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Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict Hardcover – April 19, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Ottoman Jerusalem, families of different religions picnicked together at popular shrines and vouched for each other at the bank; Muslims and Jews were business partners and neighbors; and Arab children dressed in costumes for the Jewish holiday of Purim. How then did this city of ethnic diversity become a crucible of sectarian conflict? Marcus (The View from Nebo), a Pulitzer-winning former Wall Street Journal correspondent, focuses on the year 1913 as a turning point, when leaders at the Zionist Congress argued for both cultural and demographic domination of Palestine, while at the same time Jews and Arabs were negotiating a possible peace. Marcus also highlights three men who helped shape the destiny of the future Israeli capital. Albert Antebi was a non-Zionist Syrian Jew who advocated for Jewish economic solvency and strong relationships with Muslims; ardent Zionist Arthur Ruppin directed the establishment of Jewish settlements; and Ruhi Khalidi, a prominent Muslim , although not an Arab nationalist, actively opposed Jewish immigration and land purchases. Marcus masterfully brings a Jerusalem of almost a century ago to pungent life, and her political dissection of the era is lucid and well-meaning although she never explains the gulf between moderate Muslims of 1913 and today's Islamist and radical movements. (Apr. 23)
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Review

"A richly insightful, highly readable, and acutely felt offering, one that is also critical and even handed . . . a page-turning, heartbreaking narrative."
-San Francisco Chronicle

"Marcus masterfully brings a Jerusalem of almost a century ago to pungent life, and her political dissection of the era is lucid."
-Publishers Weekly --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Printing edition (April 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670038369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670038367
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,784,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Seth J. Frantzman HALL OF FAME on May 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book examines a number of scenes and characters from the era 1898-1914 in Jerusalem and presents the argument that the roots of the present Israeli-Arab conflict or Jewish-Palestinian conflict is encapsulated in missed opportunities and rising nationalism that coalesced in 1913. It was this year when a number of interesting characters were in Jerusalem, including Albert Ente, Theodore Herzl, Arthur Ruppin and Ruhi Khalidi. The thesis of the book claims the Zionist congress in Vienna which debated the question of Jewish demographic changes and land purchases led to Arab nationalism and Khalidi's interest in Zionism educated the Arabs to awake to the rising danger. This is an interesting argument but also problematic.

The Jewish population of Palestine was tiny, comparable to the Muslim population of Sweden in 2006, or smaller. That Khalidi was far-sighted may be true, it might also be true that he was alarmist and intolerant of new immigrants and thus helped fan the flames of nationalism. It is a circle, more nationalism and riots by Arabs caused more Jewish self-awareness that a peaceful pact might not be found.

The strength in this book therefore is not the argument, but the well written descriptions of the characters and their backgrounds and the very fair and interesting examination of how Jerusalem felt in this period. Free from propaganda and arrogant high-falutent accusations, this book is a wonderful and quick read, enjoyable and informative.

Seth J. Frantzman
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Format: Paperback
I agree with the positives that other reviewers have mentioned about this book. Marcus writes well, the characters are vividly drawn, and we have little other good popular writing about the period of late Ottoman Palestine.

But for all that, the book is a failure. Why? Because its thesis rests upon a premise that is demonstrably false, i.e. that there was an opportunity for Jews and Arabs to come to an accommodation about the future of Palestine in 1913. How do we know that it is false? Because Marcus shows us.

At the end of the day, Jews wanted to allow essentially unrestricted Jewish immigration into Palestine. Arabs rejected this. The Sephardic Jews with deep roots in Palestine, whom Marcus focuses on (and whose stories are in fact very interesting), never really grappled with that issue, and in any event, were between a rock and a hard place. If they accepted Jewish demands for unrestricted immigration, they would alienate the Arabs. If they accepted Arab demands for stopping that immigration, then they would alienate Zionists.

Nowhere does Marcus even begin to show anything like an arrangement that would have satisfied both sides, for a very good reason: there wasn't one. A unified Arab-Jewish state? The Arabs would have rejected it, because they did not want to give up their demographic supremacy. One can endorse that position, or condemn it. What one CANNOT do is ignore it, yet that is precisely what Marcus does.

I suspect that she does so because of the constraints of the series she is working in. That series seems to want writers to emphasize one year as a turning point in world history. Thus, Leningrad 1941, or Vienna 1814, or others. Marcus got a contract with them, and tried to produce what they wanted.
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Format: Hardcover
In simple and deeply-felt language and details, this book, (unlike so many which purport to explore Arab/Jewish relations) asks us to go back and examine what happened in the context of history. It serves to fill a void left by so much polemics and political absoluteness concerning the crisis in Israel/Palestine and thereby transcends what have become mere cliches and easy answers to the current conflict. Accurately and full of her own personal passion for the embattled city of Jerusalem, Ms. Marcus documents early friendships between the early Jewish and Arab neighbors in old Palestine. She creates a longing for this vanished world and at the same time poses an important and largely forgotten truth: before politics divided this region, friendships, trade, and mutual respect were a natural part of Arab and Jewish life together, as neighbors, as sharers of land. Sadly, these truths are buried. Why not, in the interest of resolving and uncovering the real origins of the current conflicts, bring them back into luminous light? This beautiful book does just that, and more. It reveals the serendipitous nature of history itself, restores ambiguity and historical context to the debate.

-Leora Skolkin-Smith

Author, "Edges, O Israel,O Palestine"
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Format: Hardcover
This book is an effort to provide a fresh perspective on the origins of the conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land. Marcus sees the year 1913 as critical in the process. It was the year the Zionist Congress in Vienna adopted a program calling for increased settlement with the aim of becoming a majority in Palestine. It was also the year the Arab-Syrian Congress meeting in Paris determined to strongly oppose the Jewish settlement efforts. A year before the First World War , and the time when conversations between the two sides failed to bring any real agreement between them.
Marcus however is interested in more than just pinpointing the origins of the conflict. She attempts to give a picture of a time before the First World War when relations between Jews and Arabs were more openly friendly than they would be later. She does this in part by telling the respective stories of three different figures, Albert Antebi a Damascaus born Jew and educator who held strongly to his identity as citizen of the Ottoman Empire, Rui Khalidi scion of an established Arab family who studied Zionist texts and intentions in order to know how to oppose them, and Arthur Ruppin the German born Jew responsible for purchasing land and building the Jewish infrastructure. These three men who knew and respected if not especially liking each other are portrayed with sympathy.
She almost wonders aloud whether it all might not have worked out differently had the Young Turks not come to power in 1908 and cut off the option of a broader kind of Ottoman identity which Jews and Arabs each might have aspired to.
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