Jerusalem checkpoints
The northwest corner of Jerusalem’s Old City is located on the margins of Israeli West Jerusalem and Palestinian East Jerusalem. Spanning what was once a No Man’s Land, and reaching from the walls of the Old City to the beginnings of the Israeli Central Business District, the site speaks volumes about the relationship between past, present, and future in Jerusalem and on either side of the Green Line.

From 1948-1967, the site was part of a closed military zone between Israeli West Jerusalem and Jordanian-administered East Jerusalem. In the years following the Six-Day War, a promenade and small archeological garden were constructed on the site. The corner is currently being developed as a transit station for the still-under-construction Jerusalem Light Rail System. Despite the current building activity at the site, the future of this corner is uncertain as long as the political horizon remains hazy. Numerous proposals for a divided Jerusalem as a component of a two-state settlement place a border through this corner, either on the Green Line or close to it. The form and nature of border infrastructure at this site has the ability to greatly affect the connection between Israeli West Jerusalem and the Old City and impact public perception of a peace agreement.

This essay examines the challenges and opportunities present in a border regime similar to the one laid out in the 2003 Geneva Accord. The Geneva Accord is a detailed model final status agreement between Israel and Palestine and was negotiated by prominent Israeli and Palestinian politicians and academics, though it is not an official government document. The Accord builds upon the Clinton Parameters resulting from the 2000 Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and so can reasonably be studied as one potential outcome of future peace negotiations.

The Geneva Accord stipulates that Jerusalem will be divided into Israeli West Jerusalem and Palestinian East Jerusalem. Borders are drawn so that, to the extent possible under the limits of territorial contiguity, Jewish neighborhoods will become a part of Israel, and Palestinian neighborhoods will become a part of Palestine. A physical border will be erected between the two cities with a series of crossing points to allow for cross-border cooperation and development.

In the Old City, where physical borders are impracticable and undesirable, a wall will not be erected. Rather, though sovereignty will be divided between Israel and Palestine, the area will be placed under a level of joint security control, with checkpoints established at the seven traditional gates to the Old City. Israelis and Palestinians will be allowed to enter and exit through their respective gates, and once inside the Old City, to travel freely between the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian quarters.

While the borders drawn by the Geneva Accord respect current ethnic neighborhoods and allow for nearly unrestricted access to holy sites for all individuals, the spatial configuration of these borders has the possibility to place stress on the connection of Israeli West Jerusalem to the Old City and its Jewish Quarter.

Most evident in plan, in a divided Jerusalem a narrow bottleneck will connect West Jerusalem to the Jewish Quarter, with only one Israeli vehicular access road to the Old City. In recognition of this challenge, the Geneva Accord specifies that a road from Jaffa Gate through the Armenian Quarter to Zion Gate and the Jewish Quarter will be set aside as a protected route for Israeli vehicles and pedestrians, though the road itself will remain under Palestinian sovereignty.

The pedestrian approach to the Old City from West Jerusalem will change significantly as the border is brought to the edge of Jaffa Road, the traditional entrance to the Old City. Today, pedestrian intensity along Jaffa Road decreases as the road leaves the Central Business District and nears the city walls. This underutilized zone between City Hall and Jaffa Gate will be made vulnerable by the presence of a border and associated security infrastructure along its eastern edge. An existing highway that runs parallel to the pedestrian promenade further compounds this compressed condition. In the face of a new border regime, this long and narrow unprogrammed space is not generous enough to sustain a meaningful relationship between West Jerusalem and the Old City.

The marginal space at the edge of Israeli West Jerusalem holds a key to establishing a strong connection between West Jerusalem and the Old City, even as borders act to divide Jerusalem in two. As knowledge of Jerusalem’s historically fluctuating borders grants license to designers to reshape the city’s edge, an awareness of systems beyond the religious and the political — including ecology, transportation, and culture — offers a springboard into new conceptions of public space in Jerusalem.

CIRCUMVENT: The use of Jaffa Road as a vehicular link between the city center and the Old City might be supplemented by the use of Yitshak Kariv, an existing street leading from the historic King David Hotel to the Jaffa Gate.

EXPAND: The margin between the city walls and the road may be further expanded through the careful treatment of the neglected strip of land between the promenade and Road 60. This land, which slopes downhill towards the Kidron Valley, has the potential to make visible flows of water through the city, and in doing so to connect downtown Jerusalem to the biblical pools and cisterns that still exist to the west and south of the Old City.

ANCHOR: The plaza at the northwest corner of the Old City could be reinvigorated with new public institutions. The existing plaza is currently underutilized, and Jerusalem Pearl Hotel across the street is out of business. Replacing the privately-owned hotel with public institutions and spaces would expand the viewshed of Jaffa Gate towards downtown Jerusalem, and would bring a vibrant intensity of activity and use back to the site. Ultimately, the revitalization of this site extends downtown Jerusalem towards the historic city center, and allows the Old City to filter up towards the new. As Israeli West Jerusalem and Palestinian East Jerusalem continue to develop, this anchored site will become a logical meeting point between the two cities, pointing to a future in which strong margins slowly morph into seams.

Scenarios such as this one will unfold many times along the complex Israel-Palestine border. Each instance deserves thoughtful consideration in order to establish edges that respond affirmatively to the needs of their communities. A deep reservoir of margin strategies will allow designers to advance positive political developments, and to create spaces of connection and continuity.

The barrier being built today around the West Bank territory in Israel can be seen as the greatest architectural move implemented by the Israeli government in order to define a border and stake out what is and isn’t theirs. The barrier morphs between solid concrete wall and unrelenting fencing, weaving in and out of neighborhoods and towns that sit on the operational “green line” separating the West Bank territory from Israel proper. Opponents say that it is ruining the livelihood of both the Palestinians and Israelis (mostly Palestinians) and is in violation of international law. The proponents of the barrier argue that it is saving lives.

This wall, however solid, is a porous barrier. Thousands of people and goods cross this line everyday. As of now, flows of people, goods, and services funnel themselves through strategic checkpoints established along the wall. These links become vital outlets and important opportunities for exchange. This project seeks to challenge these checkpoints and asks, “How can these places be reinterpreted in a way that continues to provide security but also promotes a new cultural exchange?” How can they become generative rather the degenerative?” These checkpoints can be re-imagined in order to provide vital goods and services to both Israelis and Palestinians, creating places of commercial exchange, schooling, and medical care.

israeli checkpoint experience
palestinian checkpoint experience

Checkpoints are time-consuming by design. These section diagrams depict the time discrepancy in crossing a checkpoint as an Israeli versus as a Palestinian. As illustrated, the experience is much more fluid for Israelis than Palestinians. Sometimes people spend hours waiting at particular checkpoints, only to be turned away because they don’t have the correct identification card or for some other opaque reason. At other times, individuals only spend moments as they move from one territory to another. Because of the confluence of people and goods in these spaces, microeconomies grow in order to serve the crowds passing through.

These microeconomies, or markets, provide those waiting in line with food products and other consumables. Building on these microeconomies, my proposal begins to plug other services into the checkpoint. I attempt to transform the checkpoint from a strictly linear process of crossing back and forth over a boundary into a more meaningful experience. The checkpoint then provides new destinations and motivations to utilize the space. Schools, established markets, and other services are woven into the checkpoints imbuing the entire event with more significance and meaning. The hope is that through economic exchange a new cultural exchange will simultaneously flourish.

As the checkpoint grows over time, and even after the security wall becomes insignificant, these junctures cannot be removed because of their established value. The infrastructure of the wall is consumed and made integral to the checkpoint, remaining as a memory of the once physically divided landscape.

site plan
perspective drawing

Daphne Lasky began her work in Jerusalem in 2007 as the recipient of a Katherine Wasserman Davis Projects for Peace grant. Her research on borders, border crossings, and walled cities has taken her to Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Territories. She has led workshops on border issues in Jerusalem at the University of Massachussetts, Harvard University, and Middlebury College.

Noah Bolton developed this project in Spring 2008 in a graduate studio under the direction of Assistant Professor of Architecture Nataly Gattegno. His interest in working with this topic stems from an inherent interest in exploring issues of Jewish identity in architecture.

The projects presented in this article should be understood as only two of the many spatial investigations of borders in Israel and Palestine undertaken by architects and designers. Our hope in presenting this work is to encourage and support a productive dialogue on approaches to future borders in Israel and Palestine, and to engage the larger discourse on architecture’s role as a potential generator of positive solutions to complex cultural conflicts.


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