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The majority of Palestinians subscribe to the common belief that they are the ethnic and cultural extension to all the civilizations which had gained a foothold on the land of Palestine since the dawn of history. They consid¬er themselves the product and remnants of the diverse historical periods through which the city has passed since its inception, without exception, regardless of the name of the period or the ethnic or religious nature of whichever political authority enjoyed hegemony over the city at the time. This understanding underlies the historical and cultural perception of Jerusalem and its Palestinian inhabitants.
As for Islam, its original bond with Jerusalem is embodied in the fact that it is heir to the religious and cultural legacy of the Abrahamic religions which predated it: all the prophets and events which preceded the Prophet Muhammad are an integral part of the Arab-Islamic religious and cultural heritage.
The city of Jerusalem has been connected with a great number of Biblical figures, such as Abraham, Solomon, David and other prophets. They are mentioned in the Koran and are considered prophets according to Islam, especially Ibrahim (Abraham) who occupies a prominent place in the Muslim creed.
Hence the centrality of Jerusalem in Islam both during and after the Da' wa (the call by God to the Prophet and men to embrace Islam). It is not surprising, then, that during the most difficult period of the Da'wa, the first Muslims turned in their prayers towards Jerusalem. This step was a tribute of great religious symbolism for the city of God and His Holy Rock, a symbolism which, during the early days of Islam, super¬seded in importance the Ka'aba, venue of pilgrimage.
This religious importance of Jerusalem for Muslims was further enhanced through al-lsra' wal Mi'raj (the Prophet's nocturnal ascent to Heaven), an event which constitutes one of the pillars of Islam and also one of the few miracles of Muhammad.
The link with Heaven was effected through a journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and thereon from God's Holy Rock to Heaven. This important event is celebrated yearly throughout the Islamic world and Muslims every¬where remember the Holy City and the Prophet's miracle associated with it.
As a result, Jerusalem became a permanent place of pilgrimage for the faithful and, as such, connected with the emblems of hadj (pilgrimage), as pilgrims took to visiting Jerusalem at the conclusion of their hadj in Mecca.
A visit to Jerusalem brings about remission of sins and reward, espe¬cially since such a visit is considered an imitation of Muhammad's journey to Jerusalem - a journey of atonement and proximity to God. A prayer in Jerusalem is better than 1/000 prayers in any other place, and whoever vis¬its Jerusalem and prays there becomes as innocent as the day of his birth.
Jerusalem will attain its height of glory on Judgment Day when it will supersede Mecca and Medina in rank and will be exalted by being consid¬ered part of Heaven.
The city, then, has acquired a religious primacy since the dawn of Islam through the Koran or Hadith (record of the Prophet's sayings or actions taken as a model of behavior by Muslims), or through national heritage or religious legends. Several sites in the city came to be identified with the stories of the prophets or religious events; these were immortalized through memorial buildings, domes or mosques.

The Merits of Jerusalem

The jewel in the crown is, of course, the Dome of the Rock, site of al-Isra' wal Mi'raj and one of the most splendid edifices offered by the Arab-¬Islamic civilization. It has become the national and political symbol of the city of Jerusalem, in particular, and of Palestine in general.
Although the political and the religious are closely interconnected in Islam, neither Mecca with its Ka'aba, nor Medina has acquired the political prominence of Jerusalem. During the early years of Islam, with the estab¬lishment of the first Muslim dynasty, following political upheavals which threatened the Muslim world, Jerusalem became the place which gave legitimacy to the successive rulers. For example, Mu'awiyyah Ibn Abi Sufian, the first Umayyad Caliph, sat in Jerusalem in order to obtain the approval of the Arab and Muslim world for the revolutionary change he had brought about in the political order.
There is no doubt that the subjection of the city to the Crusades opened a new door in its political and religious life. For almost a century the city had been an important political and religious symbol. Its fall into Crusader hands was considered a defeat for both the Arab and Islamic worlds, and its liberation and restoration to its past glory became a Muslim aim and duty.
The Jerusalemite refugees who fled the city in the face of the Crusades played an inflammatory role in calling the Islamic forces to arms. Their presence was centered in Damascus and other cities of Ash-Sham as well as in Iraq and Egypt.
As a result of this nostalgia for the homeland, Jerusalem and Palestine, a new literary genre evolved. Some of it predated the Crusader conquests and was entitled Fada'il al-Quds (Merits of Jerusalem). Its main features are the enumeration of the merits of Jerusalem: its importance for Arabs and Muslims, its connection with important religious and historical battles, historical figures, and indeed, the Muslim creed and heritage. Scores of publications in this literary genre have reached us, written during the Middle Ages, for the most part, by Palestinians from Jerusalem:

Jerusalem, not one cloud ever passed over my head
without my addressing it, brokenly,
'By God, pass over Jerusalem, cloud,
carry my greetings to its valleys and hills.'
I've been bitterly separated from you
my eyes are almost blind from crying
After you my eyes can only see the world
as a dismal night of dark day.

With the end of the Crusades came a revival of the Arab-Islamic heritage of the city in demography, science, architecture and other aspects of civi¬lization. It was during the Mameluke dynasty that the city acquired the greater part of all those beautiful buildings which give it its architectural and cultural identity to this day.
However, this architectural distinctiveness is not the only achievement of the Arab-Islamic civilization in the city; there is also the pluralism and colorfulness which existed during the Islamic era. Never throughout its history had the city contained such a diversity of religious and ethnic groups: Jews, Christians as well as Muslim groups of various ethnic roots.
It is very true that the city was imbued with an Arab-Islamic character, yet this did not lead to the imposition of this identity on all its inhabitants. Rather, it formed a cultural framework whereby different denominations lived in an atmosphere of generosity and religious and ethnic tolerance, sharing in the embellishment of the city and making it their own.
These factors and others have made of Jerusalem a symbol of the reli¬gious, political and national identity of the Palestinians. It has been and still is a center for institutions and services - financial, religious, political, cultural and social. This centrality has become quite evident as a conse¬quence of the closures imposed on the city which left it and the Occupied Territories in a state of near-paralysis.
Jerusalem is at the center of the age-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In recent events, Palestinian and Israeli maximalism over all of Palestine was swayed by the dictates of demographic and political realities as well as by local and international balance, inevitably leading to a two-state solution. The question then arises: How will this experience impact on absolutist Israeli-Palestinian positions on Jerusalem? And what direction will it take?

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