Physical Geography

1. The Image of the City

The image and plan for Jerusalem have evolved over the centuries based both on changing times and changing power structures. Until the middle of the 19th century, Jerusalem was a city that existed within its 16th century walls. Along with miles of markets and residential areas, the Old City of Jerusalem possesses the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and a multitude of other religious and secular sites. The New City of Jerusalem, which began to take its modern form during the British Mandate period, spread beyond the Old City walls and consists of a number of different areas including; traditional Jewish neighborhoods that started in the 19th century, traditional rural Arab areas that have existed for many generations, urban Arab areas which began in the 19th century, areas influenced and built by European Christians in the late 19th and early 20th century and finally, British Mandate period areas that have Jewish garden neighborhoods and institutional, state buildings. One common theme between all the periods and areas of Jerusalem is that the white stone, often referred to as “Jerusalem Stone” was the material of choice for new structures.

Within Jerusalem there is a constant struggle between the development needs of a modern city and the preservation of historical sites and areas. As the former mayor of Jerusalem, the late Teddy Kollek, once wrote, “Jerusalem in not only a city of holiness, bristling with minarets, church towers, and domed synagogues; it is equally a city of residential complexes, commercial quarters, traffic jams, parking lots, and industrial zones.”3

2. The Wall

In 2002 the government of Israel approved the construction of a separation barrier between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The current route of the barrier is 703 km, of which about 408 km are completed, with an additional 63 km already under construction. Map 6 shows the existing and planned path of the barrier. Approximately 162 km of the barrier are being constructed in Jerusalem, of which 89 km have been completed. In many places through the country the barrier is comprised of an electronic fence with dirt paths, barbed-wire fences, and trenches on both sides, at an average width of 60 meters. Most of the barrier built around Jerusalem is a 6-8 meter high concrete wall. The plan for the barrier around East Jerusalem is being built in large part on expropriated Palestinian land which will separate Jerusalem completely from the rest of the West Bank. Moreover, the proximity of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Jerusalem as well as the many Palestinian towns surrounding Jerusalem, means that the construction of the barrier around East Jerusalem will have a strongly negative impact on the political, social, and economic connections between Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and West Bank residents.

3. Settlements

Since 1967 Israel has pursued a policy of settlement building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Settlements are newly constructed Israeli neighborhoods, often built on Palestinian land, which are open only to Jews. The residents of settlements are offered financial incentives such as tax breaks and housing subsidies to live in the settlements. There are 12 settlements in the Jerusalem area that make up two rings around the city. The “inner ring” is composed of the settlements in East Jerusalem and the “outer ring” forms a circle around greater Jerusalem. The most well known settlements in the Jerusalem area are Maale Addumin, Gilo, Har Homa, and East Talipot.

These settlements are often connected to downtown Jerusalem with a series of bypass roads that only Jews are allowed to travel on. Due to the construction (and planned construction) of the settlements around municipal Jerusalem (specifically the E1 area of Maale Adumim) Palestinian movement and access to Jerusalem is restricted and East Jerusalem residents are being cut off from the West Bank.

4. House Demolition

The issue of house demolitions in the West Bank and Gaza has become a popular topic, but what is not often discussed is that a similar policy of house demolition exists in East Jerusalem. Whereas in the Occupied Territories the ability to demolish homes is given by military order, the military does not have authority over East Jerusalem. Thus, the municipality is responsible for giving orders of demolition. Most often, the reason given for the demolition of a house is that the house, or a part of the house, was built without a permit.

Palestinians make up a third of Jerusalem’s population, but because of various municipal regulations placed upon East Jerusalem only a small amount of the land is available for Palestinian construction. In order to maintain and limit East Jerusalem’s population capacity “the average housing density in East Jerusalem is 2.21 housing units per dunam, as opposed to 6.1 units in Jewish areas”4 and the municipality will not allow that to change. According to the International Peace and Cooperation Center, between 1971 and 1991 over 9 million building permits were issued for West Jerusalem and 1 million building permits were issued for East Jerusalem.5

A consequence of the small percentage of space allowed for building and restrictions on building, in addition to the high birth rate among Palestinians, is that there is a chronic lack of housing in Palestinian areas of Jerusalem and thus a high level of overcrowding. This often leads to Palestinian families building without permits in order to accommodate the size of their families. According to Btselem, an Israeli human rights organization, in 2002, the housing density in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem was almost twice that of Jewish neighborhoods. However, the municipality tends to allow for natural growth among the Jewish communities of Jerusalem, but not the Palestinian communities.6


3. Teddy Kollek, Introduction to Jerusalem Architecture, by David Kroyanker (New York: The Vendome Press with the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 1994).
4. Menachem Klein, Jerusalem: The Contested City (New York University Press in association with the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 2001), p.28-29
5 Rassem Khamaisi and Rami Nasrallah, eds., The Jerusalem Urban Fabric: Demography, Infrastructure and Institutions, IPCC Jerusalem Strategic Planning Series, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: The International Peace and Cooperation Center, 2003), p.60
6 www.btselem.org