Paola Caridi’s Skewed Portrait of Jerusalem
Italian author and journalist Paola Caridi decried the sectarian “cruelty of Jerusalem” and described it as the “archetype of an anti-modern city” at the November 16 Georgetown University presentation on her new book Jerusalem Without God: Portrait of a Cruel City.
Her lecture in the boardroom of the Saudi-funded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU), before about 25 people, proffered a farfetched and distorted view of Jerusalem’s Middle Eastern urban realities.
With Islamist apologist and former ACMCU director John Esposito as moderator, Caridi delivered jargon-laden reflections on her personal experiences living in Jerusalem from 2003 to 2012. Citing the French philosopher Roland Barthes’ dictum that the “city is a discourse,” she concluded: “We have to learn [that] the vocabulary and the syntax of Jerusalem’s language and geography is a fundamental part of the actual semantic texture of the city.”
Focusing on the city’s local geopolitics, Caridi declared that “Jerusalem has more geography than history,” a reversed quotation of the 1991 formulation by Avishai Margalit, a professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. “Jerusalem lacks definitely public spaces,” she said, where its diverse urban dwellers intermingle and thus “is no longer a city” in an integrated sense. “I saw people walking on the same sidewalk, but they didn’t watch each other in their eyes,” she observed of Jerusalem’s self-segregated Arab and Jewish communities, which have minimal daily interactions in commercial centers and public institutions.
Caridi said this is exemplified in Jerusalem’s Old City. There, the Islamic Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif) occupies Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, and adjoins the plaza of the Western Wall (Kotel), revered by Jews as the last remnant of the Jewish temple destroyed in 70 C.E. “The squares are both exclusive places almost forbidden to members of the other community,” she declared.
Yet Caridi’s analysis ignored the Islamic supremacist-Jewish power dynamic in a city whose Muslim presence and holy sites are the result of past Islamic conquests and conflicts. Non-Jews are free to visit the Kotel, subject to security controls. By contrast, Muslim religious authorities severely restrict non-Muslim access to the Temple Mount under a wide-ranging control regime that is allowed by Israeli authorities, simply because they are wary of triggering Muslim violence.
While many Palestinian Muslims and Muslims around the world outrageously deny Jewish connections to the Temple Mount, Caridi focused only on supposed Jewish transgressions. She maintained that the “Western wall is a denied place of faith” that “represents the erasure of Palestinian Jerusalemite history through the Israeli authorities’ destruction of the ancient Mughrabi Quarter in July 1967.”
In fact, the removal — immediately following Israel’s Six Day War victory — of this 700-year old neighborhood named for its Moroccan founders enabled unimpeded access to the Kotel. Before its liberation, this area was used by many Muslims to attack Jews and others trying to visit the holy site.
Caridi similarly praised the often violent July Palestinian campaign of “successful protest” against “Israel’s changes to the delicate status quo” on the Temple Mount with metal detector security controls. She falsely defined the campaign as a “more a civil than a religious one,” which united Palestinians across sectarian lines. Contrary to Muslim anti-Israel propaganda, she noted that the Noble Sanctuary “is far more a national, civil, popular identity symbol than a symbol linked only to a specific faith.” Her references to Palestinian Christian support for these protests ignore that the tiny community, oppressed by the Palestinian Muslim majority, dare not offend its persecutors’ radicalized, intense piety.
Caridi negatively contrasted modern Jerusalem, which is protected by the Israeli security barrier against jihadist terrorists, with an allegedly more modern past. Although fences, not walls, form 95 percent of the barrier, she bemoaned that a “concrete wall of separation and its newly-equipped fortress” with “post-modern drawbridges” enclose Jerusalem.
Likewise, Caridi spoke of Jerusalem’s “period of openness toward modernity, between the end of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of the British Mandate.” Beyond the Old City, “construction began outside the walls and gates in the new middle-class suburbs” of Jerusalem’s New City, such as the religiously-mixed Musrara neighborhood. While her previous writing has focused on Musrara’s “openness to all religious communities, including Jews,” such harmony was often brief — given threats such as the planned Ottoman massacres of Jews during World War I.
Caridi’s visions for Jerusalem’s future were equally fanciful. She claimed that since its 1967 unification, its inhabitants “share[d] a common space in a very asymmetrical way as rulers, the Israelis, and occupied, the Palestinians.” Caridi noted Edward Said’s 1999 description of how “closely intertwined are Israelis and Palestinians” in Jerusalem, such that “clean separation simply won’t, can’t really occur or work.” Following his lead, she supported the previously discredited utopian “vision of one homeland and two states” with a “shared Jerusalem under the administration of the two communities.”
Yet Caridi fails to grasp Margalit’s observation that “Jerusalem is not cosmopolitan in the least but sectarian in the extreme,” a place reflecting Middle Eastern norms, where “sects live side by side, not together.” As the Middle East Forum’s president Daniel Pipes has noted, this segregation stems in large measure from the Islamic supremacist outlook towards non-Muslims, as reflected in longstanding Arab boycotts of Jerusalem municipal elections.
Still, despite everything, visitors to Jerusalem often see for themselves that Israeli rule since 1967 has renewed what was once a war-torn, divided city. Israel and Jerusalem are as modern as the Middle East gets. ACMCU’s hosting of an anti-Israel propagandist like Caridi evinces Georgetown’s continued intellectual and moral decline.
Andrew E. Harrod is a Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher and writer who holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter at @AEHarrod.