Unification by Fragmentation: Containment, Exclusion, and Dispossession in Jerusalem

Authors: Nathan Swanson*, Texas A&M University
Topics: Political Geography, Middle East, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: borders, fragmentation, settler-colonialism, Palestine-Israel, urban geopolitics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Bacchus, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The future (geo-)political status of Jerusalem has long been understood, at least since the rise of the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” in the 1990s, as a “final status issue” to be determined through negotiations. On the ground, however, Israel has long been transforming both the city’s built environment and its demographic composition through demolitions, settlements, walls, infrastructure, planning laws, national parks, and other means. Although Jerusalem is widely understood to be a “divided” city, these transformations are meant to give effect to the assertion in Israeli law and by Israeli politicians that Jerusalem is, in fact, a “united” city. In my dissertation research, I found that for Palestinians in Jerusalem, the question of whether the city is “united” or “divided” does not capture their experience of the city, which is one of fragmentation. In this paper, I focus specifically on the role of borders in this fragmentation process, as well as resistance to them. I argue that, as a complementary process to Israeli territorial consolidation and settler-colonization, the fragmentation of Palestinian Jerusalem has been accomplished through multiple types of borders and bordering regimes (e.g., administrative and municipal boundaries, walls, checkpoints, policing, zoning regimes, and more) operating simultaneously along, between, and through Palestinian neighborhoods. Indeed, many of the bordering processes we see around the world, including those which are most contested, we see at once in the city of Jerusalem. As these borders have multiplied and interacted, they have triggered multiple forms of resistance—resistance which has also been subject to fragmentation.

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