Jerusalem: a battle over facts, history and context

Published:17 April 2010
Briefing Number 254

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Summary:   A fierce battle is raging over Jerusalem: its history, and the facts of the current situation. The Briefing concisely highlights the following topics:

Freedom of worship for Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem

How the Arab population of Jerusalem has grown faster than the Jewish population since 1967 (an unknown reality)

Anti-Jewish incitement, and the persistence of terrorism, in Jerusalem

A: Context: the significance of Jerusalem in Islam, Christianity and Judaism

  • Jerusalem is the third holiest city to Muslims, after Mecca and Medina. Its significance in Islam dates back to around 625 CE, at the time of Muhammed the Prophet. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City are very important places of worship      
  • Jerusalem is a central place of worship and pilgrimage for Christians from around the world
  • The Jewish peoples’ connection with the city of Jerusalem is over 3000 years old. Jerusalem is a central element of Jewish national identity and the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Jewish people
  • Jerusalem was the capital city of the Jewish state over 3000 years ago; and the location for the first and second holy temples.   
  • In modern times, the Jews became the largest single population group in Jerusalem in 1844, when the city was under the Ottoman Empire.
  • By 1896 the Jews became an absolute majority of the Jerusalem population (source: the population of Palestine prior to 1948 – Mideast Web, December 2009)  
  • Despite these facts, many Palestinian and other Arabs question the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, frustrate or sabotage archaeological excavations and seek to rewrite Jewish history to suggest that the ancient Jewish capital was never established there.  It is well known that former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat opened the Camp David peace negotiations in 2000 by doubting the Jews’ connection to Jerusalem, shocking observers
  • By contrast, while many Israelis point out that the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount is not as significant to Muslims as the cities of Mecca and Medina, no sensible Israelis would claim that Jerusalem has no religious significance for Muslims, or that the their connection to Jerusalem is an Islamist fabrication
  • The controversies about Jerusalem and future sovereignty over its ‘Old City’ are taking place in the context of this battle for truth about the city’s history and significance
  • The future of Jerusalem is a highly emotive topic, a so-called ‘final status’ topic often described as the most controversial in the conflict
  • This Briefing provides facts and context concerning the future of Jerusalem, and also challenges various myths – notably that the Jews are somehow ‘squeezing the Arabs out’ (see Section D below)

B. East Jerusalem under Jordanian Arab rule, 1949-1967: denial of rights of worship for all Jews

  • What happened to freedom of religious worship for Jews when Jordan controlled East Jerusalem and the Old City?
  • For the decades before 1948, Jerusalem had been controlled by the British authorities under the terms of its ‘mandate’ for Palestine
  • At the end of Israel’s War of Independence of 1948-9, control of Jerusalem was split.  Israel controlled the Western part of the city and Jordan controlled the eastern part. Jordan annexed East Jerusalem in 1950    
  • Around 58 synagogues in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City were demolished or desecrated by Jordan during and after the 1948 war  (Source: Nadav Shragai, The Mount of Olives, JCPA, July 2009 –
  • Roughly 38,000 tombstones on the Mount of Olives, a Jewish cemetery just east of the Old City, were destroyed by Jordan.  Some of the tombstones were used to build fences and latrines for the Jordanian army (source: this data was presented to the 47th plenary meeting of the 32nd  session of the UN General Assembly, on October 26th 1977 by Israel’s UN representative Chaim Herzog – and was not challenged)
  • The Jordanian government completely denied Israeli Jews access to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem between 1949-1967 despite it being the holiest site in Judaism
  • The population of Jordan’s capital, Amman, increased five-fold during this 18 year period, but East Jerusalem under Jordanian control experienced zero population growth. Arab population boomed in all other West Bank towns (source: Elisha Efrat, Changes in the settlement pattern under Jordanian rule, Middle East Quarterly, Vol 13 No 1, January 1977)   
  • No Arab or foreign leaders, other than King Hussein of Jordan, even visited East Jerusalem during the 18 years of Jordanian rule (source: Daniel Pipes, the Muslim claim to Jerusalem, Middle East Quarterly, September 2001)

C. East Jerusalem under Israeli rule 1967–2010: freedom of religious worship for Arabs?

  • The denial of rights of worship to Jews when Jerusalem was under Jordanian control was systematic and comprehensive.
  • This contrasts  with the rights of worship provided to Arabs in Jerusalem, now that the city as a whole is under Israeli control  
  • The whole of Jerusalem has been under Israeli jurisdiction since 1967. In 1980 Israel annexed Jerusalem (but this has not been recognised by any foreign government)
  • Israeli law mandates that everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, has the right to visit all holy places within Israel (source: The Protection of Holy Places Law, 1967). This applies to Christians, Muslims, and other faiths
  • Thousands of Muslims worship at the Dome of the Rock and at Al-Aqsa on the Temple Mount every week
  • When the Temple Mount in Jerusalem came under Israeli control in June 1967, Israel immediately yielded day-to-day control of the Temple Mount to the Muslim authorities, and enacted a policy prohibiting Jewish prayer at the site, so as to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities
  • Access to Muslims – especially young men - is sometimes restricted by Israel: but this is because gatherings of Muslim worshippers on the Temple Mount have been used for many years to inflame anti-Israel feelings and to trigger riots, often resulting at stone-throwing at Jewish worshippers praying at the Western Wall immediately below

D.  ‘Since 1967, the Jews of Jerusalem have been squeezing the Arabs out…..’ – is this true?

  • It is claimed by many of Israel’s critics that it is trying to drive Arabs out of Jerusalem and ‘judaise’ it – ie ensure that Jews take it over completely

  • The situation is in fact the precise opposite
  • Between 1949 and 1967, when Jordan controlled East Jerusalem, the Arab population of East Jerusalem increased by only 860 people (source:  Elisha Efrat, referred to above)
  • By contrast, the Muslim Arab population of Jerusalem increased from 68,000 people to 260,000 people between 1967 and 2007, with the city under Israeli jurisdiction – ie an increase of 192,000 Arabs living in Jerusalem (Source: Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, Population statistics, published in the JIIS 2007 Yearbook – see
  • According to the same JIIS yearbook, between 1967 and 2007, the Jewish population of Jerusalem grew from 197,000 people to 487,000 people
  • A simple calculation therefore shows that during the period 1967 to 2007, the Jewish population of Jerusalem increased by 247% while the Arab population of Jerusalem grew by 382% . This can hardly be described as ‘judaising’ the city
  • Furthermore, according to other population statistics in the 2007 JIIS Yearbook, the proportion of the city’s Jewish population dropped from 74% of the total in 1967 to 65% of the total in 2007
  • The JIIS is an independent, non-partisan thinktank which promotes coexistence projects in Jerusalem and uses published population and other data in its reports 

Key message: Under the last 42 years of Jerusalem as a whole being under Israeli control, the Arab population of Jerusalem has grown significantly faster than the Jewish population. This is the opposite of Israel ‘judaising’ the city, or ‘squeezing the Arabs out’  

E. The legal and political status of Jerusalem

  • East Jerusalem is routinely called ‘Palestinian East Jerusalem’ but this is legally and factually incorrect

  • No part of Jerusalem – neither East nor West - has ever been sovereign ‘Palestinian territory’
  • Under the 1947 UN partition plan, Jerusalem was supposed to become a UN protectorate, not part of the state of Palestine
  • The Jewish leadership accepted this arrangement, but the Arab leadership did not. Instead, Jordan attacked Israel and captured East Jerusalem (see above)
  • In 1967, Israel counter-attacked and recaptured the Eastern part of the city (see Beyond Images Briefing 103, dated 13 October 2004)
  • At no time when Jerusalem was under Jordan control was any part of city transferred to a notional ‘Palestinian sovereignty’
  • The history of specific neighbourhoods also demonstrates the falseness of the claim that East Jerusalem is inherently Palestinian
  • The neighbourhood of Ne’ve Yaacov which is beyond the so-called Green Line is described internationally as an “Israeli settlement in Palestinian East Jerusalem”.   In fact Ne’ve Yaacov was founded in 1924 when Jewish residents bought the land from a nearby Arab village (source: Nadav Shragai – the US-Israeli dispute over building in Jerusalem – July 2009, see
  • Likewise, parts of the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, or Shimon Hatzaddik in Hebrew, were bought by Jews in 1876 where they established homes.  When Jordan took control, hundreds of Jews were expelled from that neighbourhood (source: Nadav Shragai, ibid)
  • Key message: The status of Jerusalem as a whole remains to be decided in direct negotiations.  It is simply incorrect to describe East Jerusalem as though it were sovereign “Palestinian territory” 

F. Palestinian incitement regarding Jerusalem #1: Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas

  • The Palestinian leadership routinely incite and fabricate claims that the Jews are trying to drive the Arabs out of Jerusalem, and even destroy the Temple Mount. This has been a recurring pattern since the 1920s (see Dore Gold, The Fight for Jerusalem, 2007, who documents this)
  • These claims reached a new crescendo in March over the rededication of the ancient Hurva synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, in March 2010. 
  • The Hurva synagogue, which had been founded by Jews in the Old City in 1705, was blown up by the Jordanians in 1948 during the War of Independence
  • In response to Israel’s rededication of the synagogue, Mahmoud al-Zahar, the Gaza-based ‘foreign minister’ of Hamas, encouraged Palestinians to respond to “Israel’s crimes and protect the sites that are holy to Muslims and Christians from the Zionists’ racist onslaught”  
  • Al-Zahar said that Palestinians should observe five minutes silence “for Israel’s disappearance and to identify with Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa mosque”. 
  • He added that Israel is “destined to be destroyed. You’ve made a deal with the devil and with destruction itself – just like your synagogue….” (source: Ali Waked, Ynet News, 15 March 2010)

G. Palestinian incitement regarding Jerusalem: Khatem Abdel Khader, Fatah

  • Another example of incitement is from Khatem Abdel Khader, a senior Fatah and Palestinian Authority official with responsibility for Jerusalem. He also incited violence and anti-Israel hysteria over the Hurva synagogue rededication.  (Western diplomats describe Fatah as moderate)
  • Khader called on Arab residents of East Jerusalem to converge on the Al Aqsa mosque to save it from “Israeli attempts to destroy the mosque and replace it with the Jewish temple”
  • Kader offered no evidence for this claim  (Source: Khaled Abu Toameh, PA calls on Arabs to defend al Aqsa; Jerusalem Post, 14 March 2010)

H. Palestinian attacks against civilians Jews in Jerusalem

  • Hundreds of Jews and other residents of Jerusalem have been killed in terrorist attacks – suicide bombings on passenger buses, multiple stabbings, machine-gun attacks, bombings of pedestrian malls, supermarkets, cafes and restaurants.  (See Palestinian attacks against Jerusalem: the context for the security fence round the city – Beyond Images Briefing 160, 27 November 2005); and ‘The Western Wall Bus Bombing – Beyond Images Briefing 68, 10 September 2003)    
  • The Arabs civilian population of East Jerusalem (unlike the Jews in the rest of the city) does not live under the constant threat of random, murderous, and indiscriminate attack
  • Attacks against Jewish residents of Jerusalem continued in 2008
  • On 6 March 2008, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem walked into an Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem – Mercaz Harav - and murdered 8 teenage students and wounded 11 in a machine gun attack
  • In July 2008 three people were killed and more than 30 were injured when a Palestinian Arab resident of East Jerusalem drove a bulldozer into buses, civilian vehicles and pedestrians in the heart of West Jerusalem.  One of the victims, Batsheva Unterman, was the mother of a six month old baby, who was miraculously saved from the crushed vehicle
  • Three weeks later, in a copycat attack, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem rammed his bulldozer into pedestrian vehicles, injuring 18 people
  • On August 10 2008, a 24 year old Italian student, Angelo Frammartino, was stabbed by an Arab in the back while walking in the Old City. He was a volunteer for a non-governmental organisation which sets up summer camps for Arab young people in Jerusalem.  Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the killing

Some related Beyond Images Briefings

Briefing 209: ‘Arabs of Jerusalem express attachment to Israel….’

Briefing 54: Jerusalem: “The Jews are squeezing the Arabs out….’

Briefing 203: ‘Jerusalem and Israel’s security fence: comparisons with world cities’

Briefing 160: ‘Palestinian attacks on Jerusalem: the context for the security fence round the city’ 

Briefing 103: ‘1967: why Israel entered the West Bank….’

Some other sources on Jerusalem:

‘The Israel Project: facts and sources’ (March 2010) –

All Jerusalem-relevant briefings from the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs –