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Five things to know about Jerusalem

Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews [AFP]

Date of publication: 7 December, 2017

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Host to the holiest sites in the world's Abrahamic religions, home to a divided population, and marred by politics, here are five things to know about Jerusalem.
After US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday, the disputed city is once again stirring powerful emotions around the world.

Here are five things to know about Jerusalem:

Current status

Israel seized control of Palestinian East Jerusalem from Jordan during a 1967 war and later annexed it. The move was never recognised by the international community but Israel declared the city its undivided capital.

But the Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their state.

No countries have accepted Israeli sovereignty and have their embassies in the commercial capital Tel Aviv instead.

The city's eastern sector contains some of the sites holiest to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Divided population

Jerusalem's population is divided not only between Israeli Jews and Muslim and Christian Palestinians, but also within the Jewish population itself, with over a third of the city's 542,000 adult Jewish residents defining themselves as ultra-Orthodox, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Palestinians in Jerusalem – both Muslim and Christian – have Israeli residency and access to services. Most Palestinians do not partake in municipal elections and cannot vote in parliamentary elections. NGOs in support of them denounce what they describe as the unequal distribution of resources and services in east and west Jerusalem.

Secular life

Alongside the religious sites, institutions and people, Jerusalem is host to the Palestinian National Theatre, which is among the rare Palestinian institutions located in Jerusalem. Israeli authorities do not allow the Palestinian Authority to operate in the city.

Meanwhile, Israel’s top higher education facility, the Hebrew University, whose founding fathers include Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud is also located in Jerusalem.

Tourism capital

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 78 percent of the three million tourists who entered Israel in 2016 visited Jerusalem.

Muslim pilgrims visit the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third-holiest site in Islam. The compound is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, their holiest site.

Among the most popular destinations were the Western Wall along with the Christian holy sites at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Via Dolorosa, all in the walled Old City.

'Jerusalem Syndrome'

Jerusalem is one of the few cities worldwide to have a psychiatric condition named after it. 

The rare condition affects tourists who come to visit holy sites of Christianity, Judaism and Islam and suddenly find themselves overwhelmed by it all, believing themselves to be characters from the Bible, Dr Grigory Katz, a psychiatrist at Jerusalem's Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre and an expert on the syndrome, has said.

The syndrome is rare, but when it strikes, it usually affects Protestant pilgrims from small-town America or Scandinavia raised in pious families whose trip to the Holy Land may be their first ever abroad.

Many of those afflicted by the condition become convinced they are Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary or some other character from the Bible, but symptoms don't tend to last long, and medication can help bring patients back to "normalcy" within days.

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