During this period of celebrations and gifts, a book is enjoying great success. History of Jerusalem, a 250-page comic book written and scripted by historian Vincent Lemire and drawn by Christophe Gaultier, has even become a bookstore phenomenon. Driven by the news of the war between Israel and Hamas, it has been the subject of several reprints since its release in October 2022, reaching a total of 180,000 copies sold. Retracing the history of the thrice-holy city over 4,000 years, it responds to the desire to understand the political and religious issues that plunged the Gaza Strip into a hell of violence and destruction.
“ Jerusalem is the eye of the storm », explains Vincent Lemire, who has been surveying this area for a quarter of a century. The comic strip recounts the countless conquests and defeats which have marked the history of the city, the divine invocations which set in motion warriors and pilgrims of the three great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Drawing on countless travellers’ stories, it also depicts periods of coexistence, small arrangements between believers and sometimes the wisdom of those who govern.
For several decades, a new cyclone has been forming. Its eye is installed above the southeast corner of the old city. The Al-Aqsa Mosque, a holy place for Muslims, is located on the mountain where the temple attributed to King Solomon, a holy place for Jews, once stood. This powerfully symbolic space condenses the national and territorial struggle between Israelis and Palestinians.
A fragile status quo is maintained there by the Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian authorities, under the watchful eye of the international community. But extremists are pushing for one-upmanship. On the Israeli side, the government formed a year ago by Benjamin Netanyahu includes a minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who dreams of rebuilding a Jewish temple on the esplanade reserved solely for Muslim prayer. On the Palestinian side, Hamas, with its Islamist ideology, advocates a reconquest that would sweep away the State of Israel.
Already in 1929, when the territory was under British control, the first large-scale clash between Arab and Jewish populations was triggered by an incident caused by young religious Zionists on the mosque esplanade. Ditto in 2000, when a visit to the same place by future right-wing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon provoked the second Palestinian Intifada (“uprising”).
“Netanyahu never wanted peace »
Will peace ever return to Jerusalem? Not with the current actors. “Netanyahu never wanted it”, assures a former ambassador stationed in Tel Aviv. Since his return to power in December 2022, the leader of the Israeli right has pursued his idea of establishing a new regime, authoritarian, religious, based on Jewish nationalism, curbing the rule of law and developing the colonization of the occupied territories. On the Palestinian side, the weakness of the Palestinian Authority is glaring.
The work of Lemire and Gaultier reminds us: tensions between the two populations have never ceased for a century. But he also emphasizes that coexistence between Muslims and Jews has previously been the norm. Remembering the past, History of Jerusalem gives reason to hope, in the darkness of the present time.