About Us

Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


The demographic battle for Jerusalem


On Tuesday 27 December 2011, the Jerusalem municipality approved another 130 housing units for the illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo. According to Haaretz, the municipality responded to criticism of the move by saying, "there have been no changes to the municipality’s policy for the past 40 years, and we will continue to build in all of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods." Indeed, Jerusalem's planning policies have been discriminatory from the get-go and continue to favor Israeli growth at the expense of the city's Palestinian residents. 


The separation barrier outside of Shuafat refugee camp, which lies within the Israeli-dictated borders of the Jerusalem muncipality (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

After the 1967 war, Israel annexed 71 square kilometers of the West Bank to the municipality of Jerusalem. Only six and a half square kilometers of this area had been under Jordanian rule. The remaining 64.5 square kilometers belonged to 28 Palestinian towns and villages and some were part of the municipal areas of Bethlehem and Beit Jala.

The new boundaries of Jerusalem followed political and military considerations. They were designed to include the areas of the hinterlands that were scarcely inhabited as well as the top of the mountains surrounding the city. The move reflected an effort to maximize the amount of land annexed while minimizing the Arab population in the city. 

Along with this annexation, Israel also confiscated large amounts of lands for “public purpose” i.e. building settlements. Development proceeded from the newly captured periphery towards the center of Jewish West Jerusalem, in order to consolidate Israel’s control over the city and to avoid future re-division. Since the early 1970s, the municipality has also strived for an annual population growth of 3.7% of the Jewish population in order to maintain a population ratio between Jews and Arabs similar to the one on the time of annexation. The ratio was set by an inter-ministerial committee that sat in 1972 and 1973.

At the time of annexation, there were 69,000 Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem. In 1973, Israel’s demographic objective for Jerusalem was to maintain the ratio between Palestinians and Israelis in the city as it was at the end of 1972: 73.5 percent Israelis, 25.5 percent Palestinians. Over time, the demographic objectives were adapted to new realities, and the ratio was changed to 72 percent Israelis and 28 percent Palestinians. Today, the objective is to maintain a demographic ratio of 70 percent Israelis to 30 percent Palestinians despite the fact that Palestinians constitute 35 percent of the population of Jerusalem.  

Those demographic objectives define urban planning policies in Jerusalem, leading policy-makers to impose restrictions on Palestinian construction by: defining certain lands as areas to be preserved as open spaces; restricting the Palestinian ability to build, expropriating lands; and excluding Palestinians from the process of municipal planning. As a consequence, Palestinians are unable to obtain building permits—forcing Palestinians to build illegally or to migrate out of the city.

In 1975, a master plan for Jerusalem was presented by the local commission for planning and construction. While the plan was never ratified it defined future construction policies in the city.

The plan proposed for Jewish settlements to enclose the city, effectively separating the Palestinian population of Jerusalem from that of the rest of the West Bank. Another goal was to avoid the isolation of the settlements and to secure the territorial link between West Jerusalem and the settlements in East Jerusalem. The master plan had no provisions regarding urban development for the Palestinian population of Jerusalem.

Palestinians constitute more than one third of Jerusalem’s population but they can build only on 9 square kilometers out of the city’s 124 square kilometers, seven percent of the area of the city. The rest of the areas are either unplanned, planned for settlements, or green areas—and the latter are sometimes handed over to settlements.

The Israeli government aims to maintain an impossible population rate of 30 percent Palestinians to 70 percent Israelis in Jerusalem. Using this number, Israeli official planners assume that, by 2020, Palestinians in East Jerusalem will need an additional 13,000 housing units. But, under the more realistic assumption that the Palestinian population 2020 will be 40 percent of the city in 2020, independent planning organizations say there will a need for an additional 22,800 housing units. Consequently, if East Jerusalem is under Israeli rule in 2020, the city’s Palestinian population will be short of 9,800 housing units.

But, in order to meet its demographic objectives, Israel is prioritizing the construction of settlements. And it is attempting to push the Jewish population towards the settlements in order to enlist into the “unification” and expansion of the city. According to the 1977 Jerusalem plan, all government sponsored housing will occur in East Jerusalem settlements.

The state of Israel claims the right to build settlements in all territories occupied during the 1967 war, including Jerusalem. According to a 1997 memo of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the legal aspects of building in Har Homa settlement, “international law does not forbid the building of settlements on occupied territory”. However, the international community, including the United Nation’s Security Council and the International Court of Justice reject such interpretation of the international law. According to the 2004 ICJ advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the Occupied Territories “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of the international law.”

Israeli settlements in Greater Jerusalem, East Jerusalem and its environment in the West Bank, are built in four circles with the Old City at the center: (1) the Old City in and outside the Jewish Quarter; (2) The areas surrounding the Old City, which Israel calls “the holy basin” (3) the areas immediate to the annexed city boundaries, and (4) Greater Jerusalem, outside the limits of the annexation border.
In addition, some settlements, like the French Hill (also known as Givat Shapira) and Maa’le Daphna were built shortly after the 1967 war in order to connect West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem's Mount Scopus. 

As of the end of 2008, the population of East Jerusalem stood at approximately 456,300, comprising 60 percent of Jerusalem's residents. Of these, 195,500 (43 percent) were Jews and 260,800 (57 percent) were Palestinians. East Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods include Shuafat (38,800), Beit Hanina (27,900), the Old City’s Muslim Quarter (26,300) At Tur  and Al Swana (24,400).

East Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhoods include Ramot Alon (42,200), Pisgat Ze'ev (42,100), Gilo (26,900), Neve Yaakov (20,400), Ramat Shlomo (15,100) and East Talpiot (12,200).
Approximately 40 percent of Jerusalem's Jewish residents live in occupied East Jerusalem. 

The Old City has an Arab population of approximately 36,000 and a Jewish population of approximately 4000. 

It’s worth noting, however, that the exact number of Palestinian Jerusalemites—both inside the city and outside of it—is contested. But it is clear that Israeli attempts to dictate the demographics of the city have failed, despite hardships imposed on the Palestinian population and the construction of Jewish-only settlements. In order to deal with the demographic reality, the Jerusalem municipality proposes to reduce the municipal boundaries excluding several Palestinian neighborhoods. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat proposed to set the boundaries of Jerusalem on the path of the separation wall, therefore denying more than 50,000 Palestinians in Kufr Akab and in the Shuafat refugee camp their right to Jerusalem residency.

That the new permanent checkpoint that has just opened outside of Shuafat refugee camp resembles a border crossing suggests we might see the state make some dramatic moves in the name of demographics in the near future.
Mya Guarnieri contributed to this report.



Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.