The Key to Peace...
Long the site of pilgrimages and wars, the Holy City of Jerusalem is one of the most ancient cities in the world. A city holy for the three monotheistic religions, Al-Quds Al-Sharif is the first qiblah and third of the Holy Sanctuaries, from which the Prophet Mohammed ascended on his divine night journey; the home of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the burial place of Jesus Christ; and site of the Wailing (Western) Wall. While it is historically and religiously significant for the international community, the Holy City is of central importance to the Palestinian people and the Arab and Islamic worlds. Jerusalem is the crux of the question of Palestine and the key to war and peace in the region.
With the exception of brief Crusader rule (1099-1187), Jerusalem was under Muslim rule from 638 to 1917. The biggest city in Palestine, Jerusalem was also its political and cultural center. From the establishment of the municipality of Jerusalem in 1863, and until 1948, all the mayors of the city were Palestinian. In 1917, the population of Palestine was composed of over 90% Palestinian Arabs and less than 10% Jews. In the decades that followed the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate over Palestine, Jewish immigration to Palestine intensified and the Jewish population in Jerusalem increased dramatically.
On 29 November 1947, the General Assembly, in exercise of its authority towards Palestine as one of the areas under the mandate system of the League of Nations, adopted resolution 181 (II), commonly referred to as the "partition plan". This resolution partitioned mandated Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, and Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, or an internationalized enclave in the Arab state, under the aegis of the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations.
However, as a result of the war of 1948, the plan was never implemented and the city was subject to a de facto division. By the time a truce was established, Israel controlled vast areas allotted to the Arab state as well as the western sector of Jerusalem, which had been part of the internationalized area. Of the 41 villages surrounding West Jerusalem, 37 were destroyed by the Israelis. More than 80,000 Palestinians were driven out of or fled from that area, while East Jerusalem, which included the holy places, came under Jordanian administration. Despite these developments, the United Nations continued its efforts to internationalize Jerusalem, and the principle of a corpus separatum was for years reaffirmed in resolutions of the General Assembly and other United Nations organs.
At the same time, in contradiction to those efforts, and despite commitments made by Israel during its application for membership at the United Nations with regard to implementation of General Assembly resolutions 181 (II) and 194 (III), Israel undertook immediate actions to change the status quo of Jerusalem. In September 1948, Israel established its Supreme Court in Jerusalem and the Israeli parliament (Knesset) was assembled there in 1949. On 23 January 1950, the Knesset declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and by 1951 many Israeli ministries had moved to the city. No nation, however, recognized Israeli sovereignty over West Jerusalem.
With the outbreak of the 1967 war, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, including the walled old city with its religious sites, as well as the rest of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Syrian Golan and the Egyptian Sinai. Immediately thereafter, Israel took numerous measures to consolidate its control over East Jerusalem and judaize the city. It destroyed the entire Magharbi quarter in front of the Western Wall and in its place built a large plaza for Jewish worshippers. The Israeli government also expanded the municipal borders of Jerusalem to an area equivalent to ten times its original area, in a way to maximize the area of the city and minimize its Palestinian population, and extended its laws, jurisdiction and administration to East Jerusalem. Moreover, in flagrant disregard of international opposition and law, on 30 July 1980, the Israeli Knesset adopted the "basic law" of Jerusalem, reaffirming the de facto annexation and declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
Since 1967, Israel has, in a systematic manner, aimed to change the legal status, demographic composition and character of Occupied East Jerusalem through the implementation of a comprehensive and integrated policy targeting the artificial creation of a Jewish majority in the city through the confiscation of land, the intensification of settlement construction and the transfer of settlers into the city. This policy has in turn aimed at decreasing the existence of Palestinians in Jerusalem by making life harsher for them by all means and in all areas of life.
Through the Israeli Expropriation Bill of 1968, 85.6% of the land annexed in Occupied East Jerusalem and its surrounding villages was confiscated from its private Palestinian owners. 44% of the land was deemed "green areas", on which it is forbidden to build, and 42.5% was used to build and expand Jewish settlements. The locations of these settlements form a ring around East Jerusalem, encircling it from the north, south, east and west. This ring of settlements has served to isolate the city from the West Bank and also constricts Arab neighborhoods in ways preventing any further expansion and growth. The most recent of such measures include the Israeli decision to build a settlement in the heart of Occupied East Jerusalem in Ras Al-Amud and the decision to build a new settlement in Jabal Abu Ghneim to the south of the city. The settlement in Jabal Abu Ghneim will isolate East Jerusalem from the southern part of the West Bank, as well as isolating Jerusalem as a whole from the city of Bethlehem.
Of course, the building of settlements in Jerusalem correlates to the rise of the Jewish population in the city. While there were no Jews in East Jerusalem prior to 1967, the Jewish population today totals approximately 170,000, with the majority living in surrounding settlements, compared to only 160,000 Palestinians. Within the original boundaries of East Jerusalem, however, the overwhelming majority remains Palestinian.
The Israeli authorities have also persisted in their attempts to deprive Palestinians of Jerusalem from their natural and inherited right to live in the city of their ancestors. From the very start, Israel has considered Palestinian Jerusalemites as foreigners and issued them special identity cards, labeling them "permanent residents". In the past few years, hundreds of identity cards have been revoked from Palestinian Jerusalemites. Further, the Israeli government has instituted strict housing quotas against Palestinians in Jerusalem. These are just two of the elements of a slow eviction campaign, which has recently intensified, aimed at forcing Palestinians to leave the city.
In addition to the geographic and demographic attacks on Arab East Jerusalem, Israel has imposed severe restrictions on the city's social and economic development. Since 1994, a strict closure has been imposed as part of the Israeli effort to isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to severely curtail the entry of Palestinians into the city, despite the fact that it is the economic, cultural and religious center of the Palestinian people. Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem have also been suffocated by various Israeli restrictions. The assault on these institutions has escalated in recent months, as Israeli authorities have forced many to close, despite commitments made by the Israeli side, recognizing the importance of these institutions and affirming the need for their preservation.
Sadly, the holy places of Jerusalem have not gone unharmed either throughout the decades of Israeli occupation of the Holy City. The occupying authorities, as well as armed settlers, have at various times attacked the sanctity of the holy places, particularly Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which has been the site of violent acts that have resulted in the loss of life for many Muslim worshippers and damage to Islamic structures, including Al-Aqsa Mosque. Since 1967, there have been numerous appeals to the international community for the protection of the holy places, yet the Israelis continue to pursue illegal actions and excavations in Jerusalem, endangering the sanctity, integrity and the foundations of many religious sites, the most recent of which was the opening of a tunnel adjacent to Al-Haram Al-Sharif in September 1996.
All of the above-mentioned actions by Israel have been committed in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, the Hague Regulations of 1907 and in blatant defiance of relevant Security Council resolutions. In twenty-four of those resolutions, the Security Council affirmed the applicability of the Convention to all the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, and repeatedly declared that all of the measures and arrangements taken by Israel, including the legislative and administrative ones, aimed at changing the legal status of the city are null and void and without any legal validity whatsoever. The resolutions have also condemned Israel's attempts to change the character of the city and its demographic composition and pronounced that the "basic law" of Jerusalem constitutes a violation of international law and should be rescinded. No nation has recognized the annexation or the sovereignty of Israel over East Jerusalem and, in fact, with the exception of Costa Rica and El Salvador, no nation has moved its embassy to West Jerusalem.
Recently, with the onset of the current Middle East peace process, new hope had arisen for a peaceful and just solution for Jerusalem. The Palestinian and Israeli sides agreed to negotiate the issue of Jerusalem, however, due to the sensitivity and complexity of the issue, negotiations were postponed until the second stage of the process, as outlined in the Declaration of Principles of 1993.
Today, with the prevailing difficulties in negotiations and the persistent illegal Israeli actions in the city, the tumultuous history of Jerusalem continues, and until justice and peace dawn upon the Holy City, the Palestinian side has reaffirmed that it will not accept the annulment of Palestinian and Arab rights in Jerusalem and, despite all illegal Israel actions intended to create a fait accompli in the city, affirms the right of the Palestinian people to have Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of the independent state of Palestine.