DevMode
Jerusalem, City of Mirrors by Amos Elon
London: Fontana, 1991. £5.99, 300 pp.

Most pertinent among the rave reviews, when this book first appeared four years ago, was Arthur Miller's, who called it a "many-layered mountain of myth and history, a compressed symbol of our most sublime aspirations along with our most disgusting… religious bigotry and fratricide. It is a book as complex and surprising as the city itself." Jerusalem, the most longed-for and fought-for of all cities, is probably also the most written ¬about. Yet, if I had to recommend one contemporary book about Jerusalem for everyone concerned with the city - both visitors and Jerusalemites¬ - would certainly be this one. At any rate this reviewer, who has lived in the city for nearly 30 years, put down Amos Elon's book with a feeling of satisfaction, that this time, Jerusalem has received the writer it deserves.
The secret lies, of course, in the words "many-layered." Amos Elon writes so well that there is hardly a page without something worth quot¬ing on this or that dimension of Jerusalem.
But to reveal the complexities of all the dimensions of Jerusalem, it is not enough to write well. Elon is particularly equipped to write about Jerusalem's past, present and future - and their connection - for three other reasons: he is extremely learned; he loves Jerusalem but scrupulous¬ly rejects any temptation to beat the drum for this cause or the other; and his sense of history enables him to lay bare the as yet unbreakable link between history, religion and politics in the annals of the city. Poet Yehuda Amichai has called it "the only city on earth where the vote has been given to the dead."
Elon approvingly quotes the writer Amos Oz who saw Jerusalem as a city "where everybody is a kind of messiah, eager to crucify his opponents for their beliefs, ready to be crucified himself for his own." The tragedy of Jerusalem today is that "religious differences have been inflamed by awak¬ening nationalisms and nationalism by religious differences." Hence the unusually intolerant and exclusivist atmosphere which makes Jerusalem different from cities like Brussels or Montreal where the main issues are lan¬guage and culture. Among the 30 religious denominations active in the city, one researcher discovered there are more holidays than days in the year.
So there are many Jerusalems - of the three great monotheistic reli¬gions with their holy places; of missionaries and of pilgrims (a Muslim pil¬grimage, for example, was said to make a man "as innocent as on the day of his birth"); of Jewish immigrants dreaming of "Next year in Jerusalem" (who came on aliya or ascended, which is similar in feeling to Christians "taking the cross"); of freethinkers and poets and tourists and diplomats (who drive up from their embassies in Tel Aviv because their countries don't recognize current Jerusalem as Israel's capital); of the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim, whose warring Jewish sects the author compares to the war¬ring Christian sects inside the Holy Sepulcher. Jerusalem, then, is all things to all men. (As for women, they should know their place, which in Orthodox religious eyes is a subordinate one.)

Too Many Complications

It was only after the U.N. 1949 internationalization resolution that Israel declared Jerusalem as its "eternal capita!," to which the word "indivisible" was added after 1967. The early Zionists, who were secularly inclined, were wary of it and Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president, wrote in 1937 that the proposed Jewish state should include only parts of the mod¬em city. "I would not take the Old City as a gift. There are too many com¬plications and difficulties associated with it." Sites in the Negev, or Haifa or Tel Aviv were proposed for Israel's capital city. Earlier, Herzl wrote in his diary after a visit in 1898, "What superstition and fanaticism on every side."
In this vein, Amos Elon, the author of an excellent book on Herzl, writes of "the national movement Herzl helped to found [which] he hoped would lead to the reestablishment of a Jewish state in peace with its Arab neigh¬bors." Herzl did indeed cherish this hope. However, it should perhaps also have been mentioned that foreseeing the Jewish state in his diaries, the same Herzl wrote of "expropriation and removal of the poor" through "spiriting the penniless population across the border by procuring employ¬ment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country." Like most great men, Herzl made great mistakes.

Framework for a Solution

Elon believes that Jerusalem "has never been 'one' or 'united', never a 'mosaic', but a collection of alienated islands." Rather surprisingly, then, he has nothing but praise for the "fairness and humanity" of Teddy Kollek who was mayor for 27 years before losing the last election to the Likud's Ehud Olmert. Kollek's claim that the central government didn't listen to his requests to help care for the Arab population, to come up with new con¬stitutional ideas, etc., is true, but it isn't the whole truth. For it was as a mosaic that Kollek always presented the city to the world and he was loath to admit the truth: that it was "held together by force" (in Elon's words). Kollek believes that in spite of everything his policies served Jerusalem. To some extent, yes; but however good his intentions, and however success¬ful his public relations, the bottom line is surely that he left a divided city characterized by an abyss of alienation and hostility whose main problems still await solution. Such a benevolent paternalist as he could not see that sooner or later, the only hope for the Israelis and for the Palestinians, and for the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians will come from within the framework of a two-state solution in which Jerusalem will be the capital of both states.
Sooner, or later? Who knows? We do know that without solving the problem of Jerusalem there will be no lasting peace between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. Amos Elon sums up toward the end of his fine book that "Jerusalem is a city loved too well yet never quite wisely." "When there is so much destructive memory, a little forgetfulness may be in order [but] there is little inclination for that on either side of the great national and religious divide. On the contrary, almost everywhere you turn, dark chords of memory swell the chorus of nationalism and faith. A little forgetfulness - or compromise - seems unlikely under these circum¬stances." So like the city itself, this book is both inspiring and depressing.
Paradoxical? Of course, like Jerusalem.
But to reveal the complexities of all the dimensions of Jerusalem, it is not enough to write well. Elon is particularly equipped to write about Jerusalem's past, present and future - and their connection - for three other reasons: he is extremely learned; he loves Jerusalem but scrupulous¬ly rejects any temptation to beat the drum for this cause or the other; and his sense of history enables him to lay bare the as yet unbreakable link between history, religion and politics in the annals of the city. Poet Yehuda Amichai has called it "the only city on earth where the vote has been given to the dead."
Elon approvingly quotes the writer Amos Oz who saw Jerusalem as a city "where everybody is a kind of messiah, eager to crucify his opponents for their beliefs, ready to be crucified himself for his own." The tragedy of Jerusalem today is that "religious differences have been inflamed by awak¬ening nationalisms and nationalism by religious differences." Hence the unusually intolerant and exclusivist atmosphere which makes Jerusalem different from cities like Brussels or Montreal where the main issues are lan¬guage and culture. Among the 30 religious denominations active in the city, one researcher discovered there are more holidays than days in the year.
So there are many Jerusalems - of the three great monotheistic reli¬gions with their holy places; of missionaries and of pilgrims (a Muslim pil¬grimage, for example, was said to make a man "as innocent as on the day of his birth"); of Jewish immigrants dreaming of "Next year in Jerusalem" (who came on aliya or ascended, which is similar in feeling to Christians "taking the cross"); of freethinkers and poets and tourists and diplomats (who drive up from their embassies in Tel Aviv because their countries don't recognize current Jerusalem as Israel's capital); of the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim, whose warring Jewish sects the author compares to the war¬ring Christian sects inside the Holy Sepulcher. Jerusalem, then, is all things to all men. (As for women, they should know their place, which in Orthodox religious eyes is a subordinate one.)

Too Many Complications

It was only after the U.N. 1949 internationalization resolution that Israel declared Jerusalem as its "eternal capita!," to which the word "indivisible" was added after 1967. The early Zionists, who were secularly inclined, were wary of it and Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president, wrote in 1937 that the proposed Jewish state should include only parts of the mod¬em city. "I would not take the Old City as a gift. There are too many com¬plications and difficulties associated with it." Sites in the Negev, or Haifa or Tel Aviv were proposed for Israel's capital city. Earlier, Herzl wrote in his diary after a visit in 1898, "What superstition and fanaticism on every side."
In this vein, Amos Elon, the author of an excellent book on Herzl, writes of "the national movement Herzl helped to found [which] he hoped would lead to the reestablishment of a Jewish state in peace with its Arab neigh¬bors." Herzl did indeed cherish this hope. However, it should perhaps also have been mentioned that foreseeing the Jewish state in his diaries, the same Herzl wrote of "expropriation and removal of the poor" through "spiriting the penniless population across the border by procuring employ¬ment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country." Like most great men, Herzl made great mistakes.

Framework for a Solution

Elon believes that Jerusalem "has never been 'one' or 'united', never a 'mosaic', but a collection of alienated islands." Rather surprisingly, then, he has nothing but praise for the "fairness and humanity" of Teddy Kollek who was mayor for 27 years before losing the last election to the Likud's Ehud Olmert. Kollek's claim that the central government didn't listen to his requests to help care for the Arab population, to come up with new con¬stitutional ideas, etc., is true, but it isn't the whole truth. For it was as a mosaic that Kollek always presented the city to the world and he was loath to admit the truth: that it was "held together by force" (in Elon's words). Kollek believes that in spite of everything his policies served Jerusalem. To some extent, yes; but however good his intentions, and however success¬ful his public relations, the bottom line is surely that he left a divided city characterized by an abyss of alienation and hostility whose main problems still await solution. Such a benevolent paternalist as he could not see that sooner or later, the only hope for the Israelis and for the Palestinians, and for the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians will come from within the framework of a two-state solution in which Jerusalem will be the capital of both states.
Sooner, or later? Who knows? We do know that without solving the problem of Jerusalem there will be no lasting peace between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. Amos Elon sums up toward the end of his fine book that "Jerusalem is a city loved too well yet never quite wisely." "When there is so much destructive memory, a little forgetfulness may be in order [but] there is little inclination for that on either side of the great national and religious divide. On the contrary, almost everywhere you turn, dark chords of memory swell the chorus of nationalism and faith. A little forgetfulness - or compromise - seems unlikely under these circum¬stances." So like the city itself, this book is both inspiring and depressing.
Paradoxical? Of course, like Jerusalem.

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