Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Italian Hospital in Jerusalem
-- More than 90 Years Ago and Now

Italian hospital in Jerusalem (circa 1919). Note the horse-drawn
buggy on the left and the Hebrew sign on the shop on the far
right. It appears to read חלב לבן "White milk." Suggestions are
welcome. One reader suggested a more likely reading:
"Tea, milk, leben."
As the Ottoman Empire disintegrated in the late 19th century, many of the world powers pushed to strengthen their claims to parts of Palestine. 

Ottoman "capitulation" agreements had been signed with France already in 1500, conceding control over French citizens and religious institutions within the Ottoman Empire.

Hebrew on
the shop sign

International competition for regional hegemony was often the engine pushing missionary activity in Palestine.  It motivated Russia to establish the "Russian compound" for thousands of Russian Orthodox pilgrims, served as an impetus for the visit of the German emperor in 1898, and emerged as one of Great Britain's motives for its Sinai and Palestine campaigns against the Turks and Germans in World War I. 

USS North Carolina provided essential
aid to the Jews of Palestine in 1914
Even the United States was involved, bringing cash and assistance to the suffering Jewish community of Palestine.  In a classic example of "gunboat diplomacy," the USS North Carolina delivered $50,000 on October 6, 1914.  Such aid ceased when the United States entered World War I.

 Italy was determined not to be left out of the picture.  The cornerstone for the Italian hospital and church was laid in 1910, but work was interrupted by the 1912 war between Italy and the Ottomans and later by World War I.  After Britain captured Jerusalem in winter 1917 the Italians were able to continue their work on the Gothic, Middle Age-style structure.  It opened its doors in 1919 -- presumably when the American Colony photographers took this picture.
The Italian hospital, today the Israeli Ministry of Education and
Culture (credit: Google Maps/Street View)

With the outbreak of World War II, Italy and Britain were at war, and the hospital was taken over by the British Royal Air Force.  The building was badly damaged in the 1948 war for Israel's independence when it was shelled by Jordanian troops.

In 1963, the hospital was sold to Israel and was transformed into the Ministry of Education and Culture.  It is located on the corner of HaNiviim Street and Shivtei Yisrael Street between the Meah Shearim and Musrara neighborhoods.


  1. can i please receive permission to print the old photo of the hospital in a book i am writing
    thanking you
    mrs littmann