But as historians describe in the original CNN series “Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury,” the history of religious and political tensions in the capital goes well beyond the 20th century. It goes back thousands of years.
“The history of Jerusalem is a very complicated story,” says Laura Schor, professor of history at Hunter College, in the CNN series. “And if you don’t know it in its complexity, it’s very difficult to understand what’s going on there today. “
Then there is the fact that Jerusalem is also “the center of the national aspirations of two communities: the Israeli community and the Palestinian community”, explains Suleiman Mourad, professor of religion at Smith College, in the series “Jerusalem”. “It adds another layer of complexity. ”
“Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury” offers a starting point by focusing on half a dozen critical moments in the city’s evolution. Below is a timeline of these six key conflicts and rivalries, along with commentary from the series’ expert.
Around 1000 BC. AD: David against Goliath
The story of a young Israelite shepherd powerfully defeating a giant is so legendary that it is still part of modern popular culture. Even those who have never read the Bible text know its contours: David, portrayed as the ultimate underdog, slaughters a towering mortal enemy named Goliath with nothing more than a slingshot and a little faith.
Here’s why this well-known saga is so central to the history of Jerusalem: In the Hebrew Bible, it’s not just a story of well-being. It is a fundamental turning point in the establishment of a kingdom.
When David kills Goliath around 1000 BC, it sets him on the path to becoming the king of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel. Once he does, David takes Jerusalem as his capital by force.
The fortified enclave was built in an area called Canaan, territory “that the Israelites believed God had given them as their land to inherit,” says University of Iowa religious studies professor Robert Cargill . According to the biblical text, an indigenous population called the Jebusites already resided in the capital chosen by David, and therefore his conquest of Jerusalem is still debated today, adds historian and author Simon Sebag Montefiore.
39 BC: The rise and fall of Herod the Great
The reign of King David was followed by that of his son Solomon, whose crowning achievement was the construction of the first temple on the site known today as the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif.
Over the centuries after their deaths, power structures change, but Jerusalem remains a desirable stronghold. And by 39 BC, another ruler had ruthlessly taken control: Herod the Great.
Supported by the mighty Roman army, Herod violently took the throne and set out to “make himself the most successful king, not only of Judea, but of all the Mediterranean,” Montefiore explains.
Herod’s reign is an influential moment in Jerusalem’s history, both because of the ruthless political machinations that marked his reign – including a rivalry with Cleopatra of Egypt – as well as his monumental efforts to rebuild the Solomon’s temple and expand the city. It was Herod, says the author Montefiore, who “created the Jerusalem we know today… The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are built on the sacred precinct of Herod”.
The end of his reign, however, was as gruesome as the start. After Herod’s death, “the Romans annexed the land and ruled it through brutal procurators who were extremely corrupt and who gradually tormented the Jews until they rebelled,” Montefiore continues. . “And to punish the Jewish people, they completely destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70. The temple was destroyed. Only the stones of the south, east and west walls remain, which you can see today. “
1099 AD: The Crusades
More than 1,000 years after the death of Herod the Great, Jerusalem was caught between two other religions: Christianity and Islam.
Jerusalem is sacred to Christians because “it is a place where Jesus died, where he walked the Via Dolorosa,” Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, notes in the CNN series. “He was crucified outside the city. “
“For Muslims,” adds historian Jonathan Phillips, “it is the site of the Prophet (Mohammed) ‘s nocturnal journey and his ascension to heaven.”
This led to waves of horribly violent wars, known as the Crusades, as Christians and Muslims fought for control of the holy city.
“The legacy of the Crusades in Jerusalem, among Arabs in general, is a horrible, horrible legacy,” says Mourad, a professor at Smith College. “We have the way a European would remember it, as a chapter of medieval Europe, and there is also the way the Arabs, or Muslims remember it, as a form of attack and pre-modern colonial occupation. “
1914: World War I
At the start of World War I, Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire, allied with Germany.
On the other side stood the British Empire, which “absolutely wanted to control the Holy Land, subject it to Christian influence at a time of Ottoman Islamic rule,” says Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Jewish Civilization at the Georgetown University.
As the war unfolded, what seemed at first to be an alliance was born, as Arabs in revolt against their Ottoman rulers found support from the British.
In fact, says Ali Qleibo, anthropologist and writer for This Week in Palestine magazine, Arab rebels who hoped to emerge from Ottoman rule “were lured and lied to by Britain. They thought it was just liberation; they didn’t know it was preparatory for a trade. “
Britain made a secret deal with France called the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which “essentially divided [the Ottoman Empire] from the Middle East to a British part, comprising most of Iraq, Jordan and Palestine, and a French part, which included Lebanon, Syria and part of Turkey, ”Mourad said.
The new agreement did not make Jerusalem’s job any easier. “To a large extent,” says Simon Davis, professor of history at the Graduate Center at the University of the City of New York, “the main outcome of World War I for Jerusalem was that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that we know so well today is really instituted, to a certain degree unwittingly, by the multiple British promises. “
1948: Independence and defeat
After World War I, the Jewish population in Palestine began to grow by the tens of thousands, especially when Jews fled the terror of the Hitler regime in the 1930s.
At the time, Palestine was still under British rule and tensions were erupting between all parties. The Arab and Jewish communities each had distinct nationalist visions of claiming Palestine as their homeland, and both populations wanted to see the end of British administration.
Shortly after the end of World War II, a besieged Britain made plans to withdraw from Palestine, and the newly formed United Nations stepped in with a proposal on who should control the territory.
“In 1947, the United Nations voted for the creation of a Jewish state and a Palestinian Arab state in Palestine, and they drew an incredibly unrealistic partition of the country,” explains historian Simon Sebag Montefiore. The plan met with opposition from the Arabs, because for them partition would mean that “Palestinians who fell into what would become the Jewish state would suddenly be foreigners in their own country,” said Thomas Abowd, master of lectures at Tufts University.
When Britain formally withdrew in May 1948, the Independent State of Israel was declared with David Ben-Gurion as Prime Minister.
“It was a very emotional moment for many,” said Michael Brenner, director of the Center for Israel Studies at American University. But “there was neither time nor opportunity for reflection. On May 15, five Arab states declared war on Israel ”.
“For the Israelis,” Brenner continues, “it is the war of independence. It’s kind of a triumphant denomination. For the Palestinians, this is not the case, it is their catastrophe. This is their real defeat.
An armistice agreement was reached in 1949, with the territory now known as the West Bank falling under Jordanian rule, while the Gaza Strip fell under Egyptian control.
About 750,000 Palestinians have been displaced, prompting the UN to launch an agency to assist Palestinian refugees.
And Jerusalem? It has become “a city divided like Berlin,” describes Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem-based lawyer, in the series.
1967: The Six Day War
Tight tensions erupted again nearly two decades in the State of Israel as a series of increasing clashes led to the Six Day War of 1967.
Fought primarily between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria, the war saw the young State of Israel expand its territory by taking control of the Old City of Jerusalem as well as the Golan Heights, Gaza Strip. , the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula.
The latter was returned to Egypt as part of the 1979 peace agreement, and you can read more about the reality in Jerusalem today here.