The Open Jerusalem Days was the first public event organised in Palestine and East Jerusalem since the launch of the ERC-funded Open Jerusalem project in 2014. It took place from 12 to 18 June and included 9 round tables and conferences over 6 days in Gaza, Birzeit, Ramallah and various institutions in Jerusalem, bringing together a total of over 400 people.
Organised by the Open Jerusalem and Archival City teams, these events focused on archives, the question of heritage between memory and omission, the operation and uses of the Open Jerusalem website catalogue and the various publications (scientific and for the general public) produced by the Open Jerusalem project. All the recordings of the conferences are available on the project’s facebook page, with the exception of the first meeting at the French Institute in Gaza (13 June), which could not be broadcast for security reasons.
The Open Jerusalem project (2014-2019) aimed to unlock Jerusalem archives to write a connected history of citadinité between 1840-1940. While remote access to digital humanities is a comfort for many historians, it is an absolute necessity for those who cannot move freely. This is why the opening of the event in Gaza (13 June) was intended to be highly symbolic. Only Vincent Lemire (UGE, director of the Open Jerusalem Project) and Valérie Nivelon (RFI) have been allowed to enter the Gaza strip.
The meeting was organised at the French Institute in the presence of its director, François Tiger, and the Counsellor for Cooperation and Cultural Action at the Consulate General of France in Jerusalem, Guillaume Robert. The event had three main themes: a presentation of the Open Jerusalem Project, an open digital portal containing almost 40,000 historical documents on Jerusalem, the history of Jerusalem’s Maghreb quarter and, finally, a presentation of the history of Jerusalem in the form of a comic strip accessible to all. Guests also visited the Samir Mansour Bookshop.
Figure 1-Presentation of the book In the Shadow of the Wall (2022) at the French Institute of Gaza
Vincent Lemire was interviewed by Dr Khaled Safi, Dean of the Faculty of History at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza, in the presence of a large audience. V. Lemire emphasised that by collecting, digitising and referencing thousands of archival documents dispersed in various funds, the project Open Jerusalem aimed to interconnect the archival archipelago of Jerusalem, the objective being to decompartmentalize the history of the Holy city, which is blocked by political issues that also prevent access to the archives. He pointed out that this European project (funded by the ERC) is not intended to be a Western re-reading of the historiography of the Holy City, the proof being the participation of many Palestinians alongside researchers of other nationalities (Turkish, Jordanian, Armenian, etc.), some sixty in all.
The following morning (14 June), a conference was held at Birzeit University, the largest academic institution in Palestine. The meeting aimed at bringing the members of the Open Jerusalem project into dialogue with the historians of the university to explore new avenues or research and collaborations opened up by the project. After a welcome address by Munir Fakher Eldin, associate professor and Dean of the faculty of arts, who described the Open Jerusalem project “as an extremely important political act”, as it provides access to archives for people who are deprived of it and cannot move freely, Vincent Lemire presented the main objectives of the project and stressed the importance of archives as the basis of a State.
His introduction was followed by Falestin Naili’s présentation, member of Open Jerusalem and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Basel, who detailed the project (in Arabic). She emphasised that what sets the project apart is its focus on the ordinary city. To this end, the project has focused on collecting archives on the city of Jerusalem scattered around the world, and on the city’s, archives located in the city itself. The project was also intended as a dialogue between archival science and history, through the collaborations that have been set up between scholars and archivists. The rest of her presentation focused on the operation of the Open Jerusalem website. The audience, which included many students, was very curious and took part in a simulation of an online search by keyword.
Figure 2-Falastin Naili introduces the Open Jerusalem project at Birzeit University
Figure 3-Salim Tamari presents the photographic collection of Wasif Jawharriyya
Figure 4-The audience at Birzeit University
The presentations by Maria Chiara Rioli (UNIMORE) and Angelos Dalachanis (CNRS) focused on how to write a social history of Jerusalem by connecting religious institutions’ (Latin and Greek Orthodox in particular) archives. In this context, Angelo Dalachanis showed a sample of the 2877 petitions sent to the patriarchate in Arabic as an example of a source enabling us to explore the concept of citadinité. Nazmi Jubeh (Birzeit University) emphasised that the period studied (1840-1940) is relevant not only for the civil and religious history of the modern city, which became a centre of international connections and competition, but also from the point of view of documenting the city and producing information about it.The plurality of archives in and on the city provides different points of view on the same event and enable comparisons to be made.
Camille Mansour (Birzeit University) proposed a reflection on the construction and power of archives in relation to the Israeli archives and the documents stored there with reference to Palestine and Palestinian issues. His presentation raised the question of whether the material was selected, classified, indexed and stored according to a political preconception and agenda.The presentation by Salim Tamari (Professor Emeritus at Birzeit University and editor of the Jerusalem Quarterly) focused on the visual archive and local photographic tradition, with particular reference to the collection of Wasif Jawharriyya (1897-1972) collector and musician. His enormous collection of photographs is indexed to correlate with his memoirs and provides a unique ethnographic description of daily life and political developments in Palestine.
Finally, Rana Barakat (Birzeit University) concluded the session with some critical remarks on the global dimension of the project. She stressed the risk of decontextualisation by focusing on Jerusalem solely as a global city and a hub of international connections. On the other hand, she wondered how this focus on Jerusalem makes it possible to think about the rest of Palestine. She concluded with a stimulating question designed to qualify the exceptionality of the Holy City: “Why open Jerusalem and not Palestine?
In the afternoon, a meeting was organised at the French German Cultural Institute of Ramallah. It focused on scientific publications, as well as publications and visual tools intended for the general public. Salim Tamari, Maria Chiara Rioli and Falestin Naili presented the last two issues (93 and 92) of the Jerusalem Quarterly Journal. The last number (93) guest edited and introduced by Maria Chiara Rioli and Francesca Biancani (UNIBO), is the first of two parts of a special issue devoted the long history of UNRWA.
Contributions are based on the archives available at UNRWA but they also focus on the history of UNRWA through other archives (due to the difficult access to organization’s archives despite internal efforts to reorganize them and give access to scholars). The second to last issue (92) “Jerusalem’s Interrupted futures” is guest edited and introduced by Falestin Naili. It addresses the question of alternative futures and other outcomes to provide a different perspective on the past than the one offered by the victors.
Figure 5 & 6- Presentation of publications and 3D modelling at the French-German Cultural Institute in Ramallah
Vincent Lemire presented the project’s scientific publications (the Open Jerusalem collection published by Brill) as well as other publications aimed at a wider audience, such as the history of Jerusalem in comic strips. The event was also an opportunity to preview the 3D application for the Maghreb quarter, before its official inauguration the following day (15 June) at a press conference held at the American Colony, attended by some thirty journalists from the local and international press. The 3D web and smartphone application on Jerusalem’s Maghreb quarter was produced by Vincent Lemire and the Open Jerusalem and Archival City teams in collaboration with the 3D Research Experience Technology agency and the Centro Interdipartimentale di ricerca sulle Digital Humanities, of the Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia.
The application brings together some of the documentation relating to the Maghreb neighbourhood that is currently scattered among the Ottoman archives in Istanbul, those of the State of Israel, those of the pious Muslim foundations in Jerusalem, and the French diplomatic and Red Cross archives in Geneva. The exhibition takes visitors on a journey through the streets, courtyards and buildings of the district destroyed on the night of 10-11 June 1967 by the Israeli army. Over the coming months, the application will be gradually enhanced with other archive documents, archaeological data and oral testimonies. It is currently available free of charge on iOS, Android and WebGL:
Figure 7- V. Lemire officially launches the 3D app during the press conference at the American colony.
The press conference inaugurating the 3D App led to several articles in the French, international, Israeli and Palestinian press. In the afternoon, Valérie Nivelon and Julien Boileau of RFI produced an episode for the programme La Marche du monde devoted entirely to the Open Jerusalem project. It is available on the RFI website.
In the evening, a conference on consular and diplomatic archives was held at the Consulate General of France in the presence of Consul René Troccaz, the Director of the French Institute Agnès Arquez Roth, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III. Stéphane Ancel (CNRS), Maria Chiara Rioli (UNIMORE) and Vincent Lemire (UGE) presented the diplomatic archives (French, Italian, Spanish, German, British, etc.) scattered around the world and how they make it possible to reconstitute a diplomatic and social history of the different communities (including the Ethiopian community studied by Ancel) living and interacting in the Holy City.
Figure 8-Stephane Lancel presents his research at the Consulate General of France in Jerusalem in the presence of (from left to right) the Director of the French Institute, the Consul and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem
Figure 9- Maria Chiara Rioli gives a presentation on the consular and diplomatic archives at the Consulate General of France in Jerusalem
Figure 10- Open Jerusalem and Archival City teams at the reception organised by the Consulate General of France
On 16 June, a conference on the archives of Christian and patriarchal institutions was held at the Franciscan Custody. This round table, which brought together archivists from Christian religious institutions and members of the Open Jerusalem project, was an opportunity to present some of the conservation projects carried out by these institutions and to present some of the results obtained by the Open Jerusalem project in terms of storage, indexing, analysis and enhancement.
Father Stéphane (OFM) presented the Custodia archives, which are among the best preserved in Jerusalem. He then introduced the preservation project related to the conductas (condotte), 400-year-old volumes that recorded everything that arrived in Jerusalem, bearing witness to the movements and circulation of people, objects and money in the Holy City. These volumes make it possible to trace a global history of objects on the move, as they often recorded donations/gifts originating in Europe but produced in other parts of the world. These volumes will form part of the Museum of the Treasury of the Holy Sepulchre.
Figure 11- Father Stephane (OFM) and Vincent Lemire at the Franciscan Custody
The presentation by Father Narcyz (OFM) focused on some examples of documents preserved in the Custody’s archives, which can be identified and located thanks to the recently published Inventario dell’Achivio Storico della Custodia di Terra Santa (1230-1980). It has shown that some of the most valuable archives are the eighteenth-century firmans concerning the Holy Sepulchre. Despite efforts to preserve archives and make them more accessible to the general public, not all the city’s religious institutions are yet ready to welcome researchers, as Stavros Andreou, archivist of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, pointed out, while also mentioning the need for preservation and collaboration with other religious institutions.
His presentation was followed by that of Jean-Michel de Tarragon, of the Ecole biblique et archéologique française de Jerusalem who listed the precious archives that the Ecole preserves, including documents on properties, maps of Jerusalem, precious books and engravings, as well as an enormous external collection of photos (almost 9 thousand glasses) that have gradually been digitised.
Thérèse Gonnier and Father Aziz spoke about the collection held by the Latin Patriarchate, whose oldest documents date back to its foundation in 1847. The collection includes textual and photographic documents (some of which are currently being digitised), as well as periodicals. Finally, three members of the Open Jerusalem Project presented their own research based on the archives of religious institutions, showing how these documents can help to shed new light on the social history of Jerusalem from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the British Mandate.
The sensitivity of these documents was emphasised, particularly in relation to property issues, as was their importance as evidence of the involvement of the various communities (Latin, Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox) in the social history of the city. The discussions that followed highlighted the need for religious institutions to work together to preserve the city’s past.
On the morning of June, the 17th, a meeting devoted to Ottoman municipal and imperial archives was held at the Khalidi Library (al-Khalidiyya), the largest private library in Palestine, which houses one of the biggest private collections of Islamic manuscripts in the Arab world. Its foundation and development are linked to the Khalidi family, whose members played a key role in the legal, religious and political history of the modern city of Jerusalem.
After welcoming the group of researchers, Raja Khalidi (al-Khalidiyya) traced the history of the library, now the oldest NGO in Jerusalem, which became a public library for researchers in 1900 under the terms of a family trust, or waqf dhurri. His story, he said, is above all one of resilience. Despite the shock of the Nakba (1948) and the legal battle undertaken in the 1970s to maintain the building after the occupation of Jerusalem by Israeli forces, the library has survived and continues to be a reference point for local and international scholars.
Figure 12-Presentation on Ottoman and municipal archives at the Khalidi Library
In his presentation, Khader Salameh (al-Khalidiyya) highlighted the history of the Khalidi family and how it is linked to the history of the city (endowments, diplomatic history, public functions) and the Ottoman Empire since the end of the Mamluk era. He has focused on the urban reforms undertaken by Youssef al-Khalidi (1842-1906), who was twice president of the Jerusalem municipal council, and by his nephew Ruhi (1864-1913), who was also a member of the Istanbul parliament for Jerusalem and Ottoman consul-general in Bordeaux, France. A specialist in Ottoman sources, Yasemin Avci (Univ. Pamukkale) emphasised in her presentation the importance of the Ottoman archives, which date back to 1433, for the social history of Jerusalem. She then showed how to use the website of the Ottoman Imperial Archives.
Due to technical problems, Abdul-Hameed Al-Kayyali (IFPO), who was due to speak in zoom from Amman (Jordan), was unable to present his paper on the municipal history of Jerusalem. Falastin Naili summarised the main points, showing how the municipal history of Jerusalem is a primary source for Ottoman municipal history. In particular, the municipal minutes provide an insight into many aspects of daily life in Jerusalem, as the municipality dealt with and supervised various aspects of the city’s governance: public works and infrastructure, public health issues, income-generating activities, etc.
Falastin Naili (University of Basel) focused on the life of Youssef al-Khalidi and his role at the forefront of reforms movement in the second half of the 19th century (the Tanzimat). Twice chosen as a major, he contributed to the improvement of infrastructure (notably water supply), health and sanitary conditions. He played an important role in the period of transition between the Egyptian and Ottoman regimes. Finally, Stéphane Ancel (CNRS) presented his ongoing work on Ottoman documents concerning the Ethiopian community, focusing on a micro-historical case study: the Ottoman administrative process for authorising a new Ethiopian church in Jerusalem. The final discussion questioned the notion of urbanity at the very heart of the Open Jerusalem project and reflected on the link between Ottoman and municipal archives, the present and the future.
In the afternoon, the Institut français Chateaubriand hosted a meeting organised in partnership with the Educational Bookshop and the Ecole Biblique and moderated by Huda al-Imam. It focused on the presentation of different publications resulting from this project. Introducing the meeting, Huda al-Imam emphasised the main aim of the Open Jerusalem Project: to highlight the openness of Jerusalem, which was not only the disputed capital of Israel and Palestine, and to retrace everyday life. These scientific objectives have been put into practice by the creation of an open-access collection at Brill dedicated “to discovering and connecting different archives and sources in order to investigate the ordinary entangled history of a global city”.
The collective volume Ordinary Jerusalem is part of this collection. It was published in 2017 and edited by Vincent Lemire and Angelos Dalachanis, who presented it in detail at the meeting. He emphasised that one of the main scholarly aims of the volume was to challenge established ideological narratives about the city and offer a decompartmentalised perspective on it. To achieve this, the book includes 37 contributors, who carried out their research in 20 different archives and in 12 different languages.
Figure 13- Huda al-Imam, Vincent Lemire and Jean-Jacques Pérennes at the French Institute Chateaubriand
Figure 14 -Angelos Dalachanis presents the book Ordinary Jerusalem at the French Institute Chateaubriand
Stéphane Ancel presented the volume The monk on the Roof. The Story of an Ethiopian Manuscript found in Jerusalem (2021), which he co-wrote with Vincent, Lemire and Magdalena Krzyżanowska. This volume is an example of global micro-history. Based on the analysis of a forgotten manuscript, it traces the dispute between Jerusalem’s small Ethiopian community and the Copts over the Dayr al-Sultan monastery on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre in 1900. It sheds light on a diplomatic history that links Jerusalem to the Ethiopian highlands and the corridors of the Ottoman administration in Istanbul.
In the same vein, the volume Liminal Church. Refugees, Conversions and the Latin Diocese of Jerusalem, 1946-1956 (2021)” by Maria Chiara Rioli weaves the history of the Roman Catholic diocese of Jerusalem with global history. The book depicts a Church involved in a wide range of pastoral initiatives, (aid missions for Palestinian refugees, theological reflections on Jewish converts to Catholicism among others). This offers a more nuanced picture of a Church that has been portrayed as monolithically aligned with anti-Zionist and anti-Muslim positions during the “long” year 1948.
Jean-Jacques Pérennes, Director of the French Biblical and Archaeological School in Jerusalem, presented his biography of the Dominican Roland de Vaux (1903-1971), archaeologist and specialist in the history of ancient Israel. The biography retraces the career of this outstanding contemporary figure of the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem. Known for his role in the excavations at Qumran that brought to light the Dead Sea Scrolls, he has been a researcher, teacher, archaeologist, director of the École Biblique, author and director of research. He also authored the “History of Ancient Israel”, which reflects a biblical approach since it was written at the time of the discovery of the Holy Land. Eventually, Vincent Lemire presented his volume on the Jerusalem’s Maghrebi Quarter published in French (2022), in English (2023) and forthcoming in Arabic and Hebrew.
The last event (Sunday 18) which took place at the French Institut Romain Gary was preceded by a documentary walk through the Mamilla cemetery, with the aim of linking the archives to the urban transformations underway. Led by Vincent Lemire and Huda al-Imam, a group of around thirty people visited the remains of one of the most important Muslim cemeteries, where many Jerusalemite notables and families were buried until 1948. The cemetery grounds also contain numerous monuments, structures and tombstones, including the ancient Mamilla Basin, which served as a cistern for the city of Jerusalem. The whole area represented a connecting quarter between the modern city and the Old City. Today, the remains of the cemetery represent only a third of the original surface area, and the area remains highly sensitive following the Israeli government’s plan (2007-2008) to build a Museum of Tolerance, which prompted some Palestinian families to draw up a petition in 2009.
Figure 15- Documentary walk through Mamilla cemetery
Back at the Institut Romain Gary, Vincent Lemire interviewed the Palestinian academic and former President of al-Quds University, Sari Nusseibeh, author of the autobiography Once upon a country: a Palestinian life (2008). V. Lemire asked him to reflect on the link between his family and the history of Jerusalem, partly sketched out in the comic strip Histoire de Jérusalem (by Vincent Lemire and Christophe Gautier). Sari Nusseibeh spoke in particular about the figure of his father Anwar (1913-1986), who had a long political career and held several important positions in the Jordanian government, contributing to the development of Jerusalem. This was followed by a fascinating debate on the role of archives, the past and memory for the present and future of Palestine.
Figure 16-Vincent Lemire interviews Sari Nusseibeh at the French Institute Romain Gary