Will the Current Unprecedented Assault on the West Bank Affect the Status Quo in Jerusalem?
Publication Year: 
Number of Pages: 


Jerusalem has become the most prominent symbol of the conflict over the future of Palestine, and both parties to the conflict have contributed to making it so. The Israeli side declared it a “unified city” since June, 1967, and in July, 1980, appended to this a basic law which has constitutional implications and states that the “unified and undivided Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel.” It then moved the most important legislative, administrative, and legal institutions to it and asked the nations of the world to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as a sign of recognizing it as Israel’s capital. Israel then proceeded to confiscate the greater part of its area (some 87%) and built a very large number of settlements on its lands. From the very first day that it occupied East Jerusalem, Israel used all means possible to change the city’s cultural character, including the attempt to bend and break the will of its people and annul their cultural and political identity. Now, and after the passing of 56 years since the occupation of the city’s eastern sector, the measures adopted by the occupation authorities have not achieved their objectives, exemplified in the view that the “question of Jerusalem” has been settled. This fact is accepted by both the international community and by representatives of the Palestinian people. True, US President Trump’s removal of the American Embassy to Jerusalem (to its western sector in 2018) may be considered a significant Israeli achievement but other states have not followed suit. Ever since 1967, Israel has striven to enrich Israeli culture, and Jewish culture in general, with more spiritual and material elements designed to fortify the relationship with Jerusalem, employing all sorts of Biblical legends to that end, and investing vast amounts of money and effort to entrench the status of the city in Israeli minds and hearts, and erecting a solid barrier, in consciousness and in law, to prevent any possible change in its status as defined by Israel’s occupation.

On the Palestinian side the noble city of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) has been regarded as the unique capital of Palestine, having fortified the Palestinian presence in it for a long time before the Oslo Accords, especially the activities of Bayt al-Sharq and its symbolic status. This latter effectively turned Jerusalem into Palestine’s capital, and in it were received state presidents, foreign ministers and diplomats from all over the world, including the US. The Palestinian side did its very best to support and strengthen educational, health, social and cultural institutions in order to preserve the city’s identity. The Palestinian Authority created the Ministry of Jerusalem and appointed a governor for the Jerusalem province so as to furnish the city with responsible authorities, continue to provide services to the city’s population and link the city to the national authority and the PLO, irrespective of the success or otherwise of these measures. The Palestinian side benefited from the evident or low-keyed support of other world countries, especially since there exists an international consensus, with a few exceptions, that east Jerusalem is occupied territory, just like the rest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This question received support when the International Criminal Court issued its consultative opinion regarding the racist separation wall (2014). One might also point to the fact that the Israeli side in the Oslo Accords agreed to place the future of Jerusalem (without, however, specifying east Jerusalem) on the agenda of the Final Status Talks. This is an implicit Israeli admission that the law stating that “unified and undivided Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel,” is in fact inoperable.

The question to be treated now is this: To what extent has the occupation succeeded in its endeavors? And what is the likely effect of the war on Gaza and of the unprecedented assault on the West Bank upon the city of Jerusalem?

The current situation

It is a well-known fact that there exists a basic and ominous dilemma facing Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem. The Palestinians in so-called “unified Jerusalem” now number some 400,000, constituting about 40% of the city’s population. All Israeli attempts to control and limit the ongoing demographic growth of the city’s Palestinian population have failed, nor has intense colonialist settlement succeeded in changing this percentage, even after moving more than 220,000 Jewish settlers into the eastern sector of the city. Again, these demographic restrictions did not produce the desired mass emigration of the Palestinians except by turning most of their quarters into haphazard areas and the growth of further , larger, and more dense haphazard quarters, especially outside the racist separation wall. However, within the boundaries of the Jerusalem Municipality, as fixed at present because of adding 71 square kilometers from the West Bank to these boundaries, certain regions like Kfar `Aqab to the north, the Shu`fat Refugee Camp, and Al-Salam suburb, together with other areas to the south, have been joined to the city. In these areas live more than 120,000 Jerusalemites with intimate and daily links to the city, like work, shopping, schools and health, and social and cultural bonds, in addition to their attachment to the holy places.  

There is no doubt that the occupation has inflicted considerable harm on the economic and services sectors of east Jerusalem, and has come to exercise total control over the city’s essential systems of governance. Israel now controls more than 50% of the education and school sectors, dominates its entire health sector, and has separated the city, through the racist separation wall, from the rest of the West Bank after having separated it “legally” by means of the blue ID card and of the municipal services. Today, Jerusalemites cannot conduct their daily affairs without recourse to Israeli institutions, except in rare cases. True enough, the annexation has achieved its ends yet, Jerusalem remains a city divided into at least four parts, perhaps more:

  • A western sector, with an Israeli population, west European in identity and clearly secular, dominates the economy of the city and most tourist services, in addition to their presence in governmental institutions. However, their numbers are decreasing rapidly through emigration to the coastal plains or to the town of Modi’in, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, to the point where those leaving the city in this category exceed those who come to settle in it.

  • Orthodox Jews. It is likely that they have become a majority in “unified Jerusalem.” Most of them live in west Jerusalem with some in settlements in east Jerusalem, especially in the two settlements of Rikhash (Shu`fat) and Nabi Ya`qub. Some of these, e.g. Naturei Karta, do not recognize Israel while others are no different in doctrine but are merged into Israeli society and its governing institutions to protect their interests. They are well represented and very influential on the Israeli municipal council of the city and constitute the lowest rung on the social ladder, being mostly poor, especially since the vast majority is solely preoccupied with religious studies.

  • The settlers in east Jerusalem whose numbers exceed 220,000. All settlements in west Jerusalem are connected to roads that allow them to reach the city within minutes. These may be divided into three groups: the first consists of secular Jews, who are the vast majority, and live in these settlements because housing is cheap and because of generous government subsidies. The second consists of nationalist and religious Jews, mostly belonging to the far right and linked to the settlement movement and its ideological slogans. The third, orthodox Jews, have been mentioned above.

  • The Palestinians among whom is an unspecified number of Palestinians displaced in 1948. These are not in general included in the city’s statistics since many have not changed their place of residence for electoral reasons. We need not discuss the characteristics of this group, given time constraints, but it is important to point out that more than 60% of them live in poverty and suffer its usual diseases. In their great majority they constitute the young labor force that works in the services and building sectors in west Jerusalem or inside the occupied territories. The Jerusalem Palestinians live in very dense quarters and with few services when compared to west Jerusalem or to the settlements in east Jerusalem. The Palestinian neighborhoods have been separated from one another through settlements or ring roads, thus tearing apart the civic and social fabric of their lives. The Jerusalem Palestinians have no national rights, are not represented either on the legislative or municipal levels, and are subject to all Israeli laws, including laws pertaining to planning and building permits designed to dominate them, their living space, their homes, and their daily movements: in other words, all aspects of their existence in the city.

Some mention must be made of the Old City within whose walls are found the religious symbols which are now national symbols as well. These have become the basic focus of the conflict and all the means available to the occupation authorities are heavily employed to dominate them and usurp their identities. After the passing of 56 years since the start of the process of Judaizing the Old City through the demolition of the Magharibah Quarter in June, 1967 and the seizure of some 12% of its land area in 1969, a Jewish quarter was declared established in the Old City.  Some 40,000 live in the Old City, less than 10% of whom are Jewish settlers while the rest of the population is Palestinian. Despite resorting to all means possible to widen the Jewish domination over the rest of the Old City’s quarters and over its real estate, the results have been negligible. Some 80 plots of real estate have been seized, half of which were in Jewish hands prior to 1948. Hence, despite all the efforts exerted to dominate the city, Old Jerusalem remains a predominantly Arab city in all aspects of its life, where the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Resurrection dominate its landscape, and where Ottoman-era walls encircle it. Its skies are filled with minarets and church towers, and its markets remain Arab and Palestinian, like its inhabitants.

During the Gaza war

As elsewhere on the West Bank, Israel used an exaggerated iron fist to dominate the city, deploying very large numbers of soldiers, policemen and border guards throughout the city, and declared a state of emergency. Large scale arrests followed, which included most activists and former detainees. Cement blocks were placed at the entrances of most city quarters which could be closed when necessary. Daily life was forcibly interrupted through restrictions of movement. Since the beginning of the war on Gaza, the great majority of the population has been unable to go to work, the markets are deserted, most schools have closed their doors for almost a month now, tourism is non-existent, the hotels, restaurants and tourist sites are empty of clients and all markets in the old town are shut down. Only the actual inhabitants of the Old City are allowed to enter it and Friday prayers in mosques and Sunday services in churches are permitted only to those over seventy years old, and even these have often been denied entry. It is hardly imaginable that the number of people who prayed in the Al-Aqsa Mosque did not exceed five thousand throughout the Fridays of the current war.

Arrests take place for the flimsiest of reasons, and often for no reason at all. Possession of a mobile phone is considered a principal reason for arrest and the phones are searched for any images of Gaza or of a martyr. This is considered sufficient reason for arrest, and the use of social media, an expression of views, and all viewings or participation therein is deemed sufficient warrant for arrest. This of course in addition to the many who have been martyred. Furthermore, the demolition of houses has intensified either on the pretext that they have no permit or else the destruction of the houses of the detained and the martyrs.

Scanning the near future

In a city of such enormous importance and a world symbol of the first order, to which more than half of humanity are attached, it would be difficult to guess what the future might bring. There are numerous and interlocking interests. What is certain is that repressive measures will increase in severity, which have in effect been unceasing and have grown more intense since 2017 (since the uprising against the electronic gates placed at the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque).  Jerusalem has witnessed a series of uninterrupted uprisings which have been suppressed only for another uprising to begin. It is to be expected that, following the war on Gaza, repression and detentions will grow more violent and for the most trivial of reasons. Incidents of exile out of the city will increase. Israeli bulldozers will continue to boldly destroy houses, and Jerusalemite workers will suffer from lack of employment in various Israeli establishments because of the unprecedented increase in nationalist and class repression. They will be faced with the slogan of “Hebrew Labor”, something which is also to be expected in the case of workers from the West Bank who work in Israel.

Having settled the land question decisively in Jerusalem and having completed domination of most aspects of life in the city, Israel nevertheless still faces three basic dilemmas, but without underestimating other dilemmas:

First is the demographic growth of the Palestinians. As mentioned above, the Palestinians constitute some 40% of the total population of so-called “Unified Jerusalem”. It appears that this percentage will continue to increase, not so much because of natural demographic growth among the Palestinians, which has grown moderate and is less than the rate in the West Bank, but because of Jewish emigration from the city which serves to enhance the ratio of Palestinians. There are two possible ways for Israeli authorities to deal with this problem. First, they can intensify measures leading to the expulsion of Jerusalemites towards the West Bank or nearby villages or even further, a matter we can palpably observe. The occupation could add new and more severe measures such as withdrawing identity cards (residence rights), using places of residence, creating places of work as life centers, and withdrawing certain services like health and national insurance. The second step the occupation may resort to is to withdraw residence permits from all Jerusalemites who live beyond the racist separation wall like the inhabitants of Kfar `Aqab, the Shu`fat Refugee Camp, Al-Salam suburb, and so forth. This step, if successful from the Israeli legislative viewpoint, i.e. amending the borders of the Jerusalem Municipality. Despite its difficulty, and given the greed for land among a wide current of Knesset members, this will lead to further land annexations. Yet such a move will deprive no less than 120,000 Jerusalemites from the right to reside in their own city and the number of Jerusalem Palestinians will sink below 250,000.

Second, the Old City and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

As stated above, the Old City, including Al-Aqsa Mosque, has been transformed into a Jewish Israeli symbol of the first order. This is being done in a highly exaggerated manner by weaponizing Biblical legends and fabricating even more of the same by an agency created for the purpose. The situation is getting worse as Israeli society moves towards the extreme right and religiosity. It is to be expected that the campaign to create settlements in the Old City and its environment (the so-called “sacred pool”) will intensify, especially in the Silwan and Shaykh Jarrah neighborhoods, in an attempt to change and Judaize their identity. The campaign will also take in Al-Aqsa Mosque, where pressure will intensify at a greater pace than before. This will also mean a more intense effort to pull the rug from under the Islamic Waqf Department, and so from under the Jordanian authorities. While we have observed in the past attempts to conduct Jewish prayers on the terraces of the Mosque, these will last longer and become more widespread and will be protected by the security forces.  In tandem, restrictions on Muslim worshippers will increase as regards both their number and their age and there will be a large-scale campaign conducted against those who seclude themselves for worship in the Mosque ( Murabitun). Israel might also boldly attempt to confiscate part of the Mosque compound (e.g. the Gate of Mercy) and turn it into an exclusively Jewish place of prayer.

Third: Identity, Consciousness and Attachment

In the past few years, we have witnessed Israel’s failure to alter and suppress Palestinian national consciousness as seen in uninterrupted uprisings that centered upon Al-Aqsa Mosque, Silwan and Shaykh Jarrah and the wars on Gaza. Israel is now alert to this issue after having imagined that it could effect a separation between the West Bank (the Palestinian people in general) and the Palestinians of Jerusalem. The education sector in Jerusalem has for several years been subject to a vicious assault aimed at expunging any nationalist content from the Palestinian school curriculum and imposing the Israeli curriculum by force, to the point where a Palestinian student in Jerusalem is forbidden to carry any textbook on which the emblem of the Palestinian Authority is found. Even before the current war on Gaza, searches are conducted in children’s satchels looking for such books. This is accompanied by attempts to get Jerusalem pupils to study at Israeli universities and institutes and with government subsidies to encourage this. This also includes convincing these pupils that graduates of Palestinian universities will not be able to find work whereas graduates of Israeli universities will be guaranteed employment. A very large collection of so-called “Mass Centers” have been deployed which organize many activities devoid of all sense that have to do with identity and national consciousness, and spread the idea of merging into daily life and its problems. They also organize entertainments that lack any meaningful content.

Difficult days await Jerusalem and its inhabitants. The remarks above are all that can be made given time constraints though much more can be said. It is important to note that the measures to be taken by the occupation will not pass without resistance and there is no guarantee that the Israelis will carry them out. The Palestinians in Jerusalem are by now used to these and similar measures, and have in many instances succeeded in frustrating them or else made them come at a very high price. They possess a high degree of capacity to disobey and to defy these measures, in addition to their intense devotion to their city. But they will surely pay a high price.


  • قاسم، أنيس فوزي. "الممارسات الإسرائيلية و’احترام‘ الدور الأردني في القدس: دراسة قانونية". الدوحة: المركز العربي للأبحاث ودراسة السياسات، 14 حزيران/يونيو 2023.

  • الزعانين، غسان وعلي شبيطة وعيد السلايمة وفاطمة الغصين. "تهويد مدينة القدس... وآليات المواجهة". رام الله: المركز الفلسطيني لأبحاث السياسات والدراسات الاستراتيجية – مسارات، 27 آب/أغسطس 2018.

  • الشرقاوي، محمد. "ترامب والقدس: قراءة من الداخل". الدوحة: المركز العربي للأبحاث ودراسة السياسات، 18 شباط/فبراير 2018.

  • عبد اللطيف، ملكة. "تهويد القدس: قراءة في الخطة الحكومية 3790". مركز دراسات الوحدة العربية، 17 تشرين الأول/أكتوبر 2023.

  • شلهوب – كيفوركيان، نادرة. "القدس والإهالة الصهيونية: تتبّع تحولات الاستلاب اللامتناهي". "مجلة الدراسات الفلسطينية". العدد 136 (خريف 2023)، ص 90 – 107.

  • سعد الدين، نادية. "البعدان التعليمي والاقتصادي في المشروع الإسرائيلي ضد القدس المحتلة". مركز دراسات الوحدة العربية، 6 تموز/يوليو 2020.

  • الجعبة، نظمي. "سلوان: إرادة صمود في مواجهة سياسة السلب". "مجلة الدراسات الفلسطينية". العدد 134 (ربيع 2023)، ص 121 – 144.

  • Qadah, Anwar. Education in Jerusalem: A Tool of Soft Colonialism. Jerusalem Quarterly, vol. 95 (Autumn 2023), pp. 100-105.

  • Schwake, Gabriel. Red Pitched Roofs: A (Post)Colonial Genealogy of Architectural Identity in the Jerusalem Area. Jerusalem Quarterly, vol. 95 (Autumn 2023), pp. 6 – 30.

  • Jubeh, Nazmi. Shaykh Jarrah A Struggle for Survival. Jerusalem Quarterly, vol. 86 (Summer 2021), pp. 129 – 148.

  • Saeed, Qudsia. In Colonizing Textbooks, Israel Redacts History. October 17 2022.

  • Farah, Philip. Jerusalem and the Continuing Nakba. Jerusalem Quarterly, vol. 88 (Autum 2023), pp. 82 – 87.

Author Bio: 

Nazmi al-Jubeh was born in Jerusalem in 1955, and resides in it. He holds a BA from Birzeit University (1980), MA (1988) and PhD in Oriental Studies and Archeology from the University of Tübingen in Germany (1991). He has been Associate Professor in the Department of History and Archeology at Birzeit University since 1991.

From his essays in Jerusalem Quarterly:
Silwan, the Bleeding Wound, Issue 93 -Spring 2023

Tariq Bab al-Silsila: A Portrait of an Old City Suq, Issue 87 -Autumn 2021

Shaykh Jarrah: A Struggle for Survival, Issue 86 -Summer 2021

From his books published by IPS:

The Nativity Church in Bethlehem, the Oldest Church in Palestine: A Study in Architecture, Arts, History, and Heritage