Anti-Israel propagandist Paola Caridi presents a distorted view of Jerusalem.
Italian author and journalist Paola Caridi decried the sectarian "cruelty of Jerusalem," the "archetype of an anti-modern city," at the November 16 Georgetown University presentation of 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 twenty-five people, proffered a farfetched, 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 fails to grasp the Islamic supremacist outlook towards non-Muslims.
Caridi exemplified her thesis with 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 like President Donald Trump and this author (as a shorts-clad tourist no less) freely 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 respected by Israeli authorities wary of triggering Muslim violence.
Palestinian "protesters" at the Temple Mount.
While many Palestinian Muslims and Muslims around the world outrageously deny Jewish connections to the Temple Mount, Caridi focused 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. It previously faced a narrow alley that exposed visiting Jews in the 1920s to harassing Muslims.
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 "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" at crossing posts enclose Jerusalem.
She fantasized about a more integrated Jerusalem in her slide of the sixth-century Madaba, Jordan, mosaic map of Jerusalem showing the Roman cardo central boulevard running through the city. However, the Madaba mosaic, where the Temple Mount is absent due to Byzantine Christian denigration of Jewish religious sites, depicts an era of Jerusalem's history that was hardly kind to Jews.
Jerusalem's Old City
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 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."
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 Pipeshas 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.
Yet despite everything, visitors to Jerusalem see for themselves that Israeli rule since 1967 has renewed what was once a war-torn, divided city. Israel is 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.