For much of the 1970s and 1980s, scholarly literature on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict focused on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. One can hardly point to a single academic monograph on Jerusalem during this period. Research tended to focus on the spread of Israeli settlements, on the issue of human rights, on the application of international law, on Israeli attempts at creating or co-opting Palestinian elites, and, of course, on the causes and evolution of the intifada. Setting aside tourist guides, photographic memoirs, and biblical coffee-table books, the number of serious works on Jerusalem since 1967 could be counted on the fingers of one hand. To some extent, this dearth reflected a general lack of political interest in the city. From the absence of debate in the United Nations to the lack of movement in the Israeli, PLO, or Arab positions on the future of the city, the question of Jerusalem was left unaddressed. However, in the aftermath of the Madrid Conference and the Oslo agreements, where Jerusalem was resurrected to the elevated level of a final status "issue," the floodgates of publishing have opened, and within a space of eighteen months almost a dozen new books on Jerusalem have appeared.
In light of current Israeli government policies to preempt the outcome of the final status negotiations through land acquisitions, an accelerated construction program, and denial of access and residency to Palestinians, the existing dynamics have been termed the "battle of Jerusalem." In fact, it is a battle on the eve of a possible cease-fire in which opposing parties are desperately maneuvering to gain, metaphorically and literally, as much high ground and vantage points as possible before the cessation of hostilities. To read these books in this heated and intense context is perhaps to approach them from too narrow a focus and to expect clarifications and ideas that the authors never sought to provide. At the same time, it is this context that has prompted such production and the authors must accept that their works will be read and judged in this light.
The study of Jerusalem is not an academic subdiscipline as such. It is interdisciplinary and can be approached from many angles--historical, literary, religious, administrative, and political. The books under review all have their particular approach, making a direct comparison between them awkward and sometimes inappropriate. However, it is possible to divide them into two main groups--"nonpolitical," including the books by Karen Armstrong and Andrew Sinclair, and "political," made up of the five other titles--and make some comparisons within those groups.
Both Sinclair and Armstrong approach the city through the prism of material that is not related directly to the current political issues. Sinclair bases his observations on literary sources and chronicles whereas Armstrong bases her study on the wealth of religious material concerning the city. Of the two books, Sinclair's is the least satisfying because there is little of a unifying theme other than an irritatingly predictable pointing-out of ironies and moralizing. His comments on the post-cold war international scene are based on media cliches of the dangers of a renewed Islamic jihad (p. 256) and his conclusion that the Israeli 3000 anniversary celebrations of the city demonstrate Israel's "original and immovable title" to the city illustrates his simplistic reading of the contemporary situation.
Armstrong's book, in contrast, is a work of serious scholarship, sensitive, reflective, and at the same time authoritative and engaging. It is a study of Jerusalem and its meaning in the three Abrahamic faiths and is therefore also a study of those faiths and how their sense of holiness gave meaning to the religious places of Jerusalem. Like Sinclair, Armstrong takes a basic chronological approach, starting from the prebiblical period and passing through the Israelite, Christian, early Muslim, Crusader, and later Muslim periods. However, unlike many Western and Israeli historians, Armstrong deals with the Islamic periods fully, devoting at least four full chapters to them. She turns religion as a "dependent variable" on its head by making human action the variable dependent on belief, an approach that highlights and gives due importance to the role of myth, symbol, and belief in understanding the political development of the city. Armstrong is not afraid to venture outside her territory into the current political situation, and she does so with knowledge and confidence.
The five "political" books can be judged by their contribution to our understanding of the impasse over Jerusalem. The least useful is Ira Sharansky's Governing Jerusalem. This is a great shame because the widest hole in the literature on Jerusalem is on how it is governed. The Israeli municipality and the office of mayor are well-known, but their exact functions, their collection of revenues, their planning responsibilities, and the nature of the relationship with the central government are all areas crying out for more detailed study. This book is really a nonstudy, full of observations and asides that are not developed or substantiated, and littered with disclaimers and repetition. It reads like unconnected pieces that have been strung together without an overall argument.
Jerusalem in the Twentieth Century is by a historian of the two world wars and of Jewish history. Yet, anyone one who has sought to teach the Arab-Israeli conflict in an objective manner can attest to the immense damage Martin Gilbert's two atlases on the conflict have done by their partisan selectivity in favor of Israel. This reviewer thus approached Gilbert's new book cautiously. Virtually all of the 363 pages consist of a continuous series of vignettes that create a jerky and incoherent narrative whose direction and themes would be totally unclear it were not for the chapter headings under which they are grouped. It may be doing a terrible injustice to Gilbert, but his book reads as if he simply presented his index card system of material collected on Jerusalem to the publishers. More fundamentally, it is surprising that a historian has chosen to write a history book in what appears to be a "chronicle" form, with little attempt to take the broad overview, to tease out underlying trends, or to locate the conflict over Jerusalem in the ebb and flow of Western influence in the region. Readers may be permitted a wry smile to be informed by Gilbert that the peace process begun in Madrid in 1991 was "initiated by Yitzhak Shamir"(pp. 348-49).
Meron Benvenisti's City of Stone deals much more with the contemporary city. Benvenisti structures his book around a number of central topics: religion, administration and municipal politics, planning issues, and demography. As a work of scholarship, the book is not impressive, and the author's attempts at an analytical framework (pp. 131-32, and 177) are not convincing, being personalized and not rooted in any sociological or political science tradition. The whimsical style can be irritating, as is the lack of any references, particularly when engaging in debate with unnamed scholars (p. 174). The strongest criticism of this book, however, should be directed equally at the editors for not picking up the constant repetition and jumping from topic to topic. The issue of Christian emigration is repeated almost verbatim on pages 185 and 255, the same data on Christian cemeteries is repeated within the same chapter (see pp. 238 and 256), and pages 225-26 on the exclusion of Palestinians from the city is merely a repeat of the chapter on planning.
These criticisms notwithstanding, the book is still arresting. One particularly powerful motif is Benvenisti's description of Jerusalem as a quarry where stones are gathered equally for throwing as for building myths. The book is also a work of some moral integrity, and Benvenisti pulls no punches in laying bare the hypocrisy and facade of Israeli policies for integrating East Jerusalem with its western counterpart. It contains much more of the "insider" information on the decision-making processes affecting Jerusalem than Sharansky's book purports to discuss. Benvenisti is more of an essayist than an academic and his sympathy for the deprived, his awareness of the contradictions in Israeli policy, his great sense of history and colorful imagination easily make up for the book's many shortcomings. His penultimate chapter on the various peace proposals put forward since the start of the conflict is a useful if somewhat cynical summary and assessment. For a moving, convincing, and introductory portrait of contemporary Jerusalem, this book is a good one to start with.
Friedlander and Hecht's To Rule Jerusalem is also an impressive and useful work. For a start, there are copious references and endnotes. The authors, despite being based on the other side of the world in California, know the city and its key people well. They have caught the sense of "worlds-within-worlds" when describing the myriad religious and political communities that exist on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide and accurately portray the internal divisions. The book is packed with information. Its basic structure is two sections on political and religious developments within the Israeli and Jewish communities and two sections on the Palestinian and Muslim communities. The aim is both to show how Jerusalem has been central to the conflict and how a resolution of its future can ease tensions in other spheres.
To make these points, the authors provide too much explanatory background, with long and frequent digressions on the history of the conflict, the development of political Islam, an exposition on haredi theology, the role of the settler movement in Israeli politics, etc. In these digressions, Jerusalem the city seems to disappear. Nevertheless, the authors successfully show how these wider themes bear on the politics of contemporary Jerusalem. They also have been thorough and fair in culling data: Most of the relevant extant sources have been consulted and an impressive range of people were interviewed. The book suffers to some extent by its style. The authors try hard to make their work accessible to the general reader, but the result is a work rather similar to an extended National Geographic article--full of color and anecdotes with the substance spread about in digestible doses.
The final book, or booklet to be more precise, by Dore Gold, is part of the Jaffee Centre's series on final status issues and is designed to influence Israeli policy-making. The fact that the author was until recently an adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes this book worth reading. Gold baldly states that the Jerusalem issue is not resolvable by negotiations. His view is that both Oslo and the accompanying Peres-Holst correspondence put Israel at a disadvantage in the negotiations over sovereignty. He views the possible solutions--territorial, religious, and municipal--as not acceptable to Israel. His conclusion is that Israel should maximize its advantages so as to secure its position over Jerusalem. Consequently, he explicitly proposes frustrating Palestinian aspirations for Jerusalem. The booklet was written in 1995, and it is astonishing to see how many of its recommendations have become part of government policy. For example, on page 36 Gold writes:
[I]f Palestinian statehood is confined to the Gaza Strip while mixed control arrangements emerge in the West Bank, then Gaza City might emerge as a natural Palestinian capital. . . . But if the Palestinians create a state in the West Bank, then naturally they would seek to make their largest population centre, East Jerusalem, their political capital.
At a stroke Gold reveals how Israeli determination to maintain control over all of Jerusalem is driving the current government's policies toward the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority and imposing "mixed control arrangements" irrespective of the Oslo agreements. Gold's work is useful for anyone wishing to understand how Israel is undertaking the current phase in the battle for Jerusalem.
A review such as this one cannot be concluded without drawing readers' attention to the absence of serious Palestinian scholarship on Jerusalem. This lack has important political implications. For the Palestinian side to avoid being totally unprepared for the final status negotiations on Jerusalem, a great deal of basic research is needed. PASSIA (Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs) and Orient House in East Jerusalem have been making a concerted if belated effort to promote research on the city from a Palestinian perspective. However, in contrast to the work already carried out on the Israeli side, the lack of preparedness is still immense. Without the full range of data at its disposal, the Palestinian side will not be able to negotiate a fair agreement on Jerusalem. Research is urgently needed, for example on Palestinian holdings in West Jerusalem and in the expanded Jewish Quarter, on demographic trends in the metropolitan area, on planning and zoning issues, on Islamic and Christian institutions and their international networks. All these issues will be crucial in the final negotiations but they require research now to be of any assistance to future Palestinian negotiators. It is, therefore, a great shame and possibly and portent that there was not a single important work on Jerusalem written by a Palestinian to include in this review.
Michael Dumper, senior lecturer in politics at Exeter University, is director of the Middle East Politics Programme. His most recent book, The Politics of Jerusalem Since 1967, was co-published by Columbia University Press and the Institute for Palestine Studies in 1997.