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What Is Jerusalem?
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Snapshot of Jerusalem’s Diverse History

A look back at Jerusalem’s rulers since ancient times and the city’s population based on Ottoman, British, and Israeli censuses


Jerusalem Story

Jerusalem is holy to the three monotheistic faiths and has long inspired devotion and covetous power struggles. In fact, in its 4,000-year history, Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured or recaptured 44 times.1 The outcome of this rich history is a multireligious and multiethnic city that remains of significant importance to the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

A quick look back at the city’s history shows that it is diverse. Only 150 years ago, Jerusalem’s population was mostly Muslim. Even closer in retrospective, Jerusalem’s residents were part of an Ottoman milieu—separate religious confessions but a shared communal identity (see “Celebratory Fever”: Jerusalem’s Social Life in the Diaries of Wasif Jawharriyeh).

This graphic uses the Ottoman, British, and Israeli censuses to illustrate the city’s demographic and political history over time. While recent scholarship has added layers of understanding and context to these statistics, they form a basis for contextualizing the radical changes Israel has engineered since 1948 in the service of Judaizing Jerusalem.



Eric H. Cline, Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), 2.

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