book review, Jerusalem

Jerusalem: Response #1

This is the second in a series of blog posts evolving from a panel at UAA 2016. In Part 1, Anne Shlay introduced her book Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis, co-written with Gillad Rosen.

By Zachary Neal

In March, I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussing Anne Shlay and Gillad Rosen’s new book, Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis. I was reluctant to join the panel at first because I know so little about Jerusalem, but reading their book offered an excellent introduction to the issues in the region. It also raised a number of questions for me, which were the focus of my comments on the panel.

Zero Sum Games
Early in the book, Anne and Gillad argue that “The struggle for Jerusalem is viewed as a zero-sum game, in which there are only winners and losers” (p. 7). But as they explain through the book, there are actually multiple “games” being played in Jerusalem, and I wondered, are all of them zero-sum?

First and foremost there is the game, or competition, over physical space. Because physical space is finite and can only be used by a limited number of people at any given moment, this game is almost by necessity zero-sum. But, there is also a competition over place, that is, over the emotional and sentimental bonds that people and groups attach to physical spaces. It is much less clear that this game is zero-sum; the fact that Muslims attach meaning to the Temple Mount does not diminish the ability of Jews to also attach meaning to the Temple Mount. While space may be finite, place is not. In the game for place, perhaps it is possible for there to be only winners and no losers. Conversely, there is also a competition for social services. As Anne and Gillad explain, poverty in the region is widespread, and found among both Jews and non-Jews. If poverty and limited access to social services is widespread, this may be a case where there are only losers and no winners.

It is easy to claim that a competition is zero-sum, and it is an appealing claim to make because zero-sum competitions are easy to understand since participants can be cleanly divided into winners and losers. But, I wonder whether the situation in Jerusalem is simply too complex for this kind of dichotomy.

Growth Machines
Anne and Gillad also use the notion of “Growth Machines” to help understand development in Jerusalem. This gets complicated because the vast majority of theorizing about growth machines, and the vast majority of empirical evidence behind this theory’s predictions, come from cities in the United States. Jerusalem, as they note in multiple places throughout the book, is different and unique. To what extent, then, can the theory of growth machines be stretched to work in that context?

They explain that unlike in many U.S. cities, in Jerusalem “metropolitan growth is managed extensively by members of the public sector and, in particular, it is orchestrated by the national government” (p. 35). However, while “For Israelis, the growth of Jerusalem represents the normal expansion of a thriving metropolis, For Palestinians, Jerusalem’s development is nothing short of imperialism” (p. 45). This left me wondering, what is the relationship between growth machines and imperialism?

Anne and Gillad seem to argue that imperialism is a special type of growth machine in which the machine is driven entirely by state actors. But, I’m not sure that imperialism and growth machines can be so easily collapsed. Instead, it may be useful to distinguish these two mechanisms of urban growth because the state differs from traditional growth machine actors in important ways. First, the state has a monopoly on the use of force, while traditional growth machine actors may use force, but only illegitimately. Thus, while traditional growth machine actors may attempt to force individuals out of their homes, perhaps through eminent domain, they cannot threaten those individuals with death for lack of compliance…the state can. Second, the state has final and sovereign legal authority, while traditional actors are subjects of the state (e.g. corporations are chartered by the state). Thus, while traditional actors can use the law and exploit loopholes to their advantage, the state can make, remake, and reinterpret the laws themselves to its advantage.

Given these differences, I wonder whether imperialism and growth machines are simply different, or whether one is merely a special case of the other.

Now what?
During the panel, Anne admitted to struggling with articulating the purpose of the book. It is challenging not only because it deals with complex issues for which much is at stake, but also because the authors themselves have a significant personal and emotional connection to the region and to those issues. Nonetheless, they offer some hint about their goals toward the end of the book, noting that “The credo of science is to provide facts, not to tell people what to do with those facts” (p. 188).

Maybe this has been the credo of science, and maybe is hasn’t. But, I felt like I wanted to challenge Anne and Gillad with a harder question: should it be the credo of science, and should it be the goal of their book? Certainly there are risks to telling people what do to, to making proscriptions: they may be annoyed, offended, angered. However, there are also risks to going to the great lengths Anne and Gillad have to collect and present the facts, but then not telling people what to do with them. The facts may simply be ignored and go unused by anyone, calling into question the purpose of having collected and presented them in the first place. Or, more dangerously, the facts may be misunderstood or purposefully distorted to justify inappropriate actions.

Telling people what to do about Jerusalem is, no doubt, an eggshell-walking feat. But, if (social) science can’t provide a guide for action, what can it do?

Zachary Neal ( is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University.

Click here to go to the next blog post in this series.

2 thoughts on “Jerusalem: Response #1”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s