Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies
Bar-Ilan University Ramat-Gan, Israel

Jerusalem: Life Throughout the Ages in a Holy City

Internet Educational Activities <>
May 1997
David Eisenstadt     12/12

The British Mandate


British entered Jerusalem on December 9, 1917. The arrival of British troops, known as the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, ended 400 years of Ottoman Turkish (also Moslem) rule over the city. Over the next 30 years Jerusalem was to experience tremendous urban growth.
Downtown Jerusalem would be built and new technological developments, like electricity and central plumbing would become standard in most homes. Urban planning and aesthetics would become major forces in the city's development.

At the same time conflict and violence would take root in the city. Two opposing national movements would clash over the future of the country/region; at the core of this conflict would be Jerusalem. This would result in outbreaks of Arab mob violence in 1920, 1921, 1929.
Local security would deteriorate sharply from the 1930's onward and, eventually, result in the city's division between two sovereign states 18 months after the British departure and the birth of Israel. A Jewish military organization (the Hagana) would be established to respond to the threat of Arab terror and in the course of its activities become the nucleus of the Israeli Army.
Two other Jewish military organizations (the Lehi and the Etzel) would be formed at this time. Much of their, better known, activity became characterized by terrorism and this caused the British to restrict movement in large sections of central and southern Jerusalem, which were dubbed "security zones".

Winter 1917 - A City on the Brink of Starvation

The British entered Jerusalem with a great deal of romantic enthusiasm and, in some cases, religious zeal as well. The city was one of their war goals in the Middle East. They were familiar with its past glory from Bible and history lessons. The city they found, however, was in an extremely decrepit state. The retreating Turkish army had removed most basic provisions, including food, fuel and medicines. Much of the city's traditional food sources lay beyond battle lines to the north and east. The road system had collapsed and much of the railroad had been dismantled. Much of the city's adult male population had been removed, in one way or another, by the Turks. Sanitary services had virtually ceased and epidemics seemed inevitable. The situation was further exacerbated by a severe water shortage.

Against this background the arrival of two divisions of British troops was not an entirely welcome sight. Jerusalem's inhabitants were happy to be rid of the abusive Ottoman army and no doubt had high expectations for the new British rulers. However, recent past experience with a large occupation army made the local population wary of its impact on the already strained water and food supply.

Sir Ronald Storrs Rescues Jerusalem

The man charged with ensuring that Jerusalem's population didn't starve to death (or for that matter fall prey to epidemics, dehydration, cold weather, etc.) was the city's British military, and later civilian governor, Ronald Storrs. Storrs was the son of a high ranking Anglican clergy man. He served in the British colonial administration in India and Africa , and during World War One was appointed "Political Officer" with the British forces in the Middle East. On December 28, 1917 he was appointed military governor of Jerusalem replacing General Bill Borton, who had served in the post for only a few weeks.

Storrs first request to the General Allenby, the commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force was for food. With Allenby's assistance, he began importing 200 tons of wheat each month from Egypt. The railroad was repaired and was briefly used to bring water to the city, until pipelines and pumps to adequate nearby springs (Ein El Arub, Ein Farah and Ein Qelt) were installed. In order to prevent manipulation of the shortages by opportunists he fixed the prices of wheat, kerosene, sugar, flower and rice. In addition Storrs instituted close British military supervision of food supply in general.

In addition to ensuring the city's food supply, and literally preventing mass starvation, the British administration was also critically active in the area of public health. Jerusalem already had numerous hospitals (no less than seven just in the area of the Street of the Prophets), public health had deteriorated severely during World War One and the prospect of epidemic seemed imminent. The new administration made several important steps to correct this situation: Massive garbage heaps were removed; public trash cans were installed; the entire population was vaccinated against smallpox; pools and cisterns were covered with mosquito repellent as part of a successful campaign to eradicate malaria.

The Bolshevik Revolution and Changing Fortunes in Jerusalem

The October Revolution in distant Russia had a major impact on every day life in Jerusalem. The residents of affluent, elegant Bukharan Quarter found themselves dispossessed. This neighborhood was populated by wealthy Jewish immigrants from Bukhara in central Asia. They lived in elegant mansions (which still exist i.e. Ezra St.) in Jerusalem, but were financially dependent on businesses, which were managed for them in Bukhara. The newly formed Soviet Union nationalized these businesses, thus denying many of the residents of this neighborhood of their source of affluence. The Bukharan Quarter rapidly became a poor neighborhood.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem had acquire vast amounts property and undertook numerous building projects with the financial assistance of the Czarist Russian Government. (The Czar saw himself as the protector and benefactor of all Orthodox Christians). The cessation of funds, first as a result of the outbreak of World War One and then made permanent by the October Revolution, plunged the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem into dire financial straits. In order to alleviate their heavy debt, they sold large tracts of land, which became the most significant territorial basis for Jerusalem's urban expansion at this time. The neighborhoods erected on land purchased, at this time, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, include Rehavia, Talbieh, Tapliot and the central business district (the Ben Yehuda, Jaffa, King George triangle).

The Russian Compound, just north of the Old City, provided services and accommodations for thousands of Russian Orthodox Pilgrims since its establishment in the mid-19th century. The change of regime in Russia halted the flow both of pilgrims and money to maintain the "Compound". Most the buildings were rented to the British authorities and housed police headquarters, courthouses and a prison. Later on during the Mandate period the area was nicknamed, by the Jewish underground, "Bevingrad", after the viciously anti-Semitic British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, because it was seen as a symbol of British oppression in Palestine. The change of regime in Russia also generated a conflict, concerning ownership of Russian Orthodox church property in Jerusalem. As a result of the revolution the Russian Orthodox Church split into two separate factions: The "Red" Church, which identified with the communists and the "White" Church, which continued to identify with members of the Czar's family in exile. Each faction claimed rightful possession of the various churches and monasteries in Jerusalem. The conflict was eventually settled by the Israeli government in the 1950's. Today most of the Russian compound belongs to the Israeli government - Yes, legally purchased!

Garden Suburbs

In the early 1920's, Jewish Jerusalemites, an effort to improve their quality of life, adopted a British style of neighborhood development known as the "garden suburb". The guiding principles of the garden suburbs were to create single family dwellings in the center of a plot of land surrounded by gardens and greenery. The streets which would be carefully planned topographically, would be tree lined avenues and, where feasible would have a central landscaped island (HaMeiri St. in Kiryat Moshe, Ben Maimon St. in Rehavia).

Jerusalem's garden suburbs include Beit Hakerem, Talpiot, Rehavia, Kiryat Moshe and Bayit Vegan. Instrumental in designing these neighborhoods was the German Jewish Architect Richard Kaufmann, who immigrated to Israel in 1920. The first garden suburbs were built just beyond Jerusalem's municipal limits. This was a deliberate strategy by the (future) residents who to maintain a greater level of autonomy and avoid "Mandatory" Jerusalem's strict building codes. This is why the oldest/original houses in Beit Hakerem and Talpiot are not built with Jerusalem stone!

Each of these neighborhoods took on a stereotype according to the dominant professions of its founders. Rehavia was the "officials" (alternately "clerks") neighborhood, because of the large number of Jewish Agency employees who lived there. Beit Hakerem was for teachers, while Talpiot was the bankers' neighborhood. The 1930's brought a wave of Jewish immigration from Germany and with it a many prominent architects. They introduced a new style of architecture popular in Germany at the time, known as the "Bauhaus" or "International" style. Today there are still numerous "bauhaus" in Rehavia. They stand out for their straight, "practical" lines and cubicle like structure - come to think of it they don't stand out! One example is the Bank Leumi branch at the corner of Ramban and Arlosorov Streets. It was designed by the German Jewish architect Leopold Krakauer and built in 1935 as a private residence for Dr. Bonem.

Preserving the Character of a Developing Ancient City

The new British rulers of the city recognized the need to preserve Jerusalem's unique character and historic landscape/beauty, while transforming it into a modern city. The new British administration instituted town planning. In 1918 Sir William McLean, the city engineer of Alexandria, was invited to Jerusalem by Storrs in order to prepare a town plan. Two months after his arrival he submitted a master plan. McLean's plan aimed at preserving the Old City and the Mount of Olives, while developing areas to the west and north. Building was also forbidden in the area adjoining the Old City walls, so as not to obstruct the sight of the walls from afar. In order to ensure the basic principles of this plan Ronald Storrs forbade new building without his written permission. Later Storrs issued a law that required that all construction in the city use only "native Jerusalem stone". This law is still exists and has done a remarkable job of preserving the city's unique beauty. In fact, although McLean possessed little prior knowledge of the city and worked quickly he succeeded in preparing a master plan which has, in many respects, determined the course of Jerusalem's urban development with an emphasis on preservation. Other steps aimed at preserving the city's historic beauty included removing the Turkish clock tower from the top of Jaffa Gate; clearing away shops built against the exterior of the Old City walls and removing shabby wooden stalls from Mahane Yehuda, which were replaced by a stone-built market.

Within the space of a decade three more master plans were prepared. In 1919 Sir Patrick Geddes submitted a plan establishing more open green area in the western/developing side of the city. Later plans by Charles Ashbee (1922) and Clifford Holliday (1926) placed a greater emphasis on neighborhood planning and established building criteria according to zones.

A Capital City with New Instiutions

Under the new British adminstration Jerusalem became the capital of the country for the first time in over 700 years. This in itself was a major source of urban growth since it meant that most significant British government offices in Palestine established their headquarters in Jerusalem. Jewish and Moslem institutions were soon to follow. Leading Zionist organizations which had been based in Tel Aviv, transferred their offices to Jerusalem. In 1925 The Hebrew University of Jerusalem was established on Mount Scopus. The new university was not just an institution of higher learning, but the symbol of progress of a people being reborn in its ancient homeland - a temple of achievement.

On the west side of the city luxury hotels were built, reflecting a new level of commercial life. The King David built in 1930 brought a new level of accomodation to the city's tourist trade. It was joined by the "handsomest Y.M.C.A. in the entire world" across the street. This building, designed by Q. L. Harmon, the same architect who built the Empire State Building in New York City, gave Jerusalem its first heated swimming pool and first indoor basketball court. Later these structures would be joined by the nearby Palace Hotel - "the Arab answer to the King David". Just north of the Old City an impressive octagonal structure was built to house the new Rockefeller Museum of Archeology.

Jerusalem was a city on the move unfortunately at the same time conflict and violence were also brewing. The clash between the national aspirations of Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, and the rest of the country, is beyond the scope of this lecture, but it is sufficient today that Jerusalem has been at the cre of this conflict since its inseption and continues to defy solution.

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