Jerusalem/ “Rediscovering” Identity : Mandate Prologue and Dynamics in the British Desire for the Holy Land

Every event needs a spark to trigger its happening. Before the British came to take Jerusalem as their colonial state of Empire, it is worth digging down into the intentions of the English in grasping this Holy place, which even lead scholar writings to comment that losing Jerusalem in 1846 to the Prussian nominee was a blow to the British pride (Moscorp, 2000). Before that, one should take note of an interesting phenomenon of Jerusalem- none of the festivities in Jerusalem celebrated the city’s 3000 years of foundation but, sarcastically, its “occupation”, ever since from the day Jerusalem was called the city of David- the famous “occupant” (Aruri, 2005). To certain degree, it has revealed the long-time unstable character of Jerusalem; and despite the seemingly timeless spiritual place identity, the Holy Land had indeed faced challenge to its long-standing sacred image during the 19th Century after the Napolean missions which started archaeological studies in the Middle East field and triggered a series of “rediscovery” of the Holy Land, including the British.

In name of “rediscovery”, the British had long been luring their eyes on this ancient treasure. Throughout 1800 to 1914, a time before the British Mandate Period in Jerusalem, the Holy Land remained the English obssession in significance of military administration, religious control and political power aside of archaeological interests.  In religious perspective, despite the religion-less nature of the British Empire, in her Mother Country- Britain, Protestant religious groups prevail at that time. Britain’s intention to spread Anglican Christian ideologies into the imperial states of Empire, as well as her surging missionaries and preaches outside England, were indeed ambitious showcase proofs of her control of considerable lands worldwide, through tactics of implanting these states with her own religious origins. Through this logic, it is easy to deduce Jerusalem, a place especially with endowed reputation as the “Holy City”, consequentially fell prey of the hungry Lion, as the conquer will gain her central position in the religious field.

However, since Jerusalem was not the only sacred site, Grotto at Bethlehem and the Mount of Transfiguration were also well-known spiritual places which were restricted from Protestant services including the English. In order to re-affirm the religious importance of Jerusalem for enhancing the British power in claiming the city, here the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) played a crucial role. It is a still-existing researcher organization established in 1865 which aims exploring history and archeology in Palestine (Jerusalem as her former capital). Its founding prominently aided the British in justifying imperialist ideals in her Empire, especially in securing her global position by defining terms that favour British a compelling rule of Jerusalem. Ironically speaking as one began to observe that, as the PEF identified the Hebrew Bible sites in the Old Testament “older”, it in turn acknowledged that the British conquer of Jerusalem (one of the “older” sites) would empower her with superiority over other holy site owners, the non-Protestants, who sat ruling “the juniors”.

Measuring Jerusalem: The Palestine Exploration Fund and the British Interests in the Holy Land
Measuring Jerusalem: The Palestine Exploration Fund and the British Interests in the Holy Land, by Moscrop, 2005

Politically obvious as one might see, the British purposed the Holy Land as, sarcastically speaking, a tool to enhance her world position as well as the bargaining power of the Empire in the global stage. In religious terms, it became a funny situation that through the linkage with the British Protestant, as recognized by the PEF a superior religious group in ruling the “very Holy Land” of Jerusalem, the British Empire suddenly associates with the Israelites- “old” Jerusalem occupants and hence gains the spiritual aura namely the Chosen People. Towards this, Moscrop, author of Measuring Jerusalem: The Palestine Exploration Fund and British Interests in the Holy Landmade a conclusive remark:

“The Chosen People of old, the Israelites, had been succeeded by the New Chosen People, the English.”



  1. Moscrop, J.J. 2000. “Measuring Jerusalem: the Palestine Exploration Fund and British interests in the Holy Land”. London & New York: Leicester.
  2. Aruri, N.H.. 2005. “Misrepresenting Jerusalem,” in the Open Veins of Jerusalem, ed. Munir Akash and Fouad Moughrabi. Arlington, Mass. : Jusoor ; Syracuse, N.Y. : Distributed by Syracuse University Press, 109-163.


2 Comments on “Jerusalem/ “Rediscovering” Identity : Mandate Prologue and Dynamics in the British Desire for the Holy Land

  1. The references and bibliographies of your research is extensive and comprehensive. Conquering or colonialising a city may not be a physical move but also on a spiritual level. Looking into the Protestant background of the British Monarch and the importance of Jerusalem as the “Holy Land”, we start to engage the city not only on an infrastructural (streets/ administrative centres) level, as well as its significance in keeping it as a religious symbol. To understand the historical maps drawn up by the British which you found, you may also want to look at what else they wanted to do in Jerusalem and why by sprawling away from the old city by creating a figurative garden city plan.

  2. Thank you Stephanie for the comment! In the research on the background of British Mandate, it was found that the political and religious issues were truly some very critical hints on tracing why the world valued or value Jerusalem as a conquering target. The city in the present day is still in very chaotic political status and is recorded in many academic research. City identity is the main issue to the city as it was never a founded city of its own but it is astonishing to find the citizens being accustomed to such “identity”. Such phenomenon is interesting to the understanding of a city where people of its own always welcome new foreign forces in shaping their own country’s urban fabric. Therefore understanding the historical background of the conquerors i.e. the British as our project focus, especially in their religious values are very important alongside the analysis on the mere architectural perspective, a methodology we always focused on in understanding one city. It is also because the religious background of the stakeholders would significantly determine how the planning direction would lead in the end and hence the city image, then identity. This narrative although does not focus on the infrastructural perspective, it attempts to reveal what we might have often missed out in our narrative analysis- the historical and religious perspectives, on how a city “walked” its long journey to give its present urban image which could be pretty much influenced by the two, like Jerusalem.

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