Holy Land Grab: The Battle for Jerusalem

A look at the ongoing fight for the right to live in a city that is the beating heart of the holy land.

Jerusalem has been fought over, dreamt about and worshipped in for hundreds of years.

It is a holy city to all three major Abrahamic religions. Jews, Muslims and Christians have coexisted within its walls for centuries, but it is only the Jews who lay claim to it as their exclusive capital.

This position has been given added force since President Donald Trump came into power in the United States, and in the face of international law recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as well as announcing the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

I see a black future. The Jews are trying to displace all the Palestinians. I mean both Muslim and Christian Palestinians, from Silwan and from Jerusalem itself.

by Mousa Mahmoud Odeh, Al Bustan resident and imam

In recent decades, Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, have been springing up in occupied East Jerusalem, which was previously recognised as Palestinian. 

It is a process that has been developing for many decades, but in 2009, Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland went to the front line of what can only be described as a battle for the right to live in a city that is the beating heart of the holy land.

“We are holding on by our fingernails to the two-state solution. Today it is still barely possible to edge out a political boundary in Jerusalem which will be both acceptable to the parties and viable after the agreement is reached.” Danny Seidemann, a lawyer with the non-profit Ir Amim, told Al Jazeera. “We are very close to losing that. If current trends continue for another six months, a year or two years, this all will be lost.”

Ten years on, Rewind speaks to Al Jazeera’s Awad Joumaa who recently made a film about what it is like to live in Jerusalem.

“Sadly, as many Palestinians and even Israelis probably will tell you, the situation in the city of Jerusalem has only gotten worse. The wall that started at that time is now almost complete. Jerusalem is separated from its nearby West Bank, a strategic depth hinterland, so to speak. There’s more and more encroachment on the Old City in Jerusalem and as one of the characters [in my film] would say it’s almost game over for Jerusalem,” Joumaa says.

“Many Palestinians who I met … say our lives have become almost impossible in Jerusalem. You will find more and more Jerusalemites are leaving the city to live in the suburbs of Jerusalem. And you’ll find less and less Palestinians in the city, which is many of the Israeli settler organisations’ dream.”

Joumaa says that these settler organisations are “not something on the fringes of Israeli politics. It is the most powerful political movement in Israel. And not only that, they have powerful friends in the US. So sadly, in many ways the Palestinians are in a tight spot.”

He says Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has left many Palestinians and Arab countries demoralised.

“Many Arab countries believe that the United States is the friend of the Arab world, but the people you meet in Jerusalem will tell you otherwise,” says Joumaa. “They don’t see any hope.”