10. Roads --; over and under

Eyal Weizman
30 April 2002

3D bypasses photoessay

A bewildering network of bypass roads weave over and under one another, attempting to separate the Israeli and Palestinian communities. And the future could be wilder – a 48-kilometre viaduct between Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli settlements in the West Bank are dormitory suburbs, reliant on roads connecting them with the urban centres of Israel proper. So-called ‘bypass’ roads were a feature of the Oslo accord. The Israeli government was allowed (with specially allocated American money) to construct a network of fast, wide security roads that bypass Arab towns and connect the settlements to Israel.

The bypass roads, some still in the process of paving, would become a massive system of twenty-nine highways spanning four hundred and fifty kilometres. They allow four hundred thousand Jews living in land occupied in 1967 to have freedom of movement. About three million Palestinians are left locked into isolated enclaves.

These roads make any attempt to detach the West Bank from Israel proper almost impossible. They demonstrate the alienation of the settlers from the surrounding landscape. But if the settlements themselves are hard to attack, Palestinian militants have identified the roads as the soft point where settlers can be hurt. Attacking civilian vehicles and military patrols travelling along the roads, they attempt to cut these slim economic lifelines.

The bypass roads attempt to separate Israeli traffic networks from Palestinian ones, preferably without allowing them ever to cross. They emphasise the overlapping of two separate geographies that inhabit the same landscape. At points where the networks do cross, a makeshift separation is created. Most often, small dust roads are dug out to allow Palestinians to cross under the fast, wide highways on which Israeli vans and military vehicles rush between settlements.

Some more grandiose Israeli projects have proposed highways to bypass Palestinian towns in three dimensions. The Tunnel Road, for example, connects Jerusalem with the southern settlements of Gush Etzion and further, to the Jewish neighbourhoods of Hebron. To accomplish this, it has to perform a double contortion: stretched up as a bridge spanning over a Palestinian cultivated valley, it then dives into a tunnel under the Palestinian Bethlehem suburb of Bet Jallah.

Meron Benvenisti writes: “And indeed the person travelling on the longest bridge in the country and penetrating the earth in the longest tunnel may ignore the fact that over his head there is a whole Palestinian town and that on his way from the housing projects [of the Jerusalem neighbourhood] of Gilo to the housing projects of the city of Efrat and Etzion (settlement) block he does not come across any Arab, save for some drivers that dare go on the Jewish road.”

Both the valley the road spans over, and the city it dives under, are areas handed over to limited Palestinian sovereignty under the Oslo accord. The physical separation is mirrored in a political one. As with the Temple Mount proposals, the ‘border’ stretches along a horizontal line. The city above is under Palestinian limited sovereignty; the road below it is within Israeli jurisdiction.

In the West Bank, bridges are no longer just devices engineered to overcome a natural boundary or connect impossible points. Rather, they become the boundary itself, separating the two national groups across the vertical dimension.

Benvenisti continues: “…The bridge and tunnels are not the real engineering wonder: the road managed to crash the three dimensional space into six dimensions – three Jewish and three Arabs – and the points of frictions between the world of the Jews to the world of the Arab continue to bring up sparks of fire”.

This type of boundary was first proposed in the 1947 UN Partition Plan. At two locations within this plan – the “kissing points” – the territories of Israel and Palestine were to cross. The two-dimensional boundary – a line – was to become a one-dimensional point. A bridge-over-tunnel design was proposed to keep the territories connected; where the border was reduced from two dimensions into one, the solution had to resort to three dimensions.

The situation today is even more complex. The Camp David proposals for the partition of Jerusalem necessitate several of these “kissing points” between separate Israeli and Palestinian neighbourhoods. Existing or new bridges and tunnels will perform these local separations. But it requires intense effort from government legal experts, as there are almost no precedents for property and bilateral law in three dimensions.

Safe passage photoessay

The connection of Gaza and the West Bank – the two remotely estranged territories that according to the Oslo accord are to form a single political unit – poses a similar problem on a larger scale. The distance between them is forty-seven kilometres as the crow flies. The so called “safe passage”, still on the drawing board, will be a Palestinian route including six motor lanes, two railway lines, high-voltage electricity cables and an oil pipe that will connect the two enclaves across Israeli territory.

Israeli and Palestinian engineers proposed a bewildering variety of possible solutions. A tunnel, a ditch, a land road cut off from the landscape with dykes on either side, a viaduct… The political debate turned very quickly to the question of ‘who’s on top’. Avoiding the integrative solution of a land road, Israel asked for the Palestinian sovereign road to run through a seven-metre deep ditch.

The Palestinians naturally preferred a bridge: they would hold sovereignty over the road, Israel’s sovereignty would extend to the under-part of the viaduct and its columns. Below, some of this extraordinary proposal for the volumetric carving of sovereign space (thoroughly documented in plans, construction drawings, and meeting protocols) is reconstructed.

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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