Jerusalem ,Between Urban Area and Apparition
From Multi ethnic city to nationalism?
Jerusalem in the early 20th century

A conversation on Jerusalem with Meron Benvenisti and Salim Tamari \ A summary

Meron Benvenisti was born 1934 and served as Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek from 1971 to 1978, and served as Jerusalem’s Chief Planning Officer.He has long been a critic of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and is an advocate of the idea of a bi national state.[1]

Salim Tamari was born in Jaffa in 1945. his family fled Jaffa in 1948.

He has been a sociologist at Birzeit University since 1971.

In 1994 he was appointed director of the Institute of Jerusalem Studies.

He has also served on the refugee committee in the multilateral peace talks held following the Madrid Conference of 1991. [2]

In Tamari’s research “diaries written by Arab Jerusalemites” ,Tamari tries to piece together what it was like to live in Jerusalem during the early period of the British Mandate (1918-1921) .

In the research the authors identified themselves first and foremost as citizens of Jerusalem , and only in a second instance , as belonging to a particular ethnicity :as Arab Moslems ,Arab Christians ,or Jews.

Also the research found that it has been a period where modernity was viewed with excitement , through new kind of public institutions like street cafes, restaurants and so on .

According to Tamari the diaries construct a transition of two kinds of modernities : the ottoman kind, which is seen usually as a continuation of a communitarian system, and British mandate colonial modernity, which is seen as ushering in a new era.

It is often forgotten that the late Ottomans, were in fact the promulgators of notions of modern citizenship, which had immense implications for the modernity of the city as a whole. In the period covering the last third of the 19th century to the end of World War 1, a new urban identity was formed in Jerusalem ,Beirut, Damascus ,and Anatolia, which was based on class transformation, constitutional reform and urban planning, and was often expressed through citizen’s departure from the confines of their dwellings in the walled city or traditional family neighborhoods.

The Ottomans had in fact introduced many features of urban modernities, that the British and the French then claimed retrospectively .

Already, the first Governor of Jerusalem, Ronald Storrs, defined Palestine and certainly Jerusalem not as a country with one potential citizenship or even two nationalities, but as a country and a city with three religions. He even combined the Star of David, the Crescent and the Cross in his emblem . This principle determined the way the British divided the Old City ,issued national identity cards and passports.[3]

One can actually say , that they created a regression in a certain budding notion of Ottoman modernity.

Those cities were composed of minorities, that were not considered ethnic minorities, but of communities belonging to different religions or linguistic groups. The major change that affected coexistence among those groups was the emergent notion of nationality ,which meant separation from the notion of multiethnic, multi communal ottoman citizenship. This happened after the collapse of the ottoman empire and the beginning of the mandate period.

The notion of Nationalism emerged within reference to a greater Arabness within Greater Bilad Sham .

Some would call this Palestinian or Syrian Nationalism .

Later ,or probably in parallel ,Palestinian regional identity was also affected by the emergence of a separate Jewish Nationalism.

Benvenisti, is reminded of his father who was born in Salonica in Greece, and who among coming to Palestine in 1913 to study among other Sephardic jews.He didn’t consider doing Aliyah, but he simply moved to another place in the country.

His father among arriving mentions that he felt that he arrived home, ,and that was because he spoke the language and wore the same tarbush as Turkish officials.

This moment was definitely not like the culture shock that the Ashkenazi Jews felt upon their arrival to the country.

Benvenisti agrees upon the point of Ottoman modernity ,and he emphasizes that it is accompanied with a nostalgic feeling.

But, the emergence of nationalism according to Benvenisti was fostered by the Ottomans when it suited them.

He indicates to a split that occurred between the Christian community into Greeks and Bulgarians, that was created by the creation of a rival Bulgarian Patriarch.

Christians who defined themselves as Orthodox became Greek nationalists, especially from Anatolia.

Christians in Macedonian now became Bulgarians .

Fighting broke between them, even though twenty years earlier they were all identified as simply Orthodox Christians.

The paradigm of multiethnic citizenship according to Benvinisti was only supported by the Jews of Turkey and the Balkans after world war 1.

Tamari agrees that the arrival of the British was preceded by the war, which had already destroyed the Ottoman created system of reform that was producing a nation of citizens, rather than subjects. This led to the recession of communal or city consciousness in favor of wider regional consciousness, whether Shami or Palestinian.

The war also effected the way people conceived the Ottomans as a result, the Ottoman idea of multi ethnic, multinational citizenship died. As a result cities such as Jerusalem and even Beirut ,Damascus and Istanbul ,transformed from centers of cosmopolitan multinational citizenship to centers for ethnic enclaves, whether , Turkish, Armenian, Greek, or Arabs.

Impact of the administrative reforms and planning efforts of the British authorities have according to one of the most dramatic reforms was the division of the old city into four communities during the British mandate.

If one reads the demographic map of the late Ottoman period, there was a great mixture in the Muslim quarter that was inhabited by Jews and Christians, as well as Muslim families living in the Jewish quarter.

The only quarter that was ethnically pure was the Armenian because it was delineated by the Armenian convent and its administration.

Urban Planning

Early plans by McLean and Ashbee, that was later expanded by Kendall Plan showed that the British envisioned what might be called a garden city, which divided the old city and new city.

The British envisaged the old city behind the walls as a pickled city and such as a preserved living archaeological museum comprised of historic buildings and pathways.

The new city was designated as an area of modernist planning and landscaping projects .

All the buildings that had linked to these parts were to be erased. They actually removed some buildings near Jaffa Gate. Damascus and New Gate.

Part of this overall scheme of preservation was the enforcement of a municipal law, already on paper from late Ottoman period, which dictated that all new buildings must be constructed from local stones.

However British planning was limited because their budget for civil administration was limited (raised locally from taxes) and was mostly consumed to suppress the Arab revolt (1936-1939).

Benvenisti believes that British planning was more reactive than proactive.

He considers the Kendall plan as an unimportant document that was published only five months after the end of the mandate (1948).

He didn’t plan much, but accepted what was happening anyway.

Arabs and Jews were already building their own areas the garden city plan was largely determined by the Jews success in buying land.

When they were able to buy land of Talpiyot they built it , bought Rehavia from Greek orthodox they built.

But apart from the mandates planning regulations, the city continued to expand as a result of the competition between Arabs and Jews over the land.

According to him, since 1948, it was the Jewish national fund not the mandate state that made the change, and it was never about planning as much as it is about a policy of scorched earth, rather than planning. Building sections as if you are at war and have one objective: to conquer a strategic spot. Whatever could be touched and claimed was claimed. The real planners are politicians and bureaucrats. Architects and urban planners become mere technicians.

Tamari believes that after 1948 the relationship between civil consciousness and land ownership changed dramatically.

Suddenly virtually all-Arab property was expropriated by the Jewish State under Absentee law regulations and then nationalized in order to use Jewish communities.

After 1967, Israel claimed land in East Jerusalem that had been privately owned by Jewish citizens before 1948, even though those Jewish owners couldn’t claim it themselves.

Later Israel claimed public properties in East Jerusalem by making itself the successor of the Jordanian State. ,

Later vast tracks of land were expropriated in the public’s name that was later used almost exclusively to build neighborhoods for Jews.

Benvenisti thinks that segregation already started from the beginning.

Since everything was based on ethnicity, in the early days of the Mandate, the Jews still agree to continue the tradition of giving the mayors office to the Muslims, while the Christians and Jews would determine the deputy mayors.

And after the tensions the British dissolved the Municipal Council and appointed a British commissioner.

Tamari believes that the city until the 30s was a mixed city, where people shared mixed celebrations and rituals, and the fact that collective memory is short lived is the issue in this situation…

Benvenisti disagrees, that as a child they used or fight with Arab boys (he was in Kata Mon and kids from Malha) .

Tamari hereby believes that segregation happened after the rebellion, not before.

But Benvenisti argues that it is true that people in general might establish good relations, for instance, one can consider then the period between 1967-1973 as a golden era, when there was exchange between Jewish middle class and Palestinian intellectuals.

Tamari on this occasion simply think that people did not think of themselves as Jews and Arabs but they gradually became like that. Before there were communities in Jerusalem where people identified together in forms of business partnership, social visitations.

Political planning:

Benvenisti considers interventions in East Jerusalem since 1967 as political not planning.He even considers the municipal borders as invention by Israelis. . “We should not talk about East Jerusalem, but of a politically motivated Israeli intrusion into areas that did not belong to them.”

Planning has always been political, serving political goals, and planners are agents of political programs. Actually he considers politicians to be the planners themselves.

He continues: “ major planning decisions for the long run are made by cabinet ministers and the army, with almost no urban consideration or consistent thinking.

Planners and public objections are arrogantly ignored. Sectarian and partisan Israeli interests are always predominant and legitimate Palestinian needs are rejected as an expression of hostility. As for what seems to be like informal planning (by Palestinians) against formal planning (by Israelis)

Tamari objects the anthropologists view of analyzing the situation as the oppressed resisting by creating facts on the ground through illegal building, however he merely sees it as: “ the problem definitely has to do with the helplessness of ordinary people against a colonial system that creates a regime of discrimination-denying them building permits, and limiting their freedom of movement through checkpoints and barriers, all on the basis of their ethnic identity. “

Tamari believes that the Madrid peace conference in 1991 was a mistake, by accepting the East Jerusalem as the basis of negotiations, by accepting Israel’s domain on west Jerusalem, even though the partition plan of 1947 established the whole city as a corpus separate.

Planning a joint future? Is it possible to develop a joint, mutually acceptable vision for the city? How should it be done?

Tamari considers this as wishful thinking, because it is based on a wrong negotiation aspect of dividing the city. Because none by far embody the current power relationship between Israel and the Palestinians in discussing the future of the city.

Benvenisti agrees totally he even considers this “peace industry” that others need or live on. He agrees that we should forget about the notion of east and west Jerusalem. Or greater Jerusalem. To de-jerusalemize Jerusalem: to return to the old city of Jerusalem and forget the rest for the next 50 years. To think about the old city as a museum, and see the rest as an invented thing.

Stop discussing Jerusalem maybe. This may lead to better chances that there will be a solution.

Tamari thinks that it would be better also if we push the parameters of discussing the future of the whole country and not limit it to the city itself.
Borders, walls, and partitions .The question of Power

The implications on Jerusalem if we follow a bi national state or the two state paradigm?

Tamari believes that the two ideas of one state and two states are problematic.

Abandonment of the territorial solution is very problematic politically, because it would mean that you cannot struggle against land confiscation, against settlements, against territorial expansion.

Because instead you would be fighting for equal citizenship

It will transform the issue of the Palestine into an issue of civic rights

However, Behave as if there are two states, independence, which will mean ignoring the last 20 years of eroding possibilities for a viable Palestinian State.

The idea of having a Palestinian Authority is deceptive according to Tamari.

We have to think of the paradigm that can transcend the dichotomy of two states versus one state.

Benvenisti believes that we need a clear identity of ethnicity and territory.But how would we define identity ,ethnicity and territory?

According or him, Israelis always discuss demography, because they try to avoid the South African model of a One State.

One could create a federated Palestine-Israel with internal borders that will keep ethnic identity attached to territory.

Jerusalem would definitely needs soft boundaries between ethnically defined areas. And according to him ,we should choose from two concepts because

The problem here is with collective rather than individual rights.

Surgical partition will not work because the current power relations guarantees that Israeli interests will prevail.

Tamari continues by adding that dual nationalities may be a suggestion .This could take Israel out of the “Fortress Judaica” and make it part of the world.

If Israel defines itself as part of the global community, the wall on its eastern frontier, will be rejected by many Israelis as defining their borders.

The terms of trade, relationship with the U.S. and the EU , and ultimately new ways of looking at Palestinians will make the wall itself an anathema.

[1] “Intimate Enemies : Meron Benvenisti – University of California Press”. Ucpress.edu.

[3] ‘Lawrence of Arabia: Zionism and Palestine” .Sir Ronal Storrs. first published in Penguin Books in 1940.


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