WHOSE JERUSALEM? by Eliyahu Tal
Jerusalem, International Forum for a United Jerusalem. 338 pp. NIS 99.
Stan Goodenough, Jerusalem Post, October 1, 1994
Just as the world gathers for the great Jerusalem carve-up, in steps Eliyahu Tal to upset the process and unseat the myriad pretenders to the throne over the holy city.
His compendium is gripping, guaranteed to captivate all who are intrigued by the religious, political, architectural or archeological opulence of this city of cities. Tal takes his reader on a vibrant, context setting tour down the highways and byways of history as it has revolved around the city for 3,000 years.
The author has done his homework well. With unrelenting - but not aggressive - persistence, he scrapes away the crusts of centuries-old myth to reveal the historic truth. This constitutes an irrefutable title deed to the world's most coveted city. Nor does the reader need to wade through mountains of information to find the answer to the question: whose Jerusalem? The first page tender Tal's unequivocal belief that the city belongs to the Jews. The balance of his exhaustively researched volume simply and overwhelmingly supports this claim.
More than enjoyable and educational, Whose Jerusalem? is a veritable fighter's handbook. It puts an arsenal of established facts, a large number of fascinating quotations, and an invaluable chronology of hundreds of dates at the fingertips of all policymakers, historians, journalists and laypersons fighting Israel's cause.
Tal tells it like it is. And for those who still choose historical legitimacy over the Islamic-inspired, oil-weighted claims of Iranian Shiites, Palestinian Arabs, Hashemites, Moroccans and Saudi Arabians, the data amassed in Whose Jerusalem? provide a solid platform from which to fend off the multiplying calls for the redivision of Jerusalem, or is otherwise demise as the exclusive capital of the Jewish state.
Insofar as he makes this his case, Tal is in absolute accord with the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, and diametrically opposed to the Islamic Koran.
He tries hard to be gracious to all parties, expressing his hope that the reader, "be he a rabbi or a priest or imam...will find what he is looking for" in the book. Personally I question whether it is plausible - or wise - to try to accommodate in any way those bent on separating a people from that which they hold most dear. There seems little doubt to me that the would-be redividers are intent on tearing the very heart out of the Jewish soul.
The fallacy is today widely accepted that Jerusalem is equally venerated by all three monotheistic religions. In reality - and this Tal drives home again and again - Moslems prefer other cities over and above Jerusalem, while institutionalized churches have their centres in the Vatican, England, Scotland, Germany or Russia, and almost all view Jerusalem as not much more than a place of pilgrimage.
Evangelical and other Christians who increasingly recognize that their beliefs are rooted in and spring out of the Jewish faith, accept and champion the Bible's apportioning of Jerusalem to the nation of Israel. Only the Jews have for centuries lived and died in the hope of being physically restored to this city. It is only when a Jewish king reigned here that the Shechina (glory of God) shone visibly in Jerusalem, and it is only to Jews that the city itself has thus been holy all these years.
This is, of course, a vital point. Especially now. Jordan's King Hussein, a major contender for the prize, looks set to entrench his claim to custodianship over Islam's sacred sites in the city, especially the Temple Mount. At the recent Washington summit, the monarch proclaimed that only "God" has the right to decide who will own the Temple Mount and the city of Jerusalem. He is of course, correct. But the question then becomes, whose God? For as Tal reminds us, Hussein's Allah does not mention Jerusalem once in the Koran, while the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament together refer to the city over 800 times.
The God of Israel has already exercised His right to decide. And He has given Jerusalem to the Jews as their inheritance in perpetuity.
In a roundabout way, then, Whose Jerusalem? also challenges the insidious "interfaith" theology equating God with the Allah of Islam.
But perhaps one of the book's most valuable attributes to the more secular reader is its relegating to the dustbin of false claims the myths of Palestinian nationalism and all-time Arab veneration of the Holy City. It is these intertwined inventions which underpin the Moslem claim to Jerusalem. Tal's documented facts give them short shrift.
His great crowd of witnesses - over 260 documents, statements by statesmen and military leaders, religious leaders and theologians, poets, writers, pilgrims and travelers - resoundingly agrees with him: Jerusalem belongs to the Jews.
It is surely not exaggerating, nor is it cliched, to describe this book as a true labour or love. To so efficiently compress 3,000 years of history into 300-odd pages is no mean feat. The finished work is a natural extension of Tal's tangible passion for the city - he was raised in Jerusalem, witnessed the 1948 siege of the city, and founded the International Forum for a United Jerusalem - and for truth.
A few quotes from Whose Jerusalem?:
"We toiled up one more hill and every pilgrim and every sinner swung his hat on high! Jerusalem! Perched on its eternal hills, white and domed and solid, massed together and hooped with high grey walls, the venerable city gleamed in the sun. So small! Why, it was no larger than an American village of 4,000 inhabitants...Jerusalem only numbers 14,000 people." (Mark Twain, "Innocents Abroad", 1869)
"Christians and Jews alike in Jerusalem lived in great poverty and in conditions of great deprivations, there are not many Christians, but there are many Jews, and them the Moslems persecute in many ways." (Martin Kabatnik, Journey to Jerusalem, 1491-1492)
"In Jerusalem, his (the Jews) case is a very hard one...he is oppressed and robbed by the Turks in a most unmerciful manner; in short, for him there is neither law nor justice..." (John Olthian, 1843)
"To Christians and Moslems, Jerusalem is a place where supremely important things happened, long ago. To Jews, on the other hand, it is the living centre of their faith, or, if they have no faith, of their identity as a people. To them, it is a place to be possessed, today and forever. There is no essential incompatibility between these differing needs. Jewish political possession of Jerusalem and absolute freedom of access to it by Christians and Moslems- these have always been twin declared principles of the State of Israel." (The London Daily Telegraph on 25 June 1967)
"The book is a veritable treasure-trove of facts and figures including some untold stories, which will fascinate the reader. Anyone concerned with Jerusalem...is bound to appreciate the wealth of information contained in "Whose Jerusalem?". Teddy Kollek
"Tal's history of Jerusalem is a document not only for Jews. This is a must reading for every Christian." Sister Dr. Rose Thering, National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel.