This article explores the role of sacred places and pilgrimage centers in the context of contemporary geopolitical strife and border disputes. Following and expanding on the growing body of literature engaged with the contested nature of the sacred, this article argues that sacred sites are becoming more influential in processes of determining physical borders. We scrutinize this phenomenon through the prism of a small parcel of land on the two sides of the Separation Wall that is being constructed between Israel and Palestine. Our analysis focuses on two holy shrines that are dedicated to devotional mothers: the traditional Tomb of Rachel the Matriarch on the way to Bethlehem and Our Lady of the Wall, an emergent Christian site constructed as a reaction to the Wall. We examine the architectural (and material) phenomenology, the experience, and the implications that characterize these two adjacent spatialities, showing how these sites are being used as political tools by various actors to challenge the political, social, and geographical order.
Violence is a regular occurrence at many of Jerusalem’s holy sites. Ongoing civilian clashes play a role, but official modes of control through the Israeli army (IDF) and Border Police, as well as more informal private security operations are often involved. Such militarisation may keep violent upheavals in check, but it is carried out within the framework of a long and harsh occupation. The two sites considered here—the Western Wall in the Old City and Rachel’s Tomb on the border of Jerusalem and Bethlehem—each have a history of war and are fixtures of the occupation. This study explores the mechanisms that embed religious and militaristic meanings at each site. In so doing, certain questions are addressed. Firstly, how are the sites being constructed and used as popular and dramatic settings for certain constituents to promote religious militarism/militarised religion in Jerusalem? In which ways do these characteristics act to intertwine with the religious and militaristic aspects of the sites, making them more extreme but also, in some circles, more attractive? And finally, how do these sites contribute to the character of Jerusalem, both in their own construction and image but also in the roles they play within the wider urban topography?