Home » East and West Jerusalem – united or divided?

East and West Jerusalem – united or divided?

by backpackisrael
14 minutes read
East Jerusalem neighborhoods from the Ramparts Walk

At the beginning of this month, we celebrated Jerusalem Day, commemorating the reunification of East and West Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War. Until then, from 1948 to 1967, East Jerusalem was under Jordanian rule, and West Jerusalem was under Israeli rule. There was a border between East and West Jerusalem, and the Jews were not allowed to enter East Jerusalem, where the Western Wall and the Temple Mount are located. Today, East and West Jerusalem are not divided by a fence or a border, but are they really united? In this post, I want to tell you all about East and West Jerusalem.

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How were East and West Jerusalem divided?

Until 1948, Jerusalem was one city with a population of about 160 thousand people. Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived together. The city expanded beyond the Old City walls and became the political capital of the British, who ruled the land from 1917 to May 1948.

The Independence War already started at the end of November 1947, but it reached its peak in Jerusalem only on 18 May 1948, when the Jordanians took control of the Mount of Olives and started entering the Old City. On 28 May, they already controlled the Old City of Jerusalem and the areas that we call today “East Jerusalem.” The Jewish community that lived in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City was banished and moved to West Jerusalem, which Israel controlled.

The fighting stopped in August 1948, and about three months later, on 30 November 1948, the Jordanian commander, Abdullah el-Tell, and the Israeli commander, Moshe Dayan, met to discuss the temporary border. They opened a paper map of Jerusalem, and each side drew a line that marked the position of their forces. In some places, there were areas in between the lines, which were designated as No Man’s Land. This temporary border became known as “the City Line.”

Later, in April 1949, when Israel and Jordan reached the Armistice Agreement, they decided to keep the border in Jerusalem as is. So, “the City Line” became part of “the Green Line,” the 1949 Armistice border that separated between Israeli and Arab territory.

That is how East and West Jerusalem were divided. To learn more about life in the divided city of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967, you can book my private tour – Jerusalem Between 1948 and 1967.

In 1967, following the Six-Day War, the city was united and became fully under Israeli control.

Israeli police officers and a Jordanian soldier talk next to the City Line in Jerusalem

What is East Jerusalem?

East Jerusalem is the area that was under Jordanian control from 1948 to 1967. It includes very important sites in Jerusalem, including the Old City, the Western Wall, Temple Mount (also known as Al Aqsa), the City of David, the Garden Tomb, and the Mount of Olives. Some of the main neighborhoods of East Jerusalem include Silwan, Abu Tor, At-Tur, Wadi Al-Joz, the American Colony, Sheikh Jarrah, the French Hill, Shu’afat, Beit Hanina, Jabel Mukaber, Pisgat Ze’ev, and Neve Yaakov. Most of those neighborhoods existed in the time of the Jordanians. Some, such as Pisgat Ze’ev and Neve Yaakov, were built after the Six-Day War.

Today, as I mentioned, East Jerusalem is controlled by the State of Israel. Israel annexed East Jerusalem to the State of Israel a few days after the 1967 Six-Day War. It became official in 1980 when the government passed the Basic Law: Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel.

So, it was legally annexed to Israel, but the international community does not recognize this annexation. The UN and the international community believe that East Jerusalem should be part of a future Arab-Palestinian state and, therefore, it cannot belong to the State of Israel. This is based on the Partition Plan for Palestine, adopted by the UN in 1947. According to the plan, there were supposed to be two states in this region – a Jewish state and an Arab state. In the original plan, both of them were NOT supposed to control Jerusalem, but now, because the Jewish state of Israel controls West Jerusalem, the international community wants the Arab state to control East Jerusalem. Read more about the Partition Plan here

West Jerusalem is the area that is not included in East Jerusalem.

Schematic map of East and West Jerusalem

Are East and West Jerusalem still divided?

If you look at Google Maps, you will see that there are two dashed lines that pass through Jerusalem. They are marked as “the 1949 Armistice Agreement Line.” From the map, it seems like you might face some trouble crossing that line, but in reality, there is no border there. You can pass freely from East to West Jerusalem. Does that mean that East and West Jerusalem are truly united? As someone who has been living in Jerusalem for the past ten years, I can tell you that the answer is no. They are not truly united, and here are the main reasons why, all connected in some way to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

The Arab residents see East Jerusalem as part of a future Palestinian state

Most of the Arabs living in East Jerusalem identify themselves as Palestinians and see East Jerusalem as part of their future state. Out of approximately 400,000 Arabs who live in Jerusalem – most of them in East Jerusalem – only around 20,000 are Israeli citizens. 95% of the Arabs who live in Jerusalem are only permanent residents. This means they cannot vote for the Israeli parliament, but they can vote for the municipality. However, most of them do not vote for the municipality because they refuse to see themselves as connected in any way to the Israeli authorities. And until today, no Arab representative has been elected to the city council. You have to be a citizen to be elected, but even those who are citizens and tried were not elected because most of the Arab population did not vote.

Why are they permanent residents? In the past, getting Israeli citizenship was a long and difficult process. Today, things have become easier and more accessible, but still, most of the Jerusalemite Arabs prefer to stay permanent residents. Whoever requests Israeli citizenship is perceived as a traitor. They don’t want to be Israelis. They want the area to become part of a Palestinian state. Read more about this topic in my post >> Is Palestine a state? 

When the Arabs of East Jerusalem refuse to see themselves as part of Israeli society, it is impossible to truly link them to West Jerusalem.

Social division between communities

Most of the neighborhoods in East Jerusalem have remained populated mainly by Arabs. There is no real mix between the Jewish and Arab communities in East Jerusalem, which creates a social division between East and West Jerusalem.  

Since 1995, more and more Jewish families have started buying houses in East Jerusalem. This was because of the Oslo Accords and the talks about peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Religious Jews, who do not want to split Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinians, said: “We should live inside the Arab neighborhoods. This way, it will be impossible to talk about dividing Jerusalem.” Right-wing Jewish organizations and individual people started buying houses and land in East Jerusalem. Today, about 1,000 Jewish families live in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but they do not live there TOGETHER with the Arabs. They live separately, often in secured compounds encircled by fences, security cameras, and guards. That’s because the Arabs do not want them there. In fact, the Arabs refuse to sell houses to Jewish people in East Jerusalem. If someone sells a house to a Jew, he is seen as a traitor and must flee from the country. If he does not escape, he risks getting killed by his neighbors.  

Because of the hostility towards Israeli authorities in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, most Jewish people are afraid to go there. There are even Jewish people who are afraid to walk in the Muslim Quarter in the Old City. When I tell my friends that I guide there, some look at me shocked and ask: “Are you not afraid to be there?” After a minute, they say, “Well, you look like a tourist, so you don’t need to worry.”

And what about Arabs who live in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem? Many Jewish neighborhoods have been built alongside the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, such as the French Hill and Pisgat Ze’ev. There are much more Arab residents living in Jewish neighborhoods than Jewish residents who live in Arab neighborhoods. The Arabs live in the Jewish neighborhoods because they want to be closer to their workplaces and to enjoy better infrastructure. And, unlike Jews, who are afraid to walk in the Arab neighborhoods, the Arabs can freely walk around the Jewish neighborhoods in East and West Jerusalem without fear of being attacked by an angry mob. 

Separate education systems

Not only are the neighborhoods separated, but there are also different educational systems in East and West Jerusalem. Right after the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel tried to implement the Israeli curriculum that was customary in Arab schools in Israel in the Arab schools in East Jerusalem. The Israeli program was supposed to replace the Jordanian curriculum that existed at that time, but the teachers and supervisors of the East Jerusalem schools refused to cooperate with the Israeli Ministry of Education. Jordan supported them and continued to pay salaries to the East Jerusalem teachers and called the teachers to strike until Israel stopped intervening in the curriculum.

After a while, Israel was able to break the strike by replacing the striking teachers with new teachers. The Arabs of East Jerusalem started studying according to the Israeli curriculum, but when they reached the end of the year and were not able to pass the final exams, the students stopped coming to the schools that were run by the municipality. Instead, they started attending private schools run by Christian organizations, UNRWA, and the Jordanian Waqf. Those schools operate without governmental funding and work according to their own curriculum, usually the Palestinian-Jordanian curriculum, without Israeli supervision. And they keep operating until today.

The fact that thousands of Arab students do not learn Hebrew makes it harder for them to become integrated into the society of West Jerusalem, where Arabic is also not taught very well. The fact that they study according to the Jordanian-Palestinian curriculum also doesn’t help in closing the gaps between the two communities of Jerusalem – the Arabs and the Jews.

The Jerusalem Municipality has not done enough to connect East and West Jerusalem

In 1990, when Teddy Kollek celebrated 25 years as the Mayor of Jerusalem, he said in an interview: “We said again and again that we would make the rights of the Jerusalemite Arabs equal to the rights of the Jerusalemite Jews, but we never kept our promises. We never gave them the feeling that they were equal in the eyes of the law. They were and remained second and third-class citizens. I have done things for West Jerusalem during the past 25 years. What have I done for East Jerusalem? Nothing. No schools. No sidewalks. No cultural institutes. We have improved the sewage and water infrastructure. Why did we do it? Not because we wanted to improve the welfare of the residents. It was because there were a few incidents of cholera, and the Jews were afraid that it would reach them, so we built a sewage system to block the cholera.”

Only after Teddy Kollek finished his role as the mayor of Jerusalem in 1993 the municipality started investing more seriously in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Today, billions of shekels are invested in this area of Jerusalem. But it is a bit too late. The gaps are enormous, and the Arabs of East Jerusalem have already lost their trust in the municipality. Now, as I have already mentioned, the Arabs don’t want to cooperate with the municipality because they think that it is part of the efforts to bring more Jewish families into the neighborhoods.

The fact that there is no Arab representative in the city council also makes it harder to connect East to West Jerusalem. With no representative in the municipality, no one is actively pulling funds toward the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and providing important feedback on what should be at the top of the priorities.


We might be celebrating the unification of Jerusalem every year, but the truth is that East and West Jerusalem are still divided. Many Arabs who live in East Jerusalem do not see themselves as part of Israel and therefore, do not want to be united with West Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Municipality has neglected East Jerusalem for many years, trust issues have grown bigger and bigger, and today, it seems almost impossible to truly connect East to West Jerusalem and unify the city.

At the end of the day, this division is all connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until the conflict is solved – we will probably not see a united Jerusalem.

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