Fact sheet: Israel’s tightening control over Jerusalem

Sergio Yahni at the Alternative Information Center compiled and I edited and added to this fact sheet about Jerusalem. It’s a great resource for journalists or anyone with a general interest in the political situation of Jerusalem, which embodies the history of Israel/Palestine as well as what is happening now in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Fact sheet: Israel's tightening control over Jerusalem
Jerusalem (photo: flickr/jasonwain)

“The 75 kilometer wall being built in East Jerusalem is an instrument of social engineering designed to achieve the Judaization of Jerusalem by reducing the number of Palestinians in the city.”


-Professor John Dugard, United Nations Special Rapporteur


Fact and Figures about Jerusalem


Total population: 773,800 (2009)

Population: 65 percent Israeli citizens; 35 percent Palestinians (2010)

Settler Population in East Jerusalem: 192,000 (2009)

Poverty: 41 percent of all Jerusalemites live below the poverty line, 65 percent of Palestinian families live below the poverty line (2010)

Between 1967 and 2006, Israel had revoked the residency rights of around 8,269 Palestinian Jerusalemites.

Planning and Construction

In 1967, the state of Israel annexed 71 square kilometers of land to the Jerusalemmunicipality. Of them, six and a half square kilometers were part of Arab East Jerusalem under Jordanian rule and 64.5 square kilometers belonged to 28 Palestinian towns and villages.

Palestinians are allowed to build on seven percent of the area of Jerusalem.

By 2007, the separation barrier resulted in the confiscation of land belonging to 19.2 percent of Palestinian families in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem under International Law

Jerusalem was to be an international city under the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan and it was not included as a part of either the proposed Jewish or Arab states. The international status of Jerusalem was reinforced by General Assembly resolution 194 of 1948. So far, most countries of the world have not recognized Jerusalem (including in its 1949 armistice lines) as capital of the State of Israel and many do not recognize it as a city that is properly Israel’s.

In 1967, Israel administratively annexed the areas belonging to East Jerusalem; in 1980, the Israeli government officially annexed East Jerusalem extending its jurisdiction to the occupied area of the city. The UN, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), considers all of East Jerusalem a territory under belligerent occupation and the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem protected by the 4th Geneva Convention.

The international community has objected to Israeli activities in East Jerusalem since 1967 when the UN’s General Assembly adopted resolution 2253 which condemned “the measures taken by Israel to change the status of the city” considering them invalid.

In 1968, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 252, which stated that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem,” are invalid.

Further, in 1980, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 476 that reconfirms “that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Finally, in 2004 the International Court of Justice declared that the “Court notes that the route chosen for the wall gives expression in loco to the illegal measures taken by Israel, and deplored by the Security Council, with regard to Jerusalem and the settlements, and that it entails further alterations to the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Israel claims it acquired sovereignty over the western part of the city in 1948. Upon the departure of Britain, the area remained without a sovereign power and, during the war,Israel argues, it took control of West Jerusalem in a legal act of self-defense. Moreover,Israel believes that there is no basis in international law for the position supporting a status of corpus separatum for the city of Jerusalem. Israel holds that it was a non-binding proposal which never materialized.

Israel also does not recognize United Nation’s resolution regarding Jerusalem after 1967, as well as the advisory position of the International Court of Justice, deeming them as part of international institutions’ bias against Israel.

East Jerusalem

In the 1947 UN Partition Plan Jerusalem was declared a ‘corpus separatum’ to be placed under a special international regime administered by the UN. However, as a result of the 1948 war, Israel captured up to 85 percent of the city, today known as West Jerusalem. The Jordanian army held onto 11 percent, primarily in the east. The remaining four percent was considered ‘no man’s land.’

Between 64,000 and 80,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes in West Jerusalem and 40 neighboring villages; most of the latter were destroyed by Israeli forces to preclude the inhabitants’ return. The property, homes and possessions of Palestinians who fled were considered ‘abandoned’ under Israel’s 1950 Absentee Property Law—which was applied retroactively—and transferred to the state of Israel.

The remaining 15 percent of Jerusalem, including the ‘Old City,’ remained in Palestinian hands until it, too, was captured by Israel in the war of 1967. After having ‘unified’ the city, Israel began to implement a complex series of policies and regulations meant to control or expel the remaining Palestinian population, so as to build a strong Jewish majority in the city.

Despite the requirements of international law, UN resolutions, and Jerusalem’s importance to the peace process, Israel has thus far refused to negotiate the status of Jerusalemwithin international bodies or with the Palestinian Authority.

In fact, Israel has done the contrary. Immediately after the 1967 conflict, Israel started to build settlements in the annexed areas of East Jerusalem and began transferring civilians there, contradicting Article 49 of the 4th Geneva convention, which states “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Moreover, the Israeli government has institutionalized a regime of systematic discrimination, oppression and domination against the Palestinian population in the city. This regime includes discrimination in the allocation of municipal resources, land confiscation, house demolition, political oppression, and the revocation of Palestinians’ residency rights.

Israeli Settlements

Israeli settlements in the Greater Jerusalem area, including East Jerusalem and it’s the neighboring areas in the West Bank, are built four circles with the Old City at the center: (1) the Old City in and outside the Jewish Quarter; (2) The areas surrounding the Old City, and named by Israel “the holy basin”; (3) along the annexation border; and (4) Greater Jerusalem, outside the limits of the annexation border. In addition some settlements were built in order to connect West Jerusalem to Mount Scopus. Those settlements are known as fringe settlements.

There have been four phases of Israeli settlement in the Old City of Jerusalem, beginning with the demolition of the Moroccan neighborhood, Harat Al-Magharbah in order to build a 20,000 square meter plaza adjacent to the Western Wall. During the second phase, which spanned 1968 to the late seventies, Israel expanded the Jewish Quarter by expropriating Palestinian and Muslim property between the Armenian and the Moroccan neighborhoods as the Palestinian tenants were evicted and replaced by Israeli settlers. As a result of these measures, today the Jewish Quarter of the Old City is four times its pre-1948 size.

The third phase, which is ongoing, began in the mid-eighties and has seen the establishment of Israeli settlements at the heart of the Muslim Quarter. The fourth is the overt support given to settlers in the old city by members of Israeli government since Ariel Sharon, then Minister of Housing, occupied a property in the Muslim Quarter.

Israel introduced the concept of the ‘Holy Basin’ (sometimes referred to as the HistoricalBasin) during the Camp David negotiations in July 2000 and picked up at the Taba talks in early 2001 to describe the immediate environs of the Old City of Jerusalem. The concept applies to the area hugging Jerusalem’s Old City and the adjacent localities – the Mount of Olives (At-Tur), Mount Zion, City of David (Silwan), Kidron Valley, and the Shimon HaTzadik Tomb and Sheikh Jarrah – where one finds places that are holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

Settlements in the Holy Basin are usually fenced and guarded Jewish-only neighborhoods in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods. They are part of an attempt by the Israeli government, in cooperation with settler organizations, to create facts on the ground establishing a string of settlements that will eventually encircle the old city, isolating it from the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem.

In 1968, Israel started building the “hinge” settlements to connect West Jerusalem andMount Scopus. Those settlements also broke the territorial continuity between the Arab neighborhoods adjacent to the Old City, disconnecting the commercial center of East Jerusalem from the Arab neighborhoods at the north of the city.

In 1973, Israel began constructing settlements on the municipal borders of Jerusalem to create a Jewish population continuum that will secure the annexed territory and become a barrier between the Palestinian population in the city and the population outside the municipal borders.  During the 1990s, as the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations process started, Israel started to build the settlements of  Ramot Shlomo, to the Northwest of the city, and Homat Shmuel on Har Homa to the South.

Finally, the building of settlements within the municipal borders of Jerusalem was accompanied by the parallel creation of Jewish metropolitan area, primarily to the east of those borders. This new metropolitan area, which included four satellite cities as well several smaller communities, will form a Jewish envelope around the city, further cutting the territorial continuity of East Jerusalem with the West Bank.

Allocation of resources

Most Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem lack basic infrastructure, such as sidewalks and street lamps and many Palestinian residents are not connected to a sewage system.

Although the Palestinian community in Jerusalem represents 35 percent of the city’s population, and pays higher taxes than their Jewish Israeli counterparts, they receive less than 10 percent of the municipal budget. For example, in 2003, East Jerusalem received only 8.7 percent of the municipal budget, and the municipal allocation of budget for each Palestinian leaving in Jerusalem was one fifth of the budget allocated to each Jew living in the city.

As the following table shows, the municipal budget reveals that these disparities are not an accident but the result of policy. In each section of the municipal budget, the Jewish population receives the lion’s share of investment, while the Palestinian population is allocated far less than its fair share.

West Jerusalem East Jerusalem
Population 65% 35%
Sewage pipes, roads, and sidewalks 90% 10%
Public parks 95.5% 4.5%
Swimming pools 91% 9%
Libraries 92.3% 7.7%
Sports facilities 93.8% 6.2%
Playgrounds 99% 1%

Land and Property Confiscation

Since 1967, Israel has confiscated lands for the construction of new settlements in a ring surrounding the city. In many cases, the lands were declared Green (recreational) Areas before being confiscated.

Israel has also used the 1950 the ‘Absentee Property Law’, which gives the state control of all property that it deems ‘abandoned’ during the 1948 war. This policy was implemented in the annexed areas of Jerusalem and lands were confiscated in the Old City and in the neighborhood of Silwan. Lands and properties were first turned over to the Custodian for Absentee Property, and then to settler organizations.

In addition, Israel has also implemented a policy of restoration of Jewish property in East Jerusalem, without implementing a parallel policy of restoring Arab property in West Jerusalem. Land and properties in the Old City, Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, were confiscated under the assumption that they were Jewish holdings before 1948. In many cases, such as in the Old City, those were properties leased by Jews before 1948.

The construction of the separation Wall is also important in terms of land confiscation. By 2007, the Wall resulted in the confiscation of land belonging to 19.2 percent of Palestinian families in Jerusalem. Over the course of the occupation, Israel has expropriated over 60,000 dunums (60 square kilometers) of Palestinian land in occupied East Jerusalem, all of which have been converted exclusively to Jewish use. This amounts to roughly 86.5 percent of the total land area of occupied East Jerusalem.

House Demolitions

East Jerusalem is defined as ‘occupied territory’ by the United Nations as well as by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Therefore, the practice of demolishing Palestinian houses is illegal according to Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention ‘except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.’

The main reason for the demolition of Palestinian property in East Jerusalem is the lack of construction permits. Most of the Palestinian neighborhoods lack urban zoning and Palestinians are allowed to build on only seven percent of Jerusalem (twelve percent ofEast Jerusalem). In addition, the State of Israel encourages the construction of large multi-family buildings by construction corporations by imposing prohibitive taxes on private construction.

For example: a Palestinian family will have to pay 110,000 NIS for the permit to construct a 200 square meter house, not including the additional expense of excavating sewage pipes, and architect’s and lawyers’ fees.

Therefore, many Palestinian Jerusalemites opt to build without permits. Israel issues demolition orders that don’t have expiration dates and do not have to be implemented immediately. The constant threat of demolition creates enormous social and psychological tensions within Palestinian families and the community at large.

Political Oppression

Police and other state institutions do not answer the needs of the Palestinian population inEast Jerusalem and law enforcement is virtually nonexistent. Israeli police make two notable exceptions: repressing Palestinian political expression and guarding Israeli settlers. While the police ignore Palestinian complaints regarding public safety, community organizers and political leaders are often harassed by Israeli authorities.

The presence of Israeli settlers within Palestinian neighborhoods, along with law enforcement policies that aim to protect this presence, adds to Palestinian population’s feelings of insecurity and vulnerability.

When settlers use physical violence against Palestinian residents, the latter report that the police don’t enforce the law, taking no action against the settlers. Palestinians have also complained about police unwillingness to investigate instances where their property has been vandalized by settlers.

At the same time, all Palestinian political parties and organizations are banned from working in Jerusalem and membership in such a party or organization is in itself prohibited. Those who do join Palestinian political organizations risk lengthy prison terms or expulsion from the city and the revocation of residency rights.

Even the Palestinian flag is forbidden in East Jerusalem.

Revocation of Residency Rights

Over the years, Jerusalem’s demographics have become a major factor in the city’s planning and development. After 1967, Israel’s demographic policies aimed to secure a large and stable Jewish majority in Jerusalem in general, and East Jerusalem in particular, in order to prevent the realization of Palestinian national aspirations in the city.

In 1973, the Israeli government determined that the population proportion in Jerusalemshould be 73.5 percent Jews and 25.5 percent Arabs.  Later this desired proportion was changed to 72 percent Jews and 28 percent Palestinians, then to 70 percent and 30 percent. It is expected that by year 2020 Palestinians will be more than 40 percent of the city’s population.

The major challenges to Israel’s demographic aspirations in Jerusalem are a large rate of Israeli emigration from the city and a Palestinian birthrate that outstrips that of the Jewish population. Despite efforts to encourage Jewish immigration into Jerusalem, the Palestinian population is growing three times faster than the Jewish population—meaning that Israeli attempts to maintain a set population ratio in the city are likely to fail.

The following table shows that in the last 10 years the Israeli population in Jerusalem is decreasing while the Palestinian population continues to grow.

Year Israeli Palestinian Total
1967 195,700 67,609 263,309
1987 340,000 135,000 475,000
1990 378,200 146,200 524,400
2000 530,400 218,800 758,300
2009 479,756 294,044 773,800

Unable to challenge this reality, Israeli planners proposed intervention tools to preserve the Jewish majority in the city by implementing policies that aim to forcefully reduce the Palestinian presence in the city.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem are permanent residents as determined by the Entry to Israel law.

According to the Israeli law, Palestinian permanent residents are allowed to live and work inside Israel without a permit; they receive services provided by the National Insurance and they have the right to vote in local elections, but not in elections for the Knesset. Permanent residency status does not entitle Palestinians to a passport; in order to leave the country, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem must apply for and acquire a permit or a Travel Document. In the case of children, if one parent is not resident of Jerusalem, the children are not automatically considered permanent residents, and the family must apply for family reunification in order to live together.

Further, Israeli law states that residency can be revoked if a permanent resident spends more than seven years in another country, if one is granted permanent residency in a foreign country, or if one becomes a citizen of a foreign state.  Palestinians who study abroad often suffer from this clause, which forces them to permanently detach from their families.

From 1967 until the end of 2006, Israel revoked the residency rights of around 8,269 Palestinian Jerusalemites. Losing residency means losing the right to live in Jerusalem, access to social services, and the right to travel within Israel.

Isolation of Jerusalem

Isolating the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank is part and parcel to the process of annexing the city to Israel. Due to the isolation, the city is transformed from  the Palestinians’ ‘de facto’ capital into a series of Palestinian enclaves within a Jewish city.

The isolation of Arab East Jerusalem is established by three elements: a ring of settlements which buffers between the Palestinian population of Jerusalem and the West Bank, a ring of roads which primary serves Israeli settlers, and the separation barrier.

Settlements effectively isolate the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem from the Palestinian population in the West Bank: one on the municipal border of Jerusalem and the second surrounding the city within the West Bank.

Those settlements leave major gaps of continuous Palestinian population betweenJerusalem and other areas of the West Bank, which are covered by the construction of bypass roads and the separation barrier.

The construction of bypass roads establishes contiguity of settlements while effectively breaking apart Palestinian population centers, divides Palestinian urban centers and rural environments, and places physical limits on the urban development of towns and villages.

In addition, the construction of the separation barrier in the Jerusalem area creates new geographical realities:

*It constitutes de facto annexation all of ‘municipal’ and the majority of the ‘metropolitan’ settlements.

*Certain Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem find themselves on the ‘West Bank’ side of the separation barrier.

*Certain West Bank localities are ‘dislocated’ to the ‘Jerusalem’ side of the separation barrier and face uncertain residency status, impeded access to basic services, and risk of displacement.

  • West Bank neighborhoods and suburbs of East Jerusalem, which were once closely connected to the urban fabric, are now walled out, with devastating social and economic consequences.
  • The separation barrier also separates rural communities from their land in theJerusalem hinterland, resulting in impeded access for farmers and a decline in their agricultural production and livelihoods.

In addition, the Ma’ale Adumim wall route, which extends east of Jerusalem, cuts across the width of 45 percent the West Bank, effectively cutting severing the southern West Bank from the north and separating both southern and northern West Bank from the Jericho enclave and the only border crossing which Palestinians are allowed to use.

Greater Jerusalem

In 1995, an Israeli inter-ministerial committee finalized a new large-scale development plan for a region covering 40 percent of the West Bank and an equal percentage of its Palestinian residents.

The “Metropolitan Jerusalem Plan” significantly enlarges the scale of previous Israeli planning efforts for the Jerusalem region. The plan leaves little room for territorial compromise with the Palestinians across a large swath of the West Bank and threatens the last remaining prospects for the socio-economic rehabilitation of the Palestinian territories in the crucial core area of Jerusalem and precludes a meaningful degree of Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem and its environs.

This plan will drastically alter the landscape and livelihoods of the West Bank’s core area and its Palestinian and Israeli inhabitants. The scale of settlement building and road construction achieved during the past three decades within the unilaterally extended city limits of Jerusalem–most notably the settlement of more than 160,000 Israelis in annexed parts of the city–may be repeated in half that time and on a scale twice as large in terms of settler population and three times as large in terms of area.

Metropolitan Jerusalem measures 950 square kilometers, only 30 percent of which is within pre-1967 Israel. A sense of the scale of Israel’s planning effort can be noted by the inclusion of the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem in the Israeli planning area.