Divided Cities

Divided Cities; Belfast (Northern Ireland), Beirut (Lebanon), Jerusalem (Israel), Mostar (Bosnia Herzegovina), and Nicosia (Cyprus) by Jon Calame & Ester Charlesworth. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009, paper.


Divided Cities was required reading for a course in international relations taught by Professor Ida Hozic at the University of Florida in the spring semester of 2017. Three of these divided cities that we discussed are in Europe. But there are divided cities in the Middle East, the Balkans, Cyprus, and Palestine as well

The authors of Divided Cities and Professor Hozic agree that the walls – in some cases former thoroughfares – are intended to separate ethnic groups. Short-run solutions to conflict management, they have, however, created even greater tensions between the separated groups. This was definitely true of divided Berlin after World War II. As with Berlin, many divided cities are the product of proxy wars between outsiders. The Israelis and their patron, the US, have determined Jerusalem’s partition, largely ignoring Palestinian interests. International peace-keeping organizations, including the United Nations, have also imposed walls on cities.

Divided cities are sometimes the consequence of the disappearance of the British and other European Empires after WWII. Belfast and Mostar are examples. They were part of a partitioning of former colonies in order to accommodate ethnic and religious differences.

In the Jerusalem case, Britain was unable to keep the peace between the Arabs and the European Jews who fled to Palestine after Britain acquired a mandate in 1920. British efforts to contain the ethnic and religious conflict between Arab and Jew was unpopular with both. The British withdrawal in 1948, however, created a seemingly irreconcilable division in Greater Jerusalem. Intended to resolve the growing clashes, division has solved nothing. And the Israelis, with American collusion, began to create settlements within the Jerusalem area often on land confiscated or purchased from the Palestinians.

Creating divided cities is not new to history. In medieval Europe and elsewhere, walls were used to divide a city from a more insecure countryside or to define a population subject to special urban taxes. These divisions also served as ethnic enclaves or became so over time.

In many ways the divided city of Nicosia on Cyprus best illustrates the long history of walls that separate. A “green line” and buffer zone, established in 1963, ran through the old walled town and divided Greek from Turkish enclaves. This green line followed the major thoroughfare through the city that had connected popular squares in the old Venetian city. At times, however, it divided ethnically mixed neighborhoods resulting in their being less diverse.

Nicosia’s walls and green line encapsulated the long history of Europe’s divided cities. However, its fate in the twentieth century was to continue that division, a situation the authors claim was an instance of the British policy of “divide and leave.”

The division of Belfast was a British Imperial solution to ethnic differences, “the Troubles.” But here there was also a declining industrial base that had been a healthy part of the city’s stability. Both Northern Ireland (six Ulster Counties and heavily Protestant) and the Republic of Ireland (Roman Catholic) were granted self-government by the British in the 1920s. World War II caused deep divisions among the Irish.  Northern Ireland joined with the British in the war against Germany. The Irish Republic remained neutral, and watched France and the Low Countries being overrun by the German Wehrmacht. The Luftwaffe bombed Belfast along with other British cities but not Dublin and other Irish Republic cities.

Divisions within cites have become more complicated recently because of refugees flowing into cities to escape the violence in the eastern Mediterranean. Beirut is an example. Generally refugees create densities that lead to the deterioration of housing and infrastructure. And refugees often seek out their ethnic cohort intensifying divisions.

Even North America cities are frequently “divided” by economic disparities and racial conflict. No walls! But oh, the proposed wall on the Mexican border.

These are contentious issues and the authors have retained a neutrality, while explaining the enormous costs involved in these walls that divide. The book supports the unhappy conclusion that this “apartheid” ultimately impedes intercommunal cooperation.


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