Hollow Land

Eyal Weizman
13 June 2007

"Hollow Land" by Eyal Weizman (Verso, 2007)


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Land by Eyal Weizman

Verso | June 2007 | ISBN 1844671250


"The Paradox of Double Vision"

Most Israeli architects building in the West Bank do not see the panorama as constituting a strategic or defensive category. They have simply internalized the security discourse of the state and have learned to use it when discussing matters with state agents in order to get their projects approved. When they have designed neighbourhoods and settlements overlooking the surrounding landscape, they have generally done so in order to provide residents with views of the landscape - as any architect would do in a hilltop environment. The value of the landscape invisible from windows in the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, was summed up succinctly by Leitersdorf: 'We were selling something that did not cost us a penny.' Similarly, the majority of settlers did not migrate to the West Bank in order to act as security agents of the Israeli state. Settlers have migrated to the West Bank for a variety of other reasons. Beyond ideology, these included a subsidized, high level of services and amenities, a cheaper life close to nature - and of course, great views.Also by Eyal Weizman in openDemocracy:

"The politics of verticality" (April-May 2002) - an eleven-part project mapping Israel's three-dimensional control of the West Bank

"Ariel Sharon and the geometry of occupation" (September 2003) - a three-part series on the architecture of power embodied in the separation barrier

The sales brochure for homes in the ultra-Orthodox settlements of Emanuel, the second settlement designed by Leitersdorf, published for member recruitment in the United States, evoked the picturesque: 'The city of Emanuel, situated 440 meters above sea level has a magnificent view of the coastal plain and the Judean Mountains. The hilly landscape is dotted with green olive orchards and enjoys a pastoral calm.' In the image of the pastoral landscape, integral to the perspective of colonial traditions, the admiration of the rustic panorama is received through the window-frames of modernity. The retreat from the city to the country reasserts the virtues of a simpler life close to nature. It draws on the opposition between luxury and simplicity, the spontaneous and the planned - themselves the opposite poles of the axis of vision that stretches between the settlements and their surrounding landscape. In the settlement of Emanuel, Letiersdorf's plan aimed to provide 'panoramic landscape views for all homes'. For most settlers, the landscape was not initially much more than a pastoral view, but for the ideologists of Gush Emunim, its topographical features were cast as national metaphors. A constructed way of seeing sought to re-establish the relation between terrain and sacred text. Topography turned into scenography and formed an exegetical landscape with a mesh of scriptural signification that must be read, instead of simply viewed. The mountain region of the West Bank therefore became both a physical entity and an imagined, mythical geography. Far from evoking solemn contemplation, the 'biblical' panorama formed the centrepiece of a religious ritual causing a sensation of sheer ecstasy. Menorah Katzover, the wife of a prominent settler leader, said of the view of the West Bank mountains from her living room windows in the settlement of Homesh: 'It causes me such excitement that I cannot even talk about in modesty.'

The settlement of Nili (left) and the Palestinian village of Shabtin. Eyal Weizman, 2002

The settlement of Shiloh advertised itself on its website in the following way: 'Shiloh spreads up the hills overlooking Tel Shiloh [Shiloh archaeological Mound], where over 3,000 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 Shiloh. The landscape, imbued with religious signification, establishes the link that helps the very same land, ancient with modern time. In 1981, its spiritual leader, Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, one of the founder members of Gush Emunim whose chosen surname (referring to that of Yehoshua Bin-Nun who occupied the same area for the Israelites) reflects a similar relation between the biblical period and the present project, announced with great fanfare the discovery of the precise location of the Tabernacle. With donations gathered from Jewish communities and Christian evangelists in the United States he initiated the construction of the 'Synagogue of the Dome of the Divine Presence', whose architecture was based on construction guidelines he found in the Bible. From afar, the building bears some approximate resemblance to contemporary reconstructions of what the Second Temple of Jerusalem might have looked like. Today, the synagogue and the archaeological site have become comical objects of nationalist-religious pedagogy where settlers dressed in biblical period costume organize guided tours for schoolchildren from neighbouring settlements.

A cyclical process of landscape interpretation is thus set in motion: the sites defined by the military as a threat are understood as components of a biblical panorama. The stone houses of Palestinian villages, the olive terraces and the dust roads are read as cultural-historical signifiers. A gap opens between what the military and the government want settlers to see (sites of national strategic importance and human objects of state control); and what settlers think they see (a pastoral biblical landscape and its figures); what the settlers really do see - the daily life of Palestinians and their poverty under occupation. Within this panorama lies a cruel paradox: the very thing that renders the landscape 'biblical' or 'pastoral' - its traditional habitation and cultivation in terraces, olive orchard, stone buildings and the presence of livestock - is produced by the Palestinians, the very people whom the settlers would like to displace. Like a theatrical set, the panorama is seen as an edited landscape put together by invisible stagehands who must step off the set as the lights come on. On different occasions, Palestinians could exist between the visual resisters of danger, biblical authenticity, native pastorality and political invisibility. This lacuna of the latter register has been best demonstrated by Sa'adia Mandel, the head of the architecture department in Ariel College in the West Bank, who claimed that his architecture students watching out of their classroom windows 'see the Arab villages, but don't notice them. They look and they don't see. And I say this positively.'


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