On Kings and Statues
Updated: Feb 12
Israel has almost no equestrian statues. There is one, of Alexander Zaid, a member of the pre-state Jewish defence organisation called Hashomer. There is another statue; a mere two-dimensional cut-out of a mounted and charging Napoleon that stands on the ancient tel of Akko. One wonders what the great French general might have found more incongruous - having a statue of him overlooking the site of his resounding defeat by the Turkish army, or the fact that to the spear he is carrying is attached a flag of the Jewish state. Perhaps he would have appreciated the latter as a gesture of thanks from the Jews. After all, when in 1799 his army was camped here Napoleon issued a letter offering Palestine as a homeland to the Jews under French protection, an offer that with the Turkish victory went the way of his Eastern ambitions.
Until recently there was also a double statue of Saladin and Richard I, in a not very prominent spot outside the citadel in Jerusalem. It is the work of a British sculptor, Philip Jackson. I had previously thought it was by the Syrian artist Abdallah al-Sayed who created works of similar appearance such as the better-known statue of Saladin located outside the citadel of Damascus, but a recent comment by Iris Shagrir in Twitter has resolved the issue. When I went to photograph it a week ago, I found that it had been quietly removed.
I am led to these thoughts as I walk by the more famous statue of King Richard by Baron Carlo Marochetti that stands outside the Palace of Westminster in London. I am here now, a day before the Israeli elections, feeling rather like a truant schoolboy or a soldier who has slipped off base without a permit. I would never intentionally forgo my democratic right and privilege, but having committed to participation in a conference in Cambridge before the decision was made for an early election, here I am.
And here too is Richard, far more impressive than the now vanished version of him in Jerusalem, rising proudly on his plinth above the parked Citroens, Volvos and Seats. Across the road, a rather scornful George V looks disdainfully down at a rowdy pro- or anti-Brexit rally. No shortage of statues here, equestrian or otherwise, and no shortage of kings. Admittedly, in Jerusalem there is a young David playing his harp on Mount Zion, a rather tasteless rendering of the Jewish king, but there are no statues of Baldwin, Guy or Amalric. For a nation that spent two millennia in exile, a large part of the history of the Holy Land is pointedly ignored. It is a sad truth that, unlike Napoleon, for many of my countrymen, Jews and indeed Muslims as well, those rulers have little relevance. They are regarded as interlopers if they are regarded at all.