Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Welcome to Jerusalem, centre of the world
Not so long ago, as war raged in Iraq, there was much talk about a suggestion that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians deserved less attention from the United States and other world powers than it had enjoyed over the past 60-odd years, that the intractable dispute was distracting policymakers and that the plight of the stateless Palestinians was much less central to the problems in relations between the Arab world and the West than had long been supposed. It is a debate that continues, though as journalists who have chosen to work in Jerusalem perhaps we may be forgiven for occasionally pointing out that many thinkers continue to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as central to the problems of the region and so to the world at large.
A survey last year by Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institution, Does the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Still Matter?, found that 86 percent of non-Palestinian Arabs, from Morocco to the Emirates, placed the fate of Palestinians among their top three concerns. That was an increase from 69 percent in 2005, when a larval sectarian civil war in Iraq seemed to be dragging Sunni and Shiite Muslims into a broader regional conflict. And it was still higher than the 73 percent who thought the Palestinian question mattered in 2002: “Despite the Iraq war and the increasing focus on a Sunni-Shiite divide, the Palestinian question remains a central prism through which Arabs view the world,” Telhami concluded.
At Reuters, we think it matters. We have more than 70 journalists working in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, covering the news and trends across a range of media, in text, in pictures and in video. You can view much of our work at the Reuters News and AlertNet sites linked to in the bar to the right. This blog site complements that work and, we hope, gives readers and chance to debate the topics that matter in the region and the world beyond. You will see an archive of material from recent months, including during the recent war in the Gaza Strip. With Israeli voters going to the polls this coming Tuesday and Egyptian mediators working against the clock to try and solidify the ceasefire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, now seemed like a good time to draw your attention to it and let you know that we plan to enrich the site with more material.
Why call it AxisMundi, the “axis of the world” in Latin? Well from our bureau in Jerusalem, we do sometimes feel we are at the centre of world news. It’s not just us of course. Jerusalem has at times and variously been seen as the Axis Mundi, the centre of the world (indeed sometimes “the world’s navel”), by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. All believe Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son to God on a rock at what is now Jerusalem, before God stayed his hand. That rock, seen as a point of contact between earth and heaven, is now covered by the golden dome in the picture above. It is where Jews built the Temple destroyed by Roman troops 2,000 years ago in a conflict that would end with the Jews’ exile from Jerusalem. It is where Muslims believe Mohammad rose to heaven and where the Dome of the Rock, built after Muslims captured the city from Christian rulers, now stands.
Shared religious ideas have not, of course, always brought dialogue and understanding between people of the related faiths. A mere visit by hawkish Israeli politician Ariel Sharon in 2000 to the area around the rock, known as al-Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary by Muslims and the Temple Mount by Jews, sparked violence that compounded a collapse in peace negotiations. Thousands of people have since been killed, including 1,300 during the 22-day Israeli offensive in Gaza that ended on Jan. 18. Both Jews and Arabs, as well as good number of Christians in the powerful states of the West, have a passionate interest in who controls Jerusalem and its holy sites. Thousands of years after the rock was first seen as sacred, Jerusalem remains at the centre of the world’s concerns and the conflict that surges for a couple of hundred kilometres around it, in the narrow confines of Israel and the Palestinian territories, defines the future for billions of people very much farther afield. Do please visit this site frequently to find out more and to share ideas on the news from centre of the world…
(PICTURE: The moon is seen during a total lunar eclipse from the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City February 21, 2008. REUTERS/Eliana Aponte)