Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Jerusalem Maths

Last Friday we went on an alternative archaeological tour of the Silwan neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. The tours are run by Israeli archaeologists who feel that the archaeology done in the area often referred to as the City of David aren't done professionally. The Israeli Government and the settler organization El Ad use archaeological techniques that have been rejected by mainstream archaeology for a hundred years (such as tunnelling) and approach the digging with a political agenda rather than pure scientific interest.

Our guide showed us not only how archaeology is being used as an excuse to force Palestinians from their homes, but also how only the Jewish and Judean parts of the history were being explored and explained to the exclusion of the other significant history of the area. It was also interesting that he rejected a strong connection between the Judean people who settled in Jerusalem in 1000BCE and the Jewish people of today.

Jewish people feel a strong historical connection to Jerusalem, but so do people of many different faiths and cultures. In the city's 3800 year history it has had many rulers and been consistently home to different people. Back to the time of King David there is biblical documentation of the city being culturally mixed (see: Joshua 15:63, Judges 1:21). While there have been Judean or Jewish people living in the city with (with a few interruptions) since about 993BCE, they've never been the only residents. Some Palestinians see themselves as the descendants of the Canaanites who first settled Jerusalem, but that connection, like that between the modern Jewish people and the Judeans of King David's time is difficult to prove or disprove and is widely disputed.

I did some quick lazy research and made a spreadsheet to track who has been running Jerusalem for the past 3810 years, since the Canaanite Jebusites first built a wall around their city. I tallied up the years that different groups controlled the city and it came out like this:
Judean / Jewish / Israeli812 years
Babylonian / Greek / Roman964 years
Arab / Turkish / Ottoman1210 years
Byzantine / Crusader / British128 years

Jerusalem has spent about 20% of its history as a Jewish city. It has spent about 1.5 times more time as a Muslim city and twice as much time ruled by polytheistic rulers. Even parts of the city that are considered to be associated with particular religions almost always have a mixed history. The Muslim Dome of the Rock is built on the site of the Jewish temple but has also been a Christian church. Much of the Western Wall (Kotel), arguably the most holy place in modern Judaism were built by Muslim rulers of the city. The history is so complicated and mixed it's illogical for any particular group to claim a unique connection to the place. Anyone that does probably has a modern political agenda.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 25th, 2010 05:19 pm (UTC)
Didn't the Romans only run the city because they lay seige to it and massacred a lot of Jews? (Roman history shaky.)
Jan. 25th, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC)
The Romans (from my poor knowledge of history and random reading of encyclopedias) controlled Jerusalem because they controlled most of the Mediterranean. For a while they ruled outright, then they installed a client state, then the Jews revolted and the Romans destroyed their temple and exiled them. Fairly standard fare in Roman (and modern) history.
Jan. 25th, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC)
On the one hand I can understand the want to describe persecutions over a longer term, from both sides. However, it is a legitimacy that the Jewish side can only win.

If we take the starting point from British control over Palestine then both sides are equally as weak.

I do not know the way forward, but I have a hunch that it has got to do with education. All sides need to know what happened, and as much as can be distilled, why. Supreme anger, either by the polity of Israel and the conscription armed forces, or the Palestinian peoples and their paramilitary forces, is not the answer.

Caveat: I feel an unexplained empathy for the Jewish diaspora (maybe from too much reading about their history). But I am repulsed when the Israeli government blatantly represses the prospect of peace. I am also repulsed by the way much of the powers of the middle east use the suffering of the Palestinian people for their own end.

Edited at 2010-01-25 05:25 pm (UTC)
Jan. 25th, 2010 11:58 pm (UTC)
I guess I don't feel that the Jewish people have a monopoly on persecution or on a connection to Jerusalem. I understand that they legitimately feel that they have a history of persecution and of connection to Jerusalem, but I don't feel that those histories give them the right to persecute, or the right to control Jerusalem exclusively. When I looked at the history of Jerusalem I was actually surprised how little of it had anything to do with the Jewish people.

The Israeli / Palestinian conflict is tied up so much in domestic and international politics far away from here. Israeli government policies are supported and sponsored heavily by American politics, and the Palestinian cause is used as an excuse for atrocities the world over - just look at Bin Laden's latest tape where he connects it to the attempted plane bombing at Christmas. It's all bullshit and hurts everyones' chances of making peace.

There are two things that I find hopeful. First, I'm meeting so many amazing Israelis and Palestinians who are dedicated to building bridges and finding peace non-violently. They're a minority, but they all care and work so hard that I think we've got a chance. Second Israeli society is starting to break apart a little. They're interrogating women who dare to pray a the western wall. IDF soldiers on the right as well as the left are starting to refuse to serve what they consider immoral acts. They're arresting senior civil rights leaders for engaging in legal free speech. Some change will have to come of all this.
Dec. 28th, 2010 08:08 am (UTC)
Jerusalem Maths
Okay, so Jerusalem has had a checkered history.

Perhaps the Jews cannot make an exclusive claim to this city.

However, Jewish identity is concentrated in this area.

The Islamic world, on the other hand is a much larger place.

For the Jews, where else?
Jan. 10th, 2011 02:51 am (UTC)
Re: Jerusalem Maths
I don't think that Jews shouldn't be in Jerusalem or have access to the city. There have been Jewish (and Judean) people in Jerusalem for almost it's entire history, there's just been everyone else there too. It seems like demanding that it must be exclusively the capital of a Jewish state is a little selfish, unrealistic and short-sighted. Sadly that's how the game is too often played by all sides. I mostly am saddened for my lovely Israeli and Palestinian friends who have to live in the middle of all of this bullshit.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )