In the many heated discussions about East Jerusalem's political
future within the framework of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
the focus is invariably the city's holiness, its symbolic
character, its importance to Palestinians and Israelis and to the
international community. Therefore, most of the policies are
oriented towards objects, buildings, walls, history, sanctity, etc.
The people inhabiting the city, however, are usually forgotten or
marginalized. They have no say in determining their future and
status; they are mostly invisible.
When Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, the residents of the
city, as well as those of the rest of the West Bank, were Jordanian
citizens holding Jordanian passports. Israel imposed Israeli law on
the city and unilaterally annexed the territory of East Jerusalem,
but without extending Israeli citizenship to its inhabitants.
Palestinian Jerusalemites were issued Israeli identity cards1.
These enable them to have civil - not political - rights and
duties, and are given only to those who can prove their residency
within the municipal borders of the city, as defined by
Since 1967 and to date, some 6,600 Jerusalemites have lost their
residency rights for a variety of reasons, such as traveling abroad
for more than three years, having their center of life outside the
municipal borders or marrying non-resident spouses. These
statistics do not include the dependent children of those who have
lost their identity cards. Israeli law treats East Jerusalem
Palestinians as though it is they who entered Israel in 19673 and
not Israel that occupied East Jerusalem that same year.
In spite of the fact that most Palestinians fulfill their duties by
paying taxes, the majority do not participate in the most important
element of the decision-making process - municipal elections. This
form of resistance or non-participation, attributable to political
and nationalistic reasons,4 is very important for the understanding
of Israeli demographic policies in East Jerusalem since 1967, and
the effects these policies have on the living standards in the city
and the deterioration in the quality of life there.
Immediately after it occupied East Jerusalem, the Israeli
government conducted a census and registered 66,000 Palestinians
within the expanded borders of the city. The census excluded all
"absentees" who were, for one reason or another (work, study,
vacation or escaping the war), outside Jerusalem. According to
Israeli estimates, the percentage of Palestinians in the city was
25.8%. Officially, Israel has been seeking through several means
(see below) to keep the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem
below 30% (some say 27%) of the total population of "united
Jerusalem."5 This policy failed when the Palestinians managed to
exceed this percentage in 1999 (31.1%) and again in 2002 (not less
than 33%) according to Israeli statistics. Palestinian statistics
reflect even higher percentages.6 Despite Israel's demographic
policy in Jerusalem, the demographic trend is clearly in favor of
the Palestinian population. This has become obvious since 1996 when
the growth rate rose from 2.9% to 4% in 1999, while Israeli growth
declined from 1.2% in 1996 and to 1.1% in 1999.
The Israeli policy of "demographic monopoly" was carried out
through the transfer of some of the Jewish population from West
Jerusalem, along with new immigrants from abroad and other parts of
Israel, to the newly built Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. It
is not clear whether the Jewish population in East Jerusalem has
exceeded the 50% mark or not at this point, as the published
figures lack accuracy and are influenced by politics on both sides.
At the same time, we must recognize that, while East Jerusalem was
very attractive to the Jewish population for several reasons, it
gradually lost its attraction for the Palestinians due to a number
of push factors.
The Birth of a Civil Society
With the collapse of the Jordanian administration in East Jerusalem
in the wake of the Arab defeat in the 1967 war, the Palestinians in
the city began to organize themselves in order to protect their
interests (and those of the West Bank and Gaza) on the political,
socioeconomic, administrative and service levels through the
formation of civil society institutions. The Israeli civil law
imposed on the city was very helpful in this respect; whereas it
was impossible to establish an institutionalized Palestinian
leadership in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as they were
subjected to Israeli military rule, which prevented the development
of civil society.
One of the earliest institutions established in Jerusalem soon
after 1967 was the Islamic Higher Council, which saw itself as a
representative of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and
a guardian of the Islamic holy places in Jerusalem and the West
Bank. Others began to restore the educational system and establish
schools independent of those administered by the Israeli
municipality. Similar organizations were set up in the health,
social and youth sectors. Unions for professionals and workers were
established, as well as charitable societies and media
organizations. The result was that Jerusalem began to lead the
occupied territories politically and became the administrative,
cultural and services center of Palestine.
Like so many Palestinian organs, Orient House rose gradually to
prominence. It began as a research center, the Arab Study Society,
established towards the end of the 1970s by the late Faisal
al-Husseini to front for his political activities as a Fateh
representative and PLO member. While the society continued to work
on documentation and research on Jerusalem and the Arab-Israeli
conflict, it also evolved into a major political voice for the
Palestinians in East Jerusalem and, on certain issues, for all
Palestinians in the occupied territories. Al-Husseini, capitalizing
in part on the reputation of his illustrious family history,8
managed to gain high credibility among the population. The late
1980s saw him rise from a local Palestinian leader to an
international figure through his preparation for the peace process
negotiations at the Madrid Conference for Peace in the Middle East.
In fact, it is very difficult to imagine the breakthrough in the
peace process (1990-1991) without taking into account the role
Orient House played on every level - among Palestinians in the
occupied territories and in the Diaspora (especially the
Palestinian leadership in Tunisia), as well as on the Israeli and
The rise of Orient House is to be seen as the result of a long
institution-building process of civil society, as well as filling
the vacuum created by the Israeli decision to dissolve the Arab
municipality and other Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem. Thus,
Orient House became a political and institutional umbrella for the
Palestinians in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories.
It was also ample demonstration of the failed Israeli control in
A State within a State
The Palestinians in East Jerusalem have managed to develop a
sociopolitical network with which to counter Israel's negligence to
address their daily needs and, at the same time, to resist the
annexationist policies that sought to dilute their national rights.
This ran the gamut from political forums and conflict resolution
mechanisms, to a sort of shadow municipality, to social services
and institutional networking. All of these efforts led to some form
of independence of East Jerusalem from Israel. The process turned
the "united capital" into two separate cities, living together but
divided. As Michael Roman notes, "In Jerusalem, a Jewish or Arab
identity [has become] attributed not only to individuals and
neighborhoods but to practically every public institution and
economic entity. Indeed, this refers not only to national,
religious or other culturally related institutions, such as schools
and theaters, but also to each hospital, hotel, or taxi
To a certain extent, Palestinian Jerusalem was until the late 1980s
the major urban center of the West Bank. It was home to the major
social institutions, the most specialized hospitals, the most
developed markets, and to renowned educational and research
centers. In addition to being the spiritual heart for both Muslim
and Christian communities in Palestine, it is the center of the
leading religious institutions.10
The Peace Process
With the launch of the Madrid Conference in 1991, Israel embarked
on steps for the implementation of its own vision of peace,
disregarding the negotiating process. The first was the
establishment of a permanent checkpoint between the Gaza Strip and
Israel. This was followed in 1993 by isolating Jerusalem from the
West Bank and requiring all Palestinians to obtain permits to enter
Jerusalem. Since then East Jerusalem has been isolated from its
kindred territories, leading to a steady deterioration of the
situation in the holy city.
The Gradual Collapse of East Jerusalem
Clearly, East Jerusalem has paid a hefty price for the peace
process. From the outset, the closure was imposed on it, divesting
it of its position as an Arab metropolis, isolating it from its
hinterland, driving it to increased dependency on Israeli markets
and institutions, and intensifying the pressure on its population.
Indeed, the situation in Jerusalem is so explosive that it is
liable to erupt any day. The main contributing factors are the
sealing of the city, the acceleration of Jewish settlement activity
and expansion, the deportation of its inhabitants, the closure of
Palestinian institutions in the city, the redefined city
boundaries, the decline of the rule of law, and 40 years of Israeli
The features of Israel's scheme for Jerusalem and its environs are
only now beginning to surface in the wake of a series of successive
plans that are blatantly interconnected. The Israeli government and
the Jerusalem Municipality have exploited the world's preoccupation
with 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has
tied together all of its earlier moves. We can identify the
following actions and plans, which will impact not only the
political solution of the Jerusalem issue, but also the
socioeconomic development of East Jerusalem, leading to its
isolation from the West Bank and to the fragmentation of most of
its neighborhoods. These can be summarized in the outer ring
settlements, the inner ring road, the ring road, and the separation
Israel's practices, its settlement policy and the closure are not
the only factors accountable for the collapse of the Palestinian
institutions in Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority (PA) and the
international community are also to blame. The PA, bound by the
agreements with Israel, invested only indirectly and irregularly in
Jerusalem. Before the PA in 1995, several Arab funds were channeled
to supporting and maintaining the continuity of most of the
Palestinian social, educational, health and political institutions
in East Jerusalem. These funds, in addition to the Israeli
investments, had raised East Jerusalem's living standards to a
level surpassing those of the rest of the occupied territories.
After the establishment of the PA, the priorities shifted and the
financial support was channeled mainly to the establishment of PA
institutions and the improvement of its infrastructure. It would be
very difficult to argue that the PA invested in Jerusalem to the
same degree as it did in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Furthermore, the rise of Ramallah as a de facto PA "capital" has
attracted institutions and skilled labor away from East Jerusalem.
Businesses followed, drawn by Ramallah's growth as a market
promising rapid development, offering attractive investment laws
and an escape from the high Israeli taxes in Jerusalem. The closure
of Jerusalem since 1993 has slowly led to a tangible development in
the satellite neighborhoods outside the municipal borders, such as
Ezariyya, Abu Dis, A-Ram and Bir Nabala.
The deterioration process reached its peak with the outbreak of the
al-Aqsa intifada and the collapse of the tourism sector, which was
a major source of income for East Jerusalem. The untimely death of
Faisal al-Husseini was a further setback for the city. Since his
death, the city has been grappling with a leadership problem. None
of the plethora of aspiring leaders has been able to fill his shoes
and to gain the trust of the people, or to assure the continuity of
his services to the city.
Israel took advantage of this situation and issued orders for the
closure of several institutions, among them Orient House, the
Chamber of Commerce, the Small Projects Office, the Department of
Land and Mapping, the Old City Rehabilitation Committee and other
vital institutions that served the citizens of Jerusalem. The
closure of Orient House and the collapse of other related and
unrelated institutions led to the dismantling of the invisible
Palestinian security forces that worked under the umbrella of
Orient House (tolerated by the Israeli security establishment, and
sometimes in cooperation with it). These forces had given the
Jerusalemites a sense of security and provided a mechanism for
conflict resolution. Indeed, most of the internal conflicts among
Palestinians in Jerusalem had been solved through the good offices
of these forces.
With the eruption of the al-Aqsa intifada, the Israelis focused
their attention on security issues, leaving public order in East
Jerusalem virtually in the hands of nobody. The Israeli police in
Jerusalem and the municipality admit that crime is on the rise.
They claim that the lack of investment on all levels is at the root
of such negative developments. As usual, it is the lack of money
and resources that get blamed for the situation, and not the
asymmetrical investment, the negligence and the socioeconomic push
factors to which East Jerusalemites are subjected.
More Refugee Camps
The factors discussed above have led to a rise in poverty in East
Jerusalem. We do not have clear and reliable statistics about East
Jerusalem; I am, therefore, forced to rely on empirical
observation. The closure of Jerusalem, the settlement activity, the
intifada, the separation wall, the land confiscation, the lack of
allocated land for housing, the lack of public investment - all of
these factors have affected the city in a very dramatic way. In
spite of all that, many Palestinians have left their dwellings in
the satellite neighborhoods (mainly located in the West Bank),
looking for housing in East Jerusalem.
The building restrictions and absence of zoning and master planning
in East Jerusalem has caused a housing crisis, forcing people to
live in conditions much worse than what they have been used to. The
acute housing shortage has led to the construction of many
unplanned and "unlicensed" buildings. This is more frequent in
disadvantaged neighborhoods, where more apartments have been added
to already poorly built houses (Silwan and A-Thuri). These
neighborhoods are in the process of becoming slums.
The most interesting example is the Shu'fat Refugee Camp. The
number of officially registered refugees, according to UNRWA, does
not exceed 6,000, but the actual number of those now living in the
camp (according to social workers, youth clubs and stakeholders in
the camp) exceeds 17,000. If this is accurate, it means that around
11,000 inhabitants have become de facto refugees, living in
miserable social conditions.11 The same phenomenon is unfolding in
three additional communities: A-Thuri, Silwan, Wadi Qaddum - and,
less obviously, in Wadi al-Joz.
The Old City
The Old City of Jerusalem is becoming the focal point in recent
attempts at finding solutions. The developments in the Old City in
recent years are the consequence of an accumulation of misguided
policies by British, Jordanian and Israeli governments. Today the
majority of the Old City's population, mainly Muslims, is poor.
This involves all poverty-related problems: unemployment, drugs,
family violence, sexual abuse and petty crime.
The Old City is densely populated: almost half of the 0.871 square
kilometers that make up the Old City provides residence for its
estimated 36,000 inhabitants, while the other half consists of
religious places - the Haram al-Sharif being the largest - and
public buildings, such as schools, hospices and market places. This
situation is reflected in the Old City's small-sized residential
units. Statistics show, for example, that around 60% of the units
in the Muslim Quarter average 40 square meters, while 25% are less
than 20 square meters. Coupled with an average family size of 6.3
persons, this conveys the gravity of the living standards. This
high population density is an indicator of the high poverty rate in
the Old City as a whole and the Muslim Quarter in particular.
Living standards as well as density, the physical condition of
buildings, public services, and social characteristics differ from
one quarter to the other. The Muslim Quarter has the highest
population density and lowest public services, while the Armenian
Quarter has the lowest density (close to the Jewish), and the
Jewish Quarter enjoys the highest level of public services and
The Old City also suffers from the on-going political conflict that
adversely affects the livelihood of its inhabitants. In recent
years, it has seen a rising emigration rate among both social and
economic elites, thus leaving behind less fortunate families.
Equally seriously, the situation is leading to the destruction of
the cultural heritage of the city, which also has enormous
The question that every politician should ponder is not only the
form of political solution for Jerusalem. The real question is: Can
the city that lives under the above-mentioned conditions -
regardless of whether it remains open, or whether it will be
divided and how - really provide good neighborliness or be
conducive to any kind of coexistence?
1 The land of Jerusalem was annexed, but not the people who are
living on it.
2 The border of the city has undergone several stages aimed at
controlling as much space as possible with the least possible
Palestinian population. As a result of the continuous expansion of
the city borders, Jerusalem became the largest city under Israeli
administration and larger than many world capitals.
cording to the 1952 Israel Law of Entry
4 The issue of participating in the municipal elections is still
controversial among Palestinians. The minority sees in it a civil
right that can help Palestinians not just to affect their daily
life and to improve living conditions and maybe to influence the
political future of the city. The majority consider such
participation a form of legitimizing occupation, annexation and
Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and a façade for Israel's
anti-Palestinian measures in the city. I have to admit here that
the issue was rarely discussed in a comprehensive form, and it was
very much affected by the boycott policies taken in the aftermath
of the 1967 war.
the demographic discussion, see Michael Dumper, The Politics of
Jerusalem since 1967 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997),
th Palestinian and Israeli statistics are derived from estimations,
which make all statistics somewhat unreliable.
7 Orient House is a very important case study, but it is not the
only one. Similar cases can be found in Gaza, such as the
Palestinian Red Crescent headed by Haidar Abd al-Shafi, who became
in 1991 the head of the Palestinian Delegation to the Madrid
Conference and later led the negotiations in Washington DC.
isal al-Husseini is the son of Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini, who lost
his life in 1948 defending Jerusalem. His death became emblematic
in Palestinian history.
9 Michael Roman, "Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem between Conflict and
Coexistence," in Israelis, Palestinians Coexistence in Jerusalem
(Milan, 2001), p. 40.
or more details, see Salim Tamari, "Jerusalem: Issues of Control
and Sharing in a Sacred Geography," in Israelis, Palestinians
Coexistence in Jerusalem (Milan, 2001), p. 71.
11 The general phenomenon of the refugee camp is that when the
inhabitants upgrade their income, they plan to leave the camp to
find accommodation in the nearby city or village. The only cases
that we possess, that are similar to Shu'fat camp are from Lebanon.
In Lebanon, many Palestinian refugees have left the refugee camps
and went to Europe, the USA and the Arab Gulf States, and were
replaced by poor Lebanese and Syrians.