Planning is defined as a series of logical processes, both applied and intellectual, designed to achieve a predetermined result. City planning administers space through a plan that specifies what is permitted and prohibited, what is desired and needed, and how to define the character and use of the space. It is well known that the effect of planning often exceeds the scope of the plan. A plan that has fulfilled all of the statutory requirements has the status of law and can only be changed by the creation of a new plan with appropriate legal status.
Planning does not take place in a vacuum. Certain policies, objectives, world views and cultural norms guide the creation of every plan. The force of the plan is determined by the creation of land use controls: zoning, building permits, building density regulations, and building use regulations. Similarly, banning construction through the declaration of green areas is a form of land use control.
Throughout history, rulers and states have initiated planning projects not only to meet residential needs such as access to housing, transportation, and public buildings, but also to advance political policies and convey messages. This is especially true in Jerusalem, given its political and symbolic status.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, different groups began to establish ethnic neighborhoods outside of the Old City walls. The first, such as Notre Dame de France and the Russian Compound, were developed by various Christian sects. Jews also established residential neighborhoods such as Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Nachlaot, and Muslims built houses, for the most part, along existing roadways such as Ramallah and Hebron roads. The city’s municipal boundaries were extended accordingly—for the first of many times—to incorporate this expansion.
Much like today, Jerusalem of the nineteenth century had a diverse ethnic fabric, and as such, the city’s development was dictated by tensions between these various populations and their fundamentally different lifestyle patterns. Neighborhoods were distinguished by religion and country of origin, though a few mixed neighborhoods were united by the socioeconomic status of their residents.
In the early twentieth century, especially during the British Mandate, construction beyond the Old City walls flourished, planning guidelines were established, and general plans were approved. The British perceived Jerusalem, first and foremost, as a holy and historic city and sought to maintain the air of romance the city held for western planners. This ideal is reflected in the building ban along the Old City walls, the low building height limit, and the requirement that all building façades be made of Jerusalem stone.
In 1948, following the war, Jerusalem was split into two cities with separate development trajectories. East Jerusalem, under Jordanian rule, was deliberately neglected in order to prevent it from becoming a political rival to Amman. It therefore had negligible political or economic importance, maintaining only its religious and symbolic significance. Similarly, West Jerusalem—although considered the capital of Israel—was a small and minor peripheral city. The city developed slowly while its inhabitants coalesced into a small and guarded community.
Jerusalem After 1967
This dynamic abruptly changed in 1967, following the Six Day War. With the conquest of the West Bank, Jerusalem came to be located in the center of the country, and its political and symbolic importance catapulted. The city’s municipal boundaries were immediately expanded to include a large area of the West Bank, including 28 Palestinian villages. Jerusalem consequently became the largest city in Israel (in terms of area) and would later become the most densely populated city of Israel. It quickly became an influential nucleus, with its impact extending in all directions. As the regional epicenter, Jerusalem functioned as an economic hub and service provider to the large Israeli and Palestinian population.
Due to Jerusalem’s status, Israeli administrations have declared Jerusalem and its new borders to be the indivisible capital of Israel. Preserving a Jewish majority in the city has therefore been a priority for the government. In the core of Jerusalem, as well as in the greater metropolitan area, the Municipality has been guided by the tacit policy of maintaining a 70/30 demographic ratio of Jews to Palestinians. Zoning and planning tools have been the primary means for achieving this goal, privileging Israeli planning and development projects while minimizing opportunities for growth in Palestinian communities.
Immediately after the Six Day War, Israel began establishing neighborhoods to create a continuous territorial link between Mount Scopus and Jerusalem, including Ramat Eshkol, Ma’alot Dafna, Givat HaMivtar and French Hill. This settlement pattern was designed to prevent Mount Scopus from being isolated from West Jerusalem, as it had been before 1967.
The second development phase was concerned with establishing neighborhoods around all of Jerusalem’s perimeters. Priorities guiding construction were:
- Strategic locations that dominate the city’s outer edges and entry routes
- Unsettled tracts of land that can accommodate massive construction
- Creation of neighborhoods that could function as independent urban entities
According to this protocol, land—primarily owned by Palestinians—was expropriated for new neighborhoods encircling Jerusalem, including Ramot, Neve Yaakov, East Talpiot, and Gilo. The planned capacity of each neighborhood was between 4,000 and 10,000 units, the equivalent of a small Israeli town.
The establishment of neighborhoods surrounding Jerusalem became the subject of planning discussion and debate. Opponents questioned the impact of building neighborhoods far from the city center and breaking contiguity with the existing city. They were concerned that such a strategy would create bedroom communities, empty the city center, and deprive it of its status. This position held that infrastructure in Jerusalem was incapable of supporting such large-scale development. In response, supporters of expansion claimed that unsettled areas between the outlying neighborhoods and the city would fill in with development or function as a green lung that would both unify the urban fabric and preserve the traditional character of the historic city. It is worth noting that at the time, the concept of planning large suburban neighborhoods and satellite cities was widespread in Europe. Ultimately, the decisive factor in the debate was the use of political will to delineate, by way of construction, the new boundaries of Jerusalem. Rather than advancing as organic, uncontrolled development at the margins of the city, the new neighborhoods served a defensive function by creating a hard line around the city, as seen south of Jerusalem in the construction of Gilo A in the early seventies.
In the eighties, Israel planned the neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze’ev and Ramat Shlomo, and in the nineties, established Har Homa—the last of these neighborhoods established to date. Likewise, similar developments emerged just outside of Jerusalem’s official boundaries. Though operating under its own municipality, Ma’ale Adumim, built in the seventies to the east of Jerusalem, and Giv’at Ze’ev, built in the eighties to the northwest, greatly impacted the shape and size of Jerusalem’s borders. As a result, the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem became delineated by a belt of large-scale Israeli neighborhoods from the northeast and the south—an Israeli partition encircling the city. These neighborhoods were established, for the most part, on land expropriated from Palestinians, thereby depriving them of a major growth outlet and stifling future Palestinian development.
Decisions concerning Jerusalem are designed, first and foremost, to reinforce the city’s new borders and to define it spatially at the outer margins. For the government, Jerusalem is a national and political entity; urban planning is therefore conducted through the prism of these priorities.
Planning in Palestinian Neighborhoods
Throughout this period, outside of two small projects, no public planning or building was conducted for Palestinians. Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem encountered bureaucratic and planning barriers designed, both overtly and covertly, to prevent their potential growth.
The Municipality and other government authorities planned around Palestinian communities, effectively trapping them. Areas that could have accommodated Palestinian growth were expropriated for Israeli neighborhoods and public infrastructure. Similarly, in the name of preserving the city’s rural character, undeveloped areas were declared open landscapes or parks in which construction was prohibited. Other barriers invoked by the planning process included the following: insufficient space allocation for Palestinian communities to develop infrastructure and public buildings, difficulty in managing private land that had been held for generations and was thus owned by multiple families, and the mistrust with which the Palestinians regarded the Israeli government. Finally, bureaucratic procedural delays were such that any large-scale plans for East Jerusalem were delayed for years and seldom came to fruition.
Limiting planned growth stymied not only the Palestinian population but also the work of city planners. The Palestinian population faced—as it does today—a serious housing shortage. Because Israeli law offers no outlets to address this problem, “illegal construction” has become virtually the only way Palestinian residents can address the housing crisis in their communities.
Since the eighties, Israeli right wing elements—sometimes with open and sometimes concealed support from the Israeli government—began to settle in the heart of homogeneous Palestinian neighborhoods. Building plans presented by settlers were approved despite exceeding development limits. The presence of settlers in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods is perceived as a provocation and a threat to the Palestinian urban fabric. Finally, the construction of the Separation Barrier, which began in 2002, further erodes Palestinian residents’ quality of life. The barrier separates large parts of the Palestinian community from vital social and economic infrastructures and essential services.
Israel’s policies have been ineffective in achieving the desired 70:30 demographic ratio between Jews and Palestinians. Today the ratio stands at 64:36 and in 2020 it is expected to reach 60:40. In light of these shifts, Jerusalem’s complex mosaic of distinctive cultural and ethnic neighborhoods cannot be fixed or frozen.
A Vision of the Just City
The history of Jerusalem—like its hilly topography, the structure of its population, and its urban development—reflects its mosaic structure: multiple parts with distinct characteristics, situated side by side. This arrangement does not indicate the inevitability of a city separated into insular ghettos; on the contrary, it offers the possibility of a rich urban life sustained by a society that maintains the ideal of urban justice, in which groups have to the right to self-determination and in which discrimination against the other is not tolerated. By planning with a holistic view of the city, it is possible to connect its various parts through services and infrastructure equally distributed among all residents, while still maintaining the distinctive character and makeup of each neighborhood. The definition of urban justice established by the UNESCO UN—HABITAT project on “Urban Policies and the Right to the City: Rights, Responsibilities and Citizenship” includes the following: “the right of all city residents and those within the city’s domain to free movement within the city and use of public space, notification and participation of all residents in the decision making process with regard to spatial issues, and equitable distribution of municipal services to all residents.”
To this day, planning in Jerusalem is designed, first and foremost, to achieve political and national objectives and aims to create a city with a clear Jewish and Israeli character. Herein lies a form of discrimination that bestows rights to space based on religious identity, contrary to international consensus on equitable and sustainable planning. Without efforts to reverse this pattern, the influence of prejudiced and unjust planning will have implications far beyond the area for which it is explicitly designed.