Jerusalem: a History

In the last few months, tensions have been rising between Israel, Palestine, and their allies, especially with the election of a new president in the United States. Historically rival clans, and now in modern times, rival states, Israel and Palestine have always been at odds over territory – specifically, over the ancient city of Jerusalem.

Today, both Middle Eastern countries claim Jerusalem as their capital. Resting on the eastern border of Israel, right up against Palestine, it is recognized only as Israel’s capital city by the United Nations and Google.

So why does Palestine claim it to be theirs?

Jerusalem was first mentioned in official Egyptian texts in 19th Century BCE. Since then, the city has been attacked 52 times, captured/recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice. It is considered the holiest city in Judaism and Christianity.

Though one of the oldest cities in the world, it cannot claim to be the oldest. Evidence suggests that it was first permanently settled 3500 BCE; Judaism suggests that this was by Shem, son of Noah, ancestor of Abraham and Jacob, also known as Israel, father of the Israelites.

In 1003 BCE, King David established the Kingdom of Israel, declaring Jerusalem it’s capital. His son, King Solomon, built the First Temple, which was destroyed along with Jerusalem when the Babylonians invaded 455 years after David’s kingdom separated into two: Israel and Judah.

After the Fall of Babylon, the Persian rule of Jerusalem began, beginning with Cyrus the Great’s edict that sent all Jews back to Jerusalem and allowed them to rebuild the Temple Solomon had commissioned, beginning the Biblical age of the Second Temple. The Persians were followed by the Hellenistic period of Alexander the Great; the rule of the Maccabees and then the Romans.

The Second Temple was destroyed by the Emperor Titus during the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans, forty years after the crucifixion of the man known as Jesus Christ. Titus was the turning point of the Roman Empire – soon after, the great country fell into pieces, gradually conquered by border countries. Jerusalem was reclaimed of the Persian Empire, now ruled by Sunni Arabs.

For 14 centuries, from the 600s to 1917, – over a thousand years – Jerusalem was ruled by the Arabs, Ottomans, and Byzantines inhabited by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike, surrounded by their respective temples: the Dome of the Rock mosque, the ruins of the Second Temple and other synagogues, and the Christian churches along the Via Dolorosa. Though not always peaceful, it’s longest stretch of stable rule the city has ever experienced. Bombarded and pillaged by Crusaders and ravaged by the Black Plague, Jerusalem experienced more growth, development, and prosperity than tragedy. In the late 19th century, and early 2oth, the World Zionist Organization considered it the homeland of all Jews and the ideal safe haven for the children of Abraham to live with the rising wave of Antisemitism that crashed in the 1930s.

Then, in 1917, the Ottoman Empire collapsed as the Great War raged. After the War to End All Wars, the British claimed responsibility for the city and territory surrounding it like many European countries did in the Middle East following World War I. The British Empire continued to occupy the area (today Israel, Palestine, and Jordan) until the end of World War II, the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, and the establishment of the United Nations.

When the British removed themselves from Middle East following the conclusion of World War II, the United Nations’ General Assembly decided to separate then-Palestine (today Israel, Jordan, and Palestine) into Arab and Jewish states.

In 1948, the State of Israel was created.

Palestine didn’t like that.

The two states have been in constant conflict since.

Jerusalem is the not the center, nor even the most important point in the Israel-Palestine conflict going on today, but the city is still a matter of international interest with a rich and engulfing history too impressive to ever be fully appreciated.


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