Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Palestinians in Jerusalem constantly face the threat of elimination, where their past existence and connection to the land is essentialized and made anachronistic through heritage site signs, remnants of Palestinian architecture, and the destruction of ancient cemeteries. A stroll through Jerusalem is a walk through a necropolis, in which remnants of history arise as reminders of the past.
This paper examines a particular gravesite in Jerusalem, the century-old Bab Al-Rahma (Gate of Mercy) cemetery on the perimeter of the Old City. The Israeli Nature and Parks Authority recently began to demolished graves and crumbling tombstones in Bab Al-Rahma under the pretense that they were on confiscated land. For Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, military and state terror haunt both the living and the dead in their necropolitical reality. To exist as a Palestinian is to be in a constant “space of death” (Taussig 1984:94). Cemeteries and the bodies located within them are not just spaces of spiritual remembrance but gain political significance in creating geo-political boundaries and claims to territory. This paper traces the precariousness of Palestinian life in Jerusalem through a critical investigation of cemetery desecration to ask most simply: what role do the Palestinian dead hold in the imaginaries of Israeli state boundary-making and settler-colonial expansion? By examining the systematic desecration of Palestinian lives and spaces, I attempt to build out of theories used to understand death and domination (e.g. Mbembe, Agamben) and consider indigenous, feminist scholarship to better theorize the relationship between the body, nation and territory.