This chapter presents the scope and rationale of the book: to examine the emergence of modern urban textuality in Jerusalem in the late-Ottoman period and under British rule. The chapter provides a theoretical framework for the study of textuality through the writings of Jacques Derrida, Michel de Certeau, and Walter Benjamin; as well as the place of "urban texts" in urban studies and the socio-linguistic field of "linguistic landscape." The transition from orality to written communication is considered as one, though not the central aspect of the transformation. A historical background is provided on late-Ottoman Jerusalem, the incorporation of Jerusalem into networks of commerce and trade, and the Ottoman reforms emphasizing development; as well as on Jerusalem under British colonial rule. These historical developments found expression—and were facilitated through—the introduction of some urban texts, while banning other texts.
This chapter looks at the eclipse of Islamic stone inscriptions as the main form of monumental writing in late-Ottoman Jerusalem. Arabic inscriptions, in use for over twelve centuries, created a rich textual landscape in Jerusalem as documented by the pioneer of Islamic epigraphy, Orientalist Max van Berchem. In the late nineteenth century these inscriptions became heritage objects rather than a living form of public writing. Inscriptions did not "disappear" (as feared by Van Berchem) but were marginalized by new forms of public writing, such as modern signage, employed by the Ottoman state and by Arab modernizers as part of the Nahda movement. This new use of language was manifested in the new center at Jaffa Gate, the hub of transport, movement, business, and communications—and, after 1917, the site of Arab-nationalist protest against Zionism.
In the mid-nineteenth century Hebrew was rare to encounter in the streets of Jerusalem. But with significant Jewish immigration, Hebrew memorial stones became a common feature in architecture. Such stones bore close resemblance to Islamic inscriptions, and similarly faced a challenge from modern forms of signage, as local Jewish communities faced the political earthquake of Zionism and "Hebrew Revival." The chapter examines this transformation through the novel by S. Y. Agnon, Only Yesterday, in which Hebrew is unleashed onto urban space in the most profane manner as an inscribed sign on the back of a stray dog. In Agnon's tale, the transformation of Hebrew into a territorial, everyday, and secular language contains the seeds of catastrophe. Agnon's fantastic rendering captures the dramatic transformation of Hebrew from a language of devotional and congregational practice to the language of Zionism and a Hebrew-speaking society.
This chapter explores the textuality of money in Jerusalem before 1914. In the metalistic monetary system of the time, money appeared in Jerusalem in the form of Ottoman coins as well as European coins, reflecting the growing influence of European powers in Jerusalem. Text had a validating role on these coins; it did not set the coin's value, which was understood to be embedded within precious metal. Contact with coins and their texts was stratified according to gender, class, and ethnicity. The economic development of Jerusalem led to the introduction of new textual artifacts and technologies that played an increasing role in daily interactions. Paper money remained rare, but title deeds, checks, account books, and telegrams became crucial instruments in an economy which was growing rapidly. At the same time, economists (Keynes) and sociologists (Simmel) developed new thinking on money, seeking to delink the notion of money from precious metals.
This chapter examines the emergence of paper money and its relation to repressive state power in Ottoman and British colonial forms. The delinking of money from precious metals, and the transition to unsecured paper currencies, hinged on developments in monetary theory that questioned the axiomatic connection between value and material substance. This transformation, in turn, gave the state unparalleled power to make text into money—by printing banknotes—and to shape the political economy in this manner. Ottoman paper money arrived in Jerusalem with World War I, alongside repressive policies of consolidation of power and control of urban space and signage. After British occupation, money and stamps became instruments of propaganda to communicate the commitment to the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. The introduction of the Palestine-pound currency in 1927 was received enthusiastically by Zionists and with suspicion and hostility from Arabs in Jerusalem.
This chapter looks at the 1920s street-naming campaign as a colonial vehicle to rewrite the history and geography of the city. The campaign, led by Governor Ronald Storrs, was aimed at mapping the sectarian layout of the city and reflected British understanding of Jerusalem as a deeply segregated city, in contrast to actual mixed residential patterns. Street naming and house numbering provided a legible system of addresses that could allow authorities to locate individuals. But street naming was also a way to mythologize urban space and write new narratives into the city, breaking with the Ottoman emphasis on technological progress and urban development. The new names of the streets were deliberately chosen to invoke the city's ancient history, with a focus on biblical, Jewish, Christian, and Crusader names. The chosen ceramic nameplates resonated with the Dome of the Rock and thus instilled sacredness in the modern parts of Jerusalem.
This chapter examines the ancient Jewish custom of inscribing names as part of pilgrimage to the Western Wall and how this practice of devotional graffiti was banned in the 1930s. The ancient custom of writing names in Hebrew was practiced at Jewish holy tombs as well as at the Western Wall. However, in the nineteenth century, graffiti assumed a new meaning of staking a claim of ownership and superiority, exemplified in Western tourists' graffiti in the region's ancient sites. The emergence of Zionism, and the conflict over the holy sites, led to the ban on these inscriptions after the Western Wall stood at the center of the watershed 1929 riots. While Arab Muslims, British officials, Zionist and non-Zionist Jewish parties could not agree on the meaning of the Western Wall, they all agreed that material engagement with the stones, through inscriptions, was no longer tolerable.
This chapter looks at another example of pilgrims' texts that were effectively banned under the British Mandate: the Islamic embroidered banners of the Nabi Musa pilgrimage. This medieval annual pilgrimage revolved around holy banners, which were unique artifacts, with a clear hierarchy and order, that were kept in designated sanctuaries by noble families. In 1920 the festival was the site of the first violent demonstrations against British rule and Zionism. After these riots the authorities imposed increasing limitations on the banners, which were seen as dangerous artifacts that could turn crowds into violent mobs. At the same time, the banners were losing their power within Arab Palestinian society as new discourses called for new symbols, such as the Arab flag: abstract, easily reproduced, and free of texts. The change demonstrated the transformation of text from a materially integrated and embedded element to an element which could be abstracted and removed.
The writing and reading of subjectivity through urban texts is the topic of this last chapter. It investigates how modern forms of textuality were used by urban subjects to understand themselves in a changing society and environment. The visiting card was an instrument through which the emerging middle class could write and rewrite its identity, as shown through the visiting card of Khalil al-Sakakini, a leading Jerusalemite humanist intellectual. In the childhood memoirs of Arab novelist Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, urban signage appears as anchors of modern horizons, as opposed to the ossified world of church texts. At the same time, state-issued identification papers defined individuals according to religion and nationality. The chapter ends with Mahmoud Darwish's poem "Identity Card," in which the poet writes himself through the oppressive gaze of the state and uses the instrument of textual control to gesture toward liberation.
The conclusion reflects on the modern dematerialization of urban text and the manner in which it facilitated the reorganization of urban space and society in Jerusalem. It discusses the use of text by the city authorities—Ottoman and British—to control and regulate, as well as to invest new meanings into space. It also considers the fragmentation and disorder of the new textual economy. Striking similarities appeared in the modernization of Arabic and Hebrew—alongside significant differences, mainly in the Zionist use of Hebrew to claim space and territorialize identity. Finally, the conclusion considers the ongoing marginalization of twentieth-century textual artifacts—the street name, the visiting card, the banknote—as they are displaced by digital textuality, inviting us to think of textuality in a historical and culturally specific manner.