- Jerusalem and Its Role in Islamic Solidarity, and:Jerusalem: Idea and Reality
On the subject of Jerusalem, it is quite remarkable the extent to which trends in the academic community have reflected developments in the world of policy. Ever since the collapse of the Camp David summit in 2000 with the prevailing orthodoxy that it was the Jerusalem issue that acted as the deal-breaker between Israelis and Palestinians (when in fact the real reason was that the question of the return of the Palestinian refugees of 1948 was raised seriously for the first time), academics have been engaged in an intensive study of the city. In contrast to the 1990s, during which time there was a limited output on the topic, the first decade of this century is seeing a rich crop of studies on the city, some more worthwhile than others, by both veterans and newcomers to the study of Jerusalem. It is as if academics either wish to make up for the failings of the policymakers in constructing an agreement, or that in view of the fact that a Palestinian-Israeli deal was perceived as being so close, [End Page 163] there is a rush to try to understand what made the gulf — so narrow but, so fatally deep — between the two protagonists. One trend for this activity has been a proliferation of workshops and conferences involving nonspecialists of Jerusalem who nevertheless bring valuable insights from their respective fields to the study of this city. Jerusalem: Idea and Reality is one such result. Another trend has been an even closer investigation of problematic features in the resolution of the conflict by old hands. Reiter’s Jerusalem and Its Role in Islamic Solidarity is an example of this second trend.
In Jerusalem: Idea and Reality, the approach is multi-disciplinary, which is essential in the study of any city but particularly in the case of Jerusalem due to its complexity and the different interpretations of its history and socio-political developments. (Israeli settlements or “neighborhoods” on the eastern side of the city are a blessing or a curse depending on one’s political orientation.) The editors have assembled a judicious mix of established scholars in the field and some lesser-known ones. Chapters by F.E. Peters, Ian Lustick, Sari Nusseibeh, and Ibrahim Nassar may provide ballast, but contributions by many others complement and enhance the collection. The chapters are clustered into themes, and this structure gives the material continuity and a sense of progression. Four or five of the essays focus on the visual arts. These could have been channeled into another book, which would have given greater overall coherence to the remaining pieces; however, this is a minor criticism of an interesting and worthwhile publication.
The second book under review is by Yitzhak Reiter, a veteran on the scene of Jerusalem studies. A former government advisor on the Palestinians in Israel, his knowledge of and access to Arabic and Islamic sources pertaining to Jerusalem is exceptional. His earlier publications on waqf endowments in Jerusalem during the British, Jordanian, and Israeli periods brought to the fore the crucial and evolving role these institutions and funds played in the modern development and political struggle over the city. They were studies based firmly both on archival sources but also on a close knowledge of the city and its politics. His latest offering follows the same pattern of sound empirical foundations applied to a current and controversial issue of the role of political Islam in Jerusalem. The book is clearly an amalgamation of papers and lectures and suffers from some poor editing. For example, there are frequent repetitions (the reader is told over five times that the Organisation of Islamic Conferences (OIC) comprises 57 states) which are distracting, and some of the content of Chapters 2 and 5 overlap). Nevertheless, his detailed...