More Thoughts on Jerusalem

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on the book Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis. Previous posts were written by Anne Shlay, Zachary Neal, and Deirdre Oakley.

By Rachel Garshick Kleit

Anne asked us to think about how the book helps us to think about the problem of Jerusalem’s future–does it help? I think so. I know it has provoked an emotional response that has moved me to think differently about Jerusalem.  This book has caused me to laugh, to cringe, to feel shame. It has made me take a step back to look at Jerusalem from an academic perspective, from a simultaneously inside and outside view. By inside I mean the dual perspective of Israelis and Palestinian Jerusalemites on the inside and the outside perspective of American and international policy towards Israel. It surfaces issues of social exclusion, of nationlessness, of economic and social segregation that I find difficult to confront.

While well written and evocative, I found this book hard to read. It was hard because it caused me to remember my own path to understanding Israel and Jerusalem, and my own identity as a Jew. For me, being Jewish is being a Zionist.  I was brought up to be a Zionist. I went to Hebrew school where we learned about Israel. I remember when the Western Wall was called the Wailing Wall, pre-1967. I remember my surprise when people I knew started to call it the Western Wall. I did not hear the term Kotel until I was an adult.

The first time I went to Israel and Jerusalem was in 1992. I was 27. I went on a mission where we went to Ma’ale Adumim–one of the strategic settlements that Anne and Gil talk about as part of a triangle of defensive neighborhoods around Jerusalem–to ulpanim where immigrants get a crash course in Hebrew, to refugee absorption centers, and I was elated.  It was the first time I had been to a country where I immediately felt like I was on the inside.  Rather than my Jewishness having me masquerade as a white person, I was welcomed.  I completely embraced the idea that Jews had a 3000-year claim on the land, that the Arabs had done little to the land, and that “we” were better stewards–this is one of the narratives that Anne and Gil relate and contrast to that of the Palenstinian Nakba–the tragedy.

Over the years, I have become a lot more nuanced about this story, and have come to understand this story as a classic colonization myth (eg:  Australia: the land was empty and the British colonized it; U.S.: manifest destiny means that North America was available by right).  So, as I read this book I re-experienced the progression of my own learning about Jerusalem and Israel.

I’ve also never thought about Jerusalem in the way that Anne and Gilad do.  For me, what is fascinating about this book is that it focuses on Jerusalem as one might try to focus on any other metropolitan area’s social and political identity and place.  The exposition of the Jerusalem from three theoretical perspectives:  from the perspective of political hegemony and cultural domination, from the perspective of Le Fevre’s right to the city, and from the perspective of Molotch’s growth machine brings home the more troubling aspects of Israel’s nationalist attempts to create a unified Jerusalem where Jews dominate.

At the same time, I felt as I read this that in order to focus on the production of space, the book sometimes feels like Jerusalem had been plucked out of history. To talk about cultural hegemony of Israel, of planners’ power overwhelming Palestinian rights to the city, without the historical context of consistent threats to Jews over the centuries felt incomplete.

The book walks a careful line as it tries to contain the story of Jerusalem within the bounds of metropolitan Jerusalem.  Anne and Gil made choices about separating the geosocial story of Jerusalem from the general Arab-Israeli conflict.  They try not to blame, but rather to present perspectives and actions.

My emotional response is to want to continue a larger tit-for-tat about the logic of why Israel acts to create “facts on the ground” and new neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that much of the rest of the world and international Law see as illegal. This means that when they recount the 6 day war (1967) or the Yom Kippur War (1973) or the first or second intifada, I want to add the 1972 Munich Olympics to the record (where Black September kidnapped 9 Israeli Athletes, all of whom with the kidnappers died by the end), 1976’s hijacking of the Air France airplane at Entebbe, I want to add the tragedy of wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer who was murdered and thrown overboard the cruise ship of the Achille Lauro in 1985.

I have a historical filter that shapes my reactions.  And, my reaction reflects the continuing tit-for-tat record keeping that goes on for both Jews/Israelis and Palestinians.

As I was writing this, I learned that the leader of the raid that freed the Entebbe hostages was killed during the operation–he was Bibi’s (Benjamin Netanyahu’s) older brother.

I say this to remind us all how deeply personal this all is. That while the city is being shaped and we have to interact with it (as Anne and Gilad demonstrate in their conclusion where they guide us on a 24-hour tour of the city) there are intensely personal histories that shape the all the actors on both sides.

The most difficult part of the book for me was Chapter 3–What is Jerusalem? In it, Anne and Gilad recount the British Mandate and the plan for a unified Jerusalem under UN control, the division of Jerusalem and the construction of the Green Line after 1948, the subsequent settlements (I have cousins who live in a new neighborhood in East Jerusalem). I kept wanting to say, but wait a minute–yes Israel has settlements, and yes these create facts on the ground, but also remember that Jews had to leave Gaza and the Sinai for peace.

Chapter 4 is what one might call a guide to Jerusalem for the perplexed (yes a play on Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed). That is, in the U.S. being Jewish is a religion, but in Israel one can be Jewish without being religious, or religious without being a Zionist.  Identity and religiousity can be independent of each other. The statelessness of Palestinian Jersalemites casts a shadow over the marvelous complexities of what Gilad and Anne inventively call Jewish tribal groups–Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, Russians, Ethiopians, Haredi. In discussing this point, the book, I think, really speaks to American perspectives on religion.

I do think that the meaning of Jerusalem is understated. Anne and Gilad emphasize the importance of Jerusalem to Jews with the mention that we say on Passover “next year in Jerusalem” and that Jews pray facing east—Jerusalem.  The tie is stronger–indeed, Jewish daily prayer evokes visions of the return to what the prayer calls the holy city of Jerusalem.

I am a scholar dedicated to poverty alleviation and social justice.  I am also a Jew with 4000 years of history of peoplehood and who has looked at the surprising continuation of my people, my tribe in the context of what my mother repeatedly tells me is the expectation that in every generation there rises up a leader who attempts to anniliate the Jews.  Thus, the focus is on survival.  The Palestinians have the Nakba–their tragedy of the founding of the state of Israel.  These two catastrophic truths shape the motivations for what has proven to behaviors that do not promote peace.  For now, both types of Jersulamites live among each other in their separate worlds.

Does the book help us to think about the problem of Jerusalem?  Yes.  My fear, however, is the both sides will see the focus on the metropolitan area as omitting important events that comprise a history that feeds the perspectives presented.

Rachel Kleit is Professor and head of the City and Regional Planning section at the Knowlton School of Architecture at The Ohio State University.

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

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