Intimidation, reassurance, and invisibility

Israeli security agents in the Old City of Jerusalem

in Focaal

Jerusalem is a city of extremes, where tourists and pilgrims come to see the sights and pray, but where violence is also a daily affair. In the square kilometer called the Old City, which is part of East Jerusalem and thus considered by the international community as occupied territory, the tensions accumulate as (Jewish) Israeli settlers move into houses in the middle of the Muslim and Christian quarters. In order to secure them, numerous cameras have been installed by the police that show all that happens in the narrow streets of the quarter and private security personnel are stationed on many roofs to watch the area. Furthermore, undercover police officers patrol the streets and at times check IDs of Palestinians. In this article, we focus on policing strategies that Israeli private and public security agents use to control this small and controversial urban space. We argue that the constant presence and movement of police, security personnel, and their surveillance technologies in and through the heart of the Muslim quarter should be analyzed within a colonial context and as a deliberate strategy to control and discipline the local population and to legitimize the larger settler project of the Israeli state. This strategy consists of different performances and thus relationships with policed audiences. First, their (undercover) presence is visible for Palestinians with the effect or intention of intimidating them directly. At the same time they also serve to reassure the Israeli settlers living in the Old City and when in uniform foreign tourists. Both Palestinians and settlers will recognize agents and other security arrangements through experience and internalization of the Israeli security mentality, while tourists see them only when in uniform. However, simultaneously, when undercover, their presence remains largely unseen for this third “audience”; the tourists who are not to be alarmed. By showing their presence to some while remaining invisible to others, security actors and technology “perform” for different audiences, manifesting their power within urban space and legitimizing the Israeli occupation.