Some Relections on Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis

This is the third 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. In Part 2, Zachary Neal shared his thoughts on the book.

By Deirdre Oakley

I’ll begin by saying that I think this is a great book addressing some very complex and challenging issues of a truly divided city and I’d like to share a few reflections on the book.

But first I’d like to share a little anecdote. When I got to page 102 of the book, I came upon the paragraph about the 1960 epic film Exodus staring Paul Newman as Ari and Eva Marie Saint as Kitty. During my early teenage years in the 1970s I had been big fan of Leon Uris who authored the book Exodus on which the movie was based. In my 13-year-old head Ari was tall, dark and handsome, brooding, complex but fighting for a just cause with a faintly European accent. The kind of character any 13-year-old girl would have an imaginary crush on. So I decided to watch Exodus not only because I had never seen it but because on page 201 the authors state that the movie didn’t really accurately portray Israelis. I know I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was really disappointed in the blonde Paul Newman with a heavy New York City accent as Ari, as this was so unlike my image of Ari from the book. Of course Newman did a great job in the role, but he just wasn’t my Ari. In fact one of the only characters in the movie that seemed true to the book was Kitty – the stereo typical non-Jewish pretty blond.

In a way this very point is made in the book: few Israelis have heavy New York accents and the country is very diverse in the terms of race, ethnicity and religion. So in this sense Jerusalem sets the record straight and this is important because for most of us what we know about Jerusalem is what we read in the papers and watch on television – all of which focuses on the seemingly endless conflicts and violence.

The book also very skillfully demonstrates that Jerusalem is the ultimate city of contested development – not only between the Israelis and Palestinians but also between and among the secular, ultra-orthodox Jewish citizens as well as the Zionists. So who controls what land and how development is shaped is intricately tied to various National identities and ultimately who controls Jerusalem.  Therefore in the Jerusalem context urban development and growth are not secularized processes as illustrated in John Logan and Harvey Molotch’s treatment of the growth machine in the United States context (1987).  Indeed, unlike the growth machine evoked by Logan and Molotch – one that is always in search of greater exchange values at the expense of use values – i.e. value-free – in Jerusalem’s case such processes are value-laden because the goals are about geo-political control.

However, in both the U.S. and Israel, government matters in terms of how urban development is shaped and who wins and who loses from it. So while the growth machine manifests itself very differently in Jerusalem as the authors argue, we can also see some similarities in terms of the role of government. Perhaps U.S. cities don’t have a wall like Jerusalem, but they do, because of the 1950 and 1960s urban renewal policies, have massive highway systems that have divided cities and destroyed once vibrant and economically prosperous Black communities.  I would argue that such urban renewal was just as blatantly geo-political containment efforts as how development has occurred in Jerusalem, only in the U.S. case it’s continually about containing poor Blacks or invading their neighborhoods for redevelopment, which most of the time means displacement.  Thus, while the U.S. case might not be directly linked to the dominance of one political party, it is indeed racialized – for example in Atlanta it may not be between the Jewish and Palestinian factions, but between Blacks and whites, with (like Jerusalem) the poor minorities being most vulnerable to lose the most.

In closing, I would like to mention that I assigned my graduate Urban Sociology class Jerusalem as one of the readings and it significantly contributed to a very dynamic and engaged semester.  I highly recommend the book.

Reference
John Logan and Harvey Molotch 1987. Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Deirdre Oakley is a Professor in the Department of Sociology at Georgia State University. She is also one of the Managing Editors of the Journal of Urban Affairs. Her research focuses primarily on how urban social disadvantage is often compounded by geographic space and place-based social policies.

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

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