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Jerusalem- Some Legal Issues
Ruth Lapidoth 2011
This publication, regarding the different opinions concerning the legal status of Jerusalem, was updated by Prof. Ruth Lapidoth and reprinted by the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law. The publication attempts to explain why the legal status of Jerusalem is such a thorny problem in the search for peace.


1. Jerusalem is the largest city in Israel, with an area of 126.3 square km., and 773,000 inhabitants (at the end of 2009). About 66% of the population are Jewish, and the rest are mainly Arabs, mostly Muslims (264,300) and a certain number of Christians (14,500). About a third of the Jews in Jerusalem are very religious. Jerusalem is situated at the crossroads between Israel proper and the West Bank.
2. At least in three respects Jerusalem differs from most other places: the city is holy to adherents of three religions, it is the subject of conflicting national claims by two peoples, and its population is heterogeneous to a considerable degree. These characteristics require some elaboration
3. In the city one finds Holy Places of Christianity, since according to Christian tradition Jesus lived and was active in various locations in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem he also died and came back to life at the Holy Sepulchre. He left the world again on the Mount of Olives. Under the Islamic tradition, the al-Aksa mosque and the Dome of the Rock as well as the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) on which they are situated are Holy Places, due to Muhammad’s nocturnal visit. Muslims also believe that the al-Aksa is the “farthest” mosque mentioned in the Koran. For the Jewish people the whole city is holy, in particular the Temple Mount (Har ha-Bayit), because of the divine presence (the Shekhinah), and because the two Jewish temples stood there.
4. It has been argued that some of the events which are associated by the various religions with Jerusalem could not, from a historical point of view, have actually occurred. However, religious faith deserves respect, and historical accuracy is not relevant in this regard. Unfortunately, religious belief in the sanctity of certain sites in Jerusalem has been exploited by various individuals, States, and institutions in order to achieve political goals.
5. As for the national aspect, according to Israeli law united Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel, but the Palestinians also have claims on the city, at least on the eastern part thereof, and seek to make it their capital.
6.  Turning to the heterogeneous nature of the population, it is sufficient to stroll through the streets of the city to realise that it indeed consists of a mosaic of many different communities. Thus, members of some 40 different religious or ethnic groups live in Jerusalem
7. These features may explain why there are so many different opinions concerning the legal status of the city, and why it is such a thorny problem in the search for peace

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