Jerusalem, As Imagined By The British In Mandatory Palestine
Design Week exhibit showcases British preservation efforts 100 years ago
An obscure part of Jerusalem’s history is highlighted in the Design Week exhibition “Pro-Jerusalem,” which showcases a four-year period a century ago when British Military Governor Sir Ronald Storrs decided to change the face of the city.
“Storrs had a lot of respect for Jerusalem, unlike other colonizers who conquered other cities around the world,” said Keren Kinberg, one of three curators of the exhibit. “He was quite amazed by Jerusalem and wanted to execute his imagination for the city.”
Accordingly, Storrs created the Pro-Jerusalem Society in 1918. Combining biblical imagery, knowledge of antiquity and his own vision, Storrs set out to architecturally redesign Jerusalem—to “clean up” the waste accumulated under centuries of Ottoman rule. He enacted laws to this effect, the first one forbidding residents from constructing or destroying property without an official permit. Some protocols, such as the requirement that all buildings be comprised of Jerusalem stone still exist today.
“They even forbade cutting down carob and olive trees,” Kinberg elaborated to The Media Line. “It amazes me that they thought of preservation in a wider aspect, from [nature] to ornaments to monuments. Going forward, I think we can think of preservation in terms of sound and smell as well.”
One of Storrs’ foremost goals was to develop green spaces to differentiate between the ancient and modern, and thus demolished neighborhoods that were built close to the Old City. The society is credited with devising the plan to build Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, which the British believed would transform Jerusalem into a “cultural center.” Authorities also renovated the tiles adorning the Dome of the Rock.
“The vision of the society in 1918 is still part of our vision of Jerusalem today, that’s what is so crazy about the story,” said Kinberg. In this respect, the expansive parks still exist and the ceramic artisanship employed at the time is evident everywhere in the Old City.
Storrs viewed Jerusalem as a historic city for all religions, giving equal importance to Muslim, Jewish and Christian heritage. In fact, the official logo of the Pro-Jerusalem Society is a combination of a Crescent Moon, Star of David and Cross. Trustees of the society included the Arab Mayor of Jerusalem; the Muslim Grand Mufti; the Armenian Patriarch; the Anglican Bishop; the Chief Rabbi; and the President of the Jewish Agency.
“[Storrs] made all the heads of Jerusalem sit together around a table and they all worked for the Pro-Jerusalem Society,” Kinberg recounted. “I wish it were a vision we could continue to work on today, that we could put aside the conflict and think about the benefits of having leaders of the city work together for the same purpose.”
While Governor of Jerusalem, Storrs dedicated much of his time to advancing the objectives of Pro-Jerusalem and he continued to raise funds for his projects while stationed in Egypt, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“The Pro-Jerusalem exhibition is a classic example of how we see Design Week play in the Israeli scene. Young curators and designers creating a great display sharing an unknown Jerusalem historical story with global relevance,” Tal Erez, Chief Curator of Jerusalem Design Week 2018, stressed to The Media Line.
To create the “Pro-Jerusalem” exhibit, curators, including Alexandra Topaz and Hadar Porat, dug through archives, reviewed the Society’s documents and read books about the British during that time period.
“When we talked with preservation experts, they were not even aware of this part of Jerusalem’s history,” concluded Kinberg.
The exhibit at the Hansen House runs through June 14.
(Atara Shields is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)
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