. 6
( 11)


throughout this book. Some are highly abstract, such as religious beliefs
and ceremonies, while others are focused on particular objects, people,
and events. The focus in this chapter is on speci¬c places, hallowed
grounds that are physical locations imbued with a deep emotional sig-
ni¬cance that serve as ˜˜linking objects™™ to connect individuals to a group
across time and space (Volkan 1997).

It is, of course, an empirical question “ what is actually shared versus what is perceived to
be shared.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Chidester and Linenthal contend that sacred space is ritual space ˜˜set
apart from or carved out of an ˜ordinary™ environment to provide an arena
for the performance of controlled, ˜extraordinary™ patterns of action™™
(1995: 9). Hassner argues that a sacred site™s power is de¬ned by its cen-
trality in a group™s spiritual landscape and its exclusivity, which refers to
the extent to which it is circumscribed, monitored, and sanctioned (2003:
7). In addition, a crucial feature of sacred spaces is their indivisibility,
because they are cohesive, have unambiguous boundaries, and cannot be
substituted or exchanged for another good (Hassner 2003:8). As a result, in
con¬‚icts involving competing claims over the same space, mutually satis-
factory outcomes are hard to reach.
Because they ˜˜galvanize the deepest emotions and attachments,
material and symbolic control over the most central sacred spaces are
sources of enormous social power™™ (Friedland and Hecht 1991:23). This
means, as Friedland and Hecht point out, that sacred sites are periodically
contested. There can be con¬‚icts to control them, over the objects pre-
sented on the sites, and/or around the narratives recounted about them.
Battle¬elds, places where peace treaties have been signed, areas where
heroic events occurred, and locations venerated for their religious sig-
ni¬cance are common sacred sites. Virtually every group has sacred sites
and there are often special rituals associated with their preservation, rules
for visitation, and sacred days when the sites are especially important and
serve as the location for sacred secular and religious rituals. Sacred places,
Chidester and Linenthal argue, inevitably produce ˜˜contests over the
legitimate ownership of sacred symbols™™ that raise issues of power and
purity (1995:15“20). This means that sacred sites are both powerful and
vulnerable at the same time. Because their existence is testimony to a
group™s moral authority and legitimacy, sacred sites need to be protected
against desecration and loss of control. Although they were not writing
about Jerusalem™s old city, Chidester and Linenthal could have been when
they say:
Since no sacred space is merely ˜˜given™™ in the world, its ownership will always be
at stake. In this respect, a sacred space is not merely discovered, or founded, or
constructed; it is claimed, owned, and operated by people advancing speci¬c
(Chidester and Linenthal 1995:15)

The vulnerability of sacred sites means that groups go to great lengths
to control and protect them, for an attack on the site is perceived as an

Digging up the past to contest the present

attack on the group.5 Friedland and Hecht argue that as a consequence
˜˜con¬‚icts over the social order will ramify in its sacred center™™ (1998: 147).
It is interesting to ask why and how an abstract group identity comes to
be embodied in speci¬c mundane objects such as soil, stones, water, and
trees to which groups attribute a sacred character. While identity is
inherently non-material, it is nonetheless most powerfully expressed when
it is linked to in physical locations or objects associated with speci¬c
people, places and events (Nora 1989). Once a physical site that repre-
sents the group is imbued with intense emotional signi¬cance, defense of
the site and objects on it becomes necessary since their loss threatens the
group™s existence and legitimacy. Relics, ruins, and potsherds located in
sacred spaces allow people to make the inferential leap from what they
know through their senses to what they believe in their heart “ although it
is certainly the case that sometimes people make the connection in the
other direction as well.
Christian, Jewish, and Muslim narratives all link present political
claims to the city™s historical, and even prehistorical, past in part by
attaching great emotional signi¬cance to sacred sites in and around the
old city of Jerusalem. Their intense attachment has often driven efforts to
obtain exclusive control of the city, and in Jerusalem™s history there have
been only a few, short periods when the city™s rulers provided fully open
access for members of all faiths (Armstrong 1996). Armstrong (1996)
recounts that early Christianity paid little attention to the city of Jer-
usalem and to the details of Jesus™ life prior to Constantine™s conversion in
313, after which he sent his mother Helena to Jerusalem to locate sacred
sites and relics from Jesus™ life (Armstrong 1996: 179“93).6 Soon after her
arrival in Jerusalem, Helena ˜˜discovered™™ the cave where Jesus™ body was
placed after his death and the ˜˜true cross™™ and ordered that the Church of
the Holy Sepulcher be built on that site. In a short time, there was a
dramatic shift among Christians toward an intense concern with holy
sites and relics that had a tremendous ability to make the story of Jesus
emotionally meaningful. The search for relics intensi¬ed, and the con-
struction of shrines for them illustrates the power of a sacred landscape.
˜˜This act of holy archeology would lay bare the physical roots of their

Chidester and Linenthal identify four strategies for contesting the production and control
of sacred space: appropriation and exclusion are often used to dominate these sites, while
inversion and hybridization are best suited for resistance to domination (1995: 19).
˜˜Constantine also knew that his Christian empire needed symbols and monuments to give
it historical resonance™™ (Armstrong 1996: 179).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

faith and enable them to build literally on these ancient foundations™™
(Armstrong 1996: 180). It was irresistible. Soon Christians became ada-
mant about the holy nature of Jerusalem and the Crusades centuries later
were an effort to wrest it from the in¬dels, to capture their shrines and
holy places and to erect Christian ones in their stead. ˜˜The experience of
living in Jerusalem had impelled the Christians to develop a full-blown
sacred geography based on the kind of mythology they had once
despised™™ (Armstrong 1996: 216).7
It must be pointed out that this phenomenon is hardly unique to
Jerusalem. Similar dynamics linking speci¬c sites and sacred past events
are found in Muslim and Jewish narratives about Jerusalem, Hindu and
Buddhist traditions in South Asia, and narratives emphasizing the sacred
character of modern nation states. Connections between objects and
collective identities are abstract and spiritual and at the same time
intensely physical and literal, and are easily expressed through buildings,
monuments, and fragments from the past.

Archeology, claim-making, and mutual denial
When it is useful for one side or another, archeological evidence can be
part of the political legitimation of group claims and counter claims. In
fact, archeological excavations are well suited for providing ˜˜hard evi-
dence™™ to validate exclusive political claims and archeological work often
gets strong government support when it provides objects and narratives
supporting a group™s long history and struggle for national identity as in
Jerusalem (Abu El-Haj 2001; Kohl 1998; Kohl and Fawcett 1995; Meskell
1998; 2002; Shanks 1981; Shaw 2000; Smith 1999: 66). Throughout the
world groups ˜˜dig for God and country™™ (Silberman 1982) and trace a
nation™s roots as far back as possible. Silberman suggests that the inter-
pretative process and political needs often result in framing presentations
of archeological sites such that:
the public™s shared perceptions of the past is shaped by a wide range of pre-
sentational elements . . . and the explanations of tourist guides [that] combine to
present the public with a composite historical ˜˜story™™ or narrative that is far more
sweeping in its conclusions and implications than the speci¬c archeological data
on which it is ultimately based.
(Silberman 1997: 63)

Christian archeological explorations in nineteenth-century Jerusalem exemplify this same
phenomenon (Monk 2002).

Digging up the past to contest the present

As Abu El-Haj (2001) argues, there is a seamless movement from
potsherds to peoplehood and the easy, but not necessarily correct,
inference that contemporary identity groups are the linear descendants of
past ones. Meskell warns that efforts to identify a literal match between
artifacts, human remains, and modern people results in manipulation and
misuse (2002: 290).8 Central to this na±ve position is the widespread belief
that legitimation of present political claims is simply a matter of
demonstrating who settled ¬rst in an area. In Northern Ireland, when
Catholics cast their political claims in terms of ancient Celtic presence,
some Protestants then developed archeological evidence to claim that a
group of Cruthins from Scotland settled the island before the Celts
arrived (Adamson 1974; Hall 1994). This is parallel to how Palestinians
now describe their connection to the Canaanites who lived in the area
before the arrival of Jews from Egypt to counter Jewish claims linking
ancient and modern Israel.
In Jerusalem this past-oriented basis for legitimation claims is espe-
cially important for Jews and Christians, whose political claims to the city
rest upon a linkage between the ancient past and the present, the notion of
the ascending anachronism. In contrast, for Muslims their domination of
the clearly visible landscape in recent centuries means that for them
archeological evidence is less important to their claims. In fact, given the
above-ground contemporary Islamic presence, there is real fear that
subterranean ¬ndings might, if anything, be used to undermine their
current exclusive de facto control over many sites, and especially the
Haram. As a result, the greatest Muslim fears concern Jewish use (and
what they see as misuse) of archeological evidence to legitimate their
claim that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel (Abu El-Haj 2001;
Glock 1994). As the youngest of the three religions in the city, by de¬-
nition Islamic artifacts will not be as old as Jewish or Christian ones. Yet
Muslims, it should be noted, buy into the paradigm that older claims have
precedence over newer ones. They seek to limit Jewish investigations on
and under the Temple Mount by denying Jews access to potential evi-
dence that might support their claims. Toward this end Muslims have
built additional structures on the Haram and have declared the entire area
a mosque making further excavations impossible.
Nineteenth-century European nationalists used archeology in this way to bolster their
political claims and to strengthen national identity (Kohl and Fawcett 1995; Kohl 1998).
We can see the same pattern more recently in settings such as Sri Lanka and Central Asia
and changing interpretation of sites in Southern Africa (Kuklick 1991).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

It is in the context of competing narratives, worldviews, and political
claims that we can understand the intensity in the arguments over
archeological practice and evidence in Jerusalem. Archeologists uncover
physical objects that in and of themselves often have little intrinsic
interest or meaning to most people. Meaning comes from the accounts
and theories that those who interpret the objects propose. Sometimes the
meanings are self-evident but more often their emotional signi¬cance can
be understood only if we ask several additional questions: why do certain
objects become the focus of an excavation? What choices might other
archeologists have made on the same site? For example, in a site that has
been inhabited for thousands of years, which periods get the most (and
sometimes exclusive) attention? How is the fragmentary physical evidence
used to construct an account of the social and political worlds that are the
focus of the popular reactions to archeological work? Without written
evidence, how can contemporary scholars understand the nature of social
relations and identities in older societies?9
In Palestine and Israel, nineteenth-century British and American
biblical archeological projects and twentieth-century Jewish ones have
focused on the ancient past and have paid relatively little attention to
more recent periods, such as the Ottoman era. Abu El-Haj discusses
the controversial use of bulldozers in the major Jerusalem digs after 1967
as Israeli archeologists intently sought evidence about the First and
Second Temple periods in ancient Israel before the Jewish quarter
was rebuilt. In contrast, Glock (1994) outlines what he considers an
appropriate Palestinian archeology that would examine the social life of
inhabitants of the region in a very different way. He argues that a
Palestinian archeology would dig backwards starting with more recent
periods and working back to earlier and earlier times. It would pay less
attention to grand buildings and monuments and more to the social life of
people living in villages and towns, asking how they lived, cultivated, and
Archeologists make important decisions that have an impact on how
their work is used and on the narrative describing their results. Benvenisti
illustrates the mutual denial in competing national narratives in the
presentations in two sites in the old city. In the Museum of the City of
Jerusalem located in a fortress called David™s Citadel (which has nothing

Abu El-Haj (2001) writes about these issues at length as do many of the other archeologists
cited in this chapter.

Digging up the past to contest the present

to do with King David), he contends that periodization of Jerusalem™s
history affects our understanding of groups who have lived in the city.
Israel is presented as spanning millennia, while the Arab presence is
broken into much smaller, named periods that suggest little continuity
between them (Benvenisti 1996: 4“9). One exhibit at the citadel offers the
following Jewish narrative:
Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people, where they established their kingdom
and set up their capital 3,000 years ago. For 2000 years the city was subjected to
the rule of foreign conquerors and the Jewish people were exiled from it. In recent
generations they have returned to their capital, expelled the foreign invaders, and
reestablished the capital of their sovereign state. Each of the conquerors left a
mark, and billions of Muslim and Christian believers have embraced the sanctity
of Jerusalem “ an attachment they have appropriated from the Jewish people. No
competing national claims to the city exist, since there is no national collective in
Jerusalem aside from that of the Israelis.
(Benvenisti 1996: 8)

Just as exclusively, the Palestinian narrative seen in the Museum of Islam
on the Temple Mount, he says, presents no trace of the Jews and presents
the Palestinian sacred history, heritage, and geography in ways that makes
Israelis uneasy (Benvenisti 1996: 9).
Archeology is central to competing political claims in Jerusalem
because it provides a framework for linking the past and present in an
apparently scienti¬c manner that provides an ˜˜objective™™ basis for group
claims. Yet, it™s not so simple. Nineteenth-century Christian archeologists
sought to con¬rm biblical accounts. ˜˜Biblical names were understood to
belong to the land itself and to be eminently present and identi¬able therein
once properly deciphered™™ (Abu El-Haj 2001: 35 “ italics in original).10
This set of practices and assumptions also ¬ts the need of some early
Zionists who found archeological evidence one of the most effective ways
to demonstrate the connection between Ancient Israel and the hoped-for
modern state (Silberman 1982; Zerubavel, 1995).11 Digs became national

Ironically, Arab inhabitants were needed to validate places and place names even though
they were seen as people who arrived in a later period and had replaced the original
inhabitants (Abu El-Haj 2001: 38).
Secular Zionists are most interested in archeological evidence con¬rming Jewish presence
in ancient Jerusalem, while for many religious Zionists their biblical understanding was
suf¬cient although they often appreciated the ˜˜help™™ archeological evidence could
provide (Alan Zuckerman personal communication). Many non-religions Israelis, in fact,
joke that archeology is their secular religion.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

events, providing sites for pilgrimage and emotional connections to an
imagined community.
In the Israeli case, it is striking to note how much archeological ¬nds
helped create a seamless narrative linking ancient and modern Israel
(Zerubavel 1995). ˜˜It was important, so the argument went, to uphold every
archeological remnant that testi¬ed to the Jewish presence in the land, and
con¬rmed the legitimacy of the Zionist claim™™ (Elon 1997: 34“35). ˜˜By
digging up the hard ground they were retrieving memory “ one is tempted
to say “ as though they were recovering checked baggage from a storage
room™™ (Elon 1997: 36). Yet Silberman cautions that a wide variety of ele-
ments ranging from brochures, signposts, and guides ˜˜combine to present
the public with a composite historical ˜story™ or narrative that is far more
sweeping in its conclusions and implications than the speci¬c archeological
data on which it is ultimately based (Silberman 1997: 63). Narratives built
from archeological ¬ndings can be understood as embedded not just in
words but also in physical structures that communicate clear messages and
visual images that offer ˜˜sequences of archetypal story elements, didacti-
cally arranged with clear beginnings, middles and ends [that] often address
politically evocative themes™™ (Silberman 1995: 250).
Competing claims to Jerusalem™s holy sites have been played out in formal
negotiations, in violent confrontations, and in hotly contested arguments
about what others are building or excavating in and around the old city.
Because both the Haram and the Western Wall are sites of core memories
for Muslims and Jews, intrusions or threatened loss of control of the sites are
perceived as attacks on the group and reminders of their group™s vulner-
ability. In such a setting, archeology serves as a double-edged sword pro-
viding ˜˜evidence™™ of a people™s historical roots and bolstering their national
narrative and its core political claims, while, at the same time, implicitly
weakening those of the other side (Kohl 1998; Trigger 1984). When used to
assert mutually exclusive claims, archeological evidence ignores the other
and its narrative and as a consequence sets off a spiral of collective anxiety.
Sometimes, of course, this denial is accompanied by actions to destroy a
group™s links to the past “ what Smith (1991) calls ethnocide “ such as the
Taliban™s destruction of the giant Buddha statues in central Afghanistan, and
Hindu destruction of the Babri Mosque at Ayodhya along with the call for
the construction of a Hindu Temple on the site, discussed in Chapter 3.12

Throughout the war in Bosnia, Serbian ethnic cleansing included destruction of cultural
sites such as mosques and bombing the National Museum in Sarajevo, containing objects

Digging up the past to contest the present

In Jerusalem both Jews and Muslims feel they have been victims of
ethnocide. Muslims cite the destruction of houses, cemeteries, olive
groves and entire villages, and eviction from Israel in 1948, as well as the
destruction of the Maghribi quarter including religious structures and
their eviction from the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem after 1967 (Abu El-
Haj 2001: 165; Benvenisti 2000). At the same time, Jews have expressed
outrage at limits to Jewish access to the Western Wall over centuries, the
destruction of Jewish religious sites in the Old City between 1948 and
1967, and more recent threats to Jewish sacred sites in the West Bank.
Each side™s account is partial and in each denial of the other™s perspective
is notable.

Muslim“Jewish con¬‚ict over Jerusalem™s holy sites
The history of the Old City of Jerusalem is replete with well-documented
con¬‚icts over its holy sites (Armstrong 1996; Benvenisti 1996; Dumper
2002; Friedland and Hecht 1991; Monk 2002). In its long history, there
have been intense con¬‚icts among Christians, Muslims, and Jews for
control of the city and for control over sacred places within it. In addition
to con¬‚icts between religious communities, there have been times when
the most signi¬cant differences were within each religious community. All
this can be seen vividly in the complex arrangements regarding control
over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is shared by no fewer than
six different Christian denominations that have fought, sometimes lit-
erally, over the right to clean the church™s ¬‚oor, pillars, and steps knowing
that ˜˜sweeping and other cleaning is considered ownership, since why
would one sweep what is not one™s own,™™ and whose mutual distrust is so
high that the key to the church is entrusted to a Muslim (Benvenisti 1996:
96; Cohen 2003; Wasserstein 2001).
Jerusalem is central in all three faiths and they each believe it was
where God asked Abraham to sacri¬ce his son Isaac in the case of Jews
and Christians, and Ishmael for Muslims. Jews built their most important
ancient temples in the city, Jesus was cruci¬ed in Jerusalem, and
Mohammed began his night journey from the city. However, my focus
here is not on the history of religious con¬‚ict in Jerusalem, but on the
contestation between Muslims and Jews in the past century over rival

that offered ample testimony to the historically multiethnic character of the region
(Sells 1996).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

claims to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and their relevance to the
Israeli“Palestinian con¬‚ict as both an issue that divides the two sides and
as a metaphor that reveals each side™s deepest vulnerabilities. To discuss
these, it is useful to brie¬‚y review the city™s past.
Outside invaders have shaped Jerusalem and its politics for thousands
of years. (Figure 6.3 offers a timeline of the Israeli“Palestinian con¬‚ict
that might be useful for some readers.) The Bible says that Abraham, the
patriarch of all three Middle Eastern faiths, lived in the Judean hills in
about 2000 BCE. Due to severe drought and famine, his great grandson
Joseph left the area for Egypt in 1910 BCE, and Jews remained there for
over 400 years until Moses lead them out. Upon their return from Egypt,
Jews settled in Judea and Samaria (the west bank of the Jordan River)
building towns and cities, including Jerusalem where they constructed
their ¬rst temple, often called Solomon™s Temple, in about 950 BCE. In
587 BCE the Babylonians demolished it and sent the Jews into exile in
Babylon for 160 years. Several centuries later King Herod undertook the
restoration of the temple to its original splendor and traditional
arrangement and in 70 CE the Romans destroyed it, sending the Jews into
exile once again. Roman occupation ended several centuries later and
Muslims conquered the city in 638.
Early in the next century, Muslims built the Dome of the Rock on the
Haram. Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 slaughtering Muslims
and Jews upon their arrival, and turned the Haram into a barracks and its
mosques into churches. In the twelfth century Saladin retook the city
peacefully and allowed the Jews to return. There was then continuous
Islamic control of Jerusalem until 1917 with the defeat of the Ottomans
and the start of the British Mandate. During most of the period of Islamic
control, Jerusalem was a small walled city, about one square mile, with a
relatively small number of Jews. By 1880, however, Jews constituted a
majority of the old city™s residents although they had little political power
or voice in managing it and the city™s population had spread beyond the
old walled city. During the Ottoman and Mandate periods, parts of the
Old City came to be named the Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian
Quarters, and additional smaller geographic areas were also named
although the actual population of each area was far more diverse than
these names suggest (Dumper 2002). More important than geography
were social networks that linked people across the neighborhoods and
often across religious groups. ˜˜Participation in each other™s religious
festivals and ceremonies, including weddings and funerals, were ways in
Digging up the past to contest the present

which these solidarities were expressed™™ (Dumper 2002: 14). Although
Muslims and Jews certainly had periods of high tension, it is probably fair
to conclude that until the twentieth century their daily relations were
hierarchically ordered and generally not tense. Each probably feared
Christians much more than each other.
Under Muslim rule, Jews were generally granted some access to the
city and its sacred sites but were not permitted to pray on the Temple
Mount (Hassner 2005). In the early Islamic period, the cemetery on the
Mount of Olives, outside the city walls, was the most signi¬cant site of
Jewish worship. However, Armstrong reports that Suleiman the Magni-
¬cent, the Ottoman ruler who built the city walls in the sixteenth century,
issued an of¬cial edict that allowed Jews to pray at the Western Wall and
subsequent Ottoman rulers permitted this with some restrictions (1996:
327). For example, there were no special provisions for Jewish prayers and
Jews were not allowed to store religious paraphernalia or to place any
furniture on the site. During the British Mandate period from 1917 to
1948, there was a continuation of the Ottoman status quo arrangement
regarding Christian as well as Jewish religious sites in Jerusalem dating
from the nineteenth century. This guaranteed continued regular, though
controlled, Jewish access to the wall. But there was also high con¬‚ict with
Muslims following the 1917 Balfour Declaration in which the British
supported the idea of a Jewish homeland. Coming at the end of the
Ottoman Empire and the start of the British Mandate, Muslims perceived
a direct political threat that was increasingly expressed in the next decade
as a threat to the Haram and the buildings on it (Monk 2002). With
increased Jewish immigration, tensions rose and Muslim loss of political
control raised further fears concerning the vulnerability of their holy
places. In the 1920s, the Muslim religious leadership under Jerusalem
Mufti Amin el-Hussani aggressively opposed British rule as Jewish
immigration and violent incidents continued to mount.
In 1928, Muslims charged that Jews had violated the status quo
arrangements when they placed a screen at the wall to separate men and
women during prayer and began to store religious materials in the area,
and they viewed these moves as a serious threat (Friedland and Hecht
1991: 30“35). Rioting broke out and spread to other cities in Palestine “
especially Hebron, where Muslims killed seventy-three Jews. Events of
1929 can be understood as an intense psychocultural drama that remained
unresolved and has been repeated a number of times since. The problem of
changes in the status of Palestine as well as the holy sites was complicated
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

indeed since there was no mechanism in place for addressing political
differences. The British response was to establish the Shaw Commission to
look into the con¬‚ict around the holy sites, and it held months of hearings
before issuing a report that reaf¬rmed the Jewish right of access to the wall
and no change in the status quo arrangements. The process revealed little
real understanding of the deep political and religious identity issues at
stake and produced no direct dialogue between the parties.
Monk (2002) concludes that emotional testimony of the two sides
was aimed at persuading the British, not each other, and it escalated
tensions by simply restating their strident positions and bolstering
them with pictures of dubious origin that further in¬‚amed relations and
mutual distrust.13 Not surprisingly, there were more incidents and riots
in the 1930s. The Arab revolt beginning in 1936 increased British and
Jewish coordination and, in 1937, the British began drawing up plans
for the partition of the country among the Jews and Arabs, a move
the secular Zionist leaders strongly supported. They were clearly willing
to accept a plan that would give the Arabs full control of the Old City,
perhaps due to their own religious ambivalence as much as their desire to
create even a minimal Jewish state in the belief that it could be expanded
Indeed, the Zionist response to the idea of a Zionist state without Zion was
curiously complaisant. Their general view of the holy city had always had an
undercurrent of hostility “ particularly strong in the case of the dominant, secu-
larizing socialist-Zionist movement. They saw Jerusalem as the fortress of the old
yishuv™, a symbol of all that it stood for by way of conservatism, unproductiveness
and anti-Zionism . . . the Zionist leadership realized that, given international
religious interests of Christians and Muslims in the old city of Jerusalem, there
was no hope of its inclusion in a Jewish state. They therefore came to the reali-
zation that the only way to gain any foothold in Jerusalem was to urge that the
city, like the country as a whole be partitioned.
(Wasserstein 2001: 110“12)

Lustick offers a somewhat different argument that emphasizes the
pragmatism of the secular Zionist leadership headed by Ben-Gurion for
˜˜even without the Old City [Jerusalem] could be made politically and

The Muslims presented a picture showing the Zionist ¬‚ag atop the Dome of the Rock,
and another picture that appeared in the New York Yiddish paper showing Theodore
Herzl “ from an old picture looking out from a balcony in Basel “ but now watching Jews
streaming into Jerusalem as evidence of Jewish designs on Islamic holy places (Monk
2002: 92“126).

Digging up the past to contest the present

emotionally satisfying as a symbolic evocation of Zionism™s response to
age-old Jewish yearnings for a return to ˜Zion and Jerusalem™™™ (Lustick
2000: 10). In his view, ˜˜The crucial element, they argued, was to rule an
area inhabited by many Jews which the Jewish state could portray to
world Jewry and it itself as ˜Yerushalayim™™™ (Lustick 2000:10). To do this,
they proposed that Jewish Jerusalem be focused on West Jerusalem and
its newer neighborhoods.
Following Israeli independence in 1948 and the cease¬re agreement
with Jordan the next year, Jerusalem was divided and the Old City came
under Jordanian rule. Jews could visit the Western Wall only if they
traveled through Jordan (which was not an option for Israelis) and did not
have an Israeli visa stamped in their passports. Jewish residents were
evicted from the Old City, and there was signi¬cant destruction to their
cemetery on the Mount of Olives, to the Jewish quarter, and to their
synagogues in the Old City. In 1967, Israel captured the Old City in the
Six Days War and Israel reuni¬ed Jerusalem, declaring it Israel™s eternal
capital and expanding its municipal boundaries (Wasserstein 2001: 205“
38). Many Jews and others assumed that Muslims would be evacuated
from the Temple Mount and some, including members of the Israeli
army, expected the Dome of the Rock to be blown up. However, Moshe
Dayan, Israel™s defense minister, quickly negotiated an agreement with
the Muslim religious authorities granting them continued de facto control
over the Haram and its Islamic holy sites, and a ruling from Israel™s chief
rabbis that reinforced the prohibition on Jewish visits, prayer, or ritual on
the Temple Mount, as it risked ˜˜violating the purity of this holy place™™
because the exact location of the Temple and the Holiest of Holies had
been forgotten (Gorenberg 2000: 99“104; Hassner 2005; Shragai 2000).14
At the end of the war, Israel rejected the Ottoman era™s status quo
arrangements very quickly and authorized the bulldozing of the Maghribi
quarter, a Palestinian neighborhood that included several Islamic sites, in
front of the Western Wall, to build a large plaza (Figure 6.1) that would
allow greater access to religious Jews and tourists (Dumper 2002; Abu el-
Haj 2001; Benvenisti 1996).15 Over the next ten years there were large-scale

Hassner (2005) provides a detailed description of the process by which both the political
and religious authorities came to hold the same position in 1967, explains the forces
behind the widespread consensus, and examines why it has been under attack since the
mid 1980s from Jewish fundamentalists and some rabbinical authorities.
˜˜Gush Emunim, and other Temple Mount a¬cionados, have often criticized the
sancti¬cation of the Western Wall “ why make a big deal idolizing a retaining wall and

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

excavations in the Jewish quarter that was then rebuilt in such a way as to
produce a visible link between the Jerusalem of 2000 years ago and the
contemporary city. Establishing these linkages offered important ˜˜evi-
dence™™ to bolster the Zionist narrative and its political claims (Abu El-Haj
2001). The most controversial excavations were in the old Jewish quarter
and along the southern edge of the Haram and concerned the great
emphasis of Jewish archeologists on the First and Second Temple periods
(Abu El-Haj 1998; 2001).
Within a few years, Israel rebuilt a greatly expanded Jewish quarter,
appropriating many Muslim properties in the process. The Western Wall
became a pilgrimage site for Jews worldwide as well as a place of great
signi¬cance for many of the state of Israel™s civil religious memorial
ceremonies such as Holocaust Memorial Day, the Memorial Day for
Israeli™s soldiers who died in war, Independence Day, and Jerusalem Day;
some army units are sworn in there (Friedland and Hecht 1991: 38).
In addition, in the past two decades a number of Jewish settlers “
including Ariel Sharon “ obtained control over properties in the Muslim
and Christian quarters as part of an effort to change the character of the
old city and increase the Jewish presence in it. Many of the small groups
of settlers hope that their efforts will lead ˜˜to the reconstruction of
Solomon™s Temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa
Mosque™™ (Dumper 2002: 44).
For the most part, Dayan™s arrangement that sought to separate reli-
gious and political questions functioned mainly because Muslims were
unable to confront Israeli power directly and Jews focused their emotional
energy on the Western Wall.16 Tension is often close to the surface so it
is not surprising that there have been periodic outbreaks of violence
around the holy sites that have reinforced both Muslim and Jewish vul-
nerability and fears. Often these occur when Muslims claim that Jews are
violating the agreed-upon arrangements, threatening their sites, as
occurred in the 1996 tunnel opening and Ariel Sharon™s 2002 visit to the
Temple Mount surrounded by heavy Israeli security. Angry Muslim

yet refuse to build the Temple or insist on Jewish rights on that site™™ (Lustick personal
Shlomo Goren, the chief rabbi of the IDF in 1967 and later chief Ashkenazi rabbi of
Israel, has been one of the loudest voices supporting Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount
as long as it did not take place on a section where the Temple stood (Friedland and Hecht
1991: 37“45). Even Goren, however, did not publicly protest the ruling and did not
publish his objections to it for twenty-¬ve years (Hassner 2005).

Digging up the past to contest the present

crowds on the Haram throwing stones at people praying at the base of the
wall below then set off Jewish anger and a response from Israeli security
forces.17 These periodic crises are unresolved psychocultural dramas
involving mutual fears of pollution and encroachment evoking the need to
defend sacred places from violation and attack.
Muslims have deep fears about what some Jews would do to the Haram
and its sacred structures if they were given a chance.18 As in many con-
¬‚icts, each side cites the actions of extremists on the other side to show
the enemy™s ˜˜true intentions.™™ Muslims pay great attention to fringe
Jewish groups that advocate building the Third Temple on the Haram,
and to the statements and actions of settler groups taking over properties
in the Old City, especially those near the Haram. Palestinians greatly
publicize the efforts of the Temple Mount Faithful, which each year on
Tisha B™Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the temple in 70 CE,
tries to visit the Temple Mount to pray and lay the cornerstone for the
Third Temple (Dumper 2002).19 Similarly, the demands of some Israelis,
including Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000, to build a small synagogue
for Jewish prayer on the corner of the Temple Mount adds to Muslim
In this dynamic of extreme distrust and vulnerability, provocative
actions are consistent with a readily accessible narrative that makes their
meaning almost self-evident. For many Muslims, the message is that Jews
want to capture and destroy the Haram.20 Since 1967, the more than two
dozen attacks on the Haram and its buildings have reinforced the nar-
rative of vulnerability. Among these were a deranged Australian Chris-
tian™s attempt in 1969 to start a ¬re in the Al-Aqsa mosque (an act some

Consistent with the argument we have made earlier that many symbolic con¬‚icts involve a
two-level game “ one within each group and one between the group and outsiders “ is
Lustick™s contention that a main motivation for Sharon™s September 2000 visit to the
Temple Mount was ˜˜to create a disturbance that would put his rival, Netanyahu, in an
impossible political situation prior to the struggle of the two for the Likud nomination™™
(personal communication).
By 2004 the situation deteriorated to the point where the Israeli internal security minister
claimed that ˜˜extremist and fanatic Jewish elements™™ might use terror against the Temple
Mount™s mosques, and the Israeli press published articles discussing this possibility.
There are also Jewish groups such as the Temple Institute, part of whose work is
designing and making the clothing priests will wear and other ritual objects they can use
at the third Temple when it is built (Gorenberg 2000: 173“78).
One of the most widely available pictures in the Muslim world is that of the Dome of the
Rock. This can be understood as both an af¬rmation of its existence and its vulnerability,
and the need to defend it.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Muslims attributed to Jews) and an extremist Jewish plot in the 1980s,
thwarted by the Israeli authorities, to blow up the Dome of the Rock.
Muslims regularly charge that Jewish excavations outside the walls are
damaging the Haram™s foundations and that Israeli archeologists were
tunneling beneath it to variously search for the ruins of the Second
Temple or to build a prayer area.21 The head of the Waqf, Adnan Hus-
seini, said in 2000 ˜˜the Al-Aqsa Mosque has not faced so many challenges
since the Crusades™™ (Atallah 2001).
Jewish fears are also easily evoked and are rooted in the narrative of the
destruction of the Temple and exile, periods of exclusion from Jerusalem,
and the bitter memories of European anti-Semitism and the Holocaust,
all of which are central to Zionism and the state of Israel. More speci¬c
are moments of Arab“Jewish violence such as the 1929 and 1936 riots in
and around the Western Wall. Since 1967 there have been incidents in
which groups of Muslims standing on the Haram hurled rocks at Jewish
worshipers gathered below. To guard against outbreaks of violence, there
is a heavy Israeli security presence and periodic assertions of Israeli
sovereignty such as selective admission of Muslims for Friday prayers, the
opening of the Hasmoneoan Tunnel exit in 1996, and the Sharon visit
in 2000.22

Exclusive claims and mutual denial
For Jews, the tense situation is aggravated by periodic Muslim and
Palestinian denials that there is any evidence that the Second Temple was
actually on the site or that the Western Wall was part of the Temple.
This is extremely upsetting to Jews and the denial is seen as part of a
broader Palestinian denial of Jewish history in Jerusalem and linked to the
denial of the legitimacy of the present state of Israel. For example, an
article on the Old City of Jerusalem posted on the Al Quds University
website asserts that ˜˜the Al-Aqsa compound cannot possibly be in the

The claim concerning Israeli subterranean excavations has some basis in reality
(Meir Ben-Dov, personal interview; Gershom Gorenberg, personal interview). The
claim that Israeli archeological excavations threatened the Haram™s foundations is harder
to evaluate.
Some commentators have argued that Sharon™s visit caused the Al Aqsa Intifada. While
the incident clearly precipitated a violent response and escalation of violence on both
sides, it is probably more accurate to view the provocative action as the precipitating
incident in an already deteriorating situation.

Digging up the past to contest the present

same place as the ¬rst or second temple,™™ 23 and that the Western Wall
was probably the wall of a fortress built for Roman legions (also see Al-
Ifrani 2001). It should be noted, however, that while the archeological
record supports the claim that the Jewish temples were located on the
Temple Mount, there is some disagreement over exactly where on the
mount this was (Gorenberg 2000). The most widely shared view is that it
was where the Dome of the Rock is today. However, there are some who
place it on the Temple Mount but north of this spot while others argue
forcefully that it was further to the south.24
Denials that Jewish temples were ever on the site rekindle Jewish fears
that Palestinians aim to drive Jews out of Israel, in general, and Jerusalem,
in particular, reinforcing the Israeli belief in strength, vigilance and
incontrovertible evidence. From their perspective, archeological work
in and around the old city provides this evidence of a Jewish past in
Jerusalem that supports Israel™s political legitimacy. At the same time, the
absence of Jewish archeological activity on the Temple Mount, and
speci¬cally under it, hinders the search for evidence that they believe
would make Jewish religious claims incontrovertible (Gorenberg 2000).
The strongest Jewish fears, other than the loss of access to the Western
Wall, are that Muslim construction projects on or under the Haram will
either destroy or render inaccessible speci¬c details about the temples on
the site. For example, an Israeli attorney general described Waqf building
projects as an archeological crime ˜˜kicking the history of the Jewish
people™™ (Shragai 2000), and one MK, a member of the National Religious
Party, called for the arrest of members of the Waqf who were ˜˜desecrating
antiquities at the [Temple Mount] in an effort to wipe out the traces of the
Jewish nation from its most sacred site™™ (Shragai 2001). Often each com-
munity™s emotionally intense cultural representations exclude any reference
to, or recognition of, the other™s historical presence. As Gorenberg says,
˜˜Anxious about the future, Muslims seek to erase the Temple from the
site™s past. In the work of radical rewriting, they are not alone™™ (2000: 72).
In Jerusalem, history provides all groups with experiences in which the
fears of physical destruction came to pass and these catastrophes are reg-
ularly invoked. Each group sees the other™s refusal to recognize its history
as a fundamental denial of their existence and a political threat. Mutual
denials escalate and political distrust and polarization increase.

See www.templemount.org/theories.html.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Muslim denial of the temple™s location is mirrored in the computer
imagery found in a recently built Israeli visitor center just below the
Haram that focuses on what the area might have looked like at the time of
the Second Temple. Muslims were outraged when they realized that there
were virtually no images in the center showing what the area looks like
today and none with the Muslim holy sites on the Haram (Rubinstein
2001).25 In this exhibit, the Muslim holy sites have ceased to exist,
although if one were to just walk outside the front door and look up, it is
clear that this is not the case. The same denial of Muslim presence is seen
on T-shirts sold in the Old City™s Jewish Quarter and in posters and
books the Temple Institute has published that picture a newly built Third
Temple astride the giant platform now holding the Dome of the Rock
and Al-Aqsa.
In response, Muslims express the need for vigilance in light of alleged
Israeli strategies to demolish Al-Aqsa through settlement, weakening
the foundation through excavations, burning, blowing up the mosque, or
by a manmade earthquake (Abdul-Ghafour 2002). Muslims experience
denial in presentations of Jewish archeological excavations, tours in
speci¬c old city sites, and exhibits that emphasize the period of the Sec-
ond Temple and its clear connection to the present (Abu El-Haj 2001;
Benvenisti 1996). When it is suggested that the Muslim holy sites are
merely an interlude to the coming of the Messiah and the construction of
the Third Jewish Temple as in the picture seen on numerous web sites, and
on posters such as the one in Figure 6.4, Muslim fears increase and the
resolve to protect Al-Aqsa against the modern day Crusaders only grows.
Changing the landscape is a powerful form of denial and is something
that both Israelis and Palestinians have done in ways that the other ¬nds
hurtful and threatening as ˜˜groups in both communities have chosen to
desecrate the others™ sacred space™™ (Friedland and Hecht 1991: 55). In
and around the old city, each side works to emphasize its long-term
presence and to remove or limit the other™s visibility. This is mirrored in
the country more widely “ not just in Jerusalem “ as both sides have
engaged in this pattern of mutual denial though manipulation of the
physical landscape, although it needs to be noted that as the more pow-
erful party, the Israelis have done this to a greater degree. In a simple, but
powerful, way this is done is by changing place names, removing buildings,

See www.archpark.org.il for the web presentation.

Digging up the past to contest the present

Figure 6.4 The Third Temple in Jerusalem astride the Temple Mount. An
image from a poster in the old city of Jerusalem. Different versions are circulated
by groups such as the Temple Institute (templeinstitute.org) or Temple Mount
Faithful (templemountfaithful.org).

and displacing people who remember earlier living arrangements
(Benvenisti 2000).

Conclusion: psychocultural dramas and holy sites
In this charged and distrustful setting of mutual denial, it is not surprising
that psychocultural dramas have erupted in the past century focusing on
the holy sites in Jerusalem. Typically these begin when there is a chal-
lenge or change in the status quo, a breach in the existing order. Examples
include political protests, war, changes in religious practices, and,
archeological and building activities that each side experiences as a direct
assault on its own sacred spaces and historical claims. These crises
intensify and easily move toward violence, which since 1967 is typically
between Palestinian crowds and Israeli security forces who, for example,
sometimes restrict access to the Haram for Friday prayers. Redressive
action is dif¬cult because there is no central authority whose legitimacy
both sides accept. Instead of achieving any resolution, each side merely
repeats its exclusive claims of sovereignty and the crises lose their
intensity only when force is used to restore order. There is hardly ever any
reintegration or ritual rede¬nition, so that after a time a new crisis erupts.
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

All of these elements are seen in the 1996 con¬‚ict over the decision to
open the tunnel exit on the Via Dolorosa. As Gorenberg points out
(2000), con¬‚icts in the Old City about what each side is doing below
ground are often even more charged than what is taking place above
ground. The tunnel con¬‚ict™s multiple levels contributes to its intensity
and to the inability to resolve it. Viewed as a deep wound, this con¬‚ict
reveals each side™s most basic fears about their exclusive ownership of a
sacred space. The psychocultural drama following the tunnel opening
increased tension and drew international attention as the violence rose.
When it had ¬nally run its course, there was no settlement, but simply the
stronger Israelis imposing their will on the Palestinians, and the tunnel
remained open. For many Jews, the government™s actions were an
appropriate assertion of Israeli sovereignty. Jerusalem was their united
and eternal capital and they accepted the surface explanation that the new
exit changed nothing, simply making the ¬‚ow of visitors more ef¬cient.
Israelis resented Palestinian charges that the moves were part of a larger
effort to dig under the Haram and undermine its stability.
The tunnel has great signi¬cance for Jews who believe that sections of
it are closer to the site of the ancient temples and their altars than any
other location where Jews are permitted. The bedrock and ancient walls
in the tunnel make many Jews feel especially close to their ancient reli-
gious sites. As Abu El-Haj points out, the tunnel is both an archeological
and a religious site. The Ministry for Religious Affairs, not the Antiquities
Authority, manages the tunnel, and religious services are conducted in
parts of it. Re¬‚ecting this double meaning, the narratives the tour guides
offer in the tunnel emphasize the origins and fragments and downplay
more recent periods. ˜˜This is a museum dedicated to teaching a national
heritage, and it is a place of prayer™™ (Abu El-Haj 2001: 224).26
For Palestinians, the tunnel exit opening was a reminder of their vul-
nerability and their long-term distrust of Jewish motives recalling earlier
Jewish attempts to alter the status quo. Israeli authorities simply dismiss
these assertions, while Palestinians distrust Israeli statements given Jewish
settlement in the Muslim quarter and Israeli efforts to limit Palestinian
housing and social services in the old city. Vulnerability is also evoked
because Muslims see a clear parallel between con¬‚ict over the Ibrahimi

Abu El-Haj took Hebrew and English speaking tours of the tunnel and reports signi¬cant
differences in the language and images used in the one that is supposedly all-Jewish and
the one that is not (2001: 314“15).

Digging up the past to contest the present

mosque in Hebron and the Haram. Hebron is where both Muslims and
Jews believe that Abraham and his family are buried. After 1967, Jews
gained some access to the site for prayer and gradually took more control
over it and limited Muslim access to it (Friedland and Hecht: 1991: 50“51).
But the solution is not a constructive one and, ˜˜the shrine in Hebron became
the ˜only house of worship anywhere with its own army commander™™™
(Hassner 2003: 25). What is not clear from this case alone, however, is the
extent to which the extreme tension is a function of the indivisibility of
the sacred site or of the fact that this site in Hebron re¬‚ects so completely
the unresolved con¬‚ict in the region more generally.
As is the case with many cultural con¬‚icts, the on-going con¬‚ict over
Muslim and Jewish holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem is a microcosm
of many aspects of the larger con¬‚ict within which it is embedded. In each
con¬‚ict, both sides present mutually exclusive claims, and there are great
fears that acknowledging even part of the other side™s narrative is a denial
of one™s own rights (Kelman 1987). Each emphasizes its own traumatic
historical memories. Jews regularly recall the destruction of their First
and Second Temples, the long period of exile, periods when they were
variously banned from the city or denied access to the Western Wall and
other sacred sites, and the Holocaust. Muslims remember the Crusades as
a time when the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques were turned
into churches and barracks for Christian troops and the more recent
humiliations they experienced during British colonial rule and the Israeli
occupation since 1967. Muslims also have strong feelings about the
humiliating expulsions from Andalusia at the end of the ¬fteenth century.
Each side™s more poignant metaphors and images are about traumatic loss
and making sense of them is central to understanding why Jews and
Muslims are simultaneously vulnerable and aggressive in their view of,
and relations with, each other.
While narratives draw on history, they are not most usefully under-
stood as historical arguments as such (Nora 1989). Rather each narrative “
as well as the internal differences in both sides™ accounts “ selectively
utilizes historical references to bolster its position in building a non-linear
argument. Time collapse is far more prominent than continuity “ even at
moments when one side or the other seems to be providing a chron-
ological account. There are images that span centuries linking disparate
events that are built from a selective recounting. Furthermore, they offer
little acknowledgment of the other side™s perspective, meaning its hopes,
fears, and motivations, and it should not be surprising that in this context
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Jews and Muslims interpret the same events very differently: 1929 for
Palestinians is about defense of the Islamic holy sites; for Jews it is about
denied access to their holy sites and unwarranted Muslim violence. The
year 1948 for Jews is about independence and recreation of the state of
Israel; for Palestinians it the ˜˜Nakba,™™ or catastrophe of expulsion from
their homeland (Sa™di 2002). Hebron for Palestinians recalls the erosion
of sovereignty over the Ibrahimi mosque marking the Tomb of the
Patriarchs since 1967 and the Goldstein massacre in 1994 in which 29
Muslims were killed and 125 injured, while for Jews it recalls access
denied in the past and the 1929 massacres (Friedland and Hecht 1991).
The Hasmoneoan tunnel is for Jews a concrete link to the Second
Temple, while for Palestinians it is an Israeli threat to their holy sites.
And so it goes. In Jerusalem there is little shared symbolic landscape or
ritual activity at present. Differentiation and denial predominate as each
side works to build an exclusive narrative that simply ignores or denies the
other™s existence and identity.
Considering the political dynamics of the intense threats both Jews and
Muslims feel, it is obvious that no matter how archeologists view their
work, their ¬ndings are easily used in service of contemporary political
claims and mobilization. Evidence and assertions about the past are
powerful because they speak to intensely felt fears and hopes. Yet we need
to remember that at the same time the present shapes what part of the
past is focused on and how it is understood. Archeological ¬ndings serve
these goals and support political positions because their ambiguity with
respect to social identity and prior meaning render them easy to use to
bolster one side™s claims and to denigrate those that opponents make.
Narratives about the holy sites in Jerusalem variously serve as re¬‚ectors
of the deepest Muslim and Jewish fears and hopes, as exacerbaters of
tensions when issues around the sites threaten each side, and as causes of
con¬‚ict when they leave little room for negotiation or mutual recognition,
encouraging unilateral actions that increase con¬‚ict. In this setting there
is little benevolent perception of the opponent as Muslims view proposals
to share the holy sites as a ¬rst step in an attempted Jewish takeover and
Jews believe that if Palestinians had sovereignty over the Old City, or part
of it, Jews would suffer the same mistreatment they had previously
experienced under Muslim rule, such as limitations on religious practice
at, or denial of access to, the Western Wall, destruction of the Jewish
quarter, and the desecration of the Mount of Olives Cemetery between
1948 and 1967. Muslims quickly cite limitations they experienced under
Digging up the past to contest the present

Israeli occupation but also link their need for sovereignty to their
humiliations at the hands of Christians during the Crusades and the
expulsions from Andalusia.
When Yasser Arafat died in November 2004, Palestinians said he
wanted to be buried in Jerusalem. Israel refused, although it did agree to a
burial in Ramallah and it became clear that when, and if, there is a peace
agreement Arafat™s remains will be moved to Jerusalem, a step likely to
provoke anger from some Israelis. Dead, as well as alive, Arafat will
continue to be a divisive symbol tied to a powerful site for, as Verdery
(1999) observes, some dead bodies, like live ones, have political meaning
that uni¬es or variously divides groups in con¬‚ict. What we see is that the
meaning of Jerusalem™s sacred sites is central to both Israeli and Pales-
tinian identities and to their national narratives, and that any proposed
solution that fails to take these into account will be inadequate.
Finally, Jerusalem is not just a political con¬‚ict. As Shragai writes:
Jerusalem is also part of an intense religious con¬‚ict. Islam considers Israeli rule of
the city as something that de¬les the Muslim nature of the city. The religious
Orthodox Jewish establishment also has halakhic reservations concerning the Arab
presence in the city. The secular Arab leadership draws the legitimacy for its
struggles over Jerusalem from Islam, and the Israeli leadership bases its arguments
of the city on Jewish tradition.
(Shragai 2000)

So can Jerusalem™s sacred sites be shared? While there have been a few
periods of greater tolerance and inclusiveness, in the past century com-
peting narratives about Jewish and Muslim holy sites have left little room
for more inclusive framing that could allow both groups to share custody,
use of, and access to the sites. Writing about Jerusalem, Friedland and
Hecht (1991: 2005) conclude that sharing sacred sites is particularly
dif¬cult when control over the sacred center is at the core of a group™s
identity. Hassner (2003) says the indivisibility of sacred spaces rules out
sharing within the context of current approaches to politics and policy-
making. He rejects both pragmatic (Hobbesian) and cultural essentialist
(Huntingtonian) approaches to resolving disputes over sacred places as
However, Hassner (2005) suggests that bringing religious leaders and
authorities into a process that creates and reshapes sacred space might be
more fruitful. So do Gopin (2000) and Halevi (2002). Alpher (2005)
points out that since religion cannot be removed from the con¬‚ict it has

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

to be part of any solution. Inclusion of religious voices in any political
process could counter the pragmatism of Hobbesian approaches and the
pessimism of Huntingtonian fatalism by utilizing ˜˜politics and agency to
transform disputes over sacred space by introducing ¬‚exibility into the
de¬nition of that space™™ (Hassner 2003: 31). Because of their deeper
understanding of the religious images and meanings surrounding the sites
and the rules governing them, religious authorities could be in a position
to ¬nd ways to rede¬ne the present intransigent situation in constructive
and more inclusive directions.
The emotional intensity of the con¬‚icts in Jerusalem is found in the
Israeli“Palestinian con¬‚ict more broadly. Metaphorically one side™s heri-
tage is merely the other™s land¬ll. Settlement of differences over Jerusalem™s
holy sites is not likely outside of a broader political settlement of the
Israeli“Palestinian con¬‚ict but as Hassner and Shragai point out, religious
concerns must also be addressed and the intense fears about the holy sites
will require special attention. To take these fears into account means
providing each group with emotional, not just political, guarantees that the
other side has suf¬cient incentives to adhere to an agreement. What form
more inclusive symbolic reassurance would take is, of course, for the parties
themselves to decide, for it must be one they feel capable of accepting, not
one that an outsider thinks is good. What is clear, however, is that whatever
the details, a good agreement must provide some mechanisms for sub-
stantively and symbolically acknowledging each other™s claims and perhaps
for providing some kind of inclusive arrangements that recognize the dual
claims to the site rather than acknowledging only one or the other as
legitimate (Alpher 2005; Ross 2004).27 There have been proposals that God
be declared the sovereign over Jerusalem™s holy sites or that Jews consider
that the Messiah will rebuild the Temple ˜˜in the twinkling of an eye,™™
meaning the eye of the beholder (Waskow and Berman 1995). Such
arrangements are most likely to be effective if they are part of a peace
process that develops more inclusive shared narratives and symbolic
expressions that address the deepest fears both Jews and Muslims feel,
and rede¬nes religious and political practices and understandings to pro-
duce some modicum of mutual reassurance and an overarching identity
(Kelman 1999).
The Geneva Accord that prominent Israelis and Palestinians, many of whom had
participated in earlier negotiations, published in 2003 is one example of what an
agreement aimed at achieving mutual reassurance might look like. The full text is
available at http://www.mideastweb.org/geneva1.htm


Dressed to express: Islamic headscarves
in French schools

For two weeks in November 2005, pictures of crowds of young people
throwing stones and burning cars in and around Paris and dozens of other
French cities ¬‚ashed across television screens around the world. The
spark setting off the violence was an incident in Clichy-sous-Bois, a Paris
suburb where two young Muslim boys died in an electrical sub-station
while running from the police. In the course of a week more than 8000
cars, mainly in Muslim neighborhoods, were ¬re-bombed, mainly by
young Muslims, and there were over 2500 arrests. Rage over Interior
Minister Nicholas Sarkozy™s racist comments that the scum would be
¬‚ushed out and deported, and the government™s use of tear gas in a local
mosque combined with ongoing alienation over high unemployment,
inadequate social services, and feelings of widespread discrimination,
making the violence hard to contain. Knowledgeable observers suggested
that the outbursts re¬‚ected tensions between the primarily Muslim
immigrants and their children and the French that had built up over years
(Bowen 2006; Cesari 2005; Silverstein and Tetreault 2005; Withol de
Wenden 2005).
While there has been ethnic or racial violence at times in France, the
most enduring con¬‚ict in recent decades has been mainly non-violent; it
was a cultural con¬‚ict over the right of a small number of Muslim girls to
wear headscarves to school (Ross 1993b). The ¬rst of many psychocultural
dramas around this issue began in 1989 when a junior high school principal
expelled three young girls who wore foulards (headscarves) to school in
Creil, a town north of Paris (Figure 7.1). The principal told the girls and

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

their families that their attire violated the deeply rooted principle of
secularism of the public schools (la la±cite de l™ecole). Within a month, the
¨´ ´
issue hit the press when one girl claimed the principal had struck her, and
her family called in two Islamic ˜˜fundamentalist™™ organizations to talk to
the principal. The action touched off a whirling controversy that quickly
involved the nation™s top political ¬gures and raised a series of powerful
issues at the core of French political life that cut across political lines and
has continued to expand (Feldblum 1993; Ross 1993b; Scott 2005;
Thomas 2000).
The country™s highest administrative tribunal, the Conseil d™Etat, ruled
that students could wear religious symbols, such as the headscarf or
jewelry with a cross or star of David, but only if the symbols were
not provocative or objects of propaganda, and were not used to pressure
or to proselytize other students. However, the issue did not go away.
Instead it expanded into other explosive questions about immigration,
diversity, and terrorism until in 2004 the government passed legislation
that banned all conspicuous religious signs such as headscarves, skull caps,
and large crosses from public schools. What is the long-term con¬‚ict
about and why does the headscarf engender so much anger, producing
presidential commissions and national legislation? How, and why, are the
young girls wearing them a threat to French society and the Republic?
Not all are in agreement about the answer and as two skeptical observers
noted, ˜˜Rather than address the real causes of minority exclusion, the state
engaged in alarmist mobilizing around a cultural symbol™™ (Silverstein and
Tetreault 2005).
At the core of this con¬‚ict are competing narratives. The French
narratives about the French Republic and society can be aligned along a
continuum I call hard to soft Republicanism “ each having its own var-
iations. There are also Muslim narratives about their struggle to be full
French citizens while retaining their religion and identity. These issues all
intersect with the historical French con¬‚ict over the relationship between
the Catholic Church and the Republic.
A starting point is the French term la±cite, which is probably best
translated as secularism or non-denominationalism and state neutrality with
regards to religion; to some it also stands for rationality and liberty against
obscurantism and religious authority (Thomas 2000: 170“71; 200b).1 But

For a good discussion of the development and changes in meaning of la±cite in France see
Bauberot (1998; 2005).

Dressed to express

Figure 7.1 Headscarf, a threat to the Republic? One of the three young girls
originally expelled from school in France for wearing a headscarf in 1989

its meaning is far from straightforward and there are many ambiguities.2
La±cite does not imply that the French state has no relationship with

Bowen (2004: 34“35) distinguishes between liberal and public la±cite which parallels my
distinction between hard and soft Republicanism in many ways. The former emphasizes an
individual™s right to practice his or her religion and even allows students to draw on
religion in re¬‚ecting on what they are learning in school while respecting openness and
deliberative discussion. In contrast, public la±cite emphasizes limits to speech and behavior
in public life and would more rigidly exclude religion from all public domains. Nordmann
(2004) makes a similar distinction in considering the complexity of la±cite in France.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

religious institutions. Napoleon secured a Concordat with the Vatican
allowing the state to name Catholic bishops. In 1905 legislation following
the Dreyfus Affair called for the separation of Church and state; yet when
Pope John Paul II died in 2005, the French interior minister ordered ¬‚ags
on government buildings, including public schools, to be ¬‚own at half mast
and told prefects ˜˜to ˜attend services™ conducted by the ecclesiastical
authority in the memory of His Holiness, an order, essentially to go to
church. He urged them to pay their condolences to local bishops™™ (Sciolino
2005). Historically, each religious community in France has designated
authorities who deal with the state on matters of common interest and the
state pays for the upkeep of older church buildings;3 eight of France™s
eleven national holidays are Catholic in origin; and the 1905 law is not
applied to the region of Alsace or the department of Moselle that were part
of Germany at that time. In these parts of France, large cruci¬xes hang in
some classrooms and nuns can teach wearing their habits; and the state
supports Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim religious schools.
After 9/11, tensions in France rose when Muslims felt unfairly targeted
as potential terrorists, and when there were protests and anti-Semitic
violence connected to the Al-Aqsa Intifada. The success of the extremist
National Front presidential candidate in 2002 made it clear to both the
center-right and the left in France that neither could ignore the issues of
integration and Islam in France. In 2003, Jack Lang, the former Socialist
minister of culture, and other members of the National Assembly, intro-
duced legislation to prohibit all religious symbols, including headscarves,
in public schools. The center-right government indicated that while it
considered this speci¬c piece of legislation inopportune and perhaps
unconstitutional given the 1989 ruling, it was considering new legislation
that would reassert the secular character of the public schools in a period
of communitarian (meaning Muslim) challenges that were increasingly
common. Following the report of a presidential commission at the end of
2003, the government proposed legislation to ban conspicuous religious
signs, including forms of dress, from school. The legislation was passed
quickly and adopted into law in early 2004 to be implemented at the start
of the next school year.4 Despite about forty expulsions, the ¬rst and
second school years were quiet, however, as people avoided escalatory,

They are also now paying for construction and maintenance of mosques.
Between the passage of the law and its implementation in 2004, the European Court of
Human Rights ruled that Turkey had the right to ban headscarves from schools.

Dressed to express

public confrontations, however, as the fall 2005 rioting showed, it would
be foolish to think the underlying issues were resolved.
Since 1989, the foulard 5 and the emotions it triggers have been at
the core of a series of French psychocultural dramas that involved
administrative rulings, legislative actions, public protests, and electoral
campaigns. These disputes divide those who see the foulard as a challenge
to deeply held French Republican principles of secularism “ the ˜˜hard™™
Republican position “ from those who are more willing to entertain the
notion of France as a partially multicultural society, and adopt a more
pragmatic, ˜˜soft™™ Republican stance which seeks to create a middle
ground by recognizing the reality of multiple identities (Kastoryano 1996;
Nordmann 2004).
There is not a single Muslim community in France. Although the
greatest number are people who emigrated from the Maghreb region of
North Africa and their descendants, there are many Muslims in France
from West Africa and Turkey as well. There is also signi¬cant diversity in
how they view their future in French society, the images the French
reaction elicited for them, and the role that Islam plays in their daily lives.
In France only a minority of Muslim women wear headscarves, and in
schools prior to the 2004 law banning them, the number was truly min-
iscule,6 so it is reasonable to ask what the fuss is all about and why the issue
won™t go away. What different Muslim narratives agree on is that the
French have treated them with little respect, that discrimination is wide-
spread in housing, employment, and police practices, and that too many
French assume both that devout Muslims necessarily support political
violence and terrorism, and that behaviors such as wearing a headscarf or
practicing their religion are statements of a rejection of French society™s
core values. At the same time, French Muslims are very diverse and often
have friendship, job, and religious networks de¬ned through their or their
parents™ countries of origin. Likewise, there is great variation in religious

There has been a shift over time in how the scarves are described. The most common term
in 1989 was foulard, or scarf; although sometimes the term tchador, referring to a full-length
garment, or hijab, which is a general term for dressing modestly were used; in more recent
years this been replaced by voile, which is best translated as veil and has much more of a
religious connotation. In this chapter, I tend to use foulard in reference to the earlier period
and voile for the later one. It is important to point out that there has always been a range of
ways in which scarves are worn, and that the shift from foulard to voile is not basically about
a shift in what is worn but in how it is described.
In early 2004, Education Minister Francois Fillion suggested there were about ten cases a
year that were hard to resolve (Madelin, 2004).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

participation and the best estimates are that most, like the rest of French
society, are not terribly observant (Nordmann 2004: 169).7
A highly charged symbol, the meaning of le foulard is in the eye of the
beholder. It communicates piety and personal choice to some, and sub-
jugation of women and religious fundamentalism to others (Silverstein
2004). It is a sign of religious identity that quickly and easily morphs into
other issues large and small: immigration, discrimination, Islamic extre-
mism, workplace attire, citizenship, cultural autonomy, unemployment,
crime, and work ethics (Scott 2005). It triggers cultural battles that
Jean Marie Le Pen and his neo-fascist National Front have used to their
great political advantage in electoral campaigns, permitting them to
de¬ne the political agenda around issues that have left the immigrants and
their descendants with little voice and high alienation. As in con¬‚icts
examined in earlier chapters, the core issue is not over headscarves that
young girls wear in school, but about the meaning of secularization,
multiculturalism, and what it means to be French in a society that still has
fault lines on these questions going back to the French Revolution and the
nineteenth-century French nation-building project (Bauberot 2005).
France, of course, is not alone in its ambivalence toward immigration,
immigrant communities, and how immigrant identities are expressed.8 In
recent decades high immigration has brought large numbers of new-
comers to virtually all major industrial countries and with them have
come increased social tension, economic and cultural demands, as well as
political questions concerning participation, representation, and assim-
ilation. However, the behavior of recent Muslim immigrants and their
descendants is a particularly intense issue in France. The powerful psy-
chocultural dramas over headscarves unleash strong emotions in which all
the parties present their demands in a mutually exclusive manner while
seeking validation of their core values and acknowledgment of their
identity. As escalation has increased so has polarization as non-Muslims
increasingly view ˜˜extremist groups™™ as typical of Islam as a whole, and as
Muslims become more and more distrusting of French intentions.

Instead of attentively listening to the diverse Muslim voices in France, recently there have
been many articles emphasizing and picturing Muslims who have successfully integrated
into French society (e.g., Khouri-Dagher 2006).
There is a widespread literature on Islam and immigration in Europe. While my sole focus
here is the French experience, a fascinating project would be to explain why the con¬‚ict
between immigrants and the native peoples takes different forms across countries.

Dressed to express

This chapter has three sections. The ¬rst discuses French nation-
building, the development of the standard French national narrative, and
challenges to it from regional identity groups and immigrants to France.
The second looks at the troublesome disputes in France since 1989 around
issues of immigration, integration, and identity as it became clear that many
of the 5 million or so Muslims in France are not prepared to integrate into
French society in the same way that earlier generations of Belgian, Italian,
Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese immigrants did. While it is easy to
describe the con¬‚ict as the French versus Muslims of North African origin,
in fact much of the con¬‚ict has been over agenda control and issue de¬-
nition among the non-Muslim majority (Lorcerie 2005). In this con¬‚ict, as
in the others examined here, there are not two homogenous narratives or
groups confronting each other. Rather, there are multiple issues and nar-
ratives on each side that make the ostensible issue slippery and hard to
address. The concluding section explores the intense tension between two
French narratives “ the hard Republican one emphasizing the integration of
migrants into French society that offers little space for hyphenated or
multiple identities,9 and the soft Republican one that recognizes the reality,
and even partial bene¬t, in seeing France as a multicultural society. It also
emphasizes the emerging Muslim voices in the debate and the complexity
and diversity of France™s Muslims whose voices have not been particularly
sought or valued since the con¬‚ict ¬rst broke out in 1989, making any kind
of con¬‚ict mitigation especially dif¬cult.

Nation states, national narratives, and minorities
For reasons that are not hard to understand, contemporary nation-states
emphasize their internal social and cultural homogeneity even when it is
clearly at odds with their past and present diversity. States are about
power and control; these are maximized when they convince their own
citizens and others that the state is the appropriate (the older term was
natural) unit to represent its population. This task becomes easier the
more that states can point to shared historical experiences, a distinct
identity, and cultural markers such as a common language or religion “ in
short, those very things that de¬ne a nation. As a result, although states
are political units, their legitimacy is grounded in cultural beliefs about a
shared past, as we saw in the previous chapters. Establishing internal

There are ˜˜Italian Americans™™ but no ˜˜Italian French.™™

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

cultural unity is a particular problem of the modern state and only since
the late eighteenth century did ideas begin to emerge concerning the state
as the embodiment of a speci¬c nation and the idea of citizenship as a
particular form of membership in the state and nation. Nations from this
perspective were natural units needing a state to make them complete and
political movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were more
than willing to provide support for this notion.
There are at least four reasons why the correspondence between the
nation and the state is often problematic. First, in many places peoples
from more than one nation live cheek by jowl making it dif¬cult in
practical terms to line up identities and territories. However, without
moving (and sometimes killing) large numbers of people “ what is now
called ethnic cleansing “ the creation of several nation-states out of a
larger entity will not necessarily produce homogenous units. Second,
societal heterogeneity has increased with improved transportation,
migration, the decline of small peasant agricultural economies, and war-
created refugees. Third, ethnic groups and nations are not static entities
but collectivities that form and re-form over time through interactions
and in response to changing contexts. In some cases, smaller groups
coalesce into larger ones, while in others larger groups dissolve into
smaller ones (Horowitz 1985). Fourth, deciding what is an ethnic group
or a nation and who is part of it is an untidy matter, and one that must be
de¬ned not only in terms of objective characteristics, such as shared
cultural expressions like language, religion, cultural practices, physical
characteristics, or ancestry but also on contextual and subjective factors.
It should not be surprising, then, given the complexity and changing
nature of nations, that the idea of the nation as a social construction has
received great attention in recent decades. Rather than thinking of the
nation as a timeless natural unit, this work pays attention to how national
traditions are invented, and recognizes how political the process of
building nations is (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). What this brings into
sharp focus is that states “ sometimes residual empires and kingdoms,
sometimes colonial constructions, and sometimes units created after wars “
often come into being prior to the nation that modern ideologies contend
they should represent. This is especially obvious in the case of countries,
such as India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Congo, that emerged from the end
of colonial empires after World War II, the states of Central Asia that
became independent after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, or Mexico
and Brazil earlier. If we go back to the eighteenth and nineteenth
Dressed to express

centuries in Europe, we see the same pattern “ the state preceded the
nation. Countries, such as Britain, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany,
emerged from older socially and culturally diverse kingdoms and empires;
they then devoted great time and energy to establishing a narrative and
culture of a shared past upon which to build the idea of a uni¬ed nation
and legitimize the state.
It is indeed paradoxical that states work so hard to establish themselves
as natural units when if this were actually the case, the matter should
require little special attention. In Europe, states effectively used public
schools to establish a common culture, transmit a shared narrative about
the past, and spread the standardized national language. European
intellectuals also played a key role in producing historically rooted nar-
ratives and used physical evidence such as objects from archeological
excavations that took the present as the logical outcome of past events.
Weber (1976) offers a classic study of French nation-building. Peasants
into Frenchmen (1976), provides a detailed description of how the French
state mobilized its resources and in¬‚uence to create a strong shared national
identity. He begins with a portrait of early nineteenth-century France as
a country separated into Paris and the hinterlands. The government
in Paris had long controlled the vast countryside politically and militarily,
but the people living in Auvergne, Alsace, the Alps, Provence, and
Brittany hardly considered themselves French in any meaningful sense. As
late as 1860, fewer than half of the country™s population spoke French as
their ¬rst language (Weber 1976: 70). Weber argues that people in the
capital looked down on those in the provinces, most of whom lived in
miserable conditions, as dirty, uncivilized, and backward in much the
same way that Europeans saw Africa and Asia in the twentieth century.
Weber recounts how beginning with the Third Republic in 1870, Paris
set out to control and ˜˜civilize™™ the countryside. By the start of World
War I in 1914, the effort had been highly successful. A shared identity as
French men and women emerged among the disparate Bretons, Alsatians,
Avergnats, and Juracians who all learned in school that their ancestors
were the Gauls and that as citizens they were the natural inheritors of the
fruits of the French Revolution. French was now the ¬rst language of over
90% of the country™s citizens. Participation in the state and its institutions
increased and the French people were prepared, somewhat tragically, to
die for their nation. How did this happen? Weber argues that the state
was able to greatly improve the country™s standard of living and develop a
strong sense of national identity in three ways: through improvements in
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

technology and transportation that brought peasants into the market
economy; universal male military service that provided a common
experience for all men through participation in a central state institution;
and universal primary education with its standardized curriculum taught
in French that narrated the story of the French nation.
In building a compelling vision of a shared present and future, states
emphasize a common past with speci¬c triumphs, defeats, sacred heroes
and common purpose while downplaying long-standing con¬‚ict such
as that between the church and state in France (Bauberot 2005). In this
process, states develop ascending anachronisms in the form of metaphors,
symbols, and rituals that interpret the past from the perspective of the
present, and in so doing attribute contemporary perceptions and motives
to past actors. This deft (though not necessarily conscious) maneuver
provides people in the present with ancestors and a shared narrative of
working toward the same timeless goal of building and maintaining the
national community. From this perspective, Joan of Arc, Louis XIV, and
Charles de Gaulle were partners in the same French national project even
though they happened to live centuries apart. Just as psychoculturally
´rix le Gaulois, the
plausible, though lighter, are the actions of Aste
renowned comic book hero, and his compatriot Obelix, who along with
the other residents of their mythical village, resisted Roman conquest and
paved the way for the proud French nation that emerged centuries later.
Weber™s argument, and that of many others, is about how states make
nations. Although there are signi¬cant scholarly disagreements about the
speci¬cs of this constructivist process, what is especially striking is how
the larger argument is at odds with popular and political essentialist
discourse that sees nations and ethnic groups as ¬xed, unchanging, and
often biological entities that ¬ght over ˜˜ancient hatreds™™ (e.g., Kaplan
1993). Whereas scholars now focus on the mutability and change over
time of nationals and ethnic groups, people often see in-groups as
enduring and unchanging.10
This discussion of the nation and national narratives with particular
attention to France sets the stage for considering the con¬‚ict over the

At the same time, we need to be careful not to go so far as to view all categories as arbitrary
social constructions. As Smith (1991) argues, while group de¬nition is more socially
constructed than popular images hold, it is not as easily altered in the short run as some
constructivist accounts suggest. Horowitz (2003) stresses problems with caricaturing
primordialist arguments and also makes a good case for limits to constructivism and for
taking seriously the primordialist claim that identities are enduring and hard to change.

Dressed to express

Islamic headscarf in France since 1989. It locates the con¬‚ict in deep fears
on all sides about identity and emphasizes ways that each side™s efforts to
assert its identity are seen as a direct challenge by the other. To a great
extent, the issue is whether, and how, one can be French and Muslim at
the same time, and many people have problems imagining how this is
possible. The con¬‚ict pits competing narratives against each other and
only sometimes includes Muslim voices as well. In the hard-core
Republican narrative, the French emphasize the individual citizen™s
relationship to the unitary state that has historically rejected the relevance
of intermediate group identities. It is the product of a centuries-long
struggle to limit the power of the Catholic Church in the public domain.
For its adherents, the secular state and its crown jewel, the public school,
are not all that is at risk “ so is French culture.11
The softer Republican narrative is not at odds with many parts of this
account, but its adherents are generally more pragmatic and struggle to
acknowledge the realities of contemporary migration and multi-
culturalism in a world with weaker and weaker state borders.12 One way
to think about the difference between them is that while both hard and
soft Republicans call for acculturation, meaning that immigrants learn
French language and culture, hard Republicans also seek assimilation,
meaning a rejection of any cultural identity other than being French,
while soft Republicans show a greater ¬‚exibility in terms of family tra-
ditions, community habits, and the desire to foster inclusion (Safran
2004). Muslim societies, of course, have a very different cultural tradition
without rigid boundaries between religion and politics and no con¬‚ict
between local, clan, and national identities, each of which may be espe-


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