Whose Right to Jerusalem?


Jerusalem is a city mired in spatial conflict. Its contested spaces represent deep conflicts among groups that vary by national identity, religion, religiosity and gender. The omnipresent nature of these conflicts provides an opportunity to look at Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the right to the city (RTC). The RTC has been adopted and celebrated as a political tool for positive change, enabling communities to take control of space. Based on extensive fieldwork and in‐depth interviews, this article explores the complexity of the RTC principles and examines three urban battlefields in Jerusalem — Bar‐Ilan Street, the Kotel and the Orient House. The RTC is a powerful idea, providing the opportunity to examine people’s everyday activities within the context of how space can be used to support their lives. Yet Jerusalem’s myriad divisions produce claims by different groups to different parts of the city. In Jerusalem, the RTC is not a clear vision but a kaleidoscope of rights that produces a fragmented landscape within a religious and ethno‐national context governed by the nation state — Israel. The growth of cultural and ethnic diversity in urban areas may limit the possibility for a unified RTC to emerge in an urban sea of demands framed by difference. Space‐based cultural conflict exemplifies urban divisions and exacerbates claims to ‘my Jerusalem’, not ‘our Jerusalem’. Identity‐based claims to the RTC appear to work against, not for, a universalistic RTC.