Jerusalem and violence: The transformation of secular and sacred interpretations

The analysis of violence in this chapter builds on my work (Ayyash 2010, 2019) on theorizing violence, which advances several concepts, two of which are relevant for the following analysis and are interrelated: “violent dialogue” and “shared postures”. In contrast to instrumentalist conceptions of violence that attempt to delimit it within the prism of a means-ends calculus, the crux of my work argues that violence continuously exceeds its instrumental purposes as it will always evade full or total interpretation. 1 argue that if analysts follow the evasiveness of violence, then we find not the cessation of dialogue between protagonists but rather the appearance of a violent dialogue (Ayyash 2010: 103-104). Building on the philosophies of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jacques Derrida and their encounter, I make the case that violent dialogue concerns a question/answer exchange in and through violence that reveals a shared posture between the sides (Ayyash 2019: 3-17).

The basic assumption here is that the sides in conflict have closed their question/answer exchange on the subject matters over which they fight (e.g., land), and therefore a Gadamerian style communion between them over the subject matter does not emerge: that is, a shared understanding that transforms the interlocutors and their positions. But irrespective of their intentions, the participants are engaged in a question/answer exchange over the subject matter of violence whereby a violent dialogue overtakes them. In violent dialogue, the participants and their closed positions are transformed in ways they could not foresee and are indeed unaware of, and this transformation is moving toward (and is moved by) violence. To explain the process through which violence becomes the focal subject matter of a violent dialogue, I later engage with the works of Michael Taussig, Elaine Scarry, and Alexander Weheliye. This engagement will develop the idea of bodies welding into violence and show how this reveals the emergence of a question/answer exchange that is centered on violence. Suffice it to say for now, the analysis will follow the evasiveness of violence in two incidents at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount (in 1990 and 2000) to elucidate a shared posture and trace its operation across the two temporal points. The chapter seeks to explain how it is that violence forges a posture that the sides share - a posture that constitutes the sides as conflictual. In my book (Ayyash 2019), 1 build on the works of Pierre Bourdieu and Derrida to argue that posture refers to a disposition that is deeper than the interpretations by the sides that appear on the surface. The conflictual positions that are familiar to observers of this conflict (e.g., this is my land, not yours) seem to suggest a lack of a common symbolic basis between the sides, but 1 argue that these conflictual positions are born of shared postures forged in violent acts. 1 assert that postures are not directly represented by social agents but they can be studied through violent dialogue: that is, through the exchange of meanings in violent acts - meanings that exceed the instrumentalist purposes of violence. Succinctly put, an examination of violent dialogue can guide analysts in piecing together the elements that make up these postures, and thus provide a deeper understanding of violent acts and the transformation of the sides’ secular-sacred interpretations of Jerusalem (Ayyash 2019: 15, 174-177).

In examining these interpretations in this chapter, 1 also draw on this collection’s emphasis on cultural violence, particularly within the epistemological dimension. As put forth in the introduction of this book, cultural violence refers to the ways a community’s culture (worldview, systems of meaning, conceptions of self-community, identity, etc.) is attacked, eradicated, depleted, and/or weakened. The concept emphasizes the varied acts, events, processes, and structures that target a community’s culture before, during, and/or after warfare. One of the key effects of cultural violence within the epistemological dimension is that the vanquished are no longer able to carry out a form of resistance based on their own cultural footing. This dynamic is especially important when studying a colonial or settler-colonial context, in which a new political game is constituted, destroying the political grammar of the colonized and forcing the colonized to assimilate to the colonialist worldview and political paradigm (e.g., see Scott 1995; Coulthard 2014). Since Palestine-Israel falls within the settler-colonial context (Massad 2006; Veracini 2018), it becomes critical to examine how culturally specific secular-sacred interpretations of Jerusalem have been transformed through violence. But with one caveat: the focus here is not only on what is lost by the vanquished (Palestinians) but also on what the victor (Israelis) loses, in cultural terms, in and through violence. In short, the destruction of a Palestinian interpretation of Jerusalem is not replaced with an Israeli interpretation; rather, the very act of that destruction creates a shared posture between the sides that renders as tributary specific interpretations of Jerusalem. By tracing violent dialogue, the analysis in this chapter seeks to show (albeit in a preliminary fashion) how it is that violence - in forging a shared posture -overtakes the particular interpretations of the city.

The analysis will unfold in three stages. First, 1 examine three academic accounts and explanations of the violence of 8 October 1990 at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, which provide a comprehensive picture of secular-sacred interpretations of Jerusalem and how they relate to the violent conflict over the city. This will serve as the ground upon which the analysis builds, but ultimately departs from in an analytical sense. These accounts are provided by Benny Morris (2001), Edward Said (1995, 2001) (which is an indirect account), and Meron Benvenisti (1996). 1 highlight the differences between the three accounts, and then examine one basic similarity: they all claim that the crowd acted without fully knowing what they were actually doing, which is creating and/or perpetuating cycles of violence. Resting on the “cycles of violence” viewpoint, 1 argue, effectively subverts the evasive elements of violence, hiding from view the operation of violent dialogue. Instead, I explore in the second section that which escapes the participants’1 interpretation and examine the violent dialogue through the violent acts themselves. 1 argue that violent acts show the transformations of secular-sacred interpretations of Jerusalem within the sides and across them. When these transformations are examined through the dynamic of violent dialogue, a shared posture is revealed: one in which a conception of time and space is fixed and becomes concerned only with - fixated on - the capturing of a fleeting object to redress a persecution. Third, 1 trace the workings of this shared posture across a different temporal point in an analysis of the 28 September 2000 violence. 1 argue that the fixed time-space conception of Jerusalem, forged in violence, constitutes a posture that ensures the propagation of violence by forming and shaping Palestinian and Israeli interpretations of Jerusalem as continuously conflictual and as demanding the release of violence. Phrased differently, this posture constitutes the form in which various content (cultural interpretations of Jerusalem) takes shape. This shared posture does not eradicate (in the sense of outright loss and disappearance) the particular cultural specificities through which the sides embody and represent Jerusalem; but rather renders such interpretations as tributary in the sense of a stream that flows to and feeds a larger stream. That is, the interpretations continue to function as their own stream, as it were, whereby they serve ends that are familiar to sociological understandings of culture (e.g., the interpretations continue to provide a symbolic universe in which Palestinian and Israeli subjects can make sense of their social/political life in Jerusalem), but they more importantly come to exist for the purpose of feeding the larger shared posture and, as such, they become vehicles for the propagation of violence.

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