Jerusalem — Past and Present - Part ii

(Continued from the previous issue)

During the British occupation, Jerusalem was the political and administrative centre of their administration. As Jews gained strength, thanks to the British support despite repeated Arab protests and revolts, a private Jewish army called Haganah and many Jewish terrorist organizations like Irgun, sprang up. Immediately after the second world war, they started a guerilla war against the British in Palestine. A weakened and exhausted Britain found it impossible to govern Palestine and therefore referred the issue to the UN which in November 1947 recommended the partition of Palestine, giving 56 percent to the Jewish minority (which constituted only 23 percent of the population of Palestine at the time and owned only 6 percent of its private land), 42 percent to the Arabs (the rest was earmarked for an international regime in Jerusalem).

But Jerusalem with adjacent areas like Talibiya, al-Qatmoun and Al-Buq’ah as well as 66 Arab villages which included Deir Yasin, Al-Malihah and Ein Karem, was recommended to be placed under an international regime administered by the United Nations. The borders of this international regime also included the Arab localities of Mauta in the west, Shu’fat in the north, Abu Dis in the east and Betlehem in the south. Arabs rejected the unjust UN partition plan so it was never implemented.

During the war of 1948, Arabs constituted the majority of the population of Jerusalem. According to the 1946 estimates by the British administration, the population of Jerusalem was as follows:

                          Jerusalem              Suburbs

Palestinians       56,010                     150,590

Jews                  99,320                     102,520

Others               110                          160

Total                  155,440                   253,270


Properties and land ownership in Jerusalem in 1946

                                          Arabs       Jews        State*

Western Jerusalem            40%        26.1%     33,9%


and adjacent areas            84%        2%          14%

Western villages                                90%        10%

          * includes state-owned land and waqf properties


Jews started their military operations to expel the Arabs since early 1948 long before 14 May 1948 when they unilaterally proclaimed the establishment of their state called “Israel.” Ragtag Arab irregulars fighting under the banner of Jaish Al-Inqadh (Army of Rescue) were no match to the trained Jewish private army, the Haganah, and umpteen Jewish terrorist outfits which went out to expel as many Arabs as possible from areas they managed to occupy across the country. Some Arab armies also sent contingents which had strict orders not to occupy beyond what was sanctioned for Arab Palestinians in the UN partition plan while Jews were not bound by this plan. They managed to occupy 78 percent of the mandated Palestine with the exception of West Bank and Gaza Strip. In Jerusalem, the then Jordanian commander Col. Abdullah Al-al, defied the orders and occupied Eastern Jerusalem which constituted 11 percent of the municipal areas of the city. Another four percent of the city, also occupied by the Jordanian army, was declared as “neutral” and the UN was allowed to establish its offices there.

A total of 80,000 Palestinian Arabs were expelled from their homes and lands from within the boundaries of the city, especially from Western Jerusalem. Israel at once moved to occupy their properties under the Absentee Property Law and went ahead to demolish 40 Arab villages and localities in parts of Jerusalem occupied by the Jews.

An armistice agreement was signed between Jordan and Israel in 1949. It divided Jerusalem into Eastern and Western parts with a border between them which was named the “Green Line”. The eastern part included Al-Aqsa compound and the historical city of Jerusalem.

On 2 Febrary 1949, Israeli prime minister Ben Gurion announced that Western Jerusalem is part of Israel and on 13 December of same year, Israel designated Jerusalem as its capital. The UN General Assembly through resolution 303, issued on 19 December 1949, rejected the Israeli move and resolved to place the holy city under an international regime with guaranteed protection for holy places therein. As a result, the international community, including countries which recorgnised Israel continue to keep their embassies to this day in Tel Aviv.

In 1951, Israel passed Absentee Property Law which transferred the ownership of all abandoned properties to the government of Israel. In the meanwhile, Jordan annexed the West Bank including East Jerusalem despite protests by the Palestinians and Arab countries while Egypt kept Gaza Strip under military rule in anticipation of the liberation of other parts of Palestine.

In 1964, the Jordanian government decided to expand the municipal areas of East Jerusalem to have a total area of 70 sq. kms but before this plan could be implemented the June 1967 war erupted which led to the fall of East Jerusalem under Israeli occupation.

Western Jerusalem, meanwhile had expanded to include new Jewish localities like Kiryat Yofil, Kiryat Menachem, Eir Nahanim and the evacuated Arab villages of Ein Karem, Beit Safafa, Deir Yasin, Lifta and Al-Maliha. Israel called it “New Jerusalem” and erected a wall to separate it from the East Jerusalem. This wall was dismantled in June 1967 when Israel occupied Jerusalem as well as all the parts of Palestine it had earlier failed to occupy in 1948. It hastened to bulldoze Arab localities adjacent to the Wailing Wall like the Moroccan Quarter which existed since the days of Salahuddin and created a large ground there for the assembly of Jews. Israel also acquired more than 70,000 dunam land of East Jerusalem and West Bank, owned by Palestinian Arabs, and annexed it to the Jerusalem municipality ( study on Jerusalem “Al-Quds Hikayat Madinah Muhtallah”:  From 1967 to 2001, Israel had built 46,978 dwellings on these acquired lands and not one single dwelling was allotted to the Arabs who represented 33 percent of the city population ( study). Israel has also refrained from publishing future structural plans for the Arab areas of Jerusalem with the exception of the plans which designate vast areas as “green” or “open” lands where construction is not allowed. Roughly, 40 percent of East Jerusalem has been declared as green or open. Whatever plans Israel has published until 1999, it become clear that construction by Arabs is allowed only in 11 percent areas of East Jerusalem and these areas are already built up. These restrictions have resulted in the fact that the population density in Arab areas of Jerusalem is 11.9 meters per person while it is 23.8 meters per person in Jewish areas of Jerusalem ( study cited above).

Soon after the occupation of East Jerusalem, IIsrael announced on 28 June, 1967 the unification of the two parts of the city taking care to exclude as many Arab Palestinian areas as possible from the new city limits which included lands of 28 Arab towns and villages but most of the Arab residential areas were kept out. Under the new arrangements, East Jerusalem grew from 6.5 sq kms to 70.5 sq kms and with the inclusion of Western Jerusalem, the total area of the new unified city became 198.5 sq. kms.

In order to strengthen its Jewish character and to ensure future expansion of Jewish localities and settlements, more areas were added to Jerusalem’s municipal limits in 1995 out of West Bank as well as from Israel beyond the so-called Green Line. Israel is now further planning to expand the municipal limits of Jerusalem to run alongside the apartheid wall to the east and to include the new Jewish settlements in the West Bank where 90,069 Jewish settlers live today and this will mean a further addition of 162 sq. kms. to the current limits of the city ( study cited above).

Israel started hectic settlement activity in the new limits of Jerusalem of both “legal” (sanctioned by the State) and “illegal” (unsanctioned) nature with a view to change its demography for good. At the same time, Israel unleashed a policy of exclusion and expulsion of Jerusalem’s Arab residents. This took many forms from refusal to allow the return of residents who happened to be outside Jerusalem when it was occupied in 1967, expulsion of residents on various pretexts, acquisition of their homes and lands for various reasons, demolition of houses on the pretext that they were built without acquiring permits which have been made extremely difficult and expensive for Arabs.

In 1980, Israeli parliament, the Knesset, resolved to declare the unified Jerusalem as the “Eternal Capital” of Israel. At the same time Israel unleashed an international propaganda drive to sell the idea of “Jerusalem 3000” using imaginary maps, photos and doubtful archeological findings. The campaign meant that Jews had a continuous presence in and connection with the city for 3000 years and therefore it should remain as the heart of the Jewish State.

During the Oslo I and II accords of 1993, Jerusalem was one of the main issues deferred for later negotiations like boundaries, return of the refugees and natural resources. These were supposed to have ended during 2004-2005 but nothing of the sort has happened to this date as a result of Israeli rejection to return East Jerusalem to the control of the Palestinian Authority and delaying tactics.

In 1921, the British redrew the boundaries of the Jerusalem and in addition to the old city, added a 400 metre wide strip to the east of the city walls as well as added to it the localities of Bab al-Sahirah, Wadi Al-Jauz and Shaikh Jarrah to the north. In the west, the new Jewish localities were added to the city as well as the Arab localities of Al-Qatmoun, Al-Buq’ah Al-Fauqa, Al-Buq’ah Al-Tahta, Al-Talibiyah, Al-Wa’riyah, Al-Shaikh Badr and Mamanallah.

Another reorganization of Jerusalem was again done by the British in 1946 when they added to it the Arab village of Salwan to the south and Wadi Al-Jauz.  

Israel has followed a number of measures to decrease the Arab population and increase the numbers of the Jews in East Jerusalem and these include: 1) Building new Jewish settlements and localities; 2) Building dwellings at cheap rates for Jews only; 3) emphasizing on the Jewish character of the city and encouraging Jews to rent or buy homes in Arab localities of the city; 4) Prevention of new arrivals of the Arabs into the city from outside, especially the West Bank; 5) Forcing Arabs to build vertically and not horizontally in their localities despite the availability of vacant lands in their areas and preventing repairs in the refugee camps of Shu’fat and Qalandia; 6) Demolition of so-called “unlicensed” buildings in the Palestinian localities of East Jerusalem while maintaining a state of vagueness about the titles of the properties in these areas. The Israeli occupation authorities plan to build 12,00 new dwellings in East Jerusalem this year while only 200 building or rebuilding permits have been issued to the Arabs of East Jerusalem; and 7) Acquisition of land in the name of “public interest”.

Other measures include changing the names and appearances of areas in East Jerusalem in order to sound and look like Hebrew; pressuring Arab inhabitants to leave the city like the case of Bustan and Sheikh Jarrah localities where Israel is building King David Gardens and changing building elevations to make them look like monuments of the Herodian period. While Jewish organizations from across the globe, especially the US, are encouraged to take part in the building, buying, renovation and settlement activities in Jerusalem and beyond, flow of foreign funds to Arab societies is squeezed.

This is the second installment of the Nizam Endowment Lecture delivered by the author at the Visva Bharti University (Shantiniketan) on 15 February, 2011

To be continued in the next issue