Jerusalem/Simon Sebag Montefiore
The biblical rights to Palestine so interested me that – after reading Israel – a concise history – I listened to an audio book version of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s history of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem lies at the heart of the conflict between Israel and the Arabs countries.
It houses the Western Wall, the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Christian church of the Holy Sepulchre and Armenian Churches.
Most of all it houses The Temple Mount.
It had been fought over since time immemorial – the Romans and the Jews; the Christians on their crusades; Two World Wars; and – since the foundation of Israel – Israel and Arab countries.
Israel relies on the Bible – and the Balfour declaration of 1908 – that Jews should have their own home for their right to the land; meanwhile the Palestinians argue the fact of occupation for over 2009 years, even though there never was a country called Palestine.
In the war of Independence in 1948 Israel swiftly captured West Jerusalem which became the subject of a siege.
Although it was not of military importance Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion attached much importance to relieving the siege.
This was achieved but it was not until the Six Day War in 1967 that the Western Wall was reclaimed.
Now matters are entrenched as Jerusalem is by and large controlled by the religious orthodox right and the settlements nearby on the West Bank have generated much criticism.
The Palestinians have suffered from a chronic lack of leadership and support from the major Arab nations.
The most famous pan-Arabist Gamal Nasser did nothing for the plight of the Palestinians.
King Abdullah of Jordan worked both sides of the street – parlaying with the Israelis – and his grandson King Hussein removed the Palestinians altogether from Jordan.
The Palestinians in the Fatah movement led by Yasser Arafat resorted to terrorism but this did not achieve that much as the Group was kicked out of both Jordan and then Lebanon.
The Arab leaders did not deviate from the 3 famous “No”s at their conference in Khartoum after the Six Day War – no to the recognition of Israel, no to the cessation of hostilities, no to peace.
Nowadays the intent to drive Israel into the sea has been replaced by a more pragmatic acceptance. However Jerusalem as the centre of four religions remains a more intractable problem.
Simon Sebag Montefiore has written a well-balanced account of this extraordinary city.
Even when describing the philanthropy towards Israel – before it was constituted – of his forebear Moses Montefiore he does so with objectivity.
Whilst his description and account of Jerusalem are detailed you really need to visit the city which I did about 17 years ago.
You enter the old city by one of four gates to find it divided into 4 quarters: the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian.
The Israeli defence minister Moshe Dayan insisted, once he had “liberated” the city after the Six Day War, that there should be freedom of worship.
So you can see a group of Polish nuns singing some prayer, orthodox Jews in blank gaberdine coats scurrying to the Western Wall as well as heavily-bearded Armenians and Muslims, which makes quite a memorable sight.