Source: Gov't Press Office
emerged as a major point of contention in Israel's negotiations with
its Arab neighbors, particularly the Palestinians. Claims of historic,
religious and legal rights to the city have been asserted by the
various parties to the conflict and, accordingly, these three aspects
should be reviewed:
In discussing Jerusalem, history
matters. In weighing ostensibly competing claims to the city,
it must be recalled that the Jewish people bases its claim to Jerusalem
on a link which dates back millennia. Indeed, Jerusalem has served as
the capital of independent Jewish states several times over
the past 3,000 years, including since 1948; it has never served
any Arab state -- at anytime in history -- in such a capacity, and a
Palestinian claim to Jerusalem was not articulated prior
The observation that, "Jerusalem is
holy to three religions," tends to mislead, since Jerusalem
is holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians in fundamentally different
ways. Jerusalem contains sites holy to Muslims and Christians, and
is one of many locations of religious significance to them. To Jews,
however, it is the city itself which is uniquely holy; only Jews have a
religious prescription to live there, to make pilgrimages there and to
pray in its direction.
Israel has advanced a coherent case,
based upon the precepts of international law, for sovereignty over
Jerusalem. The Palestinians, for their part, have failed to offer any
legal grounds in support of their claim to the city. Their claim seems
to be based solely on their desire to possess it.
Jewish Continuity in Jerusalem
Throughout history, the Jewish People has maintained a presence in
Jerusalem, ever since King David established the
city as his capital nearly 3,000 years ago. Except for a very few
periods, when they were forcibly barred from living in the city
by foreign conquerors, Jews have always lived in Jerusalem. It
is for this reason that Jews regard the city as their national center.
Indeed, it is the centrality of the connection with Jerusalem -- Zion
-- which led the modern Jewish movement for national liberation to be
called Zionism. Throughout millennia, and in the
face of conquest, forced exile, violence and discrimination, Jews
have maintained their direct link to Jerusalem, returning to live
in their city again and again.
The Jewish national and religious
tie to Jerusalem was first established by King David and Solomon, his
son, who built the first Temple there. This First Commonwealth lasted
over 400 years, until the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and exiled
the Jewish inhabitants of the city. Immediately following the Persian
defeat of the Babylonians, the Jews returned to Jerusalem less than 100
years later, rebuilt their Temple and reestablished
the Jewish character of the city.
For the next 500 years, the Jews
further strengthened their presence in Jerusalem, surviving various
attempts by foreign empires to destroy their national and religious
identity. Greeks, Seleucids and Romans took turns in conquering
the city, forbidding Jewish religious practices and encouraging
the Jews to assimilate into the dominant culture. Several times,
the Jews were forced to take up arms in order to preserve their liberty
Only after the Second Temple was
destroyed by Rome in 70 AD, and a subsequent Jewish revolt was
crushed in 135 AD, was the Jewish presence in the city temporarily
suspended, following the killing or enslavement of the Jewish
by the Romans.
By the 4th century, some Jews had
managed to make their way back to the city. In the 5th century,
under early Christian rule, Jews were, at various times, either more
or less free to practice their religion. At this time, few
non-Christian communities remained in the country, apart from the Jews.
Theodosius II (408-450) deprived the Jews of their relative autonomy
and their right to hold public positions. Jewish courts were
forbidden to sit on mixed Jewish-Christian cases and the construction
of new synagogues was prohibited. Jews were forbidden to enter
Jerusalem except on one day a year, to mourn the destruction of
At the beginning of the 7th century,
the Jews looked to the Persians for salvation. Hoping to be permitted
to worship freely once the Byzantine oppression had been removed, the
Jews encouraged the Persians' conquest of Acre and Jerusalem, and a
Jewish community was subsequently allowed to settle and worship in
Jerusalem (614-17), though it was later expelled. Under early Arab
rule, a Jewish community was reestablished in Jerusalem and flourished
in the 8th century. Jews were even among those who guarded the walls of
the Dome of the Rock. In return, they were
absolved from paying the poll-tax imposed on all non-Muslims. In the
10th and 11th centuries, however, harsh measures were imposed against
the Jews by the Fatimids, who seized power in 969.
Though the Jewish academy (Yeshiva) of Jerusalem was compelled by
Caliph Al-Hakim to reestablish itself in Ramle, entry to Jerusalem was
revived by the "Mourners of Zion", Diaspora Jews who did not cease to
lament the destruction of the Temple. This movement, which held that
"aliyah" -- ascent to the Land -- would hasten the resurrection of
Israel, was at its peak in the 9th-11th centuries. Many Jews came from
Byzantium and Iraq and established communities.
The Crusader period in the 12th
century brought terrible massacres of Jews by Christians, and the
prohibition against living in Jerusalem. After the conquest of
the country by Saladin late in the century, the Jewish community
in Jerusalem again grew considerably.
In 1211, three hundred rabbis from
France and England immigrated as a group, many settling in Jerusalem.
After the Mamluks took power in 1250, the famous Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman
(Nahmanides), traveled from Spain and settled in Jerusalem.
Jewish communities existed in
Jerusalem throughout the Middle Ages, though under economic stress,
and religious and social discrimination. During this period, the
Jews in the city were supported in large measure by the tourist trade,
commerce and contributions from Jews abroad (Europe, the Mediterranean
countries and North Africa), who did what they could to help
maintain the center of the Jewish People. The Expulsion from Spain
and Portugal, in the late 15th century, led to an influx of Jews
into the Land, including Jerusalem.
The 16th and 17th centuries were
times of economic hardship for the Jews, during which the population of
Jerusalem was somewhat reduced. By the end of the 17th century,
however, Jerusalem again emerged as the largest central community of
the Jews in the Land. Large numbers of Jews immigrated in the 18th
century as a result of the messianic-Shabbatean movement, many coming
from Eastern and Central Europe, Italy, and other places. Even so, the
majority of Jews in the Land in the 17th and 18th centuries were
Sephardic Jews, descendants of those expelled from Spain, and
immigrants from Turkey and the Balkan countries.
During the 19th century, immigration
increased and the establishment of the modern Zionist movement
revitalized the Jewish community throughout Israel. Jerusalem, which in
1800 numbered about 2,000 Jews (out of a total population of 8,750),
grew to 11,000 by 1870 (out of 22,000), and 40,000 (out of
60,000) by 1905. It is the political, cultural and religious center
of the State of Israel and of the Jewish People around the world.
The Biblical Era
While various origins have been proposed for its Semitic name,
Yerushalem -- often translated as "the city of Shalem" -- the Bible
recounts in Genesis that Abraham visited King Malchizedek of Shalem,
which the commentators equate with Jerusalem. Interestingly, "shalem"
is also related grammatically to "shalom," or peace; thus the city's
appellation: "City of Peace." The Hebrew root "shalem" also means
"wholeness." The first archeological evidence of Jerusalem's history
dates back to the Early Bronze Age (c. 3000 BC).
When David was anointed King of
Israel (c. 1000 BC), and subsequently united the tribes of Israel, he
captured the city -- which he perceived as an ideal site for
the capital of his new kingdom. Then, with the King and the Ark
of the Covenant in residence in the city, Jerusalem was transformed
into both the political capital and the religious center of Israel.
King David's son and successor, Solomon, consolidated Jerusalem's
eternal religious significance for all Jews by building the First
Later, in the early 6th century BC,
Judah's rulers fought and were defeated by the Babylonians.
In 586 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon occupied the city, destroyed
the Temple and exiled Jerusalem's population to Babylon. Then,
when the Persians defeated Babylon in 536 BC, Cyrus the Great allowed
the Jewish exiles to return home. The Second Temple
was dedicated soon after and, under Nehemiah, who was appointed
by the Persians in 445 BC, the Jews rebuilt the walls of the Temple
and strengthened its fortifications. At the same time, reforms
initiated by Ezra restored the authority of Jerusalem as the spiritual
capital of Judaism.
Hellenistic Rule and the Maccabees
Alexander the Great's conquest of Jerusalem in 333 BC led to the
establishment of the Hellenistic monarchies, and the first new rulers
-- the Ptolemies of Egypt -- retained the existing Jewish religious and
political leadership. Under their reign, Jerusalem prospered. This
continued even after 198 BC, when the Seleucid king of Syria, Antiochus
III, captured Jerusalem from the Egyptians. His son, Antiochus IV,
however, sought to intensify the influence of Hellenism. It was his
intention to transform Jerusalem into a Greek metropolis and his
desecration of the Temple that provoked a
Jewish insurrection; the ensuing revolt, headed by the Hasmonaeans
and led by Judah Maccabee, succeeded in liberating Jerusalem. In
165 BC, Chanukah ("dedication") was first celebrated, with Jews again
being permitted to worship at the Temple.
The later years of the Hasmonaean dynasty witnessed the emergence of an
internal Jewish dispute between the Sadducees and the Pharisees,
culminating in civil war and foreign intervention. In 63 BC, Pompey
imposed Roman rule in Jerusalem -- and, in 37 BC, Roman hegemony was
firmly established with the appointment of Herod as King of Judea.
Ironically, a combination of factors brought Herodian Jerusalem to the
pinnacle of its prosperity, marked by extensive and lavish construction
projects. King Herod's fortification projects also included the
construction of the still standing Western Wall (of the Temple). It is
estimated that the population of Jerusalem reached 120,000-200,000
under Herod's rule.
The Second Fall of Jerusalem
After Herod's death, Judea became a Roman province (6 AD). Jerusalem
was governed by Roman procurators residing in Caesarea, and ceased to
function as the capital of Judea -- although the municipal government
remained in the hands of the Jewish high priest and
Sanhedrin (rabbinical council), which fulfilled the functions of
a municipal council.
The next few decades were marked by
the eruption of sporadic riots in Jerusalem, usually resulting in
clashes with Roman troops. By the middle of the 1st century
AD, the Jews of Israel had again fought to liberate their country
and capital -- but their war against the Romans ended in 70 AD,
when the armies of Titus conquered the city and destroyed the Temple.
Most residents of Jerusalem had either been killed or had perished from
hunger during the Roman siege, and the survivors were
sold into slavery or executed. Virtually the entire city was destroyed.
Subsequently, in 130, Emperor
Hadrian decided to rebuild Jerusalem as a city -- thus provoking
the Second Jewish Revolt against the Romans. Under the leadership
of Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kokhba, Jerusalem was once again liberated,
although only for two years. Ultimately, Rome crushed the revolt
and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina. Later, in the 4th century,
Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire.
It was then that Queen Helena and her son, Emperor Constantine,
Jerusalem into a Christian center.
Arab and Crusader Eras
In 638, the Muslim army of Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem. Initially,
Muslim rule was tolerant and brought prosperity. In 691, Caliph Abd al-
Malik of the Umayyad dynasty constructed the Dome of the Rock on the
site of the Jewish Temple. The Dome was intended to compete with the
shrines in Arabia, which were under the rule of his political
opponents. Significantly, Jerusalem ranked only third in the hierarchy
of Muslim religious sanctity, subordinate to Mecca and Medina.
Afterward, the First Crusade (1099)
conquered Jerusalem, massacring tens of thousands of its Muslim and
Jewish inhabitants. Jerusalem was established as the capital of the
Latin Kingdom in the Holy Land. This Kingdom, however, collapsed some
decades later. In 1187, Sultan Salah a-Din arrived from Egypt and
besieged Jerusalem, ultimately gaining control of the city. Jews began
to return to Jerusalem in 1210, ending the short and temporary exile
from the city, which had been imposed by the
Crusaders. In fact, the Jewish community in Jerusalem continued to
expand as Jews immigrated from Europe and the Maghreb.
The Mamluk and Ottoman Periods
By the 13th century, Jerusalem had become a marginal part of a large
kingdom ruled from Aleppo and Damascus -- and, by the end of the
century, the Mamluks of Egypt had taken control. Mamluk rule lasted for
the next 200 years. During their rule, Jerusalem first belonged to the
province of Damascus, then became a separate province. The Sultan
appointed the provincial head directly, often selling the post to the
highest bidder. Jerusalem's economy was devastated, owing to the
imposition of excessive taxes by the Mamluks, who also engaged in
frequent Muslim civil wars.
In 1517, Jerusalem fell to the
Turks, whose rule was to last for exactly four centuries. Initially,
Ottoman rule was energetic and beneficent. Sultan Suleiman the
Magnificent rebuilt the walls and gates of the Old City. However,
the death of Suleiman was almost immediately followed by pervasive
internal decay which beset the empire, and during the 17th and 18th
centuries, Jerusalem experienced the least impressive period of its
In the 19th century, Jerusalem blossomed into an urban center.
Demographic, political and technological factors contributed to the
gradual process of urbanization -- largely reflecting the competition
raging between European states and the declining Ottoman Empire.
Moreover, world politics and economics were intermingled with religion
in Jerusalem; France backed the Catholics, Prussia and England founded
Protestant Bishoprics, and the Czar of
Russia extended his aegis to the Greek Orthodox.
Jerusalem entered the 19th century
with about 9,000 inhabitants. In 1840, Jews became the largest single
community in the city -- accounting for a majority of Jerusalem's
residents by 1880. In 1860, Anglo-Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses
Montefiore established the Mishkenot Sha'ananim neighborhood, the first
quarter outside the Old City walls. Eventually, this project was
followed by many others. In 1900, the city's population reached 55,000;
60% of whom were Jews.
Under British Rule
In the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917, Britain declared that:
"His Majesty's Government view with
favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish
people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the
achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing
shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of
non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status
enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
Following the World War I victory of
the Allies in the Middle East, Britain occupied Mandatory Palestine --
including what is now Jordan, which was separated from the rest of
Mandatory Palestine by Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill and given
to the Hashemite family of Arabia in 1921 -- assuming military and
administrative control for the area.
This situation was endorsed by the
international community, and in 1922 Britain was awarded the
Mandate for Palestine by the League of Nations -- which entailed,
among other things, the fostering of a Jewish National Home in the
territory, as proposed by the Balfour Declaration.
During their Mandatory
administration of Jerusalem, the British did demonstrate considerable
concern for the special character and atmosphere of Jerusalem. The
British did, however, pursue policies which promoted conflict between
the various populations of Jerusalem -- such as always appointing Arab
mayors, although the Jews had long constituted the city's majority.
Between 1920 and 1940, Arab
hostility to Jewish immigration and toward the majority Jewish presence
in Jerusalem was expressed in increasingly violent attacks against
Jewish residents. In 1929, a mob of 2,000 Arabs attacked Jews at the
Western Wall and throughout the city, killing six. Continual Arab
rioting, mostly violent, led the British government to issue its White
Paper of May 1939, which severely restricted Jewish immigration to
Mandatory Palestine. Meanwhile, the Arabs continued to reject
all attempts to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab
All attempts to internationalize
Jerusalem were also flatly rejected by the Arabs. This approach was
best personified by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the British-appointed Grand
Mufti of Jerusalem, who directed the violent suppression
of Jewish religious and political rights. His views found their
ultimate expression during World War II, in his active support
for the Nazis and their genocide against the Jews.
The British ultimately forfeited the
Mandate, and departed on 15 May 1948. United Nations Approves Partition
On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to
partition Mandatory Palestine into Jewish and Arab states -- and to
make Jerusalem a "separate body" (corpus separatum) under a special
international regime, with "suitable guarantees for the protection of
The Jews accepted the resolution,
but the Arabs -- both those living inside and beyond the territory of
the Mandate -- rejected the partition resolution and the plan to
internationalize Jerusalem, thereby nullifying the proposal.
Between November 1947 and April
1948, Arab bands attacked Jews in Jerusalem itself and on all roads
into the city, killing 296. The Arabs also imposed a blockade on the
city -- denying food, water and medical supplies to its Jewish
go to part two