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Jerusalem is a divided, compartmentalised city. The boundaries that slice it into its disputed sections resemble the rigid, high-security borders that dominate cities such as Johannesburg, its different areas carved up into sharply distinct economic zones and between which movement is near impossible. But Jerusalem’s deeply uneven development and its sharply racialised spatial and cultural zones are also shaped by a number of symbolic infrastructures. The Jerusalem Light Railway, a technologically proficient tram, runs down the hill from the West towards the Old City. On reaching Damascus Gate, it suddenly veers to the left at a ninety-degree angle before cutting up another slope—the city is, after all, built over the rolling hills of this historically contested landscape. This snazzy infrastructural line, that cuts through the city with broad, well-developed highways on either side, then runs like a knife Northwards. Palestinian neighbourhoods lie to its right (east), Israeli communities to its left (west). Known as “the seam”, this route marks the boundary that separated Israel and Palestine, under Jordanian authority, between the Nakba of 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967. Now, however, the military checkpoints on the Israeli side—occupied grand houses that, for the first half of the twentieth century, were the habitations of a Palestinian elite—are modern art museums, bookshops and gated buildings. The Israeli military don’t monitor this boundary anymore. They are a few miles further East, stationed along the separation barrier that, since 2003, has cut these Jerusemalite Palestinian neighbourhoods off from the West.
Here, of course, the impact of the divisive infrastructure becomes dramatically real. The symbolism of the “separation barrier” or, as some call it, the “apartheid wall”, is no less striking than that of the Jerusalem Light Railway. However, its division of physical space has had terrible consequences for the Palestinian neighbourhoods that it has, in recent years, sliced in two. West Bank Palestinians are now mostly unable to travel to East Jerusalem, and have therefore lost access to their families and friends and, of course, the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, important holy sites in the South East corner of the Old City. Checkpoints such as Qalandia, with which this photo essay begins, rigidly monitor the movement of those into and out of the city across astonishingly small geographical distances—at least three Jerusalems can be overlaid onto other post/colonial cities such as Johannesburg or Delhi. Qalandiya checkpoint has become particularly infamous among Palestinians and is just 3 or 4 kms outside of Ramallah, the city that has become the Palestinian Authority’s de facto capital given this limited access to East Jerusalem. On the West Bank-side of the Wall, a lively and deeply political artistic response has emerged, a resistant practice that has been given international fame by the contribution of graffiti artists such as Banksy. This photo essay moves South along the Wall from Qalandiya to documnet some of these temporary expressions of Palestinian agency, creative practices inscribed onto an infrastructure of segregation.
Nestled at Jerusalem’s heart is the Old City, a warren-like square mile of cityscape that is, at points, four-storeys deep, and in which it is easy to get lost. Wanderers have to remain safe in the knowledge that so long as they walk in one direction they will eventually reach one of its outer walls, which can then be followed to one of the Old City’s seven gates that provide points of orientation. As the photos here document, the Arab quarter is a maze of winding alleyways lined with shops, their goods burgeoning out onto the smooth cobbled stones. Falafel and kebabs, shoes and football shirts, sweets and cigarettes, fresh fruit and vegetables, are all piled into plastic boxes filled to the brim. Gaggles of Israel Defence Force (IDF) soldiers litter every street corner, struggling to stand up in their heavy bullet-proof jackets and slouching under the three-foot long machine guns that are slung over their soldiers, whilst movable barriers lean against walls, ready to kettle protesting populations.
Heading South, the Palestinian vendors fall away and one arrives in the Jewish Quarter, mostly separate from the other Israeli communities in the West of the city. Here, Jews in Orthodox dress, with smart black suits and majestic tall hats, walk the clean, narrow streets that are lined with entrances to numerous well-funded museums and extensive archaeological digs. These streets are monitored by a proliferation of CCTV cameras. The Citadel, which houses a museum detailing, with predictable institutional authority, “the History of Jerusalem”, compartmentalises the area’s strong ties with Islam into one isolated exhibition space, despite the fact that the Al Aqsa mosque, historically the third most important holy site in the world for Muslims, is a few hundred metres away. Here, too, is the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, a deeply religious site for Jews. The golden Dome of the Rock conceals the contested site of the Foundation Stone, a piece of land that is said to be both the site of Muhammad’s ascension and the point from which, for Jews, the whole world was created. It is with a view of this important centrepiece that this Photo essay concludes. The magnificent feat of Islamic architecture can be seen from certain roof tops across the Old City and from the Mount of Olives, which lies to the east of the city. By contrast, the separation barrier is carefully positioned along and behind the rolling hills of Jerusalem’s uneven terrain so that from the Old City it remains largely invisible. The infrastructural manifestations of Jerusalem’s divided space are in places obvious and in others surreptitious, and by plotting a route along the separation barrier from Qalandia checkpoint, through Jerusalem and to the heart of the city, this photo essay seeks to expose the multiple dimensions of the urban landscape’s unique Planned Violence.