Sovereignty and the Mount Scopus Enclave in Jerusalem

Despite various attempts to turn Jerusalem into an international city accessible to believers of the three monotheistic religions, as envisioned in UN Resolution 181 II, the 1948 War left it a divided city under Jordanian and Israeli control. However, amidst the Jordanian territory, in the northern part of the city, there remained an area that acquired an exceptional status: the Mount Scopus enclave. This enclave was the product of historical contingencies, tactical considerations by the military forces involved in the conflict of 1948 and international pressure. According to international law, the enclave was a result of the ceasefire agreement between Israel, Transjordan and the UN signed on 7 July 1948, and was created as an Israeli demilitarized zone under UN control within Transjordan territory. However, the agreement did not lead to lasting peace and renewed hostilities soon broke out between the belligerents. Eventually, on 30 November 1948 Israel and Transjordan agreed on an appendix to the ceasefire agreement. The notorious paragraph 8 of the ceasefire agreement provided for a special Jordanian-Israeli committee, which was to discuss every topic upon which basic agreement in principle had been reached in the agreement. Among these was the “resumption of the ongoing functioning of the cultural and humanitarian institutions on Mount Scopus and free access to them.” Although this committee actually convened, it failed to come to any agreement, which meant that all cultural and academic activities within the institutions in the enclave, among them the Hadassah Hospital and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, were shut down.

Given these circumstances, one can understand why the Mount Scopus enclave has thus far failed to attract scholarly historical inquiry. Indeed, much of its dynamic and vital history during the period of its existence between 1948 and 1967 has yet to be documented. One may explain this lack of historical scholarship in several ways. First, the enclave existed for only a relatively brief period, 19 years in total, too short a time to be of historical significance, one might argue. Furthermore, the area was reincorporated into the territory of the state of Israel in 1967, thereby turning these 19 years into a mere transitory period that may be seen as inherently unimportant. Second, the status of an enclave as such is, some may claim, tantamount to the cessation of time. However, the case of Mount Scopus enclave is certainly different. Third, one might argue that the lack of scholarly interest could be attributed not to the enclave being an island, but to the lack of sovereignty in this area. Sovereignty is often defined as the marker of politics. Yet the enclave’s international status as a demilitarized zone under the auspices of the UN removed it from the realm of national history and left it “out of bounds,” as it were.

It is certainly true that within the Mount Scopus enclave Israel lacked many aspects of the traditional concept of sovereignty: it could not control cross-border movements (interdependence sovereignty); it lacked de jure and de facto control of the area (Vattelian sovereignty) as the area was subject to UN control; and it arguably also lacked recognition on the part of all those who lived within the bounds of the enclave, as it would be presumptuous to assume that the inhabitants of the Arab village of Issawiya, which was located within the enclave, would have recognized Israel (domestic sovereignty). Seen from the Israeli perspective, which is easier to adopt due to archival accessibility, one may say that every move that the state of Israel made within the bounds of the enclave was designed to assert its sovereignty while at the same time consolidating and expanding its territory. Put differently, sovereignty – and not its absence – appears to be the fundamental issue that governed all developments throughout the enclave’s existence.

Key to a better understanding of the enclave is the significance that Mount Scopus and the institutions on it had for Jewish sovereignty. The institutions on Mount Scopus and particularly the Hebrew University stood for a rebirth and renewal of what had been lost there in the past. With the Hebrew University and the Hadassah Hospital having ceased to operate de facto because they were cut off from Israel proper, the university’s cultural heritage, libraries and collections were put at risk. The Hebrew University exerted its political influence to persuade the Israeli government to move libraries and collections out of the enclave. However, the state in general and the Foreign Ministry in particular was reluctant to make any move that could weaken Israel’s claim to Mount Scopus. The rites of sovereignty that Israel performed regarding its territory on Mount Scopus during the 19 years of the enclave’s existence conflicted with the positions of the other actors, all of whom were driven by different motives.

The notion of sovereignty that we can trace throughout the history of the Mount Scopus enclave is not the conventional territorial notion. The existence of institutions, buildings and sites located on Mount Scopus with a rich history—a history of ownerships and of national and international cultural and religious links—obliges us to broaden our research beyond the study of border disputes, control over territory and the use of force. Such an approach would be insufficient to gain an understanding of how the enclave evolved, and of how it was linked to Israel’s conception of sovereignty. To do this we must reinterpret the concept of sovereignty in a non-conventional way. An example of such a non-conventional reinterpretation is the concept of “cultural sovereignty” is currently being developed by a working group at the Leibniz-Institute for European History in Mainz, Germany. To these scholars, “cultural sovereignty refers to the forms and strategies of self-articulation employed by individuals, religious communities, social and ethnic groups, and also collectives which constitute a nation-state to define their own distinctiveness. It seeks to challenge and broaden the concept of sovereignty beyond its territorial perception.”

Above all, the study of Mount Scopus seeks to connect historical empiricism and the varied archival documents to the evolving discourse of sovereignty, and to ascertain whether current discourse can offer adequate tools to describe and analyze the historical processes that unfolded during the enclave’s existence; and if, furthermore, the annals of the enclave as a test case can make a fundamental contribution to the study of the concept of sovereignty.


Yfaat Weiss’s article “»Nicht durch Macht und nicht durch Kraft, sondern durch meinen Geist«: Die Hebräische Universität in der Skopusberg-Enklave” has been published in the Jahrbuch des Simon-Dubnow-Instituts/Simon Dubnow Institute Yearbook 14 (2015), pp. 59–90.

Written by

Yfaat Weiss is a Professor of History in the Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry and heads the Franz Rosenzweig Minerva Research Center for German-Jewish Literature and Cultural History both at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was a Visiting Researcher at the WZB Center for Global Constitutionalism in 2015.
Website at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *