A Virtual Tour of East Jerusalem

In January I went on a drive through East Jerusalem with Ir Amim, a human rights NGO that works to protect the rights of all of Jerusalem’s residents and to prevent the establishment of facts on the ground from precluding a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the tour we stopped at high lookout points where we saw large areas of intertwining Jewish settlements, Palestinian villages, and the remaining open land in between. The situation on the ground is complex, especially given the rugged geography, so one really has to see it to grasp the situation in a meaningful way.

This poses a huge obstacle to fully understanding the torturous attempts at a peace process. Jerusalem is central to the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis – and every new construction project has symbolic importance and impacts the facts on the ground. Yet, if one has never actually seen the landscapes I saw with Ir Amim, understanding the ramifications of Israeli government actions or the rationale for Palestinian reactions is difficult. So I realized on this tour that most American, and even many Israelis, are at a disadvantage when trying to interpret new developments in the headlines.

Thus I have decided to try a short experiment which I hope you will participate in. Using a new online interactive map, I would like to “walk you through” what I saw. With this virtual tour I hope you will gain a better context to decode future news stories about Jerusalem. So I invite you to spend a few minutes with me on this step-by-step trip.

The map we will be using was developed by Terrestrial Jerusalem, a new organization that tracks developments in Jerusalem that impact the politics in the region.

The tour:

So let’s begin. This tour will take us through 10 steps as we add new layers to the map.

Step 1 – To start, in a separate tab or window in your browser open the interactive map at http://t-j.org.il/JerusalemAtlas.aspx. You should see the Old City outlined in black in the middle of the map. (If not, in the left column click on the second item on the list titled “Old City” and a small black outline will appear.) The black lines are the thick stone walls surrounding the Old City that were built by the Ottoman ruler Suleiman in the 1500’s.

Step 2 – In the left column click on the top item “1949-67 Armistice Line” and you will see the Green Line appear on your screen.  This was the old armistice border between Israel and the West Bank before the 1967 war. To the left and within the green line was Jewish West Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, jutting out like a peninsula into Jordanian occupied territory. Notice the Old City was not Israeli territory and Jews had no access to it. Just to the northeast there was a small Israeli island which housed the original Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus.

Step 3 – In the left column click on the third item titled “Municipal Boundary.” The blue line that appears is the current boundary of the Jerusalem Municipality. The difference between the green line and the blue line are the 76 square kilometers of the West Bank that were annexed by Israel immediately after the 1967 war and incorporated into the city. This included all of what had been East Jerusalem at the time plus 28 nearby villages. Israeli law immediately applied to this area while the remainder of the West Bank was governed under a separate military administration and legal system.

Palestinians in the annexed part of Jerusalem fall into a unique legal category termed “Permanent Residents.” They have some, but not all, of the rights of Israeli citizens. They can move about freely in Israel and can vote in municipal elections but not in national elections. Permanent residents do not carry Israeli passports and can only leave Israel with transit visas or Jordanian passports, if they have them. They have the right to apply for full Israeli citizenship but few have done so because that would be recognizing the Israeli annexation (they would have to sign a loyalty oath) and they consider themselves Palestinian, not Israeli.

The status of permanent resident is conditional and can be revoked if the resident’s “center of life” is out of Israel for seven years. Thus they lose their ability to live in Jerusalem in the future if they move away due to marriage, schooling, employment or any other reason
that causes them to live elsewhere for a while. Thousands of former East Jerusalem natives have lost their residency rights in this way, even if they were born and lived there most of their lives.

Step 4 – Click on the item titled in the left column “Palestinian Built-up Area” (4th from the bottom) to see where the Palestinian neighborhoods and villages are located. They appear as green areas. Move immediately to Step 5 to see this better.

Step 5 – In the lower right corner of the map there is a minus box and a plus box. Click on the plus box and the map will zoom in slightly and the names of the different Palestinian neighborhoods and villages will appear.

You can see Silwan just outside the southeast corner of the Old City and Sheikh Jarrah just north of the Old City. These are the areas (plus Ras al-Amud near the Mount of Olives just east of the Old City – not shown on the map), where many Palestinians have been evicted from their homes and replaced by 2,000 Jewish settlers. Several NGOs such as Elad, Ateret Cohanim and the Jewish National Fund’s Himnuta subsidiary have been working with the government to create a band of Jewish enclaves closely surrounding the Old City. These neighborhoods have become a tinderbox as government policies and the NGO activities have made life intolerable for Palestinian residents in parts of these communities. (I will be writing about this in detail in future posts.) This inner circle of Jewish settlements is separate from, but share the same ideological and political goals, as the outer ring of settlements that we will discuss below.

Settler house in Sheikh Jarrah occupied since 2009

Step 6 – Click on the 4th item in the left column titled Barrier. The orange line that appears is the tall concrete Separation Wall that was built to prevent Palestinians in the West Bank from entering Israel. There are a few areas where there is a dotted orange line that represents sections of the wall that are planned but not built yet.

Those living on the eastern side of the wall are not allowed to enter the western side of the wall except through scattered checkpoints with long waits. They first must apply and be approved for special one-day permits that are granted only for urgent reasons such as medical care. Family visits do not qualify and not all permit applications are granted.

Before the wall was built, all the green areas were contiguous areas where trade and commerce flowed back and forth, where children attended schools and workers commuted to jobs in other areas, and where friends, relatives, and close family members settled in neighboring communities. The wall has torn apart this Palestinian life.  Close-knit neighborhoods are separated down the middle, friends and family members can no longer see each other, students cannot attend their former schools, and the areas on the eastern side of the wall have had their commercial lifeline to Jerusalem severed. Bethlehem to the south and Ramallah to the north, two large urban centers of Palestinian commercial life in the area, have lost easy access to the East Jerusalem economic hub.

Among the neighborhoods most affected by the Separation Wall are the areas that are part of the municipality of Jerusalem but are on the West Bank side of the wall. 50,000 Palestinians find themselves in this state of limbo, cut off from the city and thus not receiving services from either the Jerusalem municipality or the West bank governing authorities. This article from the Los Angeles Times describes the situation in graphic detail: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-jerusalem-barrier-20120207,0,4118563.story. A short  excerpt is below.

Reporting from Jerusalem— With a fire extinguisher in his hand and a cellphone pressed to his ear, principal Sameeh abu Rameelh battled an electrical fire in his Jerusalem high school’s computer lab while pleading with the fire department to come to his aid.

But when the emergency dispatcher heard that the school was in Kafr Aqab, separated from the rest of Jerusalem by a 36-foot-high concrete wall, he told Abu Rameelh that firetrucks wouldn’t cross Israel’s separation barrier without army protection.

The principal turned to the West Bank city of Ramallah, hoping Palestinian Authority fire crews would help. Sorry, they responded, but they were not permitted to enter Jerusalem.

Eventually, Abu Rameelh said, he and some volunteers put out the blaze. No one was hurt, but the lab, with 40 computers and desks, was gutted….

Separation Wall cutting through the village of Abu Dis, just outside Jerusalem.

The rationale for the separation wall has been to prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel. Jerusalem had horrendous experiences with terror ten years ago during the 2nd Intifada when buses, restaurants, and other public areas were blown up causing many casualties and spreading fear. Indeed, incidents of terror are few and far between now and the city is safe. However, there is some discussion about whether the wall deserves credit for this since there are large segments where it is not built. If someone was motivated to cross over they could do so. The allegations are that the wall is mainly a land grab to establish facts on the ground and that terrorism has diminished for other reasons. This is a complicated subject beyond the scope of today’s post.

Step 7 – Now we are going to do something tricky. Click anywhere on the map and you will see a little hand appear. When you hold the left button of your mouse down and move it slightly you will see the map move. Move your mouse down so that more of the map to the north appears. You will see an area encompassing the villages of Al Jib, Bir Nabala, Al Judeira, and Beit Hanina which are completely surrounded by the wall. These villages are imprisoned with only two roads through the wall that provide them with access to the outside world. These exits can be closed by the Israeli army at its discretion. The nearby villages of Qalandia just to the north and Beit Iksa just to the south will find themselves in the same situation when the wall is completed. The same applies to the village of Walaja in the area south of Jerusalem. The next step of our virtual tour will show you why this has occurred.

Step 8 – Click on the third item from the bottom in the left column titled “Israel Built-up Areas Beyond the Green Line.” You will see blue Jewish settlements pop up that have been built in areas captured by Israel in 1967, many of which are on the land annexed by Israel and incorporated into the Jerusalem municipality (within the blue line).

Notice how the orange separation wall was built to encompass all the large Jewish settlement areas nearest to Jerusalem. These areas have become integral parts of the city with no evidence that they were built over the green line. Indeed, many residents are not even aware of this as some of these neighborhoods were founded decades ago. These neighborhoods include Ramot, French Hill, Pisgat Ze’ev and Neve Ya’akov to the north, and Gilo, Har Homa and East Talpiot to the south. These areas form a band of large Jewish neighborhoods that would be impossible to undo at this point. As of 2010, there were 190,000 Jewish residents in these districts.

Since the end of the settlement construction freeze in 2010, the Israeli government has dramatically accelerated the expansion of Jewish settlements and neighborhoods in the East Jerusalem area. This is described in a report from Terrestrial Jerusalem at: http://t-j.org.il/Publications/Publications/tabid/1367/articleID/459/currentpage/1/Default.aspx. According to this report, Jewish settlement construction in East Jerusalem is occurring at the fastest pace since the 1970’s. By the end of 2013, there will be approximately 12,000 additional residences built, enough space for at least 45,000 additional Jewish residents over the green line – a 25% increase in the Jewish population of these Jerusalem neighborhoods. The major new construction projects that will be built or will be under construction by the end of 2013 include the following number of housing units.

In the Northern neighborhoods over the green line:
Ramot: 1,328
Pisgat Ze’ev: 625
Neve Yaacov: 393
Ramat Ehskol: 267
Ramat Shlomo: 1,600

In the Southern neighborhoods over the green line:
Gilo: 580
Mordot Gilo: 1,593-2,280
Givat Hamaotos: 3,000
East Talpiyot: 104
Har Homa: 2,493

These projects will expand these settlement neighborhoods, filling in existing open gaps between populated areas and thus connecting these neighborhoods and making them contiguous. This will remove any chance for future access between Palestinian East Jerusalem and areas of the West Bank to the north, including Ramallah, and the south, including Bethlehem.

Construction at Har Homa in the southern section of the Jerusalem municipality

Step 9 – On the map you will notice that due east of the Old City there are fewer Jewish neighborhoods. If you click on the map and move the little hand cursor to reveal a bit more of the area to the east you will see the large settlement of Ma’ale Adumim a few miles out from Jerusalem surrounded by a dotted orange line where the separation wall has not yet been built. This is a separate city in the West Bank, the 3rd largest Jewish settlement (39,000 residents), which has become a suburb of Jerusalem. It partially helps complete the encirclement of the city with Jewish neighborhoods. But now we come to the next battleground area.

The City of Ma'ale Adumim, a Jewish suburb of Jerusalem in the West Bank

Step 10 – Click on the bottom link in the left column of the map titled “E-1 Master Plan.” E-1, appearing as a blue hatched area on the map, is a massive construction project where thousands of new residences are planned for the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim. A multi-lane access road has already been built and utilities installed in some areas. As is clear on the map, construction in this area will complete the encirclement of Jerusalem by Jewish neighborhoods, totally separating it from the West Bank.

It also will make it impossible for the Palestinians to have their capital in Jerusalem. In previous negotiations a compromise was proposed wherein the Palestinian capital would be in Abu Dis, a village just outside East Jerusalem. Even that possibility is negated by the plans for E-1 since you can see on the map that Abu Dis is tucked in behind the southern flank of E-1.

And finally, E-1 will sever the connecting roads that link the southern West Bank with the Northern West bank, creating two non-contiguous cantonments that are isolated from each other.

There are two obstacles preventing the bulldozers from coming to begin construction in E-1.

  • 2,300 Bedouin have their homes there. Long-time Bedouin settlements will be demolished and the residents will be forcibly moved to other areas. It is unclear where but often this results in the destruction of their way of life.
  • The United States government has pressured Israel to postpone the construction in E-1. However, it is unknown how long this delay will last.
A Bedouin settlement just below Ma'ale Adumim. They will be forcibly moved when construction begins in E-1.


I hope this virtual tour provided you with more insight into the impact of new construction projects or other initiatives around Jerusalem that may be announced by the Israeli government in the coming months and years. Most important, when you hear that construction has begun in E-1, or that Ma’ale Adumim is being expanded, you will understand why that could be the final nail in the coffin for a possible two state solution. A capital in Jerusalem is a non-negotiable requirement for the Palestinians and E-1 severs the continuity of the West Bank’s most populous areas, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

About the Author
Allen Katzoff directed large Jewish educational programs in Massachusetts for the last 15 years of his professional career. Currently he splits his time evenly between Tel Aviv and the Boston area. He is passionate about Israel, especially loves Tel Aviv, but is concerned about the influence of extreme right-wing ideologies on the country and what that will mean for the future.