate that this might not be possible.

It is obvious to us that religions can be compared to each other only in limited ways because of their fundamental differences. Similarly, it has been realized that the emotions involved in religion vary in important ways among religions.

One would need the wisdom of a Solomon to fashion a solution to the place of Jerusalem in today's Middle East that would be acceptable to Jew, Christian and Arab.

We need someone to join together the reality of the terrestrial Jerusalem, of the here and now, and unite it with the aspirations of the celestial Jerusalem and its peace that we all look forward to.

This is the task facing George Mitchell. One can only hope and pray that he succeeds.

Herbert A. Opalek is CEO of the Merced County Rescue Mission.

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