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Charles M. Abelsohn – Letter from Israel – Jerusalem Part II

Charles M. Abelsohn – Letter from Israel – Jerusalem Part II

The First Governors (mayors) of a City –   a mere 2,700 years ago!


A First Temple period seal impression found 100 meters from Jerusalem’s Western Wall bears an inscription stating, “To the Governor of the City”. This discovery supports the biblical rendering of the existence of a governor of the  city in Jerusalem 2,700 years ago. The discovery shows that already 2,700 years ago, Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, was a strong and central Jewish city.


It  supports  the  biblical rendering  of  the  existence  of  a governor of the city in Jerusalem 2,700 years ago. The bottom section reads, in early Hebrew script: “To the governor [sar – today, in Hebrew, a cabinet minister is still called a sar] of the city.” The governor most likely functioned much like today’s mayor. The role is referenced in the Bible: in 2 Kings, Joshua is listed as the governor of the city in the days of Hezekiah, and in 2 Chronicles, Maaseiah is noted as governor of the city in the days of Josiah.




Jerusalem in Jewish Tradition



As already mentioned, Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest city, is mentioned hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible. It was the capital city of ancient Jewish kingdoms and home to Judaism’s holiest Temple (Beit HaMikdash). Jews from all over the ancient world would make pilgrimages to the Beit HaMikdash three times a year to participate in worship and festivities, as commanded in the Torah. Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash have remained the focus of Jewish longing, aspiration, and prayers. Daily prayers (said while facing Jerusalem and the Temple Mount) and grace after meals include multiple prayers for the restoration of Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple). Jews still maintain the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, the date on which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, as a day of mourning. The Jewish wedding ceremony concludes with the chanting of the biblical phrase, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning,” and the breaking of a glass by the groom to commemorate the destruction of the Temples. And Yom Kippur services and the Passover Seder conclude each year with the phrase “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Model of the Second Jewish Temple


The Temple mount is the holiest site in Judaism. The Temple was built, according to Jewish tradition, on the Even Hashtiya, the foundation stone upon which the world was created. This is considered the epicenter of Judaism, where the Divine Presence (Shechina) rests, where the biblical Isaac was brought for sacrifice, where the Holy of Holies and Ark of the Covenant housing the Ten Commandments once stood, and where the Temple was again rebuilt in 515 BCE before being destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The Temple Mount is also known as Mount Moriah (Har HaMoriah), mentioned frequently in the Bible.

The Western Wall (Kotel Hama’aravi, known simply as the Wall or Kotel) is the remnant of the outer retaining wall built by Herod to level the ground and expand the area housing the Second Jewish Temple. Its holiness derives from its proximity to the Temple site and specifically its proximity to the Western Wall of the Temple’s Holy of Holies (Kodesh Hakodashim – the inner sanctuary that housed the Ark of the Covenant – the Aron HaBrit – and where the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) alone was permitted to enter on Yom Kippur). For the last several hundred years, Jews have prayed at Herod’s Western Wall because it was the closest accessible place to Judaism’s holiest site.


If I forget thee, O Jerusalem



Since David made Jerusalem his capital and it became the site of his son Solomon’s Temple, Zion became the heart and soul of Jewish national and religious existence. Jews from all over the early diaspora made their pilgrimages and sent offerings to its Temple.

“By the Rivers of Babylon we wept…” and “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning…” were just a few of the many ancient biblical expressions of the Jews for Zion. Such yearning persisted throughout subsequent millennia in the Great Diaspora as well.

Psalm 137 is a hymn expressing the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 607 BCE. The rivers of Babylon are the Euphrates river, its tributaries, and the Tigris river. In its whole form of nine verses, the psalm reflects the yearning for Jerusalem. Rabbinical sources attributed the poem to the prophet Jeremiah.

The  psalm  is  a  regular  part  of  Jewish,  Catholic,  and Anglican liturgies.



  1. 1. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
  2. 2. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst there
  3. 3. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Z
  4. 4. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
  5. 5. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
  6. 6. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.


Verses 5 and 6 are customarily said by the groom at Jewish wedding ceremony  shortly  before  breaking  a  glass  as  a symbolic act of mourning on the destruction of the Temple.


Next Year in Jerusalem


This paragraph is a repeat from my Letter from Israel of about two years ago. It is also relevant in the context of this Letter. The few words “Next Year in Jerusalem” sustained the Jew throughout countless massacres, expulsions, forced conversions, inquisitions, demonization, degradations, and humiliations – culminating in the Holocaust.

Shortly, we will be again celebrating Pesach, for about the 3,000th time, give or take several hundred years each way. For those living outside Israel and celebrate two seders, for about the 6,000th time – oy!

Jews of all backgrounds are familiar with the phrase “le- shanah  ha-ba’ah  bi-Yerushalayim,”  “Next  Year  in Jerusalem.” This phrase makes two appearances annually in Jewish liturgy: at the conclusion of the Passover Seder and at the conclusion of the Ne’ilah (the closing) service of Yom Kippur.  The custom to say “Next year in Jerusalem” on Passover existed as early as the 13th century, and the phrase itself appears even earlier in piyyutim (liturgical poems) for both Passover and Yom Kippur. R. Yosef Tuv Elem, living in 11th century    France,    wrote    a piyyut named    “A’amir Mistatter,” consisting of 25 stanzas. The final stanza ends with the phrase, “In Jerusalem next year.”



The Haggadah currently begins: this year we are here: next year in the Land of Israel. In fact, according to one version of the Haggadah of many hundreds of years ago found in the Cairo Genizah and now at Cambridge University, the Haggadah should commence: This year we are here: next year in Jerusalem. At the end of the Seder, we sing: Next Year, in Jerusalem or in Israel we sing: next year in rebuilt Jerusalem. Israel is here today because for 3000 years, give or take several hundred each way, Jews, whether at war or in times of peace, never forgot Zion and Jerusalem.

Thus, at Pesach, Jews in all places, at all times throughout history and in all situations, remember Jerusalem.


Three Pilgrimage Festivals



The Three Pilgrimage Festivals, in Hebrew Shalosh Regalim (םילגר שולש), are the three major festivals in Judaism — Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks or Pentecost), and Sukkot (Tabernacles, Tents or Booths)—when the ancient Israelites  living  in  the  Kingdom  of  Judah  would  make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, as commanded by the Torah. In Jerusalem, they would participate in festivities and  ritual  worship  in  conjunction  with  the  services  of the kohanim(“priests”)  at  the  Temple.  Even  today,  the kohanim (priests) continue to bless those present at the Western Wall on Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.


19th Century Jerusalem.


At the start of the 19th century, Jerusalem was a small, poverty-stricken  town  on  the  margins  of  the Ottoman Empire. It was fought over by the world’s great powers for centuries, but other than its special significance for the three great world religions, the city was of no particular importance. Trade was scarce and there was no real industry other  than  small-scale  production  of  soap, olive  oil and religious souvenirs.


In the first half of the 19th century all the town’s population, the majority of whom were Jewish as will be shown below, lived within the walled city. Poverty was pervasive, housing poor, living conditions hard, the streets narrow and neglected. Even within the walls, a third of the city was a wasteland, covered in thickets of prickly pear cacti. No one lived beyond the city walls and whole surrounding area was fertile ground for criminal gangs. At sunset the city gates were locked.


Jews at the Western Wall, Kotel, 1870.

Who Lived in Jerusalem?



I have attempted to establish the population of Jerusalem since the 17th century. All records clearly indicate the Jewish population as constituting the majority, either relatively or, since about 1850 at the latest, absolutely. Let`s review the evidence.

1695: The book Palestina, ex monumentis veteribus illustrate, by Hadriani Relandi was published by Trajecti Batavorum: Ex Libraria G. Brodelet, in 1714. The author

Hadriani Reland (1676-1718), was a Dutch Orientalist, who studied at Utrecht and Leiden, and was professor of Oriental languages at Utrecht. He spoke perfect Hebrew, Arabic, Latin and ancient Greek, as well as several European languages. The book was written in Latin. In 1695 he visited Palestina.

In his travels he states that he surveyed approximately 2500 places that were mentioned in the bible or Mishnah. He concluded that, with one exception, Ramleh, not one place in the Land of Israel has a name that is of Arabic origin. Most of the settlement names originate in the Hebrew, Greek, Latin or Roman languages.

Relandi writes that in Nazareth, lived approximately 700 Christians and in Jerusalem approximately 5000 people, mostly Jews and some Christians.

The interesting part was that Relandi mentioned the Muslims as nomad Bedouins who arrived in the area as construction and agriculture labor reinforcement and seasonal workers. Other travelers made similar claims but this aspect is beyond the scope of this letter.

Due diligence: There are those who suggest the closest Relandi got to Palestina was his front door in Utrecht. However, the number of Jews living in Jerusalem as Relandi claims is in line with the next visitor to Jerusalem I found who gave population statistics.


1818: A traveler records that there are more Jews in Jerusalem than any other group. In his “Travels Along the Mediterranean and Parts Adjacent: In Company with the Earl of Belmore, During the Years 1816-17-18: Extending as Far as the Second Cataract of the Nile, Jerusalem, Damascus, Balbec, &c.…” by Robert Richardson,1822,p.256:

1838: Martin Gilbert reports that 6,000 Jews resided in Jerusalem in 1838, compared to 5,000 Muslims and 3,000 Christians (Jerusalem: Rebirth of a City).

1853: The Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1853 “assessed the Jewish population of Jerusalem in 1844 at 7,120, making them the biggest single religious group in the city.” (Terence Prittie, Whose Jerusalem?). Others estimated the number of Jewish residents of Jerusalem at the time as even higher. Until about 1860, Jerusalem residents lived almost exclusively within the walls of the Old City, which only since 1948 has been referred to as east Jerusalem. Between 1860 and 1948, Jews lived in all area of Jerusalem.

1863: “Report of the Commerce of Jerusalem During the Year 1863,” F.O. [Foreign Office] 195/808, May 1864. “. . . The population of the City of Jerusalem is computed at 15,000, of whom about 4,500 Moslem, 8,000 Jews, and the rest Christians of various denominations. . .” From A.H. Hyamson, ed., The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 2 vols.

Thus by 1863 we have an independent British authority, the Foreign Office, confirming that Jews constituted an absolute majority in Jerusalem – more Jews than Moslems and Christians together.

Let`s be clearer: The majority population in the area today referred to as “Eastern Jerusalem” was Jewish until the ethnic cleansing of 1948 when the Transjordanians expelled the Jews from historic Jerusalem.

1898: In 1898, Cosmopolitan Magazine published an article, “The Jews in Jerusalem,” written by Edwin S. Wallace, former U.S.  Consul  in  Constantinople.  “Palestine  is the  land  of Judaism and its chief city is beyond doubt the world’s capital of this particular form of religious belief. In this City of the Jews…the Jewish population outnumbers all others three to one.”

1905: I myself researched this subject in the British Library, London. The Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1911 Volume XV page 335 provides the following Jerusalem population figures for 1905: Jews – 40,000; Christians – 13,000; and Moslems – 7,000.

I have reviewed the original British Census Reports of both 1922 and 1931.

1922: The Census Report of 1922 provides the following population figures for Jerusalem: Jews – 33,971; Christians – 14,669; and Mohammedans – 13,413, totaling 62,578.

1931: The Census Report of 1931 provides the following population figures: Jews – 51,222; Christians – 19,335; and Moslems – 19,894, totaling 90,451.

The 1931 Census Report sets out the distribution by religious confession (the language of the 1931 Census Report Volume 1 Chapter 1 page 28). This Census Report shows the population of Jerusalem per 1000 of population as: Jews – 566; Christians – 214; and Moslems – 220.


The following is a population table based on the Jewish Virtual Library. I have checked and made some additions as well as minor changes in line with my own research. The changes between 1905 and 1922 appear to be attributable to Turkish expulsions of Jews or Jews fleeing compulsory military conscription in the Turkish army during World War 1. The population statistics in the 19th century may not always be accurate but the trend is both consistent and clear.



Christians/ Other























































































































































Between 1948 and 1967, the Jordanian-controlled “East Jerusalem” was a mere 6 square kilometers, compared to 38 square kilometers on the “Jewish side” with a population in
1967 of 67,609 (after the ethnic cleansing of the Jews in 1948 and the 50% reduction in the Christian population between 1948 and 1967). This is the area which until the ethnic cleansing of 1948 had a sizeable Jewish population. This is the area which “the world” now demands should be recognized as the “eternal capital of Palestine!”
Between 1948  and  1967, the  Jordanian-controlled “East Jerusalem” was a mere 6 square kilometers, compared to 38 square kilometers on the “Jewish side” with a population in  1967 of 67,609 (after the ethnic cleansing of the Jews in 1948 and the 50% reduction in the Christian population between 1948 and 1967). This is the area which until the ethnic cleansing of 1948 had a sizeable  Jewish population. This is the area which “the world” now demands should be recognized as the “eternal capital of Palestine!”


The first bank in Palestine



A bank is a crucial component of a growing and prosperous economy.    Banks accept deposits from customers, raise capital from investors or lenders, and then use that money to make loans, buy securities and provide other financial services to customers. These loans are then used by people and businesses to buy goods or expand business operations, which in turn leads to more deposited funds that make their way to banks.

But a bank can only exist in an environment where financial and economic activities are taking place. Thus a bank in mid-  19th century Palestine in general and Jerusalem in particular would be compelling evidence of both economic activity and the sector responsible, perhaps even solely, for such economic activity.

The first bank in Palestine, the Valero Bank, was established in Jerusalem by Jacob Valero (1813–1874), a Jew, in 1848, about 170 years ago. The Valero Bank acted as catalyst in the development of the Jewish community under Ottoman rule. The bank’s capital and financial services were employed in the acquisition of land and building, helping transform Jerusalem and nearby townships from stagnation and poverty towards the modernization of the 20th century. The main branch was located in the Old City close to the Jaffa Gate, in a small two room flat. With the expansion of its operations, a branch was opened in the port of Jaffa, directed by his eldest son Joseph (1837–1879) and the bank also had representation (possibly another branch) in Damascus.


The early operations of the bank consisted of financial services for the local community: deposits, loans, transfers. The bank’s clientele expanded along with its services, to include consulates, churches, other religious institutions and charities. It acted as agent for the Ottoman administration as  well  as Austrian, German and Russian governments.  It also had the status of correspondent with the Rothschilds of Paris,   London   and   Vienna,   with Samuel   Montagu   & Co. bankers of London and Banque Russe pour le Commerce Étranger in Paris. This Jewish Bank confirmed Jerusalem`s status as the economic capital of Palestine. The bank finally closed in 1915 with the onset of the First World War. square to be known as the Valero Square is currently being developed in memory of Jacob Valero.


Partition Plan: Corpus Separatum


On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly recommended Palestine be partitioned into two states – Arab and Jewish. The plan called for Jerusalem to become a corpus separatum, an international city administered by the UN, for an interval of 10 years, after which the city’s status was to be redetermined in a referendum. While Jewish leaders reluctantly accepted this, Arab leaders rejected the entire plan, including Jerusalem’s internationalization. Arab delegates to the UN declared the partition invalid.


Deadly Arab attacks on Jewish residents of Palestine increased, and Arab forces blockaded the road to Jerusalem. A newspaper report dated six weeks prior to Israel`s Declaration of Independence, on the blockade is set out below. When Israel declared Independence in May 1948, five neighboring Arab countries declared war and invaded the new state. By their decision to reject the partition plan and to declare war on and invade Israel, capturing and subsequently annexing an area within Jerusalem, the partition plan in general and, with regard to Jerusalem in particular, became null and void, dead and buried. The Arab invasion of Israel was a war of aggression, an action which, as will be seen below, has consequences under international law.


Bread, Milk, Eggs Rationed in Jerusalem’s Jewish Sections As  Arabs Blockade City

March 31, 1948


Bread, milk, and eggs were rationed In the Jewish sections of Jerusalem today after food supply convoys had failed to reach the city’s Jews for five days.

Each person will receive slightly over a half-pound of bread daily and eggs and milk have been reserved for children only. The children will be limited to two eggs and a half-pint of milk weekly. Unless the Arab blockade of Jewish Jerusalem is broken soon, the 100,000 Jewish residents face intense hardship, Jewish leaders declared.


1948 Arab-Israeli War

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Transjordan’s Arab Legion attempted to capture the entire city of Jerusalem, shelling it and cutting off its Jewish residents from the coastal plain. Western portions of Jerusalem came under Israel’s control only after Israeli forces broke the Arab siege of the city. In the first four weeks of Arab attacks, 200 Jewish civilians were killed and over 1,000 were wounded in Jerusalem. But, defending themselves, Israeli forces managed to capture some suburbs and villages from the Arabs.

The Israeli defenders were not as successful in protecting the Jewish community in an area today (but not then) described as eastern Jerusalem. On May 28, 1948, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City fell to the Arab Legion.

After 10 months of fighting, an armistice agreement was signed on April 3, 1949, dividing Jerusalem along the November 1948 ceasefire lines of Israeli and Transjordanian forces, with several areas of no-man’s land. The armistice lines (sometimes referred to as the “green lines” since they were indicated on the map with a green pen) represented the position of the armed forces of each side when fighting ceased, no more.

The Armistice Agreement between Israel and the now renamed Jordan stated clearly: “The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”

Under the Armistice Agreement, claims were, and are, limited to those of Israel and Jordan only, and third parties have no claim and are not involved. Further, the Armistice Agreement clearly refers to demarcation lines and specifically not to “boundary lines”.

Western Jerusalem became Israel’s capital city, while eastern Jerusalem, including the holy sites, was occupied by Transjordan, which in 1949 became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Eastern Jerusalem did not become the capital of Jordan or even of the newly renamed “West Bank”. The city  was essentially divided between two armed camps separated by barbed wire, concrete walls, minefields and bunker.

1948-1967: Jordanian Occupation of Eastern  Jerusalem

Destruction and Desecration of Religious Sites

Expulsion of Jews from Old City, 1948


Upon its capture by the Arab Legion, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City was destroyed and its residents expelled. Fifty- eight synagogues—some hundreds of years old—were destroyed, their contents looted and desecrated. Some Jewish religious sites were turned into chicken coops or animal stalls. The Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where Jews had been burying their dead for over 2500 years, was ransacked; graves were desecrated; thousands of tombstones were smashed and used as building material, paving stones or for latrines in Arab Legion army camps. The Intercontinental Hotel was built on top of the cemetery and graves were demolished to make way for a highway to the hotel. The Western Wall became a slum area.


Hurva synagogue before and after Jordanian occupation. The Jordanians destroyed 58 synagogues—some hundred of  years   old—when   they   illegally   occupied   eastern  Jerusalem.

The New York Times reported on May 30, 1948, “The Jews have been eliminated from the City of David for the first time since the sixteenth century. Except for 60 years in the sixteenth century they are believed to have been there continuously since the return from the Babylonian captivity [after 539 BCE].” [Reminder: The Arabs only arrived with their colonial conquest in 637AD.]

The Jordanian commander reported to his headquarters, “For the first time in 1,000 years not a single Jew remains in the Jewish Quarter. Not a single building remains intact. This makes the Jews’ return here impossible.”

Jews being expelled from the Old City by Trans-Jordanian soldiers in 1948.

To Be Continued



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