All borders are arbitrary, but those carving up the fractious nations of the Middle East seem the most capricious of all. Consider, for example, the shape of Jordan. The country is composed of a long stretch of territory, the western side of which runs alongside the river Jordan; to the east, a long chunk of land lurches upwards, towards Iraq, while another points down towards Saudi Arabia. The story goes that Winston Churchill delineated the new state’s territories after a long and rather liquid lunch and hiccuped as he drew the necessary lines on the map. In fact, strategic considerations were important: the long stretch of land reaching to Iraq helped ensure British control over the vital air corridor to India.
Israel’s neighbours, such as Jordan and Iraq, may complain about their frontiers and the irritating legacy of colonialism, but their borders are at least recognised. A glance at any day’s newspapers shows that Jerusalem, where Kai Bird grew up, remains profoundly contested. Jerusalem was divided in the 1948