East Jerusalem was occupied and illiegally annexed by Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967. According to international law, East Jerusalem is occupied territory. Land cannot be acquired by means of annexation. Annexation by use of force is contrary to international law.
Occupation or annexation?
Israel made West Jerusalem its capital in 1950 and established its government offices there. Soon afterwards, Jordan annexed the eastern part of the city along with the remainder of the West Bank. In the six-day war of 1967, Israel conquered and occupied also the parts of the city located east of the 1948 armistice line also known as the Green Line.
The term “East Jerusalem” is today used for the area between the “Green Line” and the eastern boundary of the Jerusalem Municipality, unilaterally drawn by Israel and encompassing the city's Eastern neighborhoods, some nearby villages as well as the Shu'afat refugee camp. Israel considers this area as annexed and applies its own domestic law. The expansion of the municipal boundries of Jerusalem meant a total annexation of 28 percent of the West Bank.
Annexation by the use or threat of force is prohibited under international law, as set forth in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. This principle was restated in GA Resolution 2625 (XXV) of 1970, which noted that states must not use force to violate existing international boundaries or to solve international disputes, including territorial ones.
In 1980, the Israeli Knesset passed "Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel" which, on a higher constitutional level, declared Jerusalem to be Israel 's "eternal and indivisible" capital including the occupied East Jerusalem territory. In response to this basic law, the UN Security Council (UNSC) affirmed that acquisition of territory, annexation, by force is forbidden according to international law and confirmed the continued application of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the areas annexed by Israel. It also called upon member states to withdraw their diplomatic missions from the city.
To the website of the Israeli Knesset and the text of the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel
To the UNSC Resolution 478
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its Advisory Opinion on the Wall, stated that the Wall built in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, leads to permanent facts on the ground which can result in de facto annexation of territory, contrary to international law. It confirmed the status of the oPt as occupied as well as the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the oPt.
Read more about the Wall and the ICJ advisory opinion
The international community, authoritative international judiciary and UN bodies have thus clearly rejected Israel's unilateral annexation. Therefore East Jerusalem remains occupied and a part of the oPt, along with the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As East Jerusalem is occupied territory, the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) are applicable.
Read the UNSC Resolutions pertinent to self-declared annexation of East Jerusalem
Read more about Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem
The status of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem
Immediately after the occupation of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, Israel conducted a census, to register the local Palestinian population.
Many East Jerusalemites obtained the status of permanent residents in Israel, but only a few chose to acquired Israeli citizenship. Permanent residency however is dependant on actual stay in Jerusalem and is therefore less secure than citizenship. If a Jerusalem resident spends a lot of time outside the city, for instance in the West Bank, he or she risks losing the right to reside in Jerusalem.
The Palestinians with permanent residency status cannot vote in the Israeli national elections, although they are entiteled to vote in municipal elections. However, many choose not to vote in order not to legitimise the annexation. Palestinian residents are obligated to pay municipal taxes, but do not, in general, receive the same level and quantity of services, such as education, garbage collection, etc.
East Jerusalemites who were not present in the city during the 1967 census, or who subsequently left the city, are not registered as Jerusalemites and are therefore named absentees. Generally, absentees can not re-enter and live in Jerusalem, except with a special permit. According to the the Law of Absentee Property from 1950, their land can be confiscated and passed on to the administration of the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property. Subsequent real-estate transactions of these lands rendered much of the land legally impossible to reclaim through the Israeli courts.
Israeli policies in East Jerusalem: an IHL analysis
Since the beginning of the occupation, more than four decades ago, the international community has regarded many Israeli policies in East Jerusalem as violations of IHL. This section will highlight the ones that are particularly relevant to East Jerusalem.
Download the IHL analysis of Israeli policies in East Jerusalem
The Jerusalem light rail: an IHL analysis
From an IHL erspective, the construction of a light railway in the Western part of the city, on the Israeli side of the Green Line, does not have any legal implication. When it comes to the part of the light railway that is being built on occupied territory, several legal problems arise. The conditions under which the project is currently carried out, lead Diakonia to dispute the legality of the project.
Download the IHL analysis of the violations caused by the Jerusalem Light Rail