Israeli forces armed to the hilt stand at the ready while Muslims gather to perform Friday prayers in the streets of the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras al-Amud in East Jerusalem, after authorities barred most Muslims from praying at al-Aqsa Mosque.


Mostafa alKharouf/ Anadolou via Getty Images

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In East Jerusalem These Days, Moving around While Palestinian Is Perilous

Saeed Musa, 34, is a resident of Kufr ‘Aqab, a Palestinian neighborhood north of Jerusalem that lies behind the Israeli Separation Wall. Musa works in one of the largest supply complexes north of Jerusalem. During the first days of the war on Gaza, he chose not to go to work out of fear of being targeted by angry Israelis. But after being absent for several days and concerned that he might lose his job, he decided to risk it. His effort in trying to reach his workplace, which is only a few minutes away from the Qalandiya checkpoint, became an adventure.

When he arrived at the Qalandiya checkpoint, which is the only access point for Palestinians with Palestinian Authority (PA) IDs from the north to enter Jerusalem, Musa was surprised to find it closed. After a long wait, he decided to try his luck at the Hizma vehicular checkpoint, which is used by Jewish settlers from Ma‘ale Adumim. (Israelis who drive yellow-plated cars are allowed to use this checkpoint, both car and driver; Palestinians with PA IDs are not allowed to drive in Jerusalem, and their green-plated cars are also not allowed to enter the city. The Qalandiya checkpoint is a pedestrian-only crossing.) Although it would take him a while to reach it, he figured that it was worth the effort; he really didn’t want to lose his job, he told Jerusalem Story.

When he finally arrived at his workplace, he found that many workers from Jerusalem had been unable to make it in; his work complex was mostly empty. But he also discovered new conditions at work having to do with the content of his cell phone.

Armed Israeli personnel check the contents of a Palestinian man’s shoulder bag, October 13, 2023.

Armed Israeli personnel check the contents of a Palestinian man’s shoulder bag, October 10, 2023.


Muath al-Khatib for Jerusalem Story

Another employee of the same workplace, who requested that his name not be mentioned, told Jerusalem Story that management urged the workers to come to work quickly or risk losing their jobs. They were given clear instructions about what they could do: They could not comment on what is happening in Gaza or publish anything on social media. If they did, they would be punished by management and turned over for legal follow-up by the Israeli police.

This restriction on employee speech was not limited to one location. Dozens of young Palestinian men and women have been arrested in Jerusalem recently because of the content they were accused of posting on their social media accounts in support of fellow Palestinians in Gaza.

These days, Israeli police routinely search Palestinian’s cell phones the moment they are stopped in the street. Anyone who is found encouraging Hamas or even having graphics of support for Gaza including Palestinian flags (which the Israeli High Court had ruled is not illegal) is immediately arrested and charged with incitement.

This is exactly what happened to Ahmed Abdullah, 25, from the al-Sa‘diyya neighborhood in the Old City of Jerusalem. Before leaving his house, he decided to delete all his social media applications from his cell phone, knowing that if he was stopped and searched, he might be arrested. Abdullah works in a restaurant in West Jerusalem, and he told Jerusalem Story that he no longer wanted to work there. He detailed the harassment from Israeli guards as he boarded the light train and the glares of the Jewish passengers at him.

Yet Abdullah continues to go to work. While the situation is very difficult because of the war in the Gaza Strip, he feels compelled to hold on to his job, because of his family’s poor economic circumstances. Once at work, he says, he can relax somewhat; his Israeli employer treats him well, and he is almost the only one who shows up for work. Most of his Palestinian coworkers have missed work, because the checkpoints that control Palestinian access to Jerusalem are closed.

These days, Israeli police routinely search Palestinian’s cell phones the moment they are stopped in the street.

Israeli police restricted Palestinians' access to pray at al-Aqsa Mosque on October 13, 2023.

Israeli police restricted Palestinians’ access to pray at al-Aqsa Mosque on October 13, 2023.


Muath al-Khatib for Jerusalem Story

The stories of the Jerusalem workers reflect the dire economic situation in general and for Palestinian workers in particular these days. Ziad Hammouri, director of the Jerusalem Center for Economic and Social Studies, spoke with Jerusalem Story about the deteriorating economic situation for Palestinian workers in Jerusalem since Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip, which began October 7, 2023. He concluded, “If the situation continues as it is now in Jerusalem, the unemployment rate will rise significantly among Jerusalemites.”1

According to Israeli official statistics, the unemployment rate in 2022 for Palestinians in Jerusalem within Israeli municipal borders (which does not include all the towns and villages located behind the Separation Wall) is 8 percent.2 Palestinian sources claim the unemployment rate is nearly double that—14 percent.3 Part of the difference lies in the scope of coverage: The PA statistics include the entire governorate of Jerusalem, which is much larger than the Israeli municipal city boundaries.

For workers aged 15 to 24, most of whom work in Israeli service professions, the rate is as high as 25 percent.4 Presently, most of the male workforce is staying at home due to the war situation and the closure of commercial and tourist businesses, according to Hammouri.

Israeli closures and restrictions on movements in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods are also felt in official Israeli institutions, such as the municipality and the Israeli Ministry of Education, Hammouri says: “The atmosphere of escalating incitement prevailing in Jerusalem, the incitement issued by senior Israeli officials such as Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir—all have contributed greatly to increasing tension and fear among the Arabs in the Holy City.”

Palestinian Jerusalemite lawyer Azzam Hashlamoun shares that he also faces difficulties as he tries to move between the neighborhoods of Jerusalem. He is often confronted with quickly erected Israeli checkpoints (“flying checkpoints”) manned by security personnel who restrict and disturb the regular movement of Palestinian Jerusalemites trying to go about their business.

For Palestinian Jerusalemites who need to travel outside the city, the problems are compounded; the fear of not being able to return if one leaves the city of Jerusalem largely determines whether to take such a risky adventure. This is due to the closure of the checkpoints, even to those holding Israeli permanent-resident IDs, who by law are supposed to be allowed freedom of movement in and out of the city. Movement between areas beyond the wall and the rest of the city is also restricted by the address listed on one’s personal government-issued identification card.

Hashlamoun tells Jerusalem Story, “These barriers are cutting off the Arab neighborhoods, in addition to stopping commercial activity in the city, which has become almost completely paralyzed, as merchants and goods cannot reach their shops and businesses, while the restrictions of movement by means of the barriers prevent residents from arriving and shopping.”5

This isolation policy has produced a reduction in the number of Jerusalemites being able to carry out their normal life chores. With approximately 200,000 Jerusalemites living behind the wall, half of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population has had no access to the rest of their own city since October 7.

For Ziad Hammouri, Azzam Hashlamoun, and Saeed Musa, Jerusalem these days is not the city they know. It is a city living in constant fear and anxiety about the unknown, which has forced Jerusalemites to change their daily routines and to be more careful in everything they do and say, especially in their social media.

Interactive Map Palestinian Jerusalem Governorate (Muhafazat al-Quds)

An interactive map of the Palestinian governorate of Jerusalem and its two subdistricts, J1 (overlapping with Israeli municipal Jerusalem) and J2



Interview with the authors, October 19, 2023. All subsequent quotes from Hammouri are from this interview.


Press Release on the Results of the Labour Force Survey” [in Arabic], Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), accessed October 23, 2023.


“Press Release on the Results of the Labour Force Survey.” 


Interview with the authors, October 19, 2023.

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