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View series: Jerusalem: The History of a Global City

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Jerusalem since 1948: One capital or two?

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of Jerusalem: The History of a Global City.

After the Second World War, the international community renewed its interest in the future of the Holy City. Under a partition plan approved by the United Nations in autumn 1947, the region around Jerusalem and Bethlehem was established as a separate entity from the future States of Israel and Palestine.

But the slaughter of European Jews during this war led to a greater flow of migrants into Palestine and made clashes with the local Arab population increasingly inevitable. Conscious of their inability to address these problems, the British withdrew from Palestine in May 1948. 

The 1948 Arab-Israeli War began immediately after their departure, and this led to a modification in the partition of Palestine.

For the first time in its history, Jerusalem was cut in two by a demarcation line (the Green Line), separating the Jordanians to the east and the Israelis to the west. Following heavy fighting, the Israelis succeeded in keeping control of Mount Zion. To the north, Mount Scopus, the seat of the Hebrew University, remained an Israeli enclave while, to the south, the territory under the United Nations control was reduced to the Mount of Evil Counsel. 

On either side of No Man’s land, the city developed in two vastly different ways. In East Jerusalem, the Jordanian authorities were wary of Palestinian nationalism; they did their best to limit the development of the city as well as to maintain Jerusalem in a marginal position vis-à-vis Amman, the new capital of the Hashemite kingdom. 

On Friday 20 July 1951, at the end of the Great Prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Esplanade of the Mosques, King Abdullah I of Jordan was assassinated by a Palestinian nationalist, further widening the chasm between Jerusalem and Amman. 

West Jerusalem, however, was proclaimed the capital of Israel in 1950 and attracted a large number of investments, well away from the Green Line. In 1953, the Hebrew University was moved to Givat Ram; the same year, a neighbouring hill was chosen as the site for the future Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. In 1961, a little further to the west, the Hadassah Hospital/Medical Centre was constructed. In 1965, The Museum of Israel opened its doors next to the new Parliament building, the Knesset, inaugurated in 1966. 

West Jerusalem developed quickly and its population rose to 190,000 by 1967, compared to a scant 70,000 inhabitants in East Jerusalem. 

In June 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israel seized and annexed East Jerusalem. In the Old City, the Maghrebin district was razed in a matter of a few hours, making way for a vast esplanade in front of the Western Wall. Outside the city walls, the perimeter of the municipality was further extended, though it was carefully drawn in order to avoid incorporating the most populous Palestinian villages. 

Nevertheless, the reunification of Jerusalem has gradually been seen as a failure: the Palestinian population has grown more rapidly than the Israeli community and refuses to participate in municipal elections. In 1987, Palestinians started the riots known as the Intifada. Even today the Jewish population in the Old City remains low with barely 5,000 inhabitants out of a total of 35,000. In addition, most countries in the international community do not recognize the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem and keep their embassies in Tel Aviv.