The Many Myths of Jerusalem: Part 2

20 Mar 2015

Part two of our multipart series on The Many Myths of Jerusalem

Stories reported from Israel’s capital are routinely described as being from East Jerusalem, Arab East Jerusalem, or Israeli Occupied Arab East Jerusalem (that’s our favorite one). This is taken for granted by most people who think, “why shouldn’t a report from East Jerusalem be labeled as such?”

The answer is simple: East Jerusalem is a modern myth with no basis in history.

Where does the myth of “East” Jerusalem come from?

We already know that many of the areas in Jerusalem have never even been considered to be part of the city to begin with from Part 1, so let’s examine how the term “East” Jerusalem itself came into being.

Birth of the term “East” Jerusalem

This one is actually pretty straightforward and relatively well-known: From 1948 to 1967 the city of Jerusalem was divided for the first time in its history. Not only was it divided, but the Arab conquest brought with it a destruction of Jewish lives and holy sites at a level unseen in the city since the Crusades. Previous riots in the city did lead to widespread death and injury of Jews, but Zionists put up resistance and eventually the British were able to quell the violence… it just happens that after doing so and recognizing the riots were merely Arab pogroms against Jews, the British chose to appease the Arabs and punish the victims by restricting Jewish rights and immigration quotas.

Under Jordanian Occupation, the city was not made the capital (it was the “Second Capital” in name only, no administrative offices were moved or created) and while Muslim pilgrims continued to visit — unlike Jews who were barred by law — most major Muslim religious and political leaders ignored the city.

Since Jerusalem was divided (if for only a very short period of time) it was necessary to differentiate between to two parts and the simplest way to do so was by the characterizing them as East and West. But this gave rise to the idea that they were actually two separate cities, which persisted after 1967. Under normal circumstances, once divided cities are reunited, people stop referring to the two halves as separate. But of course, since Jews are involved, the world can’t countenance that in Jerusalem.

Division of Jerusalem was a Blip in History

The oldest section of Jerusalem, the City of David dates back to the Chalcolithic Period, roughly 6500 years ago, and while archaeology from that time is not really definitive in terms of political structure, it’s safe to assume such a small settlement was not divided in half.

So out of a history of 6500 years, the city of Jerusalem was only divided for 19 years. That’s less than .3% of its history! Even if you’re only counting from 3000 years ago, that’s barely .6% of its history. Such a small blip wouldn’t even register in the history books, but we’re supposed to accept that this is the way it should now be forever?

Anyone who says Jerusalem must be divided has to answer a simple question: why should a 19-year aberration be used as a guide for a permanent settlement?

Russian East Berlin

When was the last time you heard a journalist refer to Russian East Berlin? I doubt you can find a reference after 1989 when the Wall fell. The unification of Berlin was celebrated throughout the world as the harbinger of the fall of the Soviet Union and the triumph of the West. No one questioned the city’s reunification despite the fact that it had been two cities for 41 years (more than twice as long as Jerusalem was divided).

As a newly resurgent Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, pushes through Eastern Europe, NATO, the EU, and the US seem unwilling to stand up to this international bully. But what would their reaction be if he said in any peace deal with the West, Russia needs to have East Berlin as its regional capital? Would anyone accept such a brazen and outlandish demand?

Of course not, but this is exactly what is happening in Jerusalem!

“Arab” East Jerusalem

Journalists often add the qualifier “Arab” to the beginning when referring to “East Jerusalem.” This is not a descriptive term, but rather a political one. In the 1990s, there was a Jewish majority in eastern Jerusalem, but this didn’t stop the press from describing it as “Arab East Jerusalem.” Why? Because the press is fully committed to a redivision of the city. Since the 90's the Jewish population has fallen a little below the 50% mark, but a truly descriptive term would be “Mixed eastern Jerusalem” or “Jewish-Arab eastern Jerusalem” since the populations nearly balanced.

Journalists usually refer to Haifa as a mixed Jewish-Arab city even though Arabs make up roughly 10% of the population, so why wouldn’t they refer to “East Jerusalem” as mixed when Jews make up nearly 50%? Because that would help strengthen Israel’s claim the eastern portion of its capital and that goes against the narrative of the Western Media.

eastern Jerusalem

It is clear that the use of the term “East Jerusalem” is politically motivated and designed to prevent the permanent reunification of the city. Unfortunately, the term has become so pervasive that even Israelis use it today. But that doesn’t mean that we should!

When discussing the eastern parts of the city, it is best to talk about “eastern Jerusalem” with a lowercase “e.” This makes it clear you are discussing a section of a city, not a separate city. Terminology is incredibly important as it is what frames the debate. If we accept the Palestinian names that were created to overshadow or erase the Jewish connection to Israel, we have already lost.

More Myths Are Coming!

Check back soon for the next installment of our series on the Many Myths of Jerusalem.

In the meantime, check out Part 1: The Internationalization of Jerusalem here

Originally published at on March 20, 2015.

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