The Jewish Quarter (Hebrew: הרובע היהודי, HaRova HaYehudi; Arabic: حارة اليهود, Harat al-Yehud) is one of the four traditional quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem (part of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem). The 116,000 square meter area lies in the southeastern sector of the walled city, and stretches from the Zion Gate in the south, along the Armenian Quarter on the west, up to the Street of the Chain in the north and extends to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount in the east. In the early 20th century, the Jewish population of the quarter reached 19,000.
In CE 135, when the Roman Emperor Hadrian built the city of Aelia Capitolina on the ruins of ancient Jerusalem, the Tenth Legion set up their camp on the land that is now the Jewish Quarter. New structures, such as a Roman bathhouse, were built over the Jewish ruins.
The Jewish quarter was initially located near the Gate of the Moors and Coponius Gate, in the southwestern part of the Western Wall. Most of the housing property consisted of Muslim religious endowments, and was rented out to Jews.
The population of the quarter was not homogeneously Jewish, such a rule being neither desired by the Jewish inhabitants nor enforced by the Ottoman rulers. During the Ottoman era, most of the homes in the quarter were leased from Muslim property owners. This is one of the reasons for the growth of buildings west of the city in the last years of the Ottoman Empire since land outside the city wall was freehold (mulk) and easier to acquire.
While most residents of Jerusalem in the 19th century preferred to live near members of their own community, there were Muslims living in the Jewish Quarter and Jews living in the Muslim Quarter. Many Jews moved to the Muslim Quarter toward the end of the century due to intense overcrowding in the Jewish Quarter.
In 1857, an organization of Dutch and German Jews named "Kolel Hod" (kolel standing for "society" or "community" and Hod being an abbreviation of Holland and Deutschland) bought a plot of land on which, between 1860 and 1890, the Batei Mahse ("Shelter for the Needy" in Hebrew) housing complex was built. The most prominent building of the project, the two-storey Rothschild House, built in 1871 with money donated by Baron Wilhelm Carl von Rothschild, stands on the west side of the Batei Mahse Square.
Between December 1917 and May 1948, the entire city of Jerusalem was part of British-administered Palestine, known after 1920 as Mandatory Palestine.
In 1948, during the Arab-Israeli War, the population of the Jewish Quarter counted about 2,000 Jews, who were besieged, defeated, and forced to leave en masse. The defenders surrendered on May 28, 1948. Colonel Abdullah el Tell, local commander of the Jordanian Arab Legion, with whom Mordechai Weingarten negotiated the surrender terms, described the destruction of the Jewish Quarter in his memoirs (Cairo, 1959):
"... The operations of calculated destruction were set in motion.... I knew that the Jewish Quarter was densely populated with Jews who caused their fighters a good deal of interference and difficulty.... I embarked, therefore, on the shelling of the Quarter with mortars, creating harassment and destruction.... Only four days after our entry into Jerusalem the Jewish Quarter had become their graveyard. Death and destruction reigned over it.... As the dawn of Friday, May 28, 1948, was about to break, the Jewish Quarter emerged convulsed in a black cloud - a cloud of death and agony."— Yosef Tekoah (Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations) quoting Abdullah el-Tal.
The Jordanian commander is reported to have told his superiors: "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." The Hurva Synagogue, originally built in 1701, was blown up by the Jordanian Arab Legion. During the nineteen years of Jordanian rule, a third of the Jewish Quarter's buildings were demolished. According to a complaint Israel made to the United Nations, all but one of the thirty-five Jewish houses of worship in the Old City were destroyed. The synagogues were razed or pillaged and stripped and their interiors used as hen-houses or stables.
In the wake of the 1948 war, the Red Cross accommodated Palestinian refugees in the depopulated and partly destroyed Jewish Quarter. This grew into the Muaska refugee camp managed by UNRWA, which housed refugees from 48 locations now in Israel. Over time many poor non-refugees also settled in the camp. Conditions became unsafe for habitation due to lack of maintenance and sanitation. Jordan had planned transforming the quarter into a park, but neither UNRWA nor the Jordanian government wanted the negative international response that would result if they demolished the old Jewish houses. In 1964 a decision was made to move the refugees to a new camp constructed near Shuafat. Most of the refugees refused to move, since it would mean losing their livelihood, the market and the tourists, as well as reducing their access to the holy sites. In the end, many of the refugees were moved to Shuafat by force during 1965 and 1966.
The Jewish Quarter remained under Jordanian rule until the Six-Day War in June 1967 when Israel occupied it. During the first week after taking the Old City, 25 dwellings constituting the largest part of the Mughrabi Quarter were razed to create a plaza at the foot of the Western Wall.
In April 1968, the government expropriated 129 dunams (about 32 acres) of land which had made up the Quarter before 1948. In 1969, the Jewish Quarter Development Company was established under the auspices of the Construction and Housing Ministry to rebuild the desolate Jewish Quarter.
According to an article by Thomas Abowd in the Jerusalem Quarterly (Hawliyat al-Quds), the Arab population of the quarter reached approximately 1,000, most of whom were refugees who had appropriated the evacuated Jewish houses in 1949. Although many had originally fled the Quarter in 1967, they later returned after Levi Eshkol ordered that the Arab residents not be forcefully evacuated from the area. With Menachem Begin's rise to power in 1977, he decided that 25 Arab families be allowed to remain in the Jewish Quarter as a gesture of good will, while the rest of the families who had not fled during the Six-Day War were offered compensation in return for their evacuation, although most declined. The quarter was rebuilt in keeping with the traditional standards of the dense urban fabric of the Old City. Residents of the quarter hold long-term leases from the Israel Lands Administration. As of 2004 the quarter's population stood at 2,348 and many large educational institutions have taken up residence.
Beginning in the years immediately after 1967, around 6,000 Arabs were evicted from the Jewish Quarter, and the start of exclusion of Palestinians from appropriated land by the private company in charge of its development, for the reason that they were not Jewish. This later became legal precedent in 1978 when the Supreme Court made a decision in the case of Mohammed Burqan, in which the Court ruled that, while Burqan did own his home, he could not return because the area had "special historical significance" to the Jewish people.
The area in which the modern Jewish Quarter now stands is unique, insofar that the Jewish people have returned to build a residential area in what during the late Second Temple period was called "the Upper Marketplace" (Aramaic: shūqa ʿila’ah). Before being rebuilt, the quarter was excavated under the supervision of Hebrew University archaeologist Nahman Avigad. The archaeological remains are on display in a series of museums two or three stories beneath the level of the current city as well as outdoor parks. Among the finds were a 2,200-year-old depiction of the Temple menorah, engraved in a plastered wall, and the Burnt House, the remnant of a building destroyed in the Great Jewish Revolt against Roman rule. The dig also unearthed lavish homes inhabited by the Herodian upper classes, the remains of the Byzantine Nea Church, Jerusalem's cardo maximus, a fifth-century 70-foot (21 m)-wide road connecting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Nea Church, and remnants of the late 8th-century BCE "broad wall" twice mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah, which was built to defend Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah. Avigad also unearthed the Israelite Tower, a remnant of Jerusalem's Iron Age fortifications attesting to the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.
In 2010, Israeli archaeologists uncovered a pool built by the Roman Tenth Legion "Fretensis". The dig uncovered steps leading to the pool, a white mosaic floor and hundreds of terracotta roof tiles stamped with the name of the Roman unit. It may have been part of a larger complex where thousands of soldiers once bathed and suggests that the Roman city was larger than previously thought. During the Jordanian rule, a sewing factory was built on the site. An Arabic inscription, also unearthed in 2010, dates back to 910 CE and commemorates the granting of an estate in Jerusalem by the Abbasid Caliph.
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28 3⁄4 acres
Abdullah al-Tal, who was in charge of the Jordanian assault, justifies the destruction of the Jewish quarter by claiming that had he not destroyed the homes, he would have lost half his men. He adds that "the systematic demolition inflicted merciless terror in the hearts of the Jews, killing both fighters and civilians."
On 11 June, twenty-five dwellings opposite the Wailing Wall (the Mugrabi Quarter) were demolished in order to provide access to the Jews' most holy place of worship.