THE FOUNDING OF JERUSALEM
(Excerpts from Henry Cattan, The Palestine Question, pp. 247-250)
Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. According to Josephus who wrote in the first century of our era, it was founded by the Canaanites. Josephus wrote:
But he who first built it [Jerusalem] was a potent man among the Canaanites, and is in our tongue called Melchisedek, The Righteous King, for such he really was; on which account he was (there) the first priest of God, and first built a temple (there), and called the city Jerusalem, which was formerly called Salem.
As Melchisedek was a contemporary of Abraham (Genesis 14:18), this would date the founding of Jerusalem in the eighteenth century BC. Hence, the city was in existence several centuries before the arrival of the Israelites in the land of Canaan. In fact, the Jewish Encyclopedia mentions that in Hebrew annals ‘Jerusalem is expressly called a "foreign city" not belonging to the Israelites (Judges 19:12), and the Jebusites are said to have lived there for very many years together with the Benjarnites.
Jerusalem was inhabited by the Jebusites, a Canaanite subgroup. It was one of the oldest and most illustrious royal cities in the land of Canaan and for some 800 years it remained a Canaanite city. Around 1000 BC it was captured by David. It should be noted, however, that when David captured the city, he did not displace its original inhabitants allowing them to remain in their city, but not in the fortress. The continued existence of the Canaanites in Jerusalem, which became the capital of the new Jewish kingdom that was established by David, is confirmed by the Bible which refers to the people whom Israel was not able to destroy and upon whom David’s son, Solomon, levied a tribute of bondservice (1 Kings 9:20-1).
It is necessary to stress the fact that Jerusalem was founded by the Canaanites; and inhabited by them for several centuries, long before its capture by David, because some present-day Israeli politicians falsely claim that it was founded by the Jews. Thus at the time of the capture of the Old City of Jerusalem in June 1967, Yigal Allon, then Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, was reported by the press to have said: ‘The world must reconcile itself to the fact that the city has at last returned to the nation that founded it and turned it into a Holy City’ when, in fact, Jerusalem existed as a Canaanite sacred city for several hundred years before the Israelites set foot in Palestine.
JERUSALEM, AN ARAB CITY FOR 18 CENTURIES
The history of Jerusalem is linked with the history of Palestine which was briefly reviewed in Chapter 1. A chronology of the city is given in Appendix VII. As we have seen, many nations ruled Jerusalem but its demography did not always follow its political rule. The Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Moslem Arabs, the Crusaders, the Turks and the British ruled Jerusalem, at one time or another, but none of those peoples implanted themselves in the city or became part of its traditional population. Only three peoples have through the ages constituted the population of Jerusalem. These are the Canaanites, the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs.
Contrary to a common error, as explained in Chapter 1, the Canaanites and the Jews cohabited peacefully together until the massacre and deportation of the Jews by the Romans, first in AD 70 and finally in AD 132-135.
The Palestinian Arabs, descendants of the Caananites and the Philistines (Chapter 1) remained and constituted the main element of the population of Jerusalem from the second until the twentieth centuries. They survived all subsequent conquests, massacres and vicissitudes. More than once, they changed their religion, adopting the religion of the conquerors. Pagans originally, they were converted to Christianity and many, though not all, accepted Islam after the Moslem Arab conquest of Jerusalem in the seventh century. Until the nineteenth century, the Palestinian Arabs were practically the only inhabitants of Jerusalem. For eighteen centuries, Jerusalem was essentially and fundamentally an Arab city. As previously mentioned in Chapter 1, neither the Moslem conquest of Palestine in the seventh century, nor the Turkish conquest in the sixteenth century, involved any demographic change or colonization by the conquerors. The latter were in small numbers and were interested solely in establishing their dominion over the conquered population.
As for the Jews, they completely disappeared from Jerusalem after their deportation by the Romans. Following their first revolt, in AD 66-70, Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. After its destruction in AD 70, Jerusalem ‘never again revived as a Jewish City. After their second revolt, in AD 132-135, the Jews were either killed or sold into slavery and dispersed to the far comers of the Roman Empire. When Jerusalem was rebuilt after AD 135 by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, it was given the name of Aelia Capitolina. and a decree was issued which prohibited under penalty of death the presence of Jews in the city. The prohibition of the presence of Jews in Jerusalem was continued for several centuries until it was lifted by the Arabs after the Moslem Arab conquest. As from Hadrian’s time until the reign of Constantine in the fourth century, the population of Jerusalem consisted only of Christians and pagans, the latter worshipping Roman deities and idols. As from the reign of Constantine who made Christianity the religion of his empire, no pagans were left in Jerusalem which became a wholly Christian city.
It may be observed that despite the abrogation by the Arabs of Hadrian’s prohibition of the presence of Jews in Jerusalem, very few Jews lived in the city. M. Franco, who made a special study of the position of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire, mentions that the famous Spanish traveller Benjamin of Tudela found two hundred Jews in Jerusalem in the year AD 1173. M. Franco observes that, apparently, the Jews who lived at the time that Benjamin of Tudela visited the city were expelled, for in AD 1180 another traveller, Petahia of Ratisbon, found in Jerusalem one co-religionist only. In AD 1267, a Spanish rabbi, Wise Ben Nahman, found two Jewish families in Jerusalem.
During the following centuries there was a trickle of Jews into Palestine. In consequence of their persecution in Western Europe and their expulsion from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1496), some of them sought refuge in Palestine and in other Mediterranean countries. As a result, a small number of Jews came to live in Jerusalem. According to Rappoport, there were 70 Jewish families in Jerusalem in 1488, 200 families in 1495 and 1,500 families in 1521.
JERUSALEM BEFORE THE EMERGENCE OF ISRAEL
Again after the Russian pogroms of 1881-82, a number of Jews emigrated to Palestine and settled in Tiberias, Safad and Jerusalem. At the end of the First World War, in 1917, the Jewish population of Jerusalem numbered 30,000. The Arab character of Jerusalem was not affected by the small number of Jews who had emigrated to Palestine during Turkish times, in particular, in the nineteenth century. In fact, many of them were Arabized in language and lived on good terms with the Palestinian Arabs, Moslem and Christian.
However, the Arab character of Jerusalem began to change during the British mandate (1922-48) when a massive Jewish immigration into Palestine was permitted by the British government in implementation of the Balfour Declaration and against the will of the original inhabitants. As a result, the Jewish population of Jerusalem tripled, rising from 30,000 in 1917 to 99,690 in 1946 as compared with 105,540 Moslems and Christians. In consequence, Jerusalem became at the termination of the British mandate a city with a mixed population which comprised an almost equal number of Arabs and Jews. This situation, however, was to change radically after the emergence of Israel in 1948 and its resort to a racist demographic policy as we shall see in the following chapter.