Home > Oasis of Peace > Projects & Outreach > Doumia-Sakinah: The Pluralistic Spiritual Center > Programs and reports > People of the Wall: a lecture and discussion with Yoni Mizrahi

People of the Wall: a lecture and discussion with Yoni Mizrahi

Monday 9 October 2006, by Dorit Shippin

All the versions of this article: [English] [עברית]

On Thursday October 9th 2006, Doumia - Sakinah conducted an evening program on the subject: “Walls and People in Jerusalem.": The lecture discussed the walls of Jerusalem over the ages until the present one and their influence on local culture and society.

“When I received the phone call from Yoni Mizrachi in which he told me about the book and the lecture that he could give, I was reminded of the evening exactly three years ago, in September 2003, in which we saw the film “behind the fence” and discussed broadly the future influence of the construction of the wall on the lives of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

A few years have gone by since then and the lives of many continue to be influenced by the wall.

Yoni Mizrachi, "Jerusalem and its Walls"

In the process of the evening, we were given a survey of the many walls that have been built in Jerusalem over the years and their influence on the culture, the art, and the society in Jerusalem. The relationship between government, society, culture, and security were given different expression from one wall to the other.

Yoni Mizrachi worked for two years as an archaeologist in the construction of the separation wall. Over the course of this period, he encountered a wide variety of people whose lives were intertwined with the wall, by choice or by force. Yoni described some of their stories in a book: People of the wall. The book itself was discussed towards the end of the evening.

Over the course of the long history of Jerusalem, various rulers ruled over the city and its changing population of peoples. Many walls were built in Jerusalem over these periods, each differing in purpose, form and area encompassed from the one that had preceded it.

In his survey Yoni chose to focus on a few of these walls.

The first wall was built four thousand years ago by the Canaanites (referred to in the Bible as Jebusites). The purpose of the wall was to establish rule over the city and to guard its water source, the Gihon spring. The erection of the wall created a situation in which only inhabitants of the city could use the water from the spring. Taking control over the water source made a stable government possible. Controlling water as a means to strengthen and expand political control was not new in the ancient world. Other empires such as the Babylonian, Assyrian, and Egyptian developed on account of their stable water sources (the Nile in Egypt, the Euphrates and Tigris in Mesopotamia).

In the year 722 BCE, the Assyrians conquered the region, destroyed its cities, and exiled many of the inhabitants. The destruction brought a wave of refugees to Judea and its capital, Jerusalem. Judea was not conquered by the Assyrians but became a tributary state paying yearly taxes to the Assyrian king.

King Hezekiah of Judea took advantage of a weakness in the empire to rebel and stop payment of the tribute taxes. In order to prepare for the rebellion, Hezekiah reinforced his rule by building a wall around the city and improved the flow of water into the city by excavating the aqueducts of Shiloach (known to us today as the Hezekiah Aqueducts).

In the same period, Jewish prophets, and in particular Isaiah, spoke against the building of the wall. They objected that its building required the destruction of homes and too large an investment. They held that the rebellion was doomed to failure. Isaiah claimed that while the wall might benefit Hezekiah, it injured the city’s inhabitants.

The archaeological findings strengthen the testimony of the destruction of individual houses for the sake of building the wall. After the Assyrian army crushed Judea, it arrived at Jerusalem and put the city under siege. Hezekiah surrendered and agreed to pay an extravagant tax in return for the city being spared. This tax, together with the previous investment in building the wall and rebellion, brought the Kingdom of Judea to severe economic straits, poverty, and virtual destruction.

After Hezekiah’s reign, Judea suffered many decades from poverty. The situation began to shift only with the rise of Josiah (639 BCE). Josiah was one of the most important kings of Judea and one of the designers of the monotheistic faith. He had an important role both in the ancient world and in the status of Jerusalem.

Until the days of Josiah, the widespread belief of Judea was that Yehovah was the central deity, but there were additional gods to which people prayed. As such, the main alter was in Jerusalem but the dispersed inhabitants of the kingdom, in its various cities and towns, were accustomed to offering their sacrifices locally. Josiah proclaimed that from hence forth the inhabitants were to worship a single god, Yehovah, whose unique place of worship would be in Jerusalem. Accordingly the city, still enclosed within Hezekiah’s walls, assumed a new grandeur as the spiritual-religious metropolis of the one true faith. As the the kingdom’s center of worship, sacrifice and pilgrimage, the significance of the Temple Mount grew in this period (the seventh century BCE).

The city’s inhabitants now believed that the city, under God’s protection, would be invulnerable to any foreign army or would-be conqueror. However, in the sixth century BCE, with Babylonia gradually conquering the entire ancient world, the prophets publicly challenged this assumption. Their dissidence caused them to be persecuted and sometimes put to death. The most important prophet of this period, Jeremiah, claimed that the city stood at the brink of destruction - for which assertion he almost paid with his life. In the year 586 BCE, the first temple was destroyed, as were the walls of Jerusalem, and the people of Judea were exiled to Babylonia.

After the destruction of the first temple, the composition of the population of Judea and Jerusalem changed. The Jews returned from Babylonia and, after a period of Hellenic rule, the Hasmonean Kingdom was established. The city of Jerusalem was encompassed with a second wall.

Eventually, the Romans and Herod the Great built up and fortified the city, constructed the Second Temple, and beautified the city. At the end of the Second Temple Period (the Roman Era), the Jews built a third wall around the city. The inhabitants were thus enclosed, and separated from the outside world, by three different walls. These enclosures partly led to the rebellion against the Romans whose response was to destroy the city, including its Second Temple.

After the Romans, the Byzantines arrived and after them, the Muslims and the Crusaders (in 1099 CE). The Crusaders based their entire concept of defense on fortified cities surrounded by wide walls and moats. After the defeat of the Crusaders at the hands of Salah al-Din in the year 1187 AD, the Muslims again conquered Jerusalem and the Crusaders tried to re-conquer the city. At the beginning of the 13th century, a Muslim ruler decided to destroy the walls of Jerusalem in order to prevent the Crusaders from re-taking the city.

After the repulsion of the Crusaders, the city flourished without walls for 250 years.

The passage to the urbanization, and the technological developments of Europeans and the world in general, allowed cities to live without walls and the fortified city lost its importance.

In spite of this, in the year 1530, the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent decided to build the wall around Jerusalem in order to beautify the Holy City and the Dome of the Rock. The wall was apparently not for security purposes but rather for adornment, emphasis, and beauty. The wall caused great economic troubles to the residents of the city that were poverty-stricken from then until today.

From this general survey we can see over the course of history how the walls essentially served the ruling authorities and generally made life hard for the residents of the city.

And from here to the present wall. From the experience of the work around the wall over the course of two years Yoni was a witness to the issues involving the wall.

The wall that is being built in East Jerusalem divides between Palestinian residents. Its security significance is secondary to its political significance. The wall brings together a wide range of marginal people for whom the new border forces a new self-definition. At the lowest rung of the social ladder are the residents of East Jerusalem, who live in the area where the wall is being built. Their lives have been thrown into crisis as they are forced to deal with the new reality. This reality demands that they decide where they belong: in Israel, where they feel foreign, but which they need in order to make a living, to study, etc, or in Palestine, where they belong from the point of view of nationality and culture, but where life is more difficult.

In addition to the residents themselves, there are various security personnel, from Negev Bedouin whose role it is to guard the wall, to the men of the border patrol, the majority of whom are new immigrants or Druze. These people also represent a marginal population since, despite their desire to live as part of Israeli society, the society sends them to the margins, to the border. The wall collects a wide range of people with many different interests: settlers, Jewish real estate agents, workers from the Ministry of Security, and planners. These are all people who see the wall as an opportunity for economic or personal profit. They are unable to see the injustices that the wall is causing to all the inhabitants of the area.

At the end of the evening, Yoni read to us from his book People of the Wall, which he wrote while he was worked on the excavation project at the wall.

The story “Searching for Gold” told about the Abu Senina family. The eight meter high wall was planned to pass through their yard and to remove forever their amazing view of the Old City and the hills of Judea, while also sealing off their path to the city. Abu Senina and his family took interest in the excavation of the Antiquities Authority that was taking place in his yard. When an ancient pit was discovered during the excavations, a false hope was born in their hearts that maybe gold would be found in the yard, that the authorities would move the path of the wall, that their problems would be solved and their lives would return to normal. Their hope helped lighten their sadness and the unimportant excavation opened a kind of breach in the wall of despair that surrounded them.

When he was asked why he decided to write and publish this book, Yoni said that the writing offered some healing to the frustration he felt towards the savage and absurd reality of the wall.

The book, The People of the Wall, was published in Hebrew by Pardes in 2006 and it can be purchased at Steinmetsky’s and other bookstores (in Israel) and online at the Pardes website. An English translation is in progress.


Translated by Joanna Steinhardt with additional editing by Howard Shippin


Also in this section

0 | 5


facebook

PayPal

Printable version

print


Contact

mail.gif, 1 kB


Follow site activity RSS 2.0 | Site Map | SPIP | Creative Commons License
All original content licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Israel License.