Jerusalem: How is Israel's capital 55 years since the Six Day War?

The capital of Israel is also often considered as the laboratory of the country, as new trends or changes happening in it usually indicate what will happen within a decade in the rest of the country.

 FOOT TRAFFIC in Mamilla Mall: Is the city dominated by haredim and Arabs? (photo credit: ABIR SULTAN/FLASH90)
FOOT TRAFFIC in Mamilla Mall: Is the city dominated by haredim and Arabs?
(photo credit: ABIR SULTAN/FLASH90)

As we reach the three-week period that separated the Independence Day with the dramatic moment that the Israeli paratroopers reached the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in 1967 – marking the 55th year to the reunification of the city, this is the perfect time to take an in-depth look at the facts on the ground.

The city has close to a million residents, in roughly three sectors – general Jewish, Arabs and haredi. The capital of Israel is also often considered as the laboratory of the country, as new trends or changes happening in it usually indicate what will happen within a decade in the rest of the country. 

Jerusalem is the largest Jewish city, but also the largest Arab city and the largest haredi city, too. It’s demography is unique, and while the fluctuations among each one of these three sectors raises mostly concern among the two others, (like if the haredim are overtaking to be in the majority of the Jewish population through their high birthrate, or if the Arabs of the east side are breaking the preferred balance of one-third the population versus two-thirds?) a closer look at the reality and the facts on the ground may more than once deceive or at least break accepted assumptions.

One of these assumptions addresses the question of negative immigration from the city, with the feeling in the general public, as well as among quite a few Jerusalemites, that the seculars have left or plan to leave soon, and in fact are giving the city to the domination by ultra-Orthodox and Arabs

Yair Assaf-Shapira, head of data analysis, and services and researcher Michal Korach of the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research leak a tiny smile upon hearing about the issue of the seculars abandoning the city.

 Priestly blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during Passover, April 18, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Priestly blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during Passover, April 18, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

According to their findings, it seems that year after year, most of those leaving the city are haredim, for various reasons: About 8,400 ultra-Orthodox left Jerusalem in 2019 and they constituted about 43% of the Jews and others leaving. In 2019, the ultra-Orthodox population constituted 44% of the Jewish population in Jerusalem. “That means, therefore, that the share of ultra-Orthodox leavers is similar to their share among the Jewish population,” Korach points out.

In regards to migration by age, we see that the age distribution of ultra-Orthodox immigrants (leaving and entering) is very different from that of non-ultra-Orthodox immigrants. “For the purpose of examining the age distribution, we examined the data of those leaving and entering the ultra-Orthodox sub-district (a sub-district with a percentage of those aged 15 and over that is 60% or more) and from them on,” continues Korach.

BUT THERE is more and it results from the research that most of the ultra-Orthodox leaving the city are young couples with small children – 22% of them were young people aged 24-20 and 27% children aged 4-0. Another 18% were aged 29-25. As for the haredim who move into the city, the main age groups among the ultra-Orthodox entrants were: aged 24-20 (24%), 4-0 (17%) and 29-25 (16%).

And the final picture regarding the issue of haredim – leaving or staying in the city, shows the following: The main age groups deducted from the city from the ultra-Orthodox population, due to the negative migration balance, were: 4-0 (1,300, 36% of the balance), 24-20 (790, 21%) and 29-25 (740, 20%). Consequently, it turns out that 88% of the ultra-Orthodox population deducted from Jerusalem this year was in the age range of up to 29. Considering that at these ages the haredi are close to the peak of their birthrate, these findings do not exactly fit the image of haredim with a high number of children are the only residents remaining in Jerusalem. 

For comparison, among the non-ultra-Orthodox population, the main age groups deducted (leaving) from the city were: 4-0 year olds (1,070, 24% of the balance sheet), 34-30 year olds (1,030, 23%), aged 29-25 (550, 12%), and aged 39-35 (510, 11%). About 46% of the non-ultra-Orthodox population that was deducted from Jerusalem was up to the age of 29.

“The only age group that had a positive migration balance among the non-ultra-Orthodox population was 24-20 with 240 residents” concludes Korach.

One more interesting aspect, adds Assaf-Shapira, is the fluctuation caused by the coronavirus these last two years. “Since the outburst of the pandemic, lots of things have changed in our lives. One of the most prominent of these is the use of Zoom for study or work purposes. 

“Take, for example, a student who comes to Jerusalem to study at the Hebrew University, from the moment he does not have to be physically present at the university and the cafe where he is a waiter closes, he will not stay here. He will return, most likely, to his parents’ house outside Jerusalem because he no longer has money to pay his rent. So the figures for 2021 on negative immigration are higher, but they do not represent the real picture of the usual migrations in and out, we have been monitoring here for years.”

ANOTHER ASPECT of this immigration issue and data is the lack of taking into consideration the size of the city’s population. “For example” adds Assaf-Shapira, “a thousand residents who will leave Tel Aviv, which has almost 400,000 residents, will not have the same effect than a thousand Jerusalemites who leave the city which has close to a million residents; this is a figure, that only few take into account.”

However, trying to move out of the issue of negative migration or not, in regards to the atmosphere, or, for example, are the Jerusalemites happy, or happy with their lives in this city, then the answers according to Assaf-Shapira’s findings certainly sound surprising.

“A lot of people, (among haredim) if they are asked, whether they are happy at all will treat the question very differently, because for them, there is no such thing as not being satisfied – after all, you have to be satisfied with what you have. At the same time, this does not mean that if, for example, they are offered a better life, a bigger apartment, more money, they will not agree to receive – but we find that saying that when they say that they are satisfied with their life here, it is not necessarily a sign that everything is fine.”

But, Jerusalem is not only a city with three distinct populations, it is firstly a city of government, in which all the more important state institutions are located. The Knesset, the government, the various government ministries, and of course, the academy and some of the largest and most important medical centers in the country are located here. In this context, it is worth noting the tremendous efforts, not all of which have so far succeeded, in complying with the decision of various governments, that all institutions and ministries of the state must operate from Jerusalem, as required by a city of government.

The situation on this issue is still bleak, despite some improvements. All the mayors since Uri Lupolianski, through Nir Barkat – and the opposition leaders in the city council, Ofer Berkovitch in particular – have tried to force the ministries that have avoided implementing the law; the success is still partial.

 The image of Jerusalem remains one of a very non-attractive city, and in the eyes of too many, of a poor city, run by ultra-Orthodox who govern the lives of residents - that is, prevent businesses from opening on Shabbat and persecute women who are not modestly dressed, not to mention the constant fear of terrorist attacks by residents from east Jerusalem. “The image of Jerusalem is far from fitting the facts on the ground,” admits Assaf-Shapira.

But how is Jerusalem different from it’s not so flattering image? One aspect is that the city is the  center of civil activism, and does not fit the image of a “poor city inhabited mostly by poor haredim and poor and hostile Arabs.” According to the JIPR, Jerusalem, is a significant center of activity for non-profit organizations in Israel, with about 23% of all non-profit organizations in the country located and operating here.

In 2017, there were 4,077 active non-profit organizations in the city, compared to 1,600 in Tel Aviv. Non-profit organizations in Jerusalem are of great economic importance. The estimated total annual budget of all the associations in the city ranges from NIS 15 billion to NIS 25 b., and they employ about 100,000 to 200,000 workers in the city (about a third of all those employed in the city).

The involvement of civil society in Jerusalem has an impact on the social fabric of the city. In that regard, a project led by the Institute has sought find ways in which Jerusalem can leverage the fact that it is the capital of civil society in Israel, and find ways to expand and strengthen the city through connections between activists in the city’s various communities.

ANOTHER SECTOR is employment – being a governmental city, most of the residents are employed in civil services – in addition to opportunities in the academics  – as Jerusalem hosts not only the Hebrew University, but also many arts schools as well as three large medical centers (besides three additional hospitals located in the east side of the city).

As of 2019, there are 116,500 people employed in the public sector in Jerusalem and they constitute 34% of all employed in the city. Of these, 30% are civil servants. However, and that is the other side of these facts, as of April 2021, 23% of civil service jobs are located in Jerusalem, but only 12% of civil service employees live in the city.

More than half (52%) of senior positions in the Israeli public sector are located in Jerusalem, but only 31% of senior employees live in the city. About two-thirds of the senior executives who work in Jerusalem live outside the city. In most of the cases, these persons live in the suburbs or small surrounding towns (such as Mevasseret). The phenomenon even includes those in the Jerusalem Municipality, as quite a few high-ranking officials do not live in the city. 

In 2009-2010, 40,000 students studied in the higher education institutions in Jerusalem, about 5,000 of them on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University.

There are 45 research institutes in Jerusalem (out of 113 research institutes in Israel), including the largest research institute in Israel, which employs about 300 people.

As of the beginning of 2021, there are three embassies and eight consulates in Jerusalem. In comparison, in Tel Aviv there are about 60 embassies and in the rest of the Central District there are about 30 additional embassies.

In 2020, the Finance Ministry’s engagements with the business sector in Tel Aviv was almost six times greater than the volume of its engagements with the business sector in Jerusalem.

In 2020, about 505 engagements of the firms within the business sector in Jerusalem were recorded, amounting to NIS 38.3 million, but about 375 engagements of the firms within the business sector in Tel Aviv, amounting to NIS 217.5 m. One of the explanations could be the following, as in 2020 Tel Aviv companies won 25% of the Ministry of Finance’s business activity, compared with only 4% among Jerusalem companies.

And let’s not forget the coronavirus, which invaded our lives more than two years ago, and does not seem to leaving us. According to the Health Ministry, the same week that the Knesset approved the end of mandatory use of masks, the infection rate rose to 0.9.

Active patients in Israel stands at 1,587 (for this week).

As of Tuesday, the data provided by the Jerusalem Municipality gives the following numbers:

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 1,236 Jerusalemites from all sectors have died from the virus. Vaccination numbers for the city stand at:

  • First dose: 587,767
  • Second dose: 505,403
  • Third dose: 325,539
  • Fourth dose: 49,854

IN RECENT years, the first signs of positive changes have been seen. Construction in the city is growing, albeit that hasn’t managed to lower the prices of housing. Improvements in public transportation – light rail, heavy rail and the entry of bus companies into the transportation system, once the Egged lost its monopoly – shows that things are moving in the right direction.

However, the dramatic change in mass transportation habits has not yet occurred, and the municipality is speaking with two conflicting voices on the issue – on the one hand laying the tracks to more light rail lines, but at the same time, preparing more and more parking lots.

The dramatic change in government policy toward the east of the city and the Arab residents of Jerusalem is also beginning to give its signs on the ground. The state of infrastructure in the east of the city is improving, the city in both the east and west is cleaner and the government decision, which will be officially announced on Jerusalem Day, on a budget of NIS 4.3 b. for a second five-year plan for development in the east of the city will surely contribute even more.

After all this, the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, and the pilgrims and tourists who are beginning to return here, still must deal with outbreaks of violence and isolated terrorist attacks, which are putting into question many worthy plans for improvement.

Jerusalem is in the right direction, provided that the Damascus Gate stays quiet. ❖

Data source: Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research

Corona data source: Jerusalem Municipality