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[U of Haifa, Geography] Rassem Khamaisi on the Judaization of Jerusalem: Resisting Creeping Urbanization & Gentrification in the Old City

Rassem Khamaisi, Town and Regional Planner and Urban Geographer, Department of Geography. khamaisi@geo.haifa.ac.il http://geo.haifa.ac.il/~khamaisi/



Resisting creeping urbanization and gentrification in the Old City of Jerusalem and its surroundings 

Author: Rassem Khamaisi a
Affiliation:   a Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Haifa, East Jerusalem, Israel
DOI: 10.1080/17550910903488656
Publication Frequency: 4 issues per year
Published in:  Contemporary Arab Affairs, Volume 3, Issue 1 January 2010 , pages 53 - 70

View Article:  View Article (PDF) 



This paper (which is an excerpt from a book) examines the question of the revitalization of the Old City of Jerusalem as opposed to renovation or rehabilitation in connection with the question of the gentrification and Judaization of the ancient city through various measures. The author argues that demographic and geopolitical factors as well as Israeli policies have led to the deterioration of living conditions as well as living space in the Old City. An increase in population coupled with the changes effected by the border wall has meant that Palestinians have been forced to deal with increased need for living space in ways which are deemed extra-legal by Israeli authorities but which also work against preservation of the historic cultural integrity of the Old City of Jerusalem. The author argues that Palestinians should adopt strategies of 'Forest Life' and 'Urban Village', and that resistance as well as the role of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) should be utilized in what will improve Palestinian living conditions as well as preserve the cultural and historical integrity of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Keywords: urban revitalization; Old City of Jerusalem; gentrification; Forest Life; Urban Village; population; preservation; spacio-cide; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)


The following is a previous paper published by the author




The Assassination of Place

Resisting Creeping

Urbanization and

Gentrification in the Old

City of Jerusalem and its


In this chapter we discuss the Israeli control of

the Old City of Jerusalem through the planning

of renovation and revivification projects. We

also discuss the impact of these tools on the

transformation of urban space within the Old

City. In brief, it is the view of this study that,

in spite of the attempts of Israeli institutions to

utterly Judaize and gentrify the space, the Arab

presence is still alive and actually dominates the

nature of the Old City. This fact notwithstanding,

the Israeli planning and control agencies ignore

organized Palestinian civic organizations and

deny them the opportunity to actively participate

in the development of the Old City.

We also explore this claim by examining it from

three perspectives: first, within a theoretical

conceptual framework growing out of the

literature related to the processes of rehabilitation,

construction and production in communities

where there is an on-going conflict, particularly

in the old parts of such cities; secondly, we

review the recent history of efforts to revitalize

in Jerusalem and the Old City, including the

underlying forces at work, the characteristics of

the many efforts, and the effects of the various

plans and projects; thirdly, we identify the

major tools that the Israeli authorities use to

dominate, infiltrate, gentrify, and eliminate the

Palestinian inhabitants within the Old City walls

and beyond, and we note the consequences of

these policies on Palestinian society. We conclude

by formulating strategies to resist the unilateral,

discriminatory planning and management

polices that are re-shaping the reality of the

Old City of Jerusalem and its surroundings.

The strategies include both counter actions to

Israeli schemes and the proactive involvement of

the Palestinian people in developing their own

plans, as well as the engagement of third party

international oversight.

Deterioration and Urban

Rehabilitation--a Conceptual


The phenomena of deterioration and urban

revitalization are common to most religious

centers and ancient neighborhoods in cities

throughout the world. Each urban unit, including

the city centers, passes through an urban life

cycle—first it will grow, and then gradually begin

degrading physically, economically and socially.

This deterioration leads to negative immigration

(emigration) as the area becomes a less and less

desirable site for housing and employment. We

can clearly see the phenomenon of deterioration

in most cities globally, especially in the second half

of the twentieth century when the world began

an “urban flight” to meet the rapidly growing

demands for housing and employment.

The phenomenon of urbanization and deterioration

has accelerated as result of the increase in the

population of cities, the evolution of construction

techniques and the economic growth resulting

from globalization. The emergence of urbanized

globalization, characterized by the creation of

communication networks between the world’s

major urban centers, has further solidified the role

of cities as national and global hubs.

The deterioration of city centers leads to an

emigration, especially of middle class residents.

As city centers slowly become epicenters of the

poor and in some cases nests of social pathologies

and criminality, they become less attractive as sites

for residence and commerce. These problems are

exacerbated within cities that suffer from social

fissures or cultural and national conflicts.

After such a period of deterioration, there is

typically a vote or popular expression of opinion

supporting the need for revival of the areas and

the restoration of their functional role in the urban

fabric (Neal, 2003). Having already lost much of

the community’s original diversity, capital and

economic activities, “revitalization” becomes the

next logical step.

“Urban Vitality”, the concept that describes the

Jerusalem Old City:

Urban Fabric and Geopolitical Implications


necessity to revitalize urban centers, outlines a

process in which the mobility of life and economic,

social and cultural activity are brought back to

the degraded part of the city. Urban vitality is

diminished when the city becomes unattractive

to business and loses the economic capacity that

originally distinguished it in a functional way.

The decline in urban vitality is part of both a local

phenomenon, within a consolidated political

and economic environment, and a global process

(Shatern and Na’ly Yusuf, 2009).

The restoration of urban vitality comes through

a process known as “Urban Revitalization”. One

of the premises of urban revitalization argues

that it fights deterioration by increasing economic

activities that depend on development, settlement

and private investment in operational units

within the city (Zielenbach, 2000). More private

investment leads to an increase in the value of

property, and finally contributes to the overall

increase in the economic success of the area.

Urban revitalization is a comprehensive and multifaceted

process that aims to solve urban problems

through long-term solutions (Roberts, 2000). Some

aspects focus on economic and structural features,

while others concentrate on the comprehensive

social sphere. The latter includes the production

of methods, such as ¨Forest Life¨ or ¨Project

Planning¨, by which a differentiation is made

about how a project is measured as successful

(Gratz and Mintz, 1998). In short, the process

is vital, and there is a clear difference between

revival and renovation—the former includes

the community, while the latter does not. Urban

renovation, as a project, involves the demolition

or “uprooting” of poor areas and their re-planting

into new places or projects. In the Old City of

Jerusalem, the renovation developments are part

of the process of gentrification. Gentrification does

not take into account the needs of the community.

Instead, the process seeks to displace the original,

indigenous inhabitants as a whole. The more

organic urban revival or revitalization approach

of intervention, known as “Forest Life”, takes into

account the environmental ecosystem. It focuses

on the integration, coherence and harmony of

each component of the space. And, importantly,

in this approach, the goals are development and

progress based around what already exists in the

space. In other words, it does not uproot, as in the

renovation methodology. The revival approach

is perhaps best described by Gratz and Mintz in

their work,

Studies concerned with the underlying objectives

of the processes of urban revitalization and

Urban Husbandry.

renovation in other cities have identified a desire

to raise the values of properties based upon a

predictable schedule of deterioration, revitalization

and increased demand for urban spaces. The

application of the gentrification process in the old

neighborhoods of most European and American

cities has led to a rise in the value and demand

for property. However, this process begins only

after those neighborhoods have been degraded

socially, economically and physically (Smith,

1995). In order to increase the demand for these

sites within the city, cultural events are developed

and centered there, and an increased accessibility

to different sites is developed (Elizabeth, 1999;

Gross and Rogowsky, 1998).

After the application of the original renovation

methodologies came under criticism, new

methodologies were developed to achieve urban

revitalization (Grogan and Proscio, 2000). The new

methodology insists that the old neighborhoods

can be healthy and attractive without imitating

the suburban, economically or socially. In short,

the goal is to regenerate a community, rather

than to attract outsiders through a process of

deterioration and the elimination of its diversity.

These new methodologies can be summarized as

“New Urbanism”—a movement developed in the

cities of North America as a reaction to the process

of suburbanization and the flight of people from

the city centers to the suburbs.

The main ideas of this approach are:

• The strengthening of the relationship between

the neighborhoods in the city centers

• The development of short foot paths and public

spaces (e.g., for picnics or walks)

• The development of public transportation,



thereby reducing the number of private


• The development of integrated and harmonious

land usage regulations in the city center

Another approach to urban revitalization is

known as Urban Villages, first mentioned by

Carbor Aosporgen in 1992. He theorized that in

order to create an environment of accommodation

throughout the city, one must first make

improvements to the poor and abandoned areas

within it (Neal, 2003). The objectives of the urban

village approach are similar to the “new city”

method. The application of this methodology

requires the active involvement and presence of

the inhabitants so that they can help formulate

and produce the revitalized spaces in which they

live (Soja, 2000; Lefebvre, 1991). Success, in the

new approach, depends on the involvement of the

inhabitants in the process of revitalization. There

must be an agreement between the objectives of

the inhabitants to improve their conditions and

the urban governmental authorities that monitor

resources, implement projects and regulate


Urbanism and Renovation

Programs in Jerusalem and the Old


As we have noted, the phenomenon of urbanism

and renovation of urban centers is a global one.

How has it operated in the case of the Old City?

Before exploring that question, it should be noted

that the phenomenon of the deterioration of

neighborhoods in Jerusalem’s urban center was

a nonorganic created process, particularly in the

western part of the city after its division in 1948.

The deterioration developed as a result of the suburbanization

of the city and the establishment of

neighborhoods and settlements around it based

on geo-political motives. These motives grew out

of a competition for the city center (i.e., the triangle

between the streets Judea, King George and Jaffa)

and neighborhoods that were degraded physically

and socially, such as Nhalwt and Rahabaya.

The Israeli Municipality of Jerusalem (MoJ) has

formulated and applied the policies of restoration

for these neighborhoods through the development

of infrastructure and an active campaign to attract

the middle-classes to inhabit them. The Old City

of East Jerusalem, however, was not included in

the projects or as part of the revitalization of city

centers in West Jerusalem.

The reasons for the delayed intervention to revive

the Old City are primarily geo-political. East

Jerusalem is still an occupied territory, and there

is no foreseeable international decision that will

legitimate this occupation. Although Israel asserts

that it united East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem

in 1967, most of the revitalization projects have

focused on the construction of new settlements

around the city.

We should note, however, that there were two

“development” projects that impacted the Old

City. The first was the gentrification of Bab-

Almagarbah and Almeedan neighborhoods in

1967. Israel seized the properties and houses

of the Palestinians living there (in an area of

approximately 122,000 sq.m.) and replaced the

mostly Moroccan area with what is now known

as the Jewish Quarter. The second project was

the partial renovation of infrastructure in various

parts of the Old City during the seventies. With

those exceptions, penetration into the Old

City for urban revitalization has been largely

deferred. One should also note that efforts at

Jerusalem’s gentrification have drawn a great

deal of Palestinian and international opposition,

and this has prompted Israel and the MoJ to defer

the continuation of the discriminatory renovation


In 1982, Jordan took the initiative to put Jerusalem

on the UNESCO list of protected World Heritage

sites. However, this declaration did not correct the

flawed process of revitalization in the Old City as

it should have by creating a plan oriented toward

and supported by the people and institutions

involved. In turn, the urban pressure increased.

The geo-political conflict in Jerusalem, its physical

state of disrepair and the standard of living of

its inhabitants deteriorated. The situation of the

Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem was especially

dire. They had not been given citizenship in Israel,

despite the city’s “unification” in 1967, and were

instead defined as “permanent residents”.

Jerusalem Old City:

Urban Fabric and Geopolitical Implications


During the nineties, and especially after the

Oslo Agreement of 1993, a Palestinian process

of revitalization for the Old City of Jerusalem

came into effect. However, this process was

limited, resulting only in the preparation of a

revitalization scheme (Toqan and Khamaisi,

2002). Geo-political events such as the Al-Aqsa

Intifada of 2000 and a drastic increase in Israeli

attacks inside the occupied Palestinian Territories

ultimately led to the tightening of Israeli closure

on Jerusalem and the building of the separation

wall between Jerusalem and its environs.

The Old City’s revitalization process was limited

to only a few projects involving the Ministry of

Religious Affairs of Jerusalem and a few local

national societies. Conversely, the physical,

social and economic situation in the Old City

of Jerusalem continued to decline, prompting

international institutions, such as UNESCO, to

prepare a bench-marked achievement program

by which to maintain those sites of unique and

universal quality. These programs have also been

limited, but the need to revive ancient Jerusalem

remains as urgent as ever.

Between 1987 and 2000, the presence of the Israelis

was significantly reduced in ancient Jerusalem.

However, beginning in 2000, this migration

began to reverse itself. In was in that year that

the Israelis began to openly consider the Old City

to be part of West Jerusalem and therefore sought

to establish their total control over it.

To achieve the Israeli-desired process of the

revitalization of the Old City, the MoJ put forth,

and in 1973 adopted, under a plan known

as pm/9, a detailed structural outline of the

areas within the boundaries of the wall. Under

pm/9, construction within the Old City and its

immediate environs has ground to a halt. Any

construction bid must undergo a vigorous and

expensive process of planning, and then must

wade through a time-consuming bureaucracy if it

ever hopes to be realized. Ironically, this scheme

has slowed not only Palestinian construction

in or around the area, but also the neighboring

Israeli settlements.

In the beginning of the year 2000, the MoJ began

to amend pm/9 with a new detailed scheme of the

Old City. This scheme sought to establish strict

municipal control over the revitalization process in

the Old City, and included the addition of a number

of housing units. Though this scheme is still not

being implemented, the amendments offered to

it do not aim to revitalize. Rather, they seek to

establish further Israeli control over the city, while

diminishing Arab influence and participation,

through the process of land use classification

and the construction permission process. This

new scheme (titled 10276) seeks to overcome the

shortcomings of older schemes and is a joint effort

of the Government of Israel (operating through

the MoJ) and private developers. Its declared goal

is to “renew, preserve and protect” the Old City.

This scheme did not include the areas surrounding

the Old City, but rather concentrated on the area

within the walls along three axes:

• Preserving daily living patterns and cultures

• Preserving the distinguishing features of the


• Tourism and economic infrastructure


As of this writing, the scheme has only

accomplished a few projects, such as the

conservation of the walls around the Old City

and the collection of waste from their base.

Furthermore, these projects have so far been

carried out without the active involvement of

the inhabitants in either their formulation or

implementation. Consequently, Palestinians view

the process and results as observers rather than



Any effort to renovate or revitalize the Old City

must take into account the interrelationship

between certain realities, including: the resistance

of Palestinian residents to emigration; the

burgeoning population growth and its impact

on density and housing demands; and the role of

religions in the life and space of the Old City. For

example, note that identification with religious

sites, such as Al-Haram Al-Sharif and the Church

of the Holy Sepulcher, as well as with the cultural,



archeological and historical heritage of the Old

City, inhibits residents from emigrating from

the community in an exodus that frequently can

be observed in other cities. Their immobility in

turn disrupts the typical urban lifecycle. Indeed,

the low rate of emigration from the deteriorated

center and the high rate of natural growth have

functioned to increase the number of inhabitants

significantly. Since 1967, the population of the Old

City has increased from 23,675 in 1967 to 37,060 by

the end of 2006 (see

This increase was abetted by the closure policies

of 1993 and 2000, a key part of which was the socalled

“Center of Life” provisions. Palestinians

who held the blue card status to reside in

Jerusalem and receive the Israeli social welfare

package—but who had chosen to live outside

the city—were threatened with the loss of those

Table 2.1).

benefits if they did not in fact reside within the

city itself. Consequently, many chose to return to

East Jerusalem and of those, many resettled in the

Old City, adding to its population and worsening

urban density. The onset of the separation wall

in 2002 gave further impetus to this return


In short, the city’s population did not naturally

decrease, or unload—a fact which makes renovation

a more complicated process. What little population

unloading that has occurred, under the guise of

renovation, has been anything but natural. As we

noted earlier, as part of the gentrification process

the neighborhoods of Almagarbah and Almeedan

were completely demolished and their space was

“renovated” into a Jewish neighborhood.

City has increased by 56.5% in the last 40 years.

In comparison, the population of Jerusalem as a

whole has increased around 175% over the same


Table 2.1 shows that the population of the Old

rates in the Old City according to the religious

Table 2.1 shows that there is difference in growth

affiliation. While Muslims have increased their

numbers by about 65%, the Armenians have

decreased nearly by half between 1967 and 2006.

• The rapid population growth explains the Old

City’s high housing unit density, as illustrated in

Table 2.2


• The calculation of the data is according to

generally recognized neighborhood borders.

• This table does not include the Al-Haram Al-

Sharif, which, including the surrounding walls,

occupies, 137, 000 sq.m,

Usually ancient cities deteriorate as a result of

urban flight or significant decreases in population,

however the Old City suffers from the opposite

problem—an increase in the population and

accommodation density within its defining walls.

Moreover, there are large discrepancies between

the neighborhoods in the Old City in terms of

population density. Net density in the Jewish

neighborhood is about one third of that in the

Islamic neighborhood even though the combined

area of the Jewish and Armenian neighborhood is

three times the size of the Muslim Quarter. This

rapid density increase within one sector, which

comprises only 40% of the physical space, has

significant consequences on the lifestyles and

standards of the inhabitants. The strain extends

from accommodation standards to the quality of

sewage and drain water infrastructure, as well as

on other public services.

As a natural consequence of the steady increase of

inhabitants in ancient Jerusalem, the competition for

accommodation has grown. The following

2.3, 2.4,

Tablesand 2.5 show the changes in the housing

sector inside the Old City over a recent five year

period (2003 – 2007).

Table 2.1: Population in the Old City 1967-2006.

Year Muslims Christian Armenians Jews Total


16,681 5,397 1,598 - 23,675


22,814 5,377 1,193 2,802 32,331


27,500 5,681 790 3,089 37,060

Growth rate


64.9 5.3 -50.6 10.2 (based

on 1995)


Jerusalem Old City:

Urban Fabric and Geopolitical Implications


Table 2.2: Population Density and Construction in the Old City (2007)

Quarter Number of


The land

area of




The land

area of





Number of

of housing


The space

of buildings

for housing

Net density

of inhibit-ants

for housing

Density of



units per


Built space

per person

Christian 5,419 49.5 76.9 1,217 50,774 109.5 24.6 9.3

Armenian 2,464 37.9 38.9 605 32,707 65.0 16.0


Jewish 2,546 37.9 26.6 582 41,117 67.2

Muslim 26,646 160.0 34.2 ** 3,410 139,169 173.8 22.6

15.3 16.15.3

Total Old City 37,075 285.3 176.6 5,814 263,767 129.9 20.4 7.1

Table 2.4: Average Housing Space in the Old City as Compared with Jerusalem as a Whole (2003 – 2007 sq. m)

Neighborhood 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007


54 54 54 54 54


41 41 41 41 42

Jewish 71 71 71 71 71

Islamic 40.6 40.6

41 41 41

Old City 51.6 51.6 51.7 51.7 52.0

Jerusalem 76.0 76.1 76.5 76.7 77.1

Old City as a % of Jerusalem 67.9 67.8 67.6 76.4 67.4

Source: http://www.jiis.org.il/imageBank/File/shnaton_2006/diur/SHLMGR03-07_av_area.pdf

Table 2.3: Housing Units in the Old City (2003 – 2007)

Neighborhood 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007

Christian 1210

Armenian 599 597 602 605 605

Jewish 560 570 578 578 582

Islamic 3394 3406 3402 3401 3410

Old City total 5763 5786 5802 5800 5814

Jerusalem total 177142 180347 182665 184655 187469

Old City as a % of Jerusalem

1213 1220 1216 12173.25 3.20 3.18 3.14 3.10

Source: http://www.jiis.org.il/imageBank/File/shnaton_2006/diur/SHLMGR03-07_dwellings.pdf

Table 2.5: Square Meters of Housing Space in the Old City (2003–2007)

Neighborhood 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007

Christian 49,880 49,945 50,224 50,249 50,774

Armenian 32,373 32,340 32,688 32,695 32,707

Jewish 39,721 40,243 40,822 41,053 41,117

Islamic 137,770 138,267 138,531 138,934 139,169

Old City total 259,744 260,795 262,265 262,931 263,767

Jerusalem total 13,461,454 13,726,604 13,967,242 14,167,709 14457,501

Source: http://www.jiis.org.il/imageBank/File/shnaton_2006/diur/SHLMGR03-07_tot_area.pdf



The tables show that from 2003-2007, a mere 47

housing units were added in the Old City while 10,327

housing units have been established in Jerusalem as

a whole--most of them in the predominantly Jewish

Western side of the city. The area of housing units in

the Old City in 2007 was equivalent to approximately

36% of that occupied by housing units in Jerusalem

as a whole. To highlight the contradiction between

population growth and construction note that

between the years 2003 and 2007, the constructed area

in the Old City merely increased by 4,023 sq. meters!

Despite the allegation of illegal construction in

the Old City, the records of the MoJ indicate that

the volume of construction has not responded

to the increased needs of the inhabitants. It is

true that the Old City suffers from a pattern of

emigration, mostly among its upper class, but

high birth rates—especially amongst the Muslim

population and the forced return of blue carders

from the suburbs--have led to a net increase in the

Old City’s population, all within a highly defined

finite space (see

Most Palestinian Jerusalemites are still in the process

of urbanization. This is indicated in their consistently

high birth rates and low average age. Data gathered

in 2005 revealed that the average age in Jerusalem in

2005 was 23.4 years. The average age of Palestinian

Christians was 34.1 years, for Muslims it was 19.1

years and for Israelis the average age was 25. Within

the Old City, the average age of Muslims was 18.4;

which is lower than both the Jewish and Christian

populations in the Old City which were found to

be 19.1 and 31.6 years respectively (


After reviewing the increase in population and its

impact on the revitalization of the Old City, it must

Table 2.6)1 .Israeli Statistical2007; Table C/14: 104 - 105).

be noted that the urban configuration of Jerusalem

does not align with standard metropolitan life cycles

of renovation or revitalization; i.e. urbanization,

sub-urbanization, distribution and the return to

the city center under the programs of renovation or

revitalization. Though this standard model fits the

urbanized, metropolitan Israeli behavior, it does not

apply to the Palestinians, who are villagers still in the

process of urbanization and do not act to renovate or

revitalize their city center. It should be remembered

that a significant part of the population originally

came from the Hebron area, such as the large Edkidk

and Hijazi families, and they still exercise traditional

demographic behaviors in the Old City. To be sure,

between 1949 and 1967, the Old City was also

inhabited by wealthy upper-middle class and elite

families but many of these later emigrated. Now,

most of the population of the Old City belongs to the

middle and poorer classes.

Furthermore, the decrease in housing opportunities

and the threat of confiscation of Jerusalem I.D.

residency permits from any who might move

outside the city have prevented the displacement of

the inhabitants from inside the Old City, outward.

Beyond the political aspect, many of the Palestinians

living in the Old City have remained there because

of its proximity to the Haram Al-Sharif and the

promise of religious rewards for attending to and

protecting the site. This faith-based motivation has

long played a role in affecting both immigration and

emigration rates in the Old City.

Another reason for the Palestinian steadfastness

in remaining in the Old City is the provocation

of extreme-right Jewish organizations and Israeli

individuals attempting to move into the Old City,

either by purchasing or confiscating Palestinian

homes. Ironically, this behavior has helped to create

an atmosphere that leads Palestinians to steadfastly

remain in the Old City. Despite the creeping

Table 2.6: Population Increase in the Old City in 2005

The area Inhabitants


Inhabitants End-2005 Balance of


% Population


Old City 35894 36577 - 387 1.9

Palestinian 31949 32635 -306


Israeli 3945 3942 -81 -0.1

Source: Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem, 2007, No. 22, Municipality of Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Research, Jerusalem.

1 The author posits that this demographic behavior, amongst Palestinians in the Old City, is due to their not having adapted to

the ‘urban’ model and continued reliance upon the ‘village’.

Jerusalem Old City:

Urban Fabric and Geopolitical Implications


settlement growth within

2 and around the Old

City, resulting from previous forced gentrification

projects, Palestinians in the main have chosen not to


The increased demand for accommodation in the Old

City is caused by the strict control over Palestinian

construction outside of the walls in the surrounding

area. Since its adoption, scheme ASG/9 has imposed

strict regulations that prevent the extension of the

buildings outside the walls of the Old City which

would provide solutions to the inhabitants within.

The Old City provides educational, religious and

cultural services for Jerusalemites from surrounding

neighborhoods such as Wadi Al-Joz, Sheikh Jarrah

and Salah Al-Din. Ironically, the prevention of

Palestinian-oriented development outside the walls

and in the surroundings of the Old City has actually

contributed to the impossibility of Palestinians

abandoning the Old City.


The concentration of religious and cultural centers in

the Old City has been beneficial to the revitalization

of the area and its centrality.

distribution of institutions and cultural centers in

the Old City.

Table 2.7 shows the

Historically, this density of religious institutions

was one of the driving forces behind the

revitalization of the Old City. The desire of each

particular sect to maintain and use these sites for

instruction, service provision, donation gathering

and inter-faith competition prompted religious

institutions to take better care of their spatial

allotment in Jerusalem. There is perhaps no city

in the world that contains this number of religious

institutions in such a small space. The land under

the control of these institutions has reached

312,000 sq.m, or 36% of the entire Old City. Each

institution manages the physical condition and

supervises the administration of these sites.

While most home-owners attempt to do the

maintenance and restoration of their homes on

their own, these attempts are conditional upon

the wealth of the resident. Because most of

the Palestinian Jerusalemite families in the Old

City have relatively low incomes, their ability

2. Fewer than 12 sites were colonized beyond the neighborhood known as the Jewish Quarter in 1967. Since then, Jewish groups

monitoring the Old City point out that the number has grown to over forty. (Mier, 2007) - see


Chapter Three and Appendix

Table 2.7: Distribution of Religious, Educational and Cultural Institutions in the Old City according to the Major Religious Groups

Classification of institutions Muslim Christian Jewish

Mosques 29

Working educational institutions


Museums and libraries


Sites of religious and historical importance 83

Administrative and service buildings 8

Orthodox sites and institutions 37

Catholic sites and institutions 47

Armenian- Orthodox sites and organizations 20

Butistnt Sites and institutions


Coptic- Orthodox sites and organizations


Sites and other institutions and shared




Public institutions


Educational institutions 10

Cultural sites and museums 20

Total 336 139

133 64



3.Of the 872,000 sq.m. of space within the walls, public and open squares occupy 186,000 sq.m. (21%).

to preserve or restore their residence is limited.

Many of these families have added to their

accommodation using materials and “informal”

building techniques that do not fit within the

mosaic of the Old City. Consequently, they

actually work to distort the aesthetics and privacy

of the space.

Moreover, the absence of a municipal authority

to maintain the public space in the Old City has

contributed to the deterioration of the public and

semi-public spaces in the vicinity: about one fifth

of the space of the Old City is “general” space and

is lacking any municipal or local authority through

which to manage or reverse its deterioration

The distribution of responsibilities and powers

within the Old City has led to the absence of any

centralized authority to oversee the process of

revitalization. The dispersed initiatives carried out

by individuals and the institutions of Palestinian


civil society have not led to any significant change.

Rather, conditions have continued to deteriorate

in spite of a growing population.

Activities undertaken by the national institutions

have, thus far, not changed the realities in the

Old City. Recently, interest in the revitalization

of the Old City has increased, especially because

of growing recognition about the danger that

informal construction was posing to inhabitants.

This increased awareness, however, still operates

under Israeli control. Consequently, it does

not produce qualitative transformation “on the


The lack of any real political agreement, or even

gestures towards one, has created an opportunity

for the MoJ to initiate plans for the revitalization

of the Old City. This plan is still in its infancy,

and eight Israeli institutions--both formal and

informal-- currently oversee this process of

revitalization. They are the Antiquities Authority,

the Development Company of Jerusalem,

the Israel Lands Authority, the State Tourism

Corporation, the Corporation for the Restoration

and the Development of the Jewish Quarter, the

Company for the Development of East Jerusalem,

the Department of Nature and National Gardens,

and the Jerusalem Fund.

In addition to these, there are Palestinian

institutions such as the General Jerusalem

Assembly, cooperative societies, church

organizations and UNESCO. They are working in

parallel with the Israeli institutions. While most

are not recognized, and even fewer are empowered

in any formal sense, they play a vital part in the

revitalization process by monitoring international

laws and norms.


Contemporary Israeli plans for revitalizing the

Old City are built upon the following underlying

forces and motives:

1- The failure of political negotiations between

the Palestinians and Israelis, especially

after Camp David, convinced Israel to

consolidate its control over Jerusalem. While

Israel controls the Old City, its continual

deterioration is not attractive to tourists,

visitors or pilgrims—which casts doubt not

only on Israel’s right, but also their capacity,

to maintain the Old City and its surroundings.

2- The Israeli government and the MoJ have,

in large part, abdicated the real authority of

their roles. Instead, they have allowed the

vigilantism of right-wing extremist groups

to play a major part in transforming the Old

City (see Chapter Three). On the other hand,

Palestinian institutions have also entered

into the provision of services in the Old City,

and are now posing alternative structures

that differ from those provided by the

Israeli government. The absence of Israeli

authority in the Old City stems from fear

of international pressure over the legality

of its assertion. However, because of recent

geo-political changes, local and global, the

atmosphere has become opportune for the

Israeli government to intervene in the Old

City once more.

3- The separation wall between Jerusalem

Jerusalem Old City:

Urban Fabric and Geopolitical Implications


1. There is an overlap between space usage, the number of floors in the building and existence of backyards.

and the Palestinian territories prevents

Palestinian suburban communication with

the Old City. This wall sent a message to the

world, and to the Palestinians, that the reality

on the ground, not laws, would determine

the control of Jerusalem.

4– Interference from UNESCO came in the

form of reports detailing the conditions

of the deteriorating Old City, both as a site

of universal heritage and as an occupied

territory. In the case of the former, even in

times of conflict, cultural heritage is the

responsibility of the dominant or occupying


5- The Old City of Jerusalem constitutes one of

the major tourist centers in the country. In

order to attract tourists and pilgrims, the Old

City must provide an infrastructure that is

able to accommodate increasing numbers of

visitors, especially in the public areas.

6- The absence of certified control over the

processes of planning in the Old City is

apparent and costly. As the population

increases, there are home additions made

by residents to provide a minimal level of

accommodation. Because the residents have

built without first receiving the required

permits and permission, the MoJ is able

to reject any subsequent petitions with no

oversight, and little recourse for appeal.

7– The preparation of a comprehensive structural

outline for Jerusalem, “Jerusalem 2000”, put

the Old City in the heart of the plan. Despite

this effort, the municipal governmental

authorities have continued to ignore what

is actually happening in the Old City and its


8- After the Israeli authorities created a belt of

settlements around Jerusalem and tightened

control through the construction of the wall,

they have returned their attention to the Old

City. The settlement belt surrounding the

Old City area passes through Silwan, Dahod,

Wadi Al-Joz and onwards to Sheikh Jarrah.

9- The increase in the population of the Old City,

and the resulting “illegal” construction, was

unacceptable to Israeli authorities seeking to

revitalize the city center in a tourist-oriented

fashion. Prepared schemes and plans dictate

construction in the Old City, not the needs of

the inhabitants.

10- There is a necessity to provide basic services

to the residents of Jerusalem, the taxpayers.

If these services are not provided, it threatens

the health of the Old City residents and of

those residents who live in the surrounding

Palestinian and Israeli neighborhoods.

These forces are the underlying factors behind

the initiatives of the municipality in the Old City.

Although parts of these policies appear to include

the interests of the population in their content and

application, in reality they do not.


A legitimate, institutionalized vacuum of power

in the Old City has led to the continuous, random

construction and development. The effort to guide

this process exerted by Palestinian civil institutions

has been limited due to a lack of resources

and political or legal representation. Because

Jerusalem is under Israeli sovereignty, an authority

rejected by most of the international community,

they have created a reality that is inherently full

of contradictions. The Israeli authorities seek to

legitimize the union of Jerusalem and to control

the Old City. At the same time, the Palestinian

inhabitants and the civil institutions have refused

to deal with the Israeli authorities or to coordinate

with them on the restoration, rehabilitation and

revitalization of the Old City.

After occupying East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel

extended its sovereignty over the area. However,

this sovereignty did not include the Palestinian

inhabitants, who instead remain permanent

residents without citizenship rights. The inherent

elitism of the process of extending sovereignty and

“screening inhabitants” extends from an ideology

that seeks to “clean up the space” (spacio-cide)



while keeping the population more or less intact

(Hanafi, 2009). Spacio-cide not only includes the

destruction of buildings, but also the attempt to

change the identity of a place—as if to brainwash

the public into believing that there is a correlation

between a place and its new identity.

The assault on the Islamic character of the Old

City has not been limited to physical destruction,

but has also focused on changing the character

and identity of the place: practices such as

renaming areas, corroborating non-governmental

institutions, and the manipulation of movement

have all entered into the policy toolkit.

After the establishment of the Jewish neighborhood

on the ruins of Almagarbah, the project of

changing the names, nature and development

of infrastructure in the Old City was launched.

Ironically, these projects have been completed in

a reality in which the number of Palestinians who

live within the Old City is increasing, rather than

decreasing. Thus, there is a contradiction between

the real presence of Palestinians in the Old City

and the Israeli desire to transform it through a

constant and creeping control.

The Palestinians in the Old City have challenged

Israeli control by establishing and expanding their

homes without a license. As the municipality will

not give new building licenses due to the imposed

freeze on construction in the Old City, the demand

for housing and resettlement among residents,

both Israeli and Palestinian, has grown.

The Palestinian side has a historic presence

and a clear present claim to the place because

they constitute the majority of the population.

However, they do not have any legal authority

or political power. Therefore, they struggle to

survive under a policy that seeks to control and

reduce their numbers through such means as the

confiscation of I.D.’s, the implementation of fines,

raising fees and house demolitions.

Despite their suffering and inability to change

the rules of the game, the Palestinians continue

to resist these practices. Still, the Israeli side has

the resources and wields the power to extend

its influence over the Old City. This influence is

comprehensive and includes the closure of areas,

the initiation of projects to serve only Israelis, as

well the preparation of an alternative historical

knowledge base and narrative to offer visitors and


The renovation and revival of the Old City was

initiated by the Israeli authorities on the premise

that the current sovereign Israeli control would

continue for the foreseeable future. The vision

of Jerusalem as the capital and heart of the

Jewish people must be realized not only through

slogans, but a real Israeli presence—especially in

the area in and around the Old City. This does

not mean ignoring the Palestinian presence, but

rather “dealing with it” through population

displacement or its gradual transformation from

majority to minority.

The Old City, as the historic heart of Jerusalem, is

inhabited by a wide variety of cultures, histories

and classes that insist on a different approach to

the process of renovation than that offered by

the Israeli authorities. These authorities exercise

power over ancient ruins, and over time the

entire Old City of Jerusalem and its surroundings

have been declared both an archaeological and

world heritage site. This means that construction

is prohibited without prior archaeological

examination of the area. Moreover, right-wing

Jewish institutions try to seduce or exploit the

weaknesses of property owners in title disputes

that are often unfair. The results are typically land

confiscations followed by the transfer of that land

to Israeli control, such as that which is happening

now in Silwan, Dahod and the area of Shimon

Alsedeeq in the region of Kopanyah Om-Harum.

Resolving the hardships that the broader Israeli-

Palestinian conflict has brought upon the region,

and the Old City in particular, depends on the

urban revitalization method known as Forest

Life. This method allows for the involvement

and participation of the population living in

urban space in the decision-making process

over its development. However, Palestinians

do not trust this engagement, and they fear that

their participation in these projects could lend

legitimacy to the occupation’s authority and its

claim of sovereignty over the Old City. The fear

Jerusalem Old City:

Urban Fabric and Geopolitical Implications


of granting legitimacy to Israeli projects pushes

Palestinians to oppose them outright in defense

of their own right to be there—even going so

far as to appeal to the judicial institutions of

Israel to interfere in the government’s planning


Strategies for Renewing the Old


The on-going conflict requires a re-evaluation

of the means and objectives of the revitalization

of the Old City in order to include Palestinian

interests in Jerusalem and to preserve its character

and identity.

Our suggested scheme of renovation and

revitalization focuses on three axes. The first

is the Living City method, which means the

development of the Old City as an urban fabric

that will be used effectively for housing, work,

trade and education with an emphasis on the

empowerment of the inhabitants and community

development. To achieve such complex goals,

there must be participation from all sectors of the

Old City’s population.

The second axis focuses on the “Conservation of

Existing Heritage”. This includes the restoration

and rehabilitation of buildings in the Old City,

especially those of historical, cultural or religious

significance, and the strengthening of public

institutions. The goal is to maintain the fabric

of the Old City, including the groups and classes

that make it up. Each class represents a period of

civilization and history of ancient Jerusalem. The

accumulation of these classes and epochs makes

distinguishing them and managing them difficult

within the finite space of the Old City.

The third component relates to the development

of tourism as the core element of economic

development in the Old City. Tourists and

pilgrims coming to the ancient city bring a

great deal of money with them, and leave with

memories and impressions. The desire to sculpt

these perceptions, of the identity of the Old City

in particular, is at the heart of many problems

facing any future joint Israeli-Palestinian planning


There is little confidence between Israelis and

Palestinians concerning any revitalization

scheme; indeed, so little that UNESCO could

only coordinate the preservation of the cultural

heritage in the Old City by conducting separate

meetings with the two feuding sides. The vital

coordination, facilitated by UNESCO, takes place

without any face-to-face communication between

the primary stakeholders.

There is little doubt that this lack of trust impedes

the process of the renovation and revitalization

of ancient Jerusalem. The duplications and

contradictions of the Old City require alternative

models. There are some on the Palestinian side

who claim that the continuation of the Israeli

occupation disallows participation in such

projects. Conversely, the Israeli side refuses to

deal with official Palestinian institutions that will

not pay for their involvement in the planning or

implementation process. This means that both

main components of the Old City’s revitalization

are either disabled or distorted.


An outline plan for the Old City was launched by

a Palestinian institution, the Welfare Association,

that is reality-based and focused on achievable

strategies by which to revive the area. However,

the Israeli side has not adopted their strategies

and, thus, little has been accomplished within

Jerusalem and the Old City while under their

dominion. Furthermore, there is a major

contradiction between the hypotheses and

structural basis of the Palestinian scheme versus

Israeli objectives, though through professional

mediation and facilitation, these may be


The MoJ is preparing another renovation

project for the Old City, and again this project

is considered by Palestinians to be yet another

extension of Israeli control or provoked by

gentrification as were previous projects. Because

of this, though severely affected by the results,

Palestinians often willingly remove themselves

from the process. Also UNESCO has developed a

plan to complete the restoration and rehabilitation

of urban buildings and landmarks in the Old



City, but its achievements are still limited. In

other words, the conflict over the Old City still

constitutes a major impediment to revitalization.

In the meantime, urban deterioration continues.

The question now becomes: “How do we get out

of this impasse and rejuvenate a confined space

where approximately 37,000 people, surrounded

by a further 60,000, are living in substandard

housing and subjected to inadequate services?”

Does this current reality have to continue? Or

are there methods by which to revive the Old

City in a manner that nurtures the success of the

larger geo-political agreement? Regardless of

the big picture, there must be a restoration and

rehabilitation of the urban fabric that will enable

and empower the inhabitants to be involved with

the development of their own environment.

Until a larger conflict resolution agreement is

reached, Palestinians have two choices: continue

fighting the policies practiced by the Israeli

authorities, or they can slowly allow themselves

and their identity to be wiped out of the Old

City and its surroundings. Before either path is

chosen, one should learn the lessons of history

and develop realistic and assertive strategies

focused on the empowerment of Palestinian


New Rules: Active Palestinian

Involvement—Resistance and


This strategy should not follow an automatic

reactionary response to the Israeli courts and its

description of reality. Instead, this new initiative

should create different rules of the game, ones that

increase the Palestinian presence in the production

and formulation of their space and environment,

including the restoration, rehabilitation and

revitalization process. The suggested initiative

is derived from the concepts of both resistance

and behavior. It should be pointed out that

resistance allows for the utilization of patterns

and methods by which Palestinians can protect

ancient Jerusalem. The role of professionals in

this new reality is especially important, as they

must be charged with creating working bodies

and mechanisms able to invest in the Old City’s

available space as well as defend the identity of

Jerusalem in joint Israeli-Palestinian forums.

The starting point is the recognition that the Old

City of Jerusalem is not the property of Israel, and,

therefore, the state’s efforts to gentrify it or to kill

its identity are illegitimate. It is a city of universal

value and a formalized part of the world’s heritage.

It possesses an Arab and Islamic character, and in

the face of Israeli practices, this must be protected.

It is not enough for Palestinians to merely monitor

and record the transformations going on around

them; they must go further and begin to actively

interfere with the formulation of production and

maintenance schemes in Jerusalem.

The resistance strategy of intervention is based

on community-level organization and institutionbuilding.

These institutions will serve to represent

the interest and identity of the Palestinian people

in their dealings with Israeli authorities and will,

in turn, rely upon the international laws and

norms that require the occupier to defend certain

rights and liberties of the occupied.

A process of defense and civilian resistance

in the urban space, one that contributes to the

empowerment of people through their conscious

participation, needs to be developed. Rather than

participation offering legitimacy to Israeli control,

an active popular movement can at once make real

policy achievements, while also strengthening the

identity and attachment of Palestinians with the

Old City and its surroundings. In parallel to the

process of organizing the community, the process

of planning strategies that encompass Palestinian

interests at the planning and project level needs to

be ongoing. Maintaining a Palestinian presence,

and resisting the transformation of reality by

Israel, must be carried out at both the community

level and through the development of professional

alternative plans.

International Oversight

A key part of the strategy is the enhancement

of the role of UNESCO, to the position of acting

supervisor over a process of revitalization and

rehabilitation of the Old City that includes both

Israelis and Palestinians. We must therefore

Jerusalem Old City:

Urban Fabric and Geopolitical Implications


develop a comprehensive methodology for

planning, as well as empowering an internationally

recognized body able to represent the residents

of the Old City and its basin. This will allow for

the joint groups of Israelis and Palestinians to

meet under supervision, as well as allowing the

participation of Arab countries on the behalf of

stateless Palestinians.

Inclusion of the Neighboring


The scope of the strategy promoted

here—resistance, intervention, and

internationalization--is not limited to the Old

City and its basin. The Israeli campaign to

exclude neighboring Palestinian villages from

Jerusalem has been crucially important to the

weakening of the Old City—economically and

culturally and has diminished its central place

in Palestinian identity. The Old City’s linkages

with Palestinian Jerusalem surroundings must

be included in the revitalization efforts


Despite Israeli policies aimed at gentrifying,

evacuating and indeed assassinating a

civilization and heritage, the Palestinian

presence in Jerusalem continues to grow and

resist. Their presence in the Old City is the

basis for a process of revitalization and the

restoration of urban vitality. The planning and

methodology of revitalization projects should

be inspired by their surroundings and makeup.

In order to not trample the ecosystem in our effort

to revive and rehabilitate, the methodologies

adopted should be based upon the principles of

the Forest Life and Urban Village approaches.

These methodologies allow us to address the

unique character of Jerusalem and its Old City,

a character too complex to be captured in readymade

“off the shelf” applications. Currently,

the conflict over and within the Old City forms

a clear obstacle to resolving the broader conflict.

However, the absence of the broader solution

has, in turn, burdened the development of

Jerusalem and the restoration of its urban vitality.

Lacking an overall solution limits Palestinian

agency in the process. Will they allow the

situation to continue? Or will they change the

form and organize their resistance to ensure the

preservation, restoration and continuity of their

presence in Jerusalem?

There is no doubt that the ideas put forth in this

analysis need to be developed further through

the establishment of professional institutions

based on private, collective and political

support. These institutions need to deal with

the “realities of now” in Jerusalem, and work

to alleviate the suffering of their constituents

while defending their identity and presence in

the Old City.

The City of Jerusalem, the Holy City, has its

own character and distinctiveness. It therefore

requires tools, policies and strategies that

understand and protect its uniqueness. The

continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

is slowly assassinating the space of Jerusalem,

despite the promises of humanitarian, religious

and nationalist organizations to protect it.


Jerusalem Old City:

Urban Fabric and Geopolitical Implications


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