Source: Gov't Press Office


Jerusalem has 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 to 1967.

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 and heritage.

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 population 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 the Temple.

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 Temple.

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 governor 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.

Roman Rule
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, transformed 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 illustrious past.

Jerusalem "Rediscovered"
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 states.

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 Holy Places."

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 population.

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