A City’s Burden of Providence

By Robert Livermore

The Open Veins of Jerusalem
Edited by Munir Akash
Jusoor Books, 2005

“The Open Veins of Jerusalem,” a collection of essays, memoirs, poetry and illustrations, depicts, through the eyes of 12 authors, the occupation of Jerusalem and the subsequent Palestinian displacement and loss. The book is meant to challenge “any attempt to stake an exclusive claim on the city by situating any discussion… within a history of several thousand years rather than a few decades.” 

In his introductory essay, editor Munir Akash draws comparisons between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Euro/American occupation and displacement of the Native American tribes of the Western hemisphere. Akash points out how special providence arguments were and are used to explain and justify an invader’s actions against an invaded population. 

Along the same lines, Nasser Rabbat and Naseer H. Aruri both contribute well-documented articles that argue against any religion’s claims for special entitlement to Jerusalem, and more generally the “Holy Lands.” (Aruri also notes that these arguments have had little, if any, influence on American policy regarding Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.) Karen Armstrong argues that the very holiness of Jerusalem is, in fact, a burden, and writes that “the holiness of a city does not depend solely upon the sanctity of its shrines, but also on the behavior of its inhabitants.”

Violence and conflict are often expressed through the medium of art, and Heather Spears, a Canadian artist and writer, writes about the scenes she has personally witnessed in the region and renders illustrations of the young casualties of this violence. When asked why she depicts far more Palestinian than Israeli children, she says, “I would have to draw 3,500 wounded Palestinian children before I ‘ought’ to draw one Israeli child.” On the other hand, art historian Sarah Rogers notices the dearth of violent reality portrayed in Palestinian art, and looks at the symbolism of the Dome of the Rock in regional paintings where it dominates the landscape amidst peaceful scenes. 

Akash also includes personal memoirs in this collection. Fouad Moughrabi, who spent his boyhood in Jerusalem, hopes his recollections will allow “future generations (to)… know what one Jerusalemite… has thought about the issues surrounding his city.” Lynne Rogers also reviews a memoir by Hala Sakalini, who chronicles her family’s loss of their home in Jerusalem, their move to Cairo and ultimately to Ramallah. Roger’s hope is that readers of Sakalini’s book will find a counter-balance to the typical American confusion and misunderstanding surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“The Open Veins of Jerusalem” not only shows the shallowness of the claim to special providence conferred by the god of one’s favored religion, but also reveals the suffering that results from policies based on such misguided views. I recommend this book to anyone who is distraught by the destruction and displacement caused by the fanatical supporters of the “fundamentals” of any faith.


This review appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 12, nos. 56/57 (2006)
Copyright (c) 2006 by Al Jadid