by Tovi Fenster and Oren Shlomo
Since the occupation of East Jerusalem and its annexation to the jurisdiction of Israeli law, Israel has employed governmental techniques of spatial control and population management in a manner that discriminates against the residents of East Jerusalem in many aspects of life.1 The purpose of these strategies is to prevent a future division of the city through the Judaization of space and the reduction of the social and political presence of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. These discriminatory governmental techniques have been the subject of numerous media studies, which have determined that Israel’s policy of control and management is explicitly organized around the principle of preserving the urban demographic balance.2 These practices are first and foremost part of an extensive expropriation process of Palestinian land and of spatial regulation of land and planning in East Jerusalem — a situation leading to the declaration of residential construction as “illegal” and simultaneously serving as justification for the demolition of those houses which, out of a lack of choice, have been built without legal authorization. More restrictive regulations relate to the constant threat of the loss of residency status, discrimination in the allocation of city budgets — including in the areas of infrastructure development and public spaces — restrictions on family unification and, more recently, the evacuation of West Bank Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem and more.3
Amidst this spatial and social reality, a separation wall was established in 2002 around East Jerusalem, which undermines the city’s social and spatial arrangements on a number of different levels, from the metropolitan urban and municipal to the personal. The official Israeli justification for the construction of the wall hinges on security considerations, with the declared objective of preventing terrorists from the West Bank from entering Israel. But in Jerusalem, a metropolitan city that is home to two national groups engaged in a prolonged conflict, the main effect of the wall is a separation between Jerusalemite Palestinians and Palestinians living in the West Bank, resulting in the disruption of relations between the city and its eastern hinterland. Studies on the effects of the wall at the municipal level suggest that the construction of the wall has had serious negative impacts in the areas of employment, transportation, economics and demography, among others.4
Statement of Purpose
This article will present a different approach to examining the impact of the separation wall by focusing on the point of view of Palestinians living in the surrounding areas and by analyzing their feelings about their situation and the role of space in their everyday life activities. The theoretical foundation underlying the analysis sees the development of an urban “social space,” not only in terms of the actions of policymakers and space designers, but also as a result of the actions of users that construct the social character of the space. Many social geographers have pointed to this partnership of users in the social construction of space and the connection between the planning of a space and its use, and the social and cultural fabric that are associated with it. From this research perspective, space is not just a passive arena in which social drama takes place, but rather an active participant in the construction of social order.5 Using this approach, we consider the processes of social construction of space in East Jerusalem to be a significant factor in the construction of power relations between the groups that are in conflict.
On a more specific level, the article will discuss the influence of the separation wall on the residents of East Jerusalem in the Ash-Shayyah neighborhood located along the wall. In this area, the wall interrupts a developed Palestinian urban space extending eastward from the Old City and includes the village of Silwan, the neighborhoods of Ras al-Amoud and Ash-Shayyah and the towns of al-Ezariyya and Abu-Dis on the other side of the wall. The area includes Highway 417, the historic route to Jericho before it was cut off by the wall — the major traffic artery east of Jerusalem, which used to be lined with bustling commercial activity. In general, in the neighborhood of Ash-Shayyah, the wall follows the route of the city’s municipal border. After the annexation line was drawn in 1967, the area developed as a vibrant urban network of social, cultural, and economic affinities woven on both sides of the current municipal boundary.
We argue that while the Israeli justification for the construction of the wall is based on security considerations, from the perspective of Palestinian residents, the building of the wall reflects Israeli aspirations for the Judaization of space in Palestinian East Jerusalem. The following examination of the impact of the separation wall on the daily life of Palestinians living in the surrounding areas demonstrates how the wall functions as an object of exclusion, acting within a larger pattern of exclusionary government policies in East Jerusalem. Our contention seeks to emphasize the special role the wall plays in creating a sense of alienation and exclusion, adding to the complexity of the Palestinian identity in the city. We will consider the effects of the wall at two levels: the symbolic level and the practical level of everyday life.
The Act of Bordering and Its Symbolic Implications in East Jerusalem
During the last two decades, extensive academic discourse has arisen about the boundaries between and within states, which reflects changes in the academic approach to the concept of border. These shifts are due to global geopolitical changes — in particular the process of globalization — which paradoxically re-emphasizes the boundary lines between national entities, especially between the northern and southern states. This research discourse reinforces the argument that with the intensification of the globalization process, along with global migration and global terrorism, the borders dividing the world have become more sealed and guarded. This phenomenon is reflected in huge allocations of police forces towards border inspection, huge investments in building fences and walls, increasing refusal to provide transit visas and residence, and the development and use of technological aids for monitoring movement among border populations.6
These developments have given rise to the emergence of a global trend towards a regime of selective movement, in which movement in space is possible for exclusive identity groups based on class and ethnicity and on the potential security risk of those in movement. With the general trend towards the closing of borders and the development of a global movement system, political geographers and other social scientists have been dealing increasingly with the functional nature of the border area, and some have been suggesting that we view border areas as offering a special space that sustains and creates social and cultural dynamics and relations between groups on both sides. This approach sees the act of bordering, whether expressed in physical objects, such as fences and walls, or symbolic boundaries as the product of geo-political and social relations. At the same time, bordering has an impact on the construction of social identities and spatial interactions.7
These insights and processes apply also in East Jerusalem where the wall functions as a border zone that generates processes of social construction of space, while the wall itself reflects the power relations underlying the social and political discourse from which it grew. This discourse points to the Palestinians as a security risk for the Jewish population—a risk that should be channeled and controlled by regulation devices such as walls and barriers. For the Ash-Shayyah Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, the wall is as an externalization of the Israeli security doctrine which considers them a constant threat to social order and security.
Aside from this symbolic aspect, the wall and its security apparatus, including guard posts and electronic control systems, functions selectively in everyday life. Many Palestinians declare that the wall provides security and safety “for Jews only.” For example, when violent incidents occur in the vicinity of the wall between Palestinians, the security authorities do not go into action and do not enforce the security measures, in contrast to the rapid reaction in the case of any suspected threat to the safety of Jewish residents. Also, in municipal areas on the eastern side of the wall, residents do not fully enjoy the institutional protection and services of the state and the municipal authorities. In light of these facts, the wall is perceived by Palestinians as a tool intended to achieve the security goals of Israel, while they are ignored and their needs are marginalized.
Borders, especially between political entities and regions that are ethnically and culturally heterogeneous, also serve as symbols of the dominance of the hegemonic group. Thus a border becomes a representation of a collective narrative whereby the hegemonic group, in this case the Israeli Jews, expresses its spatial imagination and its collective identity.8 In this context it should be mentioned that the justification for the building of the separation wall is expressed in the public discourse in Israel as: “They are there and we are here.” That is, the wall is supposed to preserve and mark the differences between “us” and “them” and to highlight the relationship of the “other” between the nations.
For Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, the wall represents the Israeli establishment view of them as those who are “on the wrong side of the wall” or “foreigners” and as a threat to Jewish hegemonic ambitions for the demographic “Judaizing” of space. Many Palestinians living in the vicinity of the wall in Ash-Shayyah understand this separation as a first step in a process aimed at expelling them from the city to the West Bank. These feelings are heightened by additional processes occurring in the city, such as house demolitions, the infiltration of Jewish settlers into Palestinian neighborhoods and a slow but steady increase in the number of people deprived of residency status.
Everyday Life and the Wall
The impact of the wall is felt in many aspects of the daily life of those who live near it, and emphasizes the negative role of those entities and operations nominally responsible for creating a sense of ontological security for the residents. This sense of security and confidence is based on a day-to-day accessibility to work, school, and social institutions and practices which provide the individual and the community with a sense of stability and social order and enable them to maintain a routine of regular activity in their lives.9
The closure of Jerusalem from the West Bank was first implemented in the early 1990s during the First Gulf War and intensified during the period of the Oslo Accords and of the second intifada.10 The wall is the highest expression of a process of change in East Jerusalem, once an “area” characterized by social and economic flows occurring frequently and naturally in metropolitan spaces, to a “border” characterized by controlling or hermetically blocking these flows. Although Palestinians living in the city enjoy relative freedom of movement compared to Palestinians in the West Bank, by limiting passage through three main crossing points, the wall greatly hinders this freedom. These crossings function, in essence, as security checkpoints and as locations where Palestinians are subject to invasive inspection, causing a sense of discomfort and humiliation. In many cases fast and efficient passage through checkpoints is not guaranteed and crossing often takes a long time or is prevented altogether. This ordeal discourages many residents from making the passage altogether, causing a major disruption in the lives of Palestinian Jerusalemites, which affects nearly every aspect of daily life.
Another essential area in which the presence of the wall consolidates spatial and population control policy in East Jerusalem relates to restrictions on space development and construction. As mentioned above, this policy aimed at preserving a Jewish majority in Jerusalem, based upon the establishment’s assumption that the prevention of construction in the eastern part of the city will reduce the Palestinian population in it.11 This policy has led many residents to build their homes in towns east of the city, such as in al-Ezariyya and Abu-Dis (in Area B), while continuing their routine of daily life in the city. The migration to the towns east of the city can be seen as an act of “space consumption” which serves the interests of residents and allows them to avoid the restrictive and discriminatory planning arrangements of East Jerusalem.12
Motives for migration, according to the residents, include a hope that it will improve their quality of life and afford them the possibility of a dignified existence. However, since the building of the separation wall, many residents have been forced to return to live within the city limits because the requirement of crossing the border and passing through checkpoint inspection has proven too disruptive to their daily routine. Another reason for migration back to the city stems from a concern over the possible loss of their residency status. This process of reverse migration to East Jerusalem, when combined with the ongoing building restrictions, has led to an increase in population density, rising housing prices and growing feelings of discomfort and alienation in the home and neighborhood space.
The Fragmentation of Palestinian Communities
Non-residents and holders of temporary residence permits are another group that is deeply affected by the presence of the wall. Examples include women from the West Bank who are married to Jerusalem residents and those who have permits that restrict their movement only to the immediate area near their Jerusalem residences. These groups are “invisible” under the new spatial order created by the construction of the wall and have found themselves imprisoned in their homes, without the ability to travel to the West Bank for work or family visits. Many men in East Jerusalem refer to the “imprisonment” of their wives for fear that they may be arrested and forced to return to the West Bank. Previously, the space’s openness allowed travel to the West Bank for visits to family or for work.
Under the current Israeli policy, barriers to family [re]unification are in place and the movement of Palestinian residents is restricted to within the urban space, even for those with family connections in the city. Movement restrictions also cause changes in cultural practices such as marriages and funerals. Many residents report the need for changes in traditional wedding ceremonies, in which the groom’s family comes to celebrate at the bride’s house before the bride moves to live with the groom. In many cases, if a male resident of the West Bank marries a resident of Jerusalem, he will be denied entry into Jerusalem and the entire ceremony will be transferred to his home. In these cases the wall, functioning as a border that regulates the flow of cultural and social affairs in and out of the city, affects the character of social space and creates a deeply negative effect on the normative life of Palestinian residents.
Since the construction of the wall, the frequency of social gatherings between residents of East Jerusalem and social relations in the West Bank has diminished considerably due to the high costs and immense amounts of time required for travel. Many residents in Ash-Shayyah who used to visit relatives living within walking distance in the nearby towns, now need more than an hour’s journey by car. Thus, the Jerusalem residents on the eastern side of the wall are forced to accompany their children via special crossings for pedestrians on their way to school. The wall also disrupts mourning and burial ceremonies, particularly in cases where residents living within the wall’s perimeters want to arrange burial ceremonies for family members who pass away beyond the wall but need to be buried in Jerusalem. In many cases, members of the family from the West Bank are not allowed entry into the city, and the deceased has to be carried by family members without assistance through the crossing points.
In light of these facts, it is apparent that the wall has a deep systemic impact on those living in and around it in East Jerusalem, particularly on the everyday life level, disrupting the functioning of the people and institutions which characterizes a normative modern urban lifestyle. In the words of a Jerusalem resident interviewed for this study:
Look, there are things that you can control and things that you cannot control. People want to live a normal life and enjoy it — this is natural and normal. All of this (wall and checkpoints) does not depend on my will. If you encounter a soldier at a checkpoint in the morning, it can affect your entire day — it is not under your control. I, personally, can live as I see fit, but things do not depend on you. What interests you is to get up in the morning and return in the evening happy without something happening to you during the day. I have worked here 20 years, and I have given everything I can give. I’m looking for normal life. The wall has damaged my aspiration to live a normal life. (Abed, July13, 2009)
Summary: Between an Alternative Space and a Cultural Anchor
As we have shown, the construction of the wall fuels a spatial reality of separation, which has contributed to a sense of alienation and “otherness” for Palestinians living in the vicinity of the wall. But any deconstruction of this situation must also take into account the broader context of political and diplomatic moves taking place in Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). An examination of the past decade, since the second intifada in 2000, points to a partial urbanization of the West Bank and the stabilization of a social order in the PA, along with the growing centrality of Muslim holy places among the Palestinian public and in the political discourse.
The first process is largely the result of improvements in enforcement of public order in Area A; American pressure which produces an easing of the occupation regime in the West Bank (in Areas B and C); the flow of global capital to the PA and the civilian economy, and the policies and statements of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The second process points to a radicalization of the status of the holy sites in Jerusalem in the public and political discourse on both the Arab and Jewish sides. These sites, first and foremost al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall, are part of the symbolic cultural landscape that represents the core of cultural identity of the two peoples and the beating heart of the conflict.
These historical-political processes have a central meaning in the daily life of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. In recent years, many of them have begun to go to other Palestinian cities and towns, particularly Ramallah, Abu-Dis and al-Ezariyya for leisure and recreation, shopping and social visits. Palestinian residents have reported a sense of relief, release and comfort associated with the movement in the territories beyond the wall, in contrast to the days of the second intifada when the West Bank was littered with checkpoints and saturated with the extreme violent acts of the Israeli occupation. However, one should not ignore the privileges of East Jerusalem residents compared to residents of the West Bank in terms of freedom of movement in and out of Israel and in terms of their economic possibilities. These privileges are granted to them as a result of their Israeli residency status, which allows them to participate in the labor market and welfare and health systems in Israel. This different civil status of the residents of East Jerusalem and the benefits associated with it contribute to a sense of social detachment and deepens the social otherness and complexity of the relations between them and the Palestinian West Bank population and government.
The spatial realities of these processes have placed the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem within a complex geography which creates ambivalence both in functioning and identity. This geography causes them to assume an intermediate position that reflects their hybrid status. On the one hand, they feel a moral, religious and national obligation to stay near their holy places and protect their national cultural assets in the city despite the difficulties posed by the Israeli establishment’s policy of discrimination and dislocation. On the other hand, to the east of the wall, a national and political space is slowly forming to which Palestinians living in the city demand the right to belong13 and to operate freely — a claim denied them in the context of their living space. Between these options stands the separation wall, which fences off and deepens the paradoxical situation that the Palestinian population experiences as a spatial object within a social geography of isolation and alienation.
1 Here we rely on Michel Foucault’s conceptualization of government techniques of population management as opposed to sovereignty, whose essence is the control of territory (Foucault 2007).
2According to a 1973 government decision, Israeli policy is to maintain a demographic balance in the city of 73.6% Jewish and 26.5% Palestinian.
3 See for example: Benvenisti 1996, Braverman 2007, Cheshin et al 1999, Dumper 1997 and Margalit 2006.
4 See for example: Brooks 2007, Efrat 2008, Sorkin 2007 and Kimhi 2006.
5 See Lefebvre 1974; Sibley 1996; de Certeau 1984.
6 See Bauman 1998; Shamir 2005; Newman 2006a.
7 See Rumley and Minghi 1991; Newman 2006b; Houtom and Naersen 2002.
8 See Portugali 1993.
9 Giddens 1986.
10 Cohen 2007.
11 Cheshin et al. 1999.
12 Michel de Certeau describes everyday life practices of the users of space as “ways of operating” in which users “consume” space and provide it with unique meanings that suit their aspirations and desires.
13 On the ‘right to belong’ see Fenster 2004.
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The authors wish to thank Dr. Enad Surchi of Al-Quds University for his help in the various stages of this research
Tovi Fenster is a professor of geography at Tel Aviv University and the founder of Bimkom (Planners for Planning Rights).
Oren Shlomo is a doctoral student in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.