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Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict Hardcover – April 19, 2007
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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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Searching for the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict, veteran Middle East correspondent Marcus highlights 1913 as a year when neighborly relations in Jerusalem took a serious turn for the worse. That was the year of the eleventh Zionist congress in Vienna, at which strategies for purchasing land in Palestine transformed into a massive international fund-raising effort and a muscular Jewish nationalism; it was the year Ottoman parliamentarian Ruhi Khalidi wrote Zionism or the Zionist Question, which anticipated nationalistic strife and urged Arabs to hold onto their land. That was also the year a dispute over stolen grapes descended into armed conflict in Rehovot, a Jewish settlement near Jaffa. Although touted as a challenge to the conventional historical narrative of the conflict, which tends to focus on the British Mandate of 1920-48, Marcus' book is ultimately more concerned with bringing to life Khalidi and other key personalities and reminding us that there was a time in this century when shared traditions and communal space trumped ideological partisanship in Jerusalem. Both tasks are done with the same perceptive analysis and graceful prose that won her a Pulitzer in 2005 for her reportage on cancer survivors. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Marcus’ thesis in <em>Jerusalem 1913</em>, which is echoed in the PBS documentary, is that Arabs, Jews, and Christians lived in relative harmony in Jerusalem in 1913, but that harmony was irrevocably upset by the Zionist movement and its drive to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. She tells her story through several individuals, each of whom sees the impending crisis, and though powerless to stop it, offers their vision to restore the prior equanimity.
One might criticize her concentration on Jerusalem at the expense of the entire region. Marcus had spent summers in Jerusalem as a child and was the Wall Street Journal’s Jerusalem correspondent in the 1990s. Yet, while extremely important to the big picture, the story of the conflict cannot be confined to Jerusalem, a city that is unique in dozens of ways as a result of its longevity and its honored place in three religions. Focusing on Jerusalem, she fails to point out the extent to which much of the land settled by the Zionists had been undeveloped and unproductive, explaining if not justifying their perspective that they were a people without a land coming to a land without people.
One might also criticize her decision to label 1913 as the crucial year. The conflict began before 1913, which was not any more a turning point than 1908, the year of the Young Turks revolution that upset the balance of power in the entire region.
Marcus’ thorough research and appreciation of Jerusalem, however, is a plus. She helps give us a more nuanced understanding of that city over the past one hundred years, and if the seeds of the conflict weren’t planted in 1913, their growth was certainly in evidence by that year and thus worth learning about, even if they don’t offer any concrete ideas for resolving the conflict.
Marcus is to be thanked for recounting Noah Sokolovsky's 1913 film "The Life of the Jews in Palestine" and for introducing us to the treasure chest of the Khalidi Library, which, as she says, is "off the beaten track for most visitors" to Jerusalem. She obtained access to several important unpublished sources like Ruhi Khalidi's "Zionism and the Zionist Question" and the letters that are in the possession of Albert Antebbi's granddaughter Elizabeth, and she did so by personal interviews with family members. (There is a good section on her sources.) In short, though she was hampered by not knowing Arabic, her research was fresh, assiduous, and more serious than the popularising impression that the book might give readers at first.
I make that last remark because, as a historian, I find Marcus's style too personal and intrusive for my taste. The book begins, "In September 1991, I flew to Tel Aviv...," and the concluding Acknowledgements end with "a mother's love and gratitude." But that's her character and I got used to it.
There are one or two minor inaccuracies. Notably, the date of publication of Hertzl's "The Jewish State", both in the original German and in the English translation by Sylvia D'Avigdor (who is not credited), was 1896 and not 1897 (p. 22).
The book could do with more and better-reproduced photographs, including pictures of the protagonists. The only clear photograph is on the dust jacket. There is a revealing map of the Old City of Jerusalem, but a map of Palestine as it was then would be useful. There is a good index.