Today in Israeli History: Jerusalem is Our Capital

On the corner of King George and Hillel Streets, the building where the Knesset met in Jerusalem.

The Knesset’s early home in Jerusalem, Frumin House

I have had the distinct pleasure this week of guiding at a number of sites throughout Jerusalem where I don’t frequently guide. Among them was a visit to the Supreme Court building on Givat Ram, in the government complex.

In that part of the city are numerous buildings connected to all three branches of government. The Supreme Court building connects via a straight path to the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), and nearby a cluster of other government buildings house the various Ministry offices. Other national (or significant) institutions, such as the Israel Museum, Hebrew University and Bank of Israel are also situated in the area. This area is the governmental seat in the national capital.

But while Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, it was not always a given that it would be such. When the Knesset first formed, near the end of the War for Independence, the Knesset met in Tel Aviv in a building near the beach where the Opera Tower stands today. Furthermore, the State of Israel had been declared in Tel Aviv. But clearly, the founders of our State always considered Jerusalem the capital. Circumstances simply conspired to keep them in Tel Aviv.

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Today in Israeli History: British Mandate

Herbert Samuel, T.E. Lawrence and others at Cairo Convention

British High Commissioner Herbert Samuel at the Cairo Conference

I am inaugurating here a new blog feature where I will periodically highlight something historical that is connected with the day on which I am writing the post. These will be fairly short, and hopefully will open windows onto interesting people and events throughout this land’s history.

Today I will start with the British Mandate era. Following World War I, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate Period began here, lasting just over a quarter of a century until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The start of the British Mandate was 93 years ago today, on July 1, 1920.

Often, when you hear Jews discussing the British Mandate Era here, they describe it in negative terms. People complain that the British were pro-Arab and anti-Jew. It is for this reason that they nicknamed the Jerusalem location of the High Commissioner’s mansion as the “Hill of Evil Counsel.” The name relates to a site which, according to Christianity, Judas met with the leaders of the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus. But that site was almost certainly not at this spot, as it is too far from Roman-era Jerusalem. Rather, the name stems from the fact that Jews here thought that the end of such a long period of Muslim rule would bring good things for their life. But when they discovered this was not 100% the case, they sarcastically nicknamed it after that event.

That same building, located a short 10-minue walk from my home, also gave its name to the next neighborhood over from me: Armon HaNatziv (Hebrew for “The Governor’s Mansion”). Nowadays, the building is occupied by the United Nations, so many Israelis might think the “Hill of Evil Counsel” name might once again be appropriate.

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