- Jerusalem’s Wars:In Heaven and On Earth
If God has a dwelling place on Earth, many — Jews, Christians, and Muslims — believe it is in Jerusalem, where the city’s sanctity ironically triggers spasms of violence. While the tensions in and about Jerusalem are multiplied in a medium of debates about the city’s holiness, anthropologist Thomas Abowd and political scientist Michael Dumper propose a more complex set of explanations for why this city is both the key to a permanent resolution of the Middle East conflict and for why this conflict endures.
Abowd does not believe anyone can make sense of Jerusalem without first understanding the Palestinian experience in 1948 and its impact on the consciousness of a people who lost their homes and homeland because a Jewish state was established. For that reason, Israel’s political domination over Jerusalem remains a deeply problematic enterprise, according to Abowd. Insisting that Israeli power must be recognized for what it really is — a manifestation of Western colonialism and thus not only totally illegitimate, but also unstable — Abowd deploys an adjective in Colonial Jerusalem as the critical weapon capable of dismantling the seemingly almighty edifice of Israeli power. Colonial Jerusalem transforms a story over contested territory into a narrative of national right versus foreign might, the latter anchored in actions that repossess and redefine the space rightfully belonging to another people. No matter the emotions stirred by Israel’s claim to have restored a stateless people to its national home, in Abowd’s telling, the Jewish state won its independence by expelling Palestinians from their land and homes. With Israel’s foundation, David became Goliath and nowhere are the consequences more devastating than in Jerusalem.
One will not find an extensive discussion in Abowd’s book of the violence unleashed by both Arabs and Jews in a war-torn city during 1948, nor is any attention drawn to the number of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents who abandoned the battlefield to find sanctuary in other lands and left behind kin and neighbors to fend for themselves through carnage and trauma. Abowd reveals no parallels between Palestinians robbed of their homes and belongings [End Page 137] and the Jews expelled in 1948 from their dwellings in Jerusalem’s so-called Old City. While acknowledging the attachment of Jews to Jerusalem, Abowd holds no deep regard for the way in which it is turned into loyalty to the Jewish state and to its policies. Added to the injustices meted out to Palestinians is the panoply of difficulties Israel has imposed on them since conquering and uniting the city after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. These difficulties range in intensity from bureaucratic indignities to measures scaling up the damages: arrests, searches, houses demolished, tear gas, and rubber bullets; all intended to maintain security for Jerusalem’s Jewish residents.
Abowd defines the tensions and clashes in Jerusalem as a consequence of Israeli aggression and a domination forged exclusively to serve its own nationalist interests consequently depriving the city’s Arab residents of the resources and opportunities needed for long-term stability. Jerusalem has the capacity to ratchet up confrontations because the city has become a symbol not only of what this conflict means for Muslims and Jews scattered around the world, but also of the high stakes involved in its outcome.
There is, of course, a special incongruity to Jerusalem’s status as the symbolic battleground for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the Zionist founders of Israel, Jerusalem stood as synecdoche for a Diaspora Jewry they sought to transform from a religious to a national culture and from clerical to democratic authority. For Muslims, Jerusalem’s sanctity derives from the special status accorded it in Biblical history, notwithstanding the current chorus...