I. Social Structure and Geography


The Holy City of Jerusalem had been a favourite topic for historians of all countries over the centuries. Ownership of the City has been disputed by East and West, and until this day, Jews and Palestinian Arabs claim the City as their own, on the basis of historical and religious arguments. Eastern and Western historians have described the Old City of Jerusalem, its buildings, alleyways and the way of life of its people, through innumerable narratives, pictures, even films. The City's famous markets, bazaars, inns, hammams (public baths) and coffee shops have captured the attention of millions of foreign visitors. Surrounded by its magnificent stone wall, the Old City appears to its admirers as a vast open museum that boasts among its exhibits ancient remains and holy shrines, and a unique mixture of inhabitants representing the three great monotheistic religions, and cultures including Armenian, Turkish and Greek.

Regretfully, the majority of today's inhabitants of the City fail to appreciate the City's unrivalled style and beauty. Both sides attend to the badly needed maintenance and restoration of their respective properties inside the City walls, but have also been engaged in an undeclared war, resulting in frequent long and costly legal battles over the possession of property.

Since the six-day war in 1967, during which the Israeli army conquered East Jerusalem including the Old City, the new possessors have gained the upper hand in repossessing Jewish-owned property previously held by the Jordanian government. Israelis have also successfully claimed a number of non-Jewish buildings through legal purchase or less "legal" expropriation orders. Despite over two decades of Israeli occupation, and the Israeli judaisation policy, East Jerusalem has succeeded in preserving its traditional Arab identity.

All nations, including Israel's staunchest supporters, have so far refused to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli state's capital. Whatever the future of the Holy City, it is certain, that in spite of all its troubles, Jerusalem shall remain one of the most fascinating cities on earth.

Social Structure

It is impossible to obtain a genuine understanding of the contradictions and complexities of the social structure of the Old City of Jerusalem from statistics or maps. In order to present a complete picture of the City's present state, in terms of social and cultural development, it is essential to look back to the City's history and to the significant changes that took place, and to the political and economical events of the first half of this century.

Demographic changes

The Old City has until recently been the most densely populated area in the whole region, although now losing that status to the newly established suburban neighbourhoods outside the City Walls, favoured by the middle classes of Arab society. It had become accepted that only those who cannot afford to live elsewhere continue to dwell inside the walls.

After the Turkish departure from Palestine, and the British takeover, the scene was set for major social, economic and cultural change, especially in Jerusalem. Until the late twenties, residents of the City were mainly Moslem and Christian Jerusalemites, with the latter predominantly in the Christian Quarter of the City. Neighbourhoods in the Moslem Quarter were divided into exclusive family enclaves in which poor as well as rich members of the same family lived side by side. Class divisions were less apparent in those times. Expansion of the City became inevitable as large numbers of villagers and townspeople from other parts of the country flocked into the City looking for employment and the superior standard of living enjoyed by the Capital's inhabitants. The natural choice for native Jerusalemites was to move out of the overcrowded Old City into the surrounding areas.

Local Environment

Lack of space had always been one of the more undesirable features of Old City residence. Even the finest homes could boast only a few rooms and narrow flowerbeds in place of open gardens. General and local access were far from ideal, with steep staircaises and crooked streets. Public services and facilities were primitive. Deficiency in living space was one of the more serious drawbacks, forcing large families, normally including more than one married couple, to squeeze into one or two bedroomed homes.

Social and Cultural influence

Inhabitants of multi-religious communities such as Jerusalem were generally more influenced by western culture than those of Moslem communities. Social norms differed between native Jerusalemites and newcomers to the City. British presence had widened the existing cultural gap even further. Contact with a western civilisation also encouraged Old City inhabitants, who included a large number of western-educated individuals, to look for better and more comfortable living conditions, even if that meant departure from their birthplace. On the other hand, new residents, in particular poorer Hebronite families who provided the locals with cheap and abundant labour power, were content with prevailing conditions inside the walls. It was not uncommon for families of twelve or more members to share a single 3 x 3 metre room.

Other Factors

Other factors led to environmental change inside the Old City. People did not need to live in closed communities within confined boundaries as before. Social and family ties became less significant in more open modern society. Another major restraint in the way of expansion was transportation. The invention of the motor car, however, made easy and comfortable travel a luxury many could afford. Modern destructive weaponry made a mockery of stone wall defenses, and people could no longer be protected by high walls.

Post-1948 period

Following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, a large number of Palestinian refugees, who were forced out of their homes during the war, moved into cities and their adjacent refugee camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Jerusalem, and especially the Old City, received its share of these incomers, changing the population composition dramatically to include residents from all districts of Palestine.

During Jordanian rule, the economy improved, largely due to the then flourishing tourist industry. More and more native Jerusalemite families abandoned their Old City homes and shops, and either moved into the new suburbs or left the country altogether, to Arab countries, the Gulf or the United States. When the 1967 war broke out, the less financially able Jerusalemite families shared the homes of the Old City with lower class families from towns and villages throughout Palestine. The six-day war shifted the balance even further in favour of incomers as both Christian and Moslem families became more dissatisfied with living conditions inside the walls. Subsequently, the destructive effect of occupation on the local community was more severe in Jerusalem than any other town.

The Jewish Quarter and archaeological ex

Soon after taking control of the Old City, the Israeli authorities subdued the local population into accepting their new status. A previously prepared plan, involving the mass expulsion of Arab families from the Jewish Quarter of the City, was immediately put into effect, with the resulting transfer of hundreds of Palestinian refugees, most to Shufat refugee camp, a few miles north of Jerusalem. A similar fate awaited the members of a notable Jerusalem family who had previously lived within the confines of their own Zawiya compound on the southern edge of the Haram Al Sharif.

While a small proportion of both parties accepted some financial compensation for their property, the majority refrained from doing in order not to be labelled "collaborators". Subsequently the whole Zawiya area was completely demolished to make way for new residential buildings in the Jewish Quarter and for archaeological excavations.

Further archaeological excavations took place at other locations all over the City, mostly in areas closest to the Western (Wailing) Wall. At Bab-al Hadid, close to the Haram Gate, a number of Moslem families were evicted from their homes in response to evidence of severe structural damage and signs of imminent collapse. The Israeli authorities partly remedied the situation by installing support beams and stanctions underneath the affected areas, and steel tie beams across opposite load-bearing walls. No attempt was made to compensate the homeowners.

Boom in tourism

A large influx of tourists poured into the Old City each year, especially during the seasonal religious festivities. Merchants of all trades turned in great numbers to dealing in souvenirs and antiques. Youth hostels, bars and street cafes became very common among a traditionally conservative society. The Old City was popular with Israelis, who flocked into the Old City especially on Saturdays, the Jewish holiday. In order to gain a share of this lucrative market, non-Jerusalemite Arab merchants set out to purchase Old City stores for highly inflated prices compared to similar property in other parts of the country. As a result, most of the available shopping space in the City, even outside the walls, is currently either owned or leased by non-Jerusalemites, particularly from Hebron and surrounding villages.

Western culture and influence

With regard to social customs, the predominantly Moslem majority were much more conservative than the more open, modern and "permissive" Israeli society (excepting the ultra orthodox Jewish population). As closer contact was established between the two communities, new social values began to reach the Arab residents, particularly the young. Drug dealing and addiction, robbery, even public and private brothels came to exist, to the shock and disgust of the vast majority of the population. As a result of fear of criminal behaviour, Old City streets became almost deserted at night. This was for want of action on the part of the local police, whose almost total negligence of what are termed "non-security" offences in the Arab sector exacerbated the situation.

Living Conditions

Today, a wide gap separates living conditions on either side of the city walls. The ancient architecture of the City, despite being admired by many, does not fit modern home requirements. City planning, and the state of streets, markets and public areas, leave much to be desired. Basic public services, such as sewage disposal, are either non-existent or do not function properly. To a certain extent, local conditions are comparable with similar inner-city neighbourhoods in large western cities, where even education and employment levels are far below those in the wealthier suburban districts. A large proportion of Old City children drop out of elementary school without minimum levels of education.

Better Qualities of Old City residence

Self-respect and tradition For many native Jerusalemites, a strong attachment to the City outweighs all else. Many Old City streets are named after prominent families, testament to denote their ownership of most property in the vicinity. Especially for the older generation, their continued existence in such locations provides the only remaining cause for pride in an otherwise wholly materialistic world.

Low rent Local civil law presents benefits for long-standing tenants and a nightmare for property owners. According to Jordanian law, still applicable in the occupied territories, all pre-1967 rent fees are fixed and changeable only by agreement of both parties, tenant and landlord. High annual inflation is not accounted for. Most existing agreements also include a clause making it permissible for tenants to sublet property, a practise that restricts attempts by owners to improve their property returns or renew older lease agreements.

In many instances, rents have become so minimal after enormous depreciation over the years that landlords do not bother to collect it. In other cases, the smallest available banknote today has become many times greater than the yearly rent. In general, even in post-67 leases, rents are still very low in comparison with New Jerusalem property. Old City residence provides economic shelter for the poorer classes from the inflated cost of living outside the walls. Native Jerusalemite families still living inside the Old City generally do not pay rent, their homes being owned by family Waqf trusts.

Proximity to city centre An appreciable advantage of Old City residence is its proximity to the commercial centre of Jerusalem, both Arab and Jewish sectors. Most shops, bus and taxi terminals and public buildings are within walking distance of all of the Old City's neighbourhoods.

Close community relations Despite the fact that most residential neighbourhoods extend over a wide area, inter-community relations between the furthest apart of neigbhourhoods are extremely close.


Countless tourist maps, guide books and similar publications show the Old City layout. Such sources, however, focus on historical and religious sites, rather than residential districts or markets. In terms of geographical division, the Old City consists of the Haram Al-Sharif Compound; the Moslem Quarter; the Christian Quarter; the Jewish Quarter; the Armenian Quarter; and the Market area.

The Haram Al-Sharif Compound

The sacred Moslem enclosure occupies the south-eastern corner of the Old City and approximately one fifth of its total area. It shares a common stone wall boundary with the Old City perimeter on the east and south sides. Residential buildings border the Haram's high walls from the north and west sides. With a total area of 144 dunums (1 dunum = 1,000 square metres) of magnificent scenery and splendid architecture, the Haram is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the whole country if not the world.

The Haram compound is best known for the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two of the holiest and most glorious Moslem shrines in the world. The Dome of the Rock, in particular, is noted for its magnificent interior design and decoration, blending beautifully the best of Roman and Umayyad styles. Both structures were first built during the Umayyad era and were restored and refurbished by successive Moslem rulers. The adjacent well laid-out surround of slightly elevated stone platforms creates an impression of visual continuity over the whole Haram area, and the uniform and elegant manner in which the Dome platform joins the surrounding lower levels of the Haram are a joy to the eye and add to the same illusion of continuity.

Other well-known, if less spectacular, structures within the Haram compound include the Dome of the Chain, Yousef's Dome, Alkaas (Cup) Fountain, Kait Baay Fountain, Al-Qubba Al-Nuhawiyya, and the Stables.

Moslems can enter the Haram compound through ten gates, while others are only allowed through three gates, all on the western side. Tourists pay an admission fee collected by the Waqf. The Haram is wholly owned by the Islamic Waqf Trust. Until a few years ago, the Waqf, and thus the Haram, enjoyed a rare autonomous status, with civil employees of the Waqf comin charge of maintenance and security. Today, heavily armed Israeli police and soldiers conduct their own security searches and inspection within the Haram perimeter. These security measures often puzzle the Haram's millions of visitors. The blame for these unprecedented actions can be placed on political instability and the increasing trend of Jewish Israeli extremism. Anti-Arab, and especially anti-Moslem, extremist organisations, the Temple Mount Faithful and others, have frequently incited their supporters to attempt to hold Jewish prayers inside the Haram perimeter with the undeclared approval of the Authorities. In addition to two fatal earlier attacks, the 1969 Al Aqsa blaze and the shooting at the Dome of the Rock in 1981, the Haram was the scene of the killing of seventeen Palestinians in October 1991.

In order to counteract Israeli policies and escalating harassment in the area, the local Arab leadership, in cooperation with the Administration of Waqf and Islamic Affairs, has attempted to boost Moslem presence inside the Haram, and refurbished the majority of previously abandoned structures within the enclosure for office use, such as rooms on the northern side of the Dome platform repaired during the early eighties, which Waqf clergy and other personnel occupy at present. The beautiful domed structure of Al-qubba Al-nuhawiyya, on the southern edge the platform was also restored to serve as the general headquarters of the Mufti of Jerusalem and the Moslem Legislative Court staff, and hosts meetings of the Supreme Moslem Council.

Another significant achievement in the same field was the renovation of the Women's Mosque structure attached to Aqsa Mosque's western side. It now houses offices and lecture theaters for an Islamic higher education institution, the campus of which is located in a northern Jerusalem suburb.

The Waqf also runs a number of schools and a kindergarten on the north Haram boundary. Another two prestigeous facilities operated by the Waqf are the Islamic Museum, and the Islamic Library which occupies the first floor of the Madrassa Al-ashrafiyya on the Haram's western side.

A special committee for the restoration of Al Aqsa Mosque, partly affiliated with the Waqf Administration and set up in 1969 following the Mosque's partial demolition by a Jewish arsonist, employs architects, technicians and specialised craftsmen. Although their focus is restoration of the damaged section of the compound, they carry out regular maintenance operations at other structures within the Haram compound.

The Moslem Quarter

In geographical terms, no exact boundaries can be specified for each Quarter of the City, the term "Quarter" being unaccepted by local residents, who insist that it denies the Moslem majority their traditional association with the City as a whole. Whereas the Christian, Jewish and Armenian Quarters occupy smaller areas with, more or less, well-defined boundaries, Moslem-owned buildings are scattered all over the City. It can be said that "the Moslem quarter" extends to all residential sectors of the Old City excluding the above-mentioned Quarters. Included in this definition are the densely-populated Bab Hutta and Harat Al-saadiyya neighbourhoods in the northern sector of the City; Al-wad road, Via Dolorosa and Aqabat Al-Khalidiyya in the central sector; and Bab Al-silsileh road and Harat Al-sharaf in the south-central sector of the City.

In general terms, we can say that a rectangular strip, approximately 700 x 1000 metres, bounded by the markets to the west and the walls on the remaining three sides, is almost exclusively Moslem owned.

Property ownership

Property ownership in the Moslem sector of the Old City is very complex. In general, buildings are either privately owned or, the vast majority, owned by Waqf trusts. Waqf property is divided into the two forms.

Absolute (Sahih) Waqf: This form of property is wholly entrusted and managed by the General Moslem Trust in Palestine. According to Islamic laws, its ownership is not transferable under any circumstances. An ancient practice of wealthy Moslem families or individuals was to entrust property to the Waqf so that certain sectors of the Moslem population could benefit directly or indirectly from its revenue. In the process, this ensured that it would remain permanently in Moslem hands.

Family (Zurri) Waqf: As the name implies, this form of property is entrusted as a single family's Waqf. Revenue can be divided among all eligible beneficiaries of the family. As in Waqf Sahih, ownership is not transferable except under certain circumstances, such as the approval of all beneficiaries and the Moslem Authorities. In addition to its collective long term benefit, the old tradition of Family Waqf was widely popular with the wealthier Jerusalemite families. Two significant benefits of the process were, firstly, to preserve the family name and prestige for future generations and, secondly, to provide extra income to the less able members of the family.

The two forms of Waqf account for over 80% of all property in the Moslem sector of the Old City. Privately owned property accounts for the remaining 20%, most situated in the northern sector.


Moslem neighbourhoods are known for their old deteriorated buildings, which are generally domed, with two or three storeys and stone tiled surfaces. More recently constructed buildings exhibit flat or Spanish-style sloping roofs with the red clay tiles preferred by wealthier owners. A detailed description and analysis of Moslem sector architecture is presented shortly.

The Christian Quarter

Many churches and other Christian institutions are located in the north-west part of the Old City. These form the better part of the Christian Quarter of the City, bounded by the walls to the north and west, the Khan El-zeit market to the east and Damascus Gate to its south side. The vast majority of property within the Quarter perimeter is Church owned. Dwellings are often attached to main church structures as residence for poorer followers of the church.

The holiest Christian shrine inside the City is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, first built in 340 A.D. The present day compound is the result of numerous additions and alterations, including very recent renovation. The Compound consists of a structure of many buildings, with a spacious uncovered front yard with entrances through two opposite gates on the north and south sides of its high stone wall.

Immediately south of the Church are two of the ancient Old City markets in the Christian Quarter, Al-Dabbagha and Aftimos, both famous for their jewellery and souvenir stores and, until recently, leather markets. Further to the south, the visitor faces the Lutheran Church and its tall spire. A number of the most respected educational institutions in the City are situated within the Christian Quarter and run by churches, teaching both Moslem and Christian Arab students. A number of properties in residential and market areas are owned by Moslem families but have been leased by Christian families for many years. Many deeds to such property date back to the Salah Eddin era.

The size of the Christian minority has diminished steadily for many decades. Christian residents of the Old City, more so than their Moslem counterparts, have left their property, lured by the superior living conditions outside the City walls or life beyond Palestine. Shop owners in particular were tempted by the large sums of compensation offered by local Moslem merchants in return for their property. This phenomenon was best exemplified in the Christian Quarter road which was until recently an almost exclusive Christian enclave, with merchants of all trades. Today, over two thirds of shops in the road are owned by Moslems, most dealing in souvenirs. This transformation was most rapid in the years following the Israeli occupation of 1967.

In comparison with dwellings in the Moslem sector of the City, Christian living quarters are superior and better equipped. Basic services such as sewage disposal are generally provided and regular structural maintenance performed. This is largely due tothe great care afforded by Churches to their followers.

The Armenian Quarter

The Armenian Quarter occupies an almost rectangular strip at the south-western corner of the Old City. Most Armenians live within the Armenian monastery compound. In addition to a schools, a sports club and playing fields, the compound includes a large convent and residential facilities for Church staff. A large proportion of Armenian families previously living in the monastery and adjacent buildings have recently been rehoused in a new multi-storey block on the eastern border of the Quarter.

Other Armenian families live in various locations in the Old City such as a large church-owned building at the intersection of Alwad road and the Via Dolorosa, opposite the Austrian Hospice. A handful of poorer families occupy quarters in the densely populated Moslem sector.

Armenians were by tradition expert hand-craftsmen and jewellers. Their high quality exclusive products have invited purchasers and admirers from all over the world as well wealthy locals. Armenian jewellers, photographers and specialised cooks operate businesses in the Dabbaghah market and adjacent streets.

As among the Christian population generally, a sizeable proportion of Armenians have chosen to move out into the suburbs; many have emigrated to the United States and elsewhere. Economic and political factors were behind this trend:, the continued political instability and the unpromising prospects of socio-economic progress in the region. Armenian-Arab relations have always been marked by mutual respect and non-interference.

The Jewish Quarter

Surrounded by the Western (Wailing) Wall Plaza from the east, the walls of Jerusalem from the south, the markets from the west and Chain Gate road from its north side, is the new residential Jewish Quarter. After forcibly evicting in 1967 5,000-6,000 Arab residents then living within the Quarter, the Israeli government set about its reconstruction. The 40 dunums owned by Jews in 1948 became 110 dunums after a series of expropriation orders issued by the government in 1967.

Reconstruction of the Jewish Quarter has been a main Israeli concern in the Jerusalem area, and the housing of 5,000 Jewish residents inside the Old City aimed to establish an irreversable political fact in the City. After prolonged arguments between politicians and archaeologists, an agreement was reached as to what to do with the newly acquired land. Ultimately, both paths were followed, new construction and archaeological excavation. In total, 600 apartments were made available for occupancy, half of which were restored old buildings, half completely new structures.

Archaeological excavations revealed the Cardo, a complex dating back to Roman and Byzantine times, remains of a number of old synagogues and other finds from the Second Temple period. All sites are open for public display.

Critics of the new Jewish Quarter dismiss its apparent prosperity as out of place. In contrast, some have been known to remark that the old buildings overlooking the Western Wall look out of place surrounded by renovated new structures. Through its Ministry of Tourism, the Israeli government has continued to manipulate the new Quarter, to direct foreign visitors to look at the City on the government's terms. During organised tours of the City, tour guides make sure of a long stay inside the Quarter in order to convince tourists of the authentic Jewish heritage in the City. Tour guides are generally discouraged from elaborating on thirteen centuries of Moslem tradition in Jerusalem.

The Markets

Like other ancient cities, the Old City of Jerusalem contains its share of exotic souqs (markets). The majority of markets are situated along a thin strip extending from Damascus Gate in the north to the Jewish Quarter in the south, between the Christian and Moslem Quarters to the west and east respectively. Other markets outside this strip include the Jaffa Gate road souqs. All the Old City markets are narrow and old, with poor pavements; most are roofed. During the day they can become extremely congested with shoppers and street traders.

Environmental and economic factors have encouraged the gradual transformation in the nature of trades found in the various souqs. Unlike in the past, when each was named after the profession or trade of its merchants, the souqs today offer a wide variety of goods and services similar to those outside the walls. Ancient specialised crafts have all but disappeared in the face of modernisation; boutiques, bar-restaurants and supermarkets have replaced the old copper, carpet and spices shops. Some of the Old City's most famous markets are the following.

Souq Khan Al-zeit (the oil merchants market), the largest and busiest of all, sells foodstuffs, clothing and other goods, and houses youth hostels and eastern food restaurants. The 750-metre long market road is almost wholly covered by a semi-domed continuous slab, with intermittent ventilation openings. Less than three metres wide in places, the road extends from Bab Al-amoud (Damascus Gate) inner plaza to Souq Alattarin.

Much smaller but no less crowded than Khan Alzeit, Souq Alattarin (spices traders) is one of the most ancient in the Old City. Its stuffy atmosphere does not seem to deter its thousands of daily visitors. Its cave-like impression comes from its low roof, narrowness and lack of ventilation. The heavy pedestrian traffic results from the souq's central location in the market area.

Souq Alquattanin (cotton merchants), 100 metres long and up to ten wide, is the only almost deserted market in the Old City, due to its location away from the main market strip, just west of the Haram, with which is shares a common gate of magnificent architecture. The other end of the souq meets Alwad road from the west, with another beautiful gate. It is said that the souq was one of the most crowded and prosperous in the City during Mamluk times. It is still noted for its superb architecture. Its entire length is covered by a tall multi-bay vaulted slab typical of Mamluk construction. Famous historical sites, accessible through the souq and to its south, include Hammam Alshifaa and Khan Tankaz. Hammam Alein is located at its western entrance.

Suweiquat Alloun is a small souq situated between the car park of Jaffa Gate and Christian Quarter road. Almost all of its merchants deal in tourist wares. Souq Albazzar, another small souq, runs between the Christian Quarter and Suweiquat Alloun. Its traders deal in souvenirs and popular foods.

Souq Alhousor (straw carpets) is an ancient very small souq at the Jewish Quarter boundary. Souq Allahamin (meat merchants) is one of the few markets whose traders more or less continue to live by their title. The small wholly covered souq is situated to the west of souq Alattarin.

Souq Alnahhasin (copper traders) is situated to the north of the meat market and south of Khan Alzeit; its title has been out of use for many years due to the disappearance of the copper trade. Souq Albashoura, situated just south of Souq Alattarin, is sometimes considered part of it. It served as the Mamluk headquarters in the past. The name of Souq Altujjar (jewellers) has also been disused for some time. The Jewish market no longer exists, since the reconstruction of the Jewish Quarter.

Souq Harat Alnasara (Christian Quarter market) is a long and ancient souq extending between Suweiquat Alloun and Khanquah Alsalahiyya and parallel to Khan Alzeit. Its traders today deal mostly in tourist items. Souq Aftimos is wholly owned by the Orthodox Patriarchate. It is situated to the west of Aldabbaghah market. Jewellers and antique dealers occupy the few shops currently opened in the souq. Souq Aldabbaghah (leather market), to the east of Aftimos is one of the City's most pleasant. Its shops display exclusive souvenirs but few leather products. A circular fountain mini-structure decorates the spacious open square at the centre of the souq.

Of other souqs, Bab Hutta, Bab Alamoud, New Gate souq, New Souq, and Alkawajat, only the last is known by is old name.