Historical Background

The following links provide background historical information:

Basic Timeline for Southern Jerusalem

The southern neighbourhoods of Jerusalem were established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The German Colony was established in the mid-19th century, Baq’a in the 1880s,  the Greek Colony around 1900 and Talbiyeh and Katamon in the early 1920s. Under a dysfunctional Ottoman rule, the neighbourhoods were growing slowly despite a relatively rapid population growth. When the British conquered Jerusalem in 1917, they started actively planning urban development, and the neighbourhoods blossomed and grew exponentially.  

The neighbourhoods attracted middle- and uppper-middle class Christian Arabs (primarily Greek Orthodox) as well as Muslims, with few Jewish renters and owners. A younger generation of intellectuals, educators and professional who made their homes here were active socially and culturally. Many British civil servants rented in the neighbourhood. Most of the foreign consulates were situated in Katamon and various small hotels which hosted cultural events dotted these neighbourhoods. The Greek Club, the Regent Cinema and several sports clubs were gathering places for leisure.

As political tensions grew, the British set up security zones in Katamon and near the power station, on the border of the German Colony and Baq’a.

  • 29 November 1947

    The UN votes to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab states, while Jerusalem is to be internationalized (resolution 181). Under the plan, the Jewish state receives 55% of the land and the Palestinian state 45%. The Jewish population was about a third (600,000) and the Arab 1,200,000. The Jewish leadership accepts the partition plan while the Palestinians and the Arab countries reject it. 

  • 1 December 1947

    In reaction to the plan, Arabs burn much of the commercial Jewish centre on Mamilla street. From this date on Jerusalem is at civil war with attacks and counter-attacks killing scores of civilians and militants. The Jewish neighbourhoods are under siege for about six months, while militant Jewish groups are trying to break the siege and scare away Palestinian civilians. 

  • 5-6 January 1948

    On the night of 5 to 6 January 1948, the Jewish paramilitary group Haganah bombs the Semiramis hotel in Katamon killing 27 civilians. Residents start to flee the neighbourhood following the bombing.  

  • 11 March 1948

    The Shaheen hill, as well as the Muna, Freij and Budeiri houses in Katamon are bombed. Fighting in Jerusalem leads many families to leave temporarily, believing they will be back in a few weeks when the fighting ends.

  • 8-9 April 1948

    The Jewish Irgun and the Stern Gang conduct a massacre in the village of Deir Yassin killing 120 Palestinian civilians. Horrified survivors are paraded in trucks through the Arab neighbourhoods and villages, resulting in massive fleeing from villages near Jerusalem, such as Sheikh Bader, Beit Mazmil, Ein Karem and Romema. 

  • 13 April 1948

    In retaliation to the Deir Yassin massacre, a Jewish convoy to the Hebrew University at Mt. Scopus is attacked, leaving some 80 people dead. 

  • 30 April - 2 May 1948

    Battle of St Simeon. St Simeon is a Greek Orthodox monastery sitting at a strategic location, on the top of a hill overlooking much of western and southern Jerusalem. Control of this hill was crucial for control over these areas, and a very intense battle ensued, where both Palmach (paramilitary Jewish forces) and Palestinians under the leadership of Ibrahim Abu Diyyah fought fiercely. The strategic hill changed hands numerous times, eventually falling to the Palmach. The fate of Katamon was sealed on 2 May. The adjacent neighbourhoods of Baq’a, the Greek Colony, the German Colony and Talbiyeh were all conquered by 12 May and their remaining residents expelled. 

  • 14-15 May 1948

    The British mandate ended at midnight on 14 May. The following day, Israeli leadership announces the establishment of the State of Israel. The armies of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt invade, and a fully fledge war ensues. The Jordanian Legion is commanded by the British Glubb Pasha who sends Abdullah el Tell to command the Jerusalem front, but restricts his actions severely, focusing on control of the Old City, in effect sacrificing the southern neighbourhoods. The Israeli commander in Jerusalem is David Sahltiel (Haganah).  

  • 29 May 1948

    The Jewish quarter surrenders to the Jordanian Legion.

    Following that, its civilians were brought into Katamon and housed in the Palestinian homes. More Jewish refugees from areas captured by Jordan arrived, and few families shared each home. A similar fate befell Baq’a and the Greek Colony, with various Jewish immigrant families from the Arab world occupying each house, until project housing was built for them in the late 1950s early 1960s.  The beautiful neighbourhoods became over-populated slums. In the 1970s and again since the 1990s Baq’a and Katamon were gentrified, first by Ashkenazi Jews, and later by American and French Jews who only live in the neighborhood part-time. The more affluent Talbiyeh and German Colony were reserved for Israeli politicians and intellectuals, thus preserving the architectural integrity of the houses.  

  • June 1948

    The intense siege of Jewish Jerusalem is broken with the opening of the Burma road. Water and food suppies are renewed, but supplies are still limited. 

  • 17 September 1948

    The Stern Gang assassinates Count Folke Bernadotte as his jeep drives up near the Shaheen hill in Katamon (currently Palmach street).

    Count Folke Bernadotte was sent by the UN in June 1948 to mediate between the sides, and propose a new plan.  Given his experience with refugees (he had worked for the Red Cross during WWII) each of his proposals includes an empathic demand for all those displaced by the war to be allowed back to their homes. While applying to Jews displaced by the war too, the majority of refugees were non-Jews, and the demand poses a threat to the newly achieved demographic reality within the (yet to be declared) borders of Israel. His plan becomes the basis of UN resolution 194 passed on 11 December 1948. 

  • 1949

    War continues until 1949 when an armistice line is drawn dividing Jerusalem between Israel and Jordan. Despite numerous UN resolutions, no refugees are allowed to return to their homes. The southern neighbourhoods of Katamon, Baq’a, the Greek Colony, Talbiyeh and the German Colony became part of what is known as West Jerusalem.