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Jerusalem (Hebrew Yerushalayim; Arabic Al Quds), city lying at the intersection of Israel and the West Bank, located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea, about 50 km (about 30 mi) southeast of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv-Yafo. Jerusalem is composed of two distinct sections: West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem. West Jerusalem, which is inhabited almost entirely by Jews, has been part of Israel since Israel was established in 1948. East Jerusalem, which has a large Palestinian Arab population and recently constructed Jewish areas, was held by Jordan between 1949 and the Six-Day War of 1967. During the war, East Jerusalem was captured by Israel, which has administered it since. Israel claims that Jerusalem is its capital, but Palestinians dispute the claim and the United Nations has not recognized it as such. Jews, Christians, and Muslims consider Jerusalem a holy city, and it contains sites sacred to all three religions.

Located on a cluster of hilltops and valleys, Jerusalem straddles Haray Yehuda, or the Judean Hills, which run north-south in Israel, dividing the coastal plain from the Great Rift Valley. Summers in Jerusalem are hot and dry, with cooler temperatures and rain in the winter. Snow falls infrequently.


Jerusalem presents a mixture of well-preserved historical artifacts and the characteristic developments of a modern urban area. The greatest concentration of religious and historical sites is in the Old City, which was part of East Jerusalem when Jerusalem was divided. A wall constructed in ad 1538 during the reign of the Ottoman ruler Süleyman I contains the Old City. The area inside the wall is roughly divided into quadrants, named for their dominant ethnic communities: the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian quarters. An Arab market, or suq, lines the main axis of the Old City, giving it a crowded and bustling atmosphere.

Modern Jerusalem surrounds the Old City. Somewhat older neighborhoods are located to the east and south, and newer neighborhoods, to the west and north. The center of economic activity is to the west of the Old City, as are Israeli government institutions including the Israeli parliament, called the Knesset (completed in 1966), the Supreme Court Building (1992), and the City Hall complex (1993). Monuments commemorating recent national events and accomplishments are also found in the modern sections of Jerusalem, as are many points relating to the first Arab-Israeli war (1948-1949) and to the Six-Day War (1967). The national cemetery is located on Mount Herzl to the west of the Israeli government buildings.

A number of features make Jerusalem's landscape distinct from that of other cities. Planning regulations dating back to the early 20th century have limited the height of most structures in the city and channeled construction to hilltops; the valleys are intended to remain as open space. The British, who ruled the area from 1917 to 1948, also mandated the use of local limestone, known as Jerusalem Stone, for all facades. The pinkish-white color of the stone changes throughout the day, turning different hues as the light shifts. Because of the strict control on building, Jerusalem has a compact and uniform character. Its total area is about 123 sq km (about 47 sq mi). The boundaries of the city are frequently disputed, however, since Israel has confiscated and settled areas adjacent to Jerusalem considered by Palestinians to be part of the West Bank.


Jerusalem's economy is centered in government and public services, including tourism, but some manufacturing and high-technology industries also exist. Among the principal products of the factories in modern Jerusalem are shoes, textiles, pharmaceuticals, metal products, and printed materials. The factories are located mainly in the Atarot industrial center in northern Jerusalem, along the Ramallah Road.

Main roads run from Jerusalem to Amman, Jordan, in the east, to Ramallah and Nabulus (Nablus) in the north, and to Beersheba, through Bethlehem and Hebron, in the south. A rail line and an expressway link Jerusalem to Tel Aviv-Yafo in the west. The Atarot airport (called Kalandia airport by Arabic speakers), a small international airport, is located at the northern extremity of Jerusalem.


The population of Jerusalem is divided along lines of ethnicity, religion, and nationality; the primary division is between the Jewish Israeli majority (70 percent) and the Palestinian Arab minority (30 percent). Further divisions exist within both of these groups. The Jewish population has a variety of communities, some based on degree of religious observance. Many strictly Orthodox Jews are concentrated in the Mea She'arim religious neighborhood. In the Palestinian population, distinctions can be made according to Christian or Muslim affiliation. The combined population of East and West Jerusalem in 2004 was 701,512.


Jerusalem is one of Israel's centers of learning. The Hebrew University on Mount Scopus was founded in 1925. Mount Scopus, also the site of Hadassah Hospital, remained a Jewish enclave after Jerusalem was divided in 1949. Since Jews were allowed only limited access to the area, they relocated the facilities at Giv?t Ram in West Jerusalem. After the eastern sector of the city was captured in 1967, the Mount Scopus campus was rededicated and became the site of newly designed extensions of the existing hospital and university. Another notable institute of learning is the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design (founded in 1906).

Jerusalem contains an enormous number of points of historical and aesthetic interest. Most of these places reflect the connection between religion and political control that has shaped Jerusalem's history. Located in the Old City, the centerpiece of this history is the Temple Mount, which Muslims call Haram esh-Sharif, or the Venerable Sanctuary. It was here that King Solomon established the site of the First Temple of Israel in the 10th century bc. The temple was built on a platform surrounding the hilltop where tradition holds that Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac, as recounted in the Bible. The holiest existing Jewish monument, the Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, is the retaining wall built by Herod the Great to support the Temple Mount. Jews traditionally visit the wall to lament the destruction of the First and Second Temples and to offer prayers, written on pieces of paper placed in chinks in the wall. The name “Wailing Wall” refers to the prayers offered at the site in lamentation for the destruction of the temples and the persecution of Jews. With the advent of Islam, the area became holy to Muslims as well, because Muhammad was reported to have come to the Temple Mount and ascended to heaven from a rock on the site. The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, both located on the Temple Mount, constitute Islam's third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is also located in the Old City. It stands on the site where many Christians believe Jesus Christ was buried (some Protestants hold that the burial site was in the Garden Tomb, located outside the walls of the city). Christians have traditionally held the site to be the hill of Golgotha, or Calvary, where the crucifixion of Jesus Christ occurred; however, most scholars believe that Golgotha lies outside the city. Representatives of many Christian denominations hold services in the church, and it is the site of significant Christian pilgrimage. From the east, this church is approached by the Via Dolorosa, the route traditionally believed to be the one taken by Jesus Christ on the way to his crucifixion. Outside the Old City, beyond the eastern wall, is the Garden of Gethsemane, where the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot is believed to have taken place. Gethsemane is situated at the foot of the Mount of Olives, from which Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection, according to Christian tradition.

There are many other artifacts in the city, tied to various periods of history; those of Canaanite, Israelite, Greek, Roman, Arab, Crusader, and Ottoman origin are among the more prominent. Modern attractions include the Israel Museum (completed in 1965), which houses the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are exhibited; the Rockefeller Museum (opened in 1938), which contains archaeological finds; the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum; the Museum of Biblical Archaeology; the Museum of Islamic Art (opened in 1974); and the Biblical Zoo, which contains animals referred to in the Bible.


The site of Jerusalem was occupied during the Stone Age, but the aboriginal inhabitants were driven out in the period from 5000 bc to 4000 bc by a people who had advanced into the Bronze Age. The invaders, called Canaanites in the Bible, were a mixed people among whom Jebusites were dominant. The Canaanites came under Egyptian rule in the 15th century bc, during the conquests of King Thutmose III. Among the early records referring to Jerusalem are Egyptian tablets dating from about 1400 bc that name the city Urusalim. In about 1250 bc Hebrews from Egypt began their conquest of Canaan, the region to the west of the Jordan River later known as Palestine. So powerfully fortified was Jerusalem, however, that it did not fall until more than 200 years later. In 1000 bc, some years after being anointed King of Israel, David finally captured the city.

A Holy City of the Jews

According to the Bible, David brought the sacred Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem from Qiryat Ye'arim (a holy place of the time, west of Jerusalem) and installed it in a new tabernacle, built a royal palace and other buildings, and strengthened the city's fortifications. Although David greatly expanded the Kingdom of Israel and made Jerusalem its capital, the city and the temple he built were quite modest. Solomon, his son and successor, improved the temple and enlarged the city. He built a city wall and many buildings on a scale of magnificence previously unknown in Israel.

Solomon's Temple was destroyed and the Jews exiled by the Babylonians in the year 586 bc. In 539 bc, Babylonia was conquered by the Persians (see Persia), who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem the following year. The construction of a new temple, or Second Temple, was then undertaken on the ruins of the old. Jerusalem was captured by Alexander the Great in 333 bc, and after his death it came under the rule first of Egyptians and later of Syrians. The Syrian ruler Antiochus IV attempted to wipe out the Jewish religion by destroying a large part of Jerusalem in 168 bc. This caused a Jewish revolt under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus, a member of a priestly ruling family, the Hasmonaeans (see Maccabees). He liberated Jerusalem from the Syrians in 165 bc and later extended Hasmonaean rule over a large part of Judea. Jerusalem became the destination of annual Jewish pilgrimage from the outlying area, since certain religious obligations could only be fulfilled in the temple. All Jewish sacred and secular law and power came to be concentrated in the city.

B Roman Period

This power was eclipsed with the conquest of Jerusalem in 63 bc by the Roman general Pompey the Great. Herod the Great became king of Judea in 37 bc. During his administration, which lasted until 4 bc, Herod rebuilt the temple, constructed a fortress, and enhanced other elements of the city. The retaining wall built by Herod for the Temple Mount stands today as the Western Wall. After Herod's reign, a series of Roman governors were installed. From ad 26 to 36 the governor was Pontius Pilate, who sentenced Jesus to be crucified for treason. The Jews revolted against increasingly oppressive Roman rule in ad 66, and they managed to hold on to Jerusalem in the face of siege until ad 70. In that year, the city was captured by Titus, son of the Roman emperor Vespasian, who destroyed the temple. The city suffered almost complete destruction during the rebellion (132-135) led by Simon Bar Kokhba, following which the Jews were banished from the city. Under the Roman emperor Hadrian, the city was rebuilt as a pagan city, and its name was changed to Aelia Capitolina. Although the city effectively retained Jerusalem as its name, it did not serve again as a capital until 1099, when it was captured by Crusaders.

In the intervening years, Jerusalem gained stature in religious terms; in administrative and political terms, however, it remained relatively inconsequential. Under Roman rule, the city became a destination for Christian pilgrimage, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built during the reign of Constantine the Great (303-337). Roman support for churches and religious figures gave the city an increasingly Christian aspect.

C Muslim Rule and the Crusaders

In 638, the city came under Muslim control following conquest by Caliph Umar I. The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque were soon constructed on the Temple Mount, with the Dome of the Rock standing on the site of the First and Second Temples. The Seljuks, a Turkish dynasty, ruled Jerusalem harshly in the 11th century and continued to expand, especially toward Europe. In response to this expansion and Turkish control of places sacred to Christianity, Pope Urban II called the first of the Crusades, asking Christians to travel to the Middle East and fight to reclaim the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem. The Crusaders, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, captured Jerusalem in 1099, and the city became the capital of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Crusaders slaughtered many of the Muslim and Jewish residents and ruled with great cruelty until Saladin captured the city again for the Muslims in 1187. In 1517 Jerusalem was taken by the Ottomans, who ruled it until the 20th century (see Ottoman Empire).

During the period of Muslim control, the city was always part of a broader territory, ruled from distant imperial capitals. Its economic fortunes fluctuated, but, in keeping with its marginal political status, the city was often poor and neglected. Its population grew slowly; estimates for the beginning of the 19th century are of fewer than 10,000 people. Much of the growth came from Jewish pilgrims who settled in the city, and by the mid-19th century Jews were once again the majority. As the population grew, there was increased pressure on the housing capacity of the Old City. Jews began to build neighborhoods outside the Old City's walls, and nearby Arab villages expanded.

D Modern Period

During World War I (1914-1918), the British swept the Ottomans out of Jerusalem and took control of the city in 1917. They captured a city that had spread well beyond the Old City walls but was still poor and underdeveloped. The British became the legal administrators of Jerusalem under the terms of a League of Nations mandate in 1922. In order to preserve the historical character of the area, the British immediately developed plans for its growth, which they tried to direct away from the area adjacent to the Old City walls. As the neighborhoods outside the Old City grew, a pattern of separation pervaded, with Jews and Palestinian Arabs exhibiting a preference for self-segregation when possible, as they had in the Old City. The Jewish-Arab struggle for control of Palestine grew in intensity, and the friction among residents of Jerusalem increased as well. Jews and Arabs both sought to gain control in Jerusalem based on feelings of historical, political, and religious rights.

In 1947 the UN recommended that the British mandate of Palestine be divided into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, and that Jerusalem be made an international city. Violence erupted between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, and the UN plan was rejected by the Palestinian Arabs. During the first Arab-Israeli war (1948-1949), called the War of Independence by Israel and al naqba, or “the disaster,” by Palestinians, forces from the Kingdom of Jordan pushed into the area to fight against Israel. Jordanian forces succeeded in occupying the eastern side of Jerusalem, including all of the Old City. The Jewish residents and forces were compelled to withdraw, and at the conclusion of the fighting, Jerusalem was divided; the new state of Israel had control of West Jerusalem, and Jordan controlled East Jerusalem.

The dividing line was subsequently fortified, fenced, and set with land mines, and the city remained divided in this manner until 1967. During this period, the Jewish side of the city grew as Israel developed its national government and built up the institutional life of the city. In 1950 Israel proclaimed Jerusalem its capital. The area of the city controlled by Jordan languished, however, since Jordan directed its resources to the growth of its capital, Amman. Jewish and Christian property in the Old City was heavily damaged by a combination of looting, neglect, and destruction.

Early in the Six-Day War of 1967, Jordanian forces in Jerusalem began to shell the Jewish side of the city. In the ensuing warfare, Israel gained control of all of Jerusalem and the adjacent West Bank territory. The boundaries of the city were redrawn to expand its size by more than 200 percent, and in 1980 the Knesset passed a law declaring reunited Jerusalem to be Israel's eternal capital. The new municipal boundary added a number of Palestinian villages and the Atarot airport. Palestinian residents of the city were offered Israeli citizenship, but the offer was largely declined. Since many Palestinians retained Jordanian citizenship, the city took on a new political reality, with Palestinians and Israelis voting in the same municipal elections, but in different national elections (Jordanian and Israeli, respectively). Functionally, the city operated as a unit, with shared infrastructure, services, and taxation. Nevertheless, deep social divisions remained.

After the Six-Day War, the urban development of Jerusalem was designed to promote homogeneous ethnic neighborhoods, with buffers separating Arabs and Jews. The pattern grew more complicated as new neighborhoods for Israeli Jews were constructed in the area that prior to 1967 had been dominated by Arabs. By 1990 West Jerusalem remained almost exclusively Jewish, and East Jerusalem had nearly equal populations of Arabs and Jews. The Old City continued to have a non-Israeli majority, but the Jewish Quarter was restored and repopulated, and it quickly became a focal point of tourist and cultural activity. Since the Israeli residential and business sectors outside the Old City have been the target of development support from the government, many new neighborhoods, modern structures, and services have been created. Clear gaps exist between the development of Arab and Jewish areas.

Politically, the city continues to be disputed. Israel claims sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, but Palestinians claim at least the eastern half, including the Old City and all of its holy sites. The complex historical and religious significance of Jerusalem has led to widespread demands for a negotiated settlement of its future political status. Repartition of the city or shared Palestinian-Israeli rule are among the options, and the difficulty of resolving the Jerusalem question has repeatedly derailed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and peace talks. Alongside the violence that plagues Jerusalem, the city continues to grow and modernize, further shifting the balance from old to new, and creating an even greater need for political stability.

* Contributed By: Shaul Cohen

1052 View | 18-07-2014 | 11:10


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