‘there’s a third party at the negotiations on the city, and that’s Jerusalem herself’

I’ve been writing recently about the Israeli novelist Meir Shalev, particularly his 1988 novel The Blue Mountain, a magical realist account of the lives of Jewish pioneers in an early twentieth century agricultural settlement. Shalev is also well-known in Israel as a journalist, and has a weekly column in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

In searching for reviews of The Blue Mountain, I came across the following comments on Jerusalem from one of Shalev’s columns, published in September 2000, which reminded me of discussions we’ve had at events and on the blog about personifying Jerusalem, prompted again recently by a post by Laura Sangha.

Shalev criticises the deadly mythology of ‘sacred Jerusalem’, at the same time as producing a version of the city which is perhaps equally romanticised:

Everyone talks of the Palestinians and the Israelis and forgets that there’s a third party at the negotiations on the city, and that’s Jerusalem herself. Although she’s called ‘the eternal city of peace,’ the city has not stopped being the reason for and the arena of wars. Notwithstanding the wonderful words Jeremiah, Isaiah and Jesus spoke there, she has always preferred generals, kings, builders and destroyers over prophets and simple citizens. She has an interesting symbioses with them. Jerusalem demands that they come up to her, pray to her, destroy and build her. In return, she offers them perpetuity on the pages of history. No one would remember Herod and Nehemia had they not built Jerusalem. Titus would have been forgotten if he hadn’t destroyed her. Saladin would not be known in Europe if he hadn’t fought for her. Princess Helena would have vanished a long time ago if she hadn’t, with a fatuous wave of her hand, designated the holy places for which the coming generations’ blood would be spilt. Barak and Arafat are no different from their ancient predecessors. They also throb with a poignant yearning to go down in history. They can go down as the first leaders to tell this city: ‘thus far!’ They can tell her that people will no longer die for the sanctity of her stones and tombs. But neither seems to be made of this stuff. Barak prattles about ‘defending Israel’s holy places’ and Arafat recites ‘Terra Santa’ in fluent Crusader language. And we – – mere Jews and Arabs — will still be placed on the altar of this Moloch called sacred Jerusalem.

Hannah Boast, Network Coordinator

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