Mara Albrecht (Chair of the panel)

Palestine in the Era of the British Mandate – Conflicting Interpretations of Places, Objects and Symbols


In late Ottoman times and during the British Mandate era, Palestine was the focus and object of different imperial ambitions as well as national and religious aspirations. With numerous actors asserting their claims over Palestine, conflicting interpretations of the history of the land, reaching back to antiquity, and competing narratives of belonging were imagined and constructed, strengthening the formation of collective identities. Most, if not all these ambitions and aspirations were focused on Jerusalem. Its contested sacred places were not only religious symbols but were also increasingly transformed into political icons for the competing Zionist and Palestinian national movements, while the British considered the old city as an “open-air museum”. In Jerusalem and other cities, urban space and its symbols were rapidly mobilized by both Zionists and Palestinians fostering their religious and nationalist claims. While many places, objects and symbols had been contested for centuries, they became increasingly politicized and their histories re‐written during the British Mandate. In that time, Palestinian cities underwent rapid processes of urbanisation, which were manifested in their spatial expansion, population growth as well as in the changing religious and ethnic composition of their inhabitants. These changes, in combination with the escalating discourse over the ownership of the city as site of political and cultural engagement, generated different forms of competition over space. Urban sites like squares, archaeological digs, industrial and commercial developments as well as cultural arenas became contested from a multiplicity of perspectives, which still shape the understanding of relations between Arabs and Jews in contemporary Israel and Palestine. This session concentrates on the conflictive history of urban spaces and sacred places in Palestine during the British Mandate, looking at places, objects, and symbols through the lenses of their contestation.

Johann Büssow (Bochum)
Mara Albrecht (Erfurt)
"Realm of imaginations - conflicting interpretations of (sacred) urban space in Jerusalem in the early 20th century"

This paper is concerned with conflicting interpretations of urban space and sacred places in Jerusalem in the early 20th century. It will explore different points of view by various actors on the belonging of the city and the ownership of particular sites. It argues that multiple perspectives on urban space by Zionists, Arabs and the British were shaped and reinterpreted through contestation in the symbolic landscape of the city, in particular in the context of violence during riots. In this process, the realm of the imaginative became the backdrop against which a new physical reality was attempted to be formed.

Roberto Mazza (Limerick)
When the sacred fosters violence: the Western Wall in Jerusalem from 1900 to 1929

With the end of the First World War and the establishment of the British Mandate in Palestine, the Zionist project to establish a Jewish entity was on its way to become a reality. At this juncture, the Western Wall was transformed from a Jewish religious place into a secular symbol to be redeemed, fostering de facto the development of urban violence in Jerusalem and at large in Palestine as demonstrated by the Western Wall massacres of 1929. This paper will show the development and transformation of urban violence in relation to sacred places and their incorporation in national liturgies.

Maayan Hillel (Evanston, IL)
Claiming national ownership of the urban space - the struggle for establishing Palestinian cinema in Mandatory Haifa

This paper will examine the persistent attempts of Palestinian entrepreneurs to establish an Arab cinema in Haifa throughout the 1940s, at a time when there was a severe shortage of building materials in Palestine due to World War II. Through this case, the paper will analyze the ways in which leisure and recreation venues were appropriated and politicized during the British Mandate as crucial element in the competition between the Zionist and Palestinian national movements which eventually turned into the outbreak of open urban political violence.