ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

The Holy City of Jerusalem

A city’s destiny depends on the three great faiths

Jerusalem is not so much a small territory in the Judean hills as it is a symbol and a value, not just for the seven million people in Israel and the four million people in Palestine, but for Jews, Christians and Muslims all over the world — nearly half the human race.

It is a city sacred to Jews, who honor the site of Solomon’s Temple that enshrined the Ark of the Covenant. It is a city sacred to Christians as it is the place of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. It is a city sacred to Muslims, as it is where Muhammad had his great mystical experience, riding up to the highest heavens.

From the earliest days of the church, Christians have called Jerusalem the “Holy City,” or Haghia Polis in Greek. This title spells out the problem of Jerusalem — the inseparability of the spiritual and political. Polis, the Greek word for city, is the root of our English words “politics,” “politicians” and “political.” More often than not, politicians think they can deal with the challenges of Jerusalem merely in political terms, as though its spiritual aspect was merely historic with little modern significance. This has created misunderstandings and loss of life and property for generations of Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Following World War II, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, which had been governed by Great Britain under a mandate from the old League of Nations. The General Assembly in November 1947 decided to divide Mandate Palestine into three parts: a Jewish state, an Arab state and a separate political entity, a corpus separatum, the city of Jerusalem.

A detailed section of the partition resolution explained that because of its cultural, historical and spiritual significance, Jerusalem should be placed directly under the United Nations as an international city. The plan called for a “Trusteeship Council” to appoint a governor who would establish working relationships with the Jewish and Arab states to “foster cooperation among all the inhabitants of the city” and to “encourage and support the peaceful development of the mutual relations between the two Palestinian peoples [i.e., Jews and Arabs] throughout the Holy Land.” Such a resolution was never implemented.

The Holy See maintains that the status of Jerusalem involves more than just considerations of territory and politics. The spiritual patrimony and religious identity of Jerusalem must be safeguarded and the city accorded special status. Direct international governance of Jerusalem may not be practical, but there must be at least an internationally guaranteed statute ensuring the special character of the Holy City, for much the same reasons that prompted the 1947 U.N. plan.

Demographics. Until the late 19th century, the Old City was Jerusalem. Stone walls punctured by gates encircled then five neighborhoods. The current population of the modern municipality, which includes the Old City and its eastern and western neighborhoods, is about 775,000 and is approximately 64 percent Jewish, 34 percent Muslim and 2 percent Christian. Some 31,000 people live in the Old City, which occupies an estimated 220 acres — about 0.35 square miles. This includes some 22,000 Arab Muslims in the Muslim Quarter, most of whom are Sunni; about 5,500 Christians in the Christian area; 3,000 Jews in the Jewish Quarter; and about 500 Armenians in the Armenian Quarter, almost all of whom are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church. When the Israelis annexed the Old City and its eastern suburbs in 1967, they demolished the Moroccan Quarter to enlarge the Jewish Quarter.

Details regarding the number of Christians living in the Old City and its neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are symbolic at best. Sociologist Dr. Bernard Sabella, formerly of Bethlehem University, has reported that about 3,900 Latin Catholics, 3,500 Greek Orthodox, 1,500 Armenians, 500 Melkite Greek Catholics, 850 Protestants (mainly Anglican and Lutheran) and a handful of Maronite Catholics and Syriac and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians remain. In addition, some 2,500 Christians from the Catholic and Orthodox world, mainly clergy and religious, live in the city.

Sociopolitical situation. The Israelis extended an offer of Israeli citizenship to those who lived in the Old City. But most of the city’s Palestinians did not want to assume an Israeli identity. They hoped that East Jerusalem would become the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Today, Palestinian residents who are not Israeli citizens carry identity cards. These permit them to live and work in the city and to apply for benefits. The Israeli government considers them “permanent residents” of Jerusalem, making them eligible for social and municipal services as well as its obligations, such as taxes.

Since the beginning of the peace process in 1993 between Israelis and Palestinians, huge sums of money and resources have poured into the development of a Palestinian state, with most aid favoring the West Bank and Gaza. Jerusalem has received very little; politically, the Holy City’s Palestinian population falls through the cracks.

Economic situation. Jerusalem’s Old City largely depends on tourism to sustain its inhabitants, and tourism is affected severely by the area’s instability. Since 2001, families from every community living in poverty have increased by 40 percent — nearly 75 percent of Palestinian children live in poverty.

In general, poverty impacts all communities of the municipality — Jewish, Christian and Muslim. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “The high incidence of poverty in Jerusalem can be attributed to the social and demographic composition of the city and the generally low level of income. … large families are characteristic of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox and the non-Jewish populations. So, too, is a low income level.”

Religious situation. Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants are largely well educated. But high rates of unemployment, particularly among young Palestinian males, and difficulty in securing adequate housing have all but emptied the city of its Christian community.

Historically, the Holy City’s Christian leaders have been bitterly divided over questions of property, precedence and rights. Yet, the rapid decline of the Christian community in Jerusalem and throughout the Holy Land has prompted its principal leaders, the Greek Orthodox patriarch, the Franciscan custos, the Armenian patriarch and the Latin patriarch, to unite with one voice. Together, these hierarchs have issued calls of alarm, cited restrictions imposed by the Israeli Defense Forces, secured permits for the erection of housing, designed job creation programs and advocated for the Christian community’s inalienable rights.

Jerusalem, they argue, is too important and too valuable to belong exclusively to anybody. The political future of Jerusalem should be resolved between two peoples, the Israelis and the Palestinians. But the ultimate destiny of the Holy City involves three great faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Jerusalem must be not only an indivisible city, but shared.

Get to know us and stay informed about the impact your support makes.

Nous constatons que votre préférence linguistique est le français.
Voudriez-vous être redirigé sur notre site de langue française?

Oui! Je veux y accéder.

Hemos notado que su idioma preferido es español. ¿Le gustaría ver la página de Asociación Católica para el Bienestar del Cercano Oriente en español?

Vee página en español