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Jerusalem Day: Why the Holy City is at the crux of the peace process

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Religious significance

The biblical King David conquered Jerusalem about 3,000 years ago, and his son Solomon built the temple on the site where Jews believe Abraham planned to offer Isaac as a sacrifice – proving his dedication to God. The site become the symbolic center of the Jewish nation.

In the 7th century AD, Muslims – who believed that the prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven from the Temple Mount area and also revere Abraham – captured Jerusalem from the Christians. Today it is among the holiest cities to Muslims after Mecca and Medina.

These Muslim and Jewish holy sites are literally on top of each other, with the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque resting on the area where the Second Temple once stood and bordered today by the Western Wall. But while the Temple Mount is potentially the most contested, outside the Old City there are numerous sacred sites in an area known as the Holy Basin – including the Mt. of Olives cemetery, estimated to hold as many as 300,000 graves.

A final peace deal would need to resolve who will control access to these holy sites. Jews were denied access to the Old City during Jordan’s 1949-67 occupation. Muslims are technically allowed to visit the Temple Mount today, but due to numerous bureaucratic hurdles such as security permits for Palestinians and temporary restrictions such as a ban on men younger than 40, in practice many cannot visit the Temple Mount.

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