Creation of the Western Wall Plaza in 1967
Was Necessary and Legal

and , July 12, 2017

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

Vol. 17, No. 17

  • Articles published by Reuters and the New Yorker in June 2017 described the demolition of the Mughrabi (Moroccan) Quarter of Jerusalem and the eviction of the approximately 650 Arab inhabitants which took place on June 10, 1967, three days after Jerusalem’s reunification.
  • While these articles blame Israel, in reality, there is evidence that the neighborhood’s days were numbered. Together with the adjacent Jewish Quarter, which had been demolished by the Jordanians, both quarters were nothing more than decaying slums built on rubble. Reuters itself describes the Mughrabi Quarter as “ramshackle.”
  • In 1965 and 1966, prior to the war, some 1,000 Arabs were relocated by the Jordanian administration – some by force – from the Jewish Quarter to the newly created Shuafat refugee camp, by order of Jordan’s then-prime minister Wasfi Al-Tal.
  • Israel follows legal norms when appropriating private property for public use and public safety – offering due compensation. A 1968 letter from former residents of the Mughrabi Quarter affirms that many residents received compensation.
  • Jordan failed to recognize this basic legal norm in 1949 when it razed the Jewish Quarter, expelled its residents, and looted and desecrated 58 synagogues, all without compensation.
  • From a legal standpoint, the demolition of the Mughrabi Quarter and relocation of its inhabitants was justified and necessary by any acceptable standard to ensure public safety and security and to provide tens of thousands of worshippers with a safe, sanitary passage to Judaism’s most holy site, and sufficient public space to worship there.
Aerial photo of Jerusalem’s Mughrabi section

Aerial photo of Jerusalem’s Mughrabi quarter taken by the Graf Zeppelin, 1931. Yellow outline (added) shows the Western Wall prayer area. Note the labyrinth Jewish worshippers had to traverse to get to the small alleyway for prayer at the Western Wall. (Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen)1

Articles published by Reuters2 and the New Yorker on June 6, 2017, and June 9, 2017, respectively, described the demolition of the Mughrabi, or Moroccan, Quarter of Jerusalem and the eviction of the approximately 650 Arab inhabitants which took place on June 10, 1967, three days after Jerusalem’s reunification. The New Yorker’s article, entitled “Reframing the 1967 War,”3 was written by Yousef Munayyer, director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. The article deems the actions, necessary to create an area for Jewish worshippers, to be a “war crime,” claiming the deliberate destruction of buildings in occupied territory to be a violation of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. The article also criticizes David Rubinger’s iconic Paratroopers at the Western Wall photo as reflective of Israeli ignorance of these allegedly heinous acts, claiming it “showcases the Zionist vision while omitting the Palestinians in its midst.”4 Ironically, it is Munayyer himself who, whether by design or unknowingly, omits crucial information, failing to see the broader picture.

Israeli paratroopers standing next to the Western Wall.

David Rubinger’s iconic image of three Israeli paratroopers standing next to the Western Wall (Photograph by David Rubinger, Government Press Office)

These articles blame Israel for the demise of the Mughrabi Quarter when, in reality, there is evidence showing that, prior to the 1967 war and before Israel’s taking control of east Jerusalem, the neighborhood’s days were numbered. Together with the adjacent Jewish Quarter, which had been demolished by the Jordanians, both quarters were nothing more than decaying slums built on rubble. According to Israel’s then-ambassador to the UN, Yosef Tekoah, the Mughrabi Quarter was decrepit, suffering from conditions which “no modern civilized government or municipal administration would have tolerated.”5 Reuters itself describes it as “ramshackle.”6

Jews in the Jewish Quarter

Jews in the Jewish Quarter straining to see the nearby Western Wall, separated by the “ramshackle” Mughrabi Quarter, circa 1929. (Library of Congress)7

In 1965 and 1966, prior to the war, approximately 1,000 Arabs were relocated – some by force – by the Jordanian administration from the Jewish Quarter to the newly created Shuafat refugee camp, by order of Jordan’s then-prime minister, Wasfi Al-Tal.8 Sources reported that Tal called for a transfer of the residents “to the new place allotted to them for residence (Shuafat) … The Jerusalem Municipality shall demolish all the tumbledown dwelling of the said quarter after their evacuation.”9 The Mughrabi Quarter was in a comparable state.

The Jewish Quarter adjacent to the Mughrabi housing, circa 1935.

The Jewish Quarter adjacent to the Mughrabi housing, circa 1935. The Old City wall and Dung Gate are to the left. Viewed are Porat Yosef Yeshiva, Sephardic seminary (building in center with white dome), and the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue (domed building on the right). Note the corner of the wall marked with a yellow arrow. It is the same corner marked below. (Library of Congress)10

The remains of the Jewish Quarter, circa 1955.

The remains of the Jewish Quarter, circa 1955, adjacent to the Mughrabi Quarter, taken from outside the Old City wall. Note the corner of the wall marked with a yellow arrow. It is the same corner marked above in the picture of the 1930s. The buildings inside the wall shown in the earlier picture were razed to the ground. A truck is parked outside of the Dung Gate. (Library of Congress)11

Munayyer’s accusation of “war crimes” perpetrated by Israel ignores legal norms appropriating private property for public use and public safety – provided due compensation is paid.12 Ironically, it is Jordan that failed to recognize this basic legal norm in 1949, razing the Jewish Quarter, expelling its residents, and looting and desecrating 58 synagogues, all without compensation.13

Jordan’s 1948 actions stand in stark contrast to Israel’s actions in 1967. Regarding compensation, a 1968 letter from former residents of the Mughrabi Quarter affirms that many residents received compensation.14

During the 1948-1967 period, Jewish access to the shrine was totally banned; but the pre-1948 situation was hardly tolerable for Jewish worshippers. After navigating through a labyrinth of potentially dangerous, narrow alleyways, Jews wishing to pray at the Wall found themselves in a cramped area of approximately 120 square meters.15 (In contrast, the Al Aqsa complex on the Temple Mount covers 144,000 square meters.) Visitors in the pre-1948 era encountered broken stones, sewage, animals (and the refuse they left behind), and Mughrabi Quarter residents who “had a tendency to harass Jewish worshipers.”16

Immediately after the 1967 war, Jerusalem’s Mayor Teddy Kollek saw that the area near the Western Wall could not contain the tens of thousands of visitors expected for the June 13, 1967, Shavuot holiday. Kollek and military officers gave the order to demolish the area.17 The “first job was to demolish a toilet that was built up against the Western Wall,” according to Haaretz. “You come to a place like this, and you see a stench in the wall,” one worker reported. “We were surprised by it.”18

From a legal standpoint, the demolition of the Mughrabi Quarter and relocation of its inhabitants was justified and necessary by any acceptable standard to ensure public safety and security and to provide tens of thousands of worshippers with a safe, sanitary passage to Judaism’s most holy site, and sufficient public space to worship there.

Jordanian soldier at the Western Wall, 1948.

Jordanian soldier at the Western Wall, 1948, shortly after the expulsion or imprisonment of the Jews from the Jewish Quarter. Jews were banned from the Wall between 1948 and 1967. The Mughrabi Quarter begins with the wall on the left. (Associated Press)

The misleading allegations by Reuters and the New Yorker on the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War appear to have ignored and disregarded crucial facts surrounding the situation of the Mughrabi quarter, its history, and the appalling state of dilapidation and ruin that existed during the pre-1967 Jordanian administration. It may not be a coincidence that the allegations come at the same time as Palestinian and UNESCO challenges to Jewish ties to Jerusalem and Hebron.

* * *

Notes

1 Photo of the Mughrabi Quarter by the Graf Zeppelin, 1931, http://architectureislamiquejerusalem.centerblog.net/7.html

2 Reuters, “Palestinian still Drawn to Jerusalem’s Old City 50 Years after Six-Day War,” Newsweek, June 11, 2017, http://www.newsweek.com/palestinians-drawn-jerusalem-old-city-six-day-war-624103

3 Yousef Munayyer, “Reframing the 1967 War,” The New Yorker, June 9, 2017, http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/reframing-the-1967-war

4 Ibid

5 “Letter Dated 5 March 1968 from the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Addressed to the Secretary-General,” The Question of Palestine, accessed June 27, 2017, https://unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.nsf/0/A8138AD15B0FCAC385256B920059DEBF

6 Reuters, “Palestinian still Drawn to Jerusalem’s Old City 50 Years after Six-Day War,” Newsweek, June 11, 2017, http://www.newsweek.com/palestinians-drawn-jerusalem-old-city-six-day-war-624103

7 Jews straining to see the Western Wall, circa 1929, Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/mpc2010000659/PP/

8 Simone Ricca, Reinventing Jerusalem: Israel’s Reconstruction of the Jewish Quarter after 1967, (New York: IB Tauris, 2007), 208.

9 Leonard J. Davis and Moshe Decter, Myths and Facts 1982: A Concise Record of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Washington: Near East Report, 1982), 164.

10 Photo of Porat Yosef Yeshiva and the Jewish Quarter, Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/matpc/item/mpc2010004372/PP/

11 Photo of the remains of the Jewish Quarter, circa 1955. Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/mpc2010000589/PP/resource/

12 http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/eminent+domain

13 “1948-1967: Jordanian Occupation of Eastern Jerusalem,” The Six-Day War, accessed June 27, 2017, http://www.sixdaywar.org/content/jordanianocuupationjerusalem.asp

14 Yonah Alexander and Nicholas N. Kittrie, Crescent and Star: Arab & Israeli Perspectives on the Middle East Conflict (Michigan: AMS Press, 1973), 275.

15 The Western Wall,” Mosaic, accessed June 27, 2017, http://mosaic.lk.net/g-wall.html

16 Seth J. Frantzman, “What was the Kotel really like in the “Egalitarian good old days” before 1967,” Seth J. Frantzman, last modified June 26, 2017, https://sethfrantzman.com/2017/06/26/what-was-the-kotel-really-like-in-the-egalitarian-good-old-days-before-1967/

17 Nir Hasson, How a Small Group of Israelis Made the Western Wall Jewish Again, Haaretz,

http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.792857

18 Ibid.

About Nathaniel Belmont

Nathaniel Belmont, an intern at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a History and Jewish Studies major at the University of Western Ontario.

About Lenny Ben-David

Lenny Ben-David is the Jerusalem Center’s Director of Publications. Ben-David served 25 years in senior posts in AIPAC in Washington and Jerusalem. He served as Israel’s Deputy Chief of Mission in the Embassy in Washington D.C. He is the author of the American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs (Urim Publications).