Steven Waldman

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Is it possible to have a non-controversial two hour documentary about Jerusalem?
PBS seems to have achieved that goal, without making it boring, with “Jerusalem: Center of the World.” Correspondent Ray Suarez and producer Andrew Goldberg raced through 4,000 years of history without managing to infuriate anyone. (It helps that they pretty much skipped over the controversies of the last 50 years). “I’m a religious guy and perfectly happy to tell anyone who asks,” Suarez told me. “But I had to make sure I didn’t have my thumb on the scale.”
They offer little in the way of provocative revisionist history, sticking mostly to what the holy books of Christianity, Judaism and Islam claim. To make up for that familiar history/lore, they offer us a visually captivating High Definition experience using rarely seen footage — including inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock. (The photo below is the rock from which Mohammed, according to Islamic tradition, took flight to heaven). The net result is captivating.
If there’s one figure who comes off better than others it’s Saladin, the Kurdish Muslim leader who ejected Christian crusaders from Jerusalem in 1187 but offered them greater freedom than Christians had to Muslims. What can modern leaders learn from Saladin? “There is a way that everyone in religious terms can have the Jerusalem they need,” Suarez says. The key ingredients to the formula: “access, peace and a little space for each other.”
Suarez says he also came to understand more viscerally that people in Jerusalem believe they are fighting not only for themselves for invisible hordes of others who believ ein the idea of Jerusalem. “There are people with an emotional connection to Jerusalem who will never see the place…. That emotional tug makes it very difficult to form a compromise on the ground…they have unasked for constituencies across the planet.”
The special airs Wednesday, April 1 at 9 pm ET/PT.
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