Jerusalem/ “Preserving” Holy Identity I: Religious Status Quo for Old City and Conflicted Street Identity

“The Capture of Jerusalem illumines with the picturesque grim battlefields of the world.”

~ The Jewish Chronicle (London), December 14, 1917

While the statement reported British Jews’ joy over the British conquer, Valdimir Jabotinsky, a journalist plus leader in the paramilitary organization Haganah in the Mandate period, complimented the British in his article published in The Times (1918) on her satisfactory influence in the occupation compared to the ineffective Turkish rule (Mazza, 2009). Having said that, Mazza (2009) criticized the incomprehensive academic focus on this discourse of Mandate onset, which he regarded as a “formative period” of the British Military rule during 1917-1920. It was a time when the English governing exerted force on renegotiating the urban fabric, politics and economy of Jerusalem despite reluctance in touching the complicated high politics. One must not disregard the military governor Ronald Storrs, who played the prominent administrative role in this time course by means of incorporating his personal values in approaching a de facto reshape of an almost undisturbed state of Jerusalem city, at the same time, paving initiative ideas on the Old City preservation for first proposals in Mclean’s Plan.

Status Quo & Preservation

Very first concepts on preserving the ancient core of Jerusalem could be traced reasoning on the respect for the Manual of Military Law, which imposed on the occupying militaries in adhering to the status quo ante bellum. The underlying principle was to advocate preservation of conquered states by the colonial army, for instance on legislation and procedures. According to Roza El-Eini’s academically authoritative research on the Mandate period (2006), the British complied with the religious status quo through upcoming preservation proposals on the Old City and its environs (1918 Mclean, 1919 Geddes, 1922 Ashbee) in claiming their historic national role in keeping the Medieval traditions and appearance of the Old City in Jerusalem, along with identity as ‘descendants of Richard the Lionheart” elaborated by Israel Kimhi (2014), Jerusalem-born co-director at the Jerusalem Institutes of Israel Studies. As the Holy City often encountered conflicts between different religious groups even among the Christian community, Ronald Storrs’ effort was seen in halting breaches of the Status Quo by followers of contrasting Christian confessions who might voice different expectations on the holy city planning. In wider perspective concerning British desire to preserve the Old city, Storrs aimed to reconstruct the city in a way that would harmonize distinctive religious communities whilst some scholars reserved doubt like Karen Armstrong (1989), reputed English commentator on religious affairs, who sarcastically questioned the holiness of Jerusalem an asset or burden when the three religions-Christians, Muslims and Jews all revered the city a holy one which induced decades of territorial conflicts. Moreover, Armstrong (1987) further addressed the constant renewing” of identity of Jerusalem during mandate transitions, and due to this,although in climate of the ‘Jerusalem Holiness”, the never-neutral archaeology, building and antiquities in the Old City actually faced fragility as self-standing sacred symbols, which might then ground reason for the positive effect British conquer brought to Jerusalem through preservation works.

Preservation of Old City Assets and Re-defining Concept of Street Identity

Church of Holy Sepulchre in Old City, @n.d., Tom Sawicki
Fig. 1 Church of Holy Sepulchre in Old City, @n.d., Tom Sawicki
Dome of the Rock, @1934-1939, Matson Photo
Fig. 2 Dome of the Rock, @1934-1939, Matson Photo
Jerusalem Old City Plan, @1912-1920, copyright Roberto Mazza
Jerusalem Old City Plan, @1912-1920, copyright Roberto Mazza

As aforementioned, Storrs had his personal aesthetics which featured high religious sense in his governing of Jerusalem which brought him towards establishing the Pro-Jerusalem Society in 1918, an organization purposed for assisting Storrs in “preservation and advancement of the interests of Jerusalem, its districts and inhabitants” (Mazza, 2009). The association investigated provision of parks and green spaces like garden or open areas, as well as erection of institutional facilities like theatres and libraries, while most importantly, the preservation of antiquities within walls of the Old City like the spiritually advocated Holy Sepulchre near the centre (Fig.1) ; the famous Dome of the Rock (Fig.2), Al-Aqsa and Wailing Wall on the west (see Roberto Mazza’s self mapping in Fig. 3). According to the “Jerusalem Handbook” published by the Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies (Sawicki, 1987), the above mentioned were highlighted examples of holy sites within the Old City that held crucial religious significance to the three monotheistic faiths of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the utmost holy Christian site while the Dome of the Rock stood as the most ancient Moslem architecture of ageless beauty, both treasures enclosed behind the Old City walls awaiting the British further protection through preservation plans. Regarding preserves of the old city image of Jerusalem, other than these ancient monuments, scholars have seldom focused studies into the street-renaming operation by Storrs and Charles R. Ashbee, the 1922 plan proposer sharing same Pro-Jerusalem Society membership with the governor. Being a cultural man, Storrs knew the sensitivities in renaming streets in the Holy City with respect to ideological values, he then practiced a breakthrough to other colonial patterns which he tied relationship between street names and the Jerusalem history of religious stories (Mazza, 2009). Names of saints, prophets, kings and scholars like ‘St. Paul’s Street’, ‘Saladin’s Road’ and ‘Streets of Prophets’ etc. were chosen in purpose for sectarian harmony. One could find Storrs did thoughtful consideration of inputting religious elements in the preservative planning, even in the scale of streets which although did not symbolize unity of Jerusalem, it remarkably suggested Storrs’ adaptive urbanistic approach of dividing the city in accordance to “religious cleavage”. However, it was interesting to realize the conflict between the Jerusalemites and British over the values towards the identity of a physical space. Storrs’ idea of street naming was indeed acting opposite to the cultural ideologies of “ANONYMITY” (Mazza, 2009) which identification of places was not by objectifying streets but by rather RELATIVE RELATIONS IN THE COMMUNITY FABRIC, characterizing the unique style of spatial relationship, as identity to the ancient Old City of Jerusalem.



  1. Armstrong, K. 1989. “The Holiness of Jerusalem: Asset or Burden?” in Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 5-19, California: University of California Press (on behalf of Institute of Palestine Studies).
  2. El-Eini, Roza .I.M., 2006.  Mandated Landscape: British Imperial Rule in Palestine 1929-1948. London, New York: Routledge.
  3. Kimhi, I. 2014. “Old Versus New: Preservation Policy in Jerusalem”. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies.
  4. Mazza, R.. 2009. Jerusalem: from the Ottomans to the British. London: I.B.Tauris.
  5. Sawiki, T.. 1987. The Jerusalem Handbook. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies.


Photo References:

Fig.1  Sawiki, T.. 1987. The Jerusalem Handbook. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies.

Fig.2 : Matson Photo Service. Accessed 21st December, 2015 from–dome-of-the-rock–mosque-of-umar-jerusalem-photo.html

0 Comments on “Jerusalem/ “Preserving” Holy Identity I: Religious Status Quo for Old City and Conflicted Street Identity

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.