Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996


To Rule Jerusalem

Roger Friedland and Richard Hecht
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
ISBN 0 521 44046 7
29.95 (hb)
xvi + 554 pp.

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Two myths were developed by Israeli authorities concerning Jerusalem during the 3000 anniversary celebration year of the city (June 1995 - June 1996): First, that the Holy City was founded 3000 years ago by King David. Second, that Jerusalem has been united since Israel liberated the city in the June 1967 war. Behind these myths lies the assumption that today's Israelis are direct ancestors of their forefather, the hero king, and that they completed his deeds in 1967. The Israelis do not have exclusivity in creating pseudo history in order to serve their interests over ruling East Jerusalem. Indeed, a counter-myth was developed by the Palestinians: The city was founded 5000 years ago by the Yabus people. Thus, ancient Israel occupied Jerusalem, taking it from its legal and historical beholders, an act replicated by the state of Israel in 1967. Regarding the second Israeli myth, however, the Palestinians have no basis to react. The fact that Arab East Jerusalem is united with its Jewish West part, de-jure, is almost visible. De-facto, the city is deeply divided according to national boundaries.

To Rule Jerusalem examines not only the Israeli-Palestinian division, but also the domestic rivalry within each of the two warring nations. In Israel, the rivalry is between secular Zionism and Orthodox Judaism, as well as between compromise supporters like Peace Now Movement and the Messianic Rightist movement of Gush Emunim. Quite similar is the conflict within the Palestinian camp between Islamic movements of Hammas and Islamic Jihad, and the Palestinian Authority. Taking Jerusalem as the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the book runs through its main points chronologically through the twentieth century. Among the book's pages one may find the whole gallery of personalities involved in domestic and external conflicts of these national movements.

In order to describe the conflict over Jerusalem, Roger Friedland, an urban political sociologist and Richard Hecht, an historian of religion, both professors at the University of California, Santa Barbara, spent a decade of inquiry, including field work in Jerusalem since 1983, during which they interviewed hundreds of informants, learned the city in its surface life and in its behind-the-walls' dimensions. Besides basing their research on oral assertions and their own personal experience, both as primary sources, the authors chose the best secondary sources available. The outcome of such an intensive effort is a fascinating panoramic tour of the fight to rule Palestine/Israel through the battle over its capital city. To Rule Jerusalem is a basic and up-to-date textbook of the Arab-Israeli conflict together with the religious versus national identities confronted within each camp.

However, the very well written, thick and rich description comes at the expense of analysis, which is relatively thin. The reader becomes very familiar with the city's national and religious problems but will not find more analytical conclusions, especially regarding socio-economic conflicts within each ethnic-national society. In order to create a parallel between the two national parts of the city, the authors almost ignore the socio-economic dividing lines crossing Jerusalem. The socio- economic component of Jerusalem should be an independent one rather than being an appendix of the national conflict. It would be worth observing and analyzing, no less than any Rabbi, the phenomena of Beytar Yerushalim, the most popular football team in West-Jerusalem admired mainly by working class members from Asian and African origins and managed by Likud party figures.

Finally, Friedland and Hecht share a pessimistic view. They open their book declaring that 'Jerusalem is at war - with itself' (p. xi), and end it asserting that 'As Israelis and Palestinians move toward peace, Jerusalem is being prepared as a battlefield for war.' (p. 489). However, as shown in the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accords, the peace process did not pass over the Holy City. Furthermore, even within each national-ethnic community a coexistence formula has been achieved between radical religious organizations and the secular national majority. The history of compromises in Jerusalem is still waiting for its author.

Menachem Klein
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and Department of Political Science
Bar-Ilan University, Israel

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996