Jerusalem Before Israel: 49 Fascinating Photos Of Life In The Arab Holy City

Published May 14, 2017
Old Jerusalem Grocers Shop
A grocer's shop.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Ramallah Girls Talking
Two women stop to talk.

Ramallah. Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Jaffa Gate Before Israel
The street inside of the Jaffa Gate.

Circa 1917-1934.
Library of Congress

Yemenite Jew
A Yemenite Jew.

Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Bedouin Sheiks Preparing Coffee
A group of Bedouins prepare coffee in a tent.

1936.
Library of Congress

Bethlehem Woman Before Vines
A woman in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem. Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Jerusalem Porter Carrying Petrol
A porter carrying 50 empty petrol tins on his back.

Circa 1914-1918.
Library of Congress

Old Jerusalem Arch
A woman walks below the arch of ecce homo.

Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Girls Of Ramallah
A Ramallah woman in an embroidered dress.

Ramallah. Circa 1940-1946.
Library of Congress

American Colony Stores
The American Colony store.

Circa 1920-1935.
Library of Congress

Ramallah Girl Balancing Jug
A woman poses with a jug on her head.

Ramallah. Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Locust Flame Thrower
A man fights off a locust plague with a flame thrower.

1930.
Library of Congress

Nazareth Before Israel
A vegetable market on the streets of Nazareth.

Circa 1934-1937.
Library of Congress

Peasant Girl
A woman, labelled, in the original caption, as a "peasant girl."

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Jerusalem Street Of Arches
The street of arches.

Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Coffee House On Street
A coffee house spills out onto the streets.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Going To The Market
A woman carries her wares to the marketplace.

Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Beersheba Mother
A mother carries her child with a jug on her head.

Beersheba. Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Fruit Vendor Old Jerusalem
A fruit vendor displays his goods.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Street Of Arches
A donkey waits in the street of arches.

Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Bedouin Man Portrait
A Bedouin man.

Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

The Jew Of Jerusalem
A Jewish rabbi living in Jerusalem, called, in the original caption, "The Jew of Jerusalem."

Circa 1900-1910.
Library of Congress

David Street Before Israel
The scene on David Street.

Circa 1898-1946.
Library of Congress

Bedouin Woman With Necklace
A Bedouin woman.

Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Nebi Musa Procession
A procession leave Jerusalem, on their way to Nebi Musa to visit the tomb of Moses.

1936.
Library of Congress

Bethlehemites
Three women stand by the door with their children.

Bethlehem. 1936.
Library of Congress

Natives Eating
A group of people, labelled in the original caption as "natives," sit down for a meal.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Bread Vendor
A woman barters over the price of bread.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Nebi Musa Gathering
A crowd gathers in Nebi Musa.

1936.
Library of Congress

Bust Of Bedouin Woman
A Bedouin woman poses for a photograph.

Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Streets In Jewish Quarters
A man walks down the streets in the Jewish quarters.

Circa 1920-1933.
Library of Congress

Mother Of Pearl Workers
Artisans work with mother of pearl.

Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Woman At Village Oven
A woman sits in front of the village oven.

Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Drilling Holes In Beads
A worker drills holes into beads.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Women At The Mill
Two women working at a mill.

Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Group Of Lepers
Lepers beg for alms.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Meat Vendor
A vendor sells meat and bread.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Water Carriers In Jerusalem
Workers carrying waterskins.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Women Carrying Water Jars
A group of women carrying water jars on their heads.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Beersheba Mother With Baby
A mother carries her baby.

Beersheba. Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Beating Down Olives
Workers beat olives out of a tree.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Maiden Picking Olives
A young girl picks olives.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Crushing Olives With History
Workers crush olives with the broken column of an ancient building.

Beit Jibrin. Circa 1920-1933.
Library of Congress

Coffee Shop With Gramophone
A coffee shop with a gramophone.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Bedouin Boy With Cartridges
A young Bedouin boy wearing a cartridge belt.

Circa 1898-1914.
Library of Congress

Group Of Beggars
A group of beggars.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Jerusalem City Streets
A characteristic city street.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Bethlehemite Men With Hookah
Two men smoke on the streets of Bethlehem.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Druze Sheikh
A Druze Sheikh.

Circa 1900-1920.
Library of Congress

Few places have gone through as many changes as Jerusalem. As the holy city of every Abrahamic religion, it has been the site of wars and conquests for centuries. It passed through the hands of countless kingdoms and countless people — and gone through massive changes each time.

The last great change happened in 1948, upon the foundation of Israel. Since then, Jerusalem has been claimed by both Israel and Palestine. It is a city split in half, divided between Muslims and Jews, in the center of a war that has raged on for decades.

Before Israel, however, the old Jerusalem was a very different place. For hundreds of years before the state of Israel was formed, Jerusalem was an Arab city. It spent hundreds of years under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, as a city distinctly filled with that empire's people and culture.

Then, in 1915, the old Jerusalem started to change. The British took control of the city, filling it with troops and police that kept the Arab population under their thumb. European immigrants started to pour into the city, especially through the growing Jewish Zionist movement. Over the next 25 years, the population tripled.

The area, under British control, was now ruled as part of a new state called Mandatory Palestine, consisting of the regions of modern Palestine and Jordan. The area became, increasingly, a land filled with both Arabs and Jews, living side by side. Conflicts started to grow, though, as both the Jews and the Arabs believed that the British had promised Jerusalem to them.

The Arabs who had lived there for years led protests and revolts against their changing city, and, after an influx of Jewish immigrants poured into the city in the wake of World War II, the area turned violent, erupting into a war that still rages today.

But before Israel, there was a different Jerusalem – one all but forgotten, that, today, lives on only in photographs.


After this look at the old Jerusalem, for more glimpses into the cultures that once were, check out 1970s Iran before the Islamic Revolution or the Inuit before forced relocation.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer, teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked, and can be found on his website.