Recovering the Holiness of Jerusalem

Moshe Amirav Ph.D. & Henry Abramovitch Ph.D.

Introduction: Giving God a Bad Name

I have a friend who lived in the Old City. As a young man, he had been sent out as a young missionary to India but soon felt he had more to learn from the Indians than he had to preach. He remained a devout Christian but held meditation sessions on the roof of the Holy Sepulcher, where we would meet. One day, he come to me very upset, “I cannot stand it any more. I am leaving Jerusalem. All this talk I hear is giving God a bad name!”

We believe it is time give back Allah, Lord Jesus, Hashem, His good name and to restore holiness to Jerusalem.

A Spiritual Solution for Holy Jerusalem

The conflict over Jerusalem, whose very name means “peace”, remains intractable ‘unto this very day’ as a long, tragic chain of failed attempts to bring political solutions (Gilbert1998). The conflict is viewed almost exclusively as a struggle between the political interests of Israelis and Palestinians and their leaders have sought political compromise while neglecting to address the religious dimension of the conflict.

Negotiations at Camp David, at which Moshe Amirav was present as Barak’s advisor on Jerusalem broke down on the status of the Holy Places and specifically which flag should fly from Haram El Sharif/Temple Mount. The negotiators felt ‘let us first achieve a political compromise and then we can deal with the holy spaces’. (Amirav 2009)

We believe that all such political solutions for Jerusalem are doomed to fail. A comprehensive resolution of the conflict must first to deal first with the holiness of Jerusalem and the sacred sites, such as, Haram El-Sharif, the Western Wall and the Holy Sepulcher in an inspired and innovative way. Once a new spiritual arrangement is developed that embodies Jerusalem’s holiness, then a new political vision for Jerusalem. The nature of the political discourse may change from a polarized “Us and Them” to an inclusive “All of us!”.

If politicians seem unable to lead the reconciliation process, then who is best able to do so? We believe that the solution to the holy places should lie with the religious and spiritual leaders who best understand the significance of these places. The involvement of spiritual leaders of the three monotheistic communities will expand the discourse to include not just Jerusalemites, but also the world's believers in a new vision for Jerusalem at peace. Their vision can provide a wider scope of definition and range of solutions to the conflict than is available to politicians. This umbrella group would include representatives of Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities in Jerusalem and internationally. Drawing on their traditions, the leaders may be inspired to find creative solutions for that will embody aspects of their traditions: reconciliation/love of enemies (Matthew 5.43-48: ) and loving your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18) or the vision in the Sura, The Examined One Muntahanah: “It may be that God will ordain love between you and those whom you hold as enemies. For God has power over all things; and God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur'an, Sura 60.7).

To our knowledge, no such initiative has ever been attempted.1

Where is Holy Jerusalem?

Jerusalem is made up of many neighborhoods, most of which are ethnically distinct. In the majority, it is not difficult to create a separation necessary for ‘two capitals for two peoples’. The difficulty lies with Holy Jerusalem. Where is Holy Jerusalem? The “holy” section of Jerusalem comprises less than ½% of the municipal borders, less than 2 square kilometers in total. This holy basin runs from Mt. Scopus to Mt. Olives thru the Hinnom Valley and includes parts of the Old City (Amirav 2009). The key issue is status of this sacred center or axis mundi that all believers know link heaven and earth, Humanity with Divinity.

Doing Away with Sovereignty

The sticking point in all negotiations until now has been the issue of sovereignty. States, authorities eat, drink and sleep sovereignty. The difficulty with sovereignty is that it requires that one only power control access to the holy places. In psychological terms of game theory, sovereignty is a zero sum game, in which there are winners and losers: whatever one receives is always at the other’s expense and vice versa. It is ultimately based on power and exclusion and has nothing sacred about it. It is fundamentally unstable situation.

Although most politicians cannot imagine a world without sovereignty, there are intriguing examples of shared sovereignty, or non-sovereignty: South Pole shared by five distinct nations or the Aland Island who enjoy a high level of autonomy and are administered jointly by Sweden and Denmark; the Rome Convention of 1957 which made possible establishment of EU and in many areas redefined traditional state sovereignty. In their negotiations on the status of Jerusalem, the Israeli Moshe Amirav with the Palestinian Feisal Husseini called for “divine sovereignty” for the holy places (Amirav 2009).

Who can create a divine sovereignty for Haran el Sharif, Wailing Wall, Holy Sepulcher – Israelis & Palestinians? Quartet? Arab League? Muslin League? UN? None of these. Rather, spiritual leaders who understand best and most profoundly the significance of holiness of Jerusalem.

My colleague, Andrew Samuels (Personal communication) has suggested that the best results in seminars are attained when individuals with a proven track record teach together. So, for the working group, it ought to include not just leaders who are people of goodwill, but “enemies” with a history of conflict but who are nevertheless willing to sit together.

Practical Suggestions

In the rest of this chapter, we want to make certain theoretical and also practical suggestions for how such a working group might succeed. Much of the discourse around peacemaking has dealt with the content of agreements but we feel attention must be paid to the process of collaborating. Our recommendations, therefore, deal with proposals for group process.

Misunderstanding God

There is a story told by Martin Buber, the great philosopher of dialogue, author of I and Thou, who was also active in Jewish-Arab reconciliation. He was on a long train journey with a devout fellow Jew and they came to speak of the story in the Book of Samuel where King Agag begs for his life saying, “Surely the time for bitterness has passed.” (I Samuel 15:32). But Samuel the prophet rejects his plea and hews him to pieces in cold blood. Speaking of Samuel’s action, Buber said, “I have never been able to believe that this is a message of God. I do not believe it.” “So… what do you believe?” he was asked with anxiety and anger. Buber replied, “I believe that Samuel misunderstood God!” (Buber 1973, p. 52-3). Buber’s story highlights a key insight: All those who speak for violence and bloodshed have misunderstood God/Allah.

Psychology of Surplus

Putting the divine in the center of the conflict has other psychological benefits. One psychological benefit is to transform the conflict from a “psychology of scarcity” to a “psychology of surplus” (Lerner 1991). Psychology of scarcity is based on a inner feeling that there is not enough to go round and that if one does not grab, one will be left with nothing. The “friar” or sucker anxiety that pervades Israeli society is based on this scarcity anxiety (Bloch 1998); as does the fear that if I recognize the suffering of the Other, it will somehow come at my own expense.

The call to prayer, Allah Akhbar highlights the spiritual dimension of the psychology of surplus. God is Great. Allah has no limits. This spiritual attitude is one in which the Divine provides for all; no one need be left out or go hungry. Whatever one receives is a gift. In this case, the natural response is not anxiety but thanksgiving. One cannot emphasize enough the crucial, transformative importance of a psychology of surplus.

Learning about each other’s Jerusalem

To achieve this spiritual breakthrough, we propose a number of practical activities that may help in creating a fertile group atmosphere for these spiritual leaders.

1. The first task is that each spiritual leader learn in depth the narratives, traditions hadith, midrash & halacha, gospels and traditions of Church Fathers on Jerusalem. I do not propose the usual stimulating lectures as in today’s conference format but a technique taken from group dynamics. The group divides up into pairs: a Muslim with a Christian, Christian with a Jew etc. Each participant tells the other of their traditions, of their Jerusalem. When the group reassembles, the Muslim tells of the Christian Jerusalem, the Christian of Jerusalem of the Jews and so forth. This technique creates a profound, personal understanding of the Other and how important Jerusalem is to them.

Learning from Success

2. A second, cognitive approach derives from problem-solving theory. It involves for the group to study in depth successful case studies of peacemaking and resolution of religious conflict. Scandinavians used to be among the most war-like people in the world and yet they have not had a war for almost 200 years. How did this happen? France and Germany fought a series of horrendous wars until structural changes were made which evolved into EU. Recently a synagogue was used as a mosque. Sister Carey an English nun and nurse built a unique structure near Ein Karen that was at once a mosque, church and synagogue (Amirav 2009). We do not suggest that these cases can be applied directly to Jerusalem but symbolically immersion in the success stories is an important part of the creative process akin to the gathering of information phase before the “ah-ha” experience of a new discovery.

Challenging Fantasy

3. Another important step in the process is exposing and discussing fantasies such as the fantasy that the Other will disappear. Speaking as a Jew, I know it is a powerful, even archetypal fantasy that is based on primal wish for family intimacy without the intrusions of disruptive strangers. At a deeper level, it involves the projection of the Shadow, all those parts of myself that I reject/dislike, onto the Other who is perceived as hostile and dangerous. The less you know of the Other, the easier it is to project. Unless this fantasy is challenging and processed, we will always secretly want Jerusalem just for ourselves.

Dream Sharing

4. Another suggestion derives from psychoanalysis and it involves “dream sharing”. We all dream ever night and often we remember dreams. Each spiritual tradition has fascinating things to say about the significance of dreams. What I am suggesting is that spiritual leaders tell their dreams in the group setting. Dream sharing is an act of intimacy and can be done in various ways. One technique is the “social dream matrix” (Lawrence 2003). It occurs typically as the first activity in the morning, the chairs are arranged in a large spiral. People tell dreams. Others do not try to interpret the conflicts, wishes of the individual or the dream’s personal meaning but rather how these dreams reflect aspects of the collective or group. Dream groups create a profound solidarity among members who meet not just consciously but also unconsciously, in depth.

5. Dream work may provide an extra benefit. Jung wrote about ‘little dreams’ and ‘big dreams’. (Jung 2002) Little dreams are the usual dreams that reflect issues in one’s own personal psyche. For example, if last night I dreamed, “I was standing giving my talk in Notre Dame and suddenly I realized I was wearing no clothes.” I would understand it as a dream dealing with my personal, performance anxiety. Big Dreams, in contrast, are dreams that deal with the collective, the family, nation or even the world. Joseph’s dreams of sheaves and stars bowing down to him are excellent examples of what seemed to be little dreams turned out to be big dreams. We are awaiting a big dream about Jerusalem.

Joint Symbolic Action

6. Finally once the group begins to form a coherent vision, they can initiate joint symbolic action. Recently, with Yehuda Stolov who spoke this morning, members of Jerusalem group of Interfaith Encounter Association, Israelis and Palestinians, went together to Yad va-Shem. Although the Israelis had been there many times, it was an exceptional and moving experience to do so with Palestinians. There was one moment that especially stood out. The Guide who spoke English, Arabic and Hebrew asked us “Which European Country saved 100% of its Jews?” None of us knew. I wonder if reader knows. The answer is a Muslim country: Albania.

7. Learning each other’s prayers may be important way of coming toward deeper understand as may praying in each other’s presence. We can imagine spiritual leaders walking round the old city or indeed the entire Holy Basin.

Turning Points

8. Whenever a resolution for Jerusalem seems impossible, we recall that in the history of religion many turning points when enemies turned away from hate and killing. How many Israelis know that Omar conquered Jerusalem without bloodshed and negotiated to allow Jews to return and even made them a gift of what became the Jewish Quarter? I can envision a time when Jews will honor his memory. Until Vatican II, Jews were Christ killers [joke – But it happened a long time ago]. Now Jews are considered Christian’s “older brothers”. Siblings, itself, may be a profound metaphor for how to go about sharing Jerusalem.

Isaiah’s Vision

9. We cannot know what restoring holiness to Jerusalem will bring or what arrangement will emerge. That is up to the Men (and Women) of God. One thing we can say is that it will not be a Final Solution – which has such genocidal associations – but rather it will be a part of ongoing process of enacting reconciliation and love of

enemies – a process of helping making the Divine manifest so that all who come will feel the Divine Presence and say once again with Isaiah (2:3):

And the many people

‘Shall go and say:

Come, let us go up to the

Mount of the Lord,

To the House of the

God of Jacob;

That he may instruct

Us in his ways,

And that we may walk

In his paths.’

For instruction (Torah) shall

Come forth from Zion,

The word of the Lord

From Jerusalem.


Amirav, Moshe (2009). Jerusalem Syndrome: The Palestinian-Israel Battle for the Holy City. Eastbourne, England: Sussex Academic Press.

Bloch, Linda Renee (1998). “Communication as an American Immigrant in Israel: The “Freier” Phenomenon and the Pursuit of alternative Values System.” Research o Language and Social Interaction 31(2):177-208.

Buber, Martin (1973). Meetings. Edited with an introduction and bibliography by Martin Friedman. LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court.

Gilbert, Martin (1998). Jerusalem in the Twentieth Century. New York: Wiley.

Lerner, Michael (1991). Surplus Powerlessness: The Psychodynamics of Everyday Life and the Psychology of Individual and Social Transformation. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.

Jung, C.G. (2002). Dreams. London: Routledge.

Lawrence, W. G. (2003). Experiences in Social Dreaming. London: Karnak Books.


Henry Abramovitch, Jungian psychoanalyst, psychologist and anthropologist. Professor in Sackler Medical School at Tel Aviv University, founding President of Israel Institute of Jungian Psychology, active in interfaith activities.

Moshe Amirav, Political Scientist, former Jerusalem City Council member, veteran peace activist at the national and municipal levels, advisor to Prime Minister Barak on Jerusalem for Camp David 2000. Head of the School of Government, Beit Berl College and teaches political science at Hebrew University.

1 A number of groups such as Interfaith Encounter Association, Jerusalem Peacemakers or Elijah Foundation do bring a spiritual orientation to interethnic conflict but none has proposed creation of religious leaders to create a political solution to the holy places as a springboard to a wider solution of the conflict.