The Big Picture

A City Known as a “Holy City”

Jerusalem is known as a “holy city,” an “international city,” and a “city of peace.” Some might think of it as a “shining city upon a hill.” 

Credit: Shutterstock

But in Fact . . .

The reality on the ground is starkly, darkly, different.

Credit: Getty Images

One City, Two Peoples

In 2019, according to Israeli data, about 39 to 41 percent of Jerusalem’s population were Palestinians. But these data only include Palestinians registered in Israel’s Population Registry; thousands more are believed to live unregistered in the city, meaning they are likely closer to 50 percent of the city’s population.

Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

An Indigenous Community

The Palestinians of Jerusalem, the focus of our story, are an indigenous homeland community that has lived in the city and helped to shape its development and its destiny for centuries. But with the advent of Israel, their place, role, and options in the city were all radically altered. 


Left photo: Library of Congress

Right photo: Alamy Stock Images

Before Israel’s Establishment

The area today called West Jerusalem was full of vibrant Palestinian, Jewish, and mixed neighborhoods before the State of Israel was established in 1948. Palestinians living there were citizens with the same status as Jews and lived and worked alongside and amongst them in relative harmony.


Left photo: Library of Congress

Right photo: Library of Congress

After Israel’s Establishment—An Emptied, Destroyed City

In 1947–48, almost all the Palestinians in what was then the New City and 38 adjacent Palestinian villages (around 60,000 people) were driven out by Zionist forces or fled to escape to temporary safety. 

Assets Seized; Citizenship Abrogated; Return Outlawed

Even before the war had ended, Israel began passing a series of laws to cancel their citizenship, confiscate their properties—including financial assets in banks—and ban their return.

Many homes that the state confiscated were stunning, palatial architectural wonders. The magnitude of loss, both individual and collective, is hard to express. The trauma of this rupture is very alive for Palestinian Jerusalemites wherever they are today, but especially so for those who remained in East Jerusalem. Many live just a few minutes’ drive from their former family homes and neighborhoods. 


Left photo: Alamy Stock Photo

Right photo: Alamy Stock Photo


Homeless, stateless, and penniless, many Palestinians became refugees, in East Jerusalem and beyond.

Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

A City Divided; A City Denied

For the first time in its history, Jerusalem was divided geographically and ethnically. West Jerusalem, held and claimed by Israel, became exclusively Jewish. Palestinians were denied return; the state confiscated all their lands and properties. East Jerusalem, annexed by Jordan, became Arab. The Jewish Quarter in the Old City was severely damaged, and its Jewish residents relocated to the western side. Many Palestinians sought refuge and made new homes on the East side of the city, which was under Jordanian control and was known as Arab Jerusalem (in Arabic, al-Quds al-‘Arabi). The Old City and the holy sites were also on this side of the city.

The city remained divided for the next 19 years. The only access to west Jerusalem was through a single point, and Palestinians were not allowed to cross it.

Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

The Cataclysm of 1967

Nineteen years later, in 1967, Israel conquered the rest of the city and occupied it, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Immediately thereafter, the state set about to reshape and reengineer the east side of the city—to integrate it with the western, Jewish side by erasing its Arab character, past and present, and remaking it as a Jewish city.

Unlike in 1948, however, the Palestinians had largely stayed put. The state had to decide how to deal with them. And very quickly, it got down to business. 

Credit: Dan Porges, Getty Images


Israeli soldiers enter the Old City of Jerusalem en masse through the Lions' Gate/Bab al-Asbat on July 7, 1967, shortly after the end of the 1967 War.

The Separation Wall in and around Jerusalem    link

Fleeing to Safety

In the chaos of the war that devastated Jerusalem and ravaged the rest of the country, many Jerusalemites fled to safety or were expelled. Shown here are frantic Palestinian refugees trying to escape over the wrecked Allenby Bridge from East Jerusalem to Jordan on June 22, 1967. The Associated Press photo caption, written at the time, notes that “Many of the refugees said they were forced to leave by the Israelis.”

Bernard Frye, Associated Press (File Photo) via AP News

Taking the Count

Within days, before the war’s dust had settled and while everything was in chaos, Israel conducted a rushed and flawed census of the Palestinians in the newly occupied areas of the city. Anyone not at home at the time was not allowed to obtain legal status. In this way, around 30,000 more Palestinian Jerusalemites were perrnanently banned from their city. 

Sweeping Unilateral Measures

Israel extended its own law and jurisdiction over the newly occupied eastern side of the city, and then tripled its size by unilaterally expanding the borders. Many Palestinian neighborhoods were arbitrarily and erratically divided, leaving one part of a close-knit community on the Israeli side; the other, on the West Bank side.

On the other hand, the state compelled 28 Palestinian villages that had laid outside Jerusalem for centuries to suddenly become part of it. This decision inflicted yet another chapter of rupture on the Palestinians living in the area, as stories on this website show. 

Inferior, Conditional Status

After occupying East Jerusalem, Israel quickly decided that the people in the newly occupied and expanded city would be designated permanent residents, not citizens, a status typically conferred on foreigners moving to a new place. This status is inferior, with limited rights and benefits, and revocable at any time, conditional on whatever requirements the state decides to set. For Palestinians of Jerusalem, with time the status has become ever more precarious. Today they live in fear of revocation on any pretext. 

Jewish Settlements

Immediately after occupation, the state began laying the groundwork to change the demographic balance in the newly expanded city. They confiscated lands from Palestinians and built Jewish settlements, first an inner-right ring inside the city, then a ring around the city, and then a far-flung ring to establish a greater Jerusalem region.


These are their stories. Our work is only beginning.