In a well-attended talk at Scripps College’s Balch Auditorium on Tuesday, Feb. 28, historian and urban anthropologist Thomas Abowd argued that Israeli urban policy in Jerusalem should be viewed through a colonial framework.
“There has to be an acknowledgement by the Israeli government that they do not have the sole right to govern Jerusalem,” Abowd said.
Abowd portrayed the Israeli government as an oppressive, occupying force through a number of examples, including a controversy around the construction of the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem (which he accused of disrupting the Mamilla Muslim Cemetery), the depopulation of the Sheikh Badr Palestinian Arab village in the late 1940s (part of which is now a park), the poor conditions in the Aida refugee camp, and the story of a man who was shot by an Israeli sniper after poking his head out a window to call for his daughter during a curfew in 2001.
He also characterized the separation wall that snakes through the city as a “racial project” targeting Palestinians, rejecting the Israeli government’s view that it is a security barrier against terrorism.
Ultimately, Abowd felt that a shift in perspective away from a mindset that premises decolonization on the elimination of either Israelis or Palestinians will be necessary to resolve the conflict.
“The boundaries of the mind seem every bit as material as the checkpoints, walls, and bulldozers that proliferate across this fractured urban space,” he said.
Many attendees found his points agreeable, but a few dissented.
“I think Dr. Abowd gave a very particular and biased description of the city of Jerusalem that doesn’t account for many of the nuances in the conflict,” said Deena Woloshin SC ’18, who recently spent six months living in the city.
The talk was organized by the Scripps College Humanities Institute as part of their spring series, the theme of which is “Walls, Borders, Fences.” It aims to examine “the relationships between social, spatial, and political divisions in a variety of historical and geographic contexts,” according to an online statement.