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Jerusalem 1900

The Holy City in the Age of Possibilities

Perhaps the most contested patch of earth in the world, Jerusalem’s Old City experiences consistent violent unrest between Israeli and Palestinian residents, with seemingly no end in sight. Today, Jerusalem’s endless cycle of riots and arrests appears intractable—even unavoidable—and it looks unlikely that harmony will ever be achieved in the city. But with Jerusalem 1900, historian Vincent Lemire shows us that it wasn’t always that way, undoing the familiar notion of Jerusalem as a lost cause and revealing a unique moment in history when a more peaceful future seemed possible.
In this masterly history, Lemire uses newly opened archives to explore how Jerusalem’s elite residents of differing faiths cooperated through an intercommunity municipal council they created in the mid-1860s to administer the affairs of all inhabitants and improve their shared city. These residents embraced a spirit of modern urbanism and cultivated a civic identity that transcended religion and reflected the relatively secular and cosmopolitan way of life of Jerusalem at the time. These few years would turn out to be a tipping point in the city’s history—a pivotal moment when the horizon of possibility was still open, before the council broke up in 1934, under British rule, into separate Jewish and Arab factions. Uncovering this often overlooked diplomatic period, Lemire reveals that the struggle over Jerusalem was not historically inevitable—and therefore is not necessarily intractable. Jerusalem 1900 sheds light on how the Holy City once functioned peacefully and illustrates how it might one day do so again.

224 pages | 22 halftones, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2017

History: General History, Middle Eastern History

Religion: Comparative Studies and History of Religion


"An important book for its theoretical and corrective analysis of the vicissitudes of Jerusalem’s ongoing realities, and a contribution to archaeology and modernization in general. Highly recommended."


“Jerusalem, undoubtedly the most sensitive spiritual and geopolitical hotspot on the planet, counts Lemire among its most original historians. He brings the city to life at a time when ethnic and religious divisions were less entrenched and clear-cut than today.”

Le Monde

"Jerusalem 1900 chronicles the history of the ancient city at the turn of the century and offers a compelling rebuke to this false Israeli claim that seeks to legitimize Israel’s occupation."

Palestine Square

“This book should be placed in the hands of anyone who is interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—not because Lemire places a spotlight on the news but rather because he provides new historic clarity on the beating heart of the conflict: Jerusalem.”


Table of Contents

List of Maps and Illustrations
Translators’ Note
Introduction: The Year 1900, the Age of Possibilities
Forgotten History
A Moment to Delineate, a Period to Define
The Causes of Failure
The Causes of Forgetting
Why Remember?
An Itinerary
1. The Underside of Maps: One City or Four Quarters?
A Rough-cut Cartography
External Boundaries, Internal Fractures
Language, Citizenship, Property: Some Useful Concepts
Inside and Outside City Walls
The Four Quarters: A Late and Exogenous Topography
The New City: Mixed Neighborhoods and Jewish Neighborhoods
Summary: Of People and Places
2. Origins of the City as Museum
Turning One’s Back on the Modern City
Lament over the Tomb-City
A City Becoming Unreadable
From Scholarship to Archaeology
Reconstructing Christ’s Jerusalem
Toward an Intimate History of Archaeology and Pilgrimage
Biblical Archaeology: “No Return” Inventions
3. Still-Undetermined Holy Sites
Maurice Halbwachs as Advance Scout
Localization and Designation
How to Construct a Holy Site: The Example of the Garden Tomb
Global and Structural Uncertainty
Original Hybridity
4. The Scale of the Empire
Ottomanism: A Defense against Fracturing Identities?
The Seraglio People: Imperial Administration in Jerusalem
Countering the Image of the “Turk’s Head”: A Gallery of Portraits
September 1, 1900: Imperial Jubilee in Jerusalem
The Road Network: A City Opened Up, a Region Ottomanized
The Railway: A Jewish Contractor, French Capital, and Muslim Inauguration
Ottomanism and Shared Urbanness: Drinking Water for All
5. The Municipal Revolution
Origin of the Municipality: An Urban Community?
Garbage Collection and the Municipalization of Urban Powers
Elected Council Members: Citizens, City Dwellers, and Property Owners
Yussuf Ziya al-Khalidi, the Founding Mayor
At the Heart of Municipal Action: The Defense of Public Space
Urbanites All? Public Health, Leisure, and Municipal Finances
6. The Wild Revolutionary Days of 1908
What Time Was It in Jerusalem?
The Wild Days of August 1908: Jerusalem’s Forgotten Revolution
Unexpected Fracture Lines
New Vectors of Lively Public Opinion
Underneath Communities, Classes?
7. Intersecting Identities
Albert Antébi, Levantine Urbanite
An “Arab Awakening” in the Chaos of Battle
Jerusalem and the Parochialism of the “People of the Holy Land”
Jerusalem, the Thrice-Holy City, and the Municipium
Conclusion: The Bifurcation of Time
The Bird People
Ben-Yehuda, the Outsider
Toward a Shared History

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