A PALESTINIAN PERSPECTIVE ON THE HISTORY OF JERUSALEM*
Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi**
As the Israel-Palestine conflict enters its eighth decade, international efforts for ending the military occupation or hopes of securing a two-state solution along the 1967 borders have all but disappeared for Palestinians. Notwithstanding the many important issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, such as the right of return and the Gaza blockade, the annexation of East Jerusalem remains at the epicenter. In terms of geography, demography, society, economy, and cultural life, Jerusalem has been the center of Palestine and the major meeting point of important east-west and north-south transportation axes.
The city bears significance to the three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In the Jewish faith, Jerusalem is considered the center of religion and identity, seen as the earthly manifestation of Zion. It is in the City of David where the people of the Promised Land ought to gather, and where the remains of the “Second Temple” are believed to be. For Christians the significance of Jerusalem relates to the ancient concept of the city as a shrine of preeminent holiness. It is the center of the cosmos, where history began, and where it will end. It is in Jerusalem that the event of the Pentecost happened, as did the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Finally, in Islam, Al Quds Ash-Sharif (the Holy, Noble One, Jerusalem) is one of the three holiest places in Islam, equal to Mecca and Medina. It was toward Jerusalem that Muslims directed their prayers (qibla), before Mecca. Jerusalem is referred to in the Qur’an as the blessed holy city, home to the two most important mosques: Ash-Sakhra (the Rock) and Al-Aqsa (Farthest).
Jerusalem’s holiness complicates any attempt to solve the Jerusalem question and is often used or manipulated to reach non-religious goals. As such, it is important to recognize the positions that religious leaders hold regarding the Holy City and the status quo.
Palestinian church leaders summarize their position on the question of Jerusalem as follows:
- Jerusalem is a holy city for the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
- The Temple lost its significance in Christianity after the death of Jesus Christ.
The holy places of each religion are unique to that religion, and no holy place is shared by more than one religion. All religions must respect the religious, legal, and cultural status quo.
- Al Harem-Ash-Sharif has been a holy place for Muslims for 1,400 years, and their access to it constitutes a religious and historical right.
- The responsibility to defend and protect the Islamic and Christian holy sites is a Christian and Islamic human trust.
- Any assault against the Al-Aqsa Mosque or Al-Haram Ash-Sharif in the interests of or for the sake of another religion is illegal and not permissible.
- The various narratives, according to the church, are historical events and not religious.
As for Israel’s Jewish leadership, there are three distinct schools of thought related to Jerusalem’s holy places, and specifically Al-Aqsa Mosque and Al-Haram Ash-Sharif, referred to as the Temple Mount.
- Firstly, religious law according to the Chief Rabbinate prevents all Jews from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque, calling on them to respect the Islamic sacredness of the site. Israel’s supreme religious authority maintains this position to this day.
- Secondly, some Jewish leaders argue that the area bears significance for both Muslims and Jews, and therefore the Al-Aqsa/Al-Haram Ash-Sharif compound should be open to all and become a shared place of worship.
- Finally, there are those who believe the “Temple Mount” belongs only to Jews, whom they perceive as the Chosen People, and that the Jewish community ought to take it by force.
Since 1968, Jerusalem has been annexed by Israel as the capital, sparking great controversy and contestation from Palestinians as well as the international community. No country has recognized or accepted Israel’s unilateral annexation to this day. Numerous publications document the special treatment of the city over the years, and attest to its historical, political, and religious significance. What follows will provide a concise review of the history of the Holy City going back 5000 years, as well as an overview of its religious significance for the three monotheistic faiths, and the different policies that determine its governance in the contemporary context. It is said that “whoever controls Jerusalem is in a position to dominate all of Palestine.” Herein lie the roots of the troubled and different narratives to portray the “history” of the city of Jerusalem.
A HISTORY OF JERUSALEM
Canaanites and Philistines
Over 5000 years ago, after a wave of drought struck the Arabian Peninsula, tribes of Arab Semites called the Canaanites migrated to the territories east of the Mediterranean Sea that make up present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine. A subgroup of this tribe, the Jebusites, settled in present-day Palestine and established the city of Jebus, where Jerusalem stands today. They built the first wall around it, one possessing thirty towers and seven gates. Approximately 2000 years later, the Philistines, who came from Crete, arrived and settled in the land of Canaan. They mixed with the Canaanite and Jebusite tribes, and lived on the Mediterranean coast in the southwestern area that now stretches from the Gaza Strip through Ashdod and Ashkelon. While the Canaanites gave the territories they inhabited a biblical name, “The Land of Canaan,” the Philistines named it Philistine, or “Palestine.”
Geographically speaking, the land of Philistine was an important strategic geographic location for the surrounding empires because it stretched from Egypt in the southwest, across a corner of the Mediterranean, to Mesopotamia and Asia in the northeast. Over the millennia before the birth of Christ, the empires of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Mongolians, Greeks, and Romans all grew up around the land of the Canaanites and Philistines and came to rule for varying lengths of time. The area’s geographical position meant that it served as both a bridge between these regional powers, as well as an arena for the struggles and conflicts between them. As a consequence the Canaanites could never establish a strong and unified state, and their political organizations took the shape of independent cities possessing governments bound together by federative relationships. Among the most prominent coastal cities were Bairtuyus (present day Beirut), Sidon, Tyre, Acre, Ashkelon, and Gaza. The Canaanite cities in the interior included Jericho, Shikim (present day Nablus), and Jebus (Jerusalem). The religion of these earliest civilizations of Palestine was centered on nature: the sky was the Father God, and earth was the Mother God. It is from these Semitic people that the majority of today’s Palestinians descend.
In around the 18th century BC, Abraham came from the city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia (Iraq) to the Land of Canaan. He settled somewhere in the Jordan Valley. As the Old and New Testaments had not been revealed when he was alive, Abraham’s religion was neither Jewish nor Christian, but he was simply a believer in the oneness of God. He was described in Genesis as worshipping “the most high God.” The Holy Qur’an mentions that he was a “Muslim,” not in the modern definition of one who follows the laws revealed in the Qur’an, but rather in the sense of having given his “submission to the will of God.” Thus Christians, Muslims, and Jews still pray for him in their prayers, as they believe God has enjoined them to do. Abraham’s concubine, the Egyptian Hagar, bore his son Ismail, to whom present-day Arabs now trace their descent; meanwhile his wife, Sarah, bore his son Isaac, to whom present-day Jews trace their lineage. The question is debated of which son – Ismail or Isaac – was to be presented for the sacrifice. Abraham moved to a place near Hebron (al-Khalil), where he lived, preaching monotheism. When he died, his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, buried him in the same cave in which his wife Sarah was buried (the Tomb of the Patriarchs).
Around the year 1400 BC, the twelve sons of Jacob (Isaac’s son) left Haran for Egypt. They integrated with the Egyptians, multiplied, and gained strength for several hundred years, becoming known as the “Israelites.” It was in Egypt that Moses, the founder and lawgiver of the Jewish nation, yet a prophet to all three revealed religions, was born and trained in Egyptian philosophy, becoming learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. Moses, along with his people, left Egypt around the thirteenth century BC. He wandered for forty years in the Sinai, and during this time he received the Divine Law at Mount Sinai (Tur). After the death of Moses, Joshua assumed leadership and led his people to the west across the Jordan River, into Canaan. He conquered Jericho, which he destroyed along with its inhabitants. Joshua then took control of Yashuu’ (Bayt Ele), Likhish, and Hebron; however, the Philistines blocked his advance toward the coast in the area between Gaza and Jaffa, and the Canaanites kept him from occupying Jerusalem. When they arrived in Canaan, the Israelites were influenced by the Canaanites and adopted their religious rituals, especially the presentation of sacrificial offerings to the God Baal.
For the next 150 years, the newcomers “shared” with the Philistines and Canaanites portions of the area of modern Palestine. And the Jebusites continued living and controlling Jerusalem. But no one group was able to consolidate control over the whole territory. There were numerous conflicts, struggles, and battles between these groups, during which each maintained its own “culture” and separate entity.
Around 1000 BC, King David was able to subjugate the petty states of Edom, Moab, and Ammon. For seven years, he held Hebron as his capital, but then moved the center of his rule to Jerusalem for the last thirty-three years of his reign. After him, rule passed on to his son Solomon. According to Jewish narrative, he built a place of worship known as “Solomon’s Temple.” This temple became the center of religious life and the primary symbol for Jews. After Solomon’s death, his kingdom was split into two sections: the Kingdom of Israel in the north, made up of ten tribes, with Samaria (Sabastia) as its capital, and the Kingdom of Judea in the south, made up of two tribes, with Jerusalem as its capital. The following decades were characterized by chronic battles between the two, and against the Canaanites/Philistines.
Babylonian, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Empires
Around 720 BC, the Assyrians under King Sargon destroyed the Israelite kingdom in the north. In 600 BC, the Babylonians, under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar II, conquered the southern kingdom, destroying “Solomon’s Temple” in approximately 586 BC. In both instances, most of the population was led away in captivity to Assyria and Babylon in Mesopotamia. As for Jerusalem, it became a Babylonian colony. Around 538 BC, Cyrus, King of Persia, was able to conquer the Babylonian Empire (Mesopotamia). He moved on in his conquests until he occupied Syria and then Palestine, including Jerusalem. He permitted Nebuchadnezzar’s captives to return to Palestine, and a “Second Temple” was completed in 515 BC.
As the Greek Empire flourished after the reign of Alexander the Great, Palestine fell under the rule of the Ptolemies of Egypt (322–200 BC), and then under the rule of the Seleucids of Syria from 200 to 142 BC. In this year, the Maccabees (Jews) revolted against the rule of King Antiochus IV, who had damaged “the Second Temple” and forced the inhabitants to renounce Judaism and embrace Greek paganism.
Around 63 BC, after the Romans had overcome the Seleucids in Syria, the Roman general Pompey gained control over Jerusalem. With the help of the Romans, Herod became King of Judea in the year 40 BC. His rule lasted until his death in 4 BC. During his time, the “Second Temple” in Jerusalem was refurbished and expanded, and, following the birth of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion, came the call to propagate the Christian faith.
In the age of Titus, around 70 AD, the Romans reoccupied the city of Jerusalem after a Jewish insurrection. Under Hadrian several decades later, the final remnants of the Jewish inhabitants were subjugated and driven out of Palestine. The Romans erected a new city on the ruins of Jerusalem, which they named Aelia Capitolina with reference to the emperor Aelius Hadrianus. Around 395 AD, Jerusalem became a Byzantine and Christian city. But although Palestine and its inhabitants became a part of the Byzantine Empire politically and religiously, the life and culture of the local Canaanites remained focused on Jerusalem.
After a brief period of control by Persia in the early seventh century AD, Palestine and the rest of Syria emerged from the rule of the Byzantines and entered the sphere of the Arab-Islamic Empire.
Jerusalem was the first direction toward which the Muslims prayed (qibla), “the first of the two qiblas,” and Palestine “the precincts God has blessed.” It is important to note that for the approximately 1400 years from the coming of the Arab-Muslim civilization to Syria, including Palestine, through to the current century, Jerusalem remained Arab, from the standpoint of cultural heritage, language, and demographics.
In 638 AD, the second Arab Muslim Caliph, Omar Ibn al-Khattab, arrived in Jerusalem. According to Arab-Muslim accounts, the freedom of religious worship for Ahl al-Kitab (the People of the Book) in Jerusalem is God-given and thus cannot be contested by any governor. In that spirit, the perception was not that the city had been taken by force but rather that the Caliph had initiated “the Covenant of Omar,” an agreement that established Arab-Muslim political governance over the city but recognized the inalienable right to freedom of religion for all inhabitants of Jerusalem: Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Omar entrusted to two Arab Muslim families in Jerusalem (Nuseibeh and Judeh) the keys of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He did so in order to establish the equal rights of all inhabitants and to affirm that the church is a holy place, not to be damaged, disrespected, or violated in any way; he also intended this action as a solution to the bickering between various Christian sects over who should control the church.
Arab and non-Arab-Muslim rule prevailed over Jerusalem and Palestine from the seventh century AD until the beginning of the twentieth century, with the exception of the period of the Crusades. The Crusaders captured the city in 1099 AD, saw it liberated by the Ayyubids under Saladin in 1187 AD, and then recaptured it in 1229 AD. Some fifteen years later, the Arab-Muslims again established their rule. In 1516, the Ottoman Empire began ruling Jerusalem and much of the Middle East, and the city did not fall from their hands until the British military occupation during World War I, specifically in 1917.
The Islamic dynasties – the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Fatimids, the Seljuks, the Ayyubids, the Mamelukes, the Ottomans, and the Hashemites – respected the religious and historical “status quo” of the holy places established in the Covenant of Omar Ibn al-Khattab. They all shared in the reconstruction of Jerusalem, preserving the sanctity of its heritage and developing its Islamic and Arab legacy. These dynasties strove to reconstruct Al-Aqsa Mosque, referred to in the first verse of Surah 17 of the Qur’an. Finally, Arab-Muslim rulers were eager to give Jerusalem a special status; the first Umayyad Caliph Muaawiyah linked his own personal identity with Jerusalem, calling himself the Caliph of Bait al-Maqdis (Holy House). The Caliph Abd al-Malik erected, in 691, the magnificent Dome of the Rock Mosque (Masjed Qubbat al-Sakhra). The popular belief is that Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven (Al-Isra’ wal Mi’raj – the glorious night journey and miracle of ascension) from that area. He also rebuilt the Mosque of Al-Aqsa in the southern part of the area of Al-Haram Al-Sharif, to take the place of the wooden building of the old Omar Ibn Al-Khattab mosque of 638 AD. These two mosques were restored and embellished by subsequent Arab-Muslim rulers.
Arab National Movement: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
At the end of the eighteenth century, the increase of European interests in the Near East and the corresponding decline of the Ottoman Empire led to the Capitulations System, in which European powers were able to gain privileges and footholds in the Middle East in return for bribes and favors to the Ottoman rulers. Through the protection and guidance of foreign consulates (British, French, Austrian, and Russian), a number of Jewish activists and institutions (for example, Moses Montefiore, the Rothschild family, and Alliance Française) were able to establish a “Jewish quarter” outside the walls of Jerusalem. This quarter later on became the core of the Jewish society in the city. It included the Montefiore Quarter, established in 1859 to the west of Jaffa Gate; Mishkanot Shaananim, established in 1860 in front of Jaffa Gate; and Nahlat Shivva, also founded in 1860, on the road to Jaffa. Between the years 1875 and 1878, Mea She’arim and Ivan Israel were established. By 1882, the Jewish community (Yishuv) in Palestine lived in four urban areas, namely Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and Safed, and it constituted six percent of the population of Palestine. It was contained within six colonies whose total area was 62,500 dunums (one dunum is equal to 1000 square meters or just under a quarter acre). The populations were composed primarily of Russian and Romanian immigrants who came after the oppressive events of 1881-82 in Russia.
Continuing to work under foreign guidance and protection, and inspired by European commercial and investment projects, Theodor Herzl, in his booklet The Jewish State (1896), called for a political movement similar to European colonial-settler movements. Herzl wanted the Zionist movement to be a new model for colonial-settler movements, and he described it as being “a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia,” an outpost of “civilization” opposed to “barbarism.” He described his plan and the means that he wanted to employ for colonizing Palestine with these words:
Let “sovereignty” be given to us on a piece of land… and we will take care of what follows… The plan is simple in its form, although complicated in its execution… Two organizations will be in control of executing the plan: The Jewish Society and the Jewish Company.
In his diary, Herzl recorded the need to expropriate land in Palestine and to “spirit” the population across the borders. He also added: “If we one day capture Jerusalem, and I am still alive and capable of doing anything, then I will destroy everything not sacred to the Jews in it.”
But such plans to set up an exclusively “Jewish state” in Arab Palestine and to control Jerusalem essentially failed, even after the end of World War I, when British colonial offices sponsored the Zionist colonial-settler movement. Indeed, during the first phase of Zionist activity, between the years 1878 and 1918, the area of land over which Zionist-Jews gained control in Palestine amounted to 2.48 percent of the total country. By 1918, the number of Jews in Palestine did not exceed 55,000, while Palestinian inhabitants numbered 700,000; that is, eight percent of the population was Jewish and 92 percent was Palestinian.
Pre-Nakba: World War I and the British Mandate
With the end of World War I, the British had contracted three mutually contradictory promises for the future of Palestine:
The Hussein-McMahon Correspondence of 1915, in which the British invited the Arabs to become their allies against the Ottomans and offered in return to help achieve their national aspiration of establishing their independent Arab states, including Palestine.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which outlined a new colonial map for the Middle East drawn in a joint effort by the French and the British. Controversially, the Agreement went against the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, paving the way for much of the imagined Arab states to be under French and British control.
The Balfour Declaration of November 1917, in which Britain declared its support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in historical Palestine.
These were the first steps that led to the gradual violations of equal rights for Arabs, including Palestinians, over the territory. After that, Jerusalem became the focal point of a now century-old Palestinian national struggle, in which Palestinians have made every effort to fend off British and Zionist invasion and colonization of the city.
In 1917, after British General Edmund Allenby’s troops occupied Jerusalem, he summoned William McLean, a civil engineer for the city of Alexandria, to draft the first plan for infrastructure for the city of Jerusalem. McLean accomplished his task in 1918, and his plan became the basis for all of the others that followed in years to come. The plan divided Jerusalem into four areas: the Old City and its walls; the areas surrounding the Old City; East Jerusalem; and West Jerusalem. It prohibited building in the areas surrounding the Old City and placed restrictions on building in East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, West Jerusalem was declared an area open to development. Given the fact that this western part of the city was inhabited by the Jewish minority, McLean’s plan helped to strengthen and develop the western area of the city at the expense of the other three.
It is important to note here that there were some international efforts to resist the Zionist expansion in Palestine, albeit unsuccessful. In 1919, the King-Crane Commission – the first international fact-finding committee ever sent to the Middle East – advised against the creation of a Zionist Jewish entity in Palestine and recommended instead that a “wholly independent Syria [including Lebanon and Palestine] should be established, on the principle of the right of self-determination.” However, Britain ignored these recommendations.
In 1922, Britain was designated by the League of Nations as the mandatory power for Palestine, and the Palestine Mandate became effective on September 29, 1923.
The second paragraph of the preamble to the British Mandate for Palestine incorporated the Balfour Declaration, and the World Zionist Organization was given the responsibility to advise and cooperate with the British administration in the economic, social, and general development of the country. Many Zionist colonial organizations moved to Jerusalem, such as the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth Yisrael) and the World Zionist Organization. Meanwhile, an armed force (Haganah) was formed in March 1920.
The British government was keen on constricting the Palestinian presence in favor of expanding Jewish presence in Jerusalem at four different levels. On the one hand, it used structural and urban planning processes to change the demographic composition and the traditional central status of the Old City with the aim of disengagement. In July 1926, the British government passed an appropriation law, which “granted the British government the power to seize any lands for purposes of Jewish settlement.” On May 30, 1928, it passed the law on reconciliation of rights and land ownership, and imposed property tax in urban centers in the same year. Initially, the government set the tax rate at 12 percent of the value of the rent but lowered it later to 9 percent following objections by the residents. However, the government went back and raised the tax to 15 percent in April 1932. It also issued a decree stipulating respect for freedom of worship for all followers of the three monotheistic religions, and upholding the status quo in Jerusalem.
However, in spite of these intensive joint British-Zionist efforts in Palestine, the percentage of Jews in Palestine did not exceed 11 percent of the total population, according to the first British census in 31 December 1922; it did not exceed 17 percent, according to the second British census on 31 December 1931. In 1922, the land the Jews controlled did not exceed 2.48 percent of Palestine; by 1936 they controlled no more than six percent of Palestine.
The 1930s were characterized by a number of Palestinian uprisings, including strikes and revolts against the British occupation, its mandatory policies, and the mass Zionist immigration. Naturally, Jerusalem was the epicenter of such demonstrations.
In February 1939, the St James Palace Conference, held in London, sought to plan the future governance of Palestine after the end of the British Mandate. Separate meetings were held between the British and the Arab and the Jewish delegations. This resulted in the publication of the 1939 White Papers, which put restrictions on Jewish immigration and land sale and promised an independent Palestine within 10 years.
In May 1942, the Zionists declared in a meeting held at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City that the Balfour Declaration implied the creation of an independent Jewish state, and they called for its establishment. Meanwhile, the British government began to reevaluate its strategy in Palestine and the Arab world, fearing that the pro-Zionist policies would ultimately prove detrimental to British regional interests. It was then, in 1947, that the idea of a partition plan that would separate Arabs and Jews was introduced to contain the conflict.
Between Nakba and Naksa: Israeli Colonialism and Occupation
The UN Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte first suggested in his partition plan that “Jerusalem be part of the Arab State, the establishment of a municipality for the Jewish community, and special measures for protection of Holy sites.” After the initial plan was rejected by the concerned parties, he then presented a revised version of the plan in which he proposed the establishment of two independent states with “special and separate treatment for Jerusalem,” which he suggested should be “placed under UN effective control with maximum local autonomy for Arabs and Jews and full guarantees to protect Holy sites and places with freedom of access thereto and freedom of worship.” In September 1949, Count Bernadotte was assassinated by a Zionist terrorist organization in Jerusalem.
However, this UN partition plan of 1947 and the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) plan of 1950 were never implemented. On the one hand, the Palestinians refused the 1947 plan because they deemed it to be prejudiced in favor of the Zionist interest. On the other, the Israelis saw the Arab rejection of the plan as an opportunity to further their plans for occupying and colonizing Jerusalem and Palestine. Ben-Gurion revealed this aspect of Zionism by saying:
The question of Jerusalem is not a question of arrangements, or politics, it is first and foremost a question of military capabilities: will we have the military power for (a) occupying the Old City; (b) occupying a wide corridor from here (Tel Aviv) to Jerusalem, not just for passing through but for forming a settled strip that binds Jerusalem to the rest of the territories of the Jewish state; and (c) destroying the Arab Legion in the triangular area. Without this, it cannot be said that Jerusalem has been “liberated.”
On May 14, 1948, with the departure of British forces from Palestine, the State of Israel was declared and accompanied by an escalation of operations to evict the Palestinians forcibly from their homes and their properties. This was the beginning of the Palestinian Nakba.
April 9, 1948, for example, Menachem Begin’s Irgun Zvai Leumi terrorist gang massacred 250 Palestinians of the village of Deir Yassin, situated on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem; most of the slain were old men, women, and children. And on October 28, 1948, Moshe Dayan’s 89th Battalion massacred 580 Palestinians of Dawaymeh, a village on the road between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Begin considered the massacre of Deir Yassin so crucial to Zionists that he asserted, “There would have been no Israel without [what he called] the victory at Deir Yassin.” In July 1948, the Israeli Army attempted to occupy all of Jerusalem, but they failed due to the resistance of Arab forces. In September 1948, as Minister of Defense, Ben-Gurion suggested the undertaking of a military operation to occupy Latrun in order to insure a “Jewish Jerusalem.”
Following the cease-fire agreement on November 30, 1948, Israeli forces controlled the western part of the city in addition to the Mt. Scopus area (Jabal Al Musharraf area in Arabic), while Jordanian Arab forces controlled the eastern part of the city, including the Old City. The armistice agreement of 1949 between Israel and the Arab states declared that “the armistice lines are not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary.”
However, Israel continued its expansion efforts past the proposed borders of the 1947 UN partition plan and past the 1949 armistice line, to gain control over 77 percent of Palestinian lands. In Jerusalem, Israel seized 84.23 percent of the municipal surface area, leaving 11.48 percent in the hands of the Palestinians. The remaining 4.39 percent became a “no man’s land” under the supervision of the UN.
This Zionist expansion led to the annexation of Palestinian neighborhoods and mass evictions of citizens as well as the creation of new Jewish neighborhoods. For example, Israel surrounded Arab quarters in West Jerusalem including Abu Tur, Baqah, the German Colony, and Katamon, and changed their names to Hebrew: Abu Tur became Giv’at Hananya; Baqah became Ge’ulem; the German Colony became Rafa’im; and Katamon became Gonim. New Jewish quarters were also established among and behind the aforementioned Arab quarters: Talpiot, New Baqah, New Katamon, Rasqo Quarter, and Giv’at Mordechai.
To prepare the way for seizing Palestinian properties and liquidating them in occupied Jerusalem of 1948, Israel passed a series of administrative and legislative laws. Examples are the Emergency Regulations regarding “abandoned” properties, Supplement B No. 10 of June 23, 1948; the Emergency Regulations concerning the cultivation of wastelands and the use of water resources (1948); the Emergency Regulations (Security Zones) of 1949; and the Absentees Property Law of 1950. These “laws” allowed Israelis to confiscate both movable and immovable Palestinian property.
The case for internationalization of Jerusalem gained momentum in December 1948 through the UN General Assembly’s Resolution 194 (3). However, at a field “engagement and disengagement” post, Abdallah Al Tal (the Jordanian military governor) and Moshe Dayan (the Israeli military governor) agreed during one meeting to the drawing of a “field division map of the city,” attaching to it the cease-fire agreement and later the Rhodes Agreement of April 1949. This map governed the actual “dividing” of the city into “West & East” Jerusalem for 19 years, until the June 1967 war.
The part of Jerusalem where the Green Line was located ran 7km in length. There was a joint administrative “crossing point” known as Mandelbaum Gate, used primarily for the movement of diplomats and staff at the UN Truce Supervision Organization who observed the implementation of the cease-fire agreement. It was also used by journalists and Christian pilgrims who visited the city on Christmas and Easter. There was also an arrangement for the crossing of an Israeli mission on a bi-weekly basis to the Hadassah area and the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus! Despite these military and legal arrangements for “sharing and dividing the city,” and throughout nineteen years, no request was filed nor was any desire expressed officially, civically, or religiously to the Jordanian or the international side to visit or pray at Al Buraq wall. The Arab side maintained custody over Jewish properties (namely 20 percent of Al Magharbeh neighborhood) under the “Custodian of Absentee Properties”!
On December 9, 1949, the UN General Assembly issued Resolution 303, which reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to internationalize Jerusalem and to consider it a “Corpus Separatum.” The Knesset (the Israeli parliament) started convening its sessions in the western part of the city, and in December 1950, the Knesset passed a law according to which Jerusalem was declared the capital of the state of Israel. On April 24, 1950, the Jordanian parliament “unified” officially the West Bank with Transjordan in the Kingdom of Jordan. This was a “practical measure” that the Arab League considered on June 12, 1950, as “temporary and practical measures” on the basis that Jordan was safeguarding a Palestinian “trust” pending future settlement. In 1952, the Jordanian government expanded the Arab municipal area in East Jerusalem (it was 2.2 km2 at the time) to include villages and neighborhoods, increasing its total area to become 6km2. In the following year, on July 27, 1953, King Hussein declared that Jerusalem was “the second capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” and that it constitutes an “integral and inseparable” part of Jordan. In January 1960, in his speech before the Jordanian parliament, King Hussein repeated his statement that Jerusalem was “the second capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.”
With the establishment of the PLO and the National Council and the endorsement of the National Charter on May 28, 1964, Jerusalem was reaffirmed as the capital of the Palestinian people. Later, PLO Chairman Ahmad al-Shuqairi sent a telegram to U Thant, the UN Secretary General at the time, informing him that the “first Palestinian national conference was convened in Jerusalem on May 28, 1968, that the Palestinian people from all over the world were represented at the conference, and that it has decided to establish the Palestinian Liberation Organization to assume the powers of the sole and legitimate representative on all matters related to the Palestinian people.”
The first Palestinian declaration of independence in 1948 stated that “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.” This was further reaffirmed in the Declaration of Independence in Algeria on November 15, 1988, announcing the “establishment of the state of Palestine with its capital Al-Quds al-Sharif.
In short, the city of Jerusalem was split, both militarily and culturally, between the Jewish west and the Arab east until the June 1967 War.
Post-Naksa: Israelization of Jerusalem
After the June 1967 War, Israel rushed to execute its second stage of occupying and Judaizing the rest of Jerusalem and all of Palestine. This process moved along with astonishing speed, and in all fields: military, administrative, legislative, demographic, geographic, religious, and historical-archaeological. Its ultimate goal was the complete uprooting and destruction of Palestine.
Successive Israeli governments considered areas behind the “Green Line” as military-occupied territories and did not incorporate them within its political or civil systems but rather exercised military occupation, administration, and power over them and applied military laws, regulations, and orders to them.
However, this military situation excluded that part of Jerusalem that is considered part of the occupied West Bank and under the sovereignty of the state of Jordan, which the Israeli government had annexed illegally and unilaterally. The motive behind these new borders was the desire to control main “defense areas,” communication routes, and valleys in accordance with the decision “not to accept the absorption of larger than necessary numbers of Arab residents in the area that was annexed, allocating open areas for the development of Jewish neighborhoods [settlements].”
Upon As a result of the re-demarcation process following 1967, the Neve Yaacov neighborhood was annexed, which had been under Jordanian sovereignty since 1948. Israel also annexed the airport area at Qalandia.
Following that, and in complete disregard for international opinion and the blatant violations of international laws that prohibit acquisition of lands of others by force, Israel imposed and applied its laws, its judicial jurisdiction, and its administration there. The new municipal borders seized an additional area of 64 square kilometers from the West Bank lands, namely twenty-eight Palestinian villages and parts of Ramallah, Al Bireh, and Bethlehem municipal areas. Together with the (Arab) municipal area of six km2, the new municipal borders of Jerusalem extended over an area of 70km2.
The expansion that was approved by the Israeli government on July 26, 1967, and two days later by the Knesset, placed all of the geography of Jerusalem (east and west) and its municipal areas that extended over an area of 108 km2 under occupation. The percentage of Jewish population was 74.2 percent compared to 25.8 percent of Palestinians. The Green Line today is not referred to as constituting political borders but is rather being referred to as the “seam line.”
On June 28, 1967, the Knesset amended the 1950 law and acted illegally to expand the scope of Israel’s “sovereignty” over the eastern part of the city. Israel started constructing settlements in areas annexed to East Jerusalem, in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which stipulates: “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies.”
The first of forced eviction measures came with the forcible displacement of 650 Palestinians from Al Magharbeh neighborhood in the Old City and the destruction of their houses (at least 135 houses) for purposes of building an esplanade in front of Al Buraq Wall (Western Wall). Israel then built the first new Jewish settlements in 1968 (Ramat Ashkol and Hagiva’ Hatzarfatit, the French Hill).
By 1985, ten major “urban” settlements were constructed on confiscated lands of occupied East Jerusalem, in complete disregard for UN General Assembly Resolution number 2253 (on July 4, 1967), which called upon Israel to “cancel all measures taken and to immediately cease any measures that might change the status quo in Jerusalem.” In the first three years of the military occupation of the city, Israel confiscated 25,870 dunums of Palestinian lands in Jerusalem.
In addition to the confiscation of lands and displacement of residents, Israel established a “regime of systematic discrimination” and oppression against Palestinians in the city in all aspects of their daily lives (for example in terms of allocating municipal resources – Palestinian neighborhoods receive only 12-13 percent of the municipality’s budget despite the fact that Palestinians constitute at least 37 percent of the residents). Other examples include the confiscation of lands, deprivation of Palestinians from their right to build in the city, revocation of Palestinians’ residency right (at least 14,595 identity cards of Palestinian residents have been revoked since 1967), and the demolition of their houses. Since 2004, Israel has demolished 746 Palestinian residential units in the city, 61 of which were demolished in 2017.
In the eighties of last century, the (Israeli) Jerusalem Municipality initiated the development of plans delineating the borders of Palestinian neighborhoods in the city, classifying large areas thereof as “green areas” and “areas outside urban planning” where urban expansion is prohibited. The plans allocated less than 15 percent of East Jerusalem lands (approximately 8.5 percent of the municipal scope of Jerusalem) to meet the residential needs of Palestinian residents who constitute 40 percent of the total residents in the city.
Israeli official measures for the “annexation” of Jerusalem took place thirteen years after the 1967 war when the Knesset issued a decision on July 30, 1980 recognizing the municipal borders according to the illegal expansion that took place. It declared the whole area as an integral part of the state of Israel, considering Jerusalem as “the complete and united capital” in its basic law.
This act constitutes a flagrant violation of the international law and was condemned by UN Security Council’s resolution number 478 (issued on August 20, 1980) stating that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the recent “basic law” on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded.”
Israel re-delineated the municipal borders twice to deepen its control over the Palestinian population growth: in 1985 the city was expanding to the west by a total area of 0.5 km2 and in 1993 it expanded by 17.9 km2 increasing the area of municipal Jerusalem to 126.4 km2.
From a demographic perspective, Israel was not able to achieve all of its objectives in terms of forcing Palestinians to leave Jerusalem. In fact, the result of these policies was quite the opposite, as the number of Palestinian residents in the city increased at least five times more since 1967 with a growth rate of 2.7 percent between 2010 and 2015 compared to a growth rate of 1.5 percent of the Jewish residents in the city.
Despite Israeli policies and measures to colonize and de-Palestinize Jerusalem since 1948, 360,000 Palestinians still live in Jerusalem, with Palestinian institutions and organizations serving all aspects of their lives. The Palestinians, six and a half million of them, resist the Israeli occupation, reject its “laws” and “policies,” and hold fast to their rights. They consider Jerusalem an inseparable part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and a fundamental component of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It should not be dropped from or ignored in any political agenda on Palestine.
The area that Israel has illegally annexed from East Jerusalem is now home and shelter for at least 324,000 Palestinians and around 204,000 Israeli settlers, around 3000 of whom live in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods (particularly in Silwan, Ras Al Amoud, Mount of Olives, Sheikh Jarrah, and in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City), rendering the lives of Palestinian residents unbearable.
The Israeli structural plan for Jerusalem confirms the policy of “Israelization,” under which settlements expand while the housing and development needs of Palestinian residents are undermined. The majority of settlement expansion and the establishment of “Bantustans” are completely unrelated to the “historic Jewish narrative” but rather seek to tighten Israel’s full control over the city. The same applies to the major settlement blocs in Maale Adomim, Gush Atzion, and Giv’at Ze’ev, which – and many people do not realize this – are actually located outside the municipal borders within the areas of the occupied West Bank.
The daily hardships of Palestinians are further exacerbated by Israeli military checkpoints that isolate Jerusalem from its Palestinian environment in the West Bank, imposing on Palestinians from outside Jerusalem a bureaucratic permit system to enter the city. Additionally, Israel started the construction of the “Apartheid” Wall in 2002, with construction works continuing despite the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion issued by a majority vote in July 2004 and submitted to the United Nations General Assembly regarding the construction of the “Wall.” The Advisory Opinion states that East Jerusalem remains an occupied land, and the majority of the ICJ panel of judges concluded that the route of the “Wall,” “underlines the illegal measures taken by Israel regarding Jerusalem and the settlements, which were condemned by the UN Security Council.” As such, the Court concluded, the Wall violates international law and therefore should be dismantled and compensations paid to those affected by it.
Finally, the Israeli plan known as “The Project of Greater Jerusalem” seeks to guarantee Jewish control through expanding the “district” borders of Jerusalem by annexing three major settlement blocs to the city as “sub-municipalities,” namely: Gush Atzion, Maale Adomim (E-1), and Giv’at Ze’ev. These settlement blocs were all built on occupied West Bank lands. These measures can now, especially following President Trump’s declaration, add around 150,000 Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank as residents of the city, while excluding an equivalent number of Palestinian residents living in neighborhoods located outside the “Wall” (Shu’fat refugee camp, Anata, and Kufr Aqab).
Politics of Jerusalem
Jerusalem has always been seen as the cultural, economic, and political center of Palestine, and a symbolic city for the Arab world. It represents Palestinian nationality, identity, and resistance. Palestinians have always rejected any proposal denying their right to Jerusalem. After the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Jerusalem became the stage for the national struggle of the Palestinian people. From the early days of the British Occupation in 1921, protests included strikes, riots, and revolts (1922, 1932, 1933, 1936, and 1939) against British practices and Zionist immigration. After the 1967 war, Palestinians continued to reject Israel’s self-claimed sovereignty over the city, by refusing to join the West Jerusalem municipality and maintaining efforts to preserve the Arab character of the eastern part of the city. The dynamics of Palestinian resistance against Israeli policies and practices in East Jerusalem, including Israeli efforts to judaize its nature, have been continuous ever since. In 1988, the Palestinian National Council declared the Independent Palestinian State and proclaimed Arab Jerusalem its capital. Since Jerusalem lies in the north-south crescent of the West Bank, the integrity of the Occupied Territories cannot be maintained without Jerusalem as the geographic and demographic center.
Today, an important aspect of Palestine’s resistance against the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem has to do with the Al-Aqsa / Al-Haram Ash-Sharif compound. Weekly peaceful protests have been taking place at the mosque every Friday during morning prayers, in response to the escalating number of status quo violations undertaken by the Israelis. Since January 2020, when the White House released its so-called “Deal of the Century,” the Islamic Waqf has called on Palestinians and on the international community to defend the status quo of the holy sites, to respect its Jordanian custodianship, and to reject any and all attempts by Israel to take control of the compound.
Israeli Policy Toward Jerusalem
The historical justification on which Israel builds its claim to the land of Palestine and Jerusalem goes back to the Jewish exodus 4,000 years ago, when Jews came from Egypt to Palestine and settled there for some time.
After the end of the British mandate and the war of 1948, Israel controlled the western part of the city while Jordan had sovereignty over the eastern part, including the Old City. After declaring its independence on May 14, Israel began seizing Arab-owned land in the western part of the city, even though the area had been designated as part of the “Corpus Separatum” by the United Nations. It also transferred its governmental departments from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, with the move of the Knesset in 1950.
When, in the course of 1967 War, Israel occupied Arab East Jerusalem and subsequently announced the “unification” of the city, a modern myth was born; in fact, Israel has tried ever since to turn Jerusalem into a Jewish city forcibly through illegal annexation and the application of law and jurisdiction over the entire city, yet depriving the eastern part of certain services and leaving it to become a marginalized area.
In 1980, the Knesset passed the so-called Basic Law or Jerusalem Law to legislate Jerusalem as “indivisible” and as the “eternal capital city of Israel.” Until today, Israel has attempted to secure its sovereignty with numerical superiority, by increasing the number of settlements and transferring the Jewish population to Arab neighborhoods. One particularly sensitive subject is the confiscation of Palestinian-owned land on the pretext that it ought to become part of Israel’s national parks.
In addition, Israel’s control and limitation of the access of Palestinians living in the West Bank to the capital are increasingly strict, while access is facilitated for Jewish pilgrims and citizens of Israel. To enforce movement restrictions, Israel established a permit system in 2003. Israel also has the power to revoke residency status for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, and exerts control over family reunification procedures.
International Law Concerning Jerusalem
Under international law, which prohibits the annexation of territory by force, East Jerusalem is considered occupied territory, and Israel’s annexation of the city has no legal standing. Its activities in both parts of the city, such as settlement building and land confiscation, are hence null and void.
Several internationally recognized legal documents help solidify this claim. The UN Charter (1945) recognizes the right of all nations to self-determination, in addition to stating that territorial gains from war are unlawful, even if achieved in the course of self-defense. This is especially relevant in the case of Israel and Palestine, with regard both to land occupied in the West Bank through illegal settlements and to illegally-annexed Jerusalem.
The UN has always recognized the special status of Jerusalem and the illegitimacy of its occupation. It considers East Jerusalem as occupied territory and has repeatedly declared Israel’s activities in this part of the city as illegal. Numerous resolutions on the question of Palestine reaffirm the reality that Jerusalem is under belligerent occupation, and so the claims made by Israel that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of the Jewish State are null and void. This remains true even after the United States moved their embassy to the Holy City. Until today, the basic international juridical status as envisaged in Resolution 181 for Jerusalem remains legally valid since no other resolution has been passed to annul or to supersede it. In addition, Resolution 242, which was passed by the Security Council, reaffirms adherence to the UN charter and calls for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict,” which include East Jerusalem.
Finally, the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), relative to the protection of civilian persons in a time of war, is intended to cover the conduct of foreign occupation of a given territory during a conflict, and therefore applies to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem. Its applicability has been recognized by the UN General Assembly and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
American Policy Toward Israel and Palestine
in the Context of the “Deal of the Century”
U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People was released on January 28, 2020, after more than two years of development. The plan is the result of a joint effort with Israel, but no Palestinians were consulted throughout the drafting of this so-called “Deal of the Century.” The plan includes political and economic measures that would give the illusion of a two-state reality, but actually formalizes Israel’s settler-colonial agenda in the West Bank. It foresees the complete annexation of the Jordan River Valley, names Jerusalem the undivided capital city of the Jewish State, and prevents the State of Palestine from having any control over borders, military capacity, or air space. The plan would undoubtedly exacerbate resource scarcity for Palestinians, as Israel would maintain control of the water-rich and fertile land.
Unsurprisingly, the plan was immediately rejected by the Palestinian people and their representatives, namely the PLO, who has refused to resume diplomatic relations with the United States since Trump announced the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2017. A significant number of civil society organizations, EU states, international NGOs, activists, journalists, and other individuals have condemned the US proposal and any efforts to further the implementation of an apartheid system in Palestine at the expense of its civilians. Since its publication, tensions have risen in the West Bank and in the Gaza strip, with clashes between Palestinians and the IDF escalating and the number of civilian casualties rising.
*Excerpted from Saliba Sarsar and Carole Monica Burnett, eds. What Jerusalem Means To Us: Muslim Perspectives And Reflections. North Bethesda, MD: Holy Land Books/Noble Book Publishing Inc., 2021.
**Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi is founder and head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) in Jerusalem. PASSIA, an independent, non-profit Palestinian institution, undertakes research on the Question of Palestine and related issues. Abdul Hadi’s many activities and positions over the years include co-founder and editor of Al-Fajr daily newspaper; co-founder and General Secretary of the Council for Higher Education in the West Bank; founder and president of the Arab Thought Forum in Jerusalem; special advisor to the Ministry of Occupied Land Affairs, Amman, Jordan; and member of the Arab Thought Forum headed by HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal in Amman, Jordan. In 2019, Abdul Hadi was appointed a member of the Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem. His Ph.D. is from the School of Peace Studies at Bradford University, UK.