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Jordan prepared the ground for the unification of Jerusalem

July 12, 2011

Danny Rubinstein writes about how the different policies of Israel and Jordan prepared Jerusalem for unification (Danny Rubenstein, “Unification of the City and Unanswered Questions” (Hebrew) in Achimeir & Bar-Siman-Tov, p.471-ff., online here). Shortly after the division Israel recognized how precarious the situation in Jerusalem had become, and launched a series of policies to strengthen the city. Its status as capital was enacted in law, and this was followed by the construction of many national institutions. The Hebrew University, stuck beyond the green line, was first relocated piecemeal, then eventually a new campus was created; for a few years this was still the only university in Israel. Large housing projects were underway all over the country, given that the numbers of immigrants were considerably larger than the numbers of old-timers (many of whom were old-timers merely in comparison to the newer arrivals).

The Jordanians did the opposite. They were fearful of the local Arab elites (nowadays one would call them Palestinians), who were not enamored of their new and uninvited Jordanian rulers. The assassination in July 1951 of King Abdullah on the Haram (Temple Mount) by a member of the Husseini family, was merely the most extreme expression of this enmity. Rubinstein has gone through the archives of the Jordanian municipality of Jerusalem and has found countless letters of complaint by the locals who didn’t like their rulers and their policies. The result was that very few funds were invested in Jerusalem, and very little development happened there. Most of the Arabs who had lost their homes in what was not Israeli west Jerusalem migrated to the East Bank, especially to the favored city of Amman, Jordan’s capital.

Though I would add that King Hussein had a mansion in Beit Hanina, north of Jerusalem, and in 1967 was building a new palace, the derelict concrete skeleton of which still stands. In early 1967 he also completed the major task of paving a modern highway from the East Bank up to Jerusalem – so perhaps things were not as black-and-white as Rubinstein says.

In any case, so Rubinstein, when in June 1967 Israel suddenly controlled the entire city, there weren’t two equal halves that needed to be merged. There was a bustling modern Israeli half, and there was a sleepy and very small Jordanian half. True, the Old City and most of the holy sites were on the Jordanian side, but from the perspective of urban heft and wealth there was no comparison. The western side swallowed the eastern side.

Rubinstein, a secular Israeli identified with the political left, sums up his description with the comment that it was the “irony of history” which played out this way; it could just have easily been otherwise, had the Jordanians invested seriously in their half, so that the Israeli annexation would have been much harder.

Perhaps. Some might call it divine intervention that assured the outcome. As a historian, it seems to me less an expression of historical irony than of profound cultural and political differences. For Abdullah, controlling Jerusalem (by which he meant the Old City, of course) had been extremely important during the war of 1948. Yet once he had it, he and his grandson never seem to have considered the possibility of treating it as their capital – because it wasn’t. For the Jews, even shorn of the historical center in the Old City, it was the capital. Everything else followed from this distinction; there’s no irony, and no necessary divine intervention if you’re not of that mode of thought.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe in Australia permalink
    July 16, 2011 2:41 pm

    I think there’s a typo in “what was not Israeli west Jerusalem”; it should be “the Arabs who had lost their homes in what was *now* Israeli west Jerusalem”.

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  1. Jordanien bereitete den Boden für die Vereinigung Jerusalems « abseits vom mainstream – heplev

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