One would be hard pressed to find a city more socially diverse than Jerusalem. Just as its structures offer an architectural feast that draw lines through history into modernity, so too can its residents’ assorted cultures tell many stories.
Ten percent of Israel’s total population call Jerusalem home. That is 773,000 people. Jews, Muslims, Christians and "others" all make a visible mark on the cityscape. Its many-layered social fabric is not only due to the numbers – 492,000 Jewish residents (63 percent of the total), 273,300 Muslims (35 percent), 15,000 Arab Christians (2 percent), 3,000 non-Arab Christians (0.3 percent), and 9,000 residents with no religious affiliation (1 percent) – but also to the moments of meeting between them, where cultures fuse, political arguments erupt, religious lore is challenged, or residents share the problem of dust from ongoing roadworks. Jerusalem has it all, big time.
To give a little geographical context: Jerusalem is the largest city in Israel, space-wise, covering a municipal area of 125 square kilometers (a little larger than Washington, DC, and more than twice the size of municipal Tel Aviv-Jaffa). In 1967, it comprised 38 sq. km., growing to 108 sq. km. after the Six Day War, and has been expanding since.
Its population has grown by 196 percent since 1967, with the Jewish population marking 155-percent growth and the Arab population swelling by 315 percent in that time. Figures of late suggest that of the Jewish/non-Arab population, 40 percent live in areas that were added to the city in 1967, while that figure is 99 percent for Arab residents of the city.
It is not only the Jewish/Arab face of Jerusalem that has policy makers scratching their heads as they contemplate planning and other urban issues pertaining to the future. The orthodox/secular – and even ultra-orthodox/orthodox – aspect is no less of a challenge. Statistical Yearbook editor Dr. Maya Choshen says that the variety found in the city’s population groups and the range of identities and interests that divide them both encourage and deepen the contrasts between them, and sometimes the competition as well. “They all aim for geographic segregation and power struggles for control of land, resources and lifestyle,” for themselves and, when possible, for all.
Jerusalem has also seen a negative migration balance in recent years – in 2010, for example, 11,250 people moved to Jerusalem but 18,600 residents moved out, from all sectors of society. The most prominent group in this context was the young adults: about half of those who migrated to Jerusalem and of those who left the city were in the 20-34 age group. It should be noted that this is a global phenomenon – this is the age group that is most on the move around the world.
Nevertheless, the city’s population has been growing by about 2 percent annually of late, as a result of natural growth, aliya (immigration from abroad) and internal migration, the kind of factors that usually define urban growth.
One thing seems for certain – Jerusalem will continue to boast a very diverse population. Choshen stresses the need to give each of the different groups a sense of security that the identity of its quarter, its public space, will be preserved, and that it will receive the specific services it needs. It is not only about demographics, she suggests, but about ensuring that sound strategic thinking is applied and maintained for the long-term, until goals are achieved for the benefit of all Jerusalem’s residents.