Books by Meron Benvenisti

Released: Jan. 1, 2000

The former deputy mayor of Jerusalem addresses the transformation of an Arab land into a Jewish state from a novel perspective: geography. How, asks Benvenisti (Intimate Enemies, 1995; City of Stone, 1996), did the Arabic names of mountains, towns, and bodies of water get replaced with Hebrew words? How did Umm Jurfinat become Kibbutz Grofit, and Rakhma become Yerukham? And how has the physical and political geography of the Arabs been affected by the development of a state whose mandate is to provide a homeland for Jews? In many ways, the answers Benvenisti provides to these questions comprise a geography not just of Israel but of the author, the son of a leading Israeli geographer who created some of those early Hebrew maps. The geographer's son here wrestles with the questions of how this now-Jewish state can be a true home to both Arabs and Jews, and what it means to understand that his —mortal enemies——the Arabs—are also his —brothers.— Benvenisti realizes that he cannot merely beat his breast and apologize for the wrongs Palestinians have suffered at the hands of Israelis. Though his —intention [is not] to address the issues of an overall solution to the refugee problem,— he does urge that Israel —abolish and eradicate any form of discrimination—legal or otherwise—against the Palestinians.— And he suggests that the state, which is selling to developers acres of land once owned by Arabs, compensate the original owners by paying them a portion of the profits. When peace finally comes to Israel, Benvenisti will be regarded as a moral and courageous thinker who spoke out on behalf of the oppressed before it became the fashionable thing to do. (23 b&w photos, 5 maps) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1996

A wonderfully lucid historical, sociological, cultural, and religious guide to the world's most revered and conflict-ridden city, where ``the myths of the ancient fathers are the essence of local politics.'' A former deputy mayor of Jerusalem and author of, most recently, Intimate Enemies: Jews and Arabs in a Shared Land (1995), Benvenisti notes how both Jews and Arabs have greatly expanded Jerusalem's borders since Israel and Jordan agreed to divide the city in 1948, and particularly since Israel's conquest of East Jerusalem and the city's reunification in 1967. He is especially interesting on the anthropology of urban development, noting how ``every house built and every tree planted came to be seen as a quasi-military stronghold in the national struggle for spatial and demographic dominance.'' Benvenisti parcels out blame to all sides for the interreligious suspicions and neighborhood balkanization that characterize the city's political and socioeconomic life. For example, although longtime Mayor Teddy Kollek preached the glories of an ``urban [ethnic] mosaic,'' his administration practiced otherwise: Only six percent of his proposed 1992 budget was earmarked for Arab neighborhoods. Yet Israeli rule has benefited the Arab population economically and must be seen in the context of the Jordanian occupation of East Jerusalem (194867), when 80 percent of the 50,000 Jewish gravestones on the Mount of Olives were desecrated. Benvenisti writes especially well on the intricate spiritual politics of the Temple Mount (site of the city's two great mosques, as well as the Western Wall, its most sacred Jewish site), and clearly summarizes the major approaches to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute over Jerusalem, while wisely steering clear of endorsing any single approach. This well-written, clear-headed work is a significant contribution to the pursuit of a diplomatic agreement on Jerusalem. (illustrations, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1995

A rambling but occasionally insightful study of the political, economic, and psychological dynamics between Israeli Jews and Palestinian and Israeli Arabs, particularly during the period between the Temple Mount Massacre (Oct. 1990) and the Rabin-Arafat handshake at the White House (Sept. 1993). Benvenisti, Jerusalem's former deputy mayor (197178) and currently a columnist for the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, has very critical things to say about both sides of the conflict. He faults Israel for practicing a kind of malign neglect of Palestinian economic and political needs, for repeatedly trying to internationalize what he feels is inescapably an intercommunal conflict (e.g., by playing the ``Jordanian option'' when dealing directly with the Palestinians has seemed too fruitless or exasperating), and favoring the structurally unachievable goal of separation of the two communities. As for the Palestinians, besides geopolitical misjudgments culminating in support for Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War and Arafat's apparent fiscal corruption and political heavy-handedness toward internal opponents, Benvenisti feels they mistakenly view the conflict as an anticolonialist struggle, such as that of the Algerians against the French during the 1950s. He raises the possible solution of an ``Israel/Palestine'' confederation that ``combines ethnic and cultural separation within a common geopolitical framework on the basis of national equality and a clear definition of the rights and obligations of the two ethnic components.'' But given each community's ties to a diaspora, the sharp economic inequality between, their very different political traditions, and a long history of enmity, such a confederation seems utterly unrealistic for the foreseeable future. But then, the history of the Israeli- Arab conflict is anything but predictable. It's clear how knowledgeable and passionately engaged he is in his subject, but Benvenisti's overly academic style and lack of historical and anecdotal material makes this book less appealing than other recent works on the conflict. (2 maps, not seen) Read full book review >