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The serpent's egg.

Amy Dockser Marcus. Jerusalem 1913: The Origin of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Penguin Books, USA 2007. Paper $15.00. 207 pages.

And therefore think him as a serpent's egg--Which, hatched, would as his kind grow mischievous--And kill him in the shell. Shakespeare

WRITTEN VERY MUCH LIKE A NOVEL, Jerusalem 1913 takes us back to the earlier Ottoman era when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in peace, shared the same community and saw themselves, for better or worse, as being part of the same group. But its central focus is the question of Jerusalem seen through three pairs of eyes, the eyes of a White European Zionist, the eyes of an Arab Jew, and the eyes of a Palestinian leader. It is also a contribution to a field already cluttered with the Israeli narrative. The disparity of power relations is reflected in the output of both sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian, on this as on many other issues. They have jam-packed the field of knowledge and information in such a manner that they try to define the problem and its solution.

Jerusalem 1913 recounts in a deeply touching narrative how Jerusalem's well-earned social peace was shattered by the convulsion of colonial Zionism. It sheds a new light on the conflict between the Jews, mainly Arab Jews, and White European Zionists. It also documents heated debates between the White Zionists and Arab Jews over the fate of the indigenous Palestinians in the future Zionist State (pp. 81, 95, 117, 118). When the Zionist movement had first started in Jerusalem, Albert Antebi, a prominent Arab Jew and a pillar of the Jewish community in Jerusalem depicted their "noisy nationalism [as] dangerous." (p. 85) In 1914, soon after the war broke, he complained that the White European

"Zionists claimed to be the only heirs of tomorrow." He recognized that this left him and others who shared his worldview as part of the past. The Zionists, he noted, had "conquered Palestine from the Arabs, Turkey, the European powers and the non-Zionist Jew." (156-157)

Putting a mixture of historical and decorative details to good use, Amy Dockser Marcus fashioned a stylish historical "novel" that brings to light the politics and intrigue of the European Zionists' den. (93, 121,122, 123, 126, 129, 167...). Her thrilling narrative uncovers their indefatigable colonial maneuvers and humbugs. It discloses the extent of the dissension between Arab Jews and those mostly Arian Jews from Central Europe. Regrettably, the prevailing White Zionists' decision was that Palestinians would have no place in their own homeland (37), and that they would have to drift to their doom.

Marcus, a Pulitzer prize-winning former Wall Street Journal correspondent, is an able analyst of character and a superb storyteller. Like Hemingway whose fame came to him as public writer, she knows by experience that mainstream readers would feel comforted by a history book whose language, and style lean towards that of the novels. But to read this fascinating narrative, as historian or as scholar, you will be puzzled by the heavy and vaguely referenced details.

Some of these details were imaginal and indecent, to say the least. In one of these many imaginal details, to ridicule the Greek priests, Marcus confidently pictured one narrow street of the old city in 1898 with small boys driving donkeys and Greek priests walking. "The Greek priests, bearded and robed, walked balancing hats that look like black towers trembling atop their heads." (40-41) In another detail she "pictured" the Dome of the rock mosque in 1908 with "heaps of shoes, piled up in small pyramids by the penitents who removed them before stepping inside to pray."

Marcus as a diligent researcher needs to give more attention to some other facts. The map titled "Jerusalem circa 1913" with its colonial and misleading divisions is actually a current map. The Western Wall Plaza, noted on the map has been built 55 years after the date of the map. On the night of Saturday, 10 June 1967, the inhabitants of the Maghribi Quarter, beside the Western Wall were given three hours to evacuate their homes. Then the bulldozer came and reduced this historic district, one of the earliest of the Jerusalem awqaf to rubble. Chaim Herzog, who later became Israel's sixth president, took much of the credit for the destruction of the neighborhood. A large ugly fast food plaza was created and called Western Wall Plaza.

But as I neared the end of this book, something about it suddenly struck me. There was something about the fantasies that haunt its point of departure:


The Ottoman period has been presented by Marcus as being unique in its peaceful co-existence between Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities in Jerusalem, but in fact it was not. Ironically, it was the darkest period of the last 14 centuries. But what does it mean to claim that the dark Ottoman period was uniquely ideal? This uniqueness was produced precisely as illusions, fantasies that governed the Zionist approach to Jewish history in the Arab World.

Patricia Crone (a Professor of History at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton) and Michael Cook (Professor of Near Eastern history at Princeton University) produced a 268-page testimony on the providential marriage between Arabs and Judaism, in what they coined "Judeo-Hagarism" (referring to the Arabs as descendants of Hagar, the legendary servant girl that, according to classical Jewish texts, Abraham used to father his son Ishmael). The book, Hagarism, (1) tried to document the seventh century Jewish belief in Omar (the second Caliph) as the Messiah--they even called him paroqa (Aramaic for "The Redeemer"). The authors argued that the followers of Islam might have seen themselves as retaking their place in the Holy Land alongside their Jewish cousins (and many Jews appear to have joined the Muslim army or at least fervently hailed the Arabs as "liberators" when they entered Jerusalem in 638). Later, prominent Jews like Ibn Naghrila (Shmuel Hanagid, d. 1056), even led Muslim armies in many wars against the enemies of Judaism and Islam. The authors hinted at many Jewish eulogies, epics, and other examples of Jewish literature written in praise of the rising power of Islam. The Jewish apocalypse of the mid eighth century, the Secret of Rabbi Simon ben Yohay, movingly preserves a messianic interpretation of the Arab entry to Jerusalem:
   Do not fear, son of man, for the Holy One, blessed be He, only
   brings the Kingdom of Ishmael in order to save you from the
   wickedness. He raises up over them a Prophet according to his
   will and will conquer the land for them and they will come
   and restore it in greatness, and there will be great terror
   between them and the sons of Esa. [...] "How do we know
   that they are our salvation?" The Rabbi asked. Then he
   answered: "Did not the Prophet Isaiah say thus: ..." (2)

Throughout the last fourteen centuries of the Arab/Muslim world history, Judaism and the Hebrew language prospered more than it ever did before or outside that history. The fact that Arabic is a Semitic language and known to the majority of the Jews living in the Arab/Muslim world helped the Jews (a) to richly contribute to Arab culture, and (b) to retrieve their language directly from its classical roots. Hebrew poetry and prose achieved qualities never achieved since Biblical times. According to Shmuel Moreh, professor of Arabic Language and Literature at the Hebrew University, "Jewish writers managed to create Hebrew grammar on the basis of the achievements of Arab grammarians." Indeed, Yahya ibn Dawood (d. around 1012) developed a Hebrew grammar in a manner comparable to the grammar of Arabic, the language that properly served as prototype of all Semitic languages.

As for the scientific achievement of the Jews in the Arab world, I refer the reader to Rafaat Y. Ebied's Bibliography of Medieval Arabic and Jewish Medicine and Allied Sciences. This work symbolizes the rationale for the conditions that once made possible fruitful coexistence could perhaps be repeated.

Significantly, Judaism in the Arab world flourished and scored high on the level of ideas. Musa ibn Maymoun [Maimonides], the preeminent philosopher (d.1204) who wrote in Arabic and Hebrew, gave Judaism its first and most sophisticated conceptualization. The ideas of Maimonides were embraced by later Jewish and many non-Jewish thinkers including Thomas Aquinas. Ibn Maymoun's formulation of the creed remains the dominant statement of the Jewish faith to this day. The fourteen-volume Mishnah Torah today retains canonical authority as a codification of Talmudic law.

On the web site of "Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs" a brilliant piece of history (3) written by Shmuel Moreh, I will end this paragraph by two quotations from it:

1. [During the 20th century], educated Jews in these [Arab] countries switched to literary Arabic and cooperated with their Moslem and Christian colleagues in literature and journalism. A clear picture of the extent of cooperation during this era of reawakening can be found in the book, "Bibliography of Arabic Publications Written by Jewish Scholars (1863-1970)" published in Jerusalem in 1972 and edited by the present writer....

2. When the Jews were expelled from Andalusia in 1492, Sultan Bayazid II (1447-1513), opened the gates of his kingdom to the Jews persecuted by the inquisitions in Spain and other Catholic countries. To the present day, Jews remember the tolerance of Islam, in contrast to the persecution of Christian Europe.


Any consideration of the origin of Zionism must perforce start with British Israelism, which predated Herzl's Jewish State by at least 300 years. The British involvement is central to the whole question. It represents, not only the serpents egg, but also the point to which any discussion of the larger problem must ultimately return. Without this active involvement of the British on both sides of the ocean, the Jewish State would not be but fiction.

The American version of the Idea of Israel sustained the Americans from the time of the first colonial wave, three centuries before the birth of Theodor Herzl. It has informed the shape and meaning of the very Idea of America. "It has been often remarked," as Abiel Abbot articulated,
   ... that the people of the United States come nearer to a
   parallel with Ancient Israel than any other nation upon the
   globe. Hence Our American Israel is a term frequently used;
   and common consent allows it apt and proper.

From time immemorial, the British people have been drawn to Palestine through two major influences: the religious and, later, the imperial needs to control the road to India and access to the Arab treasures. The British seeds of Zionism were planted long before the creation of Jewish Zionism. As part of their global strategy and interests, the British on both sides of the ocean designed, carried out, and maintained the state of Israel. If there never was any Zionism, the British on both sides of the ocean would have created one. Indeed they created many "Israels" in the Arab world. They all work hand in hand for one master.


The essential "Idea of Israel," as eloquently conceived of in classical White Zionist literature, envisaged by its ideologues and continuously applied since the British conquest of Jerusalem on 9 December 1917, consists of three tasks:

1. To invade a foreign land; the Land of Canaan/Palestine;

2. To replace the indigenous Canaanite/Palestinian people with an exterior Hebrew/Israelite population; and

3. To uproot the indigenous culture and history, and replace them with the culture and history of the invaders.

In 1923 Vladimir Jabotinsky, one of the founding fathers of White Zionism straightforwardly exposed the crucial significance of extreme violence for the Idea of Israel when he wrote "The Iron Wall," a manifesto which provides a handy reference for any form of apocalyptic zeal. Jabotinsky (not one reference to him by Marcus), emphasized beyond any shadow of doubt: Extermination is the way. Whatever human sacrifice entailed in the Idea of Israel--expulsion, spoliation, massacres, enslavement--are all excusably worth every life lost and every drop of blood spilled. "Force must play its role--with strength and without indulgence," wrote Jabotinsky. "To the hackneyed reproach that this point of view is unethical, I answer, 'absolutely untrue.' This is our ethic. There is no other ethics."

But Zionist-objective--Palestinian final doom--rolls unchecked in the book. It is no more to blame for the doom of the Palestinians than a sea for the power of its tide. The victims must have surely done 'something' to deserve their fate. Rape only happens to those who deserve rape. You would never have guessed from the book that anyone but Israelis have tears. Marcus did not yield one shred of sympathy for the endogenous Palestinian doomed only for Europeans to alleviate their guilt. This is perhaps why Marcus focused only on the Palestinian "violence/terrorism." The Israeli terrorist who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin was depicted as a "militant," the ruthless war on Iraq as a "struggle"!

Certainly the substance of White Zionist (Jews and Gentiles') rhetoric regarding the Palestinians contains three assumptions: the deficient Arab, the inferiority of their culture and the stereotype of the Palestinians. However this substance went beyond simple stereotypes to include deterministic mythic assumptions regarding Palestinians and White Zionists relations. As mythic elements, such conceptions resisted change and were not falsifiable.. According to the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, many Zionists teach their children that Palestinians are not humans.

The persistence of such aggressive assumptions regarding Arabs and Palestinians distorted the Zionist perceptions of reality. But white Zionists found the myth useful for their genocidal enterprise. Once the tenets of the myth were assumed, the immutability of myth and minimal proof burdens for a conspiracy theory allowed white Zionists to define any actions to be taken against the Palestinians as appropriate.

As constantly symbolized by Zionists, lurid bloodthirsty violence was characteristic only of the Palestinian--thus in the myth, only of the victim of the Zionist genocidal venture was perceived as really violent. Each episode of Palestinian resistance was presented by the Zionists in a manner, which illustrated that innocent Jewish (here they never use "Israeli") babies, women, school children, and/or devout worshipers had been savagely attacked by merciless Palestinian terrorists.

Seldom were Palestinian motives provided any fair hearing. Rather, such acts were presented as a result of irrational and uncontrolled terrorism inherent in the Palestinian violent nature. Zionist rhetoric was most powerful in its portrayal of Palestinian violence and its rationalization of Zionist violence against Palestinians: (the so called "appropriate actions" could include the blowing of a family on the beach by Apache Hellfire missile, June 9, 2006). Thus the myth resolved a logical inconsistency and allowed Zionists to engage themselves in the very acts for which they condemned.

The Zionist genocidal violence lived in symbols before it was carried out in Palestine. Certainly, Zionists could not overtly state that they fought Arabs and Palestinians to occupy their land. Jabotinsky was bluntly exceptional. But the occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands was a by-product of wars and of violent colonial policies. To get rid of the indigenous people of his Jewish State, Herzl favored stealth and deception (the Diaries, June 12 1895):
   Supposing, for example, we were obliged to clear a country of
   wild beasts, we should organize a large and lively hunting
   party, drive the animals together and throw a melinite bomb
   [bursting charge for shells] into their midst.

The level of Zionist violence was a function of a mythic assumption, genocidal enterprise, and desires for Arab land. Thus Zionists became more convinced of the correctness of their self-righteousness and their "appropriate actions." The first victim of Zionism was the peaceful co-existence in the city of peace. Thanks to White Zionism, Jerusalem now is the worst unsafe city for Arabs and Jews.


Menahem Ussishkin, a White Zionist leader,
   brought the [Zionist Congress] audience on its feet when he
   reminded it that twenty-five hundred years earlier, the First
   temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonian
   army, the city razed, the people scattered, and the Empire of
   the Israelites had come to crashing. (122)

Galit Lev-Harir also wrote about "David's Empire" in Tel Aviv University News (Spring 1998). One really appreciates Ussishkin and Lev-Harir's modesty when one reads Steven Collins' book: Israel's Lost Empires (in plural). The author assures his readers that the ancient Israelites established a network of colonies throughout the Mediterranean Sea, in Western Europe, the British Isles and North America. "Considerable new evidence" is offered to document the extent to which they explored North America in search for metals and raw materials to meet the need for Solomon's Temple and other building projects.

Myths are an unquestionable belief held in common by Zionists (Jews and non-Jews). They give historical events a particular meaning and displace from the consciousness all that is not related to them (See, for example, how Marcus confidently locates the Jewish temple, 34) Zionist myths are an explanatory force in Zionist rhetoric and therefore difficult to falsify. They serve cultural and "existential" purposes of the Myths. Thus they explain the past, present and future and confuse history with mythology: history is comprised of false narratives or that its mythic ends imply distortion.

But what harm is there in creating history out of the bare bones of myths? This mythic history has a significant role in the Zionist adventure. It sharpens the contour of Israel's unfinished business--her own Manifest Destiny.

The area now called Jerusalem has been for at least six thousand years a remarkably open, inter-cultural city. For only a little more than 5% of this six millennia, Jerusalem and parts of Palestine were conquered three interrupted times by Israelite nomads, Hebrews and White European Zionists in an attempt to annihilate its inhabitants, to replace them with outsiders, and to uproot their cultures. (Marcus' book is very busy with Zionists statements admitting these noble objectives). Yet the mythic view of history pretends that that 5% covers uninterruptedly the entire long cultural chronicle of Palestine in general and Jerusalem in particular, and that this is actually all that matters. Their first or second occupation of Jerusalem and small parts of Palestine endured less than the French occupation of Algeria, the English occupation of India or the apartheid regime in South Africa.

In The Age of Solomon, Edited by Lowell K. Handy, wrote J. Maxwell Miller, emeritus professor at Emory:
   By the mid-1980s, therefore, both the literary critical and
   archaeological supports for Solomon's golden age were in
   trouble and it remained only to raise the prior question
   whether there had been a Solomonic empire and golden age at
   all. (Brill, 1997, 10).

Archaeology and the texts (Biblical and political documents from throughout the region) as stated by the American archeologist, John Worell,
   demonstrate that although leaders were sometimes exiled,
   Jerusalem and other cities and villages throughout the land
   were not depopulated nor simply replaced with outsiders. The
   majority of the population appeared to have remained, tending
   the fields, flocks and shops. From the early Canaanite periods
   through the latest Islamic ones, archaeology describes
   transitions of cultures and peoples that are far more gradual
   than drastic.

      As far back as the written and material evidences can
   carry us, people calling this city home have been born and
   died, worked and played, cooperated and fought, worshipped
   together and separately. But repeatedly throughout less
   enlightened periods of history, they have also seen their lands
   confiscated, homes demolished, and family members
   deported. Such actions are not particularly new. What is
   different now is the declaration by one group to the world at
   large that this is a unique instance in which modern universal
   rights and laws do not apply....

And that replacing one culture by another, obliterating a country from the maps, exposing people to annihilation could be done with two mandates, one from God and the other from the United States of America.


(1.) Patricia Crone, Michaey Cook, Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic Word. (Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1977).

(2.) Ibid, p. 4.

(3.) Shmuel Moreh, The Study of Arabic Literature in Israel, The Israel Review of Arts and Letters--2001/112 (20 Dec 2001).

Munir Akash is a Visiting Professor of Humanities and Modern Languages at Suffolk University, Boston.
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Title Annotation:Jerusalem 1913: The Origin of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Author:Akash, Munir
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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