To millions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Israel is the Holy Land where Solomon reigned in all his glory, where Jesus taught and performed miracles, and where Muhammad visited during a miraculous night journey.
Religion is the basis of Israel's political importance. Were it not for its sacred character, few people would choose to live on this narrow strip of land between the sea and desert. Jews have been living here since the time of Abraham, almost 4,000 years ago; Christianity began in the Galilee 2 millennia later. During the very early days of Islam in the 7th century A.D., before Mecca became a sacred city, the Prophet Muhammad advised Muslims to face in the direction of Jerusalem for prayers.
All three religions have battled to capture and hold the holy territory: Israelites fought Canaanites, Philistines, Assyrians, and Babylonians; Jews fought Hellenists and Romans; Byzantine Christians fought Zoroastrian Persians; and Muslim armies fought Crusaders. In the 20th century, Ottoman Turks were driven out by the British, and the British in turn were driven out by groups of Zionists and Palestinian Arabs.
Israel looms large in the great political happenings of our times. Realizing the ancient Jewish dream of a homeland and safe haven has meant the displacement of many Palestinians, which, in turn, has meant alienating the surrounding Arab countries in the already unstable Middle East. The problem of finding a truly fair solution to the many valid and conflicting claims on the Holy Land is one of the great challenges facing the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities in Israel and throughout the world.
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