Outsiders' Silence about Their Past in the City

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 09:20
Location: Seminarraum Geschichte 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Johannes BECKER, University of Göttingen, Germany
In this presentation, I analyze how narrations about life and family history are subdued in self-presentations of outsiders who are not considered as authoritative representatives of their place. Argumentations of social closeness or individual constructions of belonging to the city might instead serve to reassert spatial belonging.

Palestinians in the Old City of Jerusalem often talked little about their families’ past and their personal history during the biographical-narrative interviews I conducted there. Instead of, they focused on current circumstances and hardships. This is connected to the history of a majority of Old City inhabitants who are descendants of poor migrants who moved there from the countryside. They are devalued in an inner-Palestinian discourse as criminal and socially conservative. This outsider positioning in contrast to ‘authentic’ Jerusalemite families prevents them from the right to produce an authoritative text as ‘Jerusalemites’. In their self-presentations, ‘not telling’ about their past in Jerusalem mirrors the lacking acknowledgment of their history and memory.

But at the same time, they perceive the expectation to safeguard the holy places and the Palestinian character of the Old City in the face of Israeli occupation policies which seek to increase control over this place (e.g. through support for the settler enterprise and the legal and infrastructural discrimination of the Palestinian population). Thus, their task of reaffirming the national character of this place remains unconnected to a historical outlook which, for many, increases fears of the being discovered as ‘non-authentic’ citizens and of being driven out.

The lacking presentation of biographical memories in and attachment to the city is in the self-presentations often overwritten by the presentation of a functioning social (neighborhood/urban) community or, on a more individual level, by paralleling one’s own fate with the fate of the contested city of Jerusalem.