One City-Two Cities (Jerusalem Partitions)

saya3Saya2saya-road-580saya4 I know my friend Ze’ev is going to hate this, but I wanted to share and comment upon this piece in Haaretz about technical plans to partition Jerusalem by architects Yehuda Greefield-Gilat and Karen Lee Bar-Sinai. They run an architectural firm called SAYA, dedicated to “resolution planning. The basic idea is to stitch together one city that is already and effectively split into two. The challenge is not so much how to share Jerusalem as much as how to share the Old City, the ground-zero holy place at the geographical center of the Israel-Palestine conflict. About the project, I’m not sure. On the one hand, there is something dystopian or monstrous about the entire plan. It builds on partitions and terminals to manage the crossing into the Old City. But one can imagine that the technology would [1] block the natural flow of people into the Old City from both West and East Jerusalem, and [2] sterilize the entire place by setting it apart from its immediate urban environments on both sides of the city. There’s something inhuman about the plan to herd people into and out of the Old City through terminals, like cattle. That would be the project’s greatest hurdle, how to humanize the transition and the technology that makes it possible. It would be simpler for a single sovereign, the strongest one, to manage the Old City. On the other hand, that kind of political logic based on a single, dominant sovereign constitutes its own dead end. When all is said and done, the politics here at the geographical heart of the conflict are complex, and perhaps its true that complex problems require complex solutions, not simple zero-sum solutions. The architectural plan would provide a technological way out. Thinking about it, the plan reminds me how the rabbis in the Babylonian Talmud envisioned a borderline between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin snaking through and across the Temple Mount and around the altar. I’m posting below my own re-organization of the article from Haaretz, focusing on how this plan to partition Jerusalem while providing free and open access to the Old City seeks to make a minimum impact on the city and its urban fabric. It depends upon a porous, open conception of borders and border crossing.  What Can be Done? Greenfield-Gilat and Bar-Sinai don’t make do with just drawing a border; they address all manner of questions, difficulties and obstacles inherent in a divided city. They offer solutions (albeit not always finalized) to problems involving security, tourism, economic issues, transportation, the function and appearance of border crossings, and more. Their purpose is not necessarily to offer a working blueprint for dividing the city, but merely to prove – first and foremost to the decision makers and the Israeli public – that division is possible. Complicated, expensive and unpleasant, but possible. What’s a Border? Thus, for instance, someone using mass transportation shouldn’t necessarily feel as if he is crossing a formal border; he would simply move between two public transit platforms.“The idea is to divest the border of its significance and turn it into something we recognize from everyday life,” says Greenfield-Gilat. “For instance, the moment you situate a border in the middle of a main street, you turn it into urban ‘furniture’ and mitigate the heavy impact of the border.” No Walls The principal impression that arises from all these materials, and from conversations with Greenfield-Gilat and Bar-Sinai, is that without question, this is a huge project that will require enormous resources and necessitate far-reaching changes in the city. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that despite 47 years of occupation and settlement, and despite incessant efforts to erase the Green Line in Jerusalem – that line is alive and well, and it’s possible to divide the city more or less along it. Moreover, the life of the average Jerusalem resident won’t need to be affected by the division. “The decisive majority of Jerusalem residents won’t feel any change in their daily lives,” Greenfield-Gilat explains. “Most of the border will pass through open areas, only five percent of it through urban areas, and only in one place – a 500-meter stretch in Abu Tor – will there be a street with a wall on one side like in Berlin.” Natural Urban Borders The best example of SAYA’s scheme for using “natural” urban boundaries to divide the city is Route 1, also known as Haim Bar-Lev Road. This artery runs along the Green Line from the Old City’s Damascus Gate to the French Hill intersection. It’s a multilane highway divided by the tracks of the light rail and long traffic islands. Thus, the road already constitutes a kind of barrier for any pedestrian seeking to cross over.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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13 Responses to One City-Two Cities (Jerusalem Partitions)

  1. It’s nice that architects and technocrats can envision a sane solution. But I think the challenge for philosophers is to play the R Yochanan ben Zakai card. What would Judaism look like after a second Naqba or a fourth, perhaps radioactive, churban? Who of our contemporaries will be the legendary Avot Mazikin that will fill the nightmares of our great great grandchildren?

  2. Gail says:

    As an envisioning akin to that of the Talmudic rabbis, I think this is fascinating. It reconceptualizes “border” as practice and conduit, not line/fence/security post. Like you say in Talmud group, it’s completely unreal, but the work it’s doing imaginatively is very, very compelling.

  3. Michael says:

    You say “The basic idea is to stitch together one city that is already and effectively split into two.” I don’t know when you’ve recently been to Jerusalem, but I’ve been there just last year and I’ve sort of missed on the split – Arabs and Jews mix throughout the city, with the Arabs profiting the most from freedom of movement in all of Jerusalem’s neighbourhoods.

    The possible outcomes of dividing Jerusalem have been nicely summed by Yaacov Lozowick here:
    The bottom line – none of them will work. Including this one. It is a utopian vision, a hollow architectural excercise that disregards all logic and reality. What will happen if a hand grenade will be thrown across one of these “soft borders”? The most viable solution is what Yaacov Lozowick calles “Jerusalem. An uneasy but beneficial status quo.”

    The extent of the lack of understanding of the situation in Jerusalem by the authors of this yet another surreal plan is illustrated by attorney Daniel Seidemann, a so-called “expert” on Jerusalem affairs “who has been involved for years in the architects’ project” according to the article. He says “It’s an Israeli city, but almost 40 percent of its residents have no right to vote.” Of course, he refers to the fact that the Arab residents of Jerusalem’s neighbourhoods annexed by Israel after the Six-Day War are not Israeli citizens and thus can’t vote for the Israeli Knesset. But they are residents of Jerusalem and are fully entitled to vote in the municipal elections! They mostly choose not to, but that’s their legitimate right. Besides, they still can vote to the Knesset – they were offered Israeli citizenship and most refused, something the “expert” either didn’t mention or something Haaretz (unsurprisingly) thought irrelevant to add.

    • zjb says:

      I know Jerusalem, although not as well as architects at SAYA and Daniel Seidemann. I know it well enough to know that the status quo is uneasy precisely because it’s not beneficial. As for the mix of people across the Green Line separating West and East Jerusalem, I simply don’t recognize the description. It certainly doesn’t take into account the systematic underdevelopment of the eastern part of the city, including restrictions on building. The outcome your argument leads to, of course, is a single state with a Palestinian majority. It’s safe to guess that it won’t be Jerusalem on the map anymore.

      • Michael says:

        But that’s just the point – there is no “Green Line”, there is no East and West Jerusalem. There is just Jerusalem. The division of the city was artificial, lasted less than two decades, but left a scarred city that does its best to heal those wounds. Anyone pretending it can be divided again either has no clue or is trying to mislead you. Which one of these two the authors of this yet another lead balloon are? Probably a mix of both.

      • zjb says:

        i think if you look at the second map, which I posted, you can see that with the exception of French Hill and Pisgat Ze’ev, there are pretty clear lines of separation. The seam line, which I think is rt.1 constitutes another
        “natural” urban border between East and West Jerusalem running along the wall of the Old City between Rechov Jaffo and the Damascus Gate. Sometimes these old scars, whcih you mention, are pretty hard to heal. (Like in Berlin).

      • Michael says:

        The lines of separation get very, very blurry inside the Old City, which is the core of the whole business. The most sacred sites of Judaism are in “East Jerusalem”, how abandoning them to desecration and destruction (see Joseph’s Tomb in Schem) will help peace I just fail to understand. Not to mention the holiest sites to Christians, imagine what will happen to them if Israel leaves (see Syria’s churches). I don’t need to tell you who will get the blame.

        I don’t know if you’ve been to Berlin recently, but I have. And I found it has done a damned good job erasing the traces of the wall. According to many Berliners, a too good job.

      • zjb says:

        About Berlin, I’m talking not so much about the wall and its traces and more about those big open tracts between the east and west sides near where the old East German Parliament building was. About the Old City in Jerusalem, you’re right. It’s the crux of the issue, about which there’s been a lot of talk about shared or joint sovereignty and preserving the status quo. Will such a scheme work? Who knows? But surely, the status quo isn’t working so well either. Frankly I don’t see a way out short of a lot of trouble.

      • Michael says:

        The status quo works, if not perfectly, Its like with the QUERTY layout – its bad, everyone knows its going to disappear eventually, but the trouble of changing it is just too big and the benefits are too small for a change to succeed.

        So far, those who push for “peace now” and propose various rosy schemes that promise an ideal world once implemented have been proven wrong again and again. Those who warned against such far-reaching changes based on such flimsy grounds, who are labelled as “doom-thinkers” and “negativists” by the rosy people, have been proven right. So forgive me if I don’t trust those rosy promises, for I, my family and Israel as a whole have suffered enough from the consequences of rash, irresponsible actions by these well-wishers.

  4. zeev says:

    I’m not mad at you for breaching this disgusting article by misguided people. i am mad at you for trying to offer in a way your revision on such a repulsive idea. Have walls ever come to anything but their downfall? What divided city in History has prospered? And as a Jerusalemite through and through i can tell you yes this city has its obvious divisions but in some weird way there is coexistence, and if the politicians would not be so populist and nationalist there would even be hope,

    • zjb says:

      i posted the article because i think it’s interesting, but knowing too that you weren’t going to like it. my only question has to do with whether or not Jerusalem is not always already two cities, not one. my bet is the fact that Israel gets more and more populist, nationalist, and religious is in part a reflection of and reactionary reaction against an already emergent one-state bi-national condition. my guess is that Jews in Israel will get more populist and fascist in order to shore up their “identity” as the identity of the State gets more called into question, not by leftist and Palestinian critics, but by conditions on the ground.

  5. No line? Follow the eruv. When I lived in Jerusalem 25 years ago, the eruv clearly if subtly demarcated where was Jewish and where was not in Jerusalem.

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