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March 9, 2012

JERUSALEM: The Biography

Roy Meachum

While I didn’t expect objectivity from Simon Sebag Montefiore, I wasn’t prepared for such a Zionist 500-page tract. The real surprise for me came in the realization of how few years Jews have ruled Jerusalem.


The birth of modern Israel, in 1948, came about through the world guilt prompted by the Nazi Holocaust combined with 19th century fervor that the Last Judgment would come about only if Jews were in control of the Holy City. Arthur Lord Balfour shared the belief. Widespread pogroms started in the turmoil that followed Tsar Alexander II’s assassination, in 1881.


Earlier, Baron Edmond de Rothschild funded the first aliyah – flight – that removed mostly Russian peasants to present day Israel; he gets short shrift in the book, written by a family member of Sir Moses Montefiore. The Rothschild name appears in dribs and dots, while the author’s ancestral uncle receives what I consider major attention. In fact, the volumes I’ve read give the French-Jewish English lord financier more of the credit.


In the West, anti-Semitism began at the birth of Christianity. The Crusader armies of Europe slaughtered thousands of Jews on their way to “free” Jerusalem from the Muslims; their kingdoms lived about 200 years, displacing the Orthodox Christians in Constantinople.


The Islamic Ottoman Turks were next in line; their rule lasted until World War I. The German Kaiser owned the natural sources of acetone, a necessity for explosives in that time. Ardent Zionist Chaim Weizmann, who was born in a small shtetl near Pinsk, provided the acetone for a grateful English cabinet, including Winston Churchill – which I had not known before reading JERUSALEM: The Biography. In general, I am grateful to writer Montefiore for providing such details.


As a journalist during the Six-Day War, both sides confronted me. At Washington’s Israeli Embassy and that of Egypt in Rome, I was literally chewed out, never offered tea or coffee – the ultimate social chastisement in that part of the world. Not shown a seat; standing on my feet, I heard how U.S. bombers from Libya’s Wheelus Base had wiped out Cairo’s air force. In the other instance, as far as I could tell, I was guilty of not reporting what Israeli public affairs officer Dan Patir anticipated. Then, of course, I lived for months close to the Nile when I heard personal stories of the startling attack that started the war; in those days, farm boys in oversized helmets huddled behind sandbags in anticipation of another assault from the east.


Early in the reading, I noticed snippets of anti-Christian and anti-Muslim muttering, not until the late 19th century and days directly before the establishment of the modern Jewish state did they turn into a roar. The massacre of Deir Yassin’s Palestinian men, women and children during Israel’s Independence War receives scant mention. The murder of Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, the U.N. Middle East envoy, takes more words. The men responsible for the atrocities became Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.


I was a Zionist until the Six-Day War. Tried to enlist in the Hagganah in early 1948 at Camp Zeilsheim, near to where I lived during Army service, in Germany. The recruiter turned me down, he said, for lack of training in heavy weapons. After 1969’s summer, gradually I learned of the U.S.S. Liberty’s destruction by jets and boats from Israel’s navy base, at Tel Aviv.


In this summation of modern Middle East history, the Liberty is not considered, not a hint. But 34 American sailors died, another 174 lay wounded, when the electronic intelligence ship was nearly sunk that cost my country millions. The seaborne system was monitoring signals designed to lure Jordan into the war. The Israelis didn’t want that, so they mauled and murdered the ship and crew.


Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote a white-wash in JERUSALEM: The Biography. With all his English education and London residency, he must have known better. Oy gewalt!


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