From my perch here on the fourth floor of Jerusalem’s historic King David Hotel, I’m looking out over this ancient city holy to the three great religions that share Abraham in common. I’m looking down at the Jaffa Gate, one of seven entrances into the Old City cut through the 500 year old wall built by the Turks when this was part of the Ottoman Empire. The sand-colored stone wall surrounding this mile square heart of the Holy Land is still pocked with bullet holes from the fighting that has periodically raged in this unique, deeply spiritual but often violent place. In fact the half mile between the hotel and the old wall was No Man’s Land following the Armistice after the 1948 War of Israeli Independence. Then Jordan held the Old City, and would until the Israeli conquest of 1967.
The Jews history here in town dates back to King David and his son Solomon 31 centuries ago. It has been holy to Christians from the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, almost 2,000 years ago. And as I look out over this ancient place, I can see the Dome of the Rock, holy to Muslims as the very place the Prophet Muhammad made his night journey in the 7th Century, thus beginning the Islamic faith now followed by more than a billion adherents worldwide.
Every place you look in this part of the world, you see history, ancient and usually angry, of battles, sieges and slaughter often done in the name of religion. During the Crusades, Muslim and Jew were on the same side fighting the European Christian invaders. Centuries later, when this very hotel was a headquarters of the British forces controlling what was then the Palestinian Mandate, on July 22, 1946 the southwestern corner of the building was blown up by the militant Zionist group the Irgun, killing 91. A decade later, the movie ‘Exodus’ celebrating the courage of the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust who fought and died alongside other Jews to create a homeland for the Jewish people was filmed in part here in the hotel.
Despite my dozens of trips here, dating back to the Yom Kippur War of 1973, on Wednesday, my birthday, July 4th, the family and I played tourist. We visited the Mount of Olives, where my daughter Sol rode a camel and I chatted in Spanish with a group of tourists from Chile. Then we walked from the Jewish Wailing Wall, which stands directly under the Muslim Dome of the Rock, to the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is actually a series of connecting churches, Armenian, Orthodox and Roman Catholic. Since at least the Fourth Century, the sprawling complex has been venerated as the place where Jesus was crucified; where his body was cleansed, buried, then later rose from the dead.
Last night, we had a wonderful dinner with old colleagues at the American Colony Hotel, the place favored by visiting journalists in East Jerusalem, the Muslim side of this emotionally divided city now entirely controlled by the Israelis. Surrounded in a lovely outdoor area by people from all religions, ethnicities and national origins, the hotel is a tantalizing example of what this place could be like if everyone got along.
Filming for my special program airing on the Fox News Channel Sunday night at 10 PM ET, I’ve just returned from several Israeli army outposts along the Gaza strip, the 25 mile long, and three to five wide sliver of Palestinian territory that runs alongside the Mediterranean Sea. With the sea on one side, Egypt, and Israel on the others, the strip itself is densely populated, highly agitated, and totally radicalized piece of violent real estate run by Hamas, the virulently anti-Israeli Palestinian group aligned with Iran and Syria. For at least the last five years, a state of low level war has waged between Hamas, and its radical allies, against Israel. It’s a vicious cycle of fighting. The Islamic militants fire their rockets into Israel---160 rockets fired last month alone. The Israeli defense forces fire back with missiles, gunships and fighter jets, as civilians on both sides of the line try to maintain a shred of normal life.
Without getting too deep into the right and wrong of the conflict, let me instead tell you our plan for the program. I interviewed some of the American Jews serving in the Israeli Army, while my correspondent/brother Craig interviewed Palestinian Americans visiting relatives in Gaza and the more prosperous but still occupied Palestinian West Bank. Another angle of the show is the search for why support among Jewish voters for President Obama has dropped precipitously since 2008. Many here say it is his allegedly equivocal support for Israel, which officials here vehemently deny. Others speak more darkly of the toxic impact of all the talk of his Muslim forebears.
Perhaps to capitalize on the wavering support of Jews for his rival, Mitt Romney has announced that he will visit Israel following a trip to the Olympics in London. He will find a place where moderates are drowned out by partisans on all sides; a place where compromise is as unlikely as lasting peace. So it has always been.