What happens in Jerusalem is as much about family as it is about the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Lis Harris’s cultural and political history In Jerusalem combines deft analysis with open inquiries in search of the emotional truth beneath the conflict.
Part travelogue, part cultural critique, and always challenging, Harris’s book has insights into a tangled and difficult region. It is dense work, in keeping with the layers of history and context it presents. Splashes of humor make it more approachable and understandable.
Beginning with an eye-opening description of the sprawling mass of Jerusalem itself, the book soon becomes a story about divided worlds, broken political promises, and shattered realities. All within the land are focused on the challenge of living in the arid place, and the text alternates between exploring the difficult realities of four families: the Israeli Pinczowers and Ezrahis and the Palestinian Abuleils and Odehs. Their different perspectives help to probe the magnitude of emotions on both sides of the political divide and impart understanding of Israel and Palestine’s histories of war, terrorism, and the search for hope.
The families’ stories illuminate history, breaking it up into heartbreaking, real-life decisions and challenges, as when a mother decides not to let her children take the bus to school because of bus bombings. Such telling details move the Israeli-Palestinian conflict beyond talking points.
Written with a journalist’s candor, an anthropologist’s awareness, and a historian’s sweeping gaze, the beauty of the book comes from how it breaks open old assumptions about what Israel-Palestine means. There are no clear heroes or villains in this history, although there is plenty of heroism and tragedy for both sides to share.
In Jerusalem’s willingness to go beyond stereotypes makes it a worthy title to help those struggling to understand Jerusalem and its place in the world.
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