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Centrality of Jerusalem

EACH Passover, Jews around the world - as they have done for thousands of years - recount their people's history from slavery to freedom, from exile to independence. At the close of the festive Passover meal, the entire House of Israel unites to recite a short vow which in essence summarizes Jewish aspirations, beliefs, and prayers: ''Next year in Jerusalem!''

Since King David chose it as his capital 3,000 years ago, Jerusalem has been revered by Jews as the focus of their liturgy. In fact, throughout its entire history as a city, only one people - the Jews - ever made Jerusalem its spiritual and political capital.

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For a brief 19-year period, Jerusalem was a divided city, separated by concrete barricades and barbed wire. From 1949 to 1967, the Jordanians, in complete disregard of the armistice agreement with Israel, erected these physical barriers, denied Jews access to their holy sites, deliberately destroyed the Old City's Jewish Quarter together with its dozens of ancient synagogues and other religious institutions, and willfully desecrated the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives by paving a highway through the graves - whose tombstones the Jordanians used to construct Army latrines.

Christians too felt the pain of Jordanian discrimination. No new churches were allowed to be built in Jerusalem during the Jordanian occupation, and the Christian community dropped precipitously from 15 percent of the city's population to just 4 percent.

On June 5, 1967, despite an Israeli message to King Hussein promising not to initiate any action against Jordan if he would not attack Israel, Jordanian troops nevertheless heavily shelled the western sections of the city. Having taken eastern Jerusalem in an act of wanton aggression in 1948, Jordan lost it through a similar act of aggression in 1967.

It would have been inconceivable for any Israeli government not to reunite the once-divided city, whose very name - Jerusalem - means in Hebrew ''city of peace,'' or the ''city of wholeness.'' Today, Jerusalem is a bustling metropolis , a prosperous open city where freedom of access is guaranteed to all faiths and peoples. Most of its desecrated Jewish holy sites have been reconstructed; its Christian population is no longer in decline; and Muslims from countries officially at war with Israel come to visit Jerusalem on a daily basis.

Israel's guarantee of free access is rooted in the realization that holy sites of different religions are located in Jerusalem. Indeed, each holy site is administered not by Israel, but by the respective religious communities themselves.

The centrality of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, however, should not be trivialized or minimized as equaling the feelings of others. For non-Jews, Jerusalem is a holy city because their holy sites are located there. In contrast , for Jews, Jerusalem in and of itself is a holy site. Though many of the city's Jewish shrines had been destroyed by foreign invaders in the past, Jerusalem in its entirety continues to be a unique object of Jewish veneration. All Jews pray facing Jerusalem. Muslims, on the other hand - even those in Jerusalem - face Mecca. Jerusalem is mentioned some 634 times in Jewish scripture, but is not mentioned even once in the Koran.

No one can seriously question that today Jerusalem is the united capital of the State of Israel. Foreign diplomats, including those from the United States, drive up to Jerusalem on a daily basis to confer with Israeli government officials. Ambassadors, including American ambassadors, present their credentials to Israel's president at his home in Jerusalem. The Cabinet, the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) and the Supreme Court sit in Jerusalem. Foreign dignitaries and heads of state - including Presidents Nixon and Carter, all have come to Jerusalem to speak with Israel's leaders.

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Every sovereign country has the elementary right to determine where its capital will be. The decision to locate an embassy in a particular capital city does not prejudice any other issue. While the US, for example, does not recognize East Germany's absorption of East Berlin, the American embassy in East Germany is located in East Berlin because East Berlin is considered by East Germany to be its capital.

This being the case, there is no reason why Jerusalem should be treated any differently. Certainly, the future of Jerusalem should not be held hostage to threats of Arab terror nor the greater, root problem which created and has perpetuated the Arab-Israeli conflict: the refusal of Israel's Arab neighbors to recognize Israel's right to exist, to negotiate with her, and proclaim their willingness to live in peace with her.

Jerusalem's status as Israel's united capital did not prevent the late President Sadat from visiting Israel and Jerusalem once he decided to make peace. We await the day when other Arab leaders will follow his example.

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