Parallel Histories editor Joshua Hillis travelled in Israel and the West Bank in June and July 2019, as part of a Churchill Fellowship. This blog series about the history of Jerusalem came out of his travels.
It may be somewhat ludicrous that the most powerful countries in the nineteenth century competed for influence in Jerusalem through the colour and size of their post box.
Moses Montefiore was more of a prophet than a reporter when he declared Jerusalem as ‘the city of our forefathers, the great and long-desired object of our wishes and journey’.
“As a child I remember the city gates being closed at sunset every evening by city officials—mainly because there was fear of night raids by Bedouins. Whenever I would forget myself playing with my mates outside the walls, coming back we would find the gates closed. We would re-enter through a broken alcove located by Damascus gate and keep climbing until we reached the ramparts.”
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany financed four buildings that he intended to be symbols of the wide reach of German culture, to stake a claim for German imperialism in the ‘holy land’, and to display a vision of new Germany still touch with its Christian roots.
‘Charnelhouse surrounded by walls, the old religions rotting in the sun’
The Russian Compound shows what you can do in Jerusalem with some questionable archaeology, some impressive buildings, and the marriage of religion with a political myth.
“The fanatical Mufti of Nablus is not a learned man, and is considered a plebeian parvenu among the old Arab families of that town; at the same time a really learned man is living there whose ancestors for several generations have been muftis of Nablus, and he is a good friend of the Protestants. I intend to recommend him to that office instead of the present man.”
James Finn’s private note about the Mufti of Nablus is a splendid specimen of 19th century Britain imperial hubris…
‘I shall never concede any road improvements to these crazy Christians as they would then transform Jerusalem into a Christian madhouse.’