Jerusalem Blues

City of Stone: The Hidden History of Jerusalem

by Meron Benvenisti
University of California Press, 274 pp., $24.95
Meron Benvenisti
Meron Benvenisti; drawing by David Levine


Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone
And the interrogation will not die
For there is no eternal city
And there is no pity
And there is nothing under- neath the sky
No rainbow and no guarantee—
There is no covenant between your God and me.


It is superb in the air.
Suffering is everywhere
And each man wears his suffering like a skin.
My history is proud.
Mine is not allowed.
This is the cistern where all wars begin,
The laughter from the
   armoured car.
This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are….
—from James Fenton’s “Jerusalem” (1988)


Jerusalem is the great sacred cow of Israeli and Palestinian nationalism. Both sides worship the same hallowed ground. Both propagate a myth of divine promise and of Blut und Boden. Learned mullahs or rabbis offer them irrefutable exegesis and support. The terms “holy,” “heavenly,” and “eternal” are bandied about freely. Palestinians demand control of, at the very least, the Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem, including the Old City. Israel’s official position, anchored in a law enacted by the Begin government in 1980, * is that Greater Jerusalem is Israel’s capital city “for all eternity.” A few official spokesmen go further and claim it is the very “heart of Jewish identity.”

The two sides remain deaf to each others’ claims. Following Netanyahu’s election, Israeli right-wing politicians and the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, called for new plans to expand the Jewish presence in the Old City; and the government has announced the construction of several large new Jewish neighborhoods, notably at Har Homa, in the periphery of Jerusalem on expropriated West Bank land. Arafat’s minister for Jerusalem affairs, Faisal Husseini, warned that construction at Har Homa would amount to a “declaration of war on the Palestinians.” King Hussein also warned Netanyahu against taking rash steps, and on February 23 Netanyahu made a quick visit to Amman in an attempt to quiet the King’s fears. (In the midst of all this, Netanyahu was questioned by the police about his possible role in a sensational criminal case involving corrupt appointments.)

On the last day of Ramadan this year, close to 250,000 worshippers from Jerusalem and from Palestinian autonomous areas jammed into Jerusalem’s Haram al Sharif, the great Moslem sanctuary platform atop the ancient Jewish Temple Mount. The demonstration was religious as well as political, in support of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem and in protest against more Israeli faits accomplis in the “united” city. The Haram had never seen so large a crowd. It filled the great platform, the mosques, and a refurbished, immense, colonnaded underground sanctuary known since the days of the Crusaders as “King Solomon’s stables.”

The sermon read out over new loudspeaker systems was audible…

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