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Shaping Jerusalem: Spatial Planning, Politics and the Conflicts

Shaping Jerusalem: Spatial Planning, Politics and the Conflicts
Francesco Chiodelli
London/New York: Routledge, 2017, 115 p.


The controversies over Jerusalem becoming the capital of Israel have recently occupied a significant part of the Middle East’s political debates. This affair has been one of the subjects that interested the politicians, the community and the media in Turkey and it’s also closely associated with the place occupied by the question of Palestine in Turkey’s agenda. In the meantime, this relevance in the Middle East and the Palestine presence felt in the academic literature of the country. However, the studies on these regions are mostly limited to the disciplines of political science and international relations or maybe religious studies. On the other hand, in the Western literature, we encounter academic studies approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from different disciplines such as planning and urban design. In this text, I aim to evaluate a book that is a product of this literature on the planning of the city of Jerusalem, where political tension is always high: Shaping Jerusalem: Spatial Planning, Politics and the Conflicts

This work which consists of five chapters written around Jerusalem is simply evaluating the political crisis in the city through the planning of Jerusalem. It would be useful to talk about the sources that are used in the book before moving on to the chapters. In addition to having a wealthy bibliography that is compiled separately for each chapter, it also contains clear and useful photographs and maps of the city. This provides readers with a clearer description of the city’s planning and transformation. Another aspect that makes the text powerful is its’ arguments derived from quotations of Israeli politicians, planners, and local administrators. It is possible to say that the main flaw of this book is lack of citations to Palestinian authorities.

Francesco Chiodelli, the author of this book, expresses the aspects of his work which make it different from other works focusing on Jerusalem in the introduction chapter. First, the book is not about the Old City since the author focuses on the settlements in East Jerusalem. From this point of view, what distinguishes this book from political science works is that it focuses on a silent war. In fact, this war is carried out by urban politics, spatial planning, architectural projects, etc. Examples include the demolition of an uninhabited house, the expropriation of a piece of land. However, from a broader perspective, these actions radically change the physiology of the city. This is not limited to East Jerusalem, but these activities as a whole affect the political future of Jerusalem. Returning to the subject of the book, although the author focuses on Jerusalem, the book is not only about this city. This is because the discussed problems are not particular to Jerusalem. The emergence of political, religious and social conflicts in urban areas is seen in different cities around the world. This work gives us an opportunity to think about other cosmopolitan cities in the world through Jerusalem.

The first chapter of this book, which will be evaluated, is titled “The spatial dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over Jerusalem”. The first part of the book is an introduction and focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem and the importance of the concept of “demography” in shaping the city since the Israeli occupation is one of the central issues in this section. The impact of population factor on the plan of the city of Jerusalem is discussed around the issues such as the natural increase in population, immigration movements within the country, external migrants, and future status of Arab and Jewish demographics. The future of urban planning, which will also be widely discussed in the following sections, serves political purposes. In particular, it is aimed to increase the influence of the dominant group and also to promote the dissolution of Arab settlements with acts such as changes in the legal sense and the displacement of the population. Although the author states that it is not the subject of this book, the Palestinian/Arab reactions to these illegals are among the topics included in this chapter.

In the second chapter, named “The Occupied City: Planning the occupation of East Jerusalem city”, it is discussed how the Israeli authorities have systematically occupied East Jerusalem with the city planning. First, the political function of the concept of “public housing” is emphasized. Undoubtedly, the most important point here is the Judaisation policy. The main skeleton of the second chapter is the Jerusalem Master Plan, which was conducted by the Israeli authorities. Through the problems caused by this plan, Chiodelli criticizes the city planning of Jerusalem. In particular, a dual strategy of the plan in question shows the organized Judaisation of the city by Israeli forces. The plan primarily aims at prevention of the Jews intending to leave the city by expanding the diversity of housing offered to Jewish citizens. The plan, however, reveals that the Arab-Jewish rate cannot become what the Israeli authorities want. Two important concepts of city planning through population are the focus points of Chiodelli: densification and expansion. In accordance with the Jerusalem Master Plan, the settlements of the Arabs are squeezed into the narrowest areas and the Jewish settlements are being spread to the city. The author states that he examines this plan in terms of the current housing stock and future development, and also states that the picture he draws is merely a hypothesis. In other words, he describes a possible situation. As mentioned above, a significant portion of the text is a critique of the problems created by the Master Plan. The complex relationship between the political and technical components, as well as the different legal applications for the Arab and Jewish areas in some issues such as building permits, illegal construction and the uncertainties in the plan, are important problems. The main argument here is that the political power in the planning of the city raids the technical authorities and the real planners. However, as the author pointed out, the fact that the plan was prepared only for the needs of Jewish settlers shows that it is not very important whether the political power should be subject to pressure during the planning of the city.

The third chapter of the book is titled “The illegal city: Urban policies for Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem”. Under this section, the main focus of the author is to reveal how the Israeli authorities are shaping the city of Jerusalem through the policies that implement Arab settlements. According to Chiodelli, the difference between the Israeli authorities and the Palestinians in terms of the way they understand the concept of “illegality” is the decisive factor in the policies applied to the settlements. However, it is emphasized that international organizations have an attitude towards the Israeli authorities. On the other hand, it is extremely optimistic to expect the rise of a lot of reaction in the international community against the injustice(s) caused by the Israeli authorities during the shaping of the city.  

Although the abundance of illegal Arab buildings is accepted in this text, the reasons are mostly related to the policies of the Israeli state. The difference in the proportion of Arab buildings before and after Israel’s occupation of 1967 is an important example of this. According to Chiodelli, this illegality is not a choice for Arabs. In other words, the Arabs are unable to legally construct buildings as a result of the pressures and limitations of the Israeli authorities and are forced to build illegal structures that shape the mold of the city.

The author examines the effects of the destruction of buildings and other repressive measures on the structure of the city under this heading. The position of the municipality is highlighted in two different ways, namely administrative and judicial. The most important criticism against these demolition orders is that they are deprived of a system and carried out randomly. Here, the author also reveals the unfair practice of urban construction by comparing the legal applications for illegal construction in Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.

One of the points that this chapter focuses on is the reasons behind this illegal construction. Although Israeli authorities have put forward justifications such as anthropological tendencies, in terms of Chiodelli, housing policies in Israel should be the focus. For example, the obstacles to the enlargement of Arab buildings have forced Arabs into these illegal acts. The problematic legal practices applied to the Arabs appear in the “building areas” issue. The double standard of the Israeli authorities on settlement development, public facilities, and maximum building heights is expressed here, and the author explained the effect of this attitude, which is maintained by the municipality and the government, on Arab neighborhoods and settlements.

The fourth chapter is entitled “The locked city: The Separation Barrier as a territorial strategy”. The bulkiest part of the book is this section. This chapter focuses on the effects of the separation barrier on the land in Jerusalem. Chiodelli does not limit the barrier he has examined under this title to the current city planning issues but also includes its historical roots. This physical disability can be considered as the peak of Israel’s urban policies in East Jerusalem since the occupation in 1967. Its main function is to abolish de facto Arab city that resists the Israeli occupation and, in addition, to create a new urban city that is entirely Jewish. The reason why the wall was born politically, justification by the Israeli authorities and the spatial results are among the subheadings of this subject. The important political effects of this new urban structural regulation are analyzed in this chapter.

The fifth chapter of the book titled “The lesson of Jerusalem” is a general summary. The strong relationship between planning and political space, especially in Jerusalem, is repeated here. Thus, the author discusses the role of a city planner. In fact, in many parts of the book, the author discusses the power of the city planner over political power through the crises of the city of Jerusalem. In this last part, the fact that the planners are part of the political process is being raised.

Shaping Jerusalem, which compensates for a significant shortage in urban studies, is an opportunity for Turkish readers to break the narrow perspective that approaches Jerusalem and Palestine issues only in the context of political events. The other side that makes this study worthwhile is to discuss the city design through Jerusalem, which many religions consider to be holy and to think about the ethical issue in the city. This reveals that the book has the potential to open up new areas of discussion. These works, which approach a subject which is of great importance to our society from a different perspective, instead of superficial political and religious debates, should appear also in our academic literature.  

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