Political Geography

Though all history and narratives can and are contested, it is necessary to impart some context for the political geography of Jerusalem. While we have provided a short historical narrative here, it is no replacement to deep historical or scholarly inquiry. We hope that all entrants will consult the bibliography and additional materials provided on the competition website, as well as undertake their own research to form their own views of the city.

Jerusalem at the Turn of the 20th Century

map1_tmThe history of Jerusalem is rich and old. It vastly predates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and nationalist struggles that have continuously redefined its boundaries and content since 1948. Up until the 1860s, Jerusalem was contained within walls, which held the main holy sites of the three monotheistic religions. The city was under Ottoman rule for 4 centuries, which maintained a careful social and political balance among the different peoples of the city. All the nationalities and religions were represented on local city consuls and despite the antagonisms and tension between groups, this system prevented large-scale social conflict. It was only in the 1860s that Jerusalem began to grow outside the old walls. (Map 1)


map2_tmAfter the First World War, the British Empire was granted the mandate over Palestine in 1922. The British ruled Palestine, with the civil administration located in Jerusalem, until the end of World War II. The interwar period saw the consolidation of Jewish and Arab national movements. Conflicting British promises of national sovereignty and imperial protection for different groups in Jerusalem accentuated nationalist claims and struggles over the city. The strengthening of the Zionist movement in Palestine, rising Arab opposition, the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe, and the increase in Jewish immigration to Palestine, led to intense clashes of peoples in the Jerusalem area. It is during these interwar years that the spatial and ethnic mosaic and mismatch which had been sustained for generations was replaced by a conscious alignment of people’s nationalities with specific territorial areas of Jerusalem. (Map 2)

The Post-War Era and UN Resolutions: 1948-2000

map3_tmThe boundaries of Jerusalem since World War II have been determined by the outcome of Arab-Israeli wars and UN resolutions. By 1947 Great Britain, having failed to find a solution to the competing national claims over Palestine, decided to relegate the question of Palestine and Jerusalem to the United Nations. On Nov. 29th, 1947, the United National General Assembly passed Resolution 181 – what came to be known as the partition plan for Palestine. Resolution 181 provided a plan for partition of Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs, and introduced the Corpus Separatum plan, which called for Jerusalem to be an international city under UN protection. (Map 3)

After the war of 1948 Jerusalem was divided into two parts: East and West. West Jerusalem became part of the newly established state of Israel while East Jerusalem remained part of the West Bank, which was annexed by Jordan in December 1948. On December 11th, 1948, the United Nations issued Resolution 194, which, among many other issues, again addressed the sovereignty over Jerusalem. The resolution reads:

“in view of its association with three world religions, the Jerusalem area, including the present municipality of Jerusalem plus the surrounding villages and towns, the most eastern of which shall be Abu Dis; the most southern, Bethlehem; the most western, Ein Karim (including also the built-up area of Motsa); and the most northern, Shu’fat, should be accorded special and separate treatment from the rest of Palestine and should be placed under effective United Nations control.”1

map4_tmThe 1967 war resulted in another redefinition of Jerusalem. As a consequence of the Six Day war, Israel gained control of East Jerusalem together with the rest of the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai. Israel however, does not consider East Jerusalem Occupied Territory. On June 27th, 1967 Israel declared Jerusalem, with its eastern part, as unified and under its exclusive control. It also redefined the boundary of East Jerusalem as it annexed 65,000 dunums of the West Bank to it (rather than keep it within the 6000 dunums which constituted Jordanian municipal Jerusalem). Since 1967, the “unified Jerusalem” has included areas as far north as parts of the Ramallah district and as far south as Bethlehem. This unified Jerusalem however, has not been accepted by the Palestinians or officially acknowledged by the international community. (Map 4)

The Changing Borders of Jerusalem

Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in June 1967, the boundary and composition of Jerusalem has changed. Today it is possible to talk of three different Jerusalems. The smallest of the three Jerusalems is municipal Jerusalem. Municipal Jerusalem is 126 sq. km and includes the areas of Jerusalem that Israel gained control of after 1967. Municipal Jerusalem has a population of 680,000. It includes 200,000 settlers living in 12 Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. Municipal Jerusalem also includes approximately 225,000 Arabs in East Jerusalem. A second definition of Jerusalem is “greater” Jerusalem. This encompasses an even larger area and includes areas of the West Bank and Israeli settlements such as Maale Adumim. The third and largest definition of Jerusalem is metropolitan Jerusalem. This definition of Jerusalem encompassed large sections of the West Bank and would incorporate both Bethlehem and approximately half of the district Ramallah. Since 2002, the boundaries of Jerusalem are being delineated by the newly constructed separation wall. (Maps 5 and 6)map5_tm  map6_tm

The three definitions of Jerusalem all include one very crucial area of land—the Old City of Jerusalem. The Old City is one square mile of land enclosed by ancient walls. This area contains many holy sites to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. To a large extent, the three definitions of Jerusalem are extensions of the Old City and their importance relies on the religious and political value of this small area. They reflect some of the ways in which the relation between the religious and the mundane, the national and the universal are being continuously reformulated. The political authority over the Old City and its religious sites is a central area of conflict over Jerusalem and will have to be addressed if the larger urban aims of enabling justice, equality and peace are to be achieved