A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, February 27, 2012

The "Jerusalem Syndrome"

Many years ago, on one of my first trips of Jerusalem, I visited an American friend who had recently joined the US Foreign Service and was assigned as some sort of junior consular officer in the US Consulate in East Jerusalem. He explained at the time that as the junior consular officer present, he was the one on call to take possession from the Israeli authorities of any self-proclaimed messiahs or prophets who showed up in town or at the airport without visible means of support and with American nationality. Apparently this was a frequent enough occurrence for there to be a designated consular officer assigned the task, and other foreign consulates presumably had analogous officials. Apparently it's a pretty frequent occurrence in the holy city for someone to show up at immigration and announce that they are Jesus Christ or King David or the Jewish Messiah. (Though I assume they needed some other documentation to get through the immigration at the airport, assuming they didn't just descend from the heavens without the help of El Al.) The Israelis, at least back then, turned them over to their respective consulates (if they couldn't support themselves anyway) and let them figure out what to do with them.

I don't know what the consular arrangements may be nowadays, but this article called "The Jerusalem Syndrome" in Wired talks to an Israeli psychiatrist who interacts with many of the chosen messengers, so obviously they're still showing up in Jerusalem.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

During my 9 months in Jerusalem in 1967-1968, I was in charge of the visa office, but I filled in occasionally for another Vice-Consul, who did American citizen protection work. American passport holders stricken by the "Jerusalem syndrome" were a familiar occurrence at the time, just after the June 1967 War. Prior to the war, both the Israeli and the Jordanian authorities had viewed the relatively rare cases with a mixture of annoyance and tolerance, as long as they did not try to make an illegal crossing of the green line. After the war, there was a surge of self appointed messiahs, and the US Consulate General took a fairly active role in encouraging them to repatriate themselves. We still entertained hope for a quick resolution of the occupation, and we feared that such individuals would get caught up in friction between the Israeli authorities and the Palestinians. Now, it appears that right wing religious settlements in "Judea and Samaria" absorb such folks with all too much enthusiasm. The line between deranged and merely zealous has virtually disappeared.