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For Forensic Architecture, focusing on Sheikh Jarrah was an act of solidarity

Jerusalem24 – Working with activists and lawyers in Jerusalem, Forensic Architecture has constructed an interactive urban narrative explaining the policies and practices through which Palestinian families in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah are being forcibly displaced from their properties, and their protracted struggle with the Israeli courts and various settler groups.

Nour Abuzaid, a researcher with Forensic Architecture, said that they started working on the cases of families of Karm Al-Jawni in Sheikh Jarrah in May 2021, when the families started to take their struggle into the public domain and started documenting daily violations against them.

Abuzaid tells Vibes, “We thought the case of Sheikh Jarrah is very important since it’s a microcosm for what’s happening in Jerusalem in genera:, the different mechanisms of this place do operate on a larger scale in Jerusalem – whether we’re speaking about legal property claims by the settler groups, the use of urban development as a tactic to displace Palestinians, houses demolitions, the legal framework, and absentee law.”

Focusing on Sheikh Jarrah was an act of solidarity by Forensic Architecture, says Abuzaid. They originally intended to document other locations in Jerusalem where families are being displaced, since demolition and acts of displacing Jerusalemite families are daily practices and are usually not documented.

“This was our aim at the beginning. We’re still working on this, to document the location of these houses in Jerusalem in general. But for this phase of the research, we wanted to highlight the relation of what we are seeing in Sheikh Jarrah since we already know the location of these houses, and since the families decided to share the locations of their houses.”

Forensic Architecture started from Sheikh Jarrah and had lots of technical difficulties in locating the houses and finding high-resolution satellite images of Jerusalem, “because mapping generally has a colonial history: Google, for example, pixelates the maps, so you can’t see the map clearly.”

She adds that their researchers mostly don’t have access to Jerusalem, so doing this remotely and relying on what’s in the public domain made things a little bit harder. The occupation municipality website has all the houses already documented – but for Palestinians, this access is usually restricted.

“So, we started from what’s there and what we know,” Abuzaid explains. “We tried building 3D models of the houses of the neighborhood and situating all the images and videos seen on social media within this space to create a coherent narrative of how the events unfolded in the parts of the neighborhood that are at risk. We tracked all this in space and time.”

The case of Sheikh Jarrah did not have the investigative dimension Forensic Architecture usually tackles, but in this case the main goal was documentation. Abuzaid says, “The architecture, and space, in general, is a very good vehicle to explain the struggle. Also, it happens across different scales, to link the scale of one house and one street to what’s happening in the neighborhood, in the city to what’s happening in Palestine on a larger scale.”

Abuzaid says that when a spatial struggle is on hand, this is when architecture becomes useful in explaining the situation: “We use the same methodologies that can be seen in other investigations, like photo-matching.”

Forensic Architecture is currently working on other projects similar to the Sheikh Jarrah interactive urban narrative.

Listen to the full interview on Vibes.

Nadeen Alshaer

Alshaer is a Palestinian journalist, a Birzeit University graduate with a B.A. in TV and Radio Broadcasting Journalism. Alshaer has 6 years of experience in journalism. She currently works as a reporter, editor and presenter/producer for PBC-Palestine TV and Jerusalem24 radio. She’s a UN and Kelley School of Business alumna.

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