Jerusalem: a holy city in crisis

By Jeremy Moodey


March is when we mark the Women’s World Day of Prayer. The title this year was “Let Justice Prevail”, and it is instructive to look back at previous WWDP themes. Strikingly, back in 1934, even before the creation of the State of Israel, the theme for that Day was Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem.

At that time there were serious Arab riots in Palestine in response to the rising tide of Jewish immigration, much of which was inspired by increasing anti-Semitism in Europe. Almost 80 years on, Jerusalem, the so-called “City of Peace”, remains a deeply troubled city. And since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, things have worsened significantly. Which prompted me to pause and wonder: despite our decades of prayers, why has justice not “prevailed” in this holiest of cities?

Also in the last week, there has been an international conference on Jerusalem in Qatar. Addressed by the UN Secretary General, it debated how Israel’s continued occupation of East Jerusalem, and its policy of illegal settlement, house demolitions and forced evictions, were making prospects for a just and lasting peace in the city ever more distant.

The Israeli government responded angrily to the conference, Premier Netanyahu describing as “contemptible” any language that challenged the status of an undivided Jerusalem as “the eternal capital of the Jewish People.”

This is an issue in which we at BibleLands, the Christian development charity which focuses on the Middle East, have more than a passing interest. For over half a century we have owned and operated a school for visually impaired children in occupied East Jerusalem, the Helen Keller Centre. So we have seen at first-hand how over 40 years of occupation and annexation have changed the character of Jerusalem, and in particular its predominantly Arab eastern half. Education is a key issue.

A UN report on East Jerusalem in May 2011 identified a problem of chronic under-investment by the Israelis in the eastern sector, despite it being half-heartedly grafted onto the Israeli education system, with classroom shortages, sub-standard facilities, and many Arab families forced to pay for private schooling because of the inadequacy of state provision.

The report noted that, despite a 1984 Knesset law guaranteeing free government-sponsored pre-school education, there were just two pre-schools in East Jerusalem, compared to 56 in the predominantly Jewish Western half of the city.

At Helen Keller, as with other East Jerusalem schools, there has also been Israeli interference in the curriculum. Textbooks are censored, with references to Palestinian national identity and consciousness removed, and Palestinian children are obliged to learn the Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, and Ben-Gurion’s 1948 declaration of independence, with their references to “the land of Zion” and to the Jewish nature of the State of Israel. For a population under occupation, these are bitter pills to swallow.

As are the increasing number of house demolitions and settlements. The UN has identified that over a third of East Jerusalem’s land has been confiscated for the construction of Israeli settlements, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding occupied territory.

At the same time, barely 13 per cent of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction. The UN estimates that house demolitions, which are now on the increase throughout the occupied territory, have totalled 2,000 in East Jerusalem since 1967.

In February the Israeli authorities announced their intention to demolish 88 Palestinian homes in the suburb of Silwan, to make way for the development of a so-called archaeological park, known as King David’s Garden. If confirmed, the plan would leave over 1,000 Palestinians homeless.

The delicate demographic character of East Jerusalem, which currently still has an Arab majority, despite the influx of 200,000 settlers, is being slowly changed beyond recognition. Indeed, if one excludes the 55,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who are on the ‘wrong’ side of the separation barrier, then Israel is not far short of its unstated policy of creating a Jewish majority in occupied (and previously largely Arab) East Jerusalem.

Residency rights are another thorny issue. The UN has noted that Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem lack a secure legal residency status, with some 14,000 of them having had their Jerusalem residency revoked by the Israeli authorities since 1967.

Readers of this newspaper will have read about the particular difficulties of the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem in this regard. They have now been diplomatically resolved, but for thousands of other East Jerusalemites there is an uncertain future, and onerous travel restrictions and checkpoints often make it difficult for them to connect with family and friends in the West Bank.

The litany of humanitarian concerns in East Jerusalem is depressingly long. The 2011 UN report ran to 126 pages and also covered issues such as access to healthcare, the absence of a proper planning framework to allow Palestinians to meet what the UN described as “their basic housing and infrastructure needs” and the intolerable burden of checkpoints, only a handful of which Palestinians with permits can actually use (the rest are reserved for settlers).

The Bible challenges us to “loose the chains of injustice” (Isaiah 58:6), and sometimes days of prayer and letters to MPs are not enough, especially when the politicians trot out formulaic replies about a two-state solution which is being rapidly overtaken by events on the ground.

We have to act against injustice, and act now, and where better to start, as we approach Easter, than in the city where the ministry of Our Saviour saw its world-changing climax?


Jeremy Moodey is Chief Executive of BibleLands, the inter-denominational development charity which supports Christian social ministry in the lands of the Bible, including in Israel/Palestine. BibleLands has launched a Lent appeal to help Palestinian families affected by the separation barrier ( All facts in this article are sourced from UN documents. The 2011 UN report on East Jerusalem can be found at

8 Responses to Jerusalem: a holy city in crisis

  1. avatar

    Nora Kort

    16/03/2012 at 09:28

    Very true indeed and much more.
    If we want peace we have to work for justice.
    God bless and a Blessed Lent!

  2. avatar

    Nabil Zumot

    16/03/2012 at 09:29

    A very good article indeed, decades of struggle are mentioned as well as many references of UN records, But I would like to have some comments on just the second paragraph of this article as time and place do not allow much more.

    “Since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967″ is somewhat misleading,
    Israel did not occupy east Jerusalem in 1967, it was the Jordanian Army who started the offensive and Israel had to defend itself and consequently the whole west bank including east Jerusalem was occupied.

    The Security Council of the United Nations met and issued resolution 242,
    The Arabs met in Khartoum later on and issued their famous three NOs of NO recognition, NO negotiations and NO peace with Israel and years rolled and struggle deepens and solutions became harder.

    I really do not think that “things have worsened significantly “since “the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem” I think the opposite , I think that the situation of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem is much better than their brethren in the Arab Countries, and definetly much better than their people in the West Bank and Gaza.No doubt that it is very difficult to study or compare the situation of any community since 1967 till now, but let us compare the situation of the Jerusalemites with other Palestinians communities in the Middle East.

    Palestinians In East Jerusalem enjoy free obligatory education, full and free medical treatment without any discrimination what so ever, full national insurance free movement in addition to a lot of other services no need to mention it here, rights and services that millions of Palestinians do not enjoy in most of the Arabic Countries although they are not under occupation.

    I am encoureged in my thinking with a recent survey that was published lately even in the Palestinian paper that Jerusalemites prefer to stay under “occupation” rather than be under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, so how about other Arab Regimes, I am sure also that Jerusalemites prefer not to be under the Syrian or the Iraqi or even the Lebaneese” brothers” regimes. Jerusalemites who chosed to have Israeli Citizenship before are enjoying full rights and privilidges like any other citizen.

    Hoping for a better future for both Palestinias and Israelis, I am confident that a sincere and justified logical approach could help achieve that hope.

  3. avatar

    Dr George Grimble

    21/03/2012 at 21:47

    I hate to be a party pooper but you should get certain facts straight. The Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 was driven by anti-British sentiment and lead by Izz ad-Din al-Qassam and by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Mohammed Effendi Amin el-Husseini. Both were noted anti-Semites and the latter not only accepted large sums of money from the Nazi government in Berlin pre-war, but also fled to Berlin during the war and was instrumental in persuading young Muslim men to join the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar. He advised Himmler on methods to be used to eliminate (i.e. murder) Jews in Europe and welcomed the prospect of Italian-German victory in North Africa so that the elimination (i.e. murder) of Jews in Palestine could be accomplished with the help of the SS death squads. Against this background of wicked leadership, Arabs in Palestine suffered problems of increasing landlessness due to changed world economic circumstances. This process of disenfranchisement and land loss is well documented and described by Mahmoud Yazbak (From Poverty to Revolt: Economic Factors in the Outbreak of the 1936 Rebellion in Palestine. Middle Eastern Studies, 2000; 36(3): 93–113) and is not unlike what this writer observed in Bangladesh in the mid-1980s. The poorest have no cushion when things turn bad and peasant farmers will be the first to lose their title to land when debts are called in. So the starting statement that “there were serious Arab riots in Palestine in response to the rising tide of Jewish immigration, much of which was inspired by increasing anti-Semitism in Europe” is just plain wrong. Underlying economic problems and poverty were exploited by anti-Semitic and anti-British leaders paid for with Nazi money.
    I could comment on other points in the article but would challenge all readers to think about the following question “If Arabs living in Tel Aviv are full citizens of Israel, can Jews ever live in Ramallah when it becomes part of a new Palestinian State?” If the answer is “yes”, then there is hope for the region, if “no” then Amin el-Husseini’s anti-semitism still has life. I would pray for the Peace of Jerusalem and for the safety of all of her inhabitants.

  4. avatar

    John West

    30/03/2012 at 15:19

    Many thanks to Mr. Zumot and Dr. Grimble for their insightful corrections to this scurrilous article. I would add that in my view the real tragedy of the Middle East is the suffocating 1400-year-long occupation by Arab Islam of all the older cultures there: Zoroastrian Persia, Maronite Lebanon, Coptic Egypt, the Berber Mahgrib and so forth. Today this submerged world produces nearly nothing: no science, no publishing, no technology, no innovation — excepting only hydrocarbons, its output is less than that of Finland.

  5. avatar

    Samia Khoury

    26/05/2012 at 17:44

    I am amazed at the comments of Mr. Zumot who gives such a distorted impression to the extent that he alludes to the fact that things have become better after the Israeli occupation. How can that be when people need permits to move around, when a spouse is not from Jerusalem, he or she would need a family reunification permit and it takes for ever to get it if it is ever granted. And if students are out of the country studying and are not back in time they lose their right to come back and live with their families. And even when they come for a visit they are harassed before being allowed in and in many cases they are not permitted to return.

    Maybe Mr. Zumot is lucky to be living inside the wall that Israel built and left so many residents of Jerusalem behind the wall depriving them of their place of work, worship and even the medical and school services that Mr. Zumot claims is given for free. Building permits are hardly granted, and thus any additions to homes or building without permits on one’s own land is enough cause to have the home demolished.

    Israel was certainly not defending itself in 1967. Israel claimed that Egypt’s Nasser started the 1967 war by closing the Tiran Straits, but the actual war started when Israel grounded the Egyptian Air Force and as part of the defense pact between Jordan, Egypt and Syria, Jordan joined the war but its forces had actually withdrawn before getting engaged in the war, and Israel practically walked through the territories. The loss of life was minimal at the time.

    In no time Israel expanded the East Jerusalem borders unilaterally and annexed the area to West Jerusalem claiming it to be the eternal united capital of Israel. It imposed taxes on the residents of Jerusalem and national insurance that was supposed to be illegal under the Geneva convention. And people who refused to pay had their homes and shops confiscated. So the free obligatory education and health services that Mr. Zumot refers to are not given for free. It is a right if anything because the Jerusalemites are paying for those services. However, there are hundreds of children out of school because the Israeli school system in East Jerusalem has no room for them. Had it not been for many church schools, Awqaf, UNRWA and other schools run by Palestinian charitable organizations more children will be without education in the Jerusalem area. The ongoing onslaught on Jerusalem makes things actually worse every day. And I am not going to repeat what already Mr. Jeremy Moodey has so clearly stated referring to UN documents.
    The No peace no recognition and no negotiations that Mr. Zumot refers to was rescinded by the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 But the ongoing onslaught on Jerusalem and the rest of the territories by the expansion of the settlements has left no doubt that Israel has no interest in peace, and wants a maximum of land with a minimum of people.

  6. avatar

    Samia Khoury

    28/05/2012 at 07:09

    How long will my comments need to await moderation before being posted?

  7. avatar

    Jeremy Moodey

    28/05/2012 at 15:54

    Thanks for your comments George. It is always good to debate Palestinian history with you! But you are mistaken in your assessment of the Arab revolt in 1936-39. Yes, it was against the British colonial administration, but the main complaint was that the British were allowing so many Jews to come into Palestine. From Gudrun Krämer’s ‘History of Palestine’ (2008) it is clear that the most immediate causes of the revolt were the discovery in Jaffa of a shipment of arms destined for the Haganah (October 1935) and the sharp rise in Jewish immigration, which led to a doubling of the Jewish population in Palestine between 1931 and 1936. From this History Today article by Professor Charles Townshed at Keele University it is clear that the main demands of the Arab Higher Committee in 1936 were an end to Jewish immigration and the prohibition of land sales to Jews.

    With regard to your final point, Arabs (by which I assume you mean Palestinians) in Tel Aviv are not full citizens of Israel. There is no bill of rights in Israel and the founding Declaration of Independence and subsequent Basic Laws are all defined by reference to Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. Palestinians are banned from 85% of Israel’s communities by “admissions committees” filtering out non-Jews and investment in the Arab sector (eg education, infrastructure etc) is way below that in the Jewish sector. Palestinians have 20% of the population in Israel but barely 3.5% of the land. For further background check out this independent report from the civil rights organisation Adalah. Ariel Sharon described the position perfectly in a 2002 Knesset debate: “Arab citizens enjoy rights in the land while all rights over the Land of Israel are Jewish rights.” How can this be equality of rights?

  8. avatar

    Diana Mushahwar

    30/05/2012 at 18:12

    I am surprised by mr zumots reply, and glad that mrs. Khoury gave a very simple and honest reply that the majority of the Palestinian are facing, thank you mrs Khoury for your reply, it described real facts on the ground.
    Diana mushahwar

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