But as historians describe in the original CNN series “Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury,” the history of the capital’s religious and political tensions extends far 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 out 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.”
The challenge of unraveling centuries of conflict can be daunting, but “it’s impossible to imagine repairing the present and building a better future for Jerusalem without understanding the many stories of its past,” adds Schor.
âJerusalem: City of Faith and Furyâ 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
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.
39 BC: The rise and fall of Herod the Great
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 âcreated the Jerusalem we know todayâ¦ The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are built on the sacred precinct of Herodâ.
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,” ââadds historian Jonathan Phillips, “this is the site of the Prophet (Mohammed) ‘s nocturnal journey and ascension to heaven.”
âThe legacy of the Crusades in Jerusalem, among Arabs in general, is a horrible, horrible legacy,â 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
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 âwere lured and lied to by Britain. They thought it was just liberation; they didn’t know it was preparatory for a trade. “
The new agreement did not make Jerusalem’s job any easier. âTo a large extent,â explains Simon Davis, professor of history at the Graduate Center at the University of the City of New York, âthe main outcome of World War I for Jerusalem was that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that we we know so much today is truly instituted, to some unwitting degree, by the multiple British promises. “
1948: Independence and defeat
At the time, Palestine was still under British rule and tensions erupted 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.
When Britain formally withdrew in May 1948, the Independent State of Israel was declared with David Ben-Gurion as Prime Minister.
âIt was a very emotional moment for many,â said Michael Brenner, director of the Center for Israel Studies at American University. But “there was no time, no opportunity, for reflection. On May 15, five Arab states declared war on Israel.”
âFor the Israelis,â Brenner continues, âit 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.
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.