Every so often when visiting my public library I’ll notice a book that looks promising, but for whatever reason I won’t grab it. But sometimes, after my curiosity gets the best of me, I’ll pick one of those particular books up, give it a closer inspection and take it home with me. Sometimes I find a winner and sometimes I find a loser. Sometimes though, I find something kind of in the middle. Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Israeli-Arab Conflict by Amy Dockser Marcus is one of those books I’d classify as being in the middle. It’s not terrific, but it’s not horrible either.
Published in 2007, the book is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dockser Marcus’ attempt to explore the origins of today’s Arab-Israeli conflict by examining the personalities and events associated with the last 20 years of Ottoman rule in what is today’s Israel and the Occupied Territories. In hopes of finding the roots of this ongoing conflict, many writers have focused their attention of the British Mandate period from 1918-1948 while Dockser-Marcus on the other hand in her book Jerusalem 1913 prefers to believe the die was cast years before during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. Western-inspired concepts of nationalism and self-determination would motivate both Zionists and Arabs alike, propelling both sides on a collision course. Despite Palestinian Jews and Muslims living relatively peacefully side by side for centuries, the waning years of Ottoman-ruled Middle East would be a period when powerful forces from outside the region would slowly but surely exert new influences upon the area, setting the stage for today’s conflict in Holy Land.
While Jerusalem 1913 isn’t an engrossing book that pleasantly sucks you in, it nevertheless flows quickly and makes for interesting and casual reading. The author spent most of her time discussing the chief personalities in this early power struggle, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I really wish she would have devoted more attention to contributing factors such as Arab nationalism, Zionism, European power-plays and the declining power of the Ottoman Empire. By not doing so her book feels readable, but perceptibly incomplete.
Since I’m taking part in Helen’s Middle East Reading Challenge, I hope to feature other books dealing with that fascinating part of the world. I have a small pile of Middle East novels, memoirs autobiographies and other assorted nonfiction books that I can’t wait to dive into. Maybe Jerusalem 1913, despite it’s shortcomings will inspire me to do so.