Next Year in Jerusalem!

Simon Sebag Montefiore’s tour through Jerusalem demonstrates that the conquerors of history saw this city as a treasure worth countless lives. The current face-off between Israelis and Palestinians is only the latest intractable conflict.

Issue: July-Aug 2011

Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem: The Biography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011), 696 pp., £25.00.

[amazon 0297852655 full]WHERE I (partly) grew up, in the Mekor Hayim and Rassco neighborhoods, it wasn’t really the Jerusalem of history. The western half of the town, which Israel controlled and which, for most of the time, served as the Jewish state’s capital, was a sleepy, untouristy, provincial backwater with barely a holy site or archaeological ruin worthy of the name. The one English-language bookstore, at the bottom of Shamai Street, which sold both new and secondhand books, could have featured in a small English town, say Luton in the 1950s (and, indeed, its quiet, bespectacled owner, a yekke, eventually drifted off to Australia, perhaps like some Lutonites). The restaurants closed on Friday afternoon and reopened on Saturday night or Sunday at midday; a soldier on weekend leave could barely find a place, outside his home, to go eat.

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