Jerusalem 1900: The Holy City in the Age of Possibilities

Jerusalem 1900: The Holy City in the Age of Possibilities


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Perhaps the most contested patch of earth in the world, Jerusalem’s Old City experiences consistent violent unrest between Israeli and Palestinian residents, with seemingly no end in sight. Today, Jerusalem’s endless cycle of riots and arrests appears intractable—even unavoidable—and it looks unlikely that harmony will ever be achieved in the city. But with Jerusalem 1900, historian Vincent Lemire shows us that it wasn’t always that way, undoing the familiar notion of Jerusalem as a lost cause and revealing a unique moment in history when a more peaceful future seemed possible.
In this masterly history, Lemire uses newly opened archives to explore how Jerusalem’s elite residents of differing faiths cooperated through an intercommunity municipal council they created in the mid-1860s to administer the affairs of all inhabitants and improve their shared city. These residents embraced a spirit of modern urbanism and cultivated a civic identity that transcended religion and reflected the relatively secular and cosmopolitan way of life of Jerusalem at the time. These few years would turn out to be a tipping point in the city’s history—a pivotal moment when the horizon of possibility was still open, before the council broke up in 1934, under British rule, into separate Jewish and Arab factions. Uncovering this often overlooked diplomatic period, Lemire reveals that the struggle over Jerusalem was not historically inevitable—and therefore is not necessarily intractable. Jerusalem 1900 sheds light on how the Holy City once functioned peacefully and illustrates how it might one day do so again.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226188232
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/21/2017
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Vincent Lemire is a lecturer in contemporary history at the University of Marne-la-Vallée, in Paris.

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Jerusalem 1900

The Holy City in the Age of Possibilities

By Vincent Lemire, Catherine Tihanyi, Lys Ann Weiss

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2017 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-18837-9


The Underside of Maps: One City or Four Quarters?

If the Old City is divided on today's maps, in Hebrew as in the European languages, to the four nineteenth-century introduced community quarters and not to quarters which existed along centuries, it is because the foundations of its modern cartography were laid by people who came from outside and not from the city itself.

— Adar Arnon, "The Quarters of Jerusalem in the Ottoman Period"

"How many parts to Jerusalem?" This is often the general reader's reaction to current works on the holy city, which, even before discussing its location and history, begin by splitting it up into four pieces, presenting the reader with four rectilinear segments, painstakingly drawn as if they were four apple slices neatly arranged on a dessert plate ("Jewish," "Christian," "Muslim," and "Armenian" quarters). Each of these presumed quarters is drawn in a different bright color. The choice of colors might vary, but the intention is always the same: the city is compartmentalized, and care is taken so as not to go over the supposedly inherent dividing lines (fig. 1). Jerusalem, the object of the study, even barely broached is already dismembered. The rhetoric is always the same, artful but misleading: to grasp the "complexity" of the three-times-holy city, we are told, we must first understand its "diversity." In reality, however, this praiseworthy statement of intent is followed by the opposite process: the complexity of population dynamics in the different parts of the city is set aside to give way to a simplistic classification resembling a childhood puzzle in four colors.


In both travel guides and scholarly works, Jerusalem is usually presented as the juxtaposition of four clearly identified sections: the "Muslim quarter" in the northeast part of the old city, the "Christian quarter" in the northwest, the "Armenian quarter" in the southwest, and the "Jewish quarter" in the southeast. To these is generally added the location called the "Haram esh-Sharif," the "Esplanade of the Mosques," "Mount Moriah," or "Temple Mount," depending on the author's affiliations. The new city, which grew up outside the walls in the 1860s and already held half the total population in 1900, usually does not feature in this first cartographic contact, probably because it differs too much from the assumed expectations of the reader.

As for the city within the walls, the description of these "quarters" varies from one work to another, and the order of priority reveals more or less subtly the authors' political choices or religious affiliations. Thus, some writers begin with the "Muslim quarter," which had the largest number of inhabitants at the end of the nineteenth century. Others arrange the quarters following the order of revelation of the major monotheistic religions (Jewish quarter, then Christian quarter, then Muslim quarter), with the Armenian quarter usually relegated to the end of the list, regardless of the order of description, and contradicting the notion of a "Christian quarter" that would logically include it. Still other authors, particularly those belonging to the European Christian tradition, lead with the "Christian quarter" and then more briefly devote a few paragraphs to the other sections of the city, presumed to be less interesting to their readers.

At times, instead of starting with locales, the city is introduced in terms of its "communities," roughly portrayed on the sole basis of religion ("the Christians," "the Muslims," "the Jews"). Whether referred to as "quarters" or "sectors" or "communities," the vocabulary is that of a city divided and compartmentalized into a certain number of "zones" with impermeable boundaries. This way of describing the holy city, at the outset of most of the works devoted to the city's history, leads immediately to a view of urban society that locks out any further questions. Even the authors most determined to include some of the gains of recent historiography end up, as if by reflex, organizing their analyses on the division of the city into crudely drawn ethno-religious communities.

Yet the quadripartite division of Jerusalem, far from being an eternal given of the city's geography, is a relatively late cartographic invention plastered on Jerusalem by European observers. Deconstructing this simplistic view is thus a necessary preliminary to analysis. If we accept these categories as a framework of understanding, it becomes impossible to account for the complexity of the issues that crisscross the history of the holy city. To gain a better understanding of the sites, we must first clear the ground of landmines by unearthing the simplistic, yet tenacious, markers set, ever since the nineteenth century, by Western pilgrims and explorers ignorant of local realities. This process of deconstruction is crucial in a city of pilgrimage and tourism that does not really belong to itself, or rather that belongs to temporary visitors as much as to its permanent residents. Jerusalem is as much a city of "ink and paper" as of flesh and stone — a "textual" city crisscrossed by texts and intertexts, as probably all cities are, but infinitely more so because of its central position in the imagination of monotheistic religions.


We may begin by emphasizing how the vision of a city divided into four hermetic sections prevents us from seeing the fracture lines within each of these supposed "communities." Confrontations during the nineteenth century that set Eastern against Western Jews, secular against religious Jews, Jews native to Jerusalem or Palestine against immigrant Jews — confrontations that go a long way to explain the internal dynamics of the Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem — were erased for the benefit of an artificial vision of a "community" assumed to be united or unified. Place names locally used at the end of the nineteenth century in some neighborhoods said to be Jewish, such as Haret el-Halabiyya (Allepine quarter) or Haret el-Bukharriya (Bukharan quarter), already provide clues to these internal differences. The same goes for the supposed "Christian community" — a disparate collection of Greek and Russian Orthodox; Copts; Jacobite Syrians; Roman Catholics and Greek Uniate Catholics; German, English, and North American Protestants; and Ethiopians, Maronites, and Melkites, to mention only the main categories distinguishing the different houses of worship of Christianity, which at times confronted each other physically within the very walls of the sanctuary they claimed to be common to all, the Holy Sepulcher.

The community called "Muslim" was just as varied, being divided between the two main historical branches of Islam: the Sunni (who were the majority in Palestine) and the Shiites, with the addition of Ismaelis and Druzes (the latter a Middle Eastern variant of the former), whose presence in Palestine for a long time had major consequences in political and geopolitical terms. In the old city of Jerusalem, local toponyms such as Haret el-Masharqa (Easterners' quarter) in the northeast, Haret el-Magharba (Maghrebians' quarter) in the south, or Haret es-Saltin (quarter of the inhabitants of the city of Salt), also in the south, testify to the geographic origins of the different Muslim groups of the city and reveal the cultural and ethnic diversity among Jerusalem's Muslims, and how much that diversity is still a part of the collective memory of the inhabitants themselves.

These internal fractures within communities are familiar to most researchers, and have long been the subject of numerous and accessible studies. They are even brought up in works about Jerusalem, as an aside to a narrative or a folkloric description. Yet, while this should prevent the artificial blending of such disparate entities, the old city of Jerusalem still keeps on being cut up into four rectilinear and homogeneous communities, offered to readers at the expense of common sense. Even though deconstructing this essentialist cartography should be the first task of conscientious historians, so many of them, out of laziness, imitation, or, more rarely, sheer ignorance, keep on reproducing ad nauseam the same vulgarized version. In so doing they contribute to the continuing existence of this simplistic schema and share in the responsibility of solidifying the barriers said at present to be unbreachable between those supposed communities.


Before embarking on this necessary deconstruction, we may emphasize here and now that alternative categories can be mustered to provide a view closer to the lived reality of Jerusalem's inhabitants at the end of the nineteenth century. For instance, we can highlight the linguistic relationships among urban dwellers of Arabic language and culture, by grouping together Muslim and Christian Arabs, and, at least until World War I, certain Jews of Arabic culture and language.

In addition to linguistic relationships, the geographic and cultural origins of the inhabitants also come into play. For instance, we may distinguish natives of Jerusalem (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim) from recent immigrants, who represent, after all, a category commonly used in Europe, both in the past and today. By doing so, we can bring to the fore legal distinctions that determined access to Ottoman citizenship, and hence property rights, voting rights, and military conscription. In the same way, we can start to perceive some affinities and porosities, which certain consulates had begun to make use of by the end of the nineteenth century: for example, between Russian Orthodox Christian immigrants and Russian Jewish immigrants; or between English Jewish immigrants and Anglican missionaries; between Jewish and Christian (mainly Baptist and millennialist) immigrants from the United States; and finally, between some important families of Lebanese, Syrian, or Jordanian origins, whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish.

Also relevant are some robust socioeconomic categories used by social scientists, such as access to real property ownership, which, from the 1860s on, was no longer directly linked to individual religious affiliation, but remained tied to Ottoman citizenship until the mid-1870s. Here we would need to stress the crucial legal distinction between Ottoman citizens, regardless of their religion, who had access to real estate ownership and the vote, and non-citizens, who were denied such access. In the context of a city subject to heavy immigration, categorization in terms of nationality and the figures that can be derived from this are useful in helping us understand, for example, why Greek Orthodox Christians, who had been Ottoman citizens for centuries, were able to build power based on extensive real property ownership, from which they still benefit today, while other Christian inhabitants of the city were for centuries prevented from owning real property in Palestine and in Jerusalem. These same legal categories help us understand the lack of balance between the overall population and the body of voters, and grasp the reasons for the lower representation in municipal institutions of the more recent Jewish and Christian arrivals at the end of the nineteenth century.

Finally, there are the broader distinctions, familiar to social and urban historians, between the rich and the poor, between secular and religious, between artisans and intellectuals, and of course between the inhabitants of the old walled city who did not have to pay property taxes and the inhabitants of the suburbs who did (although the latter were sometimes free of them in certain situations). To really understand the history of Jerusalem, especially in the years around 1900, we must mobilize all these categories, which internally crosscut the artificially constructed divisions between three or four hastily labeled "religious communities." The mere mention of some of those criteria of internal differentiation within each of the three great monotheistic religions shows that the list of the "four quarters" of the holy city is at best approximate and at worst totally false, for it masks the social reality of the urban community of Jerusalem around the turn of the twentieth century. It obviously reassures present-day readers, as it corresponds to the present system of categorization, but it typically stems from anachronic analyses. Pasting a present-day schema onto a past situation prevents us from grasping the singularity of a given historical context.


Before embarking on the history of the recent four-way labeling of the old city, we must focus on the primary demographic change of the late nineteenth century in Jerusalem: the expansion outside the walls. If there is one incontestable fact about the years from 1880 to 1910, it is the phenomenon of new construction outside the walled city, which had multiple and long-term consequences: for taxation and electoral participation, but also on the symbolic and socioeconomic planes, and even for city planning, given the many technical challenges posed by this new city. The causes of the building of this new city were simply demographic. The holy city — which had numbered 10,000 inhabitants in 1800, about 15,000 in 1850, and a bit more than 20,000 in 1870 — grew to some 45,000 inhabitants in 1890 and to 70,000 on the eve of World War I. The population that increased sevenfold over barely more than a century very soon could no longer fit inside the old city, which measured only 1,000 meters by 800 meters, scarcely one square kilometer.

Between 1880 and 1900 the new city of Jerusalem was born and grew up outside the walls, and in less than twenty years it came to hold half the total population. By the end of the 1880s the missionary press was bemoaning the extension of the city outside the walls, viewing it as the gradual erasing of the "biblical Jerusalem," a notion that was in any case largely a fantasy. In 1889, a correspondent for the monthly La Terre Sainte noted:

The holy city keeps on expanding; on the road to Jaffa, houses touch one another more than a kilometer from the walls. ... They're going to build a railroad between Jaffa and Jerusalem. So I think that in a few years Jerusalem will be a city of one hundred thousand souls.

The increasing densification of the neighborhoods outside the walls thus appeared to be in full swing by the end of the 1880s: a "new city" made of row houses sprouted in just a few years. In 1889, this expansion led the authorities to cut out a new gate at the northwest corner of the old city, exactly on the axis of development of the new city. In 1898, on the occasion of Kaiser Wilhelm II's visit to Jerusalem, the walls were even breached around the Jaffa Gate, on the western side of the old city, to allow the emperor's carriage to get through. We must fully understand the significance of these two breaches in the walls originally built by Suleiman, the first since their construction in the sixteenth century: the city was opening up to the outside. It literally reached outside itself to become a "new city," as it was called at the time by local sources, one that expanded west, toward the sea.

To accurately measure the stages of development of the city outside the walls, one must examine the plans of the city drawn up at that time. The map drawn by the British mission led by Charles Wilson in 1865 shows no building outside the walls except the Mishkenot Sha'ananim, the first development built by the British philanthropist Moses Montefiore starting in 1855 in front of the Jaffa Gate, and the hill called the "Russian quarter," which held the official Russian consular buildings from 1857 on; a few hundred inhabitants at most resided in these new neighborhoods (fig. 2).

During the 1870s the building process outside the walls gained momentum — for instance, with the founding in 1874 of the Me'ah She'arim neighborhood — so that in 1881, just before the first wave of Jewish immigration to Palestine, it is estimated that some 2,000 persons were residing outside the old city, which corresponded to only about 6 percent of a total population of 30,000. In 1890, thanks to data from Ottoman censuses conducted from 1883 on, it is estimated that about 12,000 people were living outside the walls, or a bit more than 25 percent of a total population of about 45,000. The map drawn by Conrad Schick in 1894–95 gives the measurement of the space that was henceforth referred to as the "new city" of Jerusalem (fig. 3).

In 1897, when the economic crisis brutally interrupted real estate speculation, there were about 25,000 people outside the walls, which corresponded to almost half of the total population of about 55,000. This ratio remained fairly constant until World War I; in 1914 there were almost 70,000 inhabitants in Jerusalem, of whom 35,000 lived outside the walls. Thus, it really all played out in less than twenty years, between 1880 and the end of the century. The population settled outside the walls increased during this brief period from 2,000 to 25,000, from about 6 percent of the total population in 1880 to 50 percent in 1897 (see table 1).


Excerpted from Jerusalem 1900 by Vincent Lemire, Catherine Tihanyi, Lys Ann Weiss. Copyright © 2017 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps and Illustrations
Translators’ NoteIntroduction: The Year 1900, the Age of Possibilities
Forgotten History
A Moment to Delineate, a Period to Define
The Causes of Failure
The Causes of Forgetting
Why Remember?
An Itinerary1. The Underside of Maps: One City or Four Quarters?
A Rough-cut Cartography
External Boundaries, Internal Fractures
Language, Citizenship, Property: Some Useful Concepts
Inside and Outside City Walls
The Four Quarters: A Late and Exogenous Topography
The New City: Mixed Neighborhoods and Jewish Neighborhoods
Summary: Of People and Places2. Origins of the City as Museum
Turning One’s Back on the Modern City
Lament over the Tomb-City
A City Becoming Unreadable
From Scholarship to Archaeology
Reconstructing Christ’s Jerusalem
Toward an Intimate History of Archaeology and Pilgrimage
Biblical Archaeology: “No Return” Inventions3. Still-Undetermined Holy Sites
Maurice Halbwachs as Advance Scout
Localization and Designation
How to Construct a Holy Site: The Example of the Garden Tomb
Global and Structural Uncertainty
Original Hybridity4. The Scale of the Empire
Ottomanism: A Defense against Fracturing Identities?
The Seraglio People: Imperial Administration in Jerusalem
Countering the Image of the “Turk’s Head”: A Gallery of Portraits
September 1, 1900: Imperial Jubilee in Jerusalem
The Road Network: A City Opened Up, a Region Ottomanized
The Railway: A Jewish Contractor, French Capital, and Muslim Inauguration
Ottomanism and Shared Urbanness: Drinking Water for All5. The Municipal Revolution
Origin of the Municipality: An Urban Community?
Garbage Collection and the Municipalization of Urban Powers
Elected Council Members: Citizens, City Dwellers, and Property Owners
Yussuf Ziya al-Khalidi, the Founding Mayor
At the Heart of Municipal Action: The Defense of Public Space
Urbanites All? Public Health, Leisure, and Municipal Finances6. The Wild Revolutionary Days of 1908
What Time Was It in Jerusalem?
The Wild Days of August 1908: Jerusalem’s Forgotten Revolution
Unexpected Fracture Lines
New Vectors of Lively Public Opinion
Underneath Communities, Classes?7. Intersecting Identities
Albert Antébi, Levantine Urbanite
An “Arab Awakening” in the Chaos of Battle
Jerusalem and the Parochialism of the “People of the Holy Land”
Jerusalem, the Thrice-Holy City, and the MunicipiumConclusion: The Bifurcation of Time
The Bird People
Ben-Yehuda, the Outsider
Toward a Shared History

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