Holy Basin

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A view from Valley of Jehoshaphat, a drawing from the 19th century of Thomas Seddon.
A view at the Holy Basin from Mount Scopus.

Holy Basin (Hebrew: האגן הקדוש, HaAgan HaKadosh), or Historic Basin (Hebrew: האגן ההיסטורי, HaAgan HaHistori) is a modern Israeli term for a geographical area in Jerusalem that includes the Old City and its adjacent territories. The term was coined by the contemporary Israeli generation while a political-academic discourse on how does one refers to the area in Jerusalem where the historical and holy sites are concentrated.[1][2] The term is being used in the field of geographical research and in contemporary geo-political studies specializing in urban planning, such as local master plans for Jerusalem and studies concerning the political future of the city.


The Holy Basin, in effect – Jerusalem, a concentrated geographical area of thousands of years of history and hundreds of holy places – some common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and some are unique to one of the three religions. Isaac Tischler maintains that David Ben-Gurion argued that "Jerusalem is not Shuafat, Beit Hanina or Sur Baher, nor Abu Dis, but rather the Holy Basin – the Temple Mount and the Old City".[3] He added that the suggestion of Ben-Gurion to destroy the old city walls after the unification of the city intended to erase the boundary between the Holy Basin and the new city.

In a comprehensive study [4] on the holy basin, Professor Ruth Lapidoth starts with an example out of the first speech, in the First Knesset, by the poet Uri Zvi Grinberg. In this speech, in which the poet dedicated to "Divided Jerusalem" and the Jewish yearning to the Old City across the border, he emphasized that the name Jerusalem is directed only to the Jerusalem that is within the walls of Jerusalem, "where Temple Mount lies", and all that was built in the modern era – beyond the holy basin, is no more than "fecundation of Jerusalem. "


Areas of the Holy Basin area are not clearly defined and region boundaries are not agreed upon by all geographers engaged in the study of Jerusalem. A limited version sees the old city surrounded by the Walls of Jerusalem as the Holy Basin. A more expanded version sees Mount of Olives, Mount Zion and the City of David also as part of the Holy Basin.


In a study conducted for the Research Institute of Jerusalem, the researchers Kobi Michael and Dr Moshe Hirsch drew the precise boundaries of the basin as follows:[2]

Core region: westerly − along the old city walls up to the southwestern corner. southerly − along the channel of Gehenna, through the south of the wall surrounding the monastery of Akeldama. From there, to the north to the eastern wall of Gallicantu Peter's Church. From there, to the southern wall of the Old City up to the Southern Wall excavations[5] (Ophel Garden[6]). From there, to the Valley of Josaphat up to the Ras al-Amud road – including the Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery.

Easterly – along the Jewish burial plots on Mount of Olives up to the section of the wall of the Russian Church Chapel of the Ascension, up to Al Makassed Hospital,[7] through the wall of Viri Galilaei church. Northerly – from Viri galilaei church, to the northeast corner of the city walls of the Old City, and along the wall up to the Schmidt school compound, and along the wall up to its corner in Jaffa Road. Over all, a sum total of 2,012 acres.


According to the Research Institute of Jerusalem,[8] in late 2003, 35,400 residents lived in the Old City, and in the entire Holy Basin around 40,000. 73% of the residents in the old city were Muslims, 18% Christians, and 9% were Jews.

Out of 900 acres where the old town is situated, about 210 acres owned by the Waqf (24%) (mostly on the Temple Mount, an area of approximately 144 acres); About 270 acres owned by the Christian Churches and monasteries (30%); 250 acres of Arab private land ownership (28%), and about 170 acres owned by the state (18%).

Out of 6,000 families who live in the Old City, 68% are Muslim, 24% Christian, and 8% are Jewish.

About half the lands of the Old City are being used for residence, 280 acres are being used for religious and educational institutions, and 80 acres for trade. Archaeological sites stretch over 50 acres, and there are also 40 acres that are not being used.

Geo-political disputes[edit]

The Holy Basin is not only the center of Jerusalem, but also in the center of the Arab–Israeli conflict, and any negligible controversy may turn into an international incident. The latest example for such incident was the uproar against the Rescue excavations at the Mughrabi Gate in early 2007, an event that joins a series of events, some of which included casualties.

In 2006, the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, headed by Ruth Lapidot, conducted a research on alternatives to the sovereignty over the Holy Basin. According to this study there are five solutions to the Holy Basin:[9]

  • The first alternative offers full control and sovereignty of the State of Israel (the zionist entity) over all the Holy basin, while providing some autonomy to the Palestinians. The meaning of this proposal is practically the institutionalization of the current situation on the ground, where Muslim and Christian clerics run their own institutions autonomously.
  • The second alternative is radically different – sovereignty and full control of the Palestinians over all the Holy Basin, with an autonomy to Jewish settlers .
  • The third alternative offers a territorial partition between the parties with international supervision.
  • Fourth alternative offers co-management, and the division of power between the two parties with international backing.
  • The fifth alternative: the management of the Holy Basin would be run by an international body as one unit. The international body will not only hold supervisory authority and control, but will also be responsible for managing the Holy Basin, and will be the source of authority and control in the Holy Basin.

The researchers Kobi Michael and Dr Moshe Hirsch presented a study in which the option that is most applicable is rather the model based on West Berlin – an area managed as an autonomous entity under international supervision – agreed upon all parties.[2]


  1. ^ Gershon Baskin, The Jerusalem Problem: The Search for Solutions, Palestine-Israel Journal, Vol.8 No.1 2001 / Jerusalem
  2. ^ a b c Dalia Shehori, Modeling Jerusalem's Holy Basin on West Berlin, haaretz, 19 January 2004
  3. ^ "תפשת מרובה לא תפשת: אשליות ועובדות בירושלים השלמה - גלובס". globes.co.il. Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2014-05-17.
  4. ^ "מכון ירושלים לחקר ישראל". jiis.org.il. Retrieved 2014-05-17.
  5. ^ Southern Wall excavations.
  6. ^ Ophel Garden.
  7. ^ Al Makassed Hospital Archived 2013-02-22 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ "מכון ירושלים לחקר ישראל". jiis.org.il. Retrieved 2014-05-17.
  9. ^ אלוף בן, אהוד אולמרט כמעט עשה היסטוריה: וויתור ישראלי על האגן הקדוש.