Who does Jerusalem belong To?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | –

Far right Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commemorated Israel’s “Jerusalem Day” with a speech in which he said, “Jerusalem was always the capital of the Jewish people only, and no other,” and warned that Muslim terrorism menaced it.

Jerusalem, Daru Shalem, was founded sometime between 6500 and 5500 years ago, by the proto-Canaanite people long before Judaism existed. It was dedicated to the god of dusk, Shalem.

The first mention of it was after 2000 BC, again, before Judaism existed, in an Egyptian text.

So I think we may conclude that the City of Shalem the god of dusk was probably the capital of a lot of peoples long before there was any religion called Judaism.

Roughly 1500-1200 BC, Jerusalem was ruled from Memphis in Egypt by the pharaohs, but the Canaanites remained their proxies.

Petty Canaanite kings continued to dominate the region after Egyptian control lapsed. Some of them over time gradually adopted practices later associated with Judaism, but many other streams of Canaanite belief remained. Probably there were petty tribal chieftains named David and Solomon after 1000 BC, but Jerusalem appears not to have been populated 1000 to 900 BC. and so they didn’t have a palace there.

Whatever the character of the various Canaanite tribal confederations in Palestine, including the proto-Israeli, in 900-770 BC, in the latter year the region fell to the Assyrians.

In 597 BC the Babylonians conquered Palestine and later transported at least some of its population to Babylon. Likely it was there that the Jewish religion became fully elaborated.

In 539 BC, Babylon falls to the Iranian Achaemenid Empire, which emancipates the Jews. The Achaemenids rule most of the civilized world, from Egypt to what is now Pakistan. Palestine is ruled by Iran for nearly 200 years, until 330, when Alexander defeats the Achaemenids.

The Greek Ptolemaic dynasty held sway over Palestine until 198 BC, when the Seleucids conquered it.

In 168 the Maccabean Revolt established a small Jewish state in the area. Aside from the Israeli clans of the pre-Assyrian period, this was the only premodern Jewish state to have Jerusalem as a capital. Even so, they were vassals from 40 BC to the Iranian Parthian empire. Herod became a vassal of the Romans in Palestine in 6 of the Common Era (AD).

Jerusalem was Roman/ Byzantine until 614 CE, when the Iranian Sasanid Empire again conquered it.

In 629 the Byzantines took it back.

The Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 638 and ruled it until 1099, when the Crusaders conquered it it. The Crusaders killed or expelled Jews and Muslims from the city.

The Muslims under Saladin took it back in 1187 CE and allowed Jews to return.

So I think probably Jerusalem was the capital of, like, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. for several decades.

Muslims then ruled it until the end of World War I, or altogether over a millennium.

So Iran ruled Jerusalem altogether for some 250 years, and the Crusaders for about 200 years, and it was the capital of lots of peoples, including Canaanite kingdoms and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. It was also often a provincial capital under Muslim empires.

In the Sykes-Picot agreement between France and Britain during WW I, which shaped the Middle East, Jerusalem was awarded to Russia.

Lenin was outraged when he found the agreement in the Romanov palace after the 1917 October Revolution, and he had it published. He withdrew Russia from the war and forewent the prize of Jerusalem.

The city was awarded the British by the Versailles Peace Conference, as part of the British Mandate of Palestine.

In the 1947 UN General Assembly partition plan for Palestine, Jerusalem was designated a “Separate Body” to be administered internationally. It was not awarded to Israel by the UN. Although propagandists for Israel are always going on about how they accepted the UN partition plan, they did not, of course. They conquered a lot of territory that the GA did not award them, including West Jerusalem.

It was Jewish settlers in British Mandate Palestine who used violence to grab part of the city, disregarding international law and agreements. The city was mostly populated by Palestinians in any case, what with being a Palestinian city and all.

In 1967 the Israeli army took East Jerusalem, and ever since has squeezed the Palestinian population, driven them into poverty, usurped their property, and surrounded them by squatter settlements. There is no warrant in any part of any international agreement or law for the Israelis to behave this way toward the people who inhabited Jerusalem for over a millennium (and who are in any case almost certainly descendents of Palestinian Jews who converted to Islam). Violence is still a big part of the way Israel rules East Jerusalem, so Netanyahu warning of Muslim violence is rich.

Muslims consider Jerusalem the third holiest city of Islam. Despite Westerners constantly telling them they have no right to do that, they seem pretty attached to the doctrine. There are 1.5 billion of them, and their nerves are raw after centuries of Western colonialism during which they were told their religion was useless and backward. The occupation of Jerusalem was given by al-Qaeda as one reason for its attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. The insistence of Jewish extremists on angering the Muslim world by invading the Aqsa mosque from time to time, and threatening to demolish it, is like those old Warner Bros. cartoons where the foolish little boy keeps teasing a tiger in its cage.


Related video:

RT: “RT crew attacked by Israeli police during Jerusalem day march”

27 Responses

    • That’s the problem: they never bothered to learn the history! Much easier to just accept Zionist Israel’s propaganda–and we know how honest and accurate that is, don’t we!

  1. This was an excellent, informative recitation of the history of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the most important factor is that America says that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. See Democratic convention of 2012; and of course the Republicans regard (revere?) Netanyahu as a demigod.
    Netanyahu is the leader of Israel for the time being, but don’t forget that America rules until the American empire finally crumbles. The answer is that Jerusalem belongs to Israel by American fiat!

      • Important point, since changing the embassy’s location would be a final tacit acquiescence to the obvious Israeli agenda. In negotiations Israel brings to the US for more substantive things (money, arms, pardoning Jonathan Pollard), they will usually introduce this issue as a bargaining chip. It’s an apparently unimportant and innocuous item, but keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv serves as a way for the US to demurely defy the authority the Likud otherwise exercises over US policy and actions.

        America does not rule Israel by fiat

      • Don’t tell that to the political animals in D.C. All it would take is a bill on the floor of congress to change the locale of the American Embassy. How many of our congressmen and senators would oppose Jerusalem? I should say how *few* would oppose it?

        • It’s not uncommon for politicians running for election to say Jerusalem is the capital of Israel but that doesn’t mean that it’s become the nation’s position.

          It’s easy to imagine such a change occurring due to the immense sycophancy displayed in congress. It’s also worth noting that it hasn’t happened yet, despite the rhetoric.

        • I suppose its just the wacky, starry-eyed idealist in me, hoping that while our politico’s will need to be practical and do whatever their masters tell them, they really do know better and will do what they can to hold back on this one symbolic thing….

    • you have said it forcefully and tellingly May God Bless you. What had happened to Jerusalem by aggression had happened many times in history but it pains people like us much as the sad history is repeated right in front of our eyes in the civilized 21st century

  2. What are some good sources for this very informative historical presentation, Juan?

  3. Major religious centers may be under the safe keeping of nations in which they are located, but they belong to all humans and not held hostage. Exclusion as the yahoo wants is divisive to all humans. The UN should simply declare Jerusalem and Mecca international cities.

    • I don’t see such a move ending well. Given the immense crowding that occurs during the hajj, the inevitable addition of people showing up just to watch sounds implicitly dangerous.

  4. I visited East Jerusalem on a school trip in 1967 before the ’67 War. It was then part of Jordan and because of the enmity between Israel and Jordan we were not allowed to enter Israeli West Jerusalem. This was not much of a hardship though, as East Jerusalem is where most of the interesting historical sites are. So we remained there and what are now the surrounding Occupied Territories.

    It was beautiful. It was Arab. It was peaceful. Sadly, a few short months after our visit, Israel invaded and occupied East Jerusalem, and nothing has been the same since.

  5. According to one documentary, Jerusalem is basically a barren hill of no particular strategic value. Yet different peoples have been fighting over it for millennia.

  6. As anyone who reads the Washington Report on Middle-East Affairs would know, the Jerusalem as capital of Israel bromide has come up for a vote several times, and several times saner heads have prevailed.

  7. I have a dictionary compiled & published in 1931. It says Jerusalem is “The capital city of Palestine.”

  8. History, the story of people, and what they find important.

    It may be a barren hillside, and how odd that it seems that after a stone age founding it was uninhabited in the 1000 BC – 900 BC time period — which without checking corresponds to the time I that historians thought most likely for Solomon and David to be having significant kingdoms —

    yet you must see how this bit of hillside has animated a lot of people, who have found it important.

    As far as I can tell, this importance — and the growth of Jerusalem’s importance in the last century — has so far contributed far more to creating divisions, and aggravating divisions, among individuals and social groups, than it has to contributed to anything more positive in human affairs.

  9. An easy question! Let the Arabs and Turks, the Italians, and the Iranians maintain joint control, since the Ottomans, Romans, and Persians have the longest greatest historical claims on the location!

    I recall that you have posted a similar post before, and made a similar argument (I believe about Israel itself). Or, we could just let the whole damn dispute end, occupy the place with UN forces, and not let anyone have it; just give the Muslims, Christians, and Jews access to the holy sites, but no one people possess it.

    Frankly all of this “who gets what” seems pretty reptilian to me. Rome, Jerusalem, poor Palmyra – none of these places belongs to Italians, Jews, or Syrians. They belong to all of us and stand as testaments to the majesty and genius of our species.

    To whom does Jerusalem belong? To me, to you, to all of us. But it is not unique in this regard, because so too does Paris, Istanbul, Damascus, and New York.

    • Actually, I’d go with the 1947 mandate that Jerusalem be “internationally administered.” Bring in a UN force – both security and administrative – of Hindus from India. Make Jerusalem like Washington, D.C. – a jurisdiction where the residents have no voting rights and are at the mercy of non-local powers, in this case, the UN and the Hindu occupation team.

      Make sure policing by the UN team is adequate to prevent hate crimes, which will have proportionally higher penalties, as they should. Open the city for tourism, bigtime, to encourage members of ALL THREE of the Abrahamic religions to be able to safely visit. Israeli police and the Israeli military will be banned from entering this new International Zone.

      The only way to get religions to coexist, at least in this part of the world, appears to be by banning overt religious activity.

  10. Who does Jerusalem belong to?
    A short, certain answer is that much more blood will be shed in the course of pursuing this question. A pox on all of those who believe that humans need to be sacrificed for oh holy Jerusalalem!

  11. Much of Jerusalem is composed of sedimentary limestone, dolomite, and dolomitic limestone, so I’d say that the inhabitants that enjoyed the area for the longest time were ancient fish and mollusks.

    The Cenomanian age during the Cretaceous period was a good 100 million years ago. We modern humans have been around for only 200,000 years. The fish and mollusks will probably get the last laugh–and enjoy swimming through the temples and over the streets–long after humans stop squabbling over the city.

    Given our impermanence, isn’t it a pity that we are too petty to share a lovely land while it exists?

  12. It’s very disappointing to read an article like this from an esteemed professor from the University of Michigan. He has factual errors, blatant and important omissions and is generally very dismissive of the Jewish connection to the Land and Jerusalem itself.
    “Probably there were petty tribal chieftains named David and Solomon after 1000 BC, but Jerusalem appears not to have been populated 1000 to 900 BC. and so they didn’t have a palace there.” The prominent Archaeologist Eilat Mazar would beg to differ. She believes she found a foundation wall in Ir David that belongs to a Palace dated to this time period. Solomon is purported to have built his residence in the location of today’s temple mount so good luck trying to excavate there.
    Professor Cole could have mentioned that The Temple of Jewish people stood in Jerusalem from around 930 bc-586 when it was destroyed by the Babylonians. The Persians allowed the Jews to return and rebuild the Jewish Temple around 515 BC because they recognized the importance of the site to the Jewish people. It stood there until it was rebuilt by King Herod, who by the way Prof. Cole incorrectly states became a vassal of the Romans in 6AD, where it stood until the Year 70 AD. Or about 500 years before Mohammed was born. So for about 930 years, the most holy temple of the Jews stood in Jerusalem.
    “It was Jewish settlers in British Mandate Palestine who used violence to grab part of the city, disregarding international law and agreements. The city was mostly populated by Palestinians in any case, what with being a Palestinian city and all.” This is a bit of propagandizing on Prof. Cole’s part as well. The British census of 1945 shows that the the city of Jerusalem was 40% Jewish and 40% Arab Muslim.
    “Although propagandists for Israel are always going on about how they accepted the UN partition plan, they did not, of course. They conquered a lot of territory that the GA did not award them, including West Jerusalem”
    Of course the Jewish leadership accepted the partition plan. that’s a matter of fact. Professor Cole misleads with his next statement. Yes a war broke out and when it did, all bets were off. You don’t get to lose a war and then ask for what you were offered before hand. BTW, Jordan took parts of Jerusalem and they weren’t even considered in the partition plan at all. Ever think of how it went for the Palestinans under Jordanian leadership. And let’s not forget about the Jews who were forcibly removed from their East Jerusalem homes including the old city. Of course many Arabs were displaced. I don’t dispute that. However, Jews weren’t allowed to visit the Western Wall during the 19 years of Jordanian Occupation. When Israel conquered it in 1967, they allowed the Jordanians to administer the Temple Mount. For the commenters who mentioned massive tourism to Jerusalem, I would say come and see for yourselves. The holy sites are accessible to all. The one place that’s sort of difficult to visit is the Temple Mount. Jews are routinely harassed up there. why shouldn’t a Jew be allowed up there. It’s the holiest place in the world for Jews. Lastly Prof. Cole’s comment on extremists “invading Aqsa” from time to time is just flat out untrue. Yes there are extremist Jews that would love to see a third temple built up there but there are police and waqf authorities up there all the time and no Non-Muslims are allowed in the Dome of the Rock or The Al-Aqsa mosque. Ask yourself why?
    I expected more of a scholar like Juan Cole.

    • a quick search found that in the 1945 census the population of Old Jerusalem was 85% Arab Muslim but with a larger Jewish population in New Jerusalem, 60% of all Jerusalem population was Jewish. BUT 60% of all Palestinian Jews lived in Jerusalem with much lower numbers in the rest of the country, many had immigrated relatively recently returning from Egypt in 1920s, after the earthquake in Safed, from Europe pre WW2 under and with the support of the Britsh Mandate and most significantly from 1939 on. Zionists had an active role in the Jerusalem municipal council to promote Jewish settlement and encourage Arabs to leave..
      That is, Jewish population dominance in Jerusalem was recent NOT historical, was artificial and planned and was unrepresentative of the demographics in 1945 throughout Palestine…. while 60% of Jerusalem, Jews were only 9% of the population of Palestine.

  13. Re Eilat Mazar’s claims to have found the biblical temples, archeologist Aren Maier is dubious about the claims and the dating. Israel Finkelstein from Tel Aviv University is concerned that Mazar fits her finds to match the biblical texts almost as a leap of faith rather than as a scholarly archeological evaluation….a case of searching for evidence and stretching the conclusions to support existing dogma. This does not support your contention of extended historical domination by the Jews, neither is there any other archeological proof for the existence of the temples.
    Re 1945 Census my quick search found that in 1945 85% of the population of Old Jerusalem was Muslim Arab but due to a larger number of Jews in New Jerusalem, 60% of the population of all Jerusalem was Jewish. But this was artificial and recent, not the historical status quo. There had been high Jewish migration from Egypt in the 1920s, in 1919 movement internally from Safed after an earthquake, under European protection during the wars under the Mandate and predominantly large numbers in the previous 5 years after the start of WW2. Under the mandate, Zionist Jews came to dominate the Jerusalem municipal council promoting Jewish settlement and actively encouraging Arabs to leave. In 1945 the high percentage of Jews in All Jerusalem was recent, artificially created and did not match the fact that Jews were only 9% of the population of all Palestine and were an insignificant population in Old (historic) Jerusalem. This does not support a contention that Jews have a right to Jerusalem due to previous occupation.
    Re your assertion that Jewish leaders accepted the UN partition, Jewish historian Ilan Pappe points out in detail from Israeli official records that the disposition of Arabs from their villages and lands was started well before declaration of war by Arab States and largely completed before any Arab armies entered the territory. You say you don’t lose a war a get what you were offered beforehand but refugees do have a right of return, a right that Israel has denied to the Palestinians for nearly 70 years, defying a raft of UN conventions. You may want to research the 1948 assassination on UN Mediator Folke Bernadotte ( on orders from future Israel leader Yitzak Shamir) to see what Jewish leaders thought of the UN plan.

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