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Modern History of the Holy City: A Brief Overview
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Modern History of the Holy City: A Brief Overview

The newly formed United Nations had, in 1947, voted on a partition plan to divide what was then British-Mandate Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. Although that partition map put Jerusalem within the boundaries of the envisaged Palestinian Arab state, it designated Jerusalem and Bethlehem as corpus separatum, under international rule. The special status was decided on the basis of Jerusalem’s religious importance to all three Abrahamic faiths, as home to Al-Aqsa Mosque, Church of Holy Sepulchre, and the Western Wall of the Jewish temple built by Herod. There were also 100,000 Jews living in Jerusalem at the time, and the partition map envisaged an equivalent Arab population in the combined Jerusalem-Bethlehem entity. 

The leaders of what became Israel indicated acceptance of the partition plan, but it was rejected by Arab leaders, who responded to Israel's declaration of independence the following year by going to war. The resulting conflict substantially redrew the map, as Israeli forces fought their way to Jerusalem and cleared much of the Palestinian population out of the coastal plain and the Gallilee. Whereas the original partition had allocated 55 percent of the territory to a Jewish state and 45 percent of it to a Palestinian Arab state, the war of 1948 put Israel in control of 78 percent of the territory. The remaining 22 percent, comprising Gaza and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), was now controlled by Egypt and Jordan respectively. 

Jerusalem remained a divided city, with the holy sites in the eastern part under Jordanian control. The international community continued to regard the city as having a distinct status.


In November 30, 1948, Moshe Dayan, Israeli commander, and Abdullah el-Tell, Jordanian commander, drew a map which became the 1949 Armistice Line.
Tamar Hayardeni / Creative Commons

The rough, hand-drawn lines on a map sketched by Israeli and Jordanian commanders in November of 1948, which later became the official 1949 Armistice Line, left parts of Jerusalem as a no-man's-land, outside either Israeli and Jordanian control. Special arrangements were made for Mount Scopus, which lay in the Jordanian controlled zone, but was home to an Israel hospital and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The 1949 Armistice Line, also known as the Green Line – or more colloquially as "the 1967 borders" – is often referred to in two-state negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The war of June 1967, however, left Israel in control of the remaining 22 percent – the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Israel then annexed East Jerusalem, redefining the municipal boundaries of the city to incorporate other West Bank towns and villages, making it the largest city in the country.

Despite the annexation, however, Palestinians in East Jerusalem were not granted citizenship of Israel in the way that those Palestinians who remained in the country after the 1948 war had been. Instead, East Jerusalem Palestinians were given “permanent resident” status, the same status as non-Jewish foreigners who moved to Israel, according to the  human rights group B'tselem. East Jerusalem Palestinians live under constant fear of their Jerusalem identifications being revo

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