Among Men: Zionism as Homo-Nationalism

27 במאי 2012

Introduction, or, The Zionist Voyeur

In her biography of the Labour Zionist leader Meir Ya’ari, the historian Aviva Halamish quotes the following passage from Ya’ari’s diary, depicting a night-swim with a male friend in the Kineret:

In the shade of an Acacia grove emanating scent and moon shadows.  We were tired and heavy like lead […] a revolt started to stir in me. “Hey man, you are 23. It’s Saturday. Freedom beckons you.” I sprang up. I pulled my friend, with the gentile’s face, by his shirt. He awoke immediately. Quickly we undressed. “Brother, let’s fish the moon in the water.” […] revolt and romantic fantasies were gushing in him too…we understood each other. We jumped into the water, rending their smooth surface and we frolicked until we were out of breath. He walked in front of me. Silver streams ran down his naked copper arms. They moved in a menacing rhythm and filled me with fear and desire. He went deeper and deeper, up to his shoulders, up to his neck, up to his head – to fish the moon out of the water. In moments like this you can betroth death.  Suddenly we heard some workers singing loudly. They approached us on their boat. We snapped back into “reality” and ran to the beach.


 Halamish uses the passage to describe Ya’ari’s psychological state just before meeting A.D. Gordon and joining a kvutza where he could channel the angst and idealism so plainly apparent in his writing. She does not, however, comment on the homo-erotic facets of the text. Ya’ari is very explicit about the “fear and desire” that his friend, with his “face like a gentile’s” and “naked copper arms” incites in him. We may never know if Ya’ari would have acted on his desire since he and his friend were interrupted by the arrival of “workers” and that pregnant moment was cut short.[2]

My point here is not to out Ya’ari. His “true” sexual orientation is of no concern to me. I would like to argue, however, that the scene described by Ya’ari is paramount to our understanding of Zionism’s gender politics. It is a primal scene, echoed and repeated in the writing of Zionist (male) ideologues.[3] In this scene – which is always narrated from the point of view of an “old”, physically weak Jewish intellectual – the narrator encounters, surveys and sometimes gropes a young, beautiful and muscular “new Jew”. In the eyes of these ideologues, the “new Jew” is ever an Other – he is always the object and never the subject of desire, leaving him a present but elusive ideal.

The thesis of the present paper is that this encounter between the effete, neurotic Jewish male intellectual and the wholesome, broad-shouldered Jewish male worker/farmer/soldier is the main fantasy underlining the Zionist project. Zionism is a gendered answer to the dual threat of European anti-Semitism/assimilation and more specifically to the masculine anxieties of assimilated European Jewish men. The emasculation of European Jewish men by the surrounding Christian societies is well documented in scholarly literature; the Jewish man was considered by anti-Semites to be feminine, physically weak, submissive, passive and generally “queer”.[4] He wasn’t, to put it bluntly, man enough. As Sander Gilman and others have shown, major Zionists thinkers internalized those pernicious stereotypes.[5] Thus, if Zionism was aimed at the “regeneration” of the Jewish body politic, that body was specifically a male one.

I would like call a nationalist project that is concerned with the rehabilitation of the male body and psyche “homo-nationalism” because that strand of thought is produced by men and for men. The term was coined by the queer theorist Jasbir Puar and used to describe members of the LGTB community who hitch their ideological wagon to the liberal nation-state, while being used by the state as an excuse to imperialize homophobic, “terrorist” third world countries.[6] I would like, however, to use the term differently: I understand homo-nationalism as a continuation of homo-sociality, that is, a socio-political formation that is primarily concerned with the anxieties of- and interaction between men. Contrary to Puar, I am not interested in the sexual orientation of the members of the nation. In fact, one of the aims of this paper is to show that rather than being a sublimation of sexual desire, non-sexual desires – in this case the desire for a healthy, virile, body politic – inform and shape sexual ones.

For that reason I do not treat Ya’ari’s description of his friend as an indication of homosexuality. The term homosexuality itself presupposes an innate, primal desire that is unhindered and unaffected by external circumstances.[7] I would suggest that Ya’ari desires his unnamed friend because the latter represents a national ideal that Ya’ari himself could never embody. This does not foreclose on the option of genuine homo-erotic feelings – just on the exclusivity of a homo-erotic reading.

Whatever Ya’ari’s feelings toward his object of desire were, his need to identify with the goy-like, muscular and hetero-normative Other turns into a desire for the Other. I would suggest that identification turns into desire because the Zionist voyeur cannot see in himself the corporeal perfection he sees embodied in the Other. Thus identification, which hints at similarity, gives way to desire, which hints at some modicum of otherness.[8] But since Zionists desire normalcy – read, hetero-normativity – the homo-nationalistic desire must be disavowed by the desirer and redirected into other venues. And so, that sexually charged moment between Ya’ari and his goy-ish friend, who “goes deeper and deeper, up to his shoulders, up to his neck, up to his head”, a moment in which “you could betroth death” turns into coitus interruptus when a group of “workers” – standing in for the Zionist collective – bring the two men back into “reality”: rather than realizing the homosexual option, Ya’ari would channel this desire into agricultural work and political activity.

The following is divided into two parts. First I will look at the scholarship of Daniel Boyarin and Todd Presner, who tried to historicize the invention of the modern (Zionist) Jewish man by locating his origin in fin-de-siècle German culture. Secondly, I will survey works by literary scholar Michael Gluzman and film scholar Raz Yosef, who studied the ways in which Israeli art has endeavored to prop up the masculine ideal of the muscular Jew, while at the same time demonstrating the necessary sacrifice needed to maintain it.  

Part One: The Rise of Homo-Nationalism

The historian George Mosse sees the ascendance of the European middle class and of European nationalism as inexorably linked.[9] From the French revolution onward, nationalist struggles were imbued with a moral tinge: patriotism, piety and perseverance were considered both nationalistic and bourgeois values.[10] The French revolution was also, according to Mosse, the moment when “the ideal of manliness came into its own”.[11] The new nexus of nationality/class/gender became prominent as the Jews of western and central Europe went through the process of emancipation, which allowed them to assimilate, to a limited extent, into gentile society. One could argue that modern anti-Semitism, configured as it was in scientific and racial language, was an attempt to differentiate between the assimilated Jew, who donned all the trappings of a bourgeois Frenchman or German, from genuine (read: Christian) Frenchmen and Germans. Assimilation, in other words, was understood by anti-Semites as dissimulation.

Although Christian fascination with the allegedly feminine Jewish body dates at least to the Middle Ages, the nineteenth century saw the medical pathologization of the Jewish body.[12] As the nation was seen more and more as an actual living body, the Jews’ stereotypically abnormal bodies marked them as national outsiders.

Jewish men bore the brunt of this new bio-political anti-Semitism. In the Yiddish culture which developed in Eastern Europe, the masculine ideal was of the scholar who devoted himself to his studies and was supported by his wife. This ideal, of course, negated most gentile masculine values: physicality, strength, independence, material success and sexual domination.[13] Since the scholarly Jewish man seemed to embody the very “countertype” to the ideal gentile man, he became the main target of a bio-political anti-Semitism which understood each individual body as a component and a representation of the national body. The Jewish man could not be a part of the body politic because he could not embody the national-masculine ideal.

This is the starting point of Daniel Boyarin’s project in Unheroic Conduct. The Yiddish yehsiva bokhur, claims Boyarin, was indeed gentle, effete and decidedly un-hetero-normative. But within Yiddish culture these characteristics were not considered faulty – on the contrary, they were desirable.[14]

Although Boyarin does not attack assimilation head on,[15] the fact that he locates the marginalization of the gentle Jewish man in the works of Freud and Herzl, two assimilated Viennese Jews, should alert us to the fact that Boyarin is trying to re-negotiate the term of Jewish assimilation. Both Freud and Herzl, he argues, internalized anti-Semitic stereotypes and gentile sensibilities.[16] Boyarin looks at the vicissitudes of Freud’s Oedipal theory in relation to Freud’s own homo-erotic attraction to Wilhelm Fliess and to his Jewishness.[17] Freud’s disavowal of his feelings towards Fliess came at a time when the modern category of the “homosexual” was gaining traction.[18] This category poised homosexuals as feminine men, and thus as metaphorically equivalent to Jews; conversely, it meant that Jews were queer even before the term acquired its modern meaning.[19] “The Oedipus complex” as Boyarin puts it eloquently, “is Freud’s family romance of escape from Jewish queerdom into gentile phallic heterosexuality”.[20] I believe that Freud’s insistence on the heterosexualization of the oedipal complex[21] validates my claim that non-sexual desires – in this case, Freud’s desire to be a manly gentile – can and have determined sexual desires. In Freud’s case this influence is quite literal as his writings have shaped the modern theory of sexuality to an unparalleled extent.

Zionism – at least its German strand – is for Boyarin “the most profound sort of assimilation” and a project whose aim was to “transform Jewish men into the type of male that [the Zionists] admired, namely, the ideal “Aryan” male”.[22] Herzlian Zionism, then, is an attempt at “an honorable conversion of Jews to Christianity, understood as it always was for Herzl as not a religion, but as Kultur itself, as civilization”.[23] The only way to convert to German-ness without inciting the same rancid bio-political anti-Semitism that was already apparent in Herzl’s Vienna, was to conduct the experiment outside of Europe.[24] The Land of Israel then becomes a heterotopia and a heterochrony, representing at the same time the biblical period and “a Camelot in the desert or rather, a Vienna on the Mediterranean”.[25]

The Jewish state, according to Boyarin, was supposed to be a re-education camp where “manly, honorable, dueling…Zionists” would transform the groveling, scheming Mauschels of Eastern Europe into true men.[26] The choice of the Land of Israel as the site of the Zionist Champ de Mars, then, had to do with more than religious longing: it served as a site of a “colonialist performances of male gendering…Herzlian Zionism imagined itself as colonialism because such a representation was pivotal to the entire project of becoming ‘white men’”.[27] The Zionist colonial project, according to Boyarin, is itself an example of colonial mimicry.[28] To build on Boyarin’s argument, Zionism, up until 1948, was a simulacrum of colonialism: a carbon copy without an origin (a metropolis) that needed to hitch itself to changing surrogate empires. 1948 was the beginning of an imperialization process which came to fruition in 1967: the creation of a genuine Israeli empire, with a “white” metropolis and “black” peripheries. If we take Boyarin’s analysis seriously, then the so-called occupation cannot be thought of as a conjectural historical accident; it is the fulfillment of Herzlian Zionism’s primal fantasy – to become a race of conquering, manly gentile-Jews. The constant belligerence demonstrated by Israel and its inability to let go of the settlements in the West Bank are creating time and again situations where Zionists have to affirm and re-affirm their colonial manhood.

Let us turn now to Todd Presner’s book Muscular Judaism. Presner locates the invention of the muscular Jew trope at the end of the nineteenth century, as part of a whole set of “regenerative” politics.[29] He stresses that muscular Judaism was at the same time a response to the deeply nationalistic and racist discourse prevalent in turn-of-the-century Germany, and an incorporation of its major themes.[30] Presner goes as far as claiming that “the birth of the muscular, healthy, and masculine Jewish body had some of the same cultural, social and intellectual origins as the Fascist body”.[31]

The term muscular Judaism was coined by Max Nordau during the second Zionist congress (1898). According to Presner, Nordau aimed at “the cultivation of certain corporeal and moral ideals such as discipline, agility, and strength, which would help form a regenerated race of healthy, physically fit, nationally minded, and militarily strong Jews”.[32] The need to regenerate the Jewish people stemmed from Nordau’s perception of the Ostjuden as “weak…powerless…Luftmenschen” and from the demographic decline of the rapidly assimilating Western Jewry.[33] As I have suggested in the introduction, when Nordau spoke of weak Jews he was referring to weak Jewish men, and indeed “women [were] conspicuously absent in the vast majority of discursive practices and representations of the muscle Jew”.[34]

Nordau made a name for himself as the author of entartung (1892), a book in which he attacks degenerated art – characterized by “overweening vanity and self-conceit” – and advances instead “an unflagging investment in the lucidity of science and the rationality of the Enlightenment”.[35] But degeneration is more than an intellectual state; Nordau connects cultural degeneration with “race-based, physical deformities”.[36] He, in fact, talks about the “end of race”, a play on the term fin-de-siècle.[37] It is clear, then, that for Nordau regeneration must include a prominent physical component. In fact, mental regeneration cannot come about without a physical one, and vice versa.

Nordau thus demanded from the Jews of his time soldierly discipline and Spartan devotion in their attempt to regenerate the Jewish people.[38] One important venue of regeneration was physical exercise. “In the cramped quarters of the Jewish ghetto” argued Nordau, “Jews forgot how to move their limbs freely; in dark houses, their eyes blinked nervously…their formerly strident voices turned in to mere whispers”.[39] Muscles are thus not just an indication of regeneration, but also a metaphor for regeneration, since muscles can atrophy and be re-built again.[40] One could say that in looking at biblical warriors for inspiration, Zionists were trying to recreate a Jewish “muscle-memory”.[41]

The Jewish gymnastics associations which spread throughout Central Europe at the turn of the century were seen as a national – if not always Zionist – endeavor.[42] This attempt at regulating the Jewish body, claims Presner, should be understood as a part of a bigger Jewish bio-political project that aimed at charting “the birth and death rates of the Jewish people, their life expectancies, their patterns of diet and habituation, their marriage regulations, their susceptibility to illness, their contraceptive practices and other statistical indicators of the population’s vitality”.[43] The health of the individual Jewish body, then, becomes both a component and an indicator of the general Jewish Volkskorper’s state. Not surprisingly, it was around that time that Alfred Nossig founded the Association for Jewish Statistics, which published its own journal, edited by Arthur Ruppin.[44]  Even before the establishment of a substantial Zionist apparatus in Palestine – marked by the arrival of the same Ruppin in 1907 – all those Zionist organs – sport associations, bureaus and journals – were geared towards state formation. In Presner’s words, “bio power functions…according to the ways in which regulative discourses on sexuality consolidate the will to a state.”[45] To conclude, Presner shows that German Zionism had developed as a bio-political project aimed at the regeneration of the Jewish body politic through Jewish body politics, and which created a “will to a state” by imbricating statism, statistics and (male) stateliness.

Part Two: The Pink Platter

Up to this point we have been concerned with the invention of the muscular Jew by Jewish intellectuals. Let us now look at the way Israeli writers and artists have questioned the myth of the self-assured, straight muscular Jew. Reading the scholarship of Michael Gluzman and Raz Yosef, we will see that Israeli writers, who were supposed to both embody and represent the new Jew, took apart the possibility of being an uncomplicated, cardboard cutup of a muscular Jew.

In his book, The Zionist Body, Literary scholar Michael Gluzman looks at a wide array of works by Jewish and Israeli novelists which deal with body- and masculine politics. Diaspora writers, like Bialik and Mendele Mocher Sforim, express a complex relation to the Jewish body, mocking it and denouncing Jewish male femininity and passivity while at the same time re-affirming their loyalty and admiration of Yiddish culture.[46] Y.H. Brenner, the enfant terrible of the pre-state literary circle criticized heavily the Zionist attempt to regenerate the Jewish man by having his protagonists immigrate to Palestine only to discover that their exilic anxiety and impotence travelled with them to the Promised Land.[47]

But Bialik’s, Abramovich’s and Brenner’s protagonists were all Eastern European men, already infected from birth with Jewish powerlessness. It is when Gluzman looks at Israeli novels that the impossibility of ever inhabiting the Zionist male ideal becomes clear.

He Walked through the Fields (1947) by Moshe Shamir is widely considered a seminal novel of the 1948 generation and its protagonist, Uri, the quintessential Israeli masculine fighter.[48] Uri, a kibbutznik and palmach officer, is supposedly a picture-perfect embodiment of the Zionist ideal, up to and including his “beautiful death”: jumping on a grenade to save his soldiers.[49] Gluzman, however, reads Uri’s death as a suicide, resulting from Uri’s Schreber-esque inability to assume the cultural position expected of him by his father.[50]

Uri’s breakdown is articulated in gendered and sexual terms. Shamir uses Mika, Uri’s older, non-sabra lover for two purposes: first, to serve as a countertype to Uri – she is female, feminine and non-native.[51] But more importantly, her descriptions of Uri’s body allow Shamir and his male readers to enjoy Uri’s physicality while eschewing the homo-erotic label.[52] When we compare Uri’s portrait to earlier scenes where Ya’ari and Herzl enjoy openly the presence of a beautiful male body, we can see that Israeli culture has fully embraced the invention of modern sexual definitions, and has become “normal” – that is hetero-normative and homophobic. For the 1948 generation – if not even earlier – homo-nationalistic desire must be circumvented through the female gaze, thus allowing for homo-eroticism in the guise of heterosexual desire.

Alas, Uri – despite his desirability – cannot assume the societal position prepared for him by the kibbutz (which here encapsulates and epitomizes Israeli society). Uri lives in the shadow of his father, an almost mythical figure in the kibbutz, and serves for Mika as a second-best replacement for his father, with whom she was in love.[53] The sexual encounter between Uri and Mika is written from Uri’s perspective, and instead of being registered as a moment of masculine conquest it is plagued with anxieties about inadequacy.[54] Uri, who cannot seem to measure up to his father, starts expressing masochist feelings, involving a strong wish to “be a victim” and “to be sacrificed”. His masochism and, one might argue, the generational masochism implied in the Altermanian “silver platter” ethos, results from the inability of the sabra sons to embody the masculine fantasies of the founding fathers.[55] Uri’s death, then, is a wish-fulfillment borne out of the impossibility of ever fully answering the clarion call of the Zionist super-ego.

Earlier I have suggested that given Zionism’s masculine fantasies, Israeli society should be read as a nation-wide boot camp. Yehoshua Kenaz’s novel Infiltration (1986), based on his own experience as a soldier in the 1950s, treats an IDF boot camp as a microcosm of Israeli society. The conscripts in the novel are infirm or disabled and thus already at the margins of Israeli masculinity. Nevertheless, their bodies are expropriated by the army, to the extent that one NCO yells at a private for damaging IDF property, that is, for cutting himself while shaving.[56] Turning those invalid youths into soldiers is explicitly described in gendered terms. Being a good soldier is synonymous with being – or rather becoming – “a man”.[57] Conversely, any conscript who cannot measure up to soldierly standards is branded “a female”. Gluzman describes Infiltration as an “encyclopedia of bodies”, most of them deformed in some way.[58] Immigrants, whether European or Arab, are portrayed in the novel as androgynous – the camp’s doctor, herself a camp survivor, is “neither a woman nor a man”.[59] Ben-Chemo, the laughable Arab-Jewish private performs a gender-bending belly dance that conflates femininity and Arabness.[60] Even the kibbutznik Alon, who seems to embody the Ashkenazi beauty ideal, has a heart murmur which prevents him from following in his father’s footsteps as an elite fighter. The novel ends with Alon’s suicide, and the similarities between him and Uri in He Walked through the Fields are obvious.[61]

The characters in Infiltration, all irrevocably marked as damaged by the IDF, engage in several forms of resistance; perhaps the most poetic of them is practiced by the protagonist himself, who narrates the novel in the first person. His form of resistance works, as Gluzman beautifully puts it: “contrary to the norms of personal narration, [as] we learn almost nothing about the protagonist. He makes his body disappear from the narrative and becomes an eye, a camera. By hiding his body, he tries to avoid the camp’s bio-politics, or at least watch it from a distance.”[62] The body is understood by Kenaz as a Kafkaesque surface on which the state inscribes its ideology. The only way to resist the statist inscription is to fashion the body into a separation wall by developing a “thick skin”.[63] The infiltration Kenaz writes about, then, is not that of the soldier into enemy lines, but of the state into one’s heart of hearts.

Film scholar Raz Yosef has written extensively about Israeli masculinity, and specifically about military masculinity. He understands Zionist masculinity as inherently masochistic: from the readiness for physical suffering expressed by the pioneers to the willingness of soldiers to lose life and limb for the nation, Zionist masculinity is deeply implicated in the pain and the destruction of the male body. Moreover, masochism allows new Jews to come to terms with the homo-eroticism inherent in Zionist culture without actually expressing it: the masochist gets off on the deprivation of pleasure and the disavowal of desire. The lack of any kind of sexual fulfillment then becomes a kind of pleasure in itself.[64]

Let us take for example the highly successful Israel movie Yossi and Jagger (2002). The movie depicts the love affair between two male IDF officers serving in Lebanon. Although Yossi and Jagger consummate their love physically, Yossi, who is Jagger’s superior, refuses to come out as gay despite his lover’s imploring.[65] At the end of film Jagger dies in combat. Yossi, visiting Jagger’s mourning mother cannot bring himself to tell her the truth about their relationship. Like Uri from He Walked through the Fields and Alon from Infiltration, the defected sabra must die in order to foreclose the option of queer Israeliness. Although Yossi comes out physically unscathed from his military service, he is still unable to come out as a gay man, confining himself to the closet, that is, to an emotional grave.[66] Tellingly, even a highly critical novel like Infiltration and a seemingly emancipatory film like Yossi and Jagger (which was produced and directed by Israel’s foremost gay power-couple, Eytan Fox and Gal Uchovsky), still succumb to the need to destroy the queer male body.

I would like to call this artistic trope “the pink platter”, after Alterman’s famous poem “The Silver Platter”. Alterman’s poem celebrates the heroic sacrifice of two Zionist fighters: a young woman and a young man.[67] I would like to argue that in order for this heterosexual sacrifice to take place, another sacrifice must be made: the disavowal of the possibility of a viable, happy queer existence, a disavowal symbolized in the continuous killing off of queer protagonists. I purposefully use the term queer rather than gay because I don’t believe that Zionism is inherently homophobic. Rather, Zionism is concerned with eradicating any kind of behavior that might brand Jews as non-normative. Thus, I believe, the toleration of gay culture in middle class Israeli culture is a mean of differentiating “white” Israeliness from the primitive Arabs (Jewish or otherwise) who surround it. In other words, it is exactly because gay-friendliness is perceived as normative in Western metropolises that the Israeli middle class embraces it. And so, while gay youths serve openly in the IDF, conscientious objectors, who are still viewed as queer and dangerous, serve sentences in military prisons for their refusal to enlist in the army. In Eytan Fox’s newest film, Yossi’s Story (2012), Yossi, the surviving protagonist of Yossi and Jagger, finally begins a relationship with a handsome paratrooper after years of self-denial. In contemporary middle class Ashkenazi Israel, being gay is alright as long as you are a veteran sleeping with other soldiers, that is, as long as your sexual choices are located well within the respectable ethnic boundaries of the nation.

Conclusion, Or, From Homo-Nationalism To Bi-Nationalism

In the present paper I have tried to offer a genealogy of Zionism’s relationship to masculinity. Using Boyarin’s and Presner’s work, I have suggested that due to the specific ways in which European anti-Semitism attacked Yiddish culture the care for the Jewish male body became Zionism’s most important cultural project. In the second part of the paper I have looked at the price Zionists and other Israelis have paid for Zionism’s constant need to banish the queer from the brave new Hebrew society.

I have also suggested that the alleged Israeli gay-friendliness is confided to certain sectors of Israeli culture which are concerned with keeping up with Western respectability. In other words, mainstream Israeli gay-friendliness is intimately tied up with Islamophobia. A true emancipatory project would be moving from homo-nationalism, a nationalism that is concerned with sameness and normativity, to bi-nationalism. Rather than a specific political program, I would like to use this awkward pun as an indicator that sexuality, gender and national politics are inexorably linked together. If homo-nationalism is indeed content with sacrificing its best and brightest on an altar of an impossible ideal, it should be replaced with a national contract that is willing to include the sexually, politically and culturally queer. One of the characters in Infiltration tells his comrade, a formerly religious soldier – “your body is still Jewish; it doesn’t know yet that it is Israeli”.[68] Maybe it is time that we claim our Jewish bodies – deformed, queer and imperfect as they are – back.  

[1] Aviva Halamish, Meir Yaari, A Collective Biography, The first Fifty Years: 1987-1947 (Tel-Aviv: Am Oved, 2007), p. 55. [Hebrew]

[2] Raz Yosef reads the same passage from Ya’ari in his "The Military Body: Male Masochism and Homoerotic Relations in Israeli Cinema", Theory and Criticism 18 (Spring 2001), pp. 14-15 [Hebrew]. Yosef understands Ya’ari’s desire as a masochistic homoerotic desire, while I, as will become clear, understands it as an offshoot of a more general, national desire.

[3] The Zionist Body by Michael Gluzman (Tel Aviv: Ha-Kibbutz Ha-Meuchad, 2007) [Hebrew], recounts many such scenes: for example, Herzl groping a bunch of Jewish porters in Jerusalem (p. 21); The writer Yaakov Ya’ari Polskin describing the muscular blacksmith “Sander Hadad” (p. 24); Moshe Smilanski writing about “Huja Nezer”, a beautiful Russian pioneer (p. 26); Friedrich Lowenberg, Altneuland’s protagonist, meeting David Litvak, once a Viennese beggar and now a pillar of the Zionist state (p. 56); Aharon, the teenager at the center of The Book of Intimate Grammar, trying to see his best friend, Gideon, naked (p. 251); Moshe Shamir observing Uri, his protagonist in He Walked Through the Fields, through the desiring eyes of Mika, his lover (p. 195); and finally, a strikingly similar scene in Yehoshua Kenaz’s After the Holidays (p. 221). See also Boaz Neuman’s discussion of the pioneers’ auto-erotic fashioning of their own bodies in Land and Desire in Early Zionism (Tel-Aviv: Am Oved, 2009) pp. 157-176 [Hebrew].

[4] Daniel Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), pp. 10-11, 210, 222; Gluzman, The Zionist Body, pp. 13-14.

[5] Sander Gilman, Jewish Self-Hatred, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 291-296; Gilman, The Jew’s Body, (New York: Routledge), p. 40; Gluzman, The Zionist Body, p. 19; Todd Presner, Muscular Judaism, (New York: Routledge, 2007), p. 34.

[6] Jasbir Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), p. 2.

[7] See the introduction to David Halperin’s One Hundred Years of Homosexuality (New York: Routledge, 1990).

[8] In that sense, the desire that self-fashioned “old Jews” felt for new ones is “hetero-sexual” regardless of their actual gender.

[9] George Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality, (New York: Howard Fertig, 1985), pp. 4-5.

[10] Ibid., pp. 6-7.

[11] Ibid., p. 7.

[12] On medieval perceptions of the Jewish body, see: David Katz, “Shylock's gender: Jewish male menstruation in early modern England” Review of English Studies 50 (1999), pp. 440-462; Irvin Resnick, “Medieval Roots of the Myth of Jewish Male Menses”, Harvard Theological Review 93 (2000), pp. 241-263.

[13] Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct, p. 229.

[14] Ibid., pp. 51-64.

[15] And since he acknowledges the homophobic tendencies of rabbinical culture and the debt of LGTB rights movement to both Enlightenment and Liberalism, how could he attack a Jewish appropriation of those traditions?

[16] Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct, pp. 222, 277.

[17] Ibid., p. 212.

[18] Ibid., p. 208.

[19] Ibid., p. 210-212.

[20] Ibid., p. 213.

[21] That is, lusting after Mother and wishing to kill Father. See Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct, p. 219.

[22] Ibid., p. 276-277.

[23] Ibid., p. 294.

[24] Ibid., pp. 279, 295. See also: Todd Presner, Muscular Judaism, (New York: Routledge, 2007) p. 10.

[25] Ibid., pp. 295, 302-303. On the concepts of heterotopia and heterochrony, see Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces”, Diacritics 16 (Spring 1986), 22-27. One might suggest that in the light of Zionism’s desperate attempt to un-queer Judaism, the formulation of the Land of Israel as a hetero-topia acquires a second, gendered meaning.

[26] Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct, p. 296. One could also formulate Israel as a boot camp, where boys turn into men. Indeed, to a large extent Israel is one big boot camp.

[27] Ibid., p. 302.

[28] Ibid., p. 303.

[29] Ibid., p. xxiii.

[30] Ibid., p. 4.

[31] Ibid., p. 17.

[32] Ibid., p. 2.

[33] Ibid. Nordau was born Simon Sudfeld in Hungary, and re-invented (one might say “regenerated”) himself as the German intellectual Nordau.

[34] But not, as Presner stresses, from the actual praxis of “body culture”: Muscular Judaism, p. 12.

[35] Ibid., pp. 38-39.

[36] Ibid., p. 39.

[37] Ibid., p. 48.

[38] Ibid., pp. 55-56.

[39] Ibid., p. 58.

[40] Ibid., p. p. 59.

[41] Ibid., p. 61.

[42] Ibid., p. 107.

[43] Ibid., p. 108.

[44] Ibid., p. 109.

[45] Ibid., p. 111.

[46] Gluzman, The Zionist Body, chapter 2 and 3.

[47] Ibid., chapter 4.

[48] Ibid., p. 185.

[49] Ibid., p. 186.

[50] For an analysis of Schreber’s breakdown see: Sigmund Freud, The Schreber Case, (New York: Penguin Classics Psychology, 2003). In the movie version, Uri is played by Assi Dayan, Moshe Dayan’s son.

[51] Gluzman, p. 196.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid., p. 200.

[54] Ibid., pp. 200-202.

[55] Ibid., pp. 204-205.

[56] Ibid., p. 222.

[57] Ibid., p. 227.

[58] Ibid., p. 229.

[59] Ibid., p. 231.

[60] Ibid., p. 232.

[61] Ibid., p. 233.

[62] Ibid., p. 234. My translation.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Yosef, "The Military Body”, p. 14-18.

[65] Raz Yosef, "The National Closet: Gay Israel in Yossi and Jagger," GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 11: 2 (2005), p. 283.

[68] Gluzman, The Zionist Body, p. 209.

Architecture as a Weapon: Legibility and Uncertainty

13 במרץ 2012

 Seeing Like a State, Unseen Like a State

The Middle Eastern old city – the medina – comes up in the very first sentence of the second chapter of James C. Scott’s Seeing like a State, a chapter in which he deals with High-Modernist plans to make the city legible.[1] The medina’s look, he continues, “is the look of disorder”.[2] Scott then charts certain attempts – the Haussmannization of Paris chief among them – to make old, tortuous, byzantine cities more legible – that is, more streamlined, more orderly, more manageable.

Between 1853 and 1869, Baron Haussmann, then the prefect of the Seine, had cut, straightened and widened the Parisian boulevards; he overhauled the sewage system, added new rail ways, erected monuments and dislocated the City’s poor.[3] Behind the plan was a military logic: in the wake of the 1848 uprising, Louis Napoleon wished to make Paris more controllable; the wide boulevards were conducive to the deployment of large military contingents but less so to the erection of barricades.[4] The renovation of Paris also made it more hygienic, with air circulating more breezily, sunlight enjoyed more widely, and objected moving more briskly. As Scott notes, hygiene, security and commerce are interrelated: the poorer districts were more prone to disease and so more prone to revolution.[5] The Haussmannization of Paris, with its nexus of hygiene, security and commerce, serves as the blueprint for the reading of the colonial endeavours I am about to recount below.

First, we will turn to Jaffa circa 1936, where during the first months of the “Arab Revolt” the British Mandatory authorities cut two intersecting road through the flesh of the old city, passing the military operation as a “town-opening scheme”; then, we will be transported to the Gaza Strip in the 1970s, where a remarkably similar plan was executed in order to quell a Palestinian uprising, citing again a mix of hygienic and security rationales; finally, we will turn to the city of Jenin in the West Bank, where, during the second Intifada (2002), the Israeli army (IDF) haussmannized the local refugee camp, leaving it in ruin. This time, no hygienic excuses were given.

We will see how, despite the obvious differences between regimes, the oriental urban space has to be perennially bled and beaten into legibility. We will also remark on the pronounced difference between two bio-political authorities – the British Mandatory government and the 1970s’ IDF – which were concerned, however superficially, with the living conditions of their subjects – and the new millennial IDF that switched to thanato-politics, leaving nothing but death and destruction in its wake while the care for its subjects is outsourced to international NGOs. We will approach these episodes through articles by the historians Dov Gavish and Nathan Bronn, who studied the British demolition of Old Jaffa, and the writing of the Architect Eyal Weizmann, who studied the IDF’s actions in the OT.

Legibility, however, is not the only governmental technique in the state’s arsenal. A slew of new research by young scholars studying Palestine’s occupation suggests that while the state strives to see its subjects clearly, it also strives to remain unseen and/or unfathomable in the eyes of its non-citizens, acting out the old voyeuristic fantasy of seeing without being seen. We will examine works by Eyal Weizmann and Ariel Handel who analyse the complex grid of roadblocks and checkpoints that checkers the West Bank, and how its Kafkaesque logic subjugates the Palestinians through randomness and obfuscation.

 Jaffa, 1936: Circulation and Circumlocution

The three-years-long struggle (1936-1939) between the Palestinians and the British Mandatory authorities, known as the “Arab Revolt”, broke out in the interstice between Tel-Aviv and Jaffa. In mid April 1936, a funeral of two Jews murdered in a Palestinian ambush turned into an ugly brawl. Soon, a general Palestinian strike was declared, and violence erupted, directed both against Jews and Britons. The port of Jaffa – a crucial entry point into Palestine – was shut down by strikers, and the old city of Jaffa, a motley mess of ramshackle houses and narrow alleys perched over the harbor, became a hotbed of insurgency.[6] Not two months passed and the British forces were already too afraid to enter the old city, or, due to snipers watching from the old city’s hill, re-open the port.[7] The British High Commissioner Arthur Wauchope was reluctant to send his troops into a bloody house-to-house combat, and facing dire economic and political consequences he had come up with a cleverer plan: to pave, under the guise of municipal work, two intersecting roads in Old Jaffa, which would allow the deployment of armed cars and large infantry forces.[8] To make to the ruse complete, official notices were dropped from planes down on Jaffa, notifying the locals about the upcoming demolition of unsanitary houses and advising them to leave promptly.[9]  On the 17th of June 1936, British forces laid siege on the old city while its denizens hurriedly left with the few belongings they could carry. The first phase of the operation was completed on the 18th; dozens of houses were demolished, making room for a rough path stretching from east to west.[10]

Unfortunately for the Mandate government, an appeal against the demolition was submitted to the Mandatory Supreme Court. The verdict given declared that there were no municipal by-laws allowing for demolition of houses due to sanitary reasons.[11] Adding insult to injury, the Court denounced the government’s rather clumsy attempt at spin-doctoring, comparing it to the Dickensian “Circumlocution Office”.[12] The Colonial emergency laws, however, allowed the High Commissioner to “pull down” houses for security reasons, and the appeal was rejected.[13] The second phase of the operation was completed on the 29th of June, with a road stretching south-north; 237 houses were torn down in toto.[14]



Figures 9 and 10: The Old City of Jaffa Before and After the Demolition.

Both Gavish and Bronn regard the operation, dubbed “Operation Anchor” due to the shape of the roads (seen in fig. 10), as a case of a political ruse gone sour. I would like to suggest a more subtle approach. The hygienic aspect of the operation, the “opening-up” of the city, was mentioned in the correspondence leading to it, and more importantly, in its aftermath. On the 6th of July 1936, a week after the end of the operation, High Commissioner Wauchope sent a report to his superior, the colonial minister. Although by now it was clear that the operation was, legally speaking, a military affair, Wauchope keeps mentioning the sanitary aspect. It is worth quoting his reasoning:

"[…] the opening up and improvement of the Old City of Jaffa by the construction of one or more wide roads and the demolition of insanitary buildings was a task which would need to be undertaken so soon as funds could be made available and a suitable opportunity offered. This measure we held to be in the highest degree desirable for two distinct but both commendable objects: –

        i.            Increase of public security;

      ii.            Relief of unhealthy congestion and insanitary conditions."[15]

The old city, according to the High Commissioner, is a “nest” populated by outlaws.[16] The district’s architecture itself facilitates outlaw-ness:

"The old town […] is a warren of tortuous and narrow covered streets, where blind alleys and culs-de-sac make the operation of police or troops an extremely hazardous enterprise."[17]

It seems that for Wauchope spatial chaos beget social chaos; as Scott shows throughout his book, he was hardly the only official to think this way. At the heart of the matter here is circulation and congestion. The economic circulation in Jaffa is stuck because due to the strike no commodities are sent out the port, and due to the insurgency no scabs can get into the port. Old Jaffa, with its miasmatic alleys and precarious architecture is both a sanitary and a security threat; the opening up of the old city will allow the circulation of air, British soldiers, and eventually, commodities. If hygiene, security and commerce are inexorably linked, then Operation Anchor was not a military or a municipal procedure: it was both at once. As Scott shows when discussing the Haussmannization of Paris, for authoritarian High-Modernist regimes – and might we add, for colonial ones – there is no clear demarcation between those spheres.[18]

 Gaza, 1971-1972: The Sharonization of Gaza

In the wake of the 1948 war 200,000 Palestinian refugees fled to the Egypt-controlled Gaza strip, trebling its population.[19] Those refugees settled mostly in densely populated camps. In June 1967 the Gaza Strip was occupied by Israeli forces; David Maymon, who was appointed its military governor, described in a memoir the architecture of the Gazan refugee camps:

“From the bird’s-eye view the camps looked like a hodgepodge mass of buildings, separated only by the narrowest of margins. The spacious streets built in the 1950s became winding, tortuous alleys – less than a meter in width – covered in filth and awash with insalubrious sewage. For the outsider, moving from one building to another seemed like an impossible feat. Indeed, the locals found private, sometimes mysterious, pathways that linked windows and rooftops, and dug underground tunnels between their houses.”[20]

In 1971 the unrest in the camps turned into a sustained guerilla campaign.[21] Much like the British in Jaffa, the Israeli forces feared going into the camps, now fully controlled by Palestinians militants.[22] Ariel Sharon, one of the IDF’s most notorious generals, was appointed Chief of the Southern Command, which included the Gaza Strip, in order to deal with the uprising.[23] Between July 1971 and February 1972, Sharon initiated a strategy of “pacification” which included extensive curfews, lax rules of engagement and assassination squads.[24] Urban planning – or, rather, “creative destruction” – became a major part of the IDF’s tactics: in an attempt to make the camps more legible and controllable, Sharon sent bulldozers into the camps, cutting wide roads through the urban mass; some 1,000 houses were demolished.[25] The new roads, writes Weizman,

“[D]ivided these camps into smaller neighborhoods, each of which could be accessed or isolated by infantry units. Sharon also ordered the clearing of all buildings and groves in an area he defined as a ‘security perimeter’ around the camps, effectively isolating the built-up area from its surrounding and making it impossible for anyone to enter or leave the camps without being noticed.”[26]

But this was only the first part of Sharon’s plan. New neighborhoods for the refugees, located far from the camps and furnished with well-lit and spacious streets were planned; the rationale behind this plan was three fold: to disperse the refugees, making the organization of insurgency harder, to raise their living standard in order to ameliorate their anger and to make “terrorist-hunting” that much easier.[27]

The plan was only partially executed. The IDF found it to be too costly and opted instead to build a series of Jewish settlements that were strategically placed between refugee camps.[28] In a way this new strategy, named the “Five-Finger Plan” due to the shape of the five wedges the settlements drove into the Gazan territory, was a repetition of the tactics used inside the camps on a larger scale: to divide, disconnect and make manageable the refugees.


 Jenin, 2002: Time of the Bulldozer

Figure 11 and 12: scenes of destruction from the Jenin refugee camp, 2002.

In February 2001, almost thirty years after he “pacified” the Gazan refugee camps Ariel Sharon became the prime minister of Israel. By then the Oslo peace process had collapsed and the Second Intifada had erupted, in part due to Sharon’s own controversial visit to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif; one might ponder whether Sharon was elected as Head of State for the same reasons he was given command of Gaza: to “pacify” the Palestinians.[29] In April 2002, after a string of suicide bombings in Israeli Cities, Sharon launched a massive offensive against the Palestinian Cities of the West Bank.[30] The conquest of the Jenin refugee camp, which we are about to discuss, is perhaps the most abominable chapter of that campaign. In the refugee camps conquered before Jenin, the IDF had employed a tactic very similar to the one the Irgun fighters used in Jaffa: namely, burrowing holes into residential houses’ external walls, and then blowing holes through the buildings’ party walls, moving through rooms and from house to house, thus avoiding fighting in the streets.[31] This tactic, dubbed “walking-through-walls” by Eyal Weizman, had failed when the Jenin refugee camp was attacked, due to the Palestinian militants’ preparation, and the Israeli soldiers’, mostly reservists freshly re-enlisted, lack thereof.[32] The Palestinian insurgents, probably unwittingly, had also imitated the battle of Jaffa: after a week of fighting, on the 9th of April 2002, they managed to collapse a row of buildings on Israeli troops.[33] This proved to be a turning point in the course of the attack. The Israeli command pulled its infantry back, sending in instead armoured D9 Caterpillar bulldozers (fig. 13), which systematically tore down buildings, burying under them insurgents and, sometimes, innocent civilians (figs. 11 and 12).[34]

Figure 13: An Armoured D9 Caterpillar Bulldozer.

 The bulldozers did not just raze buildings. They used the detritus to barricade certain streets and passages, creating anew the camp’s topography.[35] Weizman summarizes the results of the battle so:

“Inspection of the aerial photographs taken after the battle revealed that the destruction of more than 400 buildings, in an area of 40,000 square metres, was informed by the logic of military planning. This must be understood […] as the creation of a radically new layout for the camp. During the battle, the IDF widened the existing narrow alleyways and cut new ones through existing buildings in order to allow tanks and armoured bulldozers to penetrate the camp’s interior. An open space was cleared out at the camp’s core, where the new routes came together.”[36]

Unlike their predecessors in Gaza, the IDF officers in charge of Jenin did not concern themselves with repairing the damage they had caused. This was the job of UNRWA.[37] UWRA’s engineers tried use the opportunity to build wider streets and construct new, white and modern houses.[38] The architecture of the refugee camp, however, was always based on temporariness: its chaotic nature, ramshackle construction and general destitution amounted to a political statement – this is not home; home is elsewhere, in Jaffa, Haifa and Tiberias. The UNWRA engineers had tried, in good faith, to improve the life of the refugees but in the process had consolidated their status as a diaspora. Small wonder, then, that when a Palestinian insurgent saw the new respectable-looking homes in the center the camp he murmured: “We have lost the Right of Return”.[39]


 Before the Law

Let us now turn from legibility to illegibility and uncertainty; let us now change our interpretive grid from the Haussmanization of Paris to Kafka’s depiction of modern law in the parable Before the Law.[40] A man from the country, tells us Kafka, comes to see the Law – the Law being here a place rather than a concept. The doorkeeper refuses to let the man in; when the man asks if he might gain entry later the doorkeeper answers: “It is possible”. So the man waits and keeps asking for permission to enter, and keeps getting refused. Close to death, he asks the doorkeeper how come no one else has tried to enter the Law, and the doorkeeper answers with these reverberating words: “No one but you could gain admittance through this door, since this door was intended only for you. I am now going to shut it.”[41]

There are a few things we should take from the parable: first, the Law is spatial; secondly, it is personalized; thirdly, the man’s interface with the Law’s representative is seemingly cryptic and arbitrary; finally, the Law is designed to interpellate the subject – to turn one into a subject – and to do so through a failure. It is exactly the unavailability of the Law, the way the subject is excluded from and by the Law, that makes the subject a subject. All these Kafkaesque cruelties, I would like to argue, are present in the movement regime constructed by Israel in the West Bank; the roadblocks and checkpoints, to which we will now turn, constitute its loci of Law.



 House of Mirrors

Figures 14 and 15: the Qalandia checkpoint.

The Oslo Peace Process, ironically, introduced the Palestinians to a reality of constant closures and blockage. “Between 1994 and 1999, Israel installed 230 checkpoints and imposed 499 days of closures [in the Occupied Territories]”, Eyal Weizman informs us.[42] The fragmentation of Palestinian space has only become worse since the Second Intifada; an “extensive network” of manned and unmanned checkpoints, roadblocks, gates, dykes and trenches has been erected by the IDF in the Occupied Territories,[43] culminating in the “Separation Wall”, a discontinuous assemblage of barriers stretching 409 Km and separating the West Bank from pre-1967 Israel.[44] The network of barriers has cut the Palestinian space into about 200 separate territorial cells, which are accessible to Palestinians only through military checkpoints.[45] At the end of 2010, according to B’Teselem (an Israeli human rights NGO) there were 99 checkpoints and 505 other spatial obstructions fragmenting the West Bank.[46] The number of checkpoints, however, is in constant flux and sometimes an IDF jeep parked across a road can be construed as a checkpoint.

In the present section we will look at the major checkpoints, which are usually situated at the seam between prominent Palestinian territorial cells, or between the Occupied Territories and Israel. The major checkpoints are usually housed within huge hangers, surrounded by concrete slabs, barbed-wire and watchtowers. Weitzman describes the architecture of the checkpoint so:

“In most cases, the checkpoint had two sets of turnstiles with space between them. The first set was placed several tens of meters away from Israeli military positions so as to keep the congestion away from them. Soldiers regulate the pace of passage by using an electric device that controls the turning of the gates. One person at a time passes through at the push of a button.”[47]

Randomly, the soldiers would stop letting people through, and the unfortunate ones would get stuck inside the turnstiles. Apparently, the IDF has ordered the contractor who manufactures the turnstiles to cut the length of the turnstiles’ arms by almost half, so that the arms press against the trapped Palestinian, making sure there is nothing explosive on her person.[48] Just as the quiet swish of automatic doors at malls interpellates Western consumers as subjects, the arbitrary carouseling of the turnstile interpellates Palestinians.

Then, the Palestinian approaches an inspection booth, where she has to present her permits. The booth is encased in a bullet-proof glass so thick, it practically functions as a one-way mirror; thus, the Palestinian is seen but cannot see.[49] the IDF is slowly replacing human-operated inspection with bio-metric cards, making the Right to Passage personalized, literally, to the bone, and minimizing drastically the interaction between occupier and occupied; with computer terminals, no amount of arguing and supplication would do.[50]

The one-way mirror, according to Weizman, is an important feature of the checkpoints. In the Allenby Bridge Crossing, which connects the West Bank with Jordan, Palestinian officers conduct the inspection of travellers, while Israeli security personnel – Kafka’s secondary and tertiary doorkeepers[51] – watch the proceedings from behind a one-way mirror, ready to intervene at a moment’s notice.[52] What we have here is a classic case of Lacanian misrecognition: Just as the infant looking in the mirror overestimates her agency, the Palestinians, both travellers and officers, take part in the charade unfolding before the one-way mirror, acting as if they are in control of the situation.[53] The use of real mirrors is discarded altogether in the Rafah terminal, which connects Gaza and Egypt. Here, again, the terminal is operated by the Palestinian Authority, but is supervised, through CCTV, by Israeli officers and European observers situated in headquarters within Israel, who can order the Palestinian personnel to re-scan or apprehend suspects.[54]

 Time Bandits

In a brilliant essay, Israeli scholars Neve Gordon and Dani Filc show how the systematic destruction of social security nets in Gaza has led Gazans to put their trust in the metaphysically failsafe Islam, thus contributing to the political ascension of the radical-Islamist party Hamas. Gordon and Filc focus on the rather mundane issue of health insurance, and how a healthcare system allows one to plan ahead; when one cannot plan ahead, they claim, society falls back on religious fatalism, allowing fundamentalist organizations like Hamas to take over.[55]

The epidemic inability of Palestinians to plan ahead even the most quotidian activities is the subject of the present section. According to Ariel Handel, the existential uncertainty that plagues Palestinian everyday life is not an unplanned by-product of four decades of military rule; it is a major governmental technique used by the Israelis to disrupt any form of Palestinian resistance.[56] Handel maps the movement regime created by the IDF in the West Bank. To reiterate, the West Bank is divided into hundreds of territorial cells by a melange of physical obstacles, and movement between those cells is controlled by checkpoints and roadblocks. The cells are usually connected to just one other cell, creating a “train car” effect, where a Palestinian who wants to travel to a village in a different cell might have to take a detour through three different cells, because that is the only route possible.[57] Even if one is willing to make the detour, the checkpoints might be randomly shut down, or if the soldier – usually a 19-year-old teenager – in charge is having a bad day, she might decide to not let the traveller through; the worst case scenario, of course, is finding a new checkpoint where yesterday there were none.[58]

The most pronounce effect of this movement – or circulation – regime, is the inability to plan ahead. Although the physical distance between point A and point B is a constant, the amount of time it takes a Palestinian, who has to rely on taxis, who has to travel with different kinds of permits, and who is dependent on the goodwill of the soldiers she meets, is markedly different from the amount of time it takes a Jewish settler, who can drive on a Jews-only highway built on expropriated Palestinian land, to get to the same place.[59] Time, in other words, is relative to ethnicity.

Thus, the Palestinian who dares to venture out of her locale spends most of her time on the road, a “placeless place” as Handel puts it; the road, post 2000, has become the quintessential Palestinian place.[60] The economic and social implications of spending a one’s day moving circuitously from place to place are devastating.[61] In fact, the only sector of the West Bank economy that became relatively prosperous since 2000 is the food-services “industry” which caters to Palestinians waiting in checkpoints.[62] The movement regime that confines Palestinians to their cities and villages and makes any kind of traveling a Swiftian adventure is an incredibly banal and cost-effective way to destroy a society.

[1] James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed,(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 53.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., pp. 59-60.

[4] Ibid., p. 61.

[5] Ibid., p. 62.

[6] Dov Gavish, “Mivtza Yaffo 1936 – shipoor koloniali shel pne ha-‘ir [Operation Jaffa 1936 – A Colonial Renovation of the City], in Eretz Israel, Vol. 15 (1983), p. 69 [Hebrew]. Hereinafter abbreviated as: Gavish, “Operation Jaffa”.

[7] Ibid., p. 67.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Nathan Bronn, “Ha-tov shebanetzivim mool sone hayehudim – hasichsuch ha-gadol bein ha-natziv ha-elyion Wauchope ve-zkan ha-shoftim MacDonnell al reka harisot yaffo [the Best Commissioner Vs. the Jew-Hater – the struggle between High Commissioner Wauchope and Chief Justice MacDonnell in Light of the Demolition of Jaffa]”,in Mechkarey Mishpat, Vol. 1 (2009), p. 307 [Hebrew]. Hereinafter abbreviated as: Bronn, “The Best Commissioner”.

[10] Gavish, “Operation Jaffa”, pp. 67-68.

[11] Bronn, “The Best Commissioner”, pp. 344-345.

[12] Quoted in: Walid Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest: Reading in Zionism and the Palestinian Problem until 1948, (Washington: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987), p. 347.

[13] Ibid., pp. 345.

[14] Gavish, “Operation Jaffa”, p. 68.

[15]  Public Record Office (P.R.O.), CAB 24/263, "Situation in Palestine. Palestine Chief Justice's Comments on Jaffa Demolitions.", p. 2.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Scott, Seeing Like a State, pp. 59-63.

[19] Anonymous, “A Gaza Chronology, 1948–2008”, in Journal of Palestine Studies , Vol. 38, No. 3 (Spring 2009), p. 98.

[20] David Maymon, Ha-terror shenutzach [Terrorism Defeated], (Tel-Aviv: Stimatzki Press: 1993), p. 28 [Hebrew]. Hereinafter abbreviated as: Maymon, Terrorism Defeated. The translation is mine. Compare this excerpt with Scott’s writing about navigating the medieval city and the modernist’s bird’s-eye view: Seeing Like a State, pp. 53-57.

[21] Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land, Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, (London: Verso. 2007), p. 69.

[22] Ibid., p. 69.

[23] Ibid., p. 68.

[24] Ibid., p. 70.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Maymon, Terrorism Defeated, pp. 110-112; Weizmann, Hollow Land, p. 70.

[28] Weizman, Hollow Land, ibid.

[29] Yoav Peled, “Dual War: The Legacy of Ariel Sharon”, in Critique, Vol. 34, No. 2 (2006), p. 198. Sharon was nicknamed “The Bulldozer” by his supporters.

[30] Ibid., p. 200.

[31] Weizman, Hollow Land, pp. 192-195; see, also, section 1.4 of the present paper.

[32] Ibid., pp. 201-202.

[33] Ibid., p. 202.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid., pp. 202-203.

[36] Ibid., p. 203.

[37] UNWRA is the UN’s relief and work agency.

[38] Weizman, Hollow Land, pp. 203-204.

[39] Ibid., p. 205.

[40] Franz Kafka, “Before the Law”, in Parables and Paradoxes, (New York: Schoken books, 1946), pp.61-79.

[41] Ibid., p. 65.

[42] Weizman, Hollow Land, p.143.

[43] Ibid., p. 146.

[44] See:

[45] Weizman, Hollow Land, p. 146.

[46] See:

[47] Weizman, Hollow Land, p. 151.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Kafka, “Before the Law”, p. 61.

[52] Weizman, Hollow Land, p. 140.

[53] See: John Muller, “Lacan’s Mirror Stage”, in Psychoanalytical Inquiry, Vol. 5, No. 2 (1985), pp. 233-252.

[54] Weizman, Hollow Land, p. 153. One might be reminded here of the parable in Benjamin’s first Thesis on the Philosophy of History, where a “little hunchback” is operating a chess-playing automaton dressed like a Turk. Not surprisingly, the illusion of the Grandmaster Turk was supported by a “system of mirrors”. See: Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), p. 253.

[55] Neve Gordon and Dani Filc, “The Destruction of Risk Society and the Ascendancy of Hamas”, in The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Adi Ophir, Michal Givoni and Sari Hanafi (eds.), (New York: Zone Books, 2009), pp. 457-486.

[56] Ariel Handel, “Where, Where to, and When in the Occupied Territories: An Introduction to the Geography of Disaster”, in The Power of Inclusive Exclusion, pp. 181-182.

[57] Ibid., p. 185.

[58] Ibid., p. 188.

[59] Ibid., p. 187.

[60] ibid., p.191; and compare with the freedom the jeune cadre associated with being on the road: Kristin Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies, Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture (Cambridge: MIT press, 1996), p. 54-55.

[61] Handel, “Where, Where To, and When”, p. 193.

[62] Weizman, Hollow Land, p. 148.

Architecture as Art: Projects and Projections

13 במרץ 2012

 Whitewashing Tel-Aviv

The architect Sharon Rotbard begins narrating the story of Tel-Aviv in medias res, in July 2003, when UNESCO recommended that Tel-Aviv’s “White City” – a small area in the centre of the city built mostly during the 1930s – would be included in the organization’s list of world heritage sites.[1] The decision was the most pronounced effect of a discourse that began taking shape in the early 1980s with an exhibition called “White City”, which told a story of an artistic migration from the Bauhaus school in Dessau/Berlin to Palestine, in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power. The Jewish students of the school, forced to leave Nazi Germany, came to Tel-Aviv, then a sleepy petit bourgeois town, and transformed it by building the “White City”, a collection of modernist, chalk-white houses.[2] In the following years, this story will be retold many a time in newspapers, advertisements and municipal campaigns.[3]

But as Rotbard shows, the story is little more than an invented tradition.[4] The Art historian Michael Levine, who curated the “White City” exhibition, later recanted his own simplified version, asserting that the “White City” was an agglomeration of many influences beside Bauhaus: Le Corbusier, Erich Mendelsohn, and the “International Style”.[5] Furthermore, Levine acknowledged that the Bauhaus teachers themselves resisted any attempt to define a Bauhaus “style”.[6] Rotbard deconstructs the urban legend even further: some of the Jewish students who had studied in the Bauhaus school became prominent architects in Mandatory Palestine, but not in Tel-Aviv: loyal to the school’s socialist orientation, they worked mostly in the rural cooperated settlements, the Kibbutzim.[7]

Why, then, did the “White City” become synonymous with Bauhaus? The linkage between Tel-Aviv and Bauhaus had some precedents in the architectural discourse of the 1960s and 1950s, but the connection coagulated during the 1980s. In 1977, for the first time in the history of Israel (and of the Zionist settlement in Palestine), a right-wing party, the Likud, came to power. The Labour-oriented, Ashkenazi (i.e., European) elite was shaken to its core; one former minister quipped, after hearing of the election’s results, that rather than the government, “the people should be replaced”.  The Likud party had come to represent the Other (Jewish) Israelis: the oriental, the religious, the poor; it had come to represent black Israel. The “re-discovery” of the “White City”, Rotbard contends, was the old elite’s reaction to the Likud’s ascension.[8] The return to Bauhaus was a return to Europe, to an occidental, pristine, uncomplicated, modernity.[9] Now that the barbarians were at the gates of the polis, Ostjuden who immigrated from Galicia and Russia began feeling homesick for a Germany that was never their homeland.[10]

The story of the “White City”, then, is not a story of urban preservation but of reconstruction. What is being reconstructed here is the city’s image that is being projected onto those white houses, and that image is continually reconstructed in response to social and political changes.

 The Sandblasted City

 the future homeowners of Achuzat Bayit, 1909.

The whitewashing of Tel-Aviv goes back even further than the 1930s. The myth of Tel-Aviv is a myth of an immaculate conception, of a city that sprang, like an Aphrodite scrubbed fresh, from the sandy dunes north of Jaffa.[11] That myth is supposedly buttressed by an iconic photograph (fig. 2), taken on the eleventh of April 1909, when the lots of Achuzat Bayit, the neighborhood that would later become Tel-Aviv, were allocated to its future residents.[12]  The photo shows a crowd of people, the soon-to-be homeowners, surrounded by sand and hills; Jaffa and the Jaffans are nowhere to be seen. This photo tells Tel-Avivians everything they need to know about their city: that it was not, like settlements elsewhere in Israel/Palestine, built on stolen land; that the land it was built on was barren and uncared for; that they built it themselves, without the help of local workers, a bunch of “students and lawyers mixing the cement”, as one Tel-Avivian artist put it.[13] The photo presents a community that is at once autochthonic, born of the sand – and hence not colonial – and, on the other hand, an epitome of the Zionist desire to breathe life into the desolate, empty land.[14]Herein lies an oxymoron that pits autochthonism against modernization: in order to justify the reclamation of the land the settlers have to picture it as desolate. Alas, its desolation marks the land as particularly Arab, for it only became arid as a result of years of Arab neglect. But since the land is markedly Arab and the settler is markedly other than Arab – Jewish, European, Modern – the settler cannot be autochthonic. Thus, a vicious cycle is set in motion, where the disavowal and acknowledgement of Arab presence alternate and disrupt each other: the land is empty, but it is empty because it is neglected by its inhabitants; conversely, the land is neglected by its indigenous inhabitants, and so must be emptied of them.

The truth behind the birth of Tel-Aviv is much more mundane; hardly an Aphrodite, Tel-Aviv grew out of Jaffa more like Athena out of Zeus’s forehead. The Historian Maoz Azaryahu, who wrote a book about the myths of Tel-Aviv, reminds us that Achuzat Bayit was planned as a suburb of Jaffa, to be populated by affluent Jews who wanted to get away from noisy, dirty and increasingly inhospitable Jaffa;[15] it was not even the first Jewish neighborhood to be built outside Jaffa – Neve Tzedek was established in 1887 and was followed by Neve Shalom, Mahane Yosef and others.[16] Why, then, was Achuzat Bayit/Tel-Aviv, rather than its older sisters, declared as the “first Hebrew city”? According to Rotbard, it was that famous photo that made the establishment of Achuzat Bayit such a pivotal moment; the photo encapsulated in an iconic fashion the myth of the city born out of the empty dunes.[17] The Historian Mark LeVine offers more grounded reasons. The founding fathers of Achuzat Bayit, he asserts, wanted to create a space where Zionists could nurture and practice their nationalistic values without unwarranted interference; they wanted to keep Jewish capital in Jewish hands and they wanted to build a settlement that would “bolster Jewish national prestige“.[18] From its inception, Achuzat Bayit was specifically imagined as modern, clean and Jewish.[19]

The plot of land that would become Achuzat Bayit was known as ‘Karem al-Jabali’ (the orchard of the Jabali family); the name itself suggests that the land was not empty or unused.[20] The construction of the new neighborhood was halted temporarily when local Bedouins claimed they were cultivating the vines in the plot.[21] Those locals were evicted – and perhaps paid off – but nomadic shepherds who used the land for grazing kept harassing the new residents.[22]

The insistence that Achuzat Bayit was built using Jewish labour is not supported by contemporary accounts: the homeowners found the Jewish builders to be too expensive and resorted to using Arab labourers who demanded less money and were more experienced.[23] In 1910 the neighborhood’s name was changed to Tel-Aviv (translated literally as Spring Hill); the name, as Azaryahu remarks, was previously used as the title to the Hebrew translation of Theodore Herzl’s utopian novel Altneuland.[24] The new name, the Jewish neighbors thought, reflected better the feat of erecting“magnificent buildings on the wilderness of sand.”[25]

 Jaffa’s disavowal by the Zionists was so entrenched, that it is almost completely absent for thedrawings of Nahum Gutman, the quintessential Tel-Avivian artist (figs. 3 and 4). Rotbard shows that if Gutman was aiming for verisimilitude, the Jaffan neighborhoods of Manshiyya and Kerem Hateymanim[26] should have been positioned between Tel-Aviv and the sea.[27] Jaffa only appears as a dark silhouette in the upper left corner of figure 4.

 The Painting on the Wall

Gutman’s drawing were not the only instance of Zionist art wishfully erasing Arab presence. In2000, almost a century after the establishment of Tel-Aviv, a wall was erected to the south of the Jerusalemite neighborhood of Gilo. Since the beginning of the second Intifada, Palestinian snipers from the adjacent Beit Jala neighborhood had been shooting at the denizens of Gilo, injuring some of them critically. The Israeli Ministry of Security had erected a wall to protect the Giloites, who in turn found it to be an eyesore and took to defacing it.[28] The municipality then commissioned artists to decorate the wall with an “artistic replica of the disappearing view”.[29] The Artistic community in Israel, strongly self-identified as leftist, had refused to collaborate with the municipal authorities.[30] Finally, a group of Russian immigrants, too poor and marginal to afford the moral high ground, was commissioned.[31] The immigrant artists had compunctions, but they also felt that the painted wall might raise the spirits of the residents of Gilo.[32] The painting on the wall, seen in figure 5, is of the very same landscape that the wall hides, sans the Palestinian neighborhood. “The wall”, writes W.T.J. Mitchell “is precisely an erection of a blind spot in the landscape, but a blind spot […] that conceals itself with a veil of illusory transparency […]”.[33] That the actual Palestinian neighborhood is visible from the Israeli side, as figure 5 clearly shows, should alert as to the fact that the wall is not a blind spot, as Mitchell contends, but rather a third eye, a chakra of seeing beyond the real: what is projected onto the wall is a fantasy of disappearance, of an ethnic cleansing that cannot be executed due to realpolitik and must exist, for now, only in the realm of art.[34]

The Palestinian neighborhood Beit Jala is not, however, completely absent from the painting on Gilo’s wall. As Mitchell notes, the painting does show distant mosques. The mosques, Mitchell writes, are a reminder, “a comforting acknowledgment of what and who will have vanished, a kind of melancholy recognition of disappearance that is the central aesthetic emotion of the romantic picturesque”.[35] The mosques, in other words, are a remnant, a mnemonic device of a victory yet to be achieved, a victory that, because Israel is a self-proclaimed western democracy, can only be desired and enjoyed like a dirty little secret, sublimated through art.

 Vertical Domination

The sublimation of violence through art delivers us back to Jaffa, where a remnant of a victory already achieved was turned into a museum.[36] In April 1948, during the civil war between the Palestinians and the Jews, a Jewish right-wing militia, the Irgun, conquered the Jaffan neighborhood of Manshiyya. This northernmost Palestinian neighborhood burrowed itself into the body Tel-Aviv – or, rather, Tel-Aviv wrapped itself around Manshiyya as it expanded west- and southward.

During the Civil war phase of the 1948 war (November 1947-May 1948), Palestinian and Zionist militias clashed in the interstitial no-man’s-land between Manshiyya and Tel-Aviv. The Tel-Avivians did not care for Manshiyya; “a thorn in the flesh of Tel-Aviv” they called it, a “cancerous tumor”.[37] Then, a few weeks before the establishment of the state of Israel, Menachem Begin, the Irgun leader, realizing that soon all Jewish militias will be incorporated into one Jewish army, decided that he needed a military achievement in order to consolidate political power.[38]  Manshiyya was chosen as the site of the attack. The battle itself is fascinating: the Irgun fighters, vastly outnumbered and underequipped, used explosives to burrow into buildings, avoiding the streets that were controlled by Arab fighters.[39] The Irgun fighters also erected makeshift barricades, made out of sandbags – sand being, apparently, the quintessential Zionist material – that allowed them to cross streets unharmed; the result of that improvised construction was a modular, serpentine system of barricades-cum-thoroughfares that could be adjusted on the spot in response to changes in the battle.[40] Finally, rather than shoot at the Arab defenders, the Irgun fighters used explosives to topple down building on their fortified outposts.[41] Manshiyya was conquered, and a few days later Jaffa surrendered to the Zionist forces.[42] The result of the tactics employed by the Irgun was what Stephen Graham and others have termed Urbicide – the killing of a city.[43]

But, miraculously, Manshiyya did not flatline just yet; after the war, with the Arab inhabitants gone, Jewish immigrants desperate enough to live amidst the debris and squalor squatted in the ruined buildings. It took the Tel-Avivian municipality over a decade to evict them and raze the neighborhood. [44] The detritus that was once Manshiyya was pushed by bulldozers into the sea, creating an artificial coastline, and on that new land a park was built; in 1978, forty some years after Nahum Gutman had wished it away in his paintings, Manshiyya was gone.[45]

In the park built on the ruins of Manshiyya, called “The Conquerors’ Park”, stands a peculiar building (fig. 8). Its lower half is made out of what was left of an Arab house, built in stone and adorned with ornamental arches. The upper half is an ultra-modernist rectangle, made out of aluminum and glass.[46] The building houses a museum dedicated to the conquest of Manshiyya. The power-relations between the modern(ist) conqueror and the oriental conquered are all too clear: the Zionist part hunches over, dominates the Palestinian part. The metaphor is so obtrusive, so raw, that rather than exemplifying architecture-as-art, the building verges on becoming architectural pornography.

For Rotbard, the Irgun museum, a building that houses memory, is an artifact of willful forgetting, of erasure.[47] I would like to suggest, however, that like the Peqoud’s Ishmael, the sole survivor nestled in his own coffin, this Arab ruin could be coaxed to testify to its own destruction. The need of the conqueror to display his conquest curtails the possibility of a complete erasure. The very difference needed to signify the distinction between the victor and the vanquished – the difference between stone arches and cubicle glass, in our case – makes sure of that. One man, said Hannah Arendt, always survives to tell the story; I would like to argue that buildings are able to do the same.

[1] Sharon Rotbard, ‘Ir levanah, ‘Ir shchorah [White City, Black City], (Tel-Aviv: Babel, 2005) [Hebrew]. Hereinafter abbreviated as Rotbard, White City, Black City.

[2] Ibid., p. 18.

[3] Ibid., pp. 28-33.

[4] Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (ed.), The Invention of Tradition, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

[5] Rotbard, White City, Black City, p. 36.

[6] Ibid., p. 40.

[7] Ibid., p. 48.

[8] Ibid., P. 54. That the agriculture-oriented elite was concentrated in metropolitan, Bourgeois, Tel-Aviv is one of the many paradoxes comprising the city’s tale.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., pp. 55-56. Ashkenaz, the word that would come to represent all Jews of European descent (who were mostly concentrated in Eastern Europe) was the medieval Jewish name of Western Germany.

[11] Ibid., p. 78.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., pp. 73, 85.

[14] Ibid.

[15]Maoz Azaryahu, Tel-Aviv ha’ir ha’amitit, mitographia historit [Tel-Aviv – The Real City, A Historical Mythography], (Sde Boker: Ben-Gurion University Press, 2005), p. 29 [Hebrew]. Hereinafter abbreviated as: Azaryahu, The Real City. Mark LeVine reports that Jewish construction in Jaffa was sometimes met with Palestinian violence. See: Overthrowing Geography, Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and the Struggle for Palestine, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), p. 48.

[16] Rotbard, White City, Black City, pp. 83-84; LeVine, Overthrowing Geography, p. 60.

[17] Rotbard, White City, Black City, p. 84.

[18] LeVine, Overthrowing Geography, p. 61.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., p. 64.

[21] Ibid., p. 69.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., p. 71-72.

[24] Azaryahu, The Real City, p. 33. Theodore Herzl was the progenitor of “political Zionism” and in his novel Altneuland he set a blueprint for the Jewish state. The Hebrew translator, Nahum Sokolov, was a prominent Zionist leader and a journalist. His translation is, however, rather convoluted: “Tel”, or hill in Hebrew, has a specifically ancient connotation; “Aviv”, or spring, is supposed to convey regeneration; hence, an “old-new” land.

[25] Levine, Overthrowing Geography, p. 72.

[26] Manshiyya was a Muslim neighborhood; Kerem Hateymanim (in Hebrew: the Yemenites’ Orchard) was a mixed neighborhood, populated by oriental Jews, Gypsies, Egyptians and Afghans. See: Rotbard, White City, Black City, p. 84.

[27] Ibid., p. 130-136.

[28] W.J.T. Mitchell, “Christo’s Gates and Gilo’s Wall” in Critical Inquiry, Vol.32, No. 4 (2006), p. 588.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid., pp. 589-590.

[33] Ibid., p. 590.

[34] The wall was taken down in 2010. The same residents that demanded its erection in 2000 campaigned to have it pulled down a decade later; the snipers stopped shooting and the wall did not agree with the middle-class facade that the locals were trying to cultivate. They had, however, only good things to say about the painting on the wall. See: Ma’ariv (online edition), 13.8.2010,  Omri Meniv, “Hasart homat hamagen be-Gilo: hatoshavim megivim be-regashot me’oravim [The Wall in Gilo is being Taken Down: The Residents Respond with Mixed Feelings]”, accessed 27.12.2011.

[35] Mitchell, “Christo’s Gates and Gilo’s Wall”, p. 590.

[36] On the “museumification” of indigenous architecture see: Paul Rabinow, French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989), pp. 299-301; Yair Paz, “Shimur ha-moreshet ha-adrichalit ba-schoonot ha-netushot le’achar milchemet ha-atzma’ut [preserving the architectural heritage in the abandoned neighborhoods after the War of Independence], in Cathedra, Vol. 88 (1998), pp. 95-134 [Hebrew]; Nurit Alfasi and Roy Fabian, “Preserving Urban Heritage: From Old Jaffa to Modern Tel-Aviv”, in Israel Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (2009), pp. 137-156.

[37] Menachem Begin, Ha-mered [The Revolt], (Jerusalem: Achiasaf Press, 1965), p. 433 [Hebrew]. Begin would later become the leader of the Likud and in 1977 the prime minister of Israel. See above, p. 5.

[38] Yaakov Peleg, “Ha-ma’aracha ‘al Yaffo ve-‘al svivoteyha [The Battle of Jaffa and its Environs]”, in Alon Kadish (ed.), Milchemet ha-atzma’ut diyun mechudash [The War of Independence, a New Debate], (Tel-Aviv: Ministry of Security Press, 2005), pp. 397-398 [Hebrew].

[39] Ibid., p. 410.

[40] Haim Lazar, Kibush Yaffo [The Conquest of Jaffa], (Tel-Aviv: Shelach Press, 1951), p. 171 [Hebrew].

[41] Rotbard, White City, Black City, p. 183.

[42] Ibid., p. 186.

[43] See: David Campbell, Stephen Graham and Daniel Bertrand Monk, “Introduction to Urbicide: The Killing of Cities?”, in Theory & Event, Vol. 10, No. 2 (2007), accessed online in HTML format, 27/12/2011.

[44] Tel-Aviv incorporated Jaffa in 1950.

[45] Rotbard, White City, Black City, p. 231.

[46] Ibid., p. 235.

[47] Ibid., p. 239-240.

Architecture, Space and Colonialism in Israel/Palestine, 1909-2011

13 במרץ 2012


The present paper is concerned with architecture as a venue of colonial power. We will examine scholarly literature which explicates how architecture facilitates or disrupts colonial rule by expanding or limiting one’s possible actions. Thematically and chronologically, we will concentrate on the Zionist colonization of Palestine, which we will divided into two distinct phases: in the first phase, taking place between the 1880s and 1948, the Zionist colonial campaign was conducted by a network of non-statist organizations purchasing land from local landowners; from 1917 it was carried on under the auspices of the British Empire, which was given a mandate to manage Palestine by the League of Nations. Thus, Palestine was both imperialized and colonized: it was incorporated into the British Empire, but the settlers colonizing it were not Britons but East European Jews. The Colonization of Palestine culminated with the 1948 war which erupted after the British withdrew from the country, and which ended with a sweeping Zionist victory. The State of Israel was established, covering most of Mandatory Palestine’s territory, including regions allocated by the UN to a Palestinian state that never came to be. During the war, some 700,000 Palestinian refugees fled or were driven out of the country, most of them settling in the Jordan-controlled West Bank and the Egypt-controlled Gaza Strip.

The second phase begins with the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the 1967 war, and has yet to have ended. This time around the Zionist colonization of the West Bank and the Gaza strip was a state-driven affair: to this date the State of Israel has settled about 500,000 people in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.[1] The land on which more than 200 settlements were built was expropriated from its Palestinian inhabitants.[2] More land was expropriated to accommodate a complex skein of roads and military zones used to protect the settlers from Palestinian violence.[3]

The present paper is divided into two parts which tackle the the two phases described above. The first part begins, chronologically, in 1909 with the establishment of Tel-Aviv, the “First Hebrew City”. It is concerned with the way the architecture of Tel-Aviv was used to construct a mythical narrative about the Zionist reclamation and modernisation of Palestine. Discussing the work of Sharon Rotbard, Mark LeVine and other scholars who have studied the history of Tel-Aviv and the adjacent mixed city of Jaffa, I will show that the erasure of the Palestinians and of Palestinian architecture was an integral part of that narrative.

The second part deals with the Israeli military rule in the Occupied Territories (OT) since 1967. Using both James Scott’s insight about legibility as a governmental technique and Franz Kafka’s insight about randomness and uncertainty as a governmental technique, I will discuss recent works that analyse Israeli actions in the OT as aimed at increasing the state’s ability to see its subjects, and the subjects’ inability to see and comprehend the state. We will examine the way Israel uses destruction to “legibilize” the Palestinian urban space, and how the checkpoints which carve up the OT are used to disorient and incapacitate the Palestinians.

[1] See: B’Tselem, “Settlements and Land”,

[2] See: B’Tselem, “Land expropriation”,

[3] Ibid.

היכן בעולם נמצא אחמד אבו-לבן?

17 בספטמבר 2011

בארכיון צה"ל, בתיק 1860/1950-76, מסתתר סיפור קפקאי על היעלמותו של אחמד אבו-לבן, סוחר יפואי מאנשי המופתי, שהיה חלק מועדת החירום שחתמה על הסכם הכניעה של יפו ב-13 למאי 1948.

אבו-לבן, כמו עוד חברי ועדת החירום הושם במעצר בית אחרי כניעת העיר. ב-16 לאוגוסט הוא הובא בפני שופט באשמת החזקת נשק באופן בלתי חוקי והועבר לבית הסוהר המרכזי של יפו. ב-30 לאוגוסט שוחרר הנאשם ואמר לעורך-דינו, יצחק בן-ימיני כי "לא האשימוהו כליל ואינו יודע פשר מאסרו". אחר-כך, ב-12 לספטמבר נעצר שוב אבו-לבן. למחרת היום נסע בן-ימיני אל בית-הסוהר ביפו וביקש לראות את מרשו. מפקד בית הסוהר הודיע לפרקליט כי העצור נמצא בחלק הצבאי של בית הסוהר. ניגש הפרקליט לסגן המפקח של בית הסוהר הצבאי, הקצין פרויס, ודרש להתראות עם אבו-לבן. אמר הקצין לעו"ד כי דרושה לכך פקודה מיוחדת ולבקשת בן-ימיני התקשר למשרד המושל הצבאי של יפו על מנת להשיג אישור. הקצין פרויס שוחח עם אלכסנדר בן-זאב, סגנו של המושל הצבאי, אך השיחה התנתקה לפני שהושגו הסכמות כל שהן. הלך הפרקליט למשרדי המושל הצבאי ושם קיבל מידי בן-זאב פקודה בכתב המתירה לו להיפגש עם העצור. כשחזר לכלא מצא שם את הקצין פרויס יחד עם מפקדו, הקצין פפרקורן (בשלב הזה, מסתבר, הופכת הפרשה למחזה לויני). קרא פפרקורן את הפקודה, "בא במבוכה", ואז התעקש כי אבו-לבן כלל "אינו נמצא 'אצלו' בבית-הסוהר". כששאל בן-ימיני את הקצינים מה קרה לאבו-לבן במהלך הזמן שהיה הפרקליט אצל המושל הצבאי לא ידעו אלה מה לענות לו. עורך-הדין ביקש מן הקצין פפרקורן שייתן לו אישור בכתב כי העצור לא נמצא ברשותו. פפרקורן הלך להתייעץ וכשחזר, הודיע כי הוא "אינו מקבל פקודות מהמושל הצבאי" וכי "הנעצר אינו נמצא בבית הסוהר". עם זאת, הוא סירב לאשר את דבריו בכתב. בן-ימיני התעקש שלפחות יאשר בעל-פה שאבו-לבן אינו נמצא ברשותו והקצין הסכים תוך שהוא מדגיש כי "[העצור] אינו נמצא בבית הסוהר בשעה אחת אחר הצהריים באותו היום".

אחרי חילופי הדברים הבלתי מועילים הללו החל בן-ימיני לשלוח מכתבים לרשויות שונות בניסיון לגלות מה עלה בגורלו של אבו-לבן. ב-19 לספטמבר קיבל מכתב תשובה מבכור שטרית, שר המיעוטים, ובו מצוין כי אבו-לבן נמצא ב"מקום בטוח, באחד המחנות הצבאיים"; השר לא יכול היה או לא רצה למסור באיזו אשמה עצור אבו-לבן. לבסוף, באוקטובר 1948 הגיש בן-ימיני בקשה להביאס קורפוס לבית המשפט העליון. כאן נפסק נתיב המסמכים הקשור לפרשה. לא ברור מן המסמכים מה עלה בגורלו של אב-לבן והאם פרקליטו הצליח למצוא אותו בארץ רחבת הידיים המשתרעת בן הים והירדן.

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גטו ע'גמי, 1948

17 בספטמבר 2011

באוגוסט 1948 רוכזו ערביי יפו הנותרים, כמה אלפים בודדים, בשכונת ע'גמי. סביב השכונה הוקמה גדר, ובתיה הפנויים של יפו עברו לידי האפוטרופוס לנכסי נפקדים, שהעניק אותם לפליטים ועולים יהודים.

"גיטו בגדר-תיל, גיטו מנותק מגישה אל הים. הכזה יהיה הקו המדיני שלנו?" שאל מ. ארם את שר המיעוטים בכור-שלום שטרית. שאל, ולא ידע מה הוא שואל.

זכות השיבה, 1949

30 ביולי 2011

9 במרץ 1949

הנדון: העברת ערבים ממקום למקום

בתור צעד ראשון לפתרון שאלת הפליטים בשטח מדינת ישראל, יש להקל על כל הרוצים לחזור לחיפה, עכו, [מילה לא ברורה] ולכפרים שאינם נטושים, באם אין נגדם כל אשמה מיוחדת.

נא להמציא לי רשימה שמית עם הפרטים דלהלן:

(1) שם ומשפחה;

(2) שם האב;

(3) הגיל;

(4) מצב משפחתי;

(5) מקום המגורים.

                                                                                                             א. אבנר, אלוף

מפקד הממשל הצבאי בשטחים המוחזקים.