The Jerusalem no man’s land where the U.S. says part of its new embassy to Israel will be located is a territorial quirk of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a quirk that originated at the start of hostilities in 1948.
The U.S. will inaugurate the embassy Monday in an existing consular complex at the southwestern corner of a no man’s land that appears as a five-sided box on contemporary U.S. government and Google maps of Jerusalem. That zone first appeared on a map in a much smaller form in May 1948.
At its heart is a compound known as Government House, built in 1933 on a strategic hilltop to serve as the headquarters of the British High Commissioner who ruled the then-British Mandate of Palestine.
When Britain ended its rule of Palestine on May 14, 1948, it withdrew from Government House and handed the keys to the Red Cross, which a day earlier had declared a Red Cross Zone around the site. The rectangular-shaped area was meant to be a safe haven for refugees from the war that erupted May 14, as Israel declared independence and Arab nations declared a war to destroy the Jewish state.
Fighting in the area persisted, prompting a U.N. Central Truce Supervision Board to create a Neutral Zone around the Red Cross Zone, Aug. 27, 1948, to try to push the combatants farther away.