Magazine article Kennedy School Review

Shared Space: Conflict Resolution and Architecture in Jerusalem

Magazine article Kennedy School Review

Shared Space: Conflict Resolution and Architecture in Jerusalem

Article excerpt

One evening in 1948, on the dusty floor of a deserted house in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem, two colonels spread a city map to draw a new demarcation line following the recent war. The Israeli colonel, Moshe Dayan, and the Jordanian, Abdullah Al-Tel, used red and green pencils to mark the Israeli and Jordanian borders. Their crude, three-to-four millimeter-wide pencil marks created actual buffer zones some sixty to eighty meters wide. These vast buffer zones quickly became empty "no-man's-lands" prohibited to both sides, scarring the heart of Jerusalem.

Since 1967, Jerusalem has officially been a united city. However, in reality it has remained divided for decades. A clear mental line still separates the East from the West and Arab settlements from Jewish segments. This division is present in the city's physical layout, as well as in its daily routines. The "security fence," or "separation wall," recently erected in the city has failed to reconstruct a notion of unity within its controversial boundaries.

There have been numerous attempts to solve the issue of division in Jerusalem, mostly in the context of a two-state solution. Many of these attempts have proposed the placement of a clear border to demarcate a desperately needed boundary between Israeli and Palestinian sovereignties. These solutions are based on a vision of the city in which urban separation, when mutually agreed upon and when implemented correctly, could be a positive and liberating basis for the peaceful coexistence of two capitals, Yerushalayim and Al-Kuds.

But how does a border cross a city? Can it separate the city and still respect its integrity? What kind of urban space can develop around it? And how would it look?

A close examination of one area of the future border in Jerusalem reveals the implicit connections between architecture, planning and policy. In order to approach a complex challenge like a final status agreement in Jerusalem, the architect must think as a policy maker, while the policy maker must use planning tools to achieve a sustainable solution.


For the sake of simplicity, we have chosen one central site to demonstrate potential policy solutions. This site faces the monumental Damascus Gate and is one of the last vacant lots abutting the Old City. Since 1967 it has been part of an invisible, yet highly present, boundary between the two sides of the united city. For more than four decades, and despite its enduring importance as a major entrance to the Old City, this site still protests with its vacancy, stubbornly remaining empty and devoid of function besides serving as a temporary parking lot. The site embodies Jerusalem's border challenges and provides an opportunity to evaluate the potential effectiveness of various policies.


After the 1967 Six-Day War, Jerusalem was conquered and united in a unilateral act of Israeli sovereignty, turning a significant number of Palestinians into Jerusalemites. Despite this redefinition of the municipal border, and the large-scale Israeli development of East Jerusalem, the city remains divided along the former 1967 "Green Line." The two culturally and linguistically disparate Arab and Jewish segments coexist only formally within the municipal border lines, under the same united urban entity. In 2002, as a reaction to terror attacks within the capital, Israel began unilateral construction of a security fence in eastern Jerusalem that further expanded the official municipal line toward the east. The facts on the ground were again ignored, and a physical barrier was now positioned squarely in the middle of Palestinian communities

and families. The gap between the formal city barriers and the natural urban division was only exacerbated.

The building of the separation barrier underscores the importance of properly delineating where the city is split. …

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