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How East Jerusalem went from Jordanian to Israeli to disputed control

A little history behind Israeli-Palestinian property disputes in East Jerusalem.

By Staff writer / August 5, 2009



Ilene Prusher's story Tuesday explored the symbolic and emotional dispute over control of East Jerusalem by telling the story of the Hanoun family, who were evicted from the home they'd occupied for 50 years by Israeli forces over the weekend – and immediately replaced with Jewish settlers. The eviction was legal under Israeli law, but Israel's decision to do so will at minimum slow the Obama administration's efforts to restart Middle East peace talks.

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In helping to edit Ilene's story, I found I needed a refresher on the broader issues surrounding sovereignty in East Jerusalem, which in the twentieth century passed from the hands of Britain to Jordan to Israel, though the last case is hotly disputed. I figured some readers might be in the same boat, so below are links to maps and a little background that explain how the Hanouns ended up in this position.

Both sides draws red lines around East Jerusalem

East Jerusalem is by far the stickiest of sticking points in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu has made it clear that while he might make concessions in the West Bank in exchange for peace, East Jerusalem – which he and many Israelis consider the "eternal and undivided capital of Jerusalem" – is off the table.

The Palestinians, for their part, want East Jerusalem as the capital of an eventual independent state. Just like for Bibi, that's a demand they say is beyond compromise. Complicating matters is that the historic Old City is in the east (here's a tourist map of the Old City). This is where Islam's third holiest location, the Dome of the Rock, abuts Judiasm's holiest, the Western Wall (or "Wailing Wall"), considered by Jews to be the last vestige of King Solomon's second temple. Oh, and Calvary, where Jesus Christ was killed, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where he's thought to have been buried, is there too. [Editor's note: This version has been updated to correct the relative importance of the Dome of the Rock.]

After 1948, Jordan seizes Jewish-owned properties – some in Sheikh Jarrah

Also in East Jerusalem is the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which the Hanouns have called home for 50-odd years. They arrived there in 1948 in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli war came what Palestinians call the nakba ("catastrophe"). During that time about 860,000 Palestinians living in what is now Israel were displaced from their homes, according to the United Nation's Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), which has provided aid to Palestinian refugees since 1951.

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