Unusual Partners Study Divisive Jerusalem Site

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JERUSALEM — At the heart of this contested city, the holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, has become, for many, the epicenter of the conflict between Israel, the Palestinians and the wider Muslim world.

The mere mention of the place stirs passions and memories of centuries of bloodshed. Its alternative names evoke the depth of religious devotion and the competing claims.

Many of those contradictions are encapsulated in a new book, “Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade,” to be published here on Monday. The book is a collection of essays by renowned scholars on the history, archaeology, aesthetics and politics of the place that Jews revere as the location of their two ancient temples, and that now houses the Al Aksa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

The illustrated 400-page book, in English, appears at a time of heightened tensions over the coveted site. Most extraordinarily, its authors and co-sponsors include Israeli and Palestinian experts and institutions, giving an unfettered platform to Muslims, Christians and Jews...

... Yet the board of Al-Quds University recently decided to boycott Israeli academic institutions to protest Israel’s policies and because peace talks have stalled.

Mr. Abu Sway said that projects already under way were allowed to be completed, and that the Palestinian chapters of the book were submitted long before the boycott took hold.

The book was years in the making and required exceptional tact on the part of the co-editors, Oleg Grabar of Princeton University, and Benjamin Kedar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Mr. Kedar came up with the neutral term “sacred esplanade” in the title. “It was the compromise,” he said. “It should be acceptable to all.”

Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City, formerly controlled by Jordan, in the 1967 war. Since then, a fragile status quo has been preserved at the compound. The civil administration remains in the hands of the Waqf, the Muslim religious endowment, while overall security is the responsibility of the Israeli police. Israel claims sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, while the Palestinians demand that the eastern part be recognized as the capital of a future independent state. ..

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