1. Introduction to The Politics of Verticality

Eyal Weizman
23 April 2002

Weizman introduces the experience of territory in the West Bank, which explodes simple political boundaries and “crashes three-dimensional space into six dimensions– three Jewish and three Arab”.

Since the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza strip, a colossal project of strategic, territorial and architectural planning has lain at the heart of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

The landscape and the built environment became the arena of conflict. Jewish settlements – state-sponsored islands of ‘territorial and personal democracy’, manifestations of the Zionist pioneering ethos – were placed on hilltops overlooking the dense and rapidly changing fabric of the Palestinian cities and villages. ‘First’ and ‘Third’ Worlds spread out in a fragmented patchwork: a territorial ecosystem of externally alienated, internally homogenised enclaves located next to, within, above or below each other.

A new understanding of territory had to be developed to govern the West Bank. The Occupied Territories were no longer seen as a two-dimensional surface, but as a large threedimensional volume, layered with strategic, religious and political strata.

New and intricate frontiers were invented, like the temporary borders later drawn up in the Oslo Interim Accord, under which the Palestinian Authority was given control over isolated territorial ‘islands’, but Israel retained control over the airspace above them and the sub-terrain beneath.

This process might be described as the ‘politics of verticality’. It began as a set of ideas, policies, projects and regulations proposed by Israeli state-technocrats, generals, archaeologists, planners and road engineers since the occupation of the West Bank, severing the territory into different, discontinuous layers.

The writer Meron Benvenisti described the process as crashing “three-dimensional space into six dimensions – three Jewish and three Arab”. Former US president Bill Clinton sincerely believed in a vertical solution to the problem of partitioning the Temple Mount. Settlement Masterplanners like Matityahu Drobless aimed to generate control from high points.

Ron Pundak, the architect of the Oslo Accords, described solutions for partitioning the West Bank with a three-dimensional matrix of roads and tunnels, still on the drawing board, as the only practical way to divide an undividable territory. And Gilead Sher, Israeli chief negotiator at Camp David (and a divorce lawyer) explained it to me as a way of enlarging the ‘cake’ before partitioning it.

Over a week, openDemocracy posted Eyal Weizman’s extraordinary series of articles and photo-essays, which fills out this picture of three-dimensional conflict in devastating detail. These ideas are extracted from a book he is writing. They offer us a fresh way of understanding the West Bank in words and pictures.

In the course of the articles, Weizman takes us on a journey which starts with the hills and valleys of the West Bank landscape. Reflecting on the significance mountains and valleys have historically for the Jewish people, he focuses on the recent mountaintop settlements.

Next he takes us underground to examine the politics of water and sewage in this contested territory, and the way archaeology is being pressed into the service of the present (episodes 5 and 6). He then lays out the special case of Jerusalem and the ongoing battle for its past, above and below ground (episode 9), before going on to explore the astonishing infrastructure of bypass roads that weave above and below each other and attempt to separate the two communities (episode 10).

In his chilling final episode he turns our attention to the way the Israelis have established control over individual Palestinian lives, by militarising the airspace over the West Bank.

The series will climax in May with Weizman’s definitive new map of the West Bank patchwork, showing how Israeli and Palestinian settlements encircle one another. Prepared for the human rights organization B’tselem, and updating American intelligence maps, it will be an indispensable aid to understanding the intimacy of this conflict.

Index to the Politics of verticality

  1. Introduction
  2. Maps
  3. Hills and valleys of the West Bank
  4. West Bank settlements
  5. Optical urbanism
  6. The paradox of double vision
  7. From water to shit
  8. Excavating sacredness
  9. Jerusalem
  10. Roads — over and under
  11. Control in the air

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