Palestinian Space and Place:

Posted: February 10, 2014 in Academic Research

Cover space and place

This topic seeks to explore the Palestinian society through the concept of Space and Place, by considering how the holy Places in Jerusalem have contributed in the process of changing the understanding of this concept through the shared sacred Spaces. In the same time, we will discuss how the destruction of Palestinian homes, and schools “which have bombed by the Israeli military” have affected the meaning of Place and Space for Palestinian women, and children.

Also, it is important to analysis the concept of Place and Space from the point of view of Palestinians who living in camps as refugees, to see how their culture and their understanding to Palestine as a homeland has been affected by the “temporary host Place”.

Before we start, we should clarify the meaning of “Space and Place” without getting into its depth, that it can be understood from two points of view: philosophy, and geographic meaning. (J. Agnew and D. Livingstone, 2011)

In addition, in the Arabic literature “which Palestine a part of it” there is confusing in the use of this term, because “a Space and a Place” sometimes used interchangeable, and giving the same meaning. (Arabic Dictionary) So, according to Hassan Nijmi “entangles the question of history and geography, the question of thought and the question of lived reality”, that means the Space can be considered as dimensions of history, geography, and politics that shaped the characters of a particular Place, which also lead the Place to be a part of the Space. (Hassan Nijmi, 2000, P: 32)

“A sacred place is not merely discovered, or founded, or constructed; it is claimed, owned, and operated by people advancing specific interest”. (Chidester and Linenthal, 1995)

It was argued that holy places retains its sanctity even if its country has occupied by other country, and even if its official religion was changed, this rule is more applicable  on Jerusalem, that we can find this city is sacred to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. It has many holy places for all the three religions, some of it are shared between them, such as: the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, and the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, which is shared between Christians and Muslims as a sacred place, and others are belong to a particular religion, such as: Bayt al-Muqaddas, and the Mosque of Hassan Bek, which is belong to Muslims. (Jonathan Z. Smith, 1987)

To understand how these sacred places have affected on Palestinian Space, we should go back to June 1, 2001 to analyse the cause of “the Al-Aqsa Intifada1” events, when Ariel Sharon (Israeli prime minister) have tried to enter the Haram al-Sharif by the support of Israeli military, and because this place is the most holy Islamic site in Jerusalem for Palestinians, so Ariel Sharon have tried to profane this place,  the events that were sparked by his action have caused the most violent attack on Palestinian civilians by Israeli military, according to Ivakhiv conflicts, and warfare are inherent to sacred places just because they are inescapably spatial (Ivakhiv, 2006), Israel always seen to these sacred Islamic places as a Palestinian symbols, and a target to attack.

This example can show to us how the sacred Places can be used as a production of ethno-national, and how the symbolic space can effect on the Palestinian culture and political situations, another example was happened in the Hassan Bek mosque, when a Palestinian suicidal has detonated himself at the “Dolphin Disco” in Tel Aviv, which killed twenty one Israeli, in the next morning, crowed of hundreds people surrounded the Hassan Bek mosque and attacked it. it was clearly how they intended to breach the boundaries of the sacred of this place.

This can prove that the Palestinian space with all the sacred Places have contributed in the identity formation and it became as a symbol of a Palestinian struggle against the majority of Jewish community even inside the allocated area of Israel.

The geographer Yi-Fu Tuan have argued in his book “Space and Place” that the Space can be considered as freedom, and the Place is security, it is interesting to find out that the first example in his book about this concept was the home, which can show to us the importance of home to build the character of individual, and the culture of society, his Definition of the home is: “There is no place like home”, and has merged its meaning with the motherland and neighbourhood. (Yi-Fu Tuan, 2001)

In addition, he went in depth to describe the relation between children and school, which is not just a Place with large windows and solid floors and doors but it can be Space for children to seek experience. (Yi-Fu Tuan, 2001)

From the previous section, we can see how much is important to analysis the Palestine space with respect to children and women, that can help us to know more about the effects of the Israeli military on the Space and Place, which simply can be called “The militarization of the Palestinian space”, which can be seen clearly from the hundreds of military checkpoints, it is also has been argued by Nadera Shalhoub that Israeli military use this as a tactic to: “a powerful method of imposing Israeli spatial dominance and creating constant chaos that feeds into the spiral manner in which militarized violence functions in the everyday life of Palestinians.” (Nadera Shalhoub, 2010)

In 2008, Nadera Shalhoub have interviewed many of girls, and women Palestinian in the process of doing her research “The Gendered Nature of Education Under Seige: A Palestinian feminist Perspective”, one of her interviewees was a 15 years old girl, her name Nora, she have expressed about her trauma of losing the sense of safety when Israeli military have demolished her home and school:

 “When they demolished my school, I felt that I lost my own home. Maybe the world can’t understand, but for Palestinian girls like me, the school is all we have. Girls in the world can go places, visit each other, find the books they want to read, organize field trips with their school and teachers, but Palestinian children have nothing. We the Palestinian girls feel that our schools are the only place we can meet friends, share books, meet, talk, play, sing, write, love… and now they demolished my school.” (Nadera Shalhoub, 2008)

The attacks of Israel on space and place of Palestinian children and women have caused them to turn into IDPs (internally displaced persons), and destroyed more than 5,200 Palestinian homes and schools since 1999.

It is clearly that the home and school are the Space and Place for community-building, and personal growth for all people around the world, but it is also the space of political resistance for Palestinian people, and particularly the space of Palestinian women to be safe from racism and sexism, so losing this space is tantamount to losing the space that affirmed their power of love and care.

As we know, the Palestinian refugee problem came as a result of establishing the state of Israel in 1948, and occupied the Palestinian lands in Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1967, which have caused to change the meaning of Space for Palestinian refugees to be space of exception under the power of Israeli military, as well as the diminished the rights of Palestinians. (Giorgio Agamben)

In addition, It is a complicated to analyse the concept of Space and Place regarding to Palestinian refugees, they have been spreaded across the world in many camps, most of these camps can be found in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, as well as inside Palestine itself, each camps of these has its own circumstances, which can cause a unique definition of Space for Palestinians.

According to Diken and Laustsen, these camps can be seen as transient spaces to provide just a temporary shelter for these people till they get their right of return, or providing a new homeland for them. (Diken and Laustsen, 2005)

In our analysing of the concept space and place for Palestine, we have to clarify that it was based on the imagined Palestinian space, which supported by the collective memory of this Country, as well as the geographical and historical space of Palestine, so we still need to analyse the concept with respect to Palestine in the present, including the Palestinian Authority on the space, which cannot be done before the trip of our team to Palestine, because Space can be changed according to ideologies of the power there in a certain period of time.

Written By:  Fatma Ali Bensalem


  • J. Agnew and D. Livingstone (eds.) Handbook of Geographical Knowledge. London:Sage, 2011 (forthcoming)
  • Hassan Nijmi. !e Poetics of Narrative Space. Al Dar Al Baida’ , Beirut: the Arab Cultural Center. 2000.
  • Chidester D, Linenthal E, T, 1995 “Introduction” in American Sacred Space Eds D.
  • Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (Chicago and London, 1987)
  • Ivakhiv A, 2006 “Towards a geography of “religion”: Mapping the distribution of an unstable signifier” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 96(1) 169-175
  • Yi-fu Tuan, Space and Place, University of Minnesota Press; Reprint edition (22 Jan 2001)
  • Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Palestinian Women and the Politics of Invisibility:Towards a Feminist Methodology, Peace Prints: South Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, Vol. 3, No. 1: Spring 2010
  • Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, “The Gendered Nature of Education Under Seige: A Palestinian feminist Perspective,” International Journal of Lifelong Education (2008)
  • Gregory, D., 2006 The black flag: Guantanamo Bay and the space of exception. Geogr. Ann., 88 B (4)
  • Diken, B., and B. Laustsen. 2005. The Culture of Exception Sociology Facing the camp. London : Routledge.
  • Palestinian Refugees. Identity, Space and Place in the Levant, Are Knudsen & Sari Hanafi (Ed.) (2010)
  • Ayat Hamdan, Foreign Aid and the Molding of the Palestinain Space, Bisan Center for Research and Development Ramallah – Palestine, October 2011
  • Nimrod Luz, Palestinian Identity, collective memory, and resistance in the Hassan Bek mosque conflict, 2008.
  • Ora Limor, Sharing Sacred Space: Holy Places in Jerusalem Between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, P:219

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