Jerusalem: The Forbidden City | Machsomwatch

Jerusalem: The Forbidden City .

The Separation Wall and the settlement "Kidmat Zion" in Abu Dis

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Jerusalem is not only the Temple Mount and the Old City, which lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the end of the Six-Day War, along with the annexation of most of the Jordanian-held municipal area, Jerusalem’s dimensions leaped from 6.8 to 70! Included in the city’s new boundaries were 28 adjacent Arab villages that had been closely linked to Al-Quds (Jerusalem’s Arabic appellation) for years. The villagers provided the city’s markets with farm produce, relied on its ruling and judicial institutions, studied in its academic institutions, and entered it for medical care, shopping, prayer, and religious holidays. Decades later it has become apparent that Israel bit off more than it can chew, as these villages have expanded into crowded neighborhoods that have radically altered the demographic balance in the city.

Map of East Jerusalem (the eastern side of the ‘Green Line’), 2022
Courtesy of Ir Amim Organization

First Checkpoints: A New Reality

In 2001, after the advent of the Second Intifada, the first checkpoints were erected with the aim of separating the Jerusalem’s outlying neighborhoods and neighboring villages from the city’s core. In February 2001 MachsomWatch volunteers began observing at the checkpoints of Bethlehem, Qalandiya and A-Ram. Situated between Jerusalem, its outlying neighborhoods, and the cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, the checkpoints were depicted purely as security measures, namely, a means of blocking the entry of terrorists and other hostile elements into Jerusalem. But prohibitions also were also applied to entry for work, access to educational institutions and medical treatment, religious ceremonies, and any other activity that the city had always provided to the eastern area’s residents.

In order to for Palestinian residents of the West Bank to enter Jerusalem, unless they hold a blue Jerusalem-residency ID, they need to display a designated, limited entry permit. But even Palestinians holding a blue Jerusalem-residency ID does not automatically entitle them to Israeli citizenship. They are allowed to participate in municipal elections but not elections for Israel’s parliament. If they change their place of residence (even to neighborhoods close by) or travel abroad for a few years, they are likely to have their Jerusalem residency annulled and will not be allowed to return to their own homes.


Because the Separation Barrier runs inside the municipal boundary of Jerusalem in two areas, if the holders of blue IDs live on the outer side of the barrier – that is, the side facing the West Bank – they must cross through a checkpoint to move about in the very city they inhabit. What’s more, if they leave the city limits for long periods or fail to make municipal-tax payments on time -- even though they barely benefit from standard city services – they risk their Jerusalem residency be cancelled.

Who will be able to enter Jerusalem?Qalandia, 2017; The Zeitim (Olives) checkpoint, 2021
Bruce Schaffer

Over time, Jewish neighborhoods and settlements, large and small, were built in and near annexed East Jerusalem as a buffer between the city and nearby Palestinian towns.  

  • Pisgat Ze’ev, Neve Ya’acov and Giv’at Zeev in the north, between Jerusalem and Ramallah;
  • Ma’ale Adumim, Kfar Adumim, and settlements in the northern Jordan Valley in the east, between Jerusalem and Jericho;
  • Gilo, Har Gilo, and Har Homa in the south, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

As these neighborhoods and settlements became an ever widening swath, East Jerusalem’s ties with West Bank Palestinian towns and villages gradually eroded.


Small Jewish settlements flourish even in the heart of East Jerusalem: Around the Old City in Sheikh Jarrah, the Mount of Olives, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabar; Deep inside the Muslim Quarter single houses of Jewish settlers multiply.
The settlers in these neighborhoods are supported by public funds and financial aid from abroad and they work towards increased hold of the surrounding area, backed by government ministers, civil servants, and the Jerusalem Municipality.

 Almost monthly, new plans emerge for Jews to be settled in areas that were originally earmarked for the growth of Palestinian neighborhoods:

  • In Jabal Mukabar and Silwan in the center;
  • Giv’at HaMatos, Beit Tsafafa, and Sur Bahr in the south;
  • Issawiya, Atarot, E1 (between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem)
     in the east;
  • and in Giv’at Ze’ev in the northwest;


Beginning in 2003, the Separation Barrier was gradually built mostly on the municipal border of Jerusalem, drawn 30 years before in a then-uninhabited area of East Jerusalem. Sometimes it cut off an established neighborhood from the suburb into which it had expanded, thus separating the ill from their clinics and hospitals in the central neighborhood and relatives from each other.
Passing through a checkpoint into Jerusalem has became very difficult, as the requirements for Palestinians to receive entry permits have become much stricter.
Thus Al Quds/Jerusalem in fact became a forbidden city for most Palestinians living around it and throughout the West Bank. 

Between 2007 and 2009, about 130,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, living in the municipal area that Israel annexed in 1967, were cut off from the city by a newly erected Separation Barrier. Two such neighborhoods were Kufr ‘Aqab, north of Atarot, and the Shua‘fat refugee camp (where in 1967 Israel settled Palestinian evacuees from the demolished Mughrabi neighborhood by the Wailing Wall).
Municipal support of these Jerusalem neighborhoods, such as policing, garbage collection, street lights, and sanitation services, became minimal at best. Although a checkpoint allows the residents to enter Jerusalem, their neighborhoods are neglected, suffering from poor infrastructure, scarce municipal services, no municipal planning or supervision and from lack of personal security. Nonetheless, the residents are obliged to pay municipal taxes and the demolition of houses built without a permit (which is at any rate unattainable) continues.

East Jerusalem neighborhoods: Barrier, neighborhoods, cut-off Jersualem citizens
Courtesy of Ocha, Humanitarian Atlas, 2019
  • One of the onerous problems of the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem is the inability to obtain building permits. The population of the city keeps growing, and even after so many years of deliberate neglect, the Palestinian neighborhoods remain absent from Jerusalem’s urban-development plans.

The Municipality issues the Palestinians of East Jerusalem only few building permits per year. Thus, given the absence of planning and next to no chance of receiving construction permits, the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are forced to build illegally and live under the constant threat of their homes being marked for demolition. In the past three years (as of 2022), over 200 buildings were demolished in East Jerusalem.

  • Because of the proximity of new Jewish settlements to existing Palestinian communities in and around Jerusalem, most of these communities’ farm lands have been confiscated and their built-up areas have been surrounded by the Separation Barrier. It defined what was euphemistically christened “Otef Yerushalyim” (Hebrew for “the Jerusalem envelope”), as a way of legitimizing the settlements and enhancing the security forces controlling the area. 

 Some of these suburbs and villages have remained as enclaves without any access to Jerusalem, which is very close by. The only place the villagers can go is to the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, and this solely via roads that pass under the Israeli routes leading to Jerusalem. These enclaves – Bir Naballah, Nabi Samauil, and the seven villages around Bidu – have become open-air prisons. All of them are caged in north of Jerusalem among the Jewish neighborhoods and settlements of Ramot, Giv’at Ze’ev, Har Adar, and Route 443.

  • Transportation infrastructure. Anyone driving along the roads of East Jerusalem is acutely aware of the difference between them and the roads in the western part of the city: They are narrow, potholed, and, in general, poorly maintained. It is important to stress that the residents do pay municipal taxes, just like their counterparts in West Jerusalem. Those who fail to pay up are steeply fined, regardless of their economic standing. The sword of losing their Jerusalem residency rights likewise hovers over their heads.



A road in the Shu’afat refugee camp inside Jerusalem’s municipal border

.The Apartheid Roads revolution

Israel’s government has been annexing the West Bank de facto by means of roads that will connect the settlements in the southern and northern parts of the West Bank to Jerusalem on which only Israelis are permitted to drive. Billions of shekels are being invested in this project. Here are several examples in various stages of planning and execution:

  • The Qalandiya Checkpoint Underpass will enable Israelis only to drive into Israel without losing time at the checkpoint’s traffic jam. The road will turn the Jewish settlements in the vicinity of Ramallah and Al-Bireh, north of Jerusalem, into accessible suburbs that potentially attract thousands of new settlers.
  • The road bypassing Ma’ale Adumim between A-Za’im and Azariya, east of Jerusalem, will divert Palestinian traffic onto a narrow bypass road that will be the only connection for Palestinian drivers between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank. This will make it possible to close off the entire Ma’ale Adumim bloc and E1 area to Palestinians, freeing them for construction and attachment to Jerusalem.
  • The northern part (“the Northern American Road”), including the Sheikh ‘Anbar tunnel is another road-tunnel planned for Israelis only, this route bypasses Jabal Mukabar on the east and continues as a tunnel under Abu Dis and A-Tor in the direction of Route 1 (which connects Jerusalem and Tel Aviv).
Aparheid roads, Jerusalem
MachsomWatch; Map - Courtesy of PeaceNow organization, 2021
What do we do at the Jerusalem checkpoints and their surroundings

About 100,000 Palestinians cross the Jerusalem checkpoints daily

  • In the southern sector, we monitor and document the Bethlehem Checkpoint (300), Sheikh Sa’ad Checkpoint (an extension of Jabal Mukabar), and the neighborhoods of Silwan and Batan al-Hawa, whose residents are threatened by confiscation of their houses by Jewish settler, house demolitions, and “pop-up checkpoints” (roadblocks).
    We sometimes visit the Walaja Checkpoint and village, above which towers the settlement of Har Gilo. Part of the village lies within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and therefore suffers from house demolitions. We also check out developments in the vicinity of Efrat, namely, the eastern Etzion Bloc settlements south of Bethlehem.
    A weekly shift reaches the Etzion DCO (District Coordinating Office) and meets with Palestinians – listening, talking, advising, and documenting the problems they face when applying for permits to enter Israel.
  • In the central Jerusalem area, we patrol the neighborhood of Ras al-Amud on the Mount of Olives and the Separation Barrier inside Abu Dis. We monitor and document the Olives Checkpoint, situated on a distant, steep hill between the neighborhoods of A-Tor (Augusta Victoria) and Azariya, which has been cut off from Abu Dis by the Separation Barrier. South of Ma’ale Adumim is the Wadi Nar Checkpoint (“The Container”), which can readily close off the entire southern West Bank from its northern part. We also go to the checkpoint at the Shu’afat refugee camp and the the road leading from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea.
    Local barriers appear anew from time to time, at the exits from the Issawiya neighborhood bordering on Mount Scopus (where the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital are located).
  • In the north we focus on monitoring the Qalandiya Checkpoint, through which the residents of Ramallah and Al-Bireh pass into Jerusalem. We also enter the Jerusalem neighborhood Kuf’r Aqab, which is cut off from the city by the Separation Barrier. At times we visit the Hizma Checkpoint, the Al-Jib Checkpoint (opposite Givat Ze’ev), and the enclaves created by the wall:  Bir Naballah, Nabi Samauil, and the wall that isolates the Bidu enclave.


Meeting M. from Bidu, a village in the Bir Naballah enclave
Visit at the caged-in school in Nabi Samauil in North Jerusalem

In most of these places, we have ties with residents and neighborhood committees, as well as people we met at the checkpoints. From time to time, they report to us the many obstacles they face in daily life. Especially prominent are the authorities’ denial of the Palestinians’ right to visit their families on the opposite side of the barrier and the denial of permits to work or receive health care in Jerusalem, without explanation.
In general, we witness many violations of the most basic human rights: access to healthcare, work, schooling, religious practice, and extended family, in addition to the frequent home demolitions.

Video link: Jerusalem the Forbidden City | A tour with MachsomWatch women
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