Blogs > HNN > Matthew Hogan reviews Eric H. Cline's Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel (Michigan, 2004)

Oct 22, 2004 7:21 am

Matthew Hogan reviews Eric H. Cline's Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel (Michigan, 2004)

Matthew Hogan is author of numerous articles on the Middle East and foreign affairs and has written on the legal status of Jerusalem in international law. He is the author of “the 1948 Massacre At Deir Yassin Revisited,” published in The Historian (Winter 2001). He has lectured on Arab and American cultural differences at the Jordanian University of Science & Technology, and is involved in Jewish-Arab dialog.

Eric H. Cline, associate professor of Ancient History and Archeology at George Washington University, manages the near-impossible: maintaining – mostly -- the right balance in a book about the long train of conflicts associated with a sacred city settled, dominated, and coveted by Jews, Christian, Muslims and others over different eras, including our own. In his thorough vetting of Jerusalem's four millennia of conflict, Cline also successfully engages the broader issues of Israel and Palestine, military history generally, and the examination of the fault lines between religious symbolism and community violence. He even takes on the interplay of ideology and mythology, challenging tendencies to exploit beliefs about the city's past to advance agendas for its present and future.

One example of the abuse of history that he corrects successfully is the absurd assertion by leading Palestinians that there are no historical connections between Jews and Jerusalem's much-fought-over Temple Mount, now the site of the Haram al-Sharif Islamic holy site. Another corrective is his well-narrated account of Jerusalem in the sleepy centuries of Ottoman rule, a much-needed antidote to Mark Twain’s snide and boorish Innocents Abroad.

A possible weakness of the book, however, may be the author's mild, but apparent, bias in dealing with today's conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Cline appears to have a stronger sympathy for Israeli side. This is mostly reflected by a greater deference to one side's suffering and imputations of good will. Some examples illustrate.

While depicting the Jordanian Arab Legion's siege of west Jerusalem in the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, Cline dramatizes the genuine fears and losses among the new Israelis and the dispossessed 2,000 Jews of the Old City but mentions only in passing the 30,000 or so Palestinian Arabs of Jerusalem attacked and dispossessed. Must Palestinians face a kind of invisible asterisk of doubt where their people are concerned?

In regard to that"asterisk", also troubling is how Cline deals with the Deir Yassin massacre. That militarily unnecessary slaughter of residents of an Arab village in the Jerusalem area in April 1948 by dissident Jewish guerilla groups was a significant moment in the modern history of the city and region. Cline hesitates to assert a clear fact of history by declaring the incident disputed and falling back on the word “events” rather than"massacre” even though he is explaining a statement of condemnation by the Jewish Agency for Palestine. As Cline notes, the Deir Yassin massacre's details do remain murky but there is sufficient logic and data available to put the fact of massacre beyond revision or dispute.

Cline also overlooks a troubling incident in the 1967 war in which Israeli General Uzi Narkiss had to threaten to arrest Israeli Army chief rabbi Shlomo Goren to stop him from urging the destruction of the Islamic holy sites on the Temple Mount. However ridiculous, Palestinian denials of a Jewish connection do proceed from realistic fears as well as nationalist mythology.

He also examines the past in light of the present. However,he cites a Roman historian who ascribes a special anti-Jewish animus to Arab auxiliaries of the Romans, but neglects such other facts of history as Josephus' report of the Nabatean Arabs as"the Jews's friends," of Arab troops being brought by Jewish leaders to take the Temple from dissidents, and the Assyrian king Sennacherib's report of Arabs brought to defend ancient Jerusalem under a Jewish king.

Cline also tackles the hype over Israel's"Jerusalem 3000" celebration and presents a rare and coherent narrative of the terrorism by rightwing dissidents from Palestine's Jewish community in the 1930s, which were denounced by representatives of the majority of Jews.

This book is a useful, even necessary, read about the Jerusalem of yesterday and today. Perhaps, in these troubled times, its narratives can avert a worse Jerusalem for tomorrow.

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