Managing the Divine Jurisdiction: Sacred Space and the Limits of Law on the Temple Mount (1917-1948)

119 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2012

Date Written: August 31, 2012


This paper probes the history of the Temple Mount complex during the British Mandate for Palestine. Approaching this sacred space from three different perspectives — British, Arab, and Jewish — this paper examines how people and events surrounding it contributed to the evolution of Palestine after World War I. Ultimately, I argue that Britain’s non-policy on the Temple Mount undermined the Mandate project and ultimately contributed to the rise of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fearful of angering Muslims in Palestine and around the world, the British handed control of the space to an indigenous Arab-Muslim administration. This policy of “affirmative deference” allowed certain Muslim leaders to carve out a sphere of de facto sovereignty inside the site and establish a base for resistance to the British government. For many Jewish settlers in Palestine, sanctioned and unchecked Arab power inside Judaism’s holiest site led them to abandon faith in the Mandate and formulate their own plans for independence. Stated simply, Britain’s mismanagement of the Temple Mount intensified the fragmentation of Palestine from its geographical and ideological center. In addition to telling an important micro-history of the period, I also hope to provide a useful case study for broader analysis of the interaction between secular and traditional authority and the dynamics of sacred space.

Keywords: Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Palestine, British Mandate, Law, Sacred Space, Jews, Muslims, Zionism

Suggested Citation

Nicholson, Robert, Managing the Divine Jurisdiction: Sacred Space and the Limits of Law on the Temple Mount (1917-1948) (August 31, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Robert Nicholson (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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