National Geographic Traveler Veers Off Track

The May issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine features an article by Michael Rosenfeld, “Jerusalem by the Book.” (Though the article is not available online, you can see the tearsheets on the Web site of the photographer.) The premise of the piece is summed up in the subtitle:

Toting a travel guide his parents wrote in the 1950s, a son revisits the city he knew well as a child — and discovers a new one along the way.

Unfortunately, Rosenfeld does not stick to the paths laid out in his parents’ book. When he ventures into territory liberated by Israel in 1967, the author steps into politics and outside the confines of journalistic accuracy. In the Old City:

I step through the door and into a spacious café. The owner serves me coffee, then stands in the center of the room, his arms outstretched…

We are on the border of the Jewish and Muslim Quarters, he tells me. “I am the UN for both of them.” It is an exaggeration, of course, but I notice some Jewish Israelis having coffee in this Arab shop. As it so often does here, the conversation turns to the situation. “Why you don’t tell your people the truth?” the shop owner asks. “Why I am not free? I am under occupation more than 42 years.”

Rosenfeld lets this assertion stand unanswered. He does not mention that, when Israel reunified Jerusalem, Israeli citizenship was offered to all residents of all religions. Most of the Arabs declined citizenship then, though many are availing themselves of it now. Even self-described “anti-occupation” blog +972 reports:

As an East Jerusalem resident, I am struck by a recent trend: many of my friends and acquaintances who hold Jerusalem identification cards — documents of permanent residency rather than Israeli citizenship — are quietly applying for and obtaining Israeli passports.

It’s not immediately clear why. Current residents of East Jerusalem — numbering over 350,000, or 38% of the city’s total population — already go about their daily lives, shop at Israeli malls, use Israeli services, frequent Israeli restaurants and bars, send their children to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and receive Israeli social and health benefits. What does “upgrading their status” from East Jerusalem residents to citizens of Israel add? Why did East Jerusalem residents refuse the Israeli offer of citizenship in 1967, and why are they actively seeking to obtain it now, especially given that citizenship requires them to pledge the controversial oath of allegiance to the Israeli state?

So, the café owner is “not free” but he is free to shop at Israeli malls, use Israeli services, send his children to Israeli schools and universities, and receive Israeli social and health benefits. And he is also free to apply for and obtain Israeli citizenship.
When Rosenfeld travels to the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which also came under Israeli sovereignty after the 1967 Six Day War and therefore was not in his parents’ guidebook, he writes that a friend tells him:

Palestinians and their Jewish supporters demonstrate here every Friday afternoon, intent on stopping the displacement of Arab families, which they see as part of a plan to Judaize the Old City.

As Jerusalem was built by the Jews, was the capital of the two Jewish kingdoms of antiquity, served as the center of Jewish religious worship for centuries, was never in its history without Jewish residents, is the focus of Jewish prayer to this very day and the capital of the modern nation-state of the Jewish people, it is impossible to “Judaize” Jerusalem as it is Jewish already.
The only time in history that the Old City section of Jerusalem was without Jewish inhabitants was when the Jordanians ethnically cleansed them from their homes in 1948. The only time Jerusalem has ever been divided was between 1948 and 1967. During that time, Rosenfeld’s parents wrote their guidebook. Maybe Rosenfeld should read a few more books himself, before he writes any more about Jerusalem.
Tone and Message
Rosenfeld seeks to convey the message that Jerusalem is a city on the edge.
Religious and nonreligious Jews may meet in the public square, but they often seem uneasy in each other’s presence. It is one of the fault lines that runs through the bedrock of this holy city.

Later in the article…

Outwardly calm most of the time, the city still simmers with tension between Jews and Arabs.


This, too, is Jerusalem, I think: still living through its age-old conflicts, still struggling to find an elusive peace.

And in the final paragraph…

…it is possible to believe that Jerusalem’s fault lines could remain submerged in bedrock. But I know they are there, waiting to have their inexorable impact, as they were in my parent’s day.

As anyone who’s been observing the Middle East lately well knows, tensions, fault lines and conflict have erupted in Cairo, Tripoli, Damascus, Baghdad, Tehran and other regional capitals in recent years, while Jerusalem — regardless of its multi-ethnic, multi-religious nature — has grown and prospered. Rosenfeld quotes a passage in his parents’ guidebook, feeling it appropriate:

Whose city is this? To which towering shade does it belong? Who among the million whose blood stained these ancient hills hold eternal lien on Jerusalem?

If any city in the world has an eternal lien on it, it’s Jerusalem, and it’s held by the Jews. “From Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem.” So says the Bible, still humanity’s single most influential book, which mentions Jerusalem and Zion, a synonym, roughly 500 times. Rosenfeld apparently is not as familiar as a writer on Jerusalem might be with the city’s historical and religious roots.
His query may have temporarily fit the Jerusalem of 1951, when the city was divided, after the Jewish residents had been expelled, synagogues destroyed, the Mount of Olives cemetery desecrated and Jews denied access to their holy sites. Then there may have been questions about the rightful sovereignty of Jerusalem. But today, these words do not apply and National Geographic Traveler ought to know it.


Throughout the article, Rosenfeld leaves out important facts that would help the reader understand the true situation. Referring to an area near the Old City walls, he writes:

In 1951, when my parents wrote this book, this was no-man’s-land. You could get shot by a sniper perched on the Old City walls just for walking here.

He omits the fact that the sniper would only have been Jordanian. There were no Israeli snipers firing at civilians.
When describing the streets of Jerusalem, Rosenfeld asserts:

It was a different world then, one still recovering from war. Some 30,000 Arabs had fled their homes in Jerusalem’s New City, which had been taken over by the victorious Israelis. Thousands of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East came here, giving the city a distinctively Eastern cast.

First of all, if Israel “took over” any part of Jerusalem, who did they take it from? It was abandoned by the British who relinquished their League of Nations/United Nations mandate. More serious, however, is the omission of fact that Jews built “the New City” portion of Jerusalem.
Worse still is Rosenfeld’s failure to explainthe circumstances that brought the Jews of North Africa and the Middle East to Israel. They didn’t just “come” to Israel. They were driven from their homes and expelled from the countries in which their families had lived for thousands of years. According to a CAMERA Backgrounder on Refugees:

Although relatively overlooked, a large number of Jews — over 800,000 — became refugees during and after Israel’s war for independence. An overwhelming majority were driven from their homes in the Arab world, a result of anti-Jewish sentiment amplified by the war.

When he travels through the Old City, the author notes:

Since the Israelis took the city in 1967, they have been widening streets and even rebuilding one of Jerusalem’s oldest synagogues, the Hurva.

The implication is that the Hurva was in disrepair or ruin because it was so old. Rosenfeld neglects to inform the reader that the Hurva was intentionally destroyed by the Jordanians when they controlled the Old City. In fact, the CAMERA Backgrounder on the History of Jerusalem reports:

Fifty-eight synagogues — some hundreds of years old — were destroyed, their contents looted and desecrated. Some Jewish religious sites were turned into chicken coops or animal stalls. The Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where Jews had been burying their dead for over 2500 years, was ransacked; graves were desecrated; thousands of tombstones were smashed and used as building material, paving stones or for latrines in Arab Legion army camps. The Intercontinental Hotel was built on top of the cemetery and graves were demolished to make way for a highway to the hotel. The Western Wall became a slum area.

Below is a picture of the Hurva Synagogue today. Only this wall of stone is original. All the rest was destroyed.

Last weekend, Israel and its supporters celebrated Jerusalem Day, commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 under Israeli sovereignty. In the time since, residents and visitors to the city have known unprecedented freedoms, including freedom of worship. As CAMERA Web site on the 1967 Six Day War reports:

The religious freedoms enjoyed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the reunified Jerusalem had been unheard of during Jordanian occupation of the city, prompting even a former Jordanian ambassador to the United Nations, Adnan Abu Odeh, to acknowledge that “the situation in Jerusalem prior to 1967 [under Jordanian rule] was one of … religious exclusion” whereas post-1967, Israel seeks “to reach a point of religious inclusion …” (The Catholic University of America Law Review, Spring 1996).

Two videos featuring audio and video from the reunification can be seen on The Israel Situation.

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