M. Romann and A. Weingrod, Living Together Separately: Arabs and Jews in Contemporary Jerusalem (Princeton, 1991).
After armies come the academics. Usually the first wave comprises archaeologists and historians who wish to legitimize a particular excursion or expansion. These are followed by economists and anthropologists prying open the benefits and exoticism of the conquered areas. Further down the line are the sociologists and community relations scholars who wish to ascertain the progress so far. Israel’s conquest of the remnant of Palestine has been no different.
An indication of the maturity of the Israeli occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem is the appearance of studies on the subject of Arab-Jewish relations in the city, both East and West. Living Together Separately is one of several which have appeared over the last decade. But has the incorporation of Jerusalem into Israel really gone so far? Are inter-ethnic relations rather than national politics already the primary focus of study for Jerusalem? Are not the authors premature in applying to Jerusalem a discipline more suited to a study of an Israeli “mixed town” such as Acre, Jaffa, Lydda, RamIe and Haifa? This field, established by Israeli scholars Cohen, Hofman, Smooha and Shokeid, and others, carries a political message: that the war is over, the political and national question has been resolved and Palestinian-Israeli relations in Jerusalem can be understood better in terms of minority-majority relations and inter-communal behavior. Unintentionally, perhaps, such questions are raised by this extremely readable and well-written book.
The method chosen by Romann and Weingrod for presenting their data is unusual yet highly commendable. An introductory historical chapter is followed by chapters alternating between macro- and micro-studies of different aspects of the city’s urban geography, economics and social anthropology — one sets out the main themes while the second provides a case study. For example, Chapter 4 on the labor market and economic interactions is followed by a chapter studying patterns of behavior between Palestinians and Israelis inside the Israeli-owned Nimrod bakery. This “writing-together-separately” format gives the book a richness and depth that would be lost if the studies on urban geography or social anthropology were presented independently. The penultimate chapter attempts a general survey of the political and decision-making processes in the city, while the final chapter consists of a thoughtful summary of the main themes and makes brief comparisons with other inter-ethnic studies and conflict-ridden cities.
The authors try hard to present their data in as balanced a way as possible. Indeed, examining the text for examples of bias is a sterile exercise. One can quibble about certain turns of phrase or emphases that appear to tilt toward an Israeli viewpoint, but in the main there is a rigorous avoidance of partisan perspectives. In fact, it is their desire to present the facts in a balanced manner that, in the end, causes some inaccuracies. For example, the fact that East Jerusalem Arab banks have remained closed since 1967 is made the responsibility of the Jordanian authorities “who have refused to allow the Arab banks to reopen so long as they are under direct Israeli control.” This is technically true, but a fuller picture would acknowledge that the occupation was illegal under international law and that the extension of Israeli banking jurisdiction over Arab banks was unwarranted. So one could also say it is the conditions laid by the Israeli government for reopening the Arab banks which have resulted in their continued closure.
In the same way, the authors’ attempt to achieve balance occasionally leads to questionable judgments as to where the weight of an argument lies. In discussing the provision of medical services, the authors present the case of the closure of the Austrian Hospice in the Old City. As the largest medical institution in the Old City, it clearly played a crucial role in the life of the Palestinian population there. The authors balance Palestinian protests against its closure with the government argument that its medical standards, facilities and accessibility were poor. Again, a fuller picture would have placed the closure in the context of government policies to reduce the Palestinian population in the Old City by preventing the restoration and reuse of empty buildings, by turning a blind eye to the illegal occupation of properties and harassment of Palestinians by militant Israeli settlers, and by state and municipal confiscation and demolition of Palestinian property. The closure of the hospice is part and parcel of the “de-Palestinianization” of the Old City. What both these examples also indicate is the tendency in the study of inter-ethnic relations to give great attention to specifics, with the result that not only is a partial picture presented but one divorced from the general political context.
The main methodological criticism one can level at the authors is their use of sources. They readily admit that their primary research was carried out in the early 1980s and that the beginning of the intifada marks a decisive watershed in the study of Jerusalem. Accordingly, they have attempted to incorporate more recent data, and part of their penultimate chapter discusses the impact of the intifada. But these caveats and clarifications notwithstanding, the long gestation period leading up to publication has unavoidably diminished the topicality of the book. Jerusalem in the 1990s will be very different, and to some extent the book is already historical. Future editions will have to drop the word “contemporary” from the title. The almost exclusive dependence upon Hebrew and Israeli sources is noticeable. There is undoubtedly a lack of serious Palestinian and Arab scholarship on Jerusalem, and the expectation for scholars on Arab-Israeli affairs to be trilingual is unrealistic. Nevertheless there is material which could be included. Daqqaq and Mattar have both written on Jerusalem in English, and translations from the Arabic press would have been made helpful additions to some of the material. Reports by various Palestinian professional bodies, such as the Engineering Union on Jerusalem’s urban growth and the Association of Arab Counselors on psychological problems, would have been useful.
This imbalance in the use of sources raises another issue. To what extent do the examples and “case studies” cited merely corroborate the implicit assumptions of the author’s approach? By using the Hadassah Hospital and Nimrod bakery as reflections of the nature of Palestinian-Israeli relations, the subordinate status of the Palestinian community is confirmed. Palestinians remain low-level employees with little prospect of improving their positions. Those who refuse to accept this status then move on, indicating the unsatisfactory nature of this relationship. How typical are these situations of inter-ethnic relations in Jerusalem? What conclusions would have been drawn if the Jerusalem Electric Company, directed and staffed at all levels by Palestinians but with a proportion of Israeli customers, had been selected as the location of a similar study?
Furthermore, while the authors do not shrink from stating the oppressive nature of Israeli state control over the Palestinian population, would not inter-ethnic relations in the court system or police station have been more representative of the actual situation? Indeed, would Palestinian academics have chosen the same locations as Romann and Weingrod for their studies? If not, as this reviewer suspects would be the case, why not? What situations would a Palestinian academic from East Jerusalem have selected to exemplify the subtitle of the study, “Arabs and Jews in Contemporary Jerusalem”? The reader is left with an uneasiness that the study fails to convey the whole picture, and to a significant extent misses the point.
The authors themselves appear to have second thoughts about their material. They declare that they “sought to understand Jerusalem’s realities without ideological preconceptions, and to grasp the variety of everyday exchanges from the viewpoints of all the participants, both Jews and Arabs.” Furthermore, they are aware that the Israeli control over a united Jerusalem can be defined as both “coexistence” or “conquest.” All these clarifications point to an understanding of the political dimensions underlying Arab-Jewish relations in Jerusalem. Indeed they go on to admit that their research findings led them to alter their conclusions. Their concluding chapter contains this frank assessment:
The basic, underlying issue in Jerusalem confronting Jews and Arabs is political and national. The problems are not religious or cultural divisions…. Nor is the problem one of social or material inequalities or even outright discrimination…. The Israeli belief that the improvement in the economic status of East Jerusalem Arabs would change their political aspirations has certainly proved to be unrealistic.
What the reader is left with, therefore, is a research study which points in one direction but ends up in another. The authors seem to have overlooked the fact that the very concept of inter-ethnic studies presupposes the subordination of political issues to those of group and communal behavior. But by dwelling on these issues the authors appear to be contradicting their own conclusions.
It is significant that it is Israeli scholars who concern themselves with these subjects while Palestinians scholars are much more concerned with issues of state power, human rights, land confiscations, legality and the mechanisms of coercion. Romann and Weingrod’s study emphasizes the structure and mode of Palestinian-Israeli interaction in a way which diverts the focus to areas of conflict which, though of interest and more than peripheral, are not in themselves fundamental to the Palestinian-Israeli relationship in Jerusalem. Despite its readability, therefore, the book remains disturbing. The ultimate result of such studies is to contribute to an intellectual culture which accepts the incorporation of East Jerusalem into Israel and the subordination of Palestinian Arabs to the Israeli state as a historical fact.