Photoessay on settlement brochures to come
The journey into the mountains, seeking to reestablish the relation between terrain and sacred text, was a work of tracing the location of biblical sites, and constructing settlements adjacent to them. Settlers turned topography into sceneography, forming an exegetical landscape with a mesh of scriptural signification that must be read, not just viewed.
For example, a settlement located near the Palestinian city of Nablus advertises itself thus:
Shilo spreads up the hills overlooking Tel Shilo, where over three thousand years ago the children of Israel gathered to erect the Tabernacle and to divide by lot the Land of Israel into tribal portions this ancient spiritual centre has retained its power as the focus of modern day Shilo.
Rather than being a resource for agricultural or industrial cultivation, the landscape establishes the link with religious-national myths. The view of the landscape does not evoke solemn contemplations, but becomes an active staring, part of an ecstatic ritual: it causes me excitement that I cannot even talk about in modesty, says Menora Katzover, wife of a prominent settlers leader, about the view of the Shomron mountains.
Another sales brochure, published for member recruitment in Brooklyn and advertising the ultra orthodox settlement of Emanuel, evokes the pastoral: The city of Emanuel, situated 440 metres above sea level, has a magnificent view of the coastal plain and the Judean Mountains. The hilly landscape is dotted by green olive orchards and enjoys a pastoral calm.
There is a paradox in this description. The very thing that renders the landscape biblical traditional inhabitation, cultivation in terraces, olive orchards and stone buildings is made by the Arabs whom the settlers come to replace. The people who cultivate the green olive orchards and render the landscape biblical are themselves excluded from the panorama.
It is only when it comes to the roads that the brochure mentions Arabs, and that only by way of exclusion. A motored system is being developed that will make it possible to travel quickly and safely to the Tel Aviv area and to Jerusalem on modern throughways, bypassing Arab towns (emphasis in the original). The gaze that can see a pastoral, biblical landscape will not register what it doesnt want to see the Palestinians.
State strategy established vision as a mean of control, and uses the eyes of settlers for this purpose. The settlers celebrate the panorama as a sublime resource, but one that can be edited. The sight-lines from the settlements serve two contradictory agendas simultaneously.
The Emanuel brochure continues, Indeed new Jewish life flourishes in these hills of the Shomron, and the nights are illuminated by lights of Jewish settlements on all sides. In the centre of all this wonderful bustling activity, Emanuel, a Torah city, is coming into existence.
From a hilltop at night, a settler can lift his eyes to see only the blaze of other settlements, perched at a similar height atop the summits around. At night, settlers could avoid the sight of Arab towns and villages, and feel that they have truly arrived as the people without land to the land without people. (This famous slogan is attributed to Israel Zangwill, one of the early Zionists who arrived to Palestine before the British mandate, and described the land to which Eastern European Zionism was headed as desolate and forsaken.) Latitude thus becomes more than merely relative position on the folded surface of the terrain. It functions to establish literally parallel geographies of First and Third Worlds, inhabiting two distinct planes, in the startling and unprecedented proximity that only the vertical dimension of the mountains could provide.
Rather than the conclusive division between two nations across a boundary line, the organisation of the West Banks particular terrain has created multiple separations, provisional boundaries, which relate to each other through surveillance and control. This intensification of power could be achieved in this form only because of the particularity of the terrain.
The mountain settlements are the last gesture in the urbanisation of enclaves. They perfect the politics of separation, seclusion and control, placing them as the end-condition of contemporary urban and architectural formations such as New Urbanism, suburban enclave neighbourhoods or gated communities. The most ubiquitous of architectural typologies is exposed as terrifying within the topography of the West Bank.
Index to the Politics of verticality