Jerusalem Interrupted explores how the city, its culture and society went through radical transformations beginning in the early 20th century through to its current phase. The basic premise of the book is that Jerusalem, a highly interconnected city - culturally, socially and economically - with Palestinian towns and villages, underwent massive transformations, violent at times, to change it into a Jewish city.
It’s a theme that’s been revisited countless times within academic and literary works on Palestine: the ethnic cleansing of Palestine to create a Jewish majority, along with the racist policies enacted by Israel for the preservation of Jewish dominance, is very topical with many classical works on the subject.
The volume of essays in Jerusalem Interrupted provides a unique retelling of this well-known narrative, recounting the unscrupulous manner by which Palestinian place and space was re-inscribed to fit an ideological narrative of biblical Israel and Zionism in particular and the implication it had for Palestinians, particularly those in Jerusalem.
By comparing aspects of Palestinian culture in part one - including art music, photography as well as political and social currents before 1948 - with part two of the book, which examines the transformation that took place after 1948, when Palestine and Jerusalem was changed into Jewish areas, we get a powerful sense of the tremendous cultural, political and economic loss Palestinians endured in their march towards independence.
A sense of Jerusalem as a regional capital city is strikingly illustrated. To take one example from the essays in the book, an analysis of all the pictures revealed that artists of this period were clearly embedded in the larger history of Arabic art. Art produced in 1900, in Jerusalem, shows the inseparability of the city; it existed, without borders, to the entire Arab world, but by 1948 the city was bound, occupied and separated from its neighbours.
Contrary to popular myths, readers are shown the extent to which Jerusalem was moving through a steady process of modernisation before 1948 when the enforced transformation took place. We find for example that in the areas of art, culture, technology and politics, Jerusalem developed a vibrant and increasingly sophisticated cultural milieu that could rival any city in the region and be equally comparable to major towns and cities in the West. Arab Jerusalem, during the first half of the 20th century witnessed a burgeoning of an indigenous modernity with institutions typical of a modern nation state.
Readers are given a historical glimpse into the social, cultural and political shifts that came with the advent of Zionism under the patronage of the British Mandate. We find that Palestinian elites, deeply connected to grass root movements and political currents in other majority cities across the Middle East, faced a glass ceiling in terms of their political aspiration. The period was marked by extreme politicisation of demography and the divisive classification of Palestinian Arabs into Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze and Bedouin; a form of cultural divide and conquer that was forcefully introduced to weaken, undermine and ultimately kill off the political aspirations of the indigenous Palestinian Arabs.
In part two, Thomas Abowd writes a moving account of Arab-Jewish relations before the bombing of the King David Hotel through the experience of one of its Arab residents, Nura. While the last sections of the book take us through the Israeli process of redefining Jerusalem as a Jewish city and the practical impact of this policy on Palestinians.