December 9, 1917: What is the History of Jerusalem? (Why is Jerusalem So Important?)

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A Brief History

On December 9, 1917, British forces under the command of Field Marshall Allenby captured the city of Jerusalem, then in the territory known as Palestine.

The surrender of Jerusalem to the British, 9 December 1917

Fighting in and around the city would continue for another 3 weeks between the British and the forces of Ottoman Turkey, the Yidirim Army Group (“Thunderbolt” Army Group).  The World War I battle for Jerusalem is just one in the long history of battles for this city that is holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, a bloody history that goes back thousands of years.  Today Jerusalem is back in the news with the announcement by President Trump on December 6, 2017, that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US Embassy to that city, causing an outcry and protests among Palestinians and Muslims around the world.

Digging Deeper

Jerusalem is an ancient city, dating back to about 2400 BC, when the land was considered part of Canaan.  Even earlier settlements at this location date back to 4500 BC, with permanent settlements ranging from 3000 BC.  Egyptian references to the city are found from around 1900 BC, with Egyptian hegemony over the land until the time of Saul the Kingdom of Judah.  The Israelite period of Jerusalem dates to about 1010 BC when the Israelites called it The City of David.  Jews, and the people that became the Jews populated Jerusalem and the surrounding area since well before 1000 BC.

Situated as it is between Africa and Asia, the area of Jerusalem and modern Israel had many conquerors and empires roll back and forth over the land throughout the centuries.  Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek/Macedonian, Roman and Byzantine cultures at times were overlords of the land, while the Israelites continued to live in and around Jerusalem throughout its history.

Muslim/Arab control of Jerusalem did not occur until 638 AD, when Jerusalem was conquered by Islamist Arabs.  As early as 623 AD, Muslims venerated the city of Jerusalem and for a period of 13 years Muslims were instructed to pray in the direction of Jerusalem before the city to face during prayer was changed to Mecca.  During this period the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Dome of the Rock) was built on the Temple Mount that had previously been the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples.  As the Temple Mount location is of maximum importance to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, this particular part of Jerusalem is the focus of religious fervor in the city.  The West Wall (also known as “The Wailing Wall”) of the old city is another holy place to Jews.  Christians revere the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the tomb of Christ) and its related Stations of the Cross and the location of the spot where the cross of the crucifixion was placed in the ground.  Temple Mount is the location from which Muhammad took off from Earth on his Night Journey (to Heaven) and where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son.

Ever since the establishment of the Christian religion and later the Muslim religion, Jerusalem has been competed for by Jews, Christians and Muslims for religious reasons as well as the heritage of having been the homeland of Jews and proto-Arabs for millennia.  Control of Jerusalem has gone back and forth between Muslims, Crusaders, Ottomans, British and various other invaders over the centuries, until the establishment of Israel in 1948, when Jerusalem was split between Jordan and Israel.  During the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, Israel seized the rest of Jerusalem and has administered the city ever since.

The Jews of Israel argue that Jerusalem is their historic capital and that they were the first, and rightful owners of the land of Judah and thus also Jerusalem.  Muslims claim their Arab ancestors were also on the land of Palestine and Jerusalem from antiquity and for religious reasons find Jerusalem to be a holy place that cannot be denied to Islam.  As the location of the ministry of Christ and the place of His crucifixion and resurrection, Christians also lay claim to Jerusalem.  Israeli Jews argue that under their stewardship all Christians and Muslims are free to come and worship at their holy places, while under Arab/Muslim stewardship Jews fear they will be denied access to Jewish holy places.

Should the US recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?  Or does such a move threaten American interests in that region?  Who is the rightful owner of Jerusalem?

Should this “Holy City” be some sort of United Nations city of the World?  How would that work?  We do not have the answers, but if you do, please share your thoughts on these subjects.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Armstrong, Karen.  A History of Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths.  HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 1997.

The featured image in this article, a photograph of 4th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment marching through Bethlehem, is in the public domain, because it is one of the following:

  1. It is a photograph taken prior to 1 June 1957; or
  2. It was published prior to 1969; or
  3. It is an artistic work other than a photograph or engraving (e.g. a painting) which was created prior to 1969.

HMSO has declared that the expiry of Crown Copyrights applies worldwide (ref: HMSO Email Reply)
More information.

See also Copyright and Crown copyright artistic works.  This is photograph Q 12620 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.