Jerusalem: Conflict and Cooperation in a Contested City

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By: Madelaine Adelman
Miriam Fendius Elman, Editor

Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2014. 364 pp. $39.95. ISBN: 978-0815633396.

Volume: 2 Issue: 11

November 2014

Review by:

Issa J. Boullata, PhD

McGill University

Montreal, Canada

Madelaine Adelman (an anthropologist) and Miriam Fendius Elman (a political scientist) have assembled in this book ten good studies about Jerusalem. The editors do not advocate for the use of different disciplines in order to bring to the subject a better and more comprehensive understanding of it, but they believe that different disciplines do have the capability of presenting a variety of insights, and the contributors to their book have been chosen from multiple disciplines. These studies originally were papers read at a conference entitled “Jerusalem across the Disciplines” held at the Arizona State University campus in Tempe on February 19-20, 2007.

As is well-known, Jerusalem is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it is eye-opening to see this centrality through the lens of many disciplines, and not only the political one that is usually adopted. Other disciplines offering other insights include: the religious; the historical; the social; the literary; the economic; the legal; the international; the anthropological; and so on. And this book attempts to offer a combination of them in ten chapters and succeeds in affording readers various new insights.

In a chapter written by Arieh Saposnik entitled “Contested Ignominies and Conflicting Sacralities: The Changing Faces of Zionism’s Jerusalem,” it is shown that Jerusalem was not always viewed by all Jews in the same light historically. The Orthodox “Old Yishuv” in the city who claimed to represent the sacred and the authentic in Judaism was challenged by the upcoming modernizing Zionists who hoped to take the leadership into their own hands. It was not merely the usual fight between tradition and modernity, but a struggle on the part of the Zionists for a new modernity in which secularization and re-sacralization were both engaged — however uneasily — to bring about a modern Israel.

In another chapter written by Shai Ginsburg entitled “The City and the Body: Jerusalem in Uri Tsvi Greenberg’s <em, Jerusalem as a literary topos is shown to be problematic in this poetic work published in 1928. Greenberg, who called himself “the poet of Jerusalem” is deemed to express an anxiety about the city, an anxiety that Shai Ginsburg believes undercuts the discourse of dominion over it; he offers a close reading of this poetic work and a literary comparison with other Greenberg writings, and shows that “Jerusalem fades away from the poem” (pp. 170-171), and what remains are images anticipating those of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe.

Madelaine Adelman offers another insight into Jerusalem in her chapter entitled “Sex and the City: The Politics of Gay Pride in Jerusalem.” She says that Israel’s first gay pride parade was held in 1998 in Tel Aviv, considered to be “the modern and secular face of Israel.” It was not until 2002 that Jerusalem’s first “Pride March” took place and it drew some protesters prompted by the sanctity of the city. However, it took place almost annually after that, in 2005 with an interfaith coalition against it and three participants stabbed, and in 2007 with 10,000 security personnel lining the parade route. Today, Pride events are held in many Israeli cities, including Haifa, Ashdod and other smaller locales (p. 257).

“Jerusalem in Java” is the title of a chapter by Mark Woodward, and it speaks about the city of Kudus, founded in the 16th century on the Island of Java (in today’s Indonesia) by a Sufi saint called Sunan Kudus. The city’s name is a Javanese transliteration of al-Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem which means “holiness.” Woodward’s article gives an account of the saint who founded the city that now has his venerated tomb and shrine; and he discusses the symbolism and the theology of founding Kudus as an axis mundi (in Mircea Eliade’s understanding) mediating between the sacred and the profane — much as the real al-Quds and Mecca for all Muslims.

Other chapters of the book offer contributions that show how the distinction between politics and religion has been blurred, particularly in the conflict over Jerusalem’s holy places on the Temple Mount / al-Haram al-Sharif. But they all show, each in their own way, that a solution to this conflict is absolutely necessary in order to achieve a viable peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Valuable as all contributions to this book are, one has the feeling that on the whole, they tend to represent Israeli and Zionist insights — and not in any significant way — that Palestinian and Arab insights as a parallel would make the book academically fair and impartial. For example, there is no chapter that considers Jerusalem as a literary topos in Palestinian and Arabic literature similar to Shai Ginsburg’s mentioned above. In their bibliography, the editors mention Ami Elad-Bouskila’s good 1999 book, Modern Palestinian Literature and Culture; they even mention Ahmad Harb’s 2004 article “Representations of Jerusalem in the Modern Palestinian Novel,” and Farouq Muwassi’s 1996 Arabic book, Jerusalem in Modern Palestinian Poetry.

At any rate, this book is a good addition to the recently growing number of books on Jerusalem and is particularly interesting because it embraces various disciplines in its ten chapters in order to give a variety of insights, thus acknowledging that each discipline has different expectations, since no single one can claim to offer a full account of the subject studied.

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