1939 Palestinian uprising, the British authorities decided to construct al-Muqata’a–an independent compound housing all of the administrative offices of the British authorities, as well as a prison, standing approximately 800 meters from al-Manara.4 Consequently, all roads leading to and from the compound were widened to facilitate easy movement for military vehicles, in case of future uprisings in the Ramallah district.
One of the most important technological developments after the installation of the electricity grid was the launch of Palestine’s first radio station in 1936, 200 meters away from al-Muqata’a and one kilometre from al-Manara. In addition, the region’s economy began to grow with the emigration in the late 1930s of a large percentage of Ramallah and al-Birah residents to North and South America. These labour migrants sent their savings home to their families, providing support and opportunities for investment. As a result, new homes were built and roads forged to connect them with the city centre and commercial outlets. The 1948 War and displacement of Palestinians in al-Nakba brought an end to the wave of construction and the area’s development.5
The Palestinian Nakba
The Zionist occupation of Palestine and the establishment in 1948 of the state of Israel resulted in the forced expulsion of two-thirds of the Palestinian population from their hometowns and villages. Most of these communities were destroyed, while the rest were confiscated by Amidar Israel National Housing Corporation, an organization established by the state of Israel to confiscate Palestinian property during the state of emergency, property which was later allocated to Jewish immigrants.6
One of the destinations that fleeing Palestinian refugees (especially those from the Jerusalem district, Jaffa, Lod and Ramlah) found themselves was the Ramallah-al-Birah area. There they were housed in public buildings and schools until the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) constructed special camps nearby. The influx not only added to Ramallah’s population, but also sparked political, social and economic activities. In July 1948, the first major political demonstration in the city set out from al-Manara Square, demonstrators expressing their disappointment over the defeat of Iraqi and Egyptian armies and the resulting Zionist occupation of the largest part of Palestine. In addition, the construction of administrative offices, courts, schools, clinics, cafes, shops, cinemas and so on centred around al-Manara Square, the site of many services.7
Al-Manara Becomes a Monument
In 1951, during the period of Jordanian control over the West Bank, work was completed on a monument to replace the old al-Manara pole, which had become unnecessary with the centralization of street lighting in the 1940s. The Ramallah municipality, which made all decisions regarding al-Manara, commissioned a monument from a Ramallah artist in 1946. The artist carved the heads of five lions and placed them on a stone pillar, around which were set fountains and flower beds, all encircled by a metal railing. The five lions represented the five Ramallah families who viewed themselves as the city’s ‘original’ inhabitants: the families of Ibrahim, Jerias, Shqair, Hassan, and Haddad.8 All five of these families were descended from the Rashid al-Haddadin family, which fled to Ramallah in the sixteenth century from the Shobak area in east Jordan after local leader Sheikh Dhiyab bin Qaysoum sought to forcefully marry his Muslim son to Rashid’s Christian daughter.9
The monument stood only temporarily, however. After their occupation of the remaining Palestinian territories in 1967, Israeli authorities eventually dismissed Ramallah’s Municipal Council and appointed in its place an Israeli military governor, typically a high-ranking army officer whose main duty was to ‘administer’ the affairs of the Ramallah district. During the 1982-6 administration of Moshe Biton, a decree was issued in 1982 to demolish al-Manara Square, ostensibly to replace it with traffic lights that would control the area’s traffic flow. These traffic lights were never installed, however, due to ‘security concerns’. Instead, small islands were placed at the head of each of the six roads that branched out from al-Manara and connected the towns of Jerusalem, Nablus, Birzeit, al-Birah and Ramallah. As for the Manara monument, it was taken apart and stored in the municipal treasury, not to see the light of day again until 1997 when the Palestinian Authority arrived in the city.10
Despite its physical destruction, the area of al-Manara retained its name and importance among local residents. Demonstrations against the Israeli occupation continued to commence from al-Manara, and many confrontations with the Israeli army occurred there. One of the largest such demonstrations followed civil disobedience by area merchants at the beginning of the first Intifada (1987-1993), and was accompanied by daily confrontations with the Israeli military. Later on, the area would be the site of regular clashes between soldiers who maintained a heavy presence at al-Manara (the Israeli army had moved into the nearby existing government buildings), and between university students and schoolchildren who had to pass through the area to reach their homes, whether they lived in the city, nearby refugee camps, or the neighbouring villages. Despite the removal of the actual structure, its importance in the consciousness of area residents continued on, much like a phantom limb.
Reconstructing al-Manara Monument
In early 1997, the Israeli army withdrew from the occupied cities of Ramallah and al-Birah, as stipulated in the 1993 Oslo accords. Accordingly, the administration of these two cities was turned over to the Palestinian Authority, which reinstituted their abolished municipal councils. Director of the Ramallah Municipality Architecture Department Adala al-Atiri explains that, following these political transformations, the parts of the former al-Manara monument were removed from the municipality storehouses. The monument was relocated to a square inside Ramallah that connected five internal roads, a site approximately 200 meters away from al-Manara. The new site replicated the previous al-Manara monument–it was a pillar surrounded by five lion heads, fountains and flower beds–but in place of the light switchboard above the pole stood an electric clock. Hence, a space called Midan al-Mughtaribeen (?migrés Square) during the period of Jordanian control of the West Bank was transformed into the Clock Square.
Meanwhile, Ramallah Municipality did not make great haste in rebuilding the original site of al-Manara. At first, the islands placed by the Israeli occupation authorities were removed, and a traffic circle built instead. The goal of this, explains al-Atiri, was to facilitate the newly-unmanageable flow of traffic resulting from the Palestinian Authority’s locating of most of its West Bank offices and ministries within the Ramallah district. Likewise, commerce and construction were renewed, and residents of Palestinian villages, cities and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and inside the Green Line, came to Ramallah in order to conduct business ranging from applying for official documents, making commercial deals, seeking employment in the new Palestinian Authority offices or an increasing number of non-governmental organizations, enrolling in nearby universities such as Birzeit, Abu Dis or al-Quds Open University, or passing time in the town’s cafes and cultural centres. In addition, many of the several thousand Diaspora Palestinians who were allowed to return to the West Bank following the Oslo Accords settled in Ramallah as Palestinian Authority employees.
All of these transformations led to a new urban status, one manifested in heavy traffic flows clogging al-Manara and its arteries. For this reason, al-Atari explains, the municipality repeatedly demolished and reconstructed the space of al-Manara over three years, until it eventually decided on a look inspired by the old al-Manara design. In 1999, it was decided to entrust the design to an English architect who had previously designed monuments in the Arab capitals of Amman and Beirut.
The new design of al-Manara consisted of a stone pillar placed at the centre of the monument, topped by a lamp directed at the sky whose light was said to reach as far as ten kilometres. At the pillar’s base were eight fountains meant to represent the eight Ramallah families, again those considering themselves the original inhabitants of the city. The number of families was increased this time to incorporate three more families that had arrived in the nineteenth century: the families of al-‘Ajlouni, Hishmah, and al-‘Araj.11 Placed around the pillar and fountains, upon high stone bases, were four lions in various poses: sitting, sleeping, standing, and with cubs. The element of the lions’ was intended to represent pride and power. Finally, a metal support stretches from the pillar to the stone base on which the lions sit. This last element was to represent connectedness between past and present. The construction of the new monument was completed in July 2000.
Power and Its Representation at al-Manara Square
The decision to construct a lighthouse in 1935 in this particular space was not arbitrary; rather, it was driven by numerous motivations. First, by selecting an area falling on the border between the villages of Ramallah and al-Birah, rather than constructing one for each, or even one for both, in one of their already exiting centres, attention was diverted from the towns’ local power groups towards a third party. This third party thus declared itself the ruling power in both towns, and the party responsible for decisions about public space, as well as new services and technology. In fact al-Manara’s very function–lighting the streets and the public spaces in Ramallah and al-Birah–provided something of a festive aura, informing residents of the extent of power enjoyed by the British colonial authorities.12
The selection of this specific space as a central point by the British colonial authorities followed the concentration of administrative offices, educational institutes, service facilities, and commercial outlets in that area. It also, however, marginalized the previous centres of Ramallah and al-Birah. To put it differently, the crowning of al-Manara as the ‘centre of centres’ by the British authorities was motivated by a desire to create a focal point serving the British presence, priorities and interests. Foucault relates such desire to a panoptical logic that views spaces and architectural designs as active agents in the system of modern power–a biopower that can help in the disciplining of individuals in industrial and post-industrial societies. According to Foucault, in these societies, it became necessary to create new channels of control that were less obvious than their predecessors, and more compatible with modern life.13 One such design was the panopticon design, an architectural system proposed by the English architect Bentham in 1787 for forging control and discipline over individuals in spaces, such as prisons, factories and asylums. The panopticon design consists of a ring-shaped building composed of cells which are viewed from small openings in a centrepiece tower. Each cell, in turn, has two large windows, one facing the tower and the other facing the outside. These windows permit light to enter the room freely and effusively, thus allowing the guard standing in the tower to see every inmate with clarity while remaining invisible himself.14 In essence, the panopticon permits maximum control of the inmates inside the cells by making the act of surveillance invisible to them. Unable to see whether the guard is watching them at that specific moment, the inmates start to watch themselves at every moment.15 Likewise, a number of panoptical elements can be detected in the design of al-Manara. First, its geographic location at the centre of the most important institutions and administrative offices of all authorities in Ramallah area resembles the panopticon’s central tower. From al-Manara, an observer can view the movement of those passing around it, provide information about them, and even categorize them according to origin and destination. Hence, this explains the continuous heavy presence of security forces and policemen around al-Manara at any one time in Ramallah’s history: first Ottoman, then British, Jordanian, Israeli and finally Palestinian authorities. While some may view the placing of police forces in public space as motivated by the desire to protect society’s interests and security, Foucault holds that such action is in truth intended to secure the interests and protect the property of the powerful. A police presence in public spaces contributes to individual self-awareness. How to act? What to do, say and look at? Where to go, and how much time to spend in any area? Thus, the presence of police in the centre of public space exerts what Foucault calls the “panoptical gaze”, or the “normalizing gaze”. 16 In a similar manner, police forces standing around al-Manara are visible from all six connected streets. As a result, it is possible to keep their number at a minimum without decreasing their efficiency or control. This, in fact, was what the Israeli authorities discovered. For a lengthy period during its occupation of Ramallah, the Israeli army sufficed by driving one military vehicle a few times a day around al-Manara, thus controlling the entire city. Officials thereby realized one of the most important economic principles of the capitalist system: maximal results at minimal costs (a principle also realized through the panopticon design).17
Further Analysis of al-Manara’s Transformation
As previously mentioned, in the mid-1940s Ramallah’s electrical system was centralized, thereby rendering useless the streetlight switchboard at al-Manara. Still, the space itself remained important, which explains the speed with which a symbolic structure was erected in its place: a monument to immortalize the families that considered themselves Ramallah’s original inhabitants. The motives for this new structure were several. Most importantly, Ramallah gained a new administrative status after the British commenced their withdrawal from Palestine. These circumstances invested the Ramallah municipal council, established in 1908, with more power, a change reflected in al-Manara’s transformation. The construction of the new monument signalled the local council’s announcement that it was the city’s new power. According to Coles, the carrying out of such actions in public spaces is at times motivated by crises over the legitimacy of power.18 Here the ruling group resorts to symbolic representations to legitimize its presence and power, so that those who are excluded do not object to the legitimacy of their control. Hence, the Ramallah Municipal Council hastened to declare in concrete form that familial affiliation was the legitimate basis and raison d’etre of the new power group in the city. But why familial affiliation?
Renee Girard offers a number of accounts that may explain the Ramallah municipality’s behavior. He argues that when the institutions of the power group in any society undergo severe crises, other groups automatically form in an attempt to take over or replace those institutions. However, during this process of formation, these groups oppress other groups–minorities in particular–which they fear are eager to assume power, as well. The oppression in this case is nurtured through certain elements; here the most relevant is ‘distinction’. The Ramallah Municipal Council, by constructing a monument that immortalizes a specific group of families in the city, suggested a model of privilege that does not distribute privilege equally and in fact restricts it to those characterized by a distinct feature.19
The Ramallah municipality merely chose a certain historical narrative to justify the right of certain families, and not others, to hold power. It would be just as plausible to refer to a period of ‘origin’ prior to the eighteenth century–for example, the sixteenth century when four other families lived in Ramallah.20 It is also possible to refer to the BC era when the area was populated with Canaanites,21 or to jump ahead to the year 1949 when many refuges found shelter in Ramallah. And if the Israeli authorities were still occupying the city, they would date their ‘narrative’ of origin to more than 2,000 years ago, as is the case with many Israeli settlements built since 1948 on the lands of former Palestinian villages and cities. Hence, the design of al-Manara’s monument transforms one historical moment into the historical moment, thereby disseminating acceptance of the new-old power structure in the city, and transforming a public space into a space serving a specific group. At the same time, those who are not represented in the monument of al-Manara learn the reason for their exclusion as they pass it by going about their daily business, and consequently interiorize their newly-suggested identity as ‘non-original’ or ‘alien’ inhabitants.22 All this is accomplished without the power group having to present itself in public.23 Indeed, five stone lion heads or eight granite fountains are more effective than the physical presence of the ‘original’ families. Whereas bodies change and are threatened with death and decay, stone is eternal.24
Due to this presumed eternity of monuments versus the mortality of humans, Henry Lefebvre argues that monuments are often destroyed following fundamental changes in a society’s power structure. In such cases, the destruction of the monument symbolizes the desire to destroy the previous power structure. It also symbolizes the desire to transform spaces in the service of new power interests.25 This, in turn, explains the Israeli authorities’ treatment of al-Manara following their occupation of the city. Israeli authorities, by destroying al-Manara after dissolving the municipal council, opened the space to their oversight and the movement of their military vehicles. The space was no longer an impediment in their pursuit of demonstrators who gathered in that area.26
Reconstruction of al-Manara
After Israeli authorities destroyed al-Manara monument, the area remained empty until the advent of the Palestinian Authority. Then some attempts were made to reconstruct the ‘empty’ space left behind by the Israeli occupation. At first, green foliage was planted on the site, then flowers, and then a tree that was later uprooted in favour of bare soil. Then the area was paved, and subsequently encased in cement. Traffic lights were placed in the area, and removed some months later when a traffic circle was constructed. While this confusion became the butt of local jokes, it concealed another matter. Following the transfer of the administration of the Ramallah governorate from the Israel authorities to the Palestinian Authority, and the re-formation of the Ramallah municipal council, two competing power groups appeared in the city. The first was represented by the governor, who was appointed by and reported to the Palestinian Authority, and the second was comprised of the Ramallah Municipal Council. Thus, the development of al-Manara was no longer a simple matter orchestrated by one group. Rather, the various dimensions of the struggle over the city, between two different power groups in a transitional period, were reflected spatially through the repeated construction and demolition activities, as each group tried to promote its own vision and service its needs.27 These competitions were hidden, as is typical, behind the slogan of ‘order and public interest’. Al-Atiri argued that the sole concern of the municipality was to find the ideal solution for facilitating the area’s heavy traffic.28 But some design decisions made (particularly those concerning foliage) had no effect on the flow of traffic. The traffic crises in al-Manara result from the latter’s position at the juncture of several major streets. Rather, this was a typical struggle over public space and its use by various powerful groups. This struggle was only settled when a satisfactory design was forged that merged the interests of the city’s old and new power groups. The old design formed the basis for a new one, after a few alterations that gave the impression of change but in fact only reflected changes in the power structure.29 Other groups living in the area (refugees, migrants from villages and other cities, etc.) had no role in the new coalition, just as they had not participated in the previous one.
At the same time, the decision to go back and rebuild something that had actually been demolished tells of a nostalgic return to the society’s previous glory and its presumably authentic reality.30 Foucault considers this kind of return mythical, due not only to its impossibility but also the fact that one cannot answer the questions of the present with the events of past.31 It is a return that aggrandizes the past, while overlooking society’s current circumstances, leading to incongruity and alienation among members of the current society and its contemporary state.32 The reason that this nostalgic return is meaningful in this area, however, is in what it says about the city’s power relations. If the same monument had been erected in another area, it would have carried less significance, as it was the case with ?migrés Square (also known as Clock Square). Even its dual name contributes to this space’s perceived unimportance and marginalization.33 In contrast, al-Manara represents (also by not representing) a hierarchical pyramid of Ramallah’s social groups, as determined by each group’s proximity to the group of families represented in the monument. When such a hierarchy of power is normalized, represented architecturally, and located at the city’s main thoroughfare, it acts as a password or key for those entering the city.
The series of transformations that al-Manara Square has undergone since the end of the nineteenth century reflect the many changes–be they political, social or economic– in the Ramallah area. Despite the different identities of the area’s main power groups, each found in al-Manara a centre serving its needs and interests. In fact, none of these groups sought to create a new or unique centre. All was done on the surface of the monument–by constructing, deconstructing or reconstructing it–rather than making changes to the space itself. In effect, al-Manara behaved as an inherited panopticon in that it was primarily concerned with ‘disciplining’ city inhabitants and promoting the interests of the powerful.
Al-Manara has additionally played a central role in creating the city’s public spatial consciousness. As soon as passers-by enter its range, al-Manara becomes a magnetic pole that draws them into its range, orienting them in the city, and thus determining their path. Al-Manara therefore acts as an element of orientation/disorientation.34
Furthermore, Dovey, in his study of the spatial design of modern cities, refers to the ability of the circular designs, such as al-Manara, to become the centre of passers-by’s daily lives and control their travel between different locations by acting alternately as a connecting or dividing zone.35 Likewise, such designs orchestrate and define movement around them, where pedestrians become a ‘possession’. In this sense, people are always present ‘around’ al-Manara, but never ‘together’ as a unit. By determining the nature of their meeting, these designs also inform passers-by of their power and position in accordance with the area’s power structure. By designing pedestrian’s movements and rhythms, al-Manara offers the possibility of moving from a private to a shared public rhetoric (one consisting of symbols, celebrations, official language, pedestrian chatter, and even the calls of street merchants). To a certain extent, monumental spaces are capable of transporting these present within their territory to another world–one that makes them think, within a space and with its assistance, of themselves and their identity,36 be they refugees, villagers, immigrants, belonging to other cities, or complete foreigners–all ‘unoriginal’ in contrast to the ‘original’ Ramallah inhabitants honoured with a monument.
Adania Shibli, a lecturer at the University of Nottingham, is also a postgraduate student at the University of East London, School of Social Science and Media. In addition to her academic work, she has been writing fiction.
1 Sheridan, A., Michel Foucault: The Well to Truth (London: Tavistock Publications, 1980).
2 Tehranian, K. K., Modernity, Space, and Power: The American City in Discourse and Practice, (Cresskill: Hampton Press, 1995).
3 Its neighbor, al-Birah village, was not turned into order to exhibit its capabilities. See Henneberg, a city until 1952. K.V., "Tripoli," in Streets: Critical Perspectives
4The Israeli occupation authorities destroyed most on Public Space, eds. Celik, Z., Favro, D., & of this building (while Palestinian President Yasser Ingersoll, R. (California: University of California Arafat was inside) during fall 2002. Press, 1994) 135-150.
5 Abdel Jawwad.
6 For more information, please see www.badil.org/ Pantheon Books, 1977). publications/monographs/return.jerusalem.pdf
7 Abdel Jawwad. 1791).
8 Shahin, ‘A., Kashf al-Niqab ‘an al-Wujud wa
9 Qaddourah, Y. Tarikh Madinat Ramallah (New Foucault considers the panopticon an invention York: Al Hoda Printing, 1954). within the system of modern power, just as the
10 Abdel Jawwad. steam engine is considered an invention within the
11 Shahin. system of industry (Foucault, 1980).
13 Foucault, M., Discipline and Punish (New York:
14 Bentham, J., Panopticon (London: Postscript,
15 This condition is in fact, in accordance with the al-Ansab fi Madinat Ramallah (Birzeit: Birzeit modern principle of freedom: do what you want, University, 1982). but remain responsible for what you do. Thus
16 The guard standing high in the tower can monitor the movements of all inmates, who become visible silhouettes by virtue of the light piercing their rooms, whereas the walls separating them prevent them from contacting one another. Each one of them sees the tower before them very clearly, but is unable to see the guard standing inside it and which direction he is looking. Yet the mere knowledge that someone is monitoring them is sufficient to discipline the prisoners. Thus they begin to take on two roles: the observer and the observed (Foucault, 1980).
17 Foucault, 1980.
18 Coles, R., Self/Power/Other: Political Theory and Dialogical Ethics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992).
19 Girard, R., The Scapegoat (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1986).
20 Shaheen, N., A Pictorial History of Ramallah (Beirut: Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, 1992).
21Al-Dajani, A. H., Al-Madinatan al-Taw’am: Ramallah wa al-Birah wa Qada’huma (Jerusalem, 1993).
22 This kind of behavior is not limited to Ramallah. In Bayat’s analysis of the policies carried out in Tehran’s public spaces following mass migration from Iranian villages in the mid-twentieth century, one notes a similarity in the city power group’s treatment of the migrants and attempts to remove them from central public spaces when they begin to threaten control of Tehran’s space and resource. See Bayat, A., Street Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).
23 Foucault (1980) argues that the effectiveness of architecture, design, and spatial division in power systems relies on bringing these components to the surface. The panopticon is an astonishing machine, for one may place within it what one likes and it will continue to produce homogeny, with power as its source.
24 Foucault (1980), in his analysis of the symbols used in the service of power in public spaces, also refers to the fact that statues were used in the Middle Ages to preserve the kingdom’s unity. Images of the king were reproduced on several stone statues and distributed to all corners of the kingdom to transform the king’s body and power into a supra-temporal and permanent form.
25 Lefebvre, H., “The Production of Space,” in Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory, Leach, N., ed. (London: Routledge, 1997).
26 This was often observed following the fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, whereby statues representing Lenin and others were destroyed. This was also the case with the Saddam Hussein statue following the occupation of Baghdad by American forces in 2003.
27 Dovey, K., Framing Places: Mediating Power in Built Form (London: Routledge, 1999).
28 Notice that the Israeli officer Biton used the same claim in 1982 in order to demolish al- Manara.
30 Celik, Z., “Istanbul,” in Streets: Critical Perspectives on Public Space, Celik, Z., Favro, D., & Ingersoll, R., eds (California: University of California Press, 1994).
31 Foucault, 1997.
33 For more information on this point, see Cioffi, F., "Wittgenstein and the Fire-festival," in Perspectives on the Philosophy of Wittgenstein, ed. Block, I., (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981) or Cioffi, F., Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.