The Palestinian mutely contemplates the Separation Boundary whose sheer concrete constitutes an exile from his homelands with apparent irony. We can’t say what passes through his head, this blurred figure, eerily posed like Rodin’s Thinker. The out of focus figure seems somewhat traumatized, however, by the sheer concrete walls that divide or reconfigure two halves of the city that he once knew as a home. We are all to ready to project his traumatic relation to the the contested boundary lines of contemporary Jerusalem, where concrete walls cuts Palestinians from the very regions of a city they long inhabited as it seeks to redraw its map, as if to further traumatize its residents. For a city which has long been praised because of its integrity in the religious imagination, and translated to a nation a term that was long reserved for applying to a people, the sharp divisions that the boundary wall has mapped in Jerusalem is both palpable and insurmountable and a pragmatics of division that is oddly and paradoxically described as intended to preserve the integrity of the city, by defining its place and security in the public imagination.
Yet the trauma of the Palestinian is not, literally, on most maps constructed of Jerusalem or of the Holy Land. Indeed, the trauma of excluding Palestinian presence in the city that the Jewish state has adopted plans to occupy fully, and the provocation of publicly acknowledging it as a capital, seems to seek to enshrine the trauma in maps. For the boundary barrier expanded the line of Israeli control over the contested city–and even exceeded the territorial claims the so-called Green Line of the 1949 Armistice, or the pre-1967 bounds–but were never intended to provide a territorial boundary for the state. If those bounds were treated as the new boundary of a national territory after 1967, the expansion was tired to be remapped by the progressive construction of the barrier or boundary wall much further in recent years, as if to over-write and banish earlier memories of settlement, and to stake a rewritten Israeli sovereign relation to the city, now provocatively defined as a national capital on maps.
At what cost? The project of a unified Jerusalem will hardly conceal the deeply pained relation to the territory, however, and seems destined to only augment its military defense. At this point, it may be opportune to return to the historical excavation of the pained nature of these boundaries–and the compromises that they create in the occupation of lands–is addressed in deeply psychological terms in A.B. Yehoshua’s Mar Mani, a novel measuring the growing costs of such a divide, which attempts to peel back the historical layers of mapping a personalized Jerusalem among Mediterranean Jews and Jews of central Europe–in ways that throw into relief the intensity of a psychological concentration that takes the holocaust as its justification for the fulfillment of a Zionist project for retaking the Holy Land and settling long stateless Jews in a Jewish state. While often cited as a justification for the existence of Israel as a state, Yehoshua includes the genocide of the Second World War in his novel about five generations of a family who settled in Jerusalem, but throws the history of their tortured relation to place in a far broader
The border boundary that divides Jerusalem is increasingly taken as emblematic of an utter divide between populations, illegal and asserting itself to be a concrete evidence of the application of the law: the boundary wall seems to deny any past habitation and any past, to create a new realty of borders, even as it seeks to affirm and inscribe a new divide in the city, even if under the pretext of protection from terrorist attacks. But the broad historical conflicts of claiming Jerusalem as a Jewish city–even in the face of a Palestinian majority presence–and ruling it as a sovereign part of a Jewish state, rather than one the acknowledges its multiple ethnicities, conceals the tortured relation to place that is the result of denying any voice to its original inhabitants. Building the boundary reminds us of the existential quality to any line of partition, and the deep effects with which it immediately effects the place and its inhabitants. The wall, one might say, stares back at the man, sheer concrete without any sense of history or human habitateion, to protect the area extending past the Green Line as if to fix its future movement in the historically shifting map in stable terms. This unstable map–which seems poised to be shifted once again, for national gain, in the 2017 annexation of the new construct of “Greater Jerusalem” including settlements along the West Bank, transforming a place previously without integrity to fulfill a prophecy of the “expansion” of the city as a part of the Jewish state, using a term of false if apparent neutrality to conveniently conceal and not account for the historical presence Palestinian inhabitants of the same place.
The wall is a remapping of history, and human habitation, after all, and a defense of claims by the Israeli state, built as if concretizing a timeless prophecy, and built as a timeless construction. The remapping of space and the space of Jerusalem seems the subject of the e classic novel of A.B. Yehoshua about six generations of a Jerusalem family whose intent to throw the immediacy of the current conflict into historical relief continues to have bearing on the apparent absence of population in the retracing of shifting boundaries and the claiming of sovereignty over lands that, in the historical myopia that sees the utter tragedy of dehumanization of the Holocaust–or the condition of statelessness–as the fulcrum for its foundations if not the justification of its existence, but removes its borders and boundaries from history or from the land’s inhabitants, by cartographically declaring it to be an almost timeless truth of territorial advancement and an iconic image without need for an explanatory legend.
The Palestinian man who pauses as if processing the unlitateral imposition of the boundary struggles to read its place in a spatial map in a city that has so often been remapped, and remapped seems to try to undo the extent to which its sheer concrete seeks to erase any element of contingency within its overlapping pasts, or any alternate future. The Palestinian who so wistfully regards the wall of sheer concrete bisecting Jerusalem’s West Bank, he seems to question from his hill-top perch the possibility of return to a homeland and his reconfigured relation to place by being walled off from his former homeland, as if looking on the ancestral lands which were tended by members of his family, without an ability to make legal claim to them: the problematic issue of the transmission of a relation to place, and the construction of a Jewish nation of fixed boundaries are examined in affective terms in the powerful 1993 classic novel Mr. Mani, where the negotiation with the psychic power of the ties to a bounded nation become both the starting point–the first of five dialogues is set during the offensive Lebanon War waged in defense of the safety of Israel’s northern boundary–and unpacks, onion-like, the psychic relations over a long twentieth century about the effects of the unilateral practice of boundary drawing not on the Jewish state, but its inhabitants.
To begin from the image of the most recent boundary wall of the Separation Barrier starts to unpack the relation to place that the novel explores from a point after it was written, but that includes a Palestinian perspective in its unravelling of a genealogical transmission of a troubled relation to place. The pain of exclusion, despite international media attention, has rarely been captured as a trauma of the Jewish state, but the map that it creates of Jerusalem’s new boundaries–and the boundedness of the state of Israel by the Israeli military–demand to be situated in a map not only of borders, but detail the pain of their creation, and the psychological relation to their imposition. As Ursula K. LeGuin has noted that “The worst walls are never the ones you find in your way. The worst walls are the ones you build yourself,” the Separation Barrier is an attempt to define the boundaries of settlement along the West Bank, whose electronic fences, concrete barriers, observation towers, lookouts, and armed patrols block movement in ways deemed a violation of international law–but has provided a new boundary line by which Israel has laid claims to the West Bank. (For a clearer focus on Yehoshua’s novel and its illumination of boundary-drawings, readers might do well to skip ahead to later sections of this post, §12-14 and especially §14-30.)
The Barrier lays claims to the integrity of Jerusalem. In ways that affirm impassible structures for Palestinians across roads and routes to travel, it is both a confiscation of lands and an important claim to possession of lands of fixed boundaries It creates a state of amnesia of former claims to homelands–or of lost relations to land as the Israeli state increasingly redrew its boundaries form the first U.N. Partition Plan after World War II in 1947–in ways that have increasingly redrawn the defensible boundaries of Israel’s birth or emergence as a ‘modern’ nation of fixed boundaries, which, as it has grown in proportion to the disproportionate population growth of the region–albeit the four-fold increase of Jews is met by a five-fold growth of Palestinians.
How was the Jewish nation created as a Nation but in the unilateral imposition of new boundary lines? The settlement of Jerusalem has recently taken its most violent form of remapping in the creation of a wall that cuts off Palestinian residents from their former homelands. But the deep drive to remap the city as a new homeland for the Jewish nation after years of exile has created a problem of exile of its own that demands to be mapped less in terms of the historical imposition of constantly revised borders than the untenable nature of the continual remapping of Jerusalem’s settlement and identity in unilateral ways, as if the promise of mapping did not have to account for or respect the demographic entanglement that increasingly defines the region, but which its maps have been designed not to preserve–and increasingly to serve the interest of defining and defending the territory of Israel as a nation-state.
The Israeli Separation Barrier that increasingly divides Jerusalem remaps relations of Palestinians and the Israeli state in an increasingly provocative and fraught ways within the Holy City, by openly redefining an individual relation to it as a place. Organized by a network of checkpoints, ID controls, and incursions into land that was once Palestinian, some fifty years after the unification of the city in the Israeli state was defined by the 1967 war, the sheer concrete wall built to unilaterally and definitively remap the region continues to the remap–and mishap–the relation of the state to the country’s inhabitants. The historical purpose of the Separation Barrier was indeed to remap the city of Jerusalem and its safety in a Jewish state, at a remove from its Palestinian residents. Such a forced remapping was explicitly acknowledged by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s on senior advisors as seeking to “give order to space” on the eve of the Wall’s construction, able to reshape how “people relate to places” in a region where human relation to place is not only very sedimented but particularly strong as it has been contested for so long. The framing of a new relation to place by such open boundary drawing does not arise from precedent–or from being passed down across generations–but elevates the cumulated effects of boundary drawing designed to protect and exclude.
Separation Boundary or “Security Fence” in red; greater Jerusalem outlined in blue; the historical Green line of 1948-67/palmap, 2009
The almost compulsive redrawing of the boundary lines on the map, while often seen as a continuation of Zionist principles or Zionism, suggests a new notion of the nation of fixed and defensible frontiers, distinctly unlike the Jewish nation that was transmitted in the diaspora or that was nourished in the nineteenth century: and the novelistic unpacking of the transmission of a deeply affective tie to that nation is the subject of the five generations of the Mani family encountered in the isolated dialogues in A. B. Yehoshua’s 2009 Mr. Mani, which places the even if it was written before the creation of the Separation Boundary redefined the geography of Jerusalem.
1. While often presented as the extension and culmination of a scriptural claim to inheritance, the transmission of a legal notion of the nation demands examination as a transmission of a shifted notion of the nation, and the excavation a generational sense to the increasingly defined boundaries of Israel as a Jewish nation–and the sentimental or affective relation to the boundaries of the nation as lines needing to be defended to ensure that nation’s safety–demand excavation as a deeply affective relation to place, transmitted less in legal or logical terms, than as a deep-running mental map framing a relation to place that is fashioned and reconfigured across generations more than transmitted whole. Although the Separation Boundary that maps a relation between Israelis and Palestinians in blunt terms–“us here; you there”–is argued to be a Zionist principle and precept, but exist as an effect of a sustained drawing of boundaries less as lines that were crossed, or could be crossed, than as mapping a nation able to be militarily defended with its own deep psychic effects. While the Separation Boundary is a new rewriting of the defense of these boundaries and of a psychic attachment to place, drawing boundaries in ways Israeli novelist A. B Yehoshua early tried to excavate what he saw as attempting to contain tensions by framing and codifying a fixed relation to a space of settlement. The expansion of settlements around Jerusalem through 2011 that the Barrier seems to defend–
While the Separation Barrier authorized by Ariel Sharon as a means to define the border between Israel–and of Jerusalem–to the West Bank eroded the justice of Palestinians and their place in the Israeli state, it created a new height for this redrawing of boundaries.
John Berger argued, in a short 2002 essay on borders, reprinted in Hold Everything Dear, grew after the events 9/11, as the building of walls came to constrain movement; the activity of wall-building was observed by Berger to be tied to an emptying of language about homelands–such an emptying was “the essential activity of the building of walls–walls of concrete, of electronic surveillance, of missile barrages, frontier controls, and opaque media,” he argued–that reinstated once fluid boundaries across which people moved through lived space along territorial oppositions, invested with inflexible legal authority that obscured the absence of legal precedent. The Palestinian who watches the newly built boundary of Israel, and contemplates the authority of its presence in his life in almost existential manner, poses a question of mapping a personal relation to space and place, as well as providing an emblem of the exclusion of Palestinians from the land they once inhabited. For if the drawing of new borders undercuts the long process of the historical negotiation and renegotiation of borders, creating a deeply dangerous sense of historical amnesia, the erosion of the past habitation of space seems deeply weakened by the relatively sudden imposition of this sheer concrete boundary–first called a “barrier,” to acknowledge its role in obstructing the motion of populations, if to downplay its constructed nature, by tractors, but in ways that obfuscated the separation of Palestinians from their lands, so much as the act of segregation it created by treating its construction as a means that “gave order to space” so much that it would become the new “reference line” for all future negotiations, whose monumental would over-write previously negotiated maps.
But isn’t it also a line of exile? If so, this sense of exile demands to be mapped as the genealogy of a complex spatial imaginary. Created in the name of security, and in an age of globalization designed to erase boundaries and barriers, the rise of the barrier has deep needs to redraw the occupation of territories despite the lack of legal precedents. First termed a ‘fence,’ and then a ‘wall,’ erases the deep psychic effect of the eight-foot tall sheer concrete Barrier with four-meter ditches dug on either side, a no-man’s-land monitored throughout by electronic surveillance, and the insurmountable division between place and alienation from place it creates. Studded with twenty-foot observation towers every two hundred meters, the massive military investment in its construction is a remapping of a city that was once multi-ethnic, and is increasingly referred to in the news as an “apartheid wall” if far more commonly termed a “security fence,” “security wall,” “separation barrier,” and “separation wall,” or even mystifyingly cast in an odd litotes as a “concrete fence.”
The persistence of linguistic confusion underscores Berger’s point: while designed to be disinterested in language, the creation of the Separation Boundary by Israeli Defense Forces is designed as a categorical division of the holy landscape. If walls are built all over the world an illusion of security from Berlin to the West Bank, the size of the Separation Barrier, over four times as long and over twice as high as the Berlin Wall, obscures the absence of legal precedent in its creation of a new cartographical reality. For it serves to cut residents definitively from their lands by a remapping of classical proportions that interrupt daily lived experiences and claims to land in ways that are not able to be ignored for those who live there.
Wall around Qalqiliya (August 1, 2003)/ The Electronic Intifada
Guardian (2003) (interactive map)
2. The deeply alienating function of the eight-foot tall Separation Barrier creates deep psychic consequences and ramifications unable to be ignored. It could only be regarded with some resignation, and anger. Rewriting the border is only the most recent sovereign defense of Israel as a state and territory building boundaries to defend Jewish claims to settlement that revise earlier national bounds, affirming possession of lands. If they are argued to echo the experience of exile ritually transmitted among generations in the Jewish nation, the experience of galuth long mystically interpereted and understood as an exile from God, and a removed promised land and deferred promise, as if long prepared to be inhabited, the depth of psychic inheritance suggests a much more complex remapping of lands, mapped less as a direct inheritance than an oddly amnesiac transmission of spatial imaginaries of exile, running against the demographic realities of the entanglement of local populations, and intended to assert new security needs. Rather than it reflects the repeated traumas of the transmission of practiced movement across and outside boundaries, the Separation Barrier is rooted in the creation of an erasure of personal experience: the monumental separation barrier is not a “natural” reclaiming of place, but works in traditions of the remapping of the Holy Land as a region of settlement and residence, and its fortification as a borderline by Israeli Defense Forces removes residents from their homeland, as much as recreate a a sense of exile–rather, it recreates the deep pain of ignoring residents that has been transmitted among generations of settlers of Jerusalem.
As Scholem identified the pain of exile in the nineteenth century that was interpreted as an exile from God, the pain in the figure perched contemplating the sheer unscalable concrete of the Separation Barrier from the nearby hilltop, is far more concrete: he sits in mute dialogue with the reshaping of East Jerusalem; as much as he is consumed by the pain of staking a return, he resents claiming a national identity of fixed borders. If the sense of exile was transmitted across generations, as a psychic inheritance, the Separation Barrier cannot be so clearly mapped, but shares psychic roots in a clearer spatial imaginary. As much as it can be symbolically excavated as a relation to God, the psychic relation to the mapping of territories of the Israeli nation across generations were a theme mapped by A. B. Yehoshua , an activist and member of a old Jerusalem family, invited viewers to reflect in his 1990 novel Mr. Mani, which moves across five generations from the present to earlier eras of mythical proportions in the framing of Israel as a nation of fixed frontiers, from Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War, where Israeli Defense Forces first openly defended Israel’s northern frontier as a nation.
Instead of mapping a psychic inheritance of exile, Yehoshua’s meditation on the five Mani men map in tortured ways the defense and definition of these boundaries as an artifact of the state. Rather than being cast in terms of a genealogical transmission of a lineage with a promised destiny, the tortured history of the declaration of boundaries emerges across five chapters or books each set in historical moments receding in time that raise questions about the naturalization of the boundaries of the Israeli state and the contradictions of the definition of Israel as a nation and the transmission of ideas of the Jewish nation. Rather than provide a continuous history, the specific moments of each one-sided dialogue with five male members of the Mani family, or framed as reminiscences of dialogues with Mani men, has the effect one only gradually appreciate of inverting of the transmission of knowledge from father to son–haged or story-telling to meet the injunction of telling the story between generations long cultivated in exile–by suggesting how deeply rooted is the pain of settlement among Jewish families as they emerged from the diaspora, in ways that map an extended historical reframing of the history of settling Israel–a post-modern pentateuch. While the inspiration of this structure may be partly happenstance–Yehoshua was of a fifth-generation Jerusalem family, but the interlocking structure of their testimonies offer a genealogy of the nation–and the sense of a nation–the uncovering of the psychic relation to the map that emerged from the late eighteenth century, as much as the galuth cultivated in the diaspora, created a relation to national boundaries of which the Separation Barrier may be the result, and the most painful inheritance of a deeply fraught relation to place.