Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel and spiritual religious center for most of the western world. Jerusalem is more than just a group of stone buildings, roads and ancient walls spreading out over the Judean hills: it is the most Holy City, symbol of universal peace and redemption for the last 3,000 years.

Geographical Location

Jerusalem is located on the ridge of the Judean Mountains. These mountains continue to spread out west of the city, but to the east the green landscape gradually merges with the barren Judean desert which descends to the Dead Sea. The city is built entirely on hills, its houses picturesquely dotting the rocky slopes.


Jerusalem has a rainy, temperate winter and a hot, completely dry summer. It is especially pleasant in the summer when the air is clear and the cool evening breezes bring relief from the noon-day heat. There is an occasional snowfall in mid-winter lasting only a few days.


The first mention of the city of Jerusalem appears in the Egyptian Execration Texts of the 19th and 18th century’s b.c.e. It is referred to there as a Canaanite city-state whose name was probably pronounced as “Rushalimum.” In the Tell el-Amarna letters of the 14th century b.c.e. it is called Urusalim, and in Abraham’s day it seems to have been known simply as Salem. In later times, the rabbis interpreted this as a variation of the Hebrew word shalom (peace) and gave the city its designation as the “City of Peace.”


When David became king, he set about uniting all the tribes into one nation. That meant eliminating the foreign enclave which presented a physical barrier to unification. At the same time, he hoped that by taking Jerusalem, the only city not owned by any tribe, he could create the national capital there and thus avoid inter-tribal jealousies. David managed to capture Jerusalemwith relative ease by infiltrating his men into the city through the water tunnels and surprising the enemy within the city walls. He used his own private army for this purpose rather than the combined armies of all the tribes. The city therefore became his royal domain — the “City of David,” capital of Israel.


Though David himself chose the site for the Temple, it was left to his son Solomon to actually carry out the plans for its construction. During Solomon’s reign, Jerusalem really took on the aura of a thriving capital, with its magnificently designed Temple and royal palace. At first the city was below in the valley and the Temple on the mountain towering above the city. Later the important people and the king began to live on the mountain around the Temple. During this period the city changed its shape, expanding in all directions. But it was still within what is the Old City of today. Solomon enlarged his father’s city to more than five times its original size.When the kingdom split in 930 b.c.e. after Solomon’s death, Jerusalem lost much of its political supremacy. The kingdom of Israelestablished its own capital and Jerusalem, now impoverished and weakened, remained only as the ruling city for the smaller kingdom of Judah. For the next four centuries, the city alternated between short periods of prosperity and longer periods of religious and political crises. Uzziah fortified the city, making it the center of moral and social regeneration. And Hezekiah reinforced the walls, repaired the Temple, and built a water tunnel capable of supplying the city in times of emergency.


In 587 b.c.e. the Babylonian army captured the city of Jerusalem after several months’ siege. The Babylonian captain exiled most of the inhabitants and, according to the Bible, “he burnt the house of the Lord, and the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man’s house burnt he with fire.” This disaster left Jerusalem desolate for over 50 years.

Return from Exile

In 536 b.c.e., after the fall of Babylon, Cyrus, king of Persia who became the overlord of Judah, issued his famous declaration which allowed the Jews to return to Zion and rebuild the Temple. Slowly the Jews began returning to the Holy City and gradually they began to rebuild from the ruins. In the fifth century, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah’ the walls were repaired’ the Jewish community reorganized and eventually the Temple rebuilt.

Hellenistic Period

Jerusalem submitted peacefully with the rest of Judah to Alexander the Great (332 b.c.e.) who left the Jews pretty much on their own. But after Alexander’s death in 323 b.c.e., the city suffered through a series of wars fought by his would-be successors. It was finally taken over by the Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty and remained under their rule in relative stability for the next hundred years. In 198 b.c.e. the Seleucids (Syrian Greeks) defeated the Egyptians and, once again,Jerusalem changed hands. At first, the situation in Jerusalem seemed unchanged and even slightly improved.
In 175 b.c.e. Antiochus Epiphanies became ruler and the pressure for Hellenization became more blatant and forceful. The name of Jerusalem was changed to Antioch, a gymnasium was built just beneath the Temple and the Temple itself was ransacked.


Enraged by these actions, the Jews began an armed rebellion under the leadership of the priestly Hasmonean family. In December 164 b.c.e. the Hasmoneans were able to reoccupy Jerusalem and cleanse the Temple. The festival of Hanukkah celebrates that event. The remains of Hasmonean walls, coins, arrowheads and monuments found in Jerusalem are evidence of the prosperity of the city during that time.


Hasmonean rule was ended in the first century b.c.e. by the Roman invaders who divided the country into districts so that Jerusalem lost its status as capital. The Hasmoneans made one last attempt to regain control, but were ruthlessly suppressed by King Herod who seized control ofJerusalem in 37 b.c.e. In an effort to secure his hold on the city, Herod completely transformed its appearance. He built a palace surrounded by towers on the northwest corner of the city. He enlarged the Temple area and surrounded it with a wall, of which the Western Wall is the only remaining section. He also entirely rebuilt the Temple, doubling its height and richly adorning its exterior.
Upon Herod’s death, Jerusalem was ruled by a series of Roman procurators. (One of these, Pontius Pilate (26–36 a.d.) was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem.) But the misrule of these administrators provoked the outbreak of yet another Jewish revolt, which soon became a full-scale war. In 70 a.d. Titus and his Roman legions laid siege to the city and then stormed its weakened defenders. The city was burned, its inhabitants massacred and the Templedestroyed. Of the once-glorious city, only the western wall of the Temple Mount remained intact.
According to Jewish sources, the Romans razed Jerusalem to the ground and plowed the site over to prevent further settlement. Even so, some Jews managed to return. When the emperor Hadrian tried to establish a Roman colony there, the second Jewish-Roman war broke out with Bar Kokhba leading the Jewish rebels. They were defeated by Hadrian who subsequently decreed that no circumcised person should be allowed into Jerusalem under pain of death.
The Romans then proceeded to convert Jerusalem into a typical Roman colony, calling it Aelia Capitolina. After Hadrian’s death the ban on Jews in Jerusalem was unofficially lifted, only to be renewed by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. He permitted Jews to enter Jerusalem only once a year, on the ninth of Av, anniversary of the destruction of both Temples.


Constantine was the founder of the Byzantine Empire and a devout Christian. He tried to makeJerusalem into a center of Christian worship by erecting many churches there, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and designating various areas as Christian holy sites. He also restored the name “Jerusalem” to the city. This policy of Christianizing Jerusalem was maintained by most of the Byzantine rulers who extended the restrictions on Jewish settlement in the city. They ruledJerusalem until their defeat at the hands of the Muslim Arab caliph, Omar, in 638.


The Arabs, like all of Jerusalem’s rulers, tried to change the character of the city to fit their own religious needs. Jerusalem was sacred to the Muslim Arabs as the place from which Muhammad ascended to heaven. The Dome of the Rock, built on the Temple Mount, is the most magnificent of the mosques and holy sites built by the Arabs in Jerusalem to commemorate that event.
But the Arabs never really restored Jerusalem to its former glory and it remained basically a provincial town. the Jews were allowed to settle there. They developed two Jewish quarters: one southwest of the Temple area, and one north of it. The city’s inhabitants were for the most part impoverished merchants.


In 1099 the Crusaders besieged Jerusalem and, in one of history’s strange ironies, the “City ofPeace” was once again involved in war and bloodshed. The Christian soldiers, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, scaled the city walls and massacred the inhabitants — Jews and Muslims alike. In order to repopulate the city, the Crusaders transferred Christian Arab tribes from Trans Jordan and settled them in the former Jewish quarter.
Jerusalem became the capital of the Crusader kingdom and thrived because of the concentration of all the government and church bodies there. Tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims visited the city every year, thus adding to its growth and prosperity.


When the Muslims, under Saladin, recaptured Jerusalem in 1187, the Jews enjoyed a short period of resettlement in Jerusalem. But with Saladin’s death, the city remained without any stable authority and was shuttled back and forth between Christians and Muslims.


In 1250 a new Muslim force appeared on the scene, the Mamluks, who managed to establish themselves as rulers of Jerusalem for over 260 years. Jewish life in Jerusalem was somewhat freer under Mamluk rule than it had been with the Christians. The city remained poor but Jewish scholarship and learning thrived. Ottoman Empire.


Jerusalem came under the domination of the Ottoman Turks in 1517 when Sultan Selim I took it in a bloody battle with the Mamluks. His successor, Suleiman the Magnificent, left his mark onJerusalem’s history by building the present-day wall around the Old City. Legend has it that Suleiman had a dream that he would be eaten by lions if he did not build the wall. One of the gates to the Old City has two lions carved on it and is called “Lion’s Gate” in memory of that dream.
But aside from spurring a construction boom, the Turks did not pay much attention to Jerusalem. They considered it insignificant from a strategic and political point of view, and during their 400-year reign, only a few Turks settled in the area. The three main sections or quarters of the city — Jewish, Muslim and Christian — remained overcrowded and squalid.

The “New” City

In 1859, in an effort to relieve the congestion in the Jewish quarter, Sir Moses Montefiore bought a plot of land near Mount Zion and established the first Jewish quarter outside the city walls. Thus began the development of the New City of Jerusalem and the expansion of the Jewish settlement there.
During the next few decades, many more Jewish neighborhoods were founded outside the walls, each with the distinctive ethnic flavor of its inhabitants. These quarters were usually built as uniform blocks with the windows facing inward on a closed courtyard. This fortress-like arrangement was meant to protect the inhabitants from Arab attacks.
The Christians also began establishing a foothold outside the city walls and soon there was a Russian compound for the Russian Orthodox community and a German Colony for the Protestant Templar’s.
One of the most important Jewish communities established in the New City was the Mea Shearim section founded in 1874 by pious Jews from within the city walls. Various communities of Ashkenazi Jews came to settle there and these kolel’s as the communities were called, were supported by funds from their hometown congregations. In the early years each kolel lived a totally separate existence within the narrow streets and winding alleys of its neighborhood, establishing its own yeshiva, synagogues and community services. They were later united under one all-encompassing religious authority, and Mea Shearim remains today as a stronghold of ultra-Orthodoxy and the traditional eastern European Jewish way of life.
With all this new settlement activity, Jerusalem began taking on the character of a “westernized” city. Roads were built and modern shops opened. Even suburban communities such as Rehavia were established whose beautiful homes contrasted sharply with the dense, shabby quarters near the center of town. At the turn of the 20th century, the population of Jerusalem was estimated at 45,000 including 28,200 Jews.

The British

The outbreak of World War I, however, changed the status of Jerusalem. It suddenly became the focus of international attention as various factions vied for control in the Middle East. The Turks sided with Germany and Jerusalem, no longer able to remain isolated from world affairs, became the nerve center for the attack on the eastern portion of the British Empire. But step by step the Turks were forced to give way to the British counter-attack. On December 11, 1917 the Turks officially surrendered Jerusalem to the British forces under General Allenby, who marched victoriously through the crowded city streets on his majestic white horse.
The Jews welcomed British rule. The efficiency and progressiveness of the British administration, coupled with the Zionist movement now in full swing and the historic Balfour Declaration which gave it impetus, encouraged greater Jewish settlement in Jerusalem. The Jews engaged in a tremendous building boom west of the city walls, as did the Arabs in the eastern part of the city. Hospitals and schools were erected and the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus was opened in 1925.
But along with the development came increased tension between the Arabs and Jews. Jerusalem, one of the few cities where the two groups lived side by side, became the focal point of this tension and exploded many times into bloody riots and acts of terror. Hajj Amin al Husseini, appointed by the British as mufti (religious leader) of Jerusalem, incited his people to violent hatred of the Jews. Jewish, Arab and British facilities in Jerusalem were bombed by extremists on all sides.


Unable to cope with the situation, the British referred the problem to the United Nations and on November 19, 1947, the UN General Assembly approved a partition plan for Palestine, which leftJerusalem as an international zone, belonging neither to the Jews nor the Arabs. Refusing to accept the decision, the Arabs immediately began attacking Jewish settlements, including those inJerusalem. The Old City was cut off from the New while the areas outside the walls were divided into warring camps of Jews and Arabs. Jewish Jerusalem was put under virtual siege by Arabs attacking the supply convoys along the approach to the city. Thus began Israel’s War of Independence.

The Divided City

Jerusalem emerged from the battle in April 1949 as a divided city. The cease-fire line, running roughly north-south, left the Old City of Jerusalem and its eastern environs to the Arabs while the Jews maintained control over the New City to the west. Walls were built along parts of the border to guard against sniper attacks. They were a tragic symbol of the physical and spiritual rift between the two peoples. For 19 years the Jews were denied access to the Western Wall, the old synagogues, the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and other Jewish holy sites. There was a Jewish enclave on Mount Scopus, but it was isolated from the rest of Jewish Jerusalem, the University and Hadassah hospital facilities remaining neglected and unused. By UN arrangement, only occasional convoys of Jewish police were allowed access to the area, and they were often fired on by the Arabs.
But Jewish Jerusalem recovered quickly and construction began immediately to replace lost facilities. A new modern University was built, Hadassah hospital opened a new branch, an improved museum was erected, and new roads were constructed to replace the Arab-held Latrun highway running from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The Reunited City

In 1967, as a result of the Six-Day War, Jerusalem was again unified, this time under Israeli rule, and the Jews and Arabs alike were given free access to all of its ancient and modern sites. Upon entering East Jerusalem and the Old City, the Israeli forces found that the Arabs had destroyed many of the old synagogues and desecrated the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, using the tombstones as building blocks. The Jews restored these areas, rebuilt the synagogues, renovated and reopened the facilities on Mt. Scopus and greatly improved the living conditions in the area, benefiting Arabs and Jews alike. Israel has also developed previously barren areas in the eastern sectors, building whole new, modern communities.

Today, the population of Jerusalem stands at 800.000 inhabitants. among them, 70% are Jews and 30% Muslims.

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