Israel’s settler-colonial project has been premised on a set of racial and spatial assumptions that require the dispossession—even the elimination—of the native Palestinians. Over the seven decades of Israeli rule in Jerusalem and throughout historic Palestine, the state has produced abiding landscapes of loss for Palestinians, while enabling mass Zionist settlement on lands and in homes wrested from the indigenous population.
The United States’ Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and the Challenge to the International Consensus
On December 6, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that the US was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would be moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv in fulfillment of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act (henceforth Embassy Act). In one fell swoop, the US has seriously challenged 70 years of international consensus enshrined in international law as regards the status of the city, and put the potential for a two-state solution into a tail-spin. What are the consequences of this major policy change?
For those accustomed to the themes of Sino-Arab diplomacy, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on January 21 was predictable enough. It might not have attracted much attention at all if not for Xi’s statement that “China firmly supports the Middle East peace process and supports the establishment of a State of Palestine enjoying full sovereignty on the basis of the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
The popular Israeli television series, Arab Labor, follows the lives of the fictional journalist Amjad and his family, all of whom are Palestinian citizens of Israel. Season one of the series, which first aired on Israeli public television in 2007, introduces Amjad and his endearingly unquenchable faith in humanity. Tired of living in his natal village, Amjad moves his family to a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, replete with strong water pressure in the shower, manicured parks and gardens, and what he thinks is the freedom to live out his dream of integration into Israeli society.
The 2012 US presidential election elicited less interest among Palestinians than any such contest in living memory. While most Israelis, and their government in particular, expressed a clear preference for a Republican victory, Palestinians seemed resigned to continuity in US foreign policy irrespective of which party won the White House. The main reason was that President Barack Obama, self-proclaimed apostle of change and widely hailed as such in the region when he assumed office four years ago, has yet to demonstrate a meaningful inconsistency with his predecessor George W. Bush when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Events since the election have only confirmed this policy direction and thus the validity of Palestinians’ indifference.
On June 6, 2012, the Jerusalem Development Authority launched its fourth annual Jerusalem Festival of Light in the Old City. The previous year’s show had been a resounding success, according to sponsors quoted in the Jerusalem Post, with over 250,000 visitors enjoying “art installations bursting with light and 3-D movies splayed across the city’s ancient walls and buildings.” In 2011, the Muslim Quarter of the Old City was included within the festival’s purview for the first time, with Damascus Gate retooled as the backdrop for a massive video projection.
On September 1, Elad — a Hebrew acronym for “To the City of David” — convened its eleventh annual archaeological conference at the “City of David National Park” in the Wadi Hilwa neighborhood of Silwan. Silwan, home to about 45,000 people, is one of 28 Palestinian villages incorporated into East Jerusalem and annexed by Israel after the June 1967 war. It lies in a valley situated a short walk beyond the Dung Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. Elad, a militant, religious, settler organization, claims that Silwan is the biblical City of David mentioned in the second book of Samuel and that the Pool of Shiloah (Siloam) located there watered King Solomon’s garden.
Samera remembers a time, during the tumultuous and violent years of the first intifada (1987-1993), when her Jerusalem was a place quite different than it is today. Though tens of thousands of Palestinians under Israeli occupation were imprisoned in those years, many of them tortured, a measure of hope and optimism pervaded Palestinian Jerusalem in ways that seem foreign to Samera and other Palestinian Jerusalemites in 2004, over three years into the costly, low-level warfare of the second uprising.
Salim Tamari, ed., Jerusalem, 1948: The Arab Neighborhoods and Their Fate in the War (Jerusalem: Institute of Jerusalem Studies and Badil Resource Center, 1999).
Meron Benvenisti, City of Stone: The Hidden History of Jerusalem (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996).
Michael Dumper, The Politics of Jerusalem Since 1967 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).
Editor’s Note: In preparing this special issue, we asked a number of Jerusalem residents to share their thoughts about the significance of the city to them and about ways of thinking about Jerusalem’s future.
Azmi Bishara teaches philosophy at Birzeit University in the West Bank.
On Saturday night, June 10, 1967, Israeli authorities informed more than 100 families living in the Moroccan Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City that they had three hours to evacuate their homes, where some had lived for generations. As Teddy Kollek, mayor of the western half of the city since 1965, recalled in his 1978 autobiography:
Suad Amiry is coordinator of the Palestinian team for the Jerusalem program at the Smithsonian Institution’s 1993 Folklife Festival in Washington. An architect, Amiry is also a member of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks with Israel. As Middle East Report was going to press, the Jerusalem program was postponed. The interview begins with Amiry’s explanation of the postponement. She discussed the Festival with Penny Johnson, a contributing editor of this magazine, in Ramallah in April 1993.
Why was the Jerusalem Festival postponed?
Being served a soda or some fresh nuts by an unassuming man in the small, crowded kiosk across from Jerusalem’s central bus station, it would be hard to know that you were in the presence of one of the most powerful and original Hebrew poetic voices alive.
The story of this poet, Yehezkel Kedmi, is just as unlikely, and presents the true anguish of those parts of Jerusalem so often swept under the rug. Living by his wits on the streets since the age of 13, and still homeless, Kedmi depicts the struggle and suffering that shaped a generation of Jews from the Arab world. Through a dramatic, almost epic structure, Kedmi’s language parallels that of the prophets and the great classical medieval Hebrew poets of Andalusia.
Jamila Freij (Umm Sam‘an) was born in 1930 in “new” Jerusalem, what is now called West Jerusalem. Her family had lived in Jerusalem’s Old City for 15 generations until 1925 when her father and his brother built houses in Bak‘a (which means “beautiful area”), then an unpopulated land outside the Old City walls. The family fled their homes just days before the establishment of the state of Israel. They never returned. Umm Sam‘an describes their life in Bak‘a, their flight in 1948 and return to the Christian Quarter of the Old City, and the family&rsuqo;s disintegration.
It is possible to talk of Jerusalem in many ways: as a city where history lives, as a city where history lives, as a city holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims, as a place where people live and work, as a place of pilgrimage. This primer talks of Jerusalem the modern city, the city claimed by both Palestinians and Israelis as their national symbol, Jerusalem the united, Jerusalem the divided. It tells how a thriving Arab city with expanding Jewish-Arab suburbs was transformed into a large Jewish Israeli city in which the Arab residents are not citizens. Finally, it stresses the urgent need for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate Jerusalem’s future.
We have long wanted to produce an issue dedicated to the proposition that Jerusalem’s political future must be firmly inscribed on the agenda of any Palestinian-Israeli peace talks that presume to be credible. We hope this issue can contribute to a more widespread appreciation among advocates of a negotiated resolution of the conflict that Jerusalem’s importance is not only symbolic or religious but has to do with basic material realities.