Terminology in the Jerusalem context can be complex and also controversial. Words and their meanings shape narratives. Our Lexicon goes beyond standard definitions and also offers, where applicable, nuanced shades of meanings that matter to Palestinian Jerusalemites.


A legal category of persons as designated by Israeli law, specifically defined in the Absentees’ Property Law—1950. The law defines persons who were expelled, fled, or who left the country after November 29, 1947, mainly due to the war, as well as their movable and immovable property (mainly land, houses, bank accounts, etc.), as “absentee.” According to HaMoked: “It covers, among others, anyone who was visiting ‘enemy states’ enumerated in the Absentees’ Property Law (Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan (including the West Bank), Iraq, or Yemen), beginning on November 29, 1947, and until the state of emergency declared in May 1948 is revoked (the state of emergency has not been revoked to date and is still in effect). Additionally, anyone who had legal status in those countries at the time, or received legal status in them is also considered an absentee. Even people who temporarily left their usual place of residence within Mandatory Palestine to another locality which, albeit inside Mandatory Palestine, was held by elements who were fighting Israel at the time, and later returned to their usual place of residence, are considered absentees.” The property of any “absentee” is confiscated and turned over to the Custodian of Absentee Property.

Absentees’ Property Law

The Absentees’ Property Law—1950 defines broad categories of persons (largely Palestinians) as “absentee”. Movable and immovable property belonging to absentees was and continues to be placed under the control of the State of Israel with the Custodian of Absentee Property. Passed in 1950, the Absentees’ Property Law took effect retroactively as of November 29, 1947, and stayed in effect until such point as the state of emergency declared in 1948 is lifted (which it has not been to this day). Under the law, the custodian is supposed to be a temporary custodian until a permanent settlement for refugees is reached. However, instead, the custodian commonly transfers the properties deemed as belonging to “absentees” to Jewish claimants. This law was the main legal instrument used by Israel to take possession of the land belonging to the internal and external Palestinian refugees, and Muslim waqf properties across the state. In recent decades, the law has been used mainly against Palestinians to seize properties in East Jerusalem. See How Israel Applies the Absentees’ Property Law to Confiscate Palestinian Property in Jerusalem.

Administrative detention

Imprisonment without trial and without having committed any crime, as a way to ostensibly prevent a potential future crime. Under Israeli law, Palestinians in the West Bank can be detained for six months upon order of the empowered military official if he or she has “reasonable grounds to believe that reasons of regional security or public security require that a certain person be held in detention.” There is no hearing or other procedure to put up a defense. There is a right of appeal, but the evidence remains secret and only a very small percentage of such orders are cancelled. The administrative detention order can be renewed every six months indefinitely. Palestinian citizens of Israel and residents of Jerusalem can also be administratively detained, but under different laws.


Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines apartheid as “a former social system in South Africa in which black people and people from other racial groups did not have the same political and economic rights as white people and were forced to live separately from white people.” Customary international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court define it as “inhumane acts . . . committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” For almost two decades, the term “apartheid” has been used to describe the conditions of Palestinians living under Israel’s settler-colonial occupation. Former US President Jimmy Carter made the comparison in his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, published on September 18, 2007. B’Tselem, an Israel human rights organization, and Human Rights Watch in New York both published analyses drawing the same conclusion in early 2021.

Arab Higher Committee

An umbrella organization formed on April 25, 1936, by the leading Palestinian parties at the time to present Palestinian demands to the British government during the general strike launched five days earlier. Chaired by Supreme Muslim Council President Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the AHC included the heads of six political parties—Palestine Arab, National Defense, Istiqlal (Independence), Reform, National Bloc, and the Youth Congress—and two Christians. The AHC was active until World War II,  when it went dormant. In November 1945 and May 1946, the Arab League reorganized the AHC. After the United Nations endorsed the partition of Palestine in 1947, the AHC failed to present a political or military response, and subsequently lost its leadership role in 1948.

Arab Executive Committee

A committee, also known as the Arab Executive, formed during the third Palestine Arab Congress held in Haifa in December 1920, to represent Palestinian opposition to British and Zionist plans in Palestine. Between 1919 and 1928, seven Palestine Arab Congresses were organized by a network of local Muslim–Christian Associations throughout Palestine, led by prominent Palestinian families. The third congress in Haifa formed an executive committee of nine members, with Musa Kazim al-Husseini—recently deposed from his position as mayor of Jerusalem by Colonial British Mandate authorities—elected president and chairman. Among other demands, the committee called for Palestine to be part of an independent Arab state and for the formation of a national representative assembly in Palestine; it also rejected the Balfour Declaration and Jewish immigration. British Mandate authorities never recognized the committee and dissolved it in 1934. As a result, several Palestinian political parties were formed, including the Arab Higher Committee in 1936. 

Arab Legion

The army of Transjordan (renamed Jordan in 1949) during the first half of the 20th century. It was formed by British authorities in October 1920 after they ousted the Ottoman Turks and seized control of Arab lands. The Legion, which was financed and commanded by British authorities, was a police force tasked with maintaining order in Transjordan and patrolling the road between Jerusalem and Amman. While it was initially made up of 150 fighters, it quickly expanded to 1,000. In 1939, British general John Bagot Glubb, widely known as Glubb Pasha, took command of the Legion and transformed it into the best-trained Arab army. During World War II, the Legion participated on the side of the British forces and contributed significantly to Allied victories on the Middle East front. 

By the 1948 war, the Legion had grown to over 6,000 fighters, 4,500 of whom formed the military contingent that participated in the war. The Legion was originally ordered by the United Nations to withdraw from Palestine back to Transjordan before the Colonial British Mandate officially ended in May 1948. But when Zionists announced the establishment of the State of Israel on May 15, the Legion joined other Arab forces and reentered Palestine. Throughout 1948, units of the Legion engaged in several battles with Zionist forces, including the Battle for Jerusalem, retaining the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) by the end of the war. Between 1949 and 1956, the Legion was still commanded by Glubb, but in the wake of sweeping Arab nationalization campaigns across the region, on March 1, 1956, King Hussein relieved Glubb, named his own commander, and ultimately merged the Legion with the Jordanian National Guard – today part of the Jordanian Armed Forces.   

Arab Liberation Army

An army of volunteers, formed by the Arab League after the United Nations voted to partition British Mandate Palestine in late 1947. It was composed of Palestinian and other Arab volunteers and was led by an Iraqi officer, Fawzi al-Qawuqji, and Adib Shishakli, who later became president of Syria. The army’s mission was to defeat Zionism and to prevent partition. The army entered Palestine in January 1948. It briefly (May to October) controlled parts of western Galilee, but was defeated by Israeli forces by October and officially disbanded in March 1949. Its numbers were estimated at 6,000 by mid-March 1948, but might have been as low as 3,500. Volunteers were mainly Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Bosniaks, Circassians, and Egyptian members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al-Qawuqji was an ally of King Abdullah of Transjordan. Both of them opposed the leadership of (Palestinian Jerusalemite) Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who wanted to establish an independent Palestinian state. The mufti’s forces were diminished, in part because of the role played by the Arab Liberation Army, and King Abdullah was able to annex parts of Palestine to Jordan. The Arab Liberation Army is also sometimes referred to as the Arab Salvation Army (jaysh al-inqadh).

Area A

One of the three administrative divisions, areas A, B, and C, established in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip by the 1995 Oslo II Accords. The agreement placed the Palestinian Authority in charge of both “internal security and public order” and civilian affairs in zones designated as Area A. The zones include major Palestinian population centers—Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Jericho—and their immediate surroundings, as well as approximately 80 percent of Hebron. Area A comprises 18 percent of West Bank land and is home to the majority of its 3.05 million Palestinians (2021). In the Gaza Strip, once Israel evacuated its settlements in 2005, the territory effectively became entirely Area A—although stifled by a crippling military blockade since 2007. Likewise, in the West Bank, these mapped boundaries have changed de facto as Israel has shifted its military positions. The Israeli army conducts regular raids inside Area A, often to stage arrests. Palestinians and goods leaving and entering these partitioned areas of the West Bank usually must pass through Israeli checkpoints; Palestinians have no control over these boundaries. Less than 0.5 percent  of the area of the Jerusalem governorate is designated Area A.

See Area B, Area C, Oslo Accords.

Area B

One of the three administrative divisions, areas A, B, and C, established in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip by the 1995 Oslo II Accords. The agreement placed the Palestinian Authority in charge of civil control in Area B zones, while Israel would have the “overriding responsibility for security.” Area B comprises approximately 19.5 percent of the West Bank. Approximately 440 Palestinian villages are categorized as Area B. Palestinians and goods leaving and entering the partitioned areas of the West Bank usually must pass through Israeli checkpoints; Palestinians have no control over these boundaries. Many Palestinian farmers must obtain permits to access their lands because they live in areas A or B, but their farms are in Area C. Only about 8.5 percent of the Jerusalem governorate is Area B; the vast majority of the rest of the district (including areas under municipal control) is Area C, falling under complete Israeli control.

See Area A, Area C, Oslo Accords.

Area C

One of the three administrative divisions, areas A, B, and C, established in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip by the 1995 Oslo II Agreement. The agreement placed Israel in near-exclusive control over security and civil matters (including planning and construction) in Area C, which comprises approximately 61.5 percent of the occupied West Bank. There are as many as 300,000 Palestinians living in 532 communities that are completely or partially in Area C. The more than 200 Israeli settlements in the West Bank are located in Area C. The settlements that used to exist in the Gaza Strip were also in Area C, before they were evacuated in 2005. Most of the West Bank’s natural resources are in Area C, meaning that Palestinians have no access to those resources. Palestinians and goods leaving and entering the partitioned areas of the West Bank often must pass through Israeli checkpoints; Palestinians have no control over these boundaries. Most agricultural areas are located in Area C, and many Palestinian farmers must obtain permits from the Israeli COGAT to access their lands, because they live in areas A or B. The vast majority (89 percent) of the Palestinian Jerusalem governorate that falls outside Israeli municipal boundaries (i.e., J1) is designated Area C.

See Area A, Area B, Oslo Accords.


A property tax levied against residents of Israeli cities, including Jerusalem. It describes two payments, a tax collected by the municipality and the tax rate established by local authorities. Arnona is calculated according to a property’s location, its zoning and use, and its size, and can also change annually. The term is adapted from the Latin word “annona” (year’s produce or allotment, rations, provisions) from annus, year.

For Palestinians in East Jerusalem, arnona is very high in comparison to the services that they receive—another example of inequality. In addition, it is used by authorities at the Ministry of Interior and National Insurance Institute as required evidence that one’s “center of life” is in Jerusalem, without which Palestinians can lose their right to live and work in the city.


(Arabic: أشراف‎, Ashraf): Persons descended (or claiming descent) from the Prophet Muhammad by way of his daughter Fatima. Ashraf (with a long a) is the plural of sharif “noble,” from the root sharafa “to be highborn,” but ashraf (‏أشرف‎) with a short a means “very noble,” “nobler,” “noblest.”

Ateret Cohanim

A Jewish settler association established in 1978 whose stated objective is to “restore Jewish life in the heart of ancient Jerusalem.” Ateret Cohanim considers the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City to be the “Old Jewish Quarter” and is working actively to “reclaim” it (i.e. transfer property into Jewish hands). Ateret Cohanim’s activities are focused on the Old City of Jerusalem, although they have increased their work in Silwan, specifically in the Batn al-Hawa neighborhood, and also have established a settlement in the Palestinian town of Abu Dis. Ateret Cohanim facilitates the appropriation of Palestinian properties in Jerusalem, thereby expelling Palestinian residents and transferring their properties to Jewish Israeli settlers. 

The organization has an American wing, the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, based in Woodmere, New York.

al-Buraq Uprising

On August 15, 1929, a group of Zionists led by members of Betar demonstrated at al-Buraq Wall, or the Western Wall, a place that is holy to Jews. They raised the Zionist flag and sang the Zionist anthem in provocation of the city’s Palestinians. In response, Palestinians rioted, leading to a week of violence in which 113 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed and over 200 wounded. Importantly, the riots came after years of expanding Jewish immigration to Palestine, as well as a British Mandate decision to increase the number of Jewish worshippers allowed access to the Western Wall, which had been under Muslim authority for centuries. With growing support for the Zionist movement among British Mandate authorities, Palestinians feared a Zionist takeover of the city’s holy sites. In fact, the bulk of the clashes was between Palestinians and British police, and it is believed that mandate authorities underreported Palestinian casualties. Also referred to as the Buraq Disturbances, Western Wall Disturbances, and Western Wall Uprising.

al-Buraq Wall

The Arabic name for the Western Wall, Jerusalem’s most important Jewish site, which is also part of al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, Jerusalem’s most significant site for Muslims. Its name derives from an Islamic tradition that relates how the Prophet Muhammad traveled “from the Sacred Mosque [Mecca] to the Farthest Mosque [al-Aqsa]” (Quran 17:1), riding al-Buraq, a supernatural steed from Paradise. He tied his horse by the wall, went in to pray, then ascended to Paradise. Later that same evening, he remounted al-Buraq and returned to Mecca.

Once forming the northern border of the Haret al-Maghariba, home to a diverse community of Palestinians who were expelled when Israel razed the neighborhood in 1967, the al-Buraq Wall located below Bab al-Maghariba is today a fortified area attended by large gatherings of Jewish worshippers. Its Palestinian and Arab character meticulously erased by Israel, today the Buraq Wall is more widely known as the Western Wall (or the Wailing Wall pre-1967 when Jews were said to mourn for it). Importantly, it was the site of the 1929 al-Buraq Uprising, instigated by Palestinian protests against a provocative Zionist rally there, as well as against the increased Judaization of Palestine.

al-Haram al-Sharif

The third holiest site in Islam, located in the southeastern corner of the Old City of Jerusalem, and referred to in English as the Temple Mount. The term “al-Haram al-Sharif" (Arabic for “The Noble Sanctuary”) is used interchangeably with the terms “al-Aqsa Mosque compound” or, simply, “al-Aqsa.” The elevated compound, which includes al-Aqsa Mosque and Qubbat al-Sakhra (Dome of the Rock), was built between 685 and 809 CE.

Muslims revere al-Haram al-Sharif as the site where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. The site is so important to Islam that it is one of the only two mosques mentioned in the Quran (the other being the al-Haram Mosque in Mecca). The Quran also considers al-Aqsa Mosque to be the first qibla, or point of direction for praying, and the Prophet and Muslims prayed toward it before it was changed to Mecca; as such, al-Aqsa is also known as the Qibla Mosque.

Al-Haram al-Sharif (Har ha-Bayit in Hebrew) is also one of the holiest sites in Judaism, believed to be where Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son Isaac. Jews also consider the Western Wall (al-Buraq Wall, for Muslims) of al-Haram al-Sharif to be the last remnant of King Herod’s Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Al-Haram al-Sharif is thus a highly significant and contested site for Muslims and Jews, and the site of violent confrontations between the two communities, including in the 1929 al-Buraq Uprising, the 2000 Second Intifada, and the 2021 Unity Intifada. To this day Israeli occupation forces carry out assaults on Palestinian worshippers in al-Aqsa.

Also referred to as Haram al-Sharif.