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by Jenny Grigg


Jerusalem has emerged as a major point of contention in Israel's negotiations with its Arab neighbors, particularly the Palestinians. Claims of historic, religious and legal rights to the city have been asserted by the various parties to the conflict and, accordingly, these three aspects should be reviewed:

In discussing Jerusalem, history matters. In weighing ostensibly competing claims to the city, it must be recalled that the Jewish people bases its claim to Jerusalem on a link which dates back millennia. Indeed, Jerusalem has served as the capital of independent Jewish states several times over the past 3,000 years, including since 1948; it has never served any Arab state -- at anytime in history - in such a capacity, and a Palestinian claim to Jerusalem was not articulated prior to 1967.

The observation that, "Jerusalem is holy to three religions," tends to mislead, since Jerusalem is holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians in fundamentally different ways. Jerusalem contains sites holy to Muslims and Christians, and is one of many locations of religious significance to them. To Jews, however, it is the city itself which is uniquely holy; only Jews have a religious prescription to live there, to make pilgrimages there and to pray in its direction.

Israel has advanced a coherent case, based upon the precepts of international law, for sovereignty over Jerusalem. The Palestinians, for their part, have failed to offer any legal grounds in support of their claim to the city. Their claim seems to be based solely on their desire to possess it.


Jewish Continuity in Jerusalem

Throughout history, the Jewish People has maintained a presence in Jerusalem, ever since King David established the city as his capital nearly 3,000 years ago. Except for a very few periods, when they were forcibly barred from living in the city by foreign conquerors, Jews have always lived in Jerusalem. It is for this reason that Jews regard the city as their national center. Indeed, it is the centrality of the connection with Jerusalem - Zion - which led the modern Jewish movement for national liberation to be called Zionism. Throughout millennia, and in the face of conquest, forced exile, violence and discrimination, Jews have maintained their direct link to Jerusalem, returning to live in their city again and again.

The Jewish national and religious tie to Jerusalem was first established by King David and Solomon, his son, who built the first Temple there. This First Commonwealth lasted over 400 years, until the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and exiled the Jewish inhabitants of the city. Immediately following the Persian defeat of the Babylonians, the Jews returned to Jerusalem less than 100 years later, rebuilt their Temple and reestablished the Jewish character of the city.

For the next 500 years, the Jews further strengthened their presence in Jerusalem, surviving various attempts by foreign empires to destroy their national and religious identity. Greeks, Seleucids and Romans took turns in conquering the city, forbidding Jewish religious practices and encouraging the Jews to assimilate into the dominant culture. Several times, the Jews were forced to take up arms in order to preserve their liberty and heritage.

Only after the Second Temple was destroyed by Rome in 70 AD, and a subsequent Jewish revolt was crushed in 135 AD, was the Jewish presence in the city temporarily suspended, following the killing or enslavement of the Jewish population by the Romans.

By the 4th century, some Jews had managed to make their way back to the city. In the 5th century, under early Christian rule, Jews were, at various times, either more or less free to practice their religion. At this time, few non-Christian communities remained in the country, apart from the Jews. Theodosius II (408-450) deprived the Jews of their relative autonomy and their right to hold public positions. Jewish courts were forbidden to sit on mixed Jewish-Christian cases and the construction of new synagogues was prohibited. Jews were forbidden to enter Jerusalem except on one day a year, to mourn the destruction of the Temple.

At the beginning of the 7th century, the Jews looked to the Persians for salvation. Hoping to be permitted to worship freely once the Byzantine oppression had been removed, the Jews encouraged the Persians' conquest of Acre and Jerusalem, and a Jewish community was subsequently allowed to settle and worship in Jerusalem (614-17), though it was later expelled. Under early Arab rule, a Jewish community was reestablished in Jerusalem and flourished in the 8th century. Jews were even among those who guarded the walls of the Dome of the Rock. In return, they were absolved from paying the poll-tax imposed on all non-Muslims. In the 10th and 11th centuries, however, harsh measures were imposed against the Jews by the Fatimids, who seized power in 969. Though the Jewish academy (Yeshiva) of Jerusalem was compelled by Caliph Al-Hakim to reestablish itself in Ramle, entry to Jerusalem was revived by the "Mourners of Zion", Diaspora Jews who did not cease to lament the destruction of the Temple. This movement, which held that "aliyah" - ascent to the Land - would hasten the resurrection of Israel, was at its peak in the 9th-11th centuries. Many Jews came from Byzantium and Iraq and established communities.

The Crusader period in the 12th century brought terrible massacres of Jews by Christians, and the prohibition against living in Jerusalem. After the conquest of the country by Saladin late in the century, the Jewish community in Jerusalem again grew considerably.

In 1211, three hundred rabbis from France and England immigrated as a group, many settling in Jerusalem. After the Mamluks took power in 1250, the famous Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman (Nahmanides), traveled from Spain and settled in Jerusalem.

Jewish communities existed in Jerusalem throughout the Middle Ages, though under economic stress, and religious and social discrimination. During this period, the Jews in the city were supported in large measure by the tourist trade, commerce and contributions from Jews abroad (Europe, the Mediterranean countries and North Africa), who did what they could to help maintain the center of the Jewish People. The Expulsion from Spain and Portugal, in the late 15th century, led to an influx of Jews into the Land, including Jerusalem.

The 16th and 17th centuries were times of economic hardship for the Jews, during which the population of Jerusalem was somewhat reduced. By the end of the 17th century, however, Jerusalem again emerged as the largest central community of the Jews in the Land. Large numbers of Jews immigrated in the 18th century as a result of the messianic-Shabbatean movement, many coming from Eastern and Central Europe, Italy, and other places. Even so, the majority of Jews in the Land in the 17th and 18th centuries were Sephardic Jews, descendants of those expelled from Spain, and immigrants from Turkey and the Balkan countries.

During the 19th century, immigration increased and the establishment of the modern Zionist movement revitalized the Jewish community throughout Israel. Jerusalem, which in 1800 numbered about 2,000 Jews (out of a total population of 8,750), grew to 11,000 by 1870 (out of 22,000), and 40,000 (out of 60,000) by 1905. It is the political, cultural and religious center of the State of Israel and of the Jewish People around the world.

The Biblical Era

While various origins have been proposed for its Semitic name, Yerushalem - often translated as "the city of Shalem" - the Bible recounts in Genesis that Abraham visited King Malchizedek of Shalem, which the commentators equate with Jerusalem. Interestingly, "shalem" is also related grammatically to "shalom," or peace; thus the city's appellation: "City of Peace." The Hebrew root "shalem" also means "wholeness." The first archeological evidence of Jerusalem's history dates back to the Early Bronze Age (c. 3000 BC).

When David was anointed King of Israel (c. 1000 BC), and subsequently united the tribes of Israel, he captured the city - which he perceived as an ideal site for the capital of his new kingdom. Then, with the King and the Ark of the Covenant in residence in the city, Jerusalem was transformed into both the political capital and the religious center of Israel. King David's son and successor, Solomon, consolidated Jerusalem's eternal religious significance for all Jews by building the First Temple.

Later, in the early 6th century BC, Judah's rulers fought and were defeated by the Babylonians. In 586 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon occupied the city, destroyed the Temple and exiled Jerusalem's population to Babylon. Then, when the Persians defeated Babylon in 536 BC, Cyrus the Great allowed the Jewish exiles to return home. The Second Temple was dedicated soon after and, under Nehemiah, who was appointed governor by the Persians in 445 BC, the Jews rebuilt the walls of the Temple and strengthened its fortifications. At the same time, reforms initiated by Ezra restored the authority of Jerusalem as the spiritual capital of Judaism.

Hellenistic Rule and the Maccabees

Alexander the Great's conquest of Jerusalem in 333 BC led to the establishment of the Hellenistic monarchies, and the first new rulers - the Ptolemies of Egypt - retained the existing Jewish religious and political leadership. Under their reign, Jerusalem prospered. This continued even after 198 BC, when the Seleucid king of Syria, Antiochus III, captured Jerusalem from the Egyptians. His son, Antiochus IV, however, sought to intensify the influence of Hellenism. It was his intention to transform Jerusalem into a Greek metropolis and his desecration of the Temple that provoked a Jewish insurrection; the ensuing revolt, headed by the Hasmonaeans and led by Judah Maccabee, succeeded in liberating Jerusalem. In 165 BC, Chanukah ("dedication") was first celebrated, with Jews again being permitted to worship at the Temple.

Roman Rule

The later years of the Hasmonaean dynasty witnessed the emergence of an internal Jewish dispute between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, culminating in civil war and foreign intervention. In 63 BC, Pompey imposed Roman rule in Jerusalem - and, in 37 BC, Roman hegemony was firmly established with the appointment of Herod as King of Judea. Ironically, a combination of factors brought Herodian Jerusalem to the pinnacle of its prosperity, marked by extensive and lavish construction projects. King Herod's fortification projects also included the construction of the still standing Western Wall (of the Temple). It is estimated that the population of Jerusalem reached 120,000-200,000 under Herod's rule.

The Second Fall of Jerusalem

After Herod's death, Judea became a Roman province (6 AD). Jerusalem was governed by Roman procurators residing in Caesarea, and ceased to function as the capital of Judea - although the municipal government remained in the hands of the Jewish high priest and Sanhedrin (rabbinical council), which fulfilled the functions of a municipal council.

The next few decades were marked by the eruption of sporadic riots in Jerusalem, usually resulting in clashes with Roman troops. By the middle of the 1st century AD, the Jews of Israel had again fought to liberate their country and capital - but their war against the Romans ended in 70 AD, when the armies of Titus conquered the city and destroyed the Temple. Most residents of Jerusalem had either been killed or had perished from hunger during the Roman siege, and the survivors were sold into slavery or executed. Virtually the entire city was destroyed.

Subsequently, in 130, Emperor Hadrian decided to rebuild Jerusalem as a city - thus provoking the Second Jewish Revolt against the Romans. Under the leadership of Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kokhba, Jerusalem was once again liberated, although only for two years. Ultimately, Rome crushed the revolt and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina. Later, in the 4th century, Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. It was then that Queen Helena and her son, Emperor Constantine, transformed Jerusalem into a Christian center.

Arab and Crusader Eras

In 638, the Muslim army of Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem. Initially, Muslim rule was tolerant and brought prosperity. In 691, Caliph Abd al-Malik of the Umayyad dynasty constructed the Dome of the Rock on the site of the Jewish Temple. The Dome was intended to compete with the shrines in Arabia, which were under the rule of his political opponents. Significantly, Jerusalem ranked only third in the hierarchy of Muslim religious sanctity, subordinate to Mecca and Medina.

Afterward, the First Crusade (1099) conquered Jerusalem, massacring tens of thousands of its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants. Jerusalem was established as the capital of the Latin Kingdom in the Holy Land. This Kingdom, however, collapsed some decades later. In 1187, Sultan Salah a-Din arrived from Egypt and besieged Jerusalem, ultimately gaining control of the city. Jews began to return to Jerusalem in 1210, ending the short and temporary exile from the city, which had been imposed by the Crusaders. In fact, the Jewish community in Jerusalem continued to expand as Jews immigrated from Europe and the Maghreb.

The Mamluk and Ottoman Periods

By the 13th century, Jerusalem had become a marginal part of a large kingdom ruled from Aleppo and Damascus - and, by the end of the century, the Mamluks of Egypt had taken control. Mamluk rule lasted for the next 200 years. During their rule, Jerusalem first belonged to the province of Damascus, then became a separate province. The Sultan appointed the provincial head directly, often selling the post to the highest bidder. Jerusalem's economy was devastated, owing to the imposition of excessive taxes by the Mamluks, who also engaged in frequent Muslim civil wars.

In 1517, Jerusalem fell to the Turks, whose rule was to last for exactly four centuries. Initially, Ottoman rule was energetic and beneficent. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls and gates of the Old City. However, the death of Suleiman was almost immediately followed by pervasive internal decay which beset the empire, and during the 17th and 18th centuries, Jerusalem experienced the least impressive period of its illustrious past.

Jerusalem "Rediscovered"

In the 19th century, Jerusalem blossomed into an urban center. Demographic, political and technological factors contributed to the gradual process of urbanization - largely reflecting the competition raging between European states and the declining Ottoman Empire. Moreover, world politics and economics were intermingled with religion in Jerusalem; France backed the Catholics, Prussia and England founded Protestant Bishoprics, and the Czar of Russia extended his aegis to the Greek Orthodox.

Jerusalem entered the 19th century with about 9,000 inhabitants. In 1840, Jews became the largest single community in the city - accounting for a majority of Jerusalem's residents by 1880. In 1860, Anglo-Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore established the Mishkenot Sha'ananim neighborhood, the first quarter outside the Old City walls. Eventually, this project was followed by many others. In 1900, the city's population reached 55,000; 60% of whom were Jews.

Under British Rule

In the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917, Britain declared that: "His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

Following the World War I victory of the Allies in the Middle East, Britain occupied Mandatory Palestine - including what is now Jordan, which was separated from the rest of Mandatory Palestine by Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill and given to the Hashemite family of Arabia in 1921 - assuming military and administrative control for the area.

This situation was endorsed by the international community, and in 1922 Britain was awarded the Mandate for Palestine by the League of Nations - which entailed, among other things, the fostering of a Jewish National Home in the territory, as proposed by the Balfour Declaration.

During their Mandatory administration of Jerusalem, the British did demonstrate considerable concern for the special character and atmosphere of Jerusalem. The British did, however, pursue policies which promoted conflict between the various populations of Jerusalem - such as always appointing Arab mayors, although the Jews had long constituted the city's majority.

Between 1920 and 1940, Arab hostility to Jewish immigration and toward the majority Jewish presence in Jerusalem was expressed in increasingly violent attacks against Jewish residents. In 1929, a mob of 2,000 Arabs attacked Jews at the Western Wall and throughout the city, killing six. Continual Arab rioting, mostly violent, led the British government to issue its White Paper of May 1939, which severely restricted Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine. Meanwhile, the Arabs continued to reject all attempts to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states.

All attempts to internationalize Jerusalem were also flatly rejected by the Arabs. This approach was best personified by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the British-appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who directed the violent suppression of Jewish religious and political rights. His views found their ultimate expression during World War II, in his active support for the Nazis and their genocide against the Jews.

The British ultimately forfeited the Mandate, and departed on 15 May 1948. United Nations Approves Partition On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Mandatory Palestine into Jewish and Arab states - and to make Jerusalem a "separate body" (corpus separatum) under a special international regime, with "suitable guarantees for the protection of Holy Places."

The Jews accepted the resolution, but the Arabs - both those living inside and beyond the territory of the Mandate - rejected the partition resolution and the plan to internationalize Jerusalem, thereby nullifying the proposal.

Between November 1947 and April 1948, Arab bands attacked Jews in Jerusalem itself and on all roads into the city, killing 296. The Arabs also imposed a blockade on the city - denying food, water and medical supplies to its Jewish population.

Jerusalem Divided

In 1948, following the United Nations decision, the British Mandate ended and the State of Israel was proclaimed. Arab armies attacked the fledgling state, starting the first Arab-Israeli war. Three Arab armies - those of Egypt, Iraq and the Arab Legion from Jordan - together with Syrian troops, surrounded Jerusalem, bombarded the city and tried to occupy it. In four weeks, 170 Jewish civilians were killed by Arab shellfire; another 1,000 were wounded. In the ten months of fighting, many Jews and Arabs fled Jerusalem, and all Jewish residents of the Old City were driven from their homes by Jordanian forces.

Following an armistice signed in April 1949 between Israel and Jordan, Jerusalem was divided for the first time in its millennia-old history. The city was split along the cease-fire lines of the Israeli and Jordanian forces, with several "no-man's land" areas and two demilitarized zones separating the two sides. Still, in breach of the cease-fire agreements, which called for Jewish access to the Jordanian-held areas, the armistice lines ultimately functioned as a frontier dividing the two previously intermingled communities. Mount Scopus was cut off from Israel and, despite the commitments undertaken in the armistice agreement, only minimal Israeli access was allowed. Jordan would not permit the Hebrew University, the library or Hadassah Hospital to operate.

What had been intended as an interim period prior to the reunification of Jerusalem became, for the next 19 years, a border of minefields and barbed wire traversing the city. The Jordanians systematically destroyed the synagogues in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, desecrated the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives and denied Jews the right to worship at Judaism's holiest site, the Western Wall. While concentrating its efforts in the expansion of its capital, Amman, Jordan implemented policies which led to the stagnation of east Jerusalem. Its historical and holy sites became inaccessible to all Jews, as well as to Israeli Christians and Muslims. Meanwhile, west Jerusalem - the declared capital of Israel - thrived and developed.

Jerusalem Reunited

In June 1967, King Hussein of Jordan ignored Israel's pleas (communicated through the UN) to maintain the cease-fire and Jordan joined other Arab countries in initiating a war against Israel. The Arabs heavily shelled Jewish neighborhoods and their ground forces occupied strategic positions in "no-man's land" areas - in preparation for further attacks.

In defending itself, Israel gained control of the eastern part of Jerusalem by 7 June; Jerusalem was reunited and Jews were once again able to pray at the Western Wall. The current municipal borders were defined that June, and contemporary Jerusalem began to evolve. The city was opened to all worshippers. Unprecedented development was achieved in the spheres of economics, health, education, art and culture, and the general welfare of its inhabitants. In 1967, the total population of Jerusalem stood at 267,800 - 196,500 Jews, 60,500 Muslims and 10,800 Christians. In December 1993, there were 567,700 residents of the city - 406,800 Jews and 160,900 non-Jews.


The world's three great monotheistic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - all consider Jerusalem a holy city, with major events in each of their histories being linked to the city. For Judaism, uniquely, it is the city itself that is holy, representing the hope and meaning of Jewish existence and continuity. For Christians and Muslims, by contrast, Jerusalem is a city that contains holy sites, hallowed by sacred events.


Jerusalem, whose name was invoked by the Hebrew prophets, runs as a common thread throughout Jewish history. Jeremiah called Jerusalem the "Throne of the Lord." Jerusalem is enshrined in daily prayers, as voiced in the great central prayer of the Jewish service recited in the morning, at midday and at night: "And to Jerusalem Thy city return in mercy...rebuild it soon in our days." Jews around the world pray facing Mount Moriah, where the Temple stood. The city has also been immortalized in the poetry of Jews such as Yehuda Halevi who, in 12th century Spain, woefully lamented the great distance separating him from Jerusalem.

It is this city which reflects Jewish self-understanding and historic consciousness. The Talmud - versions of which were composed in both Babylon and Israel, with the latter being known as the Jerusalem Talmud - a compilation of rabbinic commentary on the Bible, contains countless references to Jerusalem, using many of its more than forty different names. Jewish tradition says that of the ten measures of beauty in the world, Jerusalem possesses nine of them.

For the Jews, Jerusalem and Zion are synonymous, and have come to symbolize the Jewish nation as a whole. Judaism, in fact, recognizes both the Earthly Jerusalem - a symbol of the ingathering of the exiles to their promised land - and its Heavenly counterpart. It is written in the Talmud: "And God said: I will not enter the Heavenly Jerusalem until I can enter the Earthly Jerusalem".

The modern movement which emerged in late-19th century Europe, termed practical Zionism, secularized the religious belief that only when Jews came and inhabited Jerusalem would the Day of Redemption arrive. Isaiah's reference to a Heavenly Jerusalem is another source of the Jewish longing to return to Zion, something which has also influenced today's political Zionism, with Jews from around the world coming to live in Jerusalem. Jews fleeing Arab persecution also came to Jerusalem, realizing the commandment of a spiritual Zionism, as part of a parallel national liberation movement among Jews born in Arab lands who, for two thousand years, have also longed to return to Zion.

No other city has played such a predominant role in the history, culture, religion, and consciousness of a people as Jerusalem has in the life of the Jews. Throughout centuries of exile, Jerusalem has remained alive in the hearts of Jews everywhere as the spiritual center of their lives.

They never ceased to mourn the ancient destruction of the city. Fast days marking the destruction of the first and second temples, and of the city itself, are an integral part of the Jewish calendar.

Jerusalem is even remembered at all Jewish weddings. At the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, the groom breaks a glass to commemorate the destruction of the Temple - even at this most joyous of occasions. It was also customary for the groom to put ashes on his head, the jewelry of the bride to be incomplete, and an empty space to be left at the feast to remind the guests of mourning Jerusalem. Indeed, the restoration of Jerusalem as the national and religious capital of the Jews is an oft- repeated theme. "Next year in Jerusalem" is a Jewish motif that permeates all religious observances. This sentiment found its most succinct expression in the words of the Psalmist: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning," (Psalms 137:5).


For Christians, Jerusalem is the witness of their faith. Some of the central events in the life of Jesus, culminating in the crucifixion and the resurrection, occurred here. In an effort to achieve control over these sites, the Christian powers entered Jerusalem in the 4th century. They remained until the Arab conquest three centuries later, and again returned at the end of the 11th century with the advent of the Crusades.

Today, the Christian community in Jerusalem may be divided into four basic categories: Orthodox, Monophysite, Catholic, and Protestant. In total, some 15 ancient churches (and another 20 denominational groups) are active in the city.

In Christianity - in contrast to Judaism - there is no precept to live in Jerusalem. Further, Christians en masse were never enjoined to establish a residence (even temporarily) in Jerusalem, apart from the clergy who were dispatched by their Churches. In Christian tradition, it is the Heavenly Jerusalem that is emphasized.


The Koran relates that, one night, the prophet Muhammad was miraculously transported from Mecca to Jerusalem - from where he made his ascent to heaven. The events of this nocturnal journey have been further embellished by legends, including those concerning Muhammad's winged mount Al-Buraq. Accordingly, Islam is linked to the pre-existing tradition of holiness ascribed to Jerusalem by Judaism and Christianity, having integrated this legacy into its own religious constellation.

But for Islam, Jerusalem has never been regarded as sacred as Mecca and Medina. The Temple Mount, with the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque - built in the 7th century, soon after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and referred to as the center of the universe - is only considered by Muslims to be the third most important site in Islam after the Ka'aba in Mecca (in whose direction all Muslims - even those in Jerusalem - pray) and the Mosque of Muhammad in Medina.


From a legal perspective, the departure of the British in May 1948 left Jerusalem's status undetermined. The end of the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war found the western part of the city in Israeli hands, and the eastern part (including the Old City) controlled by Jordan. In 1949, Israel and Jordan signed an armistice, dividing Jerusalem into two demarcated zones. These lines, however, were seen by both sides to be temporary - until a peace treaty could be concluded; neither party viewed the cease-fire lines as permanent borders.

As late as 31 May 1967, Ambassador Al-Farrah of Jordan told the United Nations Security Council:

"There is an Armistice Agreement. The Agreement did not fix boundaries; it fixed the demarcation line. The Agreement did not pass judgment on rights - political, military or otherwise. Thus, I know of no boundary; I know of a situation frozen by an Armistice Agreement."

Under the armistice agreement, Jordan promised to allow "free access to the Holy Places... and use of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives." It further guaranteed Israel free access to Hadassah Hospital and the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. These rights, however, were denied.

Despite the commitments under the armistice agreement, no Jew, from any country, was allowed to pray at the Western Wall. In fact, no Israelis - of any religious persuasion - were allowed to pray at the sites sacred to them. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City was systematically destroyed. The Jewish cemetery was desecrated and its tombstones were used to pave a path to the latrine of a Jordanian military installation. Christian education was restricted in the part of the city controlled by Jordan; Christian schools were forced to close on Friday, the Muslim day of rest. Christians were also forbidden to acquire land in or near Jerusalem. The economy of eastern Jerusalem was devastated and political expression was severely limited; no Palestinian Arab newspaper was allowed to publish. The Absence of Jordanian Legal Title to Jerusalem The annexation of territory by a belligerent occupant, pending the conclusion of a peace treaty, is not permitted by international law. Thus, the invasion of Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem by Jordan in 1948 did not bring with it the right to annex the conquered areas -- and, in the absence of a peace treaty, the Jordanian annexation of Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem was a violation of both international law and the Israel- Jordan Armistice Agreement of 1949. Indeed, only two countries, Britain and Pakistan, ever recognized Jordan's annexation of Judea and Samaria; even then, Britain withheld recognition of the annexation of Jerusalem by Amman.

In contrast, Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem came under the control of the Israel Defense Forces in June 1967, following Israel's exercise of its right of self-defense in the face of Jordanian attacks along the then existing Israel-Jordan armistice demarcation lines.

Not only did Israel not view the Israel-Jordan armistice demarcation lines as full-fledged borders, but it explicitly upheld the contrary view when Jordan sought to unilaterally alter the status of Judea and Samaria (including eastern Jerusalem) in 1950. The provisions of the Armistice Agreement remained in force so long as the agreement was in effect. The Jordanian aggression of June 1967, however, constituted a material breach of that agreement, entitling Israel to regard it as no longer in force.

The overall extension of Israeli law to Eastern Jerusalem, and the governmental functions Israel performs there, do not constitute a violation of international law. Israel's position in eastern Jerusalem cannot be considered that of "occupant" or "annexing state," given the meaning of these terms under international law.

The Palestinian Claim to Jerusalem

Similarly, the claim to make Jerusalem (or at least its eastern part) capital of a Palestinian state is unfounded. Palestinian leaders often call for Jerusalem (or "Arab Jerusalem") to be "restored" to the Palestinian people, but there is no legal basis for this claim.

First, not only has Jerusalem never been the capital of an Arab state, but there has never been any state of Palestine. When the Arabs first controlled the region in the Middle Ages, they established their capital in Ramle. Subsequent Arab and Mamluk empires chose to rule from Baghdad and Damascus. The Ottoman sultan resided in Constantinople, now Istanbul. More recently, the Jordanians - who held the eastern part of the city from 1948 to 1967 - designated Amman as their capital city.

Second, prior to 1948, Palestinian Arabs refused to accept any of the proposed solutions to the Arab-Jewish conflict. They would not consent to anything short of establishing Arab rule in all of the Palestine Mandate - and expelling, or killing, all Jews living in that area. In an effort to achieve that objective, the Palestinian Arabs (and the surrounding Arab states) initiated a war against the newly proclaimed State of Israel, hoping to destroy the new country before it could establish itself.

Third, between 1948 and 1967, there were only isolated calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the "territories," with Jerusalem as its capital. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established in 1964, three years before the outbreak of the Six-Day War, with the avowed aim of "liberating" that area of Mandatory Palestine which had become the State of Israel, as well as that which had become Jordan. At that time, the Arabs living in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem were Jordanian citizens - and remain so today. Fourth, only in 1967 - once Israel had successfully defended itself against Arab aggression and reunited Jerusalem -- did the Palestinian Arabs begin to lay claim to Jerusalem as their political capital. What motivated them was primarily an inability to accept the fact that Israel had emerged victorious from a war which was intended to destroy it, and that Israel had also succeeded in establishing its rule over all of Jerusalem.

Thus, there is no legal basis for the "historical" Palestinian claim that Jerusalem was their capital. Moreover, although the Palestinians may have a strong emotional attachment to Jerusalem, it does not necessarily follow that Jerusalem -- over 70% of whose population is Jewish, and where the majority of the population in the eastern part of the city is also Jewish, should become the capital of any Palestinian political entity.

Israel's Record of Openness and Tolerance

The reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli rule brought with it the Protection of the Holy Places Law, adopted by the Knesset in June 1967. The law protects freedom of access to all holy sites -- and prescribes punishment for all those whose actions are "likely to violate" this freedom and/or even the "feelings" of observant people vis-a-vis these sacred shrines. The desecration of such a Holy Place also bears a penalty of incarceration. In July 1980, the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel reiterated both the duty of the State to protect the Holy Places and the right to freedom of access by religious adherents.

The reality of Jerusalem is clear testimony to Israel's success in meeting these commitments. Israel allows the various religious communities to administer and maintain their own holy places and institutions, and to celebrate their holidays.

Free access to Jerusalem's holy sites is ensured to foreign pilgrims as well. In fact, 150,000 of the over 1 million tourists who visit Jerusalem each year are Muslim pilgrims from countries which have not yet established diplomatic relations with Israel -- such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The sites of religious and historical significance to Jews, Muslims and Christians have been explored and restored; equal concern is afforded to all.

Israel's Record in Jerusalem

Toward the end of 1948, when fighting between Jordan and Israel ceased, the Israeli-held sector began to function as the capital. The Knesset held its first session, from 14-17 February 1949, in Jerusalem, where its members took the oath of office and Chaim Weizmann was elected President of the State.

Despite the division of the city, western Jerusalem - the capital of Israel - flourished. Its population doubled between 1948 and 1967. During those years, Israel took steps to strengthen the status of Jerusalem as capital. The new Knesset building and Government Center were constructed. A new Hadassah Medical Center and Hebrew University were erected, since the original institutions on Mount Scopus became inaccessible. A national convention center (Binyanei Ha'uma) was built and the Israel Museum was created. The seat of the Chief Rabbinate and the official residence of the President were built.

All foreign ambassadors present their credentials in Jerusalem, and visiting heads of state are officially received there by the President, Prime Minister and the Knesset. Diplomatic contact with government officials takes place in Jerusalem.

On 30 July 1980, the Knesset adopted the Basic Law: Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel, which states, among other things, that:

  1. Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.

  2. Jerusalem is the seat of the President of the State, the Knesset, the Government, and the Supreme Court.

  3. The holy places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.

  4. Israel has been charged with annexing Jerusalem, either the entire city or at least its eastern side. However, the term "annexation" is an inappropriate description of the measures implemented to apply Israeli law, administration and jurisdiction to any areas of Israel - including Jerusalem -- because the State of Israel cannot "annex" areas which, until 1948, constituted a part of Mandatory Palestine. Israel neither regards its standing in these areas to be that of an occupying power, nor has it ever regarded the Arab states that invaded Israel in May 1948 as sovereign in the areas of Israel that they seized; the Arab states were, at best, merely belligerent occupants. The Arab residents of those territories, including eastern Jerusalem, became citizens of the country which conquered the territory, Jordan; they never constituted a separate political entity.

Under Knesset legislation, Israel amended the 1967 Municipalities Ordinance to recognize the enlarged area of Jerusalem (in the wake of the Six-Day War) as part of the Municipality of Jerusalem. Accordingly, it is clear that Israel sought to emphasize both that it did not consider itself an occupying power in Jerusalem, and that the status of Jerusalem was different from that of Judea and Samaria - which are administered under a different legal system.

Moreover, immediately following Israel's reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, Arab residents of Jerusalem were offered full Israeli citizenship. The majority of the Arabs living in Jerusalem chose not to accept Israeli citizenship, but nevertheless, as residents of the city, they were given - and still retain - the right to participate in municipal elections and enjoy all economic, cultural and social benefits afforded to Israeli citizens (e.g. membership in Israel's labor federation and national insurance system). Furthermore, Israel's democratic legal system grants equal protection of property, civil and human rights to all residents of Jerusalem.

Thus, the application of Israeli law to eastern Jerusalem is no different in substance from its application in the other parts of Israel that lie beyond the boundaries recommended by the United Nations in 1947.

Possible Solutions to the Issue of Jerusalem's Status

Following Jerusalem's reunification, four approaches to resolving the issue of the city's status evolved. The first approach is to re-divide the city. The second proposes dividing the city into cantons, according to which population constitutes a majority. The third entails international control over Jerusalem. The fourth proposes recognizing the sovereignty of one nation, while guaranteeing open access and the internal administration of religious places by their adherents.

Re-dividing the city today is not a viable option. The 19 years between 1948 and 1967, when the city was scarred by barbed wire, walls, and armed troops dividing the population, were unbearable for its residents, limited Jerusalem's natural development, and contrasts with the openness, tolerance and neighborliness of the city since 1967. Any division of the city, even a solely administrative one, is likely to exacerbate tensions among the population and undercut the progress that has been made in so many spheres. Likewise, cantonization would unnaturally divide Jerusalem into enclaves spread throughout the city. The reality is that neighborhoods are not uniformly linked to form exclusively "Jewish" and "Arab" areas. Attempting to combine separate neighborhoods into different municipal units would unravel the social fabric which has been woven in Jerusalem, not to mention lower the quality of municipal services provided to city residents. Similarly, the infrastructure simply does not exist to enable multiple governments to serve residents adequately, in a patchwork of separate cantons located in different sections of the city.

The internationalization proposal appears to be in eclipse. In the late 1960s however, the Arab states (with the exception of Jordan) indicated their preference for that solution - since it seemed most likely to put an end to Israeli control.

The Vatican, which initially also professed to support the concept, subsequently changed its views in favor of "international guarantees" for the holy places. The practical problems of internationalization would be too numerous to make it feasible - nothing would be more likely to disrupt the life of a city and its population, than imposing upon it a system of divided, external government, with each factor seeking to further its own, rather than the city's, interests.

In discussing the fourth solution - recognizing the sovereignty of one nation - the question of the parties' primary objectives in Jerusalem must be addressed. Israel believes that Jerusalem must function as an increasingly tolerant, peaceful and prosperous city, where a diverse, multi-cultural population may live and work. Israel is committed to ensuring that Jerusalem remains safe and attractive, and that the atmosphere of the city facilitates tourism and worship. The Government of Israel has stated that it is ready to sign international commitments enshrining these principles.

Jenny Grigg is a specialist in public relations and a consultant to lecturers, speakers, authors and artists. She is Academic Coordinator of the Jerusalem Summit (, and former spokesperson for the Ariel Center for Policy Research.


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