Two Venerated Mothers Separated by a Fence:
Iconic Spaces and Borders in Israel/Palestine
Abstract of a lecture presented at a worksho: Recentering Borderlands:
Comparative Cases from Mexico / US and Palestine / Israel
University of Toronto, September 20, 2013
While most pilgrimage scholars focus on either communitas or the contested nature of sacred places, this lecture will concentrate on the use of shrines as political tools for challenging border superimposition and imagining a different social order. My focus is on how sacred shrines are being used as political tools by various actors—hegemonic and marginal, Jewish and Christian—in a dispute over the contours of a de facto border. I explore this phenomenon through the lens of a small parcel of land spanning both sides of the newly-constructed Separation Wall dividing Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Within this expanse, which is claimed by both entities, are a pair of matriarchal sites: the venerable Tomb of Rachel on the road to Bethlehem; and the newfangled Our Lady of the Wall, which centers around a Christian icon that was painted in 2010 on the Palestinian side of the barrier. Based on our ethnographic work on both places I show how devotees are embedding symbols of femininity and female sainthood into the public sphere and how they negotiate borders and national identities through these places.