From Salah Eddin to A-Ram, an Everyday Journey

With bitterness, he said:

I used to know most of those working on Salah Eddin Street. Standing on the sidewalk was enough to have many stop their cars and ask to drive me to wherever I wanted. Today, they avoid me and try to look in the other direction. Finding me in their cars can be dangerous; I am "illegal"; I have a Palestinian ID card and no permit. What should we do? I understand them and do not want to cause them any trouble.

After making sure that all those in your car have either Jerusalem IDs or foreign passports, you may have to ask your cousin who came to visit you from Abu-Dis to take a walk before you start the engine. While cursing the Israeli authorities who put you in such an extremely embarrassing situation, you try apologetically to explain to him which roads he should sneak through to avoid the lurking Israeli flying checkpoints.

Arriving at the traffic lights at French Hill where, Palestinians and Israelis from the settlements cross roads, you find yourself in a long row of Palestinian cars waiting in front of a red light for several short green phases. "Your blood starts to boil"1 and a discussion about racial discrimination and the Israeli policy of ethnic bias starts. One of your passengers cannot help it and curses the damned "racist traffic lights."2

Urban scenes of discrimination are not limited to the programming of the traffic lights at street intersections. You will read it in the space after escaping the traffic lights and reaching Shu'fat and Beit Hanina where Palestinians live. The comparison of building heights in the French Hill settlement and the low-building density for Palestinians along the road to Ramallah will reveal to you the biased Israeli housing policy against Palestinians. And, your nose, too, will sense the smell of burning garbage in the Palestinian space due to the delays in municipal garbage collection.

Approaching the previously called A-Ram junction, the wide four-lane street will turn into a two-lane street as the electrified [separation] wall cuts through its center line, excluding the Palestinian neighborhood of A-Ram from the Jerusalem municipal territory. For about a kilometer, the gray blades of the wall company you, cutting through the street and through your soul, raising questions about the seriousness of 20 years of endless negotiations and the credibility of peace-building intentions. With a nervous gesture, you may turn the car radio on to listen to ubiquitous meaningless songs and some hypocritical slogans coming from Arab radio stations, promising you unlimited support and telling you how important Jerusalem is in the Arab and Islamic consciousness and collective sentiments.

Holy Jerusalem is not holier than any other worldly city when it comes to urban conflict in the context of settler colonialism and ethnic discrimination. On the contrary, it sits on a combustible mixture of ethno-national and religious conflict, combined with urban neglect and marginalization of the Palestinians in the city (Bollens, 2000). The Israeli policy of Judaization expressed through controversial claims and excavations around and underneath Islamic holy places, as well as the penetration of Palestinian neighborhoods by Jewish settlers, trigger continuous tensions and confrontations in Jerusalem. This explosive combination is obvious in the continuing riots which broke out as these lines were being written in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.3

There is a striking contradiction between the images of tourist postcard Jerusalem and its everyday urban reality. With bitterness and dwindling hope, the Palestinians of Jerusalem observe the deteriorating spatial reality of their living place - the electrified Israeli wall of ethnic separation cutting through their neighborhoods, the dilapidated Old City, the severe housing crisis, and substandard or non-existent urban services (spaces for education, culture, sports and other social services). As a result of the lack of spaces for mothers and for elderly and youth activities, mosques became by and large the only public spaces to host them.

In cities ridden with ethno-national conflict, such as Jerusalem, Belfast or Johannesburg, space becomes a silent storyteller that sends out images and implies experiences that reveal official policy and fuel in the observer certain political interpretations. The emotional experiences in everyday life influence people's attitudes, expressed in talk and murmurs (Caldeira, 2000). In fact, this social hum is highly significant; it can confirm or alienate people's narratives from the official discourse.4 Space becomes a visual and experiential storyteller (Lefebvre, 1991b).

Cities can be read like books; they tell stories of their societies and reveal their values and ethics, as well as provoke moral judgments (Smith, 2000). Space is not static; it condenses the past and points to the future. It is a transformative process of production in a three-dimensional dialectic between "visions of power" (expressed by socio-political and economic institutions), "physical city features" (such as topography, buildings and communication networks), and the "lived experience" of ordinary people in created space (expressed in emotions, interpretations and attitudes, i.e., narratives). It is no wonder that theories of place examine the political city, the physical city and the city of everyday experience. All three domains are intertwined in an interactive changing process through which they affect each other.

Material formations of space and territorial configurations such as historical monuments, street networks, Palestinian neighborhoods, Jewishonly settlements and even simple elements, such as walls, sidewalks and the existing or non-existing garbage containers reveal much more than their mere shape. They tell stories about laws, politics and visions of power that shape them; through daily encounters, they influence behaviors and whisper, or sometimes cry, with cultural and political meanings, as people use the space. Walking through the roads of the Old City, passing by the electrified separation wall or crossing a military checkpoint infuses individual and collective psychology with a multitude of emotions that produce political attitudes and interpretations. While such spatial experiences can evoke in us some glories of the past, it can also remind us of the misery of the present. An experience can fill us with pride and a strong sense of belonging or inhabit us with rage and alienation. Consequently, spaces turn into sites of identification, and everyday life becomes an incubator of change in attitudes and behaviors (Lefebvre, 1991a; Kogel, 2008).

In electoral democracies, this change becomes very important because people's perceptions and interpretations can affect their voting choices. If politicians want to be elected by the popular vote, their official discourse should win the majority of people's narratives. To control space and territory, political power produces the formal discourse and sets strategies that imply rules of behavior; the coerced, powerless and alienated users of space invent justifying narratives and tactics of evasion (de Certeau, 1984; Scott, 1985). People do not know the details of peace treaties and political agreements; with the help of an amorphous amalgam of half-truths, emotions, prejudices and some rationale, they interpret their daily experience and weave their truths in personal narratives. They shape (gestalt) theories that make sense to them (Caldeira, 2000).

This amorphous mass can create problems and surprises to opinion polls; it is difficult to grasp in statistics (Lefebvre, 1991b). In the Palestinian elections of 2006, most opinion polls predicted that Fateh would win the elections in Jerusalem. To their surprise, Hamas won Jerusalem, too. Although many people might disagree with him, an interviewee, for example, justified his voting for Hamas as "electing a tougher Palestinian negotiator for the peace process."

Urban landscapes and city morphology are social products that reveal and reproduce society's power structures as well as cultural and political values; they evoke moral judgments (Lefebvre, 1991b; Smith, 2000). While examining polarized and ethnically divided cities, this approach becomes very important. It helps to understand the relationship between people's behavior in the city, and their political attitudes as they interpret and make sense of their everyday experience, urban change and transformation. In this essay, I am interested in exploring the socio-cultural meaning and political interpretations associated with people's experience and interpretation of spatial change. How do the Palestinians of East Jerusalem make sense of it and of its change alongside the peace process?

Experiencing Space and the "Peace Process"

"After the Intifada of the stones and since 'Oslo,' space started to change." Although most Palestinians interpreted the discourse of negotiations and the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 as a step towards freedom in a process of peace-building, they experienced unprecedented territorial limitations, urban fragmentation and spatial encapsulation. Even before the Palestinian suicide attacks, 1993 marked the inception of the first permanent checkpoints around Jerusalem. In what had been the central city bridging between Palestinians and Israelis, as well as the northern and southern regions of the West Bank, the urban fabric of Palestinian East Jerusalem has been dismembered into fragmented enclaves, with severed and Israeli-controlled connections.

People expressed their experience during these territorial changes with images of spatial incarceration; they associated it with words such as "prisons," "house arrest" and "ethnic reservations." The West Bank was not luckier; as expressed by an interviewee, "an achievement of the Stone Intifada has been Palestinian islands of [Areas] A and B swimming in an Israeli [Area] C." Except for holders of Jerusalem Israeli IDs, Palestinians are practically forbidden from entering Jerusalem. By losing the influx of Palestinians from its hinterland, the city has lost most of its vitality through this isolation. The process resulted in ethnic eviction and people categorization, which forced many to uproot their lives from one side of the emerging walls to the other. Thousands of families were subjected to considerable stress as they were forced to change places of residence, jobs and schools. Palestinian social space shrank and needed to be reorganized; Palestinians "outside the wall" go less and less to Bethlehem and Ramallah (Khamaisi, 2008).

For ordinary Palestinians, this did not look like peace-building. The accessible city just disappeared for Palestinians living in Jerusalem's neighborhoods outside the Israeli-imposed municipal boundaries. Even if Israel had previously declared the annexation of East Jerusalem, as long as the city was open, people were not aware of the consequences. Fifteen years after the start of the peace process, the Israeli de facto annexation of the city is already set in concrete and stone. For people's imagination of freedom and peace, all what had looked like temporary and changeable started to look permanent and staying forever (see Fig. 1).

Even as cannons have been relatively silenced, the war has been going on at the tables of urban planners and policy-makers. Inside the Israeliannexed zone of Jerusalem's Palestinian conurbation, i.e., East Jerusalem, a war on Palestinian housing has been going on for a long (Cheshin et. al., 2002; Khamaisi, 2006). Home construction is a basic spatial need for human beings and urban societies; as other living creatures need nests and holes in the ground, humans need to build spaces that they make their homes. Housing policy and urban planning have been used by Israel in a biased partisan manner to manipulate and limit Palestinian demography and urban geography in Jerusalem (Bollens, 2000). It is no wonder that buildings without Israeli permits are estimated to be around 28% of Palestinian built-up areas; while house demolitions peaked at 152 houses in the year before, in 2004, the Jerusalem municipality issued only 49 building permits for Palestinians (Margalit, 2007). In everyday life and in facing the acute housing shortages, Palestinians witness how their basic spatial needs have been assaulted; they express it in an agricultural image and call it a policy of "uprooting."

While imposing harsh restrictions on Palestinian home construction, the Israeli authorities are still promoting further expansion of Jewish-only settlements in the Palestinian side of the city. From 1967 to 2006, Israel managed to transfer more than 180,000 Jewish settlers, living on 35% of the Palestinian annexed land. They constitute around 42% of the population and occupy 65% of the existing housing units. On the other hand, around 250,000 Palestinians are restricted to 13% of their annexed land. Although they constitute around 52% of the population, they occupy only 35% of the total housing units (OCHA, 2009).

Palestinian spatial transformation does not exhibit a moral geography of peace; it witnesses an asymmetry of power which exploits Palestinian weaknesses, giving free rein to powerful Israel. Shortly after the signing of the Oslo Accords, conflict around the holy places escalated. Today, we still witness the tensions and the protests against the Israeli unilateral, archeological excavations under al-Aqsa Mosque and the Silwan neighborhood. In tandem, settler organizations are active in the takeover of Palestinian homes in the Old City and its geographic basin; many Israeli flags on watchtowers fly demonstratively in Silwan, Ras el-Amoud, A-Tur and Sheikh Jarrah. The militarization of the neighborhoods is becoming obvious; the weekly demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah and Friday prayers in al-Bustan point to the rising tensions and show how such places are becoming sites of protest and political identification.

Examining Palestinian interpretation of the peace process and the accompanying spatial transformation, it can be argued that lengthy unproductive negotiations at the national political level without peacebuilding initiatives at the urban level have seriously harmed the credibility of the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process." Peace talks have been interpreted by most interviewees as a form of conflict management on the part of Israel to win more time in order to achieve its "conceived goals" of full control on Jerusalem and to impose a Palestinian state according to "Israeli specifications," and without Jerusalem.

All interviewees agreed that postponing Jerusalem to final status negotiations without restricting Israeli action in the city was a mistake. This gave Israel the opportunity to manipulate ethnic living conditions and to create facts on the ground in the form of increased Jewish settlement and territorial penetration. The two-state solution has been losing credibility. People showed a strong tendency to associate the fragmentation and the encapsulation of Palestinian space within high-security Israeli space with the promised state. Most of them rejected the idea of two states and prefer versions of a one-state solution and/or a corpus separatum for Jerusalem.

From Resisting Normalization to the Normalization of Resistance

Caught in the coercion of Israeli strategies, Palestinians keep inventing tactics of evasion and disobedience as a form of resistance to win a space of their own. In order to avoid giving legitimacy to the occupation, they boycotted the Israeli authorities and refused to participate in municipal elections. As a result, the Palestinians developed their own institutions and social/political organizations and were able to manage a considerable part of the educational system (Bollens, 2000; Latendresse, 1995). At that time, Jerusalem functioned as a de facto capital of two states. That worked well until the mid-1990s as Israel started to evict Palestinian institutions and organizations from East Jerusalem and closed Orient House. As a result, the bulk of Palestinian political presence was channeled to Ramallah (Khamaisi, 2008).

Consequently, Palestinians in East Jerusalem became "orphans," as they frequently expressed it. On the one hand, they feel deserted by the Palestinian Authority (PA) which, according to the Oslo Accords, was not allowed to work in East Jerusalem. On the other hand, they feel very suspicious of Israeli intentions and plans. They feel rather confused and are slowly recovering from the shock of urban mutilation, territorial separation and the eviction of their institutions. Observing their "Arab-Israeli" peers, they see that Israel has not been successful in integrating Arabs in Jewish society. With very few exceptions, all towns and neighborhoods in Israel are ethnically segregated. They have no illusions about integration in Israeli society, but they still pay Israeli taxes, have Israeli bank accounts and some of them have started to say "beseder," for "all right." Deep inside, they experience feelings of relative deprivation that are fueled by the Israeli double-standard policies of ethnic marginalization and urban discrimination.

Although Palestinians make up around 33 % of Jerusalem's population and pay the arnona (municipal tax), they receive between 8-12 % of municipal spending in the city.5 Urban planning procedures are manipulating their housing conditions and are hindering Palestinian construction. Palestinians feel out of place and are busy with their daily lives. Living in Jerusalem is much more expensive than in the West Bank and the wages there are not much higher than in the West Bank. Around 65% of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem live below the poverty line.

In an interview in 2007, Walid Salem6 talked about the "atomization of Palestinian society"; atoms of people flying in all directions, following their own paths without meaningful patterns. Those "directionless atoms" are becoming lawyers, accountants, doctors, engineers, planners, and teachers and many become low-paid service workers and cleaners in Israeli factories, businesses and institutions. A careful examination of those Jerusalemites reveals a plethora of interesting features and ideas that can generate change.

Unlike their parents, young Jerusalemites7 speak better Hebrew, have Israeli professional licenses, know Israeli working procedures and are more confident in dealing with the Israeli authorities. In discussing health benefits they receive from Israel, numerous young Palestinians considered it as "an insurance right for which their families have been paying for decades; it is not charity; it is a business." Some even have threatened to sue Israel if it deprived them of this right in any future political arrangements. Although some people may understand the act of demanding equal rights from Israel as a form of "normalization," one interviewee called it as the "normalization of resistance." He explained that in conditions of oppression, civil resistance should become a normal component of Palestinian everyday life in Jerusalem. Observing their dilapidated neighborhoods and the social services they receive, Palestinians become aware that they pay their dues but they do not receive their urban rights; they seem to become increasingly unhappy about it.

Feeling helpless and alienated at the level of national politics, negotiations and the promised peace, Palestinians in Jerusalem give more weight to problems of their daily urban existence. You may not be able to coax them to join a political demonstration, but you can fill the hall if you invite them to "awareness meetings" about urban issues: building rights and problems with the municipality. Palestinian space is tight and people are looking for solutions. The right to housing is worrying them and is making them feel threatened of eviction from their city. A few Palestinians have started moving into apartments inside Israeli settlements, such as French Hill, Pisgat Ze'ev and Ma'ale Adumim; in Israeli settlements around Jerusalem it is easier to find better quality affordable housing.

Fueled by feelings of relative deprivation, some Palestinians explore tactics of civil resistance. As a means of pressuring the Jerusalem municipality in order to acquire equal investment, some suggested a popular strike against paying the arnona until the municipality provides proper budgets to improve the living conditions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Not a bad idea if it gets refined and studied carefully; it has the potential to unite and organize the Palestinians of East Jerusalem to become collectively more active in demanding their urban rights. In spite of their tendency to conform to Palestinian national consensus, some went too far and broke a taboo by questioning the wisdom of boycotting municipal elections. Reflecting on their electoral weight of 30%, some were thinking that it is worth trying to use it to some end.

They do not look at participation in the municipal elections as a form of normalization that grants legitimacy to the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem. On the contrary, they re-frame it as a narrative of resistance; they look at it as a form of active sumud (steadfastness) and institutional pressure in demanding their denied rights. They propose to deal with the municipality as a development agency that manages the city. Others did not go so far and proposed a Pa l e s t i ni a n s h a d o w municipality that can take care of the pressing needs of the marginalized Palestinian community in Jerusalem. Right or wrong, supporters and opponents of such ideas are still arguing, but all agreed that Jerusalem needs much more support and a stronger role for Palestinians in its politics.


The Palestinian community and leadership are facing serious questions regarding the issue of Jerusalem, which demand new types of action. People seem alienated from the Israeli and Palestinian discourse of "endless negotiations"; old operating tactics are not sufficient anymore, either in stopping Israeli control and expansion in Jerusalem or in increasing Palestinian clout in the city. Although most Palestinians in Jerusalem seem to be intimidated and politically inactive, their everyday talk and narratives are haunted with worries and nonconformist thoughts; the situation is generating new challenges.

The resulting territorial reality after the construction of the separation wall has been forcing Palestinians to adapt, modify, as well as relocate and rethink their spaces of activity and their opportunities. Today, Palestinian space in Jerusalem is becoming mostly inwardly oriented. Increasingly, it is raising everyday urban concerns, such as issues of housing and education. The essence of Palestinian sumud has been resistance by existence; improving living conditions is becoming a vital necessity for a vibrant Palestinian presence in Jerusalem and a crucial milestone for the aspirations towards a Palestinian capital.

In addition to protecting and rescuing open-land reserves, such as the area threatened by the E1 project and other Jewish settlements, the future will be influenced by the ability of the Palestinian leadership to create an additional arena of popular struggle and resistance. Within a mindset of decolonization and peace-building, and by mobilizing around issues of urban discrimination and ethnic marginalization, the Palestinian leadership can channel the anger and frustration fueled by deteriorating urban conditions towards political unity and popular organization.

Furthermore, even before reaching a final agreement, Palestinian negotiators and the international community have to produce an interim agreement on Jerusalem. The agreement has to come up with new regulations and special procedures for dealing with Palestinian landownership and urban development in the city. This is vital for the future of peace-building. Otherwise, with continuous Israeli urban manipulation and Palestinian paralysis, the credibility of the peace process will vanish and the negotiations will be seen as a real farce (Fig. 2).

1 It is an Arabic expression that describes a state of anger.
2 This is what many Palestinians call those traffic lights. Even if some transportation engineers may disagree, most Palestinians assume that shorter passing time for the Palestinians is a sign of ethnic discrimination.
3 On Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010, Samer Sirhan, a father of five, was killed by an Israeli Housing Ministry guard. On Friday, October 8, 2010, David Beeri a right-wing activist runs his car over two stone-throwing Palestinian kids. He is the director of Elad, the organization that manages the "City of David" and settles Jews in the area. rocks-1.317933. Silwan is a Palestinian neighborhood adjacent to the Old City where a few hundred Jewish settlers have been implanted among tens of thousands of Palestinians.
4 Without delving in detailed debate about discourse and narrative, in this essay, I will be using "discourse" to indicate official formal positions and "narrative" to indicate people's attitudes and interpretations.
5 It is usually around 8%, adding the investment's share of the light train section that passes through Palestinian neighborhoods the percentage jumps to around 12% (Margalit, 2006).
6 Walid Salem the director of CDCD, has been interviewed in the context of the study.
7 Mostly under 40 years old.

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