Jerusalem Photo Essay

Dominic Davies

Just under 15km from the Old City at the heart of Jerusalem is Qalandiya checkpoint in the separation barrier, which cuts East Jerusalem from Ramallah. The black stains that smear the wall are the result of protestors burning tyres at its foot.
The wall winds its way from North to South separating the West Bank from Jerusalem. Israeli-only roads function as another form of barrier as they cut through villages and force Palestinians to make long detours, turning once short distances into long and arduous journeys.
The separation barrier is lined with watchtowers. The narrow, slitted windows at the head of these towers make it impossible to know from the ground whether or not they are manned by the IDF and thus, in true panoptical style, whether or not passing Palestinians are being observed.
A large section of the wall between Ramallah and Bethlehem is inscribed with an open letter to Palestine written by South African scholar and political activist Farid Esack, known for his role in the struggle against apartheid. It begins: “My dear Palestinian brothers and sisters, I have come to your land and I have recognised shades of my own.”
Another burned out tower just outside of Aida refugee camp stands next to a graffiti that reimagines the view of the Dome of the Rock that the wall now obscures, and towards which this photo essay moves.
Near Bethlehem, the wall is smattered with amateur graffiti bearing political messages in a mixture of Arabic and English.
The amateur, spontaneous messages, are combined with larger artistic works such as this.
The political underpinning of these messages is pervasive and unquestionable, and has come to provide not only a location for the articulation of Palestinian solidarity but also a tourist attraction from which a number of locals now make their living.
The wall’s winding route tactically circumvents key Jewish sites, as it does here around Rachel’s Tomb, but this also means that the occasional glimpse into East Jerusalem from the West Bank is possible.
After taking the bus from Bethlehem, through a checkpoint and towards the Old City, the road arrives at Damascus Gate. At this entrance to the Arab Quarter a local market takes place every Saturday morning and is attended by hundreds of Palestinians who, by luck of their birth location, are still able to live and work in Jerusalem.
A walk along the walls of the Old City allows for views across the city.
Looking West is the predominantly Jewish-Israeli West Jerusalem that, as indicated by the numerous cranes that litter the skyline, is swiftly developing both outwards and upwards.
Looking East, by contrast, Palestinian neighbourhoods are cluttered and less developed, the rooftops scattered with water tanks because of poor infrastructural supply.
Descending from the walls of the Old City and into its heart, the winding alleyways that are mostly too narrow for vehicles to enter drop downwards into pedestrian-only areas.
Near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the numerous other important Christian sites are a range of souvenir shops, ran mostly by Christian Palestinians.
Here the winding alleys are clear, as owners of stores seek to make a living from the many visiting tourists.
A range of materials, spices, scarves and jewellery line the paving stones that have been smoothed down by thousands of years of visiting pilgrim and tourists.
In the Arab Quarter, the stores are less concerned with the tourist industry and sell more practical items to the local population.
From fruit, vegetables and other foodstuffs, to clothes and kitchenware, anything can be found in these cluttered streets.
The burgeoning stalls and shops are packed away every night, so that with the dawn’s first light shop vendors can be seen busily laying out their wares.
Built onto, and burrowing into, the hill upon which the Old City is set, these narrow streets are steep and winding. Because of the limited vehicular access, inhabitants can often be seen wheeling cart loads of goods carefully up and down its sloping paths.
As streets descend into the Old City and the storeys above the alleys become more numerous, natural light struggles to break through the small gaps and a cool dimness pervades the streets.
Nevertheless, at every corner is a CCTV camera, monitoring the bustle of day-to-day activities.
Police barriers lean against a wall of one of these streets, on hand should the IDF decide they need to close down a certain street, often in response to a protest or other forms of political unrest.
Close to the Jewish Quarter is the Western Wall, where Jews come to pray because, according to their own rules, they are not allowed to enter the mount upon which the Dome of the Rock is located.
Though always busy, this small square is especially packed at holy times, including the evening hours prior to Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, and annually at times such as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
Behind the Western Wall lies the Dome of the Rock, an astonishing specimen of Islamic architecture. The Al Aqsa mosque, where Muslim Palestinians who live on the Israeli side of the separation barrier come to worship, is located a few metres to the right.
When leaving the Old City from the Dome of the Rock, the path looks out at the Mount of Olives, a large hill to the east that is characteristic of the region’s rolling landscape.
Though invisible from this location, by shifting a few hundred metres further South the separation barrier, which cuts behind the Mount of Olives, can be glimpsed.
The view back west across Jerusalem’s Old City from the top of the Mount of Olives shows the Dome of the Rock in all its glory in the foreground, as well as the swift and ongoing development of high rises taking place in West Jerusalem. Despite the height of this vantage point, it is impossible to see the separation barrier from here.

(Slideshow may take some time to load. Hover over image to pause.)

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.

Leave a Reply