Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Jerusalem Practice Essay

Jerusalem as a city of many people, faiths, nationalities, appears in newspapers, on the television, in holy books, in art, in literature, in film. One tract of land holds the imagination of world captive. The reasons for this obsession are at the same time both obvious and mysterious. As a place considered holy to the Abrahamic faiths, whilst being somewhat alien to the secular majority of today, religion infiltrates almost every aspect of Jerusalem. To an outsider the politics of the everyday seem to be coded upon the people of the streets both intrinsically and obviously.

"Sometimes journalists ventured into West Jerusalem where an aging population of religious Jews in beards and hats and long dresses and wigs formed a backdrop of exotic extras. And the old city itself, the Armenians, the Greek Orthodox, the Lubavitch, the guardians of the Al-Aqsa mosque, everyone planting a stake in this weird piece of contested ground. Everyone was in costume so you could tell straight away what you are supposed to know about how they thought and felt."

This kind of clear distinction of groups is a remnant of Ottoman rule where each "nation" in Jerusalem was required to wear its own costume for ease of identification and administration. However, it will become clear that it is nigh on impossible to rely on such categories in trying to understand life in Jerusalem.

Numerous resources are available to the historian studying Jerusalem. Its contested sacred and political status has lead to a gamut of texts on both its religious and political significance in history, trying to explain why people were "planting a stake in this weird piece of…ground." However, another less studied strand of historical material slowly becomes apparent. This strand has more to do with the personal experience of the people of Jerusalem. As with any city, there is something tangible that binds its inhabitants together. This is something that Teddy Kolleck, the Mayor of Jerusalem from 1965 - 1993, although not a native Jerusalemite, clearly felt.

"Sometimes, in the company of true, veteran Jerusalemites, I still feel like a "newcomer" to the city. These native born Jerusalemites share a special bond, a kinship of memories no outsider can comprehend…The threads that bind Jerusalemites to their city are firmly woven into an urban tapestry unique to Jerusalem."

He goes on to recount how the particular mix of "seventh generation residents" and newcomers from around the world add to this particular Jerusalem feeling. Residents of Jerusalem have tried to capture this sense of Jerusalem through memoirs, art, film and more modern media such as weblogs. This production of representation is part of what is sometimes called 'collective memory' by modern academics.

This essay will examine the problems faced by historians who have to combine this sort of more personal material that could be considered historical by nature, types of cultural history, with the more traditional history based in facts relating to politics and religion in order to write comprehensive histories of Jerusalem. In doing this, it will also consider the wider issues surrounding the use of this 'kinship of memories' here. It will explore a range of case studies in these areas and try and uncover what these devices were trying to achieve through remembering Jerusalem in their own particular fashion.

Susan A. Crane writes that

"Perhaps the most banal thing that could be said about history, in general, is that "it happened" or something happened."

She goes on to explain that history is more than just the events of the past that are recorded; it also includes products produced about it both in the past and now. These products stand alongside the received recordings of events as a historical consciousness available to future and contemporary generations. When considering the history of Jerusalem, there are plenty of 'happenings'. The world is aware of its chronology, how the city changed hands over the centuries, how it is fought over both in the past and daily in the present. Indeed, there are 828 books in the University of Southampton Library that are related to such events, happenings, and Jerusalem itself. Furthermore, there is an overwhelming 'collective memory' surrounding Jerusalem that often expands upon or contradicts these 'happenings.' The banal history would record that Jerusalem was divided in 1948 at the end of the Arab – Israeli War and captured by Israel in 1967 by the Six Day War, and formally reunited in 1980. The 'collective memory' of these events, the cultural historical products inspired by them, create a more human picture of Jerusalem, showing the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of the people that were involved. Material is also available that records ironically banal happenings, everyday lives and experiences.

An example of this would be the poem 'Everyday Life' by Yehuda Amichai.

"Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David's Tower

I placed my two heavy baskets at my side.

A group of tourists was standing around

their guide and I became their marker.

"You see that man with the baskets?

Just right of his head there's an arch from

the Roman period. Just right of his head."

I said to myself: redemption will come only if

their guide tells them, "You see that Arch from

the Roman period? It's not important, but next to it,

left and down a bit, there sits a man

who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family.

This poem provides a slightly wider window into what life is like for the residents of Jerusalem. As a place full of pilgrims, both religious and secular, steeped in history and tradition the everyday seems irrelevant. Amos Elon writes of tourists and pilgrims becoming over whelmed by a so called 'Jerusalem Syndrome', the shock of the bustle and tension in the city. For Jerusalem is still a place where, as Amichai wrote, people buy fruit and vegetables for their families. The book To Live in Jerusalem, published by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem shows some of this normality, trying to create a historical consciousness of mundane life in Jerusalem with plates that show living rooms and kitchens. Natalie Zemon Davis and Randolf Stern vouch for this sort of use of memory materials;

"The collision of memories points to the way in which memory can challenge the biases, omissions, exclusions, generalizations and abstractions of history."

Nonetheless, Wulf Kansteiner warns of the inherent problems of 'collective memory' material. As Crane states it "expresses a sense of the continual presence of the past." Whilst historians can use this type of material, even deeper questions must be asked about its provenance.

"It can take hold of historically and socially remote events but it often privileges the interests of the contemporary. It is as much a result of conscious manipulation as unconscious absorption and it is always mediated."

Much as history itself can be said to be written by the victors, collective memory material in expressing the past in the present day can be used subjectively. The book To Live in Jerusalem is published under the auspices of the Israel Museum and so could be considered part of the Israeli establishment. It is endorsed by a longstanding mayor of the City. It is the work of leading academics. Its creation was supported by research funds. This could hardly be called the work of the everyman. Whilst it provides a starting point for understanding the everyday lives of Jerusalemites, for example explaining briefly that ultra-Orthodox families tend not to have furniture that would serve the purpose of a sofa or settee due to the Orthodox way of life leaving no place to for leisure, the reader can gather little sense of what the people who lived in those rooms felt or thought about life in the city. There is little or no mention of conflict, the book trying to create a historical consciousness of calm home life to pass onto future generations. The book is perhaps trying to perpetuate only part of Crane's 'continual presence of the past', the part of it that the editors of the book deem acceptable, 'privileging the interests of the contemporary.'

One can apply this same way of thinking to Yehuda Amichai's poem. One could argue that the Israeli government neglects the needs of the population in order to pander to tourists using this poem. Or that Jerusalemites feel overwhelmed when living in such historical surroundings, that they are always living with Cranes's continual presence of the pasts. A Jerusalemite may well agree with both or one of these sentiments, but that does not mean they are true, historically or otherwise. The type of material that is being processed here is much less tangible. It should be stressed that it is thoughts, feelings, people trying to make sense of the world that they exist in. It is useful at this point to consider the ideas of Clifford Geertz, the anthropologist. He considers cultural history to be people trying to make sense of their worlds through the creation of cultural products. Furthermore he considers it to be cultural reproduction, third hand ideas being rediscovered by each passing generation. One must be aware that in working with cultural historical material we are not necessarily accessing the reality of that person, but ideas that they had as individuals. These ideas will have necessarily been affected by the society in which the person was living.

In the rich vein of cultural material available to the historian of Jerusalem, a new type of source has emerged, which helpfully illustrates the ideas of Geertz. The blog as a phenomenon has taken over the internet over the last 5 years, with large companies using the easily updatable format to inform customers about news and special offers, to travellers writing online travel journals, to special interest logs giving in-depth personal accounts on specific topics from crafts to politics. Jerusalem, and the Middle East in general are popular topics for blogs. Within the cyber pages of these blogs the historian can analyse the both the cultural history of Jerusalem and the thoughts and feelings of people who live in all parts of the city.

As previously stated, as a source they are far from being "unmediated and unself-conscious". Nevertheless they can afford valuable insight much in the way memoirs and diaries have done in former eras. Due to the volatile nature of life in Jerusalem they can also help the historian understand how political and religious ideas disseminate through groups of people, and manifest in cultural products. Also due to the accessible nature of 'blogging', it is far easier to find blogs written by people from across the spectrum of groups who live in Jerusalem, whereas the status and market for memoirs and diaries written in English from the Israeli and/or Jewish perspective arguably make them more accessible than memoirs or diaries from other groups who live in Jerusalem.

A further reaching study would be able to use various blog posts as case studies in order to explore similarities and differences between the lives of the blog authors. It could also apply the same historical theories discussed in this study to analyse other forms of cultural material produced as part of the historical consciousness of Jerusalem. It could include those based in fiction such as Eitan Gorlin's 2001 film, The Holy Land, and the paintings of Ivan Schwebel and Motke Blum that marry biblical and other mythological elements with realistic representations of Jerusalem in art, and those based in supposed fact such as the memoirs of Linda Grant and Suiad Amiry. It would question the context of these sources and ask how that context would affect the inclusions and exclusion inherent in each work and how each work fits into the larger historical consciousness of Jerusalem.


Amichai, Y., Abramson, G., and Parfitt, T., (Manchester: Carncanet Press, 1997)

Amiry, S., Sharon and my Mother in Law Ramallah Diaries, (London: Granta Books, 2005).

Baxandall, M., Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures, (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 1985).

Crane, S.A., 'Writing the Individual Back into Collective Memory' in The American Historical Review, Vol. 102, No. 5. (Dec., 1997)

Elon, A., Jerusalem: City of Mirrors, (London: Weindenfeld and Nicholson, 1990)

Goldman, S., Jerusalem in Jewish Life and Tradition, (London: Council for Christian- Jewish Understanding, 1970).

Gonan, R., and Kroyanker, D., To Live in Jerusalem, (Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 1993).

Grant, L., The People on the Street: A Writer's View of Israel, (London: Virago Press, 2006).

Harb, A. 'Representations of Jerusalem in the modern Palestinian novel' in Arab Studies Quarterly, (Summer 2004).

Hunt, L., (ed.), The New Cultural History, (Berkley: University of California Press, 1989).

Kansteiner, W., 'Finding Meaning in Memory: A Methodological Critique of Collective Memory Studies' in History and Theory, Vol. 41, No.2. (May 2002).

Romann, M. and Weingrod, A., Living Together Separately; Arabs and Jews in Contemporary Jerusalem, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1991).

Schwebel, I., Jerusalem - Tel Aviv, (Jerusalem: Aviva Publications, 1989)

Tai, Hue-Tam Ho, 'Remembered Realms: Pierre Nora and French: National Memory' in The American Historical Review 106.3 (2001).

Wilson, E. and Blum, M., Jerusalem: reflection of eternity, (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1990).Zemon Davis, N., and Stern, R., 'Introduction' in Representations, No. 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory. (Spring, 1989)


Bogner, D., '[Waste] My Time… [spend] your money' in 'Treppenwitz', <>, 8th October 2007.

C.K., 'Gentrification is Yummy' in '', <>, 5th November 2007.

Cone. E., 'The Rise of the Blog' in 'CIO Insight', <,1540,1786020,00.asp,> 19th November 2007.
El-Haddad, L., 'from East Jerusalem to Durham' in 'Raising Yousuf, Unplugged: diary of a Palestinian mother' <>

Plummer, R., 'Business bites the blogging bullet' in 'BBC News', <>, 19th November 2007.

University of Southampton Web Cat

<> 19th November 2007.


The Holy Land, Dir. Eitan Gorlin, Arts Alliance America, 2001.

Appendix A.

'Everyday Life' by Yehuda Amichai.

"Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David's Tower

I placed my two heavy baskets at my side.

A group of tourists was standing around

their guide and I became their marker.

"You see that man with the baskets?

Just right of his head there's an arch from

the Roman period. Just right of his head."

I said to myself: redemption will come only if

their guide tells them, "You see that Arch from

the Roman period? It's not important, but next to it,

left and down a bit, there sits a man

who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family.

Yehuda Amichai, translated by Glenda Abramson, and Tudor Parfitt, (Manchester: Carncanet Press, 1997)

Appendix B.

Gentrification is Yummy!

November 5th, 2007 by ck

When I first moved to my apartment located in the heart of the Jerusalem Market, I lived above no less than 4 "Mizrachi" style bars. ach would be open till late at night and the entertainment consisted of really loud singalongs of classic Moroccan and Iraqi musical scores. At first it was kind of charming but I soon grew weary of the drunken brawls and the total absence of quiet. I was certain that if I heard another rowdy rendition of "Shalom Leh Ben Dodi" accompanied by darbouka I would kill someone…. and this is coming from someone who likes Mizrachi music. But as Jerusalem becomes safer and safer, and as random terrorism becomes a distant historical footnote, real estate values have started to escalate and my once predominantly Sephardic neighborhood has seen a growing number of paler skinned interlopers.

There are now a number of chichi bars in the 'hood, the big growth industry here is capuccino serving cafes and while I was Thailand, one of the rowdy bars closed down and an Indian vegetarian joint rose in its stead. Now there are only 2 rowdy bars outside my window. But I am glad that my usual fare of rice stuffed peppers from Rachmo can be supplemented with the really savory, reasonably priced fare available at Ichikidana - the aforementioned Indian veggie place. Now I don't know anything about Indian food - but whatever the hell I ate was yummy. It was a big plate of vegetable goop, rice and yogurt and this flat bread I guess they call Nan. The owners were pleasant, the service was good and I couldn't help but notice these dirty Israeli hippies who I imagine spent a lot of time in India after their army service, nod in approval - which is a good thing because they would know, right?

So next time you're in the shuk - give these guys a spin. They are on 4 Ha-Eshkol street just off the open shuk area by the pita guys across from Rachmo and they are Kosher Leh Mehadrin though when was the last time you saw a Haredi guy eating Indian food? I don't know, but you can't eat Marzipan Rugelach all the time.


Appendix C.

Laila El-Haddad 'from East Jerusalem to Durham' in 'Raising Yousuf, Unplugged: diary of a Palestinian mother' <>

Sahar is from East Jerusalem. I am from Gaza. Our cities are about an hour away (without interruption). But now, ironically, due to Israeli closure policies banning Palestinians on either side of the divide from travelling to each other's locales, the only place we could meet was Durham, North Carolina, not Gaza; not East Jerusalem; not even Ramallah.

Sahar is a field officer with the Red Cross, here for a few months on a program at Duke. We had lunch the other day with a mutual Israeli friend and rotary fellow at UNC.

Sahar carries an East Jerusalem ID card. I carry a Gaza ID card. this means I am not allowed to cross Erez to visit Sahar in Jerusalem or the West Bank, and she cannot cross over to visit me in Gaza.

The Jerusalem ID is particularly precarious because the Israeli government makes it extremly difficult for Palestinians residents of East Jerusalem to maintain their residency there and thus their status through a series of draconian laws that are not applicable to the city's Jewish residents.

It is part of a decades old policy of maintaining the Jewish majority in Jerusalem by a ratio of 73.5% to 26.5% to reduce the Palestinian presence in the city. These measures included the controlling and revoking identity card holders inside the city for not paying things like "TV taxes" on time or being present at the residency address on a consistent basis (made more difficult by the wall and other restrictions faced by residents).

Students who continued to study long years abroad have also had their ID cards revoked. Palestinians who married and stayed abroad lost their right to be residents of the city. One Palestinian from Jerusalem I met last year is married to a Ramallah resident (who are also now not allowed into the city) and because she has lost her Jerusalem residency has to sneak in and out of the city to visit her parents.

One woman in an article I wrote a couple of years back explained it well:

"Our occupation is of a different kind than in the West Bank or Gaza," said Huda al-Imam, director of the Centre for Jerusalem Studies at al-Quds University.

"It has a clear strategy of annexing the land of East Jerusalem while not annexing the people, but transferring them," she added.

"I have a difficult time explaining my legal status to people, even Israelis- I am not a citizen of Israel and at the same time I do not carry a Palestinian Authority passport (all signs of Palestinian nationhood are banned in Jersualem, including flags). I carry an Israeli 'travel document' but this does not entitle us t any of the rights or services that citizens get."

The idea is, Israel wants East Jerusalem, but does not want its people. Bad for both its economy, and for its demography.

That is one of the reasons they made sure their viscious Wall last year cut through neigbhorhoods of East Jerusalem, cutting off nearly 150, 000 Jerusalemites from their schools, hospitals, and work in Jerusalem. Eventually the journey across the checkpoints and through the Wall may become too arduous, it is hoped, and they will move out of Jerusalem altogether into the West Bank.

"Its like a force of habit-people reach for cigarettes, I reach for my hawia (ID card), even here in the US," joked Sahar.

Jerusalem is the main exit for the north-south link in Palestine, from Bethlehem to Ram Allah, and from northern West Bank to southern West Bank.

"It's very strange that Israel is so much more preoccupied with creating more settlements than providing any service for legal residents and it's equally amazing Israel wants to overcrowd a very important world heritage that is under threat and has been defined as such by Unesco," remarked former Palestinian minister of Jerusalem Affairs, in an interview with me last year, in reference to the Israeli Muncipality's approval of new Jewish housing units in the Muslim Quarter of the City near the Dome of the Rock at the time.

Khoury went on to describe what it means to have a Jerusalem ID:

"As Jerusalemites, in 1967 when we were occupied by Israel, we were given identity cards to indicate that we are residents of the city. But we are not citizens of Israel - simply residents.

As residents, we are given permanent residency if we stay in the city, and if our centre of life is in the city. But if we live outside of city for seven years, then we have no right to come back.

In practice, it works differently. Students - including my son - who were away for two continuous years, came back to find their driver's licence and insurance cancelled.

Palestinians are treated as residents if they stay in Jerusalem, but many Jerusalemites found themselves in diaspora and couldn't come back, nor their children. These Palestinians have no right to come to Jerusalem."

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