having done an excellent job of covering the history
from the Jewish
perspective, I figured
it was time to take a look at the same story from the other side of
the fence. This is the story of the Arab districts, known today as
The idea of "East Jerusalem" as a separate entity is a new one.
Since the 700s or so,
the Old City
has been divided into four sections, known as the Christian, Muslim,
Jewish and Armenian Quarters. Of these, the Christian Quarter
is largely Arab and the Muslim Quarter is entirely Arab, while
the Jewish and Armenian Quarters are, obviously, populated almost
entirely by Jews and Armenians.
But before we proceed, a brief look back into a few events missing
from jonmos's writeup:
The primary reason Jerusalem is regarded as holy by Muslims --
in fact, it is usually called simply al-Quds, "The Holy" --
is that in 621 AD the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from
the Temple Mount.
This voyage is known as the Miraj or Night Journey,
and whether it happened in physical reality or within
a dream is irrelevant in terms of faith, since the event is noted
in Sura 17 of the Qur'an:
Glorified be He Who carried His servant by night from the inviolable Place of Worship (Al-Masdjid Al-Haram)
to the far Distant Place of Worship
(Al-Masdjid Al-Aqsa) the neighbourhood whereof We have
blessed, that We might show him Our tokens!
In 687 AD, Caliph Abd al-Malik
built the Dome of the Rock
the presumed spot of the ascension, which reportedly even has
's footprint on it. Alas, according to Jewish and Christian tradition this is the same spot where
almost sacrificed his son Isaac
, which is why it is
holy to Jews as well and why the Temple
was built there,
setting the stage of centuries of warfare and mutual hostility as
the two sides competed for ownership. But I'm getting ahead of
The Beginning of the Conflict
During the late 1800s Jerusalem started to boom and settlements
outside the city walls started to spring up at a rapid pace. These
settlements were mostly Jewish and mostly to the north and west
of the city, whereas the Arabs expanded mostly to the east.
Still, there were no clear-cut division lines, and in its
1947 partition plan the United Nations recommended that
Jerusalem be made an international city belonging to neither side.
The Jewish Agency grudgingly agreed, then backtracked; the Arabs
opposed the idea from the start.
The Division of Jerusalem
With the end of the Mandate in 1948 came war, and even before the end came
fighting in the streets of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is in a strategically
crucial spot, guarding the road to Jericho and thus the way to the
only bridge across the Jordan River. Jewish fighters systematically
conquered and occupied Arab districts like Katamon, the (mostly
outgunned) Arabs tried to do the same to Jewish districts, consolidating
an west-east battle line.
The crown jewel for both sides was the Old City. The Jews had already
made quite a bit of headway, capturing the Tower of David (Citadel)
and encroaching on the rest, when King Abdullah of Jordan made
the decision to send his army to aid and start the war. The tables
were turned and the Haganah was on the defensive, hard put to
defend even the western New City; after ten days of holding out, the
Jewish Quarter fell and was razed. Fighting elsewhere continued
at varying levels of intensity for months.
An armistice was signed in February 1949, with the Old City and several
Jewish districts -- henceforth East Jerusalem -- in Arab hands, and the
core of the New City and Mount Scopus -- West Jerusalem -- still held by
the Israelis. The Jewish section of the
city, connected to the mainland only by a thin strip of land,
remained virtually under siege and the dividing line became a
strongly fortified impermeable border much like the Berlin Wall
(except that civilians were not very keen on visiting the other side!).
The Israeli section was declared the capital of Israel, while
(over loud objections from the Arab League) the Arab part was
annexed by Jordan in 1950.
The Reunification of Jerusalem
Following the calamitous defeat of the Arab forces in the 1967
Six Day War, Israel reconquered all of Jerusalem and placed the
entire area under the administration of the Munipality of Jerusalem.
The Arab settlements that had sprung up in the former Jewish quarter
were promptly razed (tit for tat!), becoming the
current expansive plaza in front of the Wailing Wall, and the
Jewish quarter was rebuilt from scratch.
In 1980, the Knesset passed legislation making a unified Jerusalem the
capital of Israel in perpetua.
About the only official sign
of Jerusalem's internationally disputed status is that, to this day,
nearly all foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv, despite much
Israeli pleading. (A very few countries with especially good relations,
including Costa Rica but not the United States, have
complied.) Israel has also refrained from
officially annexing East Jerusalem, placing it
in a bizarre
legal limbo of being half-Israeli, half-territory. The probable
reason for this is that official annexation would have required making
the residents of East Jerusalem full Israeli citizens, which would have
severely hampered Jewish control over the area.
But Wait, There's More...
Needless to say, the Arabs weren't particularly happy about losing
their control of East Jerusalem,
there just wasn't much they could do. The Palestine Liberation
Organization and, less loudly, its successor the Palestianian
Authority continue to maintain that al-Quds is also perpetual
capital of Palestine, and Palestinian towns are filled with
longing posters about returning to Jerusalem.
Israel, of course, is not happy at all about this and the slightest
signs of an official PA presence in East Jerusalem, or in fact
any non-Israeli civil administration at all, are immediately
squashed (cf. the cases of the Orient House and East Jerusalem's
unofficial mayor Sari Nusseibeh).
Alas, Israeli policy towards
East Jerusalem is largely one of total neglect, and if driving or
the potholed and garbage-strewn streets of East Jerusalem you
might well be excused for thinking that you are in a different
city entirely. Acquiring building permits for Arab areas is notoriously
difficult, and houses built without them are regularly bulldozed.
Attempts by Arabs to buy new properties in the Old City have been
denied on the grounds that they would disturb the homogeneity
of the neighborhood, while current prime minister Ariel Sharon
has purchased a house in the Muslim Quarter and, to better fit in,
draped a bedsheet-sized Israeli flag from a window. (Guards are
posted outside 24 hours a day at the Israeli taxpayer's expense.)
The official policy of the Jerusalem Municipality is to
maintain a Jewish majority in the city, which -- with Arab population
growth outstripping Jewish population growth -- has in practice meant
trying to quietly force the "excess" population out of Jerusalem.
Still, Arabs in East Jerusalem are better off than their benighted
relatives in the Occupied Territories. They have municipal
(but not national) voting rights, National Health Insurance (if they have ID cards), are more or less free to move
about Jerusalem, and have better access to jobs in Israel proper.
This is why East Jerusalem has been
relatively quiet during the intifada, as its inhabitants are for
most part not willing to risk losing these advantages.
The status of Jerusalem is probably the single most difficult issue
that will need to be solved in order to achieve peace, as neither side
is willing to budge an inch. The idea of physically cordoning off the
West Bank has been floated recently,
but again Jerusalem stands in the way. If East Jerusalem is
incorporated with West Jerusalem inside the border, there will be
several hundred thousand Palestianians within the border, making it
largely pointless. Placing East Jerusalem outside the border, on
the other hand, would entail redividing the city, an even more
My two agorot are that Israel will have to give way and grant
Palestinians some sort of sovereignty over East Jerusalem, although
I expect that it will be a long time until this happens.
(Ehud Barak was too early in proposing this, and the ensuing outcry
was one of the major reasons why he was voted out of office.)
The Palestinians, after all, are no longer seriously demanding that
all of Jerusalem belongs to them. Some ideas
floated about include allowing a Palestinian capital on the outskirts
of Jerusalem, say Abu Dis, which would allow the Israelis to
maintain that the Palestinians are not in Jerusalem and the Palestinians
to maintain that they are. Sounds bizarre? Welcome to the