Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Martin Gilbert

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1996
ISBN: 0-471-16308-2
Publisher: Wiley

 This history is a monument to our capacity to create, and fight over, competing realities within the same space and time. Noted historian Gilbert (The First World War, 1994; The Day the War Ended, 1995) continues to establish himself as a thorough researcher with an eye for detail, irony, and symbolic moments. He follows the saga of Jerusalem from the turn of the century, when the city is an Ottoman backwater, filthy and neglected. Even this early, and with a Muslim occupier, there is a palpable hostility to the city's Jews and Christians on the part of the area's Muslim Arabs. Though Jews were in the majority even then, the Mufti's agents made Jerusalem's non-Muslims pay for access to their holy places. Readers are allowed to weigh current calls to internationalize, share, or divide this contested city with a century's perspective. Among the recurring patterns are the killing of Arab ``collaborators'' by Arab nationalists (1,000 between 1936 and '39) and the assassination of peacemakers (Jordan's King Abdullah) well before Sadat and Rabin. Other surprises include the fact that most of terrorist bombs set in Jewish West Jerusalem were rigged by British army deserters bribed by the Mufti, and that uniformed Syrian soldiers were counted among the civilian casualties in the massacre by Israelis of Arabs at Deir Yassin. Gilbert doesn't spare us the heart-wrenching details of an Arab bride-to-be blown up by Jewish terrorists or a Jewish Quarter mother felled by a sniper while hanging laundry. No strong bias mars the book, but most of the documentation, from texts to newspapers and journals, is from Jewish sources. Further, the plight of Jerusalem's Christian Arabs and Armenians could have received more attention. Gilbert has risen to the complex challenge of his earthly/heavenly subject, offering us, in this compelling history, both a Dung Gate and a Lions' Gate with which to enter this timeless city on its 3,000th anniversary. (photos and maps, not seen) (Author tour)