Aronoff, Eric and Yael Aronoff. “Bordering on Peace: Spatial Narratives of Border Crossings between Israel, Jordan and Egypt.” In The Design of Frontier Spaces. Control and Ambiguity (ed. Carolyn Loeb and Andreas Luescher; Farnham, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015), 129-55.
These questions about border narratives are the focus of this essay. Examining the border crossings between Israel and the two neighboring states with which it has open borders, Jordan and Egypt, we analyze the narratives created in these spaces through
the arrangement of space, iconography, and signage, as well as the legal elements that also regulate the flow of persons across the borders. These sites, in effect, constitute the first encounter of travelers with the new state about to be entered; as such, these spatial, visual and legal elements combine to create a “story” being told to that traveler (even if that traveler is a member of that community who is returning). That story may be intentional, the result of a conscious effort or policy on the part of the state, or unintentional as the ad hoc reflection of attitudes and ideas expressing themselves through the choices made “on the ground” by border personnel. That story is both about who “they” – the imagined community whose territory the traveler is about to enter – are and what they represent; it also simultaneously is about who “you,” the traveler, might be – why you might be there, the relationship imagined between “they” and “you.” Like a text, these spaces construct both their ideal “author” and their ideal “reader.”
In this way, like many of the chapters in this volume, our approach extends but also differs from much of the scholarship that makes up the recent resurgence of border studies. As many scholars have pointed out, rising attention across multiple disciplines to issues of globalism and transnationalism, as well as cultural studies approaches to concepts heretofore in the domain of social science, have resulted in increased interest in borders (Newman, 2011). Until relatively recently, borders have been approached within the fields of international relations or geography as static, empirical entities, largely in the context of examining relations between states (Sack, 1986; Taylor, 1994; Shapiro and Alker, 1996). More recent theories emanating from anthropology and cultural studies have emphasized the social construction of boundaries as processes for defining personal, group and national identities, through processes of inclusion and exclusion, defining the “self” and the “Other.” These approaches have broadened the concept of “borders” to include not only the actual borderline between states, but many other kinds of borders. In this conception, borders are everywhere, and the “border narratives” that constitute them are made up of multiple discourses and texts: newspapers, political speeches, posters, poems, plays, novels, everyday speech that give meaning to the border as the “construction of institutionalized forms of ‘we’ and the ‘other’ which are produced and perpetually reproduced in education texts, narratives and discourses” (Newman and Paasi, 1998, p. 196).