I often dream of Jerusalem. I’ve wondered why that is. Towards the end of our workshop, we conjured up some words we thought were apt in describing this city– these words were: tentacular, intersectionality, lines, embedded, fossils, microworlds, and fragility. I colored the scene in my mind– Jerusalem as a clot of arterial streets, clumped together, throbbing with little tendrils extending all over the world. Some to Iraq and Morocco, from which hailed the Mizrahi Jews. Some to New York, which gave Jerusalem part of its Jewish population. I pictured one extending to me, tentacular and dynamic in its movement. My Pakistani passport states that it does not recognize the state of Israel, which means that it is unlikely I will ever have the opportunity to visit Jerusalem in my lifetime. My interest in Jerusalem stems not just from a place of academic opportunity, but something deeper yet: a yearning borne out of the global channels that link city to city and nation to nation, of borders that open and close like selectively permeable membranes.
The Israeli Black Panthers are a potent example of this phenomenon. Made up primarily of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews hailing from North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia (often of Persian or Iraqi heritage), these activists borrowed their name from an American political movement in the interest of a local campaign for better housing and social conditions. Many of their members may be considered (and identified as) Black, being of North African origin. The existence of this group within the forgotten notes of Jerusalem’s history prompted us to reconsider how we saw Jewish identity and social hierarchy in the city– its Jewish community was not a monolith, and its neighborhoods fraught with divisions across multiple lines, crosscutting physical divisions made of concrete slabs. There is no singular Jerusalem, either. The Old City stands today as the site of legend, although some members of all three Abrahamic religions fiercely contest who out of them has the strongest claim to it. Neighborhoods such as Silwan, discussed in the workshop, are changing everyday, posing a constant struggle to its inhabitants. The issue of ownership is muddled when you mix ancient land claims and spiritual significance with property law. This complication asks a significant job of researchers; no one map can accomplish the task of visualizing Jerusalem.
In our workshop, we discussed Jerusalem from the point of view of housing policy, critical race theory as well as religious mythology, landing only on one quasi-conclusion: that cities must be understood as global spaces. The words chosen by the workshop participants tease this very idea. Cities are embedded within global networks, and are, in fact, scattered all over the world. Though their geographical borders are spatially limited, their imagined borders are limitless. Jerusalem’s tentacles stretch back in mythological time when King Solomon first learned to command his army of djinns, and forward in political time in a world where activists imagine a more equitable city free of eviction and settlement. Its tentacles spread in ink across ancient scriptures in Hebrew and Arabic, and farther as bundles of pixels and radio frequencies. As my mind tries to grapple with its form, I remind myself that Jerusalem spills over across space and time.