Cities Shared and Shattered


Keynote Lecture: “Cities Shared and Shattered: Urban Mix and Ethnic Coexistence from a Global Perspective” / Prof. Daniel Monterescu

Associate Professor, PhD Program Director, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Central European University, Budapest

Is it possible to live with cancer?DSC_4365 copy

Why is the issue of mixing unbearable in the national-territorial discourse in Israel? Urban mixing isn’t unique to the Israeli case, it is a global dilemma. As early as the beginning of the 20th century, modern sociology dealt with the question of immigrants, the question of mixing and the question of encounters with the other. Today the discourse has dwindled to issues of ethnic communities and ghettos. This is a conceptual world which doesn’t contend with the fundamental issue of the boundaries of self and the boundaries of the other.

The encounter between the self and the other in mixed cities, at least in Israel, requires us to think in multidimensional terms. Edward Said suggests, untypically, to think about the Palestinian and the Jew in dialectic terms, as inseparable, as part of one symphony. He offers a romantic description of exalted, tragic nobility.

The street in Jaffa is a street where territorial struggles are conducted every day. Violent struggles as well as changing of symbols. For example: “Natan Pantz” street in Jaffa: a street in an Arab neighborhood, with a majority of Arab residents. Next to the sign announcing the street’s name the Islamic movement posted a sign in Arabic: Ask forgiveness from your God for he is a merciful God”. This is an example of the dialogue between the banal message of Israeli nationality and the claim for meaning and presence in space of the Islamic movement.

Mixing can be dangerous. For instance, swastikas graphitized in the Sderot Yerushalaim area, a mixed area. The painted swastikas are a semiotic failure, a failure in imitating such a recognized symbol for the hatred of the other. It is a cultural difficulty to express hatred and otherness. In mixed cities, along with the inability to form a community integrative project, there is also an inability to phrase hatred.

And what about love? In a different graffiti a mixed couple is announcing in English their love on the walls of a mosque, renovated by the Islamic movement in Jabaliya neighborhood: “Fuad loves Osnat”. The graffiti was erased immediately. It contains all the tensions of mixing: a national and urban discourse on the one hand and the need of young people to live a different alternative.

“Jaffa is a Jewish city too” is a sign on the wall in English in a mixed area in Jaffa. Is Jaffa a Jewish city too, only a Jewish city? Additionally, there is a swastika inside the Star of David. The confusion is inherent. Two years later all the signs of ambivalence have been erased. “Jaffa is a Jewish city”. Period.

The fissure exists between the communities and within the subjects. The mixed urban existence is based on contradictions:DSC_4393 copy

  • A contradiction between choice and compulsion: co-existence out of necessity and existential fear, choice and compulsion at the same time.
  • Normalcy and abnormality: tragic dialectic, fixation and subjection of the other, until along the years we get used to abnormality and get addicted to it. Tragically, the un-normal experience is sometimes what binds the parties, which are trapped in the tragic connection.
  • Internal and external forces: nations and communities
  • Daily life versus destructive events and dramas.

Contending with the issue of otherness gave birth to a complete language on the whole range between assimilation and pluralism, gastronomic metaphors of mixture.  For instance:  “Goulash” – each ingredient maintains its individuality while creating together a compound greater than its parts.  In Israel, most of the metaphors are not organic and relate to the Jews alone: melting pot, integrating the exiles. The national-political issue in Israel removes the language from the kitchen, from familiarity and pushes it towards the industrial fire.

Human history is one of mixing. We are not unique. To understand different cases of mixing in cities we can rely on a few models. The most known models: The Colonial model, the Divided city (Belfast, Jerusalem) the Dual city model. These models are unsatisfactory. To understand mixing it should be understood as a process. It is worthwhile to relate to urban scenarios: ethnic cleansing, polarization, segmentation, pluralism, assimilation.

To deeply understand the issue of mixing we have to look at specific cases. In Alexandria, a nationalistic anti-colonialist thinking managed to turn the city from one with multi-communities to one with few. In Alexandria as in Sarajevo, regime of separation eliminated the mixture. Although Belfast in no longer divided formally, the healing process will take decades. Urban mixing is a long process that is not concluded with the signing of an agreement and this is what we must anticipate if there is an agreement in Jerusalem.

The Mediterranean cases demonstrate how mixture can be subversive. How it refuses to bow down its head and be obedient. In Marseille, the antithesis to Paris, the different communities (Italians, Armenians, Corsicans, Jews, and Algerians), didn’t seethe to political violence. The delegates of the communities refrained from politicizing the mixture. The presence of the Mediterranean Sea and the history of migration and the presence of Muslim majority were able to neutralize the politicization of urbanity. This is a model I want to use thinking about the Israeli situation. In Jaffa there are elements dismantling the explosive political potential.

Mixture is disturbing all the countries of the world and is currently present mainly in Europe. In Hungary there is an attempt to express the arrival of the refuges to Europe in terms of mixture and difference. Against it stands the purist discourse that wishes to maintain a local identity. The paradox is that today nationalists are pining for the time that Hungary was a multicultural unit.

Mixed cities: why are they called this in Israel? Are there no mixed cities in the world? Every city is a mixed city from a certain perspective The Israeli case is unique because there is a discourse about a group of cities that are called “mixed cities”. Elsewhere this is an external, analytic term. In Israel the issue of mixture is so politically problematic that it has become a description, a label.

The term “mixed city” appears in the Peel Report from the time of the British mandate in Palestine. The report refers to undividable cities. The term went through processes of adoption and rejection. The term mixed city became a stopover on the way to the new Hebrew city and even seeped into the Palestinian discourse. Different organizations talk about Jaffa, Ramleh, Lod and Haifa as mixed cities and each organization uses the term for its own goals. The “mixed city” has become a term that hosts political arguments.

There are a few stages in the historical development of mixed cities. A group of cities was organized in a pre-national pre-capitalistic mode. In the 19th century the conception was that everyone, Arabs and Jews, are Othman’s subjects. After the Balfour Declaration this option was negated and a process of fragmentation of the shared space began. Eventually Jaffa was identified as Arab and Tel Aviv as Jewish. Actually the division was temporary and fluid and the process continues to date.

In the 1950’s Jewish cities were built to fulfil the purpose of controlling the Arab populations, Nazareth and Nazareth Illit for example. This move had unplanned results: today Nazareth Illit is the desired destination of Nazerath’s Arab bourgeoisie. The same has happened in other places. This is how the new mixed cities were formed in Israel. They challenge the established planning thinking and the principle of separation in general.

What is the mixed city’s next phase: a divided city? A shared city? A bi-national city? A post-national city? These are urban scripts that we are part of and we can’t yet determine in what direction they will evolve. I want to close with a saying that is political and personal, anthropological and sociological.  There is only one way to handle mixing: to neutralize the explosive political potential on the one hand and to acknowledge the differences and trauma on the other. Jerusalem is a city where myths and daily life are in constant, bloody contradiction. The myth is alive. The city is bleeding and uncompromising.