Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Siege of Jerusalem

Today, October 2nd, marks the anniversary of the end of the siege of Jerusalem in 1187 AD.

On this day, Balian of Ibelin handed over the keys of the Tower of David to a Kurdish general named Salah ad-din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, (but known to most of us as Saladin). This marked the formal surrender of the city, which the Crusaders had themselves taken by siege 80 years before, a siege that ended in bloody sack and pillage.

In that year of 1187, Jerusalem had been doomed since July, when the Crusaders suffered catastrophic defeat at the Horns of Hattin, mostly through grossly inept leadership. Over the next sixty days, Saladin snapped up a handful of smaller cities in the region, including Acre, Beirut, Jaffa, and Sidon. Only Tyre seemed securely in the hands of the Christians.

Balian of Ibelin, the last Christian noble of any reputation left alive and free, asked Saladin for free passage from Tyre to Jerusalem and back, in order to retrieve his wife. Saladin agreed, on condition that Balian not make war against him, and that he remain in Jerusalem only for one day. Balian agreed to these terms, and then when he arrived in Jerusalem broke his word and took charge of the defense of the city.

In two weeks of siege, Saladin breached the walls of the city, somewhere near the Mount of Olives, and placed his flag upon the walls of the city. Not wishing to visit further destruction upon the city, Saladin then opened negotiations with the Crusaders for terms of surrender. After some negotiation, during which Saladin reportedly lowered his demands three times, an agreement was struck and the keys of the Tower of David were handed over, on this day, October 2nd.

This, in turn, would lead to the preaching of the Third Crusade, in an attempt to recover Jerusalem for the Christians, but that is another story for another day. This is, after all, the 21st century and not the 12th.

So, what is the point, other than confirming that Possum is a history geek?

Jerusalem is a very, very old city. The site has been inhabited at least since 4000 BC. In 1800 BC, the Canaanites built the first wall, and called the city Jebus. It was not until around 1000 BC, three millennia after people started living there, that the Hebrews under their King David conquered the city and renamed it Jerusalem. And that was three millennia ago.

Jerusalem has been besieged and fought over again and again. Jerusalem has been sacked again and again. Jerusalem has seen riots and slaughters and bloodshed unimaginable in the modern context.

Viewed against the backdrop of that history, today's struggle between Israelis and Palestinians seems almost inevitable. The idea of "peace negotiations" seems almost laughably ridiculous. The idea of a "One State Solution" seems like a ludicrously naive pipe dream.

Make no mistake, dear reader, my sympathy for the cause of Palestinian statehood remains firm. But my hopes of realistically seeing a peaceful solution to the situation are in pieces on the ground. If anything, the prospects for war in the Middle East seem greater now than they have been at any time in the last 35 years.

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