Socio-Economic Geography

1.The Social Fabric

The total population of municipal Jerusalem was approximately 680,000 in 2005. Palestinian residents make up approximately
33 percent of the population of Jerusalem and Jewish residents account for approximately 67 percent of Jerusalem’s population.
Within these two groups we find about 180,000-200,000 Orthodox Jews and 260,600-280,000 are a mix of conservative/
masorty, modern orthodox, and secular Jews. Approximately 90% of the non-Jewish population in Jerusalem is Muslim. This equals about 14,000 Christian Palestinians and about 208,000 Muslim Palestinians.7

The city of Jerusalem and its Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants are not monolithic entities. Within each group there is much socio economic and ethnic diversity, as much as there are today also migrants from outside the region that have claimed spaces in the city. Due to shortage of time and data though, we shall concentrate here on the discrepancy between the two main national groups in Jerusalem, namely the Jewish and the Palestinian. They remain so far the fastest growing population in Municipal Jerusalem

2. Citizenship

The laws of citizenship in Jerusalem have an important impact on the lives of residents in the city. In 1950 the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) passed “The Law of Return” which states that any Jew, anywhere in the world has the right to come to Israel and be granted citizenship. This law governs Jewish citizenship to this day.

Under Israeli law, the legal status of East Jerusalem is different from that of the rest of the territories occupied in 1967, which are under military occupation. Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem are considered residents of Israel, not citizens. As Jerusalem residents, Palestinians hold Israeli ID cards and have the right to vote in municipal elections, but they don’t have Israeli passports and cannot vote in national elections. Their special status allows them certain benefits denied to Palestinians in the West Bank. Jerusalem Palestinians are allowed the freedom of movement. They are also entitled to health insurance and other social welfare benefits. However, these benefits are not equally distributed between Jewish and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.

3. Poverty

Jerusalem is one of the poorest cities among the 10 biggest cities in Israel. This is due mainly to population and income levels. Due to the large Arab population and the large ultra-Orthodox population the birthrate and therefore population growth in Jerusalemis higher than other cities in Israel. Also, both groups have large families and often are employed in low paying jobs. The population of Jewish residents of Jerusalem is younger than comparable cities in Israel. (The median age in Jerusalem is 25 and the median ages in Tel-Aviv and Haifa are 34 and 36, respectively.)

The average income in Jerusalem is lower than in the rest of Israel. Jerusalem residents depend largely on the government for their livelihoods. Half of all incomes in Jerusalem are from government investment or employment in government services.

In municipal Jerusalem, the quality of life of many Jewish Israelis is well below that of Jewish Israelis in other cities. According to statistics from Israel’s National Institute of Insurance, approximately 20 percent of Jewish families in Israel live below the poverty line. In Jerusalem, the number of families living in poverty increases to almost 30 percent. Jews in Jerusalem have some of the highest rates of poverty in the entire country. Because of the difficulties of living in municipal Jerusalem, everything from safety concerns to economic hardships, the domestic Jewish emigration from Jerusalem is very high. Between 1990 and 2002 Jerusalem suffered a net loss of more than 80,000 people. Most of these people moved to the settlement blocks located in metropolitan Jerusalem.

The poverty level among Palestinians in Jerusalem is consistent with that of Palestinians in other parts of Israel (not including the West Bank and Gaza). About 50% of Palestinian families in Jerusalem live below the poverty line.

4.Municipal Services

Distribution of municipal funds and services—Municipal funds and services are unequally distributed in Jerusalem. For example, the Jerusalem municipality collects approximately 30 percent of the total municipal taxes in East Jerusalem from Palestinian residents, however, less than 10 percent of the municipal budget is spent on the Palestinian community of East Jerusalem.
As a further example, Btselem created a short list of differences between municipal services in East and WestJerusalem. Btselem reports that:

  • Entire Palestinian neighborhoods are not connected to a sewage system and do not have paved roads or sidewalks;
  • Almost 90 percent of the sewage pipes, roads, and sidewalks are found in West Jerusalem;
  • West Jerusalem has 1,000 public parks, East Jerusalem has 45;
  • West Jerusalem has 36 swimming pools, East Jerusalem does not have even one;
  • West Jerusalem has 26 libraries, East Jerusalem has two;
  • West Jerusalem has 531 sports facilities, East Jerusalem has 33.

Taxes – All residents of Jerusalem are subject to the Arnona Tax. Israeli authorities collect an ‘Arnona tax’ on both residential and business spaces based on building, office and apartment size. The Arnona tax in Jerusalem is regressive and does not take into consideration differences in income level, family size or other factors. The regressive nature of the Arnona Tax negatively affects both Palestinian Jerusalemites and the Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem both of whom have larger families and smaller incomes.

Business/Commercial properties are taxed based on the size of the property as opposed to the income of the business. According to the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights, “studies show that the average monthly incomes of private businesses in West Jerusalem are much higher than in East.”8 The fact that West Jerusalem has many big corporations, many more tourists and more profitable businesses means that the Arnona Tax is less burdensome for West Jerusalem.

As a result of the Arnona tax, many Palestinian and Orthodox Jewish residents have been unable to pay their taxes. Yet while the Palestinian residents are subjected to various punitive measures, (ranging from fines, seizure of property, and denial of official documents such as travel permits, birth certificates and identification papers), the Orthodox community does not face such punishments.9 The JCSER reports that because of the Arnona tax, an estimated 70-80% of the Palestinian residents in Jerusalem are unable to pay their taxes and therefore are in debt to the Municipality. The Arnona tax makes it difficult for Palestinian residents to maintain businesses and forces some families to leave Jerusalem to find employment elsewhere.

Within the Jewish community the issue of equality under the municipality is problematic as well. According to a Floeersheimer Institute survey, ¼ of Jews in Jerusalem are Haredi (ultra-orthodox), 1/5 are Orthodox, ¼ are traditional and 1/3 are secular.10 Though almost equally divided, the Haredi receive many more municipal benefits than any other group. One of issues constantly debated within Jerusalem is what Shabbat observances the city will mandate. According to Jewish law no work should be done on Shabbat. Therefore stores are not allowed to open and buses and taxis are not allowed to run. There are constant battles within the Jewish community about how much control the city should have over such issues.

Another subject of dispute is land allocation. According to the October 2002 Floesheimer report, between the years if 1993 and 1996, the vast majority of the public land allocation was granted to the Haredi and for religious uses.11 Since the Haredi do not represent a majority of the Jewish population in Jerusalem, the fact that they are being granted an overwhelming proportion of public land is very problematic.

5. Education

Israel’s Ministry of Education is responsible for all education planning and building in Israel. The Jerusalem Education Authority, funded by the Ministry of Education, is responsible for the education system in East and West Jerusalem. Though East and West Jerusalem are administered by the same authority, schools and education in East Jerusalem are inferior to those in West Jerusalem. The differences between schools in East and West Jerusalem range from physical space to educational and emotional support systems.

Palestinian students account for one third of all school age children in Jerusalem, yet there are 35 schools in East Jerusalem and 169 schools in West Jerusalem.12 Between 1997 and 1999 there were 430 classrooms built for ultra-orthodox Jewish students while there were 111 classrooms built for Arab students.13 The lack of schools in East Jerusalem leads to overcrowding in classrooms and misuse of spaces within schools. For example, several schools in East Jerusalem do not have a library because that space is needed for classrooms. Often, the Municipality turns away children who want to register at municipality schools. Parents are forced to enroll their children in costly private schools or keep their children out of school.
In addition to the issue of space in schools, the number of teachers, counselors and the quality of such staff as well as the quality of programs offered are different between East and West Jerusalem. For example, the number of grants given to teachers for studying is 382 percent higher in the Jewish sector than it is in the Palestinian sector.

6. Security

Because of the symbolic importance of Jerusalem and its central role in the conflict, it has been a target of Palestinian terrorist attacks since 1994. One fourth of all terrorist attacks take place in Jerusalem and approximately one quarter of all Jews killed and one third of all Jews wounded by attacks are from attacks within Jerusalem.

Most Jerusalem residents have either lost someone in a terrorist attack or know someone who has. The proximity to grief and terror reverberates throughout Israeli society. Various studies14 show that many Jerusalem residents suffer from a variety of mental health issues, the most common of which is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Children are particularly affected, as studies found that “33 per cent of Israeli youth have been affected personally by terrorism, either by being at the scene of an attack or by knowing someone injured or killed by terrorists. Seventy per cent of those surveyed reported increased subjective fear or hopelessness.” 15

Though nothing justifies the use of terrorism as a tactic, it must be noted that suicide bombing is not the only source of violence against civilians in Jerusalem. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem suffer from violence perpetrated by the Israeli military, Israeli police and Jewish settlers in the city. Such violence has psychological ramifications and affects the Palestinian population at large.

The effects of terrorism reach beyond the loss of life and create a strain on individuals as well as the society as a whole. The separation wall in East Jerusalem is built in the name of security. Most public places in West Jerusalem have security guards at their entrance. Jerusalem residents suffer politically, physically and mentally from the threat of terrorism, an issue that needs to be addressed in any attempt to make Jerusalem a livable city for all its residents.

7 According to Palestinian Bureau of statistics, East Jerusalem is split into two sections J1 and J2. J1 is the district of East Jerusalem and J2 is the 70 sq km of the West Bank which were annexed to East Jerusalem in 1967. The total population of J1 and J2 is 348,600 of which 231,000 live in J1.
The Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights fact sheet on the Arnona Tax
9 Meir Margalit, “Chronic Discrimination in East Jerusalem Evidence From The Municipal Budget,” Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights, (July 2003)
10 Shlomo Hasson and Amiram Gonen, “The Cultural Tension within Jerusalem’s Jewish Population,” The Floesheimer Institute for Policy Studies, (December 1997)
11 Shlomo Hasson, “The Struggle for Hegemony in Jerusalem: Secular and Ultra-Orthodox in Urban Politics,” The Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies, (October 2002)
“School age” is defined as children ages 5-19.
13 Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights,
14 Rony Berger, “Israeli Children and Youth in the Shadow of the Security Threat: How Do They and Their Parents Cope with the Uncertain Security Situation and the Ongoing Stress?” Natal Research Papers, accessed March 28th, 2006.,kids,02.html
15 Dina Kraft, “Terrorism’s Toll,” The Australian Jewish Times, May 28th, 2004. Available from