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New pre-state data on capital released for Jerusalem Day

The archives are “a treasure trove” of information on the city, according to the Prime Minister's Office.

Israeli paratroopers stand in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem after gaining back Jerusalem as part of the Six-Day War, June 7, 1967. Credit: National Photo Collection of Israel, Goverment Press Office.
Israeli paratroopers stand in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem after gaining back Jerusalem as part of the Six-Day War, June 7, 1967. Credit: National Photo Collection of Israel, Goverment Press Office.

To mark Jerusalem Day, the Israeli government has released a mass of state archives documenting Jerusalem’s population shortly before and at the beginning of the 1948 War of Independence.

“Ahead of Jerusalem Day, the State Archives in the Prime Minister’s Office is revealing to the general public for the first time 10,189 population files of Jerusalem residents from 1948, collected by the Jerusalem ‘People’s Guard’ during the War of Independence,” read a statement from the PMO.

It explained that the People’s Guard was an organization established in Jerusalem roughly six months before Israel declared independence, alongside similar units in Tel Aviv, Safed and Haifa.

The Guards’ responsibility was to “maintain order in the city and deal with the civil challenges ahead of the possibility of a war breaking out,” similar to the role of the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command today. Among its tasks was conducting a population census of the then-British-controlled city.

“At the beginning of the census, Jerusalem was divided into 16 topographical areas and each area was divided into sectors, census units and house trustees. In total, 5,500 houses and 100,000 residents were counted, which constituted about 80% of the total Jewish population in the city at that time,” according to the statement.

It added that Jewish neighborhoods overseen by the Haganah—one of the pre-state paramilitary organizations—and the Arab neighborhoods were not counted.

The archives are meticulous, even listing all offices, businesses, factories and personal information such as name, age, place of birth and year of immigration.

“The information collected was used to distribute essential resources such as food and water, to recruit personnel for the army and civil services, to locate shelters in case of bombings, to prevent fires and to plan the development of the city after the war,” the PMO said, calling the archives an “important treasure trove” of life in the capital city prior to the state’s establishment.

The data also includes personal information about Israeli leaders such as founding father and first prime minister David Ben-Gurion; the country’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi; and Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, son of the first chief Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Avraham HaCohen Kook.

Jerusalem Day is celebrated on the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, marking the day Israeli forces recaptured the city of Jerusalem, reunifying it under Jewish rule for the first day in nearly 2,000 years. The day is celebrated in Israel with events such as the Flag March, where thousands of Israelis march proudly throughout the city with Israeli flags, ending at the Western Wall for a celebration of sovereignty.

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