Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Whose Jerusalem by Naseer Aruri

Frequently Asked Questions

Fact sheet # 6


Naseer Aruri: Chancellor Professor of Political Science Emeritus, U. Mass, Dartmouth.


The Origins of Jerusalem

Jerusalem was known as Jebus, when it was inhabited by the Jebusites, an extraction of the Canaanites, during the late Bronze Age around the year 1400 B.C. It was subsequently conquered (not founded) by David, a descendant of Abraham around 1000 B.C. Between that time and 135 A.D, Jews were able to rule the city for about 600 years, prior to their expulsion by the Roman Emperor, Hadrian in 135.

Jerusalem became a Roman colony for the next two centuries, and a period of Christian ascendancy – Roman and Byzantine -- had extended from 324-638 A.D. Emperor Constantine, who had converted to Christianity in 325, built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. He allowed the Jews of the diaspora to do a pilgrimage once a year to pray and lament at the Western Wall.

As the Byzantines and Persian Sassinids were fighting each other in the early seventh century, the Arabs advanced towards Palestine, reaching the outskirts of the city in 637 A.D. The Patriarch of Jerusalem decided to surrender but only to the Caliph Omar himself. That inaugurated Muslim rule for the next thirteen centuries, interrupted by the Crusades rule between July 15, 1099 and July 4, 1187.

When Did The Arabs Rule Jerusalem?

When Arab-Muslim rule was inaugurated in 637, Jews, who had not been allowed to live in Jerusalem, returned to the city and continued to live in peace except during the period of the Crusades, when 70, 000 Jews and Muslims were slaughtered by the Crusades in the City. Meanwhile, Jerusalem was ruled by a number of Muslim-Arab dynasties, including the Umayads, two of whose Caliphs were inaugurated in Jerusalem. The Umayad Caliph, Abdel-Malik Ibn Marwan built the Dome of the Rock in 691/692.

The succeeding Dynasty- the Abbasids- continued to venerate the City, and the al-Aqsa Mosque was built by the Caliph Abu-Jaafar al-Mansour next to the Dome of the Rock. After the end of Abbasid rule in 969, the Fatimids captured Jerusalem, and later conceded it to the Seljuk Turks who ruled between 1071-1096, just three years before the Crusades conquered the City. The Crusaders were defeated by the Islamic armies of Salah al-Din al-Ayyoubi in 1187.

The City was later ruled by the Mamelouks between 1247 and 1517, when the Ottoman Turks conquered much of the Arab world, including Jerusalem- relinquishing it together with all of Palestine to the British in 1922. Britain ruled Palestine under a League of Nations Mandate until 1948.

What happened in Palestine and the city of Jerusalem during British Rule?

The British Mandate period over Palestine was marked by numerous uprisings against the colonial –settler policies of the Zionist movement, intent on establishing Palestine as a Jewish state. As a result of a severe clash between Arabs and Jews in the City, an international team of investigation was dispatched to the city to resolve the issue of the right of worship and ownership of the holy places. On June 8, 1931, the results of the investigations were put into law. Regarding the Western Wall and the adjacent Moghrabi Quarters, the report stated:

To the Muslims belongs the sole ownership and the sole proprietary right to The Western Wall, seeing fit that it forms an integral part of the Haram esh Sharif area. To the Muslims there also belongs the ownership of the pavement in front of the Moghrabi( Moroccan) Quarter opposite the Wall.”

After the 1937-1939 Palestinian Rebellion, a Royal Commission proposed the partition of Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish with a Jerusalem-Bethlehem enclave to be endowed with an international status. That proposal was later adopted by the United Nations as the deadline for British withdrawal from Palestine was drawing nearer. On November 29, 1947 the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 (II) to divide Palestine into two states with Jerusalem as a corpus separatum under international control. None of that was implemented, as the Zionist militias began to ethnic cleanse Palestinian Arabs residing in the areas allotted to the Jewish state, and beyond, including Jerusalem. The bulk of the refugee problem was thus created during the Spring of 1948 while Britain was still in charge of keeping law and order. Meanwhile, with regard to Jerusalem, the British Mandatory tampered with its municipal boundaries, resorting to the method of gerrymandering in order to guarantee a Jewish majority in the City. The western boundaries were stretched by a few kilometers in order to encompass a number of Jewish communities within the boundaries of the City, such as Bet Hakerem, Bet Vegan, and Qiryat Moshe. By contrast, the southern and eastern boundaries were stretched by only a few meters so as to exclude from Municipal Jerusalem the following Arab communities: Aizariyeh, Silwan, al-Tour, Abu-Tour, Lifta, Ein Karem, Malha, Deir Yassin, Beit Safafa and Ras al-Amoud.

By the truce of April 3, 1949, which followed the outbreak of the war in May 1948 between Zionist forces and Arab armies, Jewish control had expanded in the vicinity of Jerusalem to the western part including the Arab quarters of Qatamon, Baqa’a and Talbiyeh.


The City, which had become, in a way, the capital of Palestine during the 19th century, and whose importance for about three thousand years derived less from commerce, communications or defense but was largely due to its religious and political character, was in danger of loosing that character in the mid-twentieth century. A continuous Muslim/Arab rule had prevailed for nearly 13 centuries, from 637 A.D. until 1917 A.D. Subsequently, three decades of British rule paved the way for a transformation of the city and the country. By the end of that rule, a systematic attempt to dwarf its Muslim/Arab character and to make it a predominately Jewish metropolis had proceeded with complete disregard to international law and morality. While the multi-religious character was preserved throughout the 13 centuries of Muslim/Arab rule, the ongoing Judaization campaign by Israel and the Zionist movement is geared towards a Jewish ascendancy and an erosion of Christian and Muslim influence. To that end, tampering with Jerusalem at the level of boundaries, demography, culture and history has been an ongoing process since 1948. A forcible transformation reveals a city in flux, in a state of rapid transition and in a race against history.

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What Happened To Jerusalem After 1948?

With Jordanian and Israeli forces occupying East and West Jerusalem, respectively in 1948, The City began to assume a dual character. The policies of both states were directed towards integrating each occupied section into the respective state. Both took their own separate steps to extend their own jurisdiction to the portions they occupied, in the face of international disapproval. Jordan established a municipal council in December 1948 and expanded the borders of the municipality to include the Arab villages and neighborhoods of Silwan, Aqabat al-Suwana, Ard al-Samar, Ras al-Amoud and Southern Shoufat. The only Jewish sectors of Jerusalem lost to Jordan in 1948 were Mount Scopus, the Jewish quarter and the Western (Wailing) Wall inside the old city. Israel, on the other hand, extended its jurisdiction to nine Arab villages and neighborhoods, which together made up the bulk of what has become known as West Jerusalem, and commonly considered Israeli since 1948. In fact, the predominantly Jewish section of West Jerusalem was but a slice of what became known as Israeli West Jerusalem. The Arab villages that were annexed to "West Jerusalem" were Lifta, Deir Yasin, Ein Karem, and Al-Maliha. The urban centers annexed to West Jerusalem were Talbiya, Al-Qatamon, upper and lower Baqa'a, Mamila, and the Abu-Tour-Musrara quarter. Together, the four villages totaled 28,486 donums of land (1 donum equals 1000 sq. meters or roughly one fourth of an acre), 90 percent of which were owned by Palestinian Arabs. Today this area constitutes most of Jewish West Jerusalem, which houses the Knesset and a number of  ministries including the Prime Minister's office.


Palestinian Owned

Jewish Owned



Lifta and Sheikh Badr





Deir Yasin





Ein Karem












It should be noted that the Palestinian residents of these villages were driven out of their homes and property between April and July 1948. The infamous massacre of Deir Yasin was committed by Menachem Begin's Irgun on April 9, 1948. Today,Deir Yasin is a Jewish industrial zone.

Over 30,000 of the inhabitants of the Arab villages and urban centers around Jerusalem were driven out by force or fled the outbreak of violence, several months before 2000 Jews were forced out of the Jewish quarter in the Old City by the Jordanians. The residence of the Israeli President stands today on Palestinian-owned land in Talbiya. The nearby Muslim cemetery of Mamila was converted to the Israeli Independence Park with lawns, playgrounds and restrooms. Acccontained slightly over a quarter of a million inhabitants of whom 59.6 ording to British mandate statistics, the Jerusalem sub-district percent were Arabs, and 40.4 percent were Jews. In the western part that was conquered by Israel in 1948, the size of which was 251, 945 dunams, 91.8 percent (231,446 dunams) was Arab-owned, 2.7 percent was Jewish-owned, and the rest (6 percent) was public land. After the armistice of 1949, the new West Jerusalem was comprised of land, 40 percent of which was owned by Arabs, 26.12 percent owned by Jews and the rest was public land and religious property. This Arab-owned land, like other land throughout Palestine, was transferred to the Israel Land Authority (Keren Keyemet) and to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose charter prohibits the transfer of JNF land to any non-Jews. Thus, this intent was to make the seizure irrevocable and the redefinition of Jerusalem permanent pending further expansion, ongoing since 1967. Israel moved on to consolidate its control of the large traits of land annexed in 1948/49 when the Parliament (Knesset) proclaimed Jerusalem the capital of Israel on January 23, 1950. Israeli ministries were also moved to the newly demarcated city in 1951. Following that, Jordan moved to formalize its control of the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem, though with the declared promise that the move did not prejudice the final outcome of the Palestine question.

As the division began to assume a permanent character, the political, psychological, religious and cultural barriers were also consolidated. By the 1950's Jerusalem became two very different cities, one Arab, the other European. Meanwhile the U.N. efforts to keep internationalization alive were fading, and yet, most countries maintained embassies and diplomatic legations in Tel Aviv in deference to the U.N. Resolution. That process has involved massive tampering with the city's territorial and demographic character, its historic and cultural legacy, its architectural integrity and its very identity. To accomplish that, numerous illegal actions were taken, including annexation, settlement building, ethnic cleansing, and house demolition. A plethora of legal subterfuges continues to be enforced in order to restrict Arab population growth, utilizing building permits, zoning procedures, residency rights and road construction. All of this is part and parcel of a systematic attempt to dwarf the city’s Muslim and Christian character and to put an end to a period of thirteen centuries of religious and ethnic toleration, co-existence and inclusiveness.

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Having consolidated its control of West Jerusalem after 1948, Israel used its 1967 conquest as an opportunity to extend its jurisdiction to the Jordanian-ruled East Jerusalem, and to enlarge the boundaries yet another time to add numerous new Arab villages and neighborhoods. More than 25 percent of the area known as the West Bank was expropriated and incorporated into a newly- created greater Jerusalem. The physical barriers between East and West Jerusalem were removed. The Moghrabi section of the Old City was totally razed with its 350 homes for more than 1500 residents, who were subsequently expelled in order to accommodate a new plaza in front of the Western Wall. Defying U.N. resolutions the Israeli Knesset adopted three legislative acts on June 27, 28 and 29, 1967, extending Israeli law to the occupied Eastern sector of the city and enlarging the municipal boundaries of "united" Jerusalem, which had suddenly grown from 44,000 donums to 108,000 donums (approximately 29,000 acres). According to Sarah Kaminker, an Israeli town planner in the Jerusalem municipality, the new land grab constituted 70,500 donums (about 17,500 acres), which had almost doubled what had been quadrupled in 1948. Israel managed to avoid adding about 80,000 Arabs to the population of the expanded city by not applying its amendment to the Law and Administration Ordinance to the Arab villages of Abu-Dis, Anata, Hizma, Beit Iksa, Beit Hanina, and al-Ram, as well as the Qalandia refugee camp and the neighborhood of Bethany. To bolster the Zionist dictum of acquiring the land without the people, Israel carried out a general census of the entire newly occupied territory, including Jerusalem on July 25, 1967. All residents who were away working, visiting relatives or touring were considered absentees and thus denied their right to reside in the City. That was also applied to the Palestinian civilians who either fled the fighting or were persuaded to board the Israeli buses waiting to take them to the Allenby Bridge. An estimated number of 100,000 lost their international right to belong to their national patrimony. The process of dispossession, displacement, dismemberment, disenfranchisement and dispersal, which was savagely applied to the Palestinians in 1948, was reenacted systematically after 1967. For Jerusalem and its surroundings, the objective was to create a huge Jewish metropolis that would disrupt the territorial continuity of the West Bank, keep the Arab population to no more than a manageable 30 percent and preempt any sovereign existence for the Palestinians there. To operationalize that imperative, Israel mobilized varied resources and utilized legal gimmickry that would facilitate the passing of Arab land into Jewish ownership, and then making it off limits to Arabs. During the past 25 years, more than 33 percent, or about 16 square miles of the expanded Arab East Jerusalem areas were confiscated. East Jerusalem, which was a mere 4.3 square miles or 4% of all of Jerusalem prior to 1967, is now 48 square miles or 63% of the newly redefined Jerusalem-expanding eleven fold. The land confiscated from the West Bank is now part of non-negotiable Jerusalem, and is not therefore an issue for discussion until the so-called final status negotiations. Netanyahu’s so-called "umbrella municipality" adopted on June 25, 1998 had simply formalized what is now "greater Jerusalem". It extended Jerusalem's jurisdiction from a territory of 48 square miles to 72 square miles, by incorporating the illegal settlements of Givat Ze`ev to the North, Ma`ale Adumim to the East and Betar and Efrata to the South. The new Jewish population thus added plus the 142,000 apartments built for Jews only, will accomplish Israel's demographic balance of 70 Jewish majority and a tolerated Arab minority of less than 30%. Such an enterprise, which flies in the face of numerous U.N. resolutions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention (1949) and even the Oslo Accords, may last 20, 30 or even 50 years; but it will not last forever. For it is being driven by the engine of power and hegemony.

Ethnic cleansing and apartheid-style living, which have already been discredited in the world, will ultimately crash head on with the norms of universalist humanism. How long can the Jewish ideals of tolerance and conciliation remain alienated from the Israeli political agenda? How long can the Palestinian people remain reticent in the face of steady conquest proceeding under no-war conditions? The future of Palestine/Israel will be more secure when all the inhabitants of that land, Muslims, Christians and Jews, can feel equal under the law and can co-exist in a society free of population quotas, by-pass roads, and discriminatory legislation-a society which can give dignity to every single human being. The widely publicized “compromise” offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David II in July, 2000 is very distant from these ideals in that it expects the Palestinian and Arab people to acquiesce in Israeli sovereignty over a city that has been unilaterally expanded twelve fold since 1967. The Palestine Authority would be given civil control in the surrounding villages and Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. The Muslim and Christian Holy Places would be effectively under Israeli sovereignty, but The Palestinians would be offered a formula that would allow them to claim that they have control over the Holy Places. In fact, under the dying Oslo formula Arafat would be able to establish his government in the village of Abu-Dis, but it could be called Jerusalem. The uprising which began on September 28th of this year after Israel’s General Sharon made his provocative and unwelcome visit to the Haram al-Sharif, served notice that the gap is wide not only between the Palestinians and Israel but also between the Palestinians and Mr. Arafat.

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