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Holy Land and Holy Sites: Claims and Histories of Religious Sites in Historical Palestine

One of the unique characteristics of the land of Israel and Palestine is that it is a holy area for all three Abrahamic religions. Because all three religions purport to stem from the same tradition, it is not surprising that all three have overlapping holy lands and sites. This overlap, however, causes many problems, it is also one of the (many) root causes to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

The historic land of Palestine is very important in Christianity, even though Christians are not as involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Jews and Muslims. Christians believe that this land was the stomping ground for Jesus. Within this land, Jesus was born, performed his ministry and was resurrected. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, while Nazareth was his hometown. Christians believe that Jerusalem was the site of the 'last supper' and that he was crucified near there. With all these important events taking place within the historic land of Palestine, it is apparent that Christians would feel a connection with the land. During the Middle Ages, part of the battles during the Crusades were fought to regain the “Christian Holy Land” and sites, those within the historic land of Palestine.

In Judaism The Land of Israel (historic Palestine) is the 'Promised Land' which God gave the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, saying “On that day, God made a covenant with Abraham, saying: "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river the Euphrates. The land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites; the Hittites, Perizzites, Refaim; the Emorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites." ( Genesis 15:18-21 )” For religious Jews, this is a strong claim on the Land of Israel.
Judaism's four holiest cities are also within the Land of Israel: Jerusalem, Hebron, Tzfat and Tiberias. Jerusalem, mentioned over 600 times in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible/Old Testament) is the holiest city, as it is the location of the First and Second Temple, now the site of the Temple Mount. The Talmud (or Jewish Rabbinic interpretation) states that many important events happened at the Temple site including Abraham's near sacrifice of his son Issac and Jacob's dream about a ladder. Furthermore, there are special customs which can only take place at the Temple (though it should be noted that currently the Temple Mount is not considered to be the First or Second Temples which were destroyed in that location, and many Jews wait for the establishment of the Third Temple at this site.) With such a tradition surrounding the Land of Israel, Jews have a strong religious connection to the land.

Although the historic land of Palestine is not mentioned as often in the Qur'an as in the Tanakh, within the Islamic religious text, the land is recognized as Islamic Holy land. Jerusalem is also a very holy city in the Islamic tradition, its Arabic name Al-Quds even means “The Holy”. Jerusalem is home to Al-Aqsa Mosque which is actually on the same land of the Temple Mount. It represented the first direction to which Muslims prayed. Furthermore Muslims recognize it as the same location as Jews do at which Abraham made a sacred bond with God. Muslims also have a very strong connection to this land.

With all three Abrahamic religions believing to have religious claims to one land; conflict just on these terms seems eminent. How can logic/debate/conversation progress past any sort of existential claim that someone feels? Can sharing the land be a possibility under these conditions? Could one sect ever accept this holy land under the control of another sect?

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