Jerusalem is a holy city, a site of pilgrimage, and an object of devotion for all three of the largest monotheistic faiths. It is made up of a wide variety of ethnicities and religions, with the Old City divided into Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian quarters. The city is also politically-charged ground. Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians are common, particularly in East Jerusalem. Violent acts frequently have religious or ethnic overtones. U.S. citizens visiting the area should be mindful of their locations and be vigilant as they travel throughout Jerusalem and its environs.
In AD 637, Commander Abu Ubaida accepted the surrender or sulh of Jerusalem to the Islamic Arab forces without preconditions. It seems that Jerusalem had no military or strategic importance, but it did have religious importance.2 For the Muslims, the town was the Bait al-Maqdis, (Sacred House) due to the presence of the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary which included the Rock to be built up fifty-eight years later as the Dome of the Rock (incorrectly known as the mosque of Omar) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Caliph Umar did visit the city and the Haram al-Sharif a short time later thereby enhancing the importance of the sulh that guaranteed the safety of the people, their property, and their churches in return for a tax.
It was named by the Islamic Arabic-speakers as the Bait al-Maqdis, or Al-Quds for short. The latter name remains in use throughout the Arab and Islamic world. While Israelis designate Jerusalem as its present capital, the Palestinians recognize it as their traditional capital.
From the 12th to the 16th centuries, the Holy City was taken and retaken a number of times by successive Crusaders, and the walls were leveled and then rebuilt according to the whim of successive conquerors. Islamic heroes such as Salah-al-Din restored Jerusalem following his AD 1187 reconquest of the city including the neighboring shrines to past likenesses, and he built a number of Islamic colleges or madrasas. In time, forty-three colleges were founded in Jerusalem during what is known as the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods.
Palestinians who live in the part of Jerusalem that was occupied during the 1967 War generally do not accept Israeli citizenship. They are, therefore, issued a residence permit or Jerusalem identification card by the Israeli Government. Israel applies the 1952 Law of Permanent Residency and its 1974 amendments to Jerusalem identification card holders. This law stipulates that a Jerusalem resident loses the right of residence if the resident leaves Israeli territory for more than 7 years, acquires the nationality of another country, or acquires permanent residence in another country. Such persons are permitted to return only as tourists and sometimes are denied entry. The Israeli Government does not apply these same restrictions to Israeli citizens. Israeli government officials deny that more stringent enforcement of the Jerusalem residency requirements reflects a concerted policy to decrease the Palestinian population in the city.
American citizens are warned to limit travel to the Old City of Jerusalem to daylight hours, Saturday through Thursday. US Government personnel in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are under tight security controls, including prohibition of travel to the West Bank and Gaza. Occasionally, US Government personnel are prohibited from traveling to sections of Jerusalem, including areas in both West and East Jerusalem, depending on current security conditions. Roads designed for Israeli settlers including in East Jerusalem have been the site of frequent shooting attacks and roadside explosives, sometimes resulting in death or injury.
The majority of reported security incidents affecting US citizens occur near the main entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City. Crime increases in the Old City and the Sherover/Haas Promenade areas after dark. US citizens are advised to avoid open air public parks in Jerusalem after dark, as they are poorly lighted and policed.
Isolated street protests, demonstrations, and violence can also occur across Jerusalem, including in West Jerusalem, within the Old City, and in East Jerusalem neighborhoods (Sheikh Jarrah, Shufat, Beit Hanina, Mt. of Olives, As Suwaneh, Abu Deis, Silwan, Shuafat Refugee Camp, Issawiyeh, Tsur Baher). Exercise caution when traveling in the villages surrounding East Jerusalem, due to reportedly higher crime rates. The US Consulate General also restricts US government personnel travel to the Old City on Fridays during Ramadan due to large crowds and the higher potential for violence.
The security environment remains complex, hazardous, and dynamic in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip. US citizens must be aware of the continuing risks of travel to these areas. All US citizens traveling within these areas are urged to exercise caution. Extremist groups continue to operate in these areas. During 2014, members of these groups and other individuals carried out lethal attacks and threatened additional attacks in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip. While security cooperation between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) continued in 2014, tensions remain high in the region, as the peace process faces familiar challenges moving forward. US citizens should be mindful that the security situation in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip is fluid and evolves rapidly.
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