Jerusalem/ “Establishing” Identity: Ideologies of British Conquer and Initiatives of Preservation Plans

Jerusalem, being a historic city experienced in wars and long-term foreign occupancy, her identity was constantly challenged as an “endowed” one by her occupants, of different backgrounds. From the Ottomans to the British Mandate, it revealed how the British ideologies on the sacred city strengthened the holy image of Jerusalem, while more importantly through her conquest, reinforced the “Jerusalem identity” by means of Old City preservation planning started from the 1918 Mclean Plan.

Before the British came to rule Jerusalem, the Holy City was a competing target among ambitious military parties in the First World War. In view of such, regarding the value of Jerusalem, scholars debated on its true political and strategic significance which happened to originate in the Eastern front. At that time, politically and strategically, the British military believed conquering Jerusalem-one focal site of the Middle East, would bring “sooner and decisive victory in Europe” despite the hilly geography of city location which does not benefit much for military administration (Fig.1) (Mazza, 2009). Authoritative writer on the British Mandate Period in Palestine, Roza El-Eini (2006) also acknowledged the strategic value of conquering Holy Land as a “land-bridge” for the English in the Middle East and significance in furthering the rule across territory towards the “oil tank”, Persian Gulf. On the other hand, when considering a religious occupation with awareness on the central status of Jerusalem in the Middle East (field with rich religious colours), Lloyd George the British Prime Minister regarded the Jerusalem conquest a tactic to enhance national “morale” in the war (Mazza, 2009). Andrew Roberts (2008), a famous British historian-journalist, also recorded in his book, “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900”,  Lloyd’s military command for General Allenby, desiring Jerusalem a “Christmas present” for the British country. Here, both the British military attitude and nation’s Christian advocacy for the biblical Jerusalem have demonstrated foreign values for the growing religious character and status of Jerusalem, as Middle-East research professional Naseer Aruri (2005) echoed,

“the City (Jerusalem), which had become, in a way, the capital of Palestine during the 19th Century, and whose importance for about 3000 years derived less from commerce, communications or defense but was largely due to its religious and political character…”


Jerusalem sitting on the hill top overlooking Midditerranean Sea, @n.d., Kendall
Fig. 1 Jerusalem sitting on the hill overlooking Miditerranean Sea, @n.d., Kendall (please click for clear view)


Following the sound propaganda of conquering Jerusalem, one could observe the British arrival presenting a crucial role to “re-establishing” the Christian identity of Jerusalem. Having realized Jerusalem an ideological tool in the British eyes, it was known that the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, Rennie MacInnes actually showed desire for a foreign occupancy i.e. the British that would aid the religious city a Christian “Reconquista”, in reclaiming the architecture sites which were initially based for Christian churches but were occupied by Mohammedan mosques at that time (Fig.2). Although the Bishop’s wish was not fulfilled since the British Empire reserved to maintain good relationships with her Muslim objects, it did prove the colony’s ability to empower the Jerusalem religious state of Christianity in later planning on the city architecture and land allocation. At the same time, the Jerusalemites indeed welcomed the British rule which again illustrated traces of their long history of “being occupied” identity while revealed their joy of being freed from the Ottoman tyranny and considered the British troops not conquerors but “liberators”. By further religious means of “liberators”, the English army were also portrayed the “modern Crusaders” who claimed themselves role in maintaining the Medieval urban image and hence succeeded over their national figure of Richard Coeur de Lion (the Lionheart) (A.D.1192) in capturing the long precluded Jerusalem.

Mosque of Omar
Fig. 2 Mosque of Omar, @late 1800s-early 1900s, Library of Congress, Roberto Mazza

Having said that the British came to liberate the city, there was one note-worthy influential figure- the religious man, General Allenby, who led the troop and planned the conquest in a way hinting the British intention to preserve the ancient entities within the Holy City (to be visualized in later plans of Mclean, Geddes and Ahsbee etc.). He avoided military movements in proximate distance to the city in fear of harming any “sacred assets” in Jerusalem and hence the negative label as a destroyer of the Holy City. After entering the city and started looking into the city composition, the need for proper planning became visible which the General first encounter challenges regarding the religious hybrid of properties around the city, mainly the complications in managing the Turkish leftovers and Christian objects-the intended preserves. One example was the Muslim wafq in the doorway of the famous Holy Sepulchre in the Old City area which was hosting a Muslim family, the key holder of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Such close relationship between the two religion architecture raised difficulty in decision of removal. The waqf was finally kept under consideration of the Status Quo, a legal guideline which would further influence on the preservation planning in the upcoming stages in the British Mandate Period.



  1. Aruri, N.H.. 2005 “Misrepresenting Jerusalem,” in the Open Veins of Jerusalem, ed. Fouad Moughrabi et al. Arlington, Mass. : Jusoor ; Syracuse, N.Y. : Distributed by Syracuse University Press, 109-163
  2. El-Eini, Roza .I.M., 2006.  Mandated Landscape: British Imperial Rule in Palestine 1929-1948. London, New York: Routledge.
  3. Mazza, R.. 2009. Jerusalem: from the Ottomans to the British. London: I.B.Tauris.
  4. Roberts, A.  2008. History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. New York: Harper Perennial.


Fig.1  Bar, D. & Meiron, E.. 2009“Planning and Conserving Jerusalem: The Challenge of an Ancient City”. Jerusalem: Yak Izhak, Ben-Zvu .

Fig.2  Mazza, R.. 2009. Jerusalem: from the Ottomans to the British. London: I.B.Tauris.

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