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.

Facts on the ground

Creating “facts on the ground” is a geopolitical term that refers to the process through which Israel imposed de facto control over territories occupied in 1967 despite international pressure against Israeli colonial expansionism by means of introducing new and seemingly unalterable demographic, territorial, and cultural realities.


The first of the five daily obligatory prayers in Islam. Fajr (dawn) prayer is performed by Muslims before the break of dawn. It consists of two rak‘as (full cycles of prostrations) and is performed before the first light of dawn appears in the sky.

Family unification

“Family unification” (sometimes called lem shaml in Arabic) refers to the process that Palestinians who have legal status in Israel, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), or the Gaza Strip undergo to apply for legal status for immediate family members who do not have this status. Once obtained, that status then allows the spouse or child to live legally within the Israeli municipal borders of Jerusalem with the other family member or members who hold legal status.

“Family reunification” or “family reunion” are terms used by international bodies and organizations. These terms are defined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the “process of bringing together family members, particularly children, spouses and elderly dependents.” In the Israeli system, while family reunification was the original term used, this has more commonly come to be referred to as family unification today.


A Palestinian political faction formed in 1959 that, one decade later, became the most important faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the representative body of the Palestinian people. (The word “fatah,” which means to conquer, is the reverse acronym of harakat al-tahrir al-filastiniyya, Palestinian Liberation Movement.) Fatah was the first national group to be started by Palestinians after the Nakba in 1948, when many were made refugees. It grew out of a clandestine student organization that included Yasser Arafat and Khalil al-Wazir, among others, and advocated armed struggle to liberate all of Palestine, and independence from Arab governments. It claimed that the liberation of Palestine was the road to Arab unity. Initially, Fatah advocated a three-phase strategy that was inspired by the Algerian, Cuban, and other revolutionary models: small-scale guerrilla activity followed by all-out guerrilla warfare, and then a people’s war. In the early 1960s, it carried out paramilitary operations against Israel.

By 1969, under Arafat’s leadership, Fatah had taken control of the PLO. After the 1973 War, it shifted toward a phased approach, and by 1988, the Fatah leadership was instrumental in persuading the PLO’s parliament, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), to adopt a “peace initiative” based on a Declaration of Independence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, leading to US-led talks. The Fatah-led PLO found itself in a very weakened position after the first Gulf War in 1991; because it had not condemned Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, it suffered profound political and financial consequences. In this weakened state, the PLO accepted US and Israeli conditions for the Madrid Conference and the Oslo Accords, the latter of which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1994. Based now in the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT), the Fatah movement has lost ground, in part because voters associate Fatah with PA inefficiency and corruption. Hamas soundly defeated Fatah in the 2006 legislative elections. Since then, the two factions have been at loggerheads, unable to work together effectively. The result has been the establishment of separate authorities in the West Bank (headquartered in Ramallah and controlled by Fatah) and the Gaza Strip (controlled by Hamas).


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Arabic word for peasants or agricultural laborers in an Arab country (singular: fellah)

First Intifada

The Palestinian uprising (intifada is Arabic for shaking off) against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that erupted in December 1987 and included many forms of civil disobedience, such as massive demonstrations, general strikes, barricades, refusal to pay taxes, boycotts of Israeli products, graffiti, and underground ‘‘freedom schools.’’ By the time the First Intifada ended (in September 1993, with the signing of the first Oslo Accord), about 1,500 Palestinians had been killed across the country by Israeli soldiers and civilians (including East Jerusalem), tens of thousands had been injured, and 175,000 imprisoned. During this period, Israel had the highest per capita prison population in the world.

Flying checkpoint

A random, temporary, and unannounced makeshift roadblock thrown up without advance notice by the Israeli military. Typically in Palestinian areas and affecting Palestinian mobility.