England, Jerusalem and Catholicism

By Dr Lucy Underwood.

In July 1581, in Oxfordshire, a government agent infiltrated a Catholic Mass said illegally by a Jesuit priest, Edmund Campion. According to George Elyot, the Jesuit preached a long sermon:

the effect of his text being, as I remember, That Christe wept over Ierusalem &c., And so applied the same to this our Countrie of England, for that the Pope his authoritie and doctrine did not so floorishe heere as the saide Campion desired…(1)

This vignette – coming via the hostile observer who then arrested the preacher – offers a rare glimpse of Catholic preaching in Elizabethan England, a phenomenon about which we know little more than its existence. And it tells us that the Catholic missionary’s central metaphor involved Jerusalem. What roads does this point to for exploring how Jerusalem was imagined in the Reformation era? How Jerusalem – which has been appropriated as a symbol by so many competing groups – might be used to express the interlacing of religious and national identity, when both were conflicted and could be seen as mutually exclusive? Campion imagined Jerusalem as England, appropriating to his own country the identity of the biblical Holy City. But the implications of this casting are ambivalent. Campion’s text – the designated gospel reading for that day – was Luke 19:41-47:

And when he drew near, seeing the city, he wept over it, saying: [42] If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace; but now they are hidden from thy eyes. [43] For the days shall come upon thee, and thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and straiten thee on every side, [44] And beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee: and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone: because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation. [45] And entering into the temple, he began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought. Saying to them: It is written: My house is the house of prayer. But you have made it a den of thieves. [47] And he was teaching daily in the temple. And the chief priests and the scribes and the rulers of the people sought to destroy him: [48] And they found not what to do to him: for all the people were very attentive to hear him.

England is imagined as ‘faithless Israel’, rejecting the Messiah. Early modern Christian appropriations of Israel/Jerusalem tend to carry as much (or more) warning, even threat, as they do aspiration or endorsement: integral to their view of Jerusalem and the Jewish people was that their city was destroyed by the Romans in consequence of their rejection of Christ, which echoed their frequent rejections of earlier prophets. Imagining Jerusalem network member Beatrice Groves is exploring early modern depictions of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and how they could function as warning: you too may be destroyed if you don’t live up to your role as God’s people. The Catholic Campion’s use of Luke 19 demonstrates that Protestants had no monopoly on this kind of imagery.

We have no information on the content of Campion’s sermon, beyond the comparison of Jerusalem’s rejection of Christ with England’s rejection of ‘the pope his authority and doctrine’, i.e. Catholicism. But there are various possibilities: the pope himself, perhaps, is imagined as Christ’s representative, mourning England’s self-destructive apostasy. Or perhaps the missionary priests – Campion and his colleagues – are linked to Christ, creating an opportunity to compare the executions of missionaries in England with the death of Christ.

How much ‘warning’ might Campion have invoked? Threat was not far away. The papacy had condemned Queen Elizabeth’s Protestant regime as illegitimate; religious wars were being fought in the Netherlands; European Catholic powers were beginning seriously to consider attack on England. The idea that England’s failure to return to Catholicism might put her in danger of destruction was no mere literary flourish. Campion probably did not refer specifically to the political context at Lyford on 11 July 1581; Elyot would have told us if he had. But, then, he hardly needed to.

Yet, from a Catholic point of view, the predictions of Luke 19 had already been fulfilled: England’s Catholic shrines had been destroyed, and English Catholics had been reduced to subjection. Was Campion preaching a retrospective repentance? Protestant persecution should be understood as the result of Catholic England’s inadequate holiness.

Campion’s invocation of this particular Jerusalem text also invokes a rhetoric of patriotism, at the same time as it castigates England. If Christ weeping for Jerusalem represents Catholic missionaries, their imagination of England as a ‘faithless Jerusalem’ becomes a sort of tragic patriotism, an attitude found in other Catholic texts dealing with England’s apostasy.

Elyot doesn’t tell us how Campion expounded any or all of these themes. But this vignette opens up many possibilities, which may be pursued through other texts, of how Jerusalem could be imaginatively appropriated and deployed to express the ambivalent interplay between religious and national identity.

(1) George Ellyot, A very true report of the apprehension and taking of that Arche Papist Edmond Campion the Pope his right hand, with three other lewd Iesuite priests, and divers other Laie people, most seditious persons of like sort (London, 1581), sig.B3

Filming Israel/Palestine: The Honourable Woman

Hugo Blick’s The Honourable Woman (BBC2), starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as the would-be peacemaking heir to an Israeli family’s arms fortune, is a rare example of British TV taking on one of the riskiest subjects for a weeknight drama: the Israel-Palestine conflict.

I say risky, because Israeli and Palestinian history and politics aren’t subjects that are familiar to British audiences, and which will produce reliably high viewing figures – they’re not Nordic Noir, or The Great British Bake Off.

Israel/Palestine is also perhaps the archetypal topic on which venturing a comment can lead to frenzied justifications, backtracking, and speedy regrets, as reporters and many celebrities found during in a summer which saw Israel launch devastating attacks on the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge. In a way, it’s surprising that The Honourable Woman made it onto our screens this summer at all, and wasn’t held back for a less volatile time – although perhaps someone made the calculation that it’s a show which might benefit from being topical (as it did).

Beyond news programmes, Peter Kosminsky’s Channel 4 drama The Promise (2011) has been the only recent UK programme to take on Israel/Palestine (although see our member Anna Bernard’s 2012 article ‘Consuming Palestine’ for a survey of Israel/Palestine in British theatre and American popular culture, where it’s more prominent).

So, while The Honourable Woman isn’t about our topic of Jerusalem as such, it’s worth thinking more about how it represented Israelis, Palestinians, and the conflict, given its level of influence, which will have been extended by viewers seeking deeper explanations for the recent increase in tension (and, I’d less charitably suggest, hoping to look clever in the pub).

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Free access to Society and Space virtual theme issue on Israel-Palestine

The editors of the journal Society and Space have made available a collection of articles from their archives on the topic of Israel-Palestine, as part of a virtual theme issue.

As they write in the accompanying blog post, the articles cover topics including ‘geopolitics, sovereignty, citizenship, nationalism, environmental issues, urbanism, and more’, and ‘demonstrate the power of incorporating a spatial analysis into analyses of Israel-Palestine.’

The issue is free to access online until November 13 2014.

Sayed Kashua has left Jerusalem

Photo: Aviram Valdman/The Tower

Sayed Kashua, until recently one of Jerusalem’s best-known resident contemporary writers, has left the city for good, with his wife and children. He has moved to the town of Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, two hours from the nearest big city, Chicago.

While Kashua is not as famous outside Israel as other Hebrew-language novelists such as Amos Oz or David Grossman, his books have been translated into fifteen languages, and he is a popular writer within Israel, as well as being a well-known public figure.

Kashua has written four series of the television show ‘Arab Labor’, an acclaimed sitcom about a Palestinian family living in Israel and their attempts to assimilate, in an echo of Kashua’s own background as a Palestinian citizen from the predominantly Arab Israeli town of Tira, who moved to Jerusalem in his early teens. Kashua also has a regular column for the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and for the Jerusalem magazine Kol Hair.

Following the murder of the 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem in July, an attack which was widely seen as a revenge killing for the kidnap and murder in June of three teenage Israeli settlers hitchhiking in the West Bank, and the upsurge of anti-Arab violence and demonstrations in the city at this time, Kashua made his decision to leave.

He elaborated on his decision in his Haaretz column, which was reprinted by The Observer two weeks into the recent Israeli assaults on Gaza, which at the time of writing have paused in a temporary ceasefire.

Kashua stated that his hopes of Arab-Jewish coexistence, which he attempted to contribute to through writing about Palestinian experiences in Hebrew for an Israeli audience, had been crushed. As he records in the article:

‘Twenty-five years of writing in Hebrew, and nothing has changed. Twenty-five years clutching at the hope, believing it is not possible that people can be so blind. Twenty-five years during which I had few reasons to be optimistic but continued to believe that one day this place in which both Jews and Arabs live together would be the one story where the story of the other is not denied. That one day the Israelis would stop denying the Nakba, the Occupation, and the suffering of the Palestinian people. That one day the Palestinians would be willing to forgive and together we would build a place that was worth living in.

Twenty-five years that I am writing and knowing bitter criticism from both sides, but last week I gave up.’

Michelle Campos article for Middle East Research Information Project provides a longer historical view of segregation and discrimination in Jerusalem, and an insightful reading of the changing position of Palestinians in Israel depicted in Kashua’s TV series, from its first season in 2007, to the most recent, in 2013.

As she notes, and has been discussed in accounts of the Ottoman period, Jerusalem’s neighbourhoods were mostly mixed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their gradual segregation began around the time of the 1930s, introducing a continuing move towards division that was consolidated in the war of 1948, and again in 1967.

Kashua’s decision came not just in response to recent violence, then, but was also the result of practices intended to squeeze out Israel’s Palestinian population with a longer history, which, as Kashua has sadly concluded, his attempts to bridge communities as a Palestinian writing in Hebrew cannot overcome.

In his latest column for Haaretz, Kashua recounts the banal irritations of his family’s new life in America and his attempts to navigate a complicated university bureaucracy.

He also describes his children’s requests to go home, to which, he tells us, he responds: ‘We are home, sweetie’.

Hannah Boast

‘…they would fire into her stomach’. How tourguides narrate Palestinians in The City of David, East Jerusalem.

By Dr David Landy, Trinity College Dublin.

The ‘City of David’ is an illegal Jewish settlement in Silwan in East Jerusalem. As such it is a place of violence and tension, with local Palestinian resistance to their colonisation met with brutality by settlers and the Israeli authorities.

landy1

David Be’eri, settler leader, drives his car into a stone-throwing Palestinian child in Silwan October 8, 2010. Photo by: AFP

Strangely, it is also a popular tourist spot with hundreds of thousands coming to see the archaeological dig there, as this was the original site of Jerusalem. I visited the site in order to find out how tours of the site portray local Palestinians. It has been claimed that Palestinians are erased in these tourist narratives, mirroring the de facto erasure practiced by the Israeli settlers who guide tourists around.

While this was one way Palestinians were dealt with, there were times when tours could not elide over their presence. For instance, when tours pass this ‘look-out point’, we were offered a panoramic view of part of Silwan. Row upon row of Palestinian houses were laid out before us, and it was impossible to ignore them.

How then were they dealt with?

The ‘look-out point’ in the City of David. Note the military terminology the site uses.

The ‘look-out point’ in the City of David. Note the military terminology the site uses.

Below is an anecdote from a tour I took. It illustrates one way Palestinians are narrated. On this tour, the Israeli tourguide used the place to tell us about the walls surrounding ancient Jerusalem. She chose a girl of about 12 or 13 from the mostly Jewish audience as a ‘volunteer’ and said ‘meet the hill on which we will build the City of David’.

Pointing to the girl she asked us, ‘If you are to defend your city, where would you build the walls?’ When someone correctly answered ‘high up’, she instructed the girl to raise her hands over her head as ‘walls’, something which made her look even more vulnerable, in need of protecting.

The guide then explained that we also need to protect the water source of our city, at the bottom of the hill, around the girl’s legs. Then she added, ‘we can’t build the walls low down around her legs because if we did, then the enemy on the other hill…’ – and here she pointed to where the Palestinian houses on the other hill were crowding along the slopes, and everyone’s gaze followed her finger and they nodded in understanding. ‘Then the enemy on the other hill, they would fire into her stomach’.

At the time, I was shocked by the visceral atavistic images this narrative evoked, the young woman on whom we build our Jewish city, the need to defend our vulnerable young (Jewish) women, and the casual relegation of un-named Palestinians to the role of the inevitable enemy threatening our citadel. It was a narrative which both elided over Palestinian presence and treated it as a threat.

The imagined ancient ‘City of David’.

The imagined ancient ‘City of David’.

In retrospect, the fact that nobody else was shocked was of equal interest. For key to narrating Palestinians as the enemy is doing so in a non-political, naturalised way which all could accept. And key to the naturalisation process is the sublimation of this enmity.

After all, the tourguides (and while on the lookout point I observed several guides doing the same thing, pointing to the Palestinian houses to illustrate the need to and the ways of defending the City of David) were only discussing ancient history. Palestinians were not named, were not mentioned. This rhetorical trick reminds me of how two of racism’s main carriers are the joke and the rumour, both modes of expression that allow the speaker to disavow the racism they are enunciating, as well as representing it as a commonsensical way of understanding of the world.

In like form, in this tourist site, such stories of ancient city walls protecting the citadel from enemies on neighbouring hills were used to make sense of the confusing ruins we were walking around in. But they had another purpose: these past stories of militarised history served to sublimate the present-day violence against the Palestinians in Silwan. Palestinians themselves were treated as ghosts, absent presences who were faintly threatening, from whom we, in our Jewish citadel, were presently safe.

CFP: ‘Remembering Jerusalem: Imagination, Memory, and the City’, London, 6-7 Nov. 2014

Remembering Jerusalem: Imagination, Memory, and the City
6th-7th November
King’s College London

Organised by the AHRC-Funded Research Network ‘Imagining Jerusalem, 1099 to the Present Day’

Keynote speakers: Professor Anthony Bale (Birkbeck), Professor Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths).

Further keynotes TBA.

Perhaps the world’s most iconic city, Jerusalem exists both as a physical space and as a site of memory, ideas, and re-memberings. In art, literature, film, and history writing; in acts of public and private worship; and in communities across the globe, memories of Jerusalem have, for centuries, been created, invoked, and relived. This cross-period, interdisciplinary conference invites paper and panel submissions on the theme of Jerusalem and Memory, c. 1099 to the Present Day. Topics may include, but need not be limited to:

– techniques of memorialisation / techniques of memory
– place, space, and memory
– souvenirs, mementoes, and memory aids
– the materiality (or immateriality) of memory
– memory and sensation
– memory, land and environment
– memory and warfare
– memory and governance
– forgetting, false memory, and fictional remembering
– narrative and memory
– memory and the archive
– national, local, and transnational memories
– memory and community
– ethnography as remembering
– ritual, repetition, and performance
– sacred and secular memory

The organisers are particularly keen to receive panel submissions which address a shared theme across more than one discipline and/or historical period.

Abstracts of c. 300 words for single papers and c. 1000 words for panels consisting of three papers should be sent to imagining-jerusalem@york.ac.uk by 1st July 2014. For more details or inquiries, please contact the same address or visit the Network website: https://jerusalems.wordpress.com/

This conference is organised by the lead members of the Network: Dr Anna Bernard (KCL), Dr Michele Campopiano (York), Dr Helen Smith (York), Dr Jim Watt (York), and the Network Coordinator, Hannah Boast (York).

Download the Call for Papers.

Member publication: Anna Bernard, Rhetorics of Belonging: Nation, Narration and Israel/Palestine

Our network member Dr Anna Bernard, Lecturer in English Literature at King’s College London, recently published her first book, Rhetorics of Belonging: Nation, Narration and Israel/Palestine (Liverpool University Press, 2013).

The book ‘examines the diverse ways in which Palestinian and Israeli writers have responded to the expectation that their work will “narrate” the nation, invigorating critical debates about the political and artistic value of national narration as a literary practice.’ It explores the works of a range of Palestinian and Israeli writers, including Edward Said, Amos Oz, Mourid Barghouti, Orly Castel-Bloom, Sahar Khalifeh, and Anton Shammas.

Another of our members, Sarah Irving, PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh, recently reviewed Anna’s book for Electronic Intifada. You can read Sarah’s review here.