Nationalist Visions in Bricks and Mortar

The reality of Jerusalem in the 20th century showed that construction and urban development have great importance in determining physical presence and territorial expansion. The building of a ring of Jewish neighborhoods (Ramot, Gilo, Givat Ze'ev and others) around the city and beyond the Green Line (the 1967 border), and the current construction of the Har Homa neighborhood in south Jerusalem, are part of this reality. Together with determining the physical facts on the ground, architecture with its various forms and styles is a means of stressing the national and religious rights of the initiators of the construction. The laying of the cornerstone for Hebrew University on Mount Scopus on July 8, 1918, was a milestone in the history of the Zionist endeavor and in the determination of the physical-territorial fact of a Jewish presence in the eastern part of the city. At the request of Chaim Weizmann, the well-known Scottish town planner Sir Patrick Geddes and architect Frank Mears formulated a comprehensive building plan for Hebrew University in 1919. The main formal element in the plan: the hexagon, symbolizing the Star of David. Geddes, who was also something of a visionary, dreamed of the establishment in Jerusalem of an innovative, progressive university, the architectural-formal embodiment of which would symbolize national aspirations. At the center of the university campus, he and Mears planned a huge domed building as the central meeting hall of the university, with 3,000 seats; the interior of the building was to be decorated with large Stars of David. According to the plan, looking east from the central part of Jerusalem, one would see the university rising above the Dome of the Rock, the famous mosque on the Temple Mount. However, after extensive discussion, the plan was rejected, and the university was built in the 1930s according to a master plan prepared by architect Erich Mendelssohn. Zionism's functional style

The reality in Jerusalem, as expressed in the planning of most of the public-institutional buildings erected by the Zionist movement in the city in the 1920s and the 1930s, shows that the movement was not prepared to adopt neoclassical or eclectic principles of monumental planning from the past, or the romantic-eastern spirit of the era. Instead, the Zionist movement professed progress and a vision of the future, and therefore adopted the simple, "clean" and functional modern "International Style" (for example, Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus and the National Institutions in the Rehavia neighborhood). The building housing the National Institutions - which, in Mandatory times, administered the affairs of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine, as a sort of government for the "state-to-be" - was planned by architect Jochanan Rattner in 1927 and constructed during the 1930s. This modest and well-built structure was designed as a challenge to the eastern and monumental style that prevailed during those years, and also afterward. This style is evident in other representative buildings that were erected during the same period in Jerusalem by members of other nations and religions, such as the YMCA building on King David Street, which was built by Christians, and the Palace Hotel on Agron Street, which was built by Muslims. The question of the desirable image for the building of the National Institutions, and the extent to which a proud national-architectural stance was called for, arose at that time; this is not a retrospective conclusion. Architect Benjamin Chaikin, in a conversation with Dr. Chaim Weizmann, argued that the building was too modest and would be dwarfed alongside public structures like the YMCA or the nearby Terra Sancta, which had been built by Christians. The Russians built a high steeple for the church and cloister they built on the Mount of Olives; Kaiser Wilhelm constructed the Augusta Victoria Hostel as a soaring tower looking out over Mount Scopus to the city. "In this city," said Chaikin, "there is competition for power - and the Jews put up buildings with bent backs." The struggle between Jews and Arabs during the Mandatory period was also expressed both in the area of construction and territorial expansion, and in the area of architecture and form. The Muslims, too, aspired to embody national-religious pride vis-a-vis the Jews and the Christians through architectural means. In 1929, the Supreme Muslim Council, headed by the mufti, Haj Amin al- Husseini, built the splendid Palace Hotel in Mamilla (now the Ministry of Industry and Trade on Agron Street). The aim of its construction is marked by a verse from the Koran engraved on a stone plaque at the entrance to the building: "We shall act and build as they [our ancestors - D.K.] acted and built." In this way, the Muslim waqf (religious trust) expressed its wish to prove to the world its ability to plan and erect a building that is extraordinary in its beauty and quality. The facades of the building, which are decorated by a plethora of stone carvings in the style of the art and architecture of traditional Islam, afford the structure a clearly Muslim identity. Al-Aqsa university

In the early 1920s, the Zionist administration purchased from the Greek Orthodox Church large plots for construction and development in the area that eventually became the commercial and business center of Jerusalem, around the "triangle" of Jaffa Road, Ben Yehuda Street and King George Street. A short time later, the Supreme Muslim Council also began to try to develop, through construction, an adjacent area under its ownership - in particular, the land including the Muslim cemetery (today Independence Park), south of the triangle and of the Nahalat Shiva neighborhood. By 1923, the Muslim leadership had already come up with the idea of an Arab college, a counterweight to Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. In the discussions of the council, differences of opinion emerged concerning the nature of the future university, especially with respect to the relationship between religious and general studies. Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was among the initiators and supporters of the establishment of a pan-Islamic university in the city, believed that facility would both contribute to the academic status of Jerusalem in the Muslim world, and to his personal standing as the most important Arab leader in Palestine. In 1931, Egyptian architect Ibrahim Fawzi prepared for the Supreme Muslim Council a plan for the campus of Al-Aqsa university on an area of about 70 dunams [about 17 acres], on the entire expanse of the Muslim cemetery and what is now "Independence Park. The design for the university, which also included schools of medicine, industry and architecture, was a modern version of the Temple Mount: The broad public expanses, the fountains, the gardens and the buildings adorned with domes and turrets give the whole plan a clearly Muslim architectural identity. The council set up a special foundation for the university, began to raise funds to finance its establishment, and even promised to put the Palace Hotel building, which had just been completed, at the disposal of the university once it was established. Though great efforts were invested in the project throughout the Muslim world, the initiators did not succeed in raising the necessary funds. Al-Husseini accused the British administration and the Zionist movement of subverting the Muslim initiative. Meanwhile, because of the political situation, the bloody incidents between Jews and Muslims and the shaky financial situation of the Supreme Muslim Council, the plan was shelved. Presumably, had such a large Muslim university gone up on land so close to the Jewish commercial center of the city, the development - as well as perhaps the political-physical fate - of Jerusalem in 1948 would have been quite different. If there had been such a large and important Muslim center in this part of the city, the Arabs would have fought fiercely to keep it in their hands. Perhaps the 1948 border in Jerusalem would not have been near the Jaffa Gate, but rather along King George Street, by the Yeshurun Synagogue and along the edges of the Nahalat Shiva neighborhood. David Kroyanker is an expert on the architectural history of Jerusalem and the author of a number of books on the subject.