Divided Jerusalem: The Struggle for the Holy City

Divided Jerusalem: The Struggle for the Holy City

4.0 1
by Bernard Wasserstein

About the Author:
Bernard Wasserstein is Harriet and Ulrich E. Meyer Professor of History at the University of Chicago See more details below


About the Author:
Bernard Wasserstein is Harriet and Ulrich E. Meyer Professor of History at the University of Chicago

Editorial Reviews

Thomas Lippman
Crisply written, irony-laced.
Washington Post Book World, Book World Raves-Nonfiction
Thomas W. Lippman
[A] lively and provocative new history . . . Wasserstein has produced a crisply written and irony-laced account of [Jerusalem] (Thomas W. Lippman, Washington Post Book World
Amos Elon
Wasserstein . . . writes clearly and dispassionately on a theme that has been more cliché-ridden than most.
The New York Review
Frank McLynn
A book which deserves praise for its meticulous scholarship, cool judgment, and even-handed, non-partisan consideration of an impossible problem. —The Glasgow Herald
Hyam Maccoby
A valuable and lucid analysis of just how divided Jerusalem is. —Evening Standard
Geoffrey Wheatcroft
One of our most distinguished writers on Jewish history . . . [provides] a well informed and penetrating exploration of �the Jerusalem question.� —Sunday Times (London)
Harvey Morris
Scrupulously unbiased. —Financial Times
Publishers Weekly
Intractable conflicts concerning religion and national sovereignty have always intertwined around Jerusalem. Focusing on diplomacy from antiquity to the present, Wasserstein (Vanishing Diaspora), a professor of history at Glasgow University and president of the Jewish Historical Society of England, traces the city's constant transformations in size, infrastructure and political rule. At various times, Egyptians, Turks, French, British, Israelis and Jordanians have controlled parts of Jerusalem. Moreover, while it has always been considered a "holy city," its holiness "is neither a constant nor an absolute" but rather a human construct that has "waxed and waned" over the centuries for Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. Wasserstein also follows intriguing, less-traveled lines of investigation, such as the diminishing Christian presence during the 20th century. Even as the violence in Jerusalem continues, the historical perspective offered in these pages provides hope for a way out. The author locates the Camp David negotiations, for instance, in a broad historical context: the Israeli-American proposal "for allowing Jews to pray on the Mount and the possible designation of a special section for that purpose... marked... a radical departure from both Muslim and Jewish tradition as well as from the policy of every Israeli government since 1967." In Wasserstein's view, a power-sharing solution is possible only if religious and national interests are separated. Though he doesn't offer a specific solution, his sympathies seem to lie with aspects of the now-moribund Oslo peace accord. This astute, incisive treatment of an age-old struggle erupting in a present-day crisis adds a calm, thoughtfulvoice to the debates. Maps. (Sept.) Forecast: Wasserstein's glowing reputation and his planned lectures in Boston, New York and Washington will win this book a lot of attention. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Chapter One

The Wars of the Consuls

Divided Jerusalem is a product of external pressures at least as much as of internal dynamics. Above all, it is a product of competition among the great powers to gain and extend authority in and through the holy city. While they sought an intangible, sometimes almost metaphysical prestige, they used what were often crude methods of influence-building: exploitation of religious sentiment, patronage of local protégés, construction of dependent institutions — churches, monasteries, convents, hospitals, orphanages, schools and colleges. By the mid-nineteenth century they had created a quasi-imperial regime in which their local agents, the consuls, acquired the status of virtual colonial governors, each exercising power over his own nationals, institutions and protected persons, each waging an unceasing struggle against both the Ottoman government and rivals in the consular corps.

    When it was captured by the Ottoman Turks in late 1516, Jerusalem was an obscure, provincial backwater with a population of fewer than 15,000. Under the Ottomans for the next four centuries, as under their predecessors, it was not a major administrative centre. For much of the period it was the capital of a district (sanjak) that formed part of the province of Damascus. Under the rule of the Sultan Sulayman I (`the Magnificent', 1520-66), Jerusalem's greatest secular monument, the girdle of walls around the city, was built — or rather rebuilt. This huge protective shield, still almost intact today, enabled the Ottomans to resist invaders and defend the city againstbedouin attacks from the neighbouring countryside. The walls defined the contours of the city until the late nineteenth century and the Ottomans attached great importance to their maintenance. One reason for this that has been advanced is that they feared a renewal of Crusader-type attacks by European powers.

    Although Muslims had ruled Jerusalem for more than 700 of the previous 900 years, the city had never acquired an exclusively Islamic character. Under the Ottomans, the various sects continued to huddle together in their separate areas, although it was not until the nineteenth century that these crystallized into the quarter divisions familiar today (see Map 12, page 321). The notion of quarters was geographical rather than mathematical: the Muslim quarter was by far the largest in area and until around the start of the nineteenth century Muslims remained an absolute majority of the population. A government survey in 1560 showed 1,933 Muslim, 281 Christian and 237 Jewish heads of houses in the city. The quarters should not be thought of as hermetically sealed; there were no physical markers separating them and residence was to some extent mixed. Muslims, in particular, lived in all four quarters.

    Religious groups in Ottoman Jerusalem tended to conduct their own affairs and administer their institutions with little interference from the government. Although the system of millets (autonomous communities, organized on an empire-wide basis throughout the realm) was not fully formed and so named until the nineteenth century, its essence in local administration could be observed as early as the sixteenth. Christians and Jews suffered from a number of discriminatory laws and in a sense were second-class citizens. But they had a recognized status in society and to a certain degree could rely on the protection of the law.

The holy places

The Jerusalem question in its modern form first emerged as a byproduct of the slow meltdown of the Ottoman Empire. Its central feature in its first phase was the struggle over the Christian holy places. Although French traders appeared in the coastal plain in the early seventeenth century; trading links with Europe and other external influences remained minimal until the late Ottoman period. Nevertheless, the beginnings of international, that is primarily Christian, diplomatic interest in Jerusalem can be traced as far back as the first years of Ottoman rule. Among the earliest firmans (decrees) issued by Sulayman I were several guaranteeing the rights and privileges of Christians. A firman of 1521, for example, dispatched to the governor of Jerusalem, states that `the community of religious and other kinds of infidel currently residing in Jerusalem' have complained `that certain individuals have been oppressing and overly interfering with them, preventing them from following their ceremonies according to their ancient custom'. The governor was ordered to look into the matter and prevent such harassment in the future.

    The object of the central government seems to have been the natural one of maintaining civil order in an area of mixed religious population, this at a time when the Ottomans were still taking their first steps towards administrative absorption of their new provinces. Yet even at this early stage external as well as internal influences played a role. Succeeding firmans go some way towards clarifying the nature of the nuisances allegedly suffered by Christians, the identities of victims and perpetrators, and, most importantly, the process by which such disputes came to the attention of the Sultan. A firman of 1525 notes a complaint that Christians in the Convent of Zion had been forcibly expelled from quarters and gardens they had long occupied. Another, of 1528, reports that the Venetian bailiff (diplomatic representative) at the Ottoman court had sought imperial intervention in favour of Latin Christians in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, whose rights were being interfered with by Georgians. The following year we hear of `certain individuals of the Arab nation' said to be bothering priests; and in 1536 we learn that the Venetian envoy had again intervened, this time accusing `a Jew named Salomon and certain Christian hangers-on of the Georgian nation' of `molesting and bothering' Latin Christians at the Convent of Zion. They were even said to be carrying away marble-work and columns from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other Christian sites. No more is heard of the Jew Salomon but the theme of internecine Christian conflict remained audible throughout the next four centuries.

    The very frequency of firmans enjoining the local governor to prevent such vexations is evidence that they continued — or, at any rate, that disputes remained unresolved. Out of such diplomatic representations arose the treaty system known as the Capitulations. The first capitulatory treaty was an agreement between Sulayman and King Francis I of France in 1535 whereby French merchants were granted certain privileges in the Ottoman Empire. That treaty did not mention Jerusalem or the holy places. But in 1542 France and Turkey signed a formal treaty of alliance and, during the long war of the Turks against the Holy Roman Emperor and Venice, the French took over from the Venetians the role of protectors of the Latin Christians in the Holy Land. In 1572, after the Battle of Lepanto, in which the Turks suffered a crushing naval defeat by the allied Christian fleet of Don John of Austria, the Franciscans in Jerusalem were arrested and taken as prisoners to Damascus. It was the intervention of the king of France that secured their release.

    The first capitulatory treaty to mention Jerusalem was signed with France in 1604 by the Sultan Ahmed I. In this he agreed that subjects of the French king and of his allies might `visit under his protection freely the holy places of Jerusalem without any hindrance being put in their way'. The treaty added that `the monks who live in Jerusalem and serve in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre of our Lord Jesus Christ may stay there and come and go securely without trouble or disturbance'. These treaty obligations were faithfully reflected in further directives issued by the emperor to his officials. No fewer than thirty-three firmans concerned with Jerusalem were issued between 1604 and 1621, attempting in particular to address renewed complaints from the Latins of `usurpations' by Orthodox Armenians.

    Evidently seeing in these monkish controversies a lever for influence building, the French decided, to send a permanent representative to Jerusalem. In 1621 the first consul of any foreign power in Jerusalem was appointed by Louis XIII. The king himself took a personal interest in the matter, writing to his ambassador in Constantinople, `I have considered it appropriate, for the glory of God and the comfort of pious persons who go devoutly to visit the holy places, to appoint Mr Lempereur to exercise the responsibility of consul for the French nation in Jerusalem.' The incident that precipitated this decision by the French king was an alleged assault on the rights of Latins by Armenians, who had taken the daring step of hanging and lighting two lamps in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

    Jean Lempereur, a Parisian lawyer who had previously visited Jerusalem as a pilgrim, wrote that the king defined his mandate as the defence of Cordeliers (Franciscan Recollects) and Catholic pilgrims visiting the holy places `in order that they not be tyrannized and insulted by the Turks as they have been in the past'. Lempereur had secured the position through `the good offices of his cousin, who was secretary to the Constable of France. He was provided with an allowance of 12,000 écus. The king did not, however, pay this sum himself. It was to be diverted from revenues of the abbeys of the Gallican Church: Lempereur was obliged to write to a Jesuit friend to ask for the intervention of the Pope to ensure that the money would actually be paid.

    Behind the appointment of the consul, and its financial arrangements, lurked political intrigue as well as purely spiritual motives. Its originators were Jesuits ambitious to oust the Franciscans from their position as sole representatives of the Roman Church in Jerusalem. Indeed, the Society of Jesus privately harboured even wider ambitions. They hoped, as Lempereur explained, to found a college in Jerusalem that would `subjugate and re-establish in pristine splendour all the Christian schismatics, who have been altogether diverted from the true path'. Lempereur realized the delicacy of introducing the Jesuits into territory that the Franciscans had hitherto regarded as peculiarly theirs. He therefore urged that the plan for a college be kept secret, pending his arrival in Jerusalem. The Jesuits secured the powerful support of Cardinal La Rochefoucauld, who recommended the project to the king. `Don't worry at all about the Cordeliers,' the prelate reassured a Jesuit associate. `They know very well that, if it came to it, I could find a way of ousting them from their position.'

    In order to pave the way for Lempereur, the king sent a special ambassador, Louis des Hayes, Baron de Courmenin, to visit Constantinople and Jerusalem. In the Turkish capital des Hayes threw his (or his royal master's) weight around in an imperious manner. By dint of unrelenting pressure, he secured letters from the Turkish government addressed to the governor of Jerusalem and the local mufti (an authoritative Muslim jurisconsult). Armed with these, he set out for the Holy Land. Upon landing at Jaffa, he sent word ahead to Jerusalem as to how he, as representative of the king of France, expected to be received. Word came back that officials in the holy city were much embarrassed. On the one hand, they wished to follow the instructions of their superiors; on the other, they felt obliged to point out that the law of the country forbade Christians to enter Jerusalem on horseback or bearing arms. Des Hayes had earlier planned (so he said) to enter the holy city on foot, but he now chose to regard this message as an affront to his monarch. He therefore insisted that he would arrive in Jerusalem on horseback and wearing his sword. In the event of any attempt to stop him, he would go back to Constantinople to lodge a complaint with the government and he assured the officials in Jerusalem that they `would have occasion to repent'. The threat worked. As the French ambassador approached the holy city, the under-pasha met him to offer a choice of several horses for his ceremonial entrance. His sword flashing, des Hayes rode into the city on one of these mounts, `to the great contentment of the resident Christians'. The Franciscans accompanied him in procession to their convent, where they sang a Deum for their deliverance from usurpation by the Armenians and persecution by the Turks. Their joy was to be short-lived.

    During his stay in Jerusalem, des Hayes met the governor and other officials and presented his letters from the Ottoman authorities. He recorded that at first he had great difficulty in even being received, because the Armenians, `foreseeing that the diplomacy of Mr des Hayes would lead to their ruin', had bribed the local officials with 30,000 livres. Moreover, the envoy's high-handed behaviour aroused murmurings among the Muslim populace. Nevertheless, the governor and the mufti acquiesced in his demands for the repair of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the removal of the Armenians from the holy places and their replacement by Franciscans, and the establishment of Lempereur's consulate.

    On his return to Paris, the ambassador congratulated himself on the success of his mission. In a letter to the General of the Jesuit Order, he also disclosed that he had entered into a secret agreement with a young Lebanese amir, Fakhr al-Din, who had earlier found refuge in Tuscany and was planning an attack on the Levant in alliance with Christian powers. But it soon emerged that des Hayes's arrogant conduct and political intrigues had had a counter-productive effect on his Turkish hosts. Hardly was his back turned, than the Sultan issued a firman reaffirming the rights of Armenians over Franciscans at the holy places. The ordinance laid down that the Armenians `should hold their vain ceremonies ... as ab antiquo; lighting their candles and suspending their lamps, and paying the dues of the awqaf [endowments]. Nobody, neither the Frankish nor any other community of the Christian subjects, should be allowed to interfere or intervene. They should not hinder them. Let this be known. Let them credit my noble sign.'

    Lempereur therefore found that, far from easing his path, des Hayes had, if anything, unwittingly queered his pitch. No sooner had Lempereur arrived in Jerusalem in December 1623 and ensconced himself in the Cordeliers' monastery than he quarrelled with his hosts, who ejected him from the building. The quarrel was partly financial, partly the result of the Franciscans' fear (for which, as we have seen, there was sound basis) that the consul would introduce Jesuits into the Holy Land. The Franciscans insisted that, as the recognized `custodians' of the Holy Land, they had monopoly rights over Latin enterprises in the country Lempereur also encountered bitter hostility from the Venetian ambassador in Constantinople and from the local Ottoman pasha in Jerusalem. The latter refused to be mollified by the Frenchman's presents and accused him of intriguing with a rebel chieftain in the vicinity. This accusation, as we have seen, was also well justified.

    Lempereur's travails coincided and were connected with a landing on the coast of Palestine by Fakhr al-Din. Although defeated in battle near Jaffa, the ambitious amir remained a threat to Ottoman power in the region for several years thereafter. Lempereur was regarded with the utmost suspicion as an associate of the Lebanese and perhaps a spy. Within nine months of taking up his duties, having alienated almost everybody, the representative of the king of France suffered the indignity of being arrested, bundled up and escorted to Damascus as a prisoner. After five days of imprisonment, he bribed his way to freedom. He returned briefly to Jerusalem but failed to re-establish any kind of authority there. In January 1625 he retreated to Constantinople, where he spent the next thirty-five years as secretary of the French embassy — `an occupation no doubt less perilous than that of consul in the holy city', as one of his twentieth-century successors later observed.

    Thus ignominiously ended the first European consular expedition to Jerusalem. Its main themes were to be replicated in subsequent missions over the next three centuries: overweening pride, political ambitions thinly disguised as spiritual, competition between western and eastern Churches and within the Churches, rows with rambunctious wards who balked at the cost to themselves of dubious `protection', alliances with local rebels against imperial authority The pattern of the future was set.

    Over the following decades, repeated changes took place in control of the holy places as the Ottoman government was swayed by diplomatic winds blowing alternately from east or west. Again and again the Sultan issued firmans affirming the rights of this or that Church to this or that holy place. Between 1630 and 1637 alone the praedominium is said to have alternated between the Orthodox and the Latins six times.

    A successor to Lempereur was not appointed until 1699. The background to this appointment appears to have been commercial rather than spiritual, in particular a desire to ensure the smooth supply to French manufacturers of `coton de Jérusalem' after a period of trading disruption. Consul Brémond's first meeting with the pasha of Jerusalem, which took place in Acre, was remarkably friendly. The Ottoman official seemed the soul of friendliness and showered him with courtesies. A ruder reception awaited him at the gate of Jerusalem in February 1700: he was challenged by the mufti, who, according to a Franciscan chronicler, shouted very loudly, objecting to the consul's presence and accusing him of being a spy. He had to spend his first night under the protection of his friend the pasha. The following morning, accompanied by thirty soldiers, he arrived at the Cordeliers' convent. There, however, he was greeted with no less suspicion than Lempereur, though the monks `washed his feet like a pilgrim'. But within forty-eight hours an altercation over precedence erupted, with Brémond insisting that, as a royal envoy, he should sit in the place of honour at table and in church. The argument reached such a pitch that the consul was said to have threatened one of the monks with the bastinado (beating on the soles of the feet) and with `tearing off the bristles of his beard'. In the course of time his relations with the Ottoman authorities likewise deteriorated. After six months the pasha confessed candidly that his earlier amiability had been motivated solely by hope of financial reward; this not being forthcoming, he ordered Brémond to leave town within three days. A fugitive, the consul took refuge in Bethlehem. While he was there, a demonstration of `more than ten thousand people' took place on the Haram al-Sharif, opposing any Christian consular presence in Jerusalem and threatening to turn in anger against the Cordeliers. The pasha ordered Brémond to leave the district altogether. Accompanied by a military escort, for which he was obliged to pay, he fled, losing most of his baggage and even his clothing on the way.


Excerpted from Divided Jerusalem by Bernard Wasserstein. Copyright © 2001 by Bernard Wasserstein. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Colin Shindler
Interesting and articulate . . . traces the struggles of a plethora of religious and national groups to control Jerusalem over two millennia.--(Colin Shindler, Jerusalem Post)

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