The Mental and Material Condition of Cosmopolitan Life in The Storyteller of Jerusalem

Wasif Jawhariyyeh, who has experience of living with many different ethnic groups, depicts the old days in Jerusalem, “[l]ife with neighbors was fun-filled and relaxed. We treated each other like brothers.” [1] It is likely to discern Jawhariyyeh’s various descriptions in a similar way, in which the past is conveyed rather in a positive tone, throughout his memory. For instance, following his narrative above, he romanticises the relations with his Muslim neighbours in a nostalgic manner to unveil the harmonious and, of course, ‘cosmopolitan’ nature of Ottoman Jerusalem. [2] As such, a different and unexpected, or at least, quite distant Jerusalem from its present state is depicted here. The city is colourful, cosmopolitan, and in connection with these, there is a picture of Jerusalem in which the Palestinian peculiarities are not curbed by the Western imaginative faculty. Before telling the tragic transformation of a society that lives in peace together, Jawhariyyeh shares the story of people who might have never lived in harmony from their own eyes.

There is no doubt that a historian should treat the subjectivity in Wasif Jawhariyyeh’s narrative cautiously. The place and gravity of social diversity in history, which is more frequently encountered in literature, memoirs, and even films, can be revealed with more clarity in the light of the article(s) of Will Hanley as well as Noa Gedi and Yigal Elam. Hanley articulates this point as follows: “Historians have not provided the means to measure cosmopolitanism or to evaluate the claims and respond to the needs of non-specialists interested in diversity.” [3] It is apparent that historians need to set a standard in this regard; otherwise Gedi and Elam’s indispensable approach to memory, “[i]n any event, memory is a personal human faculty that is related to actual personal experience”, may be ignored, and misconceptions about memoirs can possibly occur – in other words, they might be treated as authentic and reliable sources on their own. [4] For example, even if Jawhariyyeh himself was not entirely an elite, his and his family’s close relationship with elite circles in Ottoman Jerusalem could easily shape his subjectivity and naturally the narrative itself.

A further critique of Will Hanley makes sense in the context of Jawhariyyeh’s memoir: “. . . histories of cosmopolitanism are also social commentary, (often) reflecting historians’ and readers’ nostalgia for imagined utopias of social mixing in the past and their desire for some similar future.” [5] Wasif Jawhariyyeh, as in this critique, reduces social diversity and cosmopolitanism to an adjacent state, which is evident in the excerpts from the introductory paragraph. We are inclined to misrepresent and reproduce the cosmopolitanism of the past due to the gloomy atmosphere of the Near East today. Therefore, as also emphasised by Hanley, even though memoirs are always significant primary sources for scholars, they are per se not sufficient and adequate for historiography. [6] They will be able to expose cosmopolitanism in a more objective way when combined with “. . . more conventional [archival] sources, such as administrative, economic, and legal records.” [7] awhariyyeh’s narrative also needs to be confirmed or overlapped with these conventional sources. All in all, it is necessary to be vigilant not to reproduce the deceptive and illusional cosmopolitan image by sceptically approaching some parts of Wasif Jawhariyyeh’s narrative, such as, “. . . Jerusalemites . . . had always lived like a family during the Ottoman rule, and there was never any difference between a Muslim or a Christian.” [8]

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