Monthly Archives: September 2016

Finding Aleppo in a War-Torn World

The deep frustration at being able to map the Syrian civil war around Aleppo–combining the actual inability to map the factions in the conflict, and the actual unmappability of the deeply unsettling destabilization of civil society in the five-year civil war which is waged by outside actors, as much as by the Syrian government–has sapped confidence in the ability to negotiate a cease-fire or indeed to find a civil solution to a conflict that has both created an ongoing flow of refugees and destroyed civil society in the region, as well as an equilibrium of power.  And the more we are frustrated in being unable to map the conflict and its descent into inhumane violence, the more violent it has become and the farther removed from being able to exist again as a country.




Any theater of war is extremely difficult to endow with coherence in a map–one speaks of the “fog of war” to describe the clouded experience in the confusion of military conflicts.  But the difficulty of gaining purchase on the extent of the destruction of the ancient city of Aleppo that is particularly troubling–and troublingly matched by the difficulty of mapping or imagining the targeting of the city and Aleppo’s inhabitants and the refugees who have left the city.  The failure to describe, document, or respond to the costs in the sustained aerial bombardment in recent months seems an abdication of ethical responsibility before such escalated destruction that almost fails to acknowledge its scope.  The terror of aerial strikes against civilians have led to the targeted destruction of schools and hospitals in the rebel-occupied regions of the city hard to imagine, as a besieged city is isolated from the world.  While we don’t have access to the maps and plans that were used during the sustained engagement of rebel forces in Aleppo, and have rather watched screen-shots of the diminishing areas of the region “held” by “rebel forces” over months, those very images distance us from the human rights tragedies that is occurring on the ground with the dismantling of public health care and social institutions, as if extending so many false possibilities of the tenuous grasp over territory of opposition groups.  With unclear data on suffering, deaths, refugees or destroyed buildings in the encircled city, we map territory as the clearest index of the balance of war, but ignore the scale or scope of its ongoing bombardment and destruction, as the country has not only “gone dark”–



–but the city destroyed under unimaginable sustained assault.




News wire sources have tried to “map” the extent of those lines areas held in the heavily bombed city, to be sure, in recent months.  But the absence of clear lines of jurisdiction or control of a battle that is increasingly waged from a move–but shown as if it were a land war–echoes the military divisions of cities in ways that seem incommensurate with the suffering or mischaracterization of the actors of the war, and the lack of limits with which the Assad regime has enlisted foreign help to destroy its former cultural capital and economic hub, as if trying to efface the opposition that it has for so long successfully tarred by their association to ISIS and the Islamic State–and as a media blitz has tried to portray the battle in Aleppo as a fight against ISIS rather than a defining moment in the escalation of military forces against one’s own people by Bashar al-Assad.

Even though the aerial attacks on Aleppo began as early as July 2012, the escalation of attacks by Russian bombers that began to target buildings and humanitarian supplies with intensity from July 2016.  While we were in the midst of the farce of our recent American Presidential election, we have watched maps of the Syrian conflict at an odd remove, depicting the city the city as a multi-colored sectored region, as if a point of stasis in slippy map of sovereignty, as much as a focal point where five different forces seem to lock horns.  The disservice of these opaque colors seem to erase and to be done such a deep disservice with Microsoft Paint.  And as we do so, we can only fail in an attempt to chart the intensification of suffering that is only like to increase in coming months, as the shrinking green lands held by rebel forces have depicted the so-called “situation in Syria” in increasingly disembodied fashion.


syria97410fps.gifThomas Van Linge/Newsweek/@arabthomness


As we watch the layers of colors, trying to map the levels of conflict from an empyrean remove that has echoed the official policy of not putting “boots on the ground,” we fail to account for the destruction of houses, massive departures of residents, targeting of humanitarian assistance and destroyed infrastructure and human services in the city.  The layers with which we discriminate a war-torn city set to conceal terrifying human costs in the rather terrifying palette of pastels in its curious camouflage, as if to hold out hope for an amicable solution, but to erase the destruction of civilian lives, hospitals, residences, or food and needs supplies that tried to arrive in the light green rebel-held areas of the city that suggest an island around the Citadel of Aleppo.


Rif_Aleppo2.svg.pngNovember 1, 2016/Kami888


For the limited information about Aleppo’s continued destruction by aerial attacks as well as bombardments makes the extent of the human costs its destruction increasingly difficult to render with coherence.  This absence of this coherence perhaps leadt some twenty-nine million to be struck by viewing the dazed five-year old Omran Daqneesh and the tragically bloodstained face from which he gazes somewhat stoically and looks at his bloodied hand–as if dazed to be transported from the scenario of violence in which he lived to what seems a setting of sanitized medical care, his blood-stained face contrasting to the clean orange cushions of an emergency ambulance.  The transferal of Omran from the battlefield like context of Aleppo to the emergency health care vehicle show him dazed not only at his change of context, but almost in shock of being in a controlled ambulance in which he sits, if a sign of hope, is also emblematic of the inability or difficulty to bridge the controlled context of medical and clinical care of the Emergency Medical Services and the rubble of the besieged city, almost the negative image of a controlled environment:  the image circulated by Aleppo Media Centre was emblematic of the dissonance between the emergency services and the onslaught of bombs where civilians are targeted daily amidst the rubble of the besieged city, so that the dazed look of poor Omran seems a substitute for our own helpless bewilderment at the war crime of the sustained aerial bombing of Aleppo’s buildings, health care providers, hospitals, and inhabitants.


Screen Shot 2016-11-21 at 11.36.14 AM.png


If the image is manipulative–and difficult to include in yet another post on Aleppo–its power seems to derive from the failure we feel between inability of the child who touches his hand to his head, to take stock of his head injury as he tries to process the loss of his family, after being carried by an emergency worker into the new setting of an ambulance.   The image was so poignant it was shared so widely all over the world on Facebook, as we searched collectively for an emblem of good, of one child rescued from the violence of Aleppo–as nine million Facebook users tried to transcend the broken windows, destroyed buildings, and slim hopes for the survival of Aleppo’s citizens, increasingly targeted in inhumane ways to which we are so unable to respond.

For if there is a lack of any coherent purchase on the city’s destruction on such an unprecedented scale of its bombardment, even for the Syrian Civil War, the saving of one child after his family was lost allowed the survival of a child to exist in the blood-streaked face of the five-year-old Omran Daqneesh that circulated globally on social media seemed finally to locate a “face of the Syrian Civil War” against the city’s dire destruction.  Indeed, the actual improvised settings of health care in eastern Aleppo–


624143740-graphic-content-wounded-syrians-are-seen-on-a-table-in_1-jpg-crop-promo-xlarge2Thaer Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images


–continued as bombs continued to strike the neighborhoods and where the living and dead lay beside one another in emergency rooms that lacked adequate medical supplies.  The absence of medical assistance or facilities, even as Bashar al Assad rejects the last proposal proposed by the United Nations for a local truce that recognized any claims to separate sovereignty of rebel forces, if it was not armed, arguing that it was a violation of “national sovereignty,” seems to have invited an endgame of increased military raids, as the “area held by rebel forces” has shrunk in recent days to a small region curving around the medieval fortified Citadel, sandwiched between advancing regime forces.




The garishly bloodied face of Omran, the sole survivor of an air strike on his family home in Aleppo’s rebel -held territories, seemed a ghost, but served as a respite from images of the dead, and his transport to an ambulance from the horror of Aleppo seemed a promise of the future.  The image posted by the Aleppo Media Center provided little orientation to the actual struggle, but the apparent shock of the contrast of Omram’s evident transport, his face and T-shirt covered in dirt and blood, to safety offered more than a reprieve from image of dead children:  seated in an ambulance, fingering his bloodied head, his place provided a bizarre juxtaposition of a world of safety and medical supplies who had moved from the bombing of his family’s building in a war-torn city we can barely map.  The arrival of the child into a setting of Western safety almost seemed an image of the precareity of saving a child out of its destruction, and preserved an odd ability of hope even as airstrikes would soon hit four hospitals in east Aleppo, and continue to target civilians.

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Filed under Aleppo, data overlays, human rights, Syrian Civil War, Syrian Free Army

Bombed Out Landscapes over Time

At the start of Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon described the sudden arrival of an ethanol-fueled V-2 rocket that struck the zero Greenwich meridian, in a volley of ballistic missiles whose targeted strikes and explosions brought to life something like a new world.  “A rocket has suddenly struck.  A terrific blast quite close . . . :  the entire fabric of the air, the time, is changed–the casement window blown inward, rebounding with a wood squeak to slam again as all the house still shudders.”   The impact of the V-2 striking the zero meridian also punctuates time, and crossing a zero threshold of how we register external stimuli in wartime.

Looking at the recently released hand-colored detail used to render the extent of building destruction caused by rockets and aerial raids in the Bomb Damage Maps created in wartime London–maps that tracked the progress and degree of local damages the city endured over two years in real time–one is encouraged to re-read Pynchon at a distance.  Indeed, the striking maps of bomb damage that the city endured provide so concrete a register for coming to terms with the unthinkable sudden strikes on a city–


Bombed out london from St Pauls






–as if to convert the extent of bomb damage to a means one’s mind might comprehend.  The presence of the map of bomb strikes in London, as much as damages, provide an enigma that Gravity’s Rainbow invites the reader to puzzle as Slothrop’s superiors try to discern an apparent logic in its distribution–“Pointsman, do you want to hear something really paranoid?  . . . Have you consulted a map of London lately?  All this great me-teo-ric plague of V-weapons  . . .”  “They’re falling in a Poisson distribution.” . . .  “But have you ever thought of why?”   The presence of the map Slothrop hung with joint personal satisfaction and obliviousness above his desk that shows his sexual adventure in wartime London provide a pretense to investigate his idiosyncratic Pavlovian response to the strikes, leading military intelligence to wonder whether Slothrop might be”able to predict when a rocket will fall at a particular place” or even considering that the hapless Slothrop is, rather than clairvoyant, in fact endowed with a psychokinesis by which “the force of his mind [is] causing the rockets to drop where they do,” using electric signals that manipulate the rockets’ guidance systems by his mind; the “map Slothrop’s been keeping on his girls” haunts the experts in London, since they fall in exactly the same distribution as the rocket strikes in the London Blitz.

But even when considering the extent of damage of London neighborhoods, so clearly antiquated are the maps to remind one of the extent we’ve continued to cross further thresholds in the continued onslaught of bombs in the London Blitz impinge on the zero threshold of Lt.  Slothrop’s consciousness in war-time London while he is stationed in the city with allied intelligence–at the same time as the new degree of bomb warfare raise the threshold of acceptable violence for the world.  For the first section of Gravity’s Rainbow, “Beyond the Zero,” describes the intersection of Slothrop’s unprecedented premonition of the arrival of V-2 rockets that enter the perceptual threshold of the military man and the new threshold of violence in war-torn Europe.  Whereas Pynchon explored the threshold of attention of the arrival of bombs across the landscape of war torn London for Lt. Tyrone Slothrop, the graphic response to the punctuation of space registered in the meticulously colored maps of bomb damage.  The maps force us to consider to the thresholds of violence and attention that the scale and violence of subsequent bombing raids have almost mercilessly continued to cross–providing a chilling record of the reaction to their sequence in historical “real” time.

The painstaking hand-colored detail used to render the scale of local destruction that the city suffered appear to provide a record of coming to terms with the “new normalcy” of wartime attacks by aerial bombers and, from 1941, the scourge of V-2 rockets, as much as they reveal the scale of the destruction of local buildings in an apparently objective way.

2004Bomb Damage Maps/London Metropolitan Archives/City of London Police

We map place to know where things lie but when we map bomb strikes, we map an erasure of place, tracing the outlines of how space was once occupied by place.  Maps might try to take stock of the devastation of bombings and air raids–but they can only hint at the scope of what occurs on the ground, and the varieties of maps made to understand the impact of the early ballistic missiles that arrived in London’s Blitz give their viewers an inescapable premonition of the scale of the increasingly prevalent maps made since World War II.  The attempt to comprehend the blasts of rockets from drones, the maps of the London Home Office, despite their antiquated hand-drawn format, are unavoidable premonitions of later data maps that tally the scale of strikes against sites, from Afghanistan, Waziristan, and Pakistan, or the bunker buster or cluster bombs that demolished Aleppo, in their failure to describe the violence they try to process.  Even as we fail to fully map the consequences of their destructiveness or understand the threshold each event has surpassed, the Bomb Damage Maps remind us of the impossibility to comprehend the scale of local devastation.

Gravity’s Rainbow begins with the strike of one of the V-2 rockets that hit London in scattershot plots from 1944 in “sudden demolitions form the sky,” from the arrival of V-2 impact at Greenwich, 000 longitude–the zero meridian.  The location immediately raises the question of whether their arrival can be mapped to reveal of any notion of causality.  Despite attempts to find some causality in their pattern, the proposition that “Things only happen” as we accommodate to their occurrence increasingly seem evident.  For despite any attempts to parse their distribution by Poisson distributions, the arrival of V-2 rockets lack causation.  Where the “meteoric plague of V-weapons” hit across London was a subject of increasing professional concern, as the smoldering craters from which ragged smoke curled in the London landscape–and which Pynchon so chillingly evokes–provided paranoid interpretations as their distribution was tried to be understood as something created by human agency, dumped on civilians in a way intelligence seeks to try to grasp in Pychon’s elegant–and sadly increasingly quite timely and timeless–novel.  The destruction of their sudden arrival is emblematic of a new order of terror–a new threshold of terror that is shattered by the scale of bombing targeted civilian populations in World War II, and shattered the era that preceded it in ways that can never be clearly mapped or given logical structure, try as hard as we may.  Slothrop’s map suggests an uncanny mapping of eros and thanatos, mapping the “sexual Other, whom he symbolizes on his map, most significantly, as a star, that anal-sadistic emblem of classroom success with permeates elementary education in America,” Dr. Treacle has it, that so spooks his superiors.

Pynchon confessed to have been quite consumed when consulting period-specific Baedecker guides found in Cornell University’s bookstore for research on novels.  As a young author, he systematically “looting the Baedeker for “all the details of a time and place I had ever been too, right down to the details of the diplomatic corps” in a story set in Egypt–so “Could Willy Sutton rob a safe?”–for atmospheric passages in stories–as well as no doubt maps.  And his account of a map of the threshold of bombed out wartime London becomes the centerpiece of an extended interrogation on human agency and contingency, as well as destruction psychic and physical:  the patterns of Slothrop’s sexual conquests in London map, in an uncanny way, “match up square for square” with the sites of bomb-strikes, and immediately direct collective attention to the mechanics of such apparent skills precognition:  once photographed and projected over the actual statistical maps of bomb strikes, “girl stars and rocket strike circles [are] demonstrated to coincide,” in ways that provide the invitation to try to understand the mechanics of the effects that the substance that triggers poor Tyrone’s apparent reflexive stimulation that the arrival of V-2 rockets somehow provokes, “as quickly as two days, or as slowly as ten” from the strike, and “with a mean [time-]lag of about 4 1/2 days.”

The eery embodied precognition triggered in Slothrop’s penis before the arrival of each V-2 rocket–an arrival that impacts his mind because of Pavlovian conditioning, trace the psychological landscape of these early ballistic bombs, itself pushed past subjects’ zero threshold in wartime London.  It probably doesn’t bear saying that they map a threshold we have continued to traverse.  If used to spin further apocalyptic narratives haunted by “our common nightmare The Bomb” that Pynchon described as haunting his fiction and so much else, the maps provide something like a palimpsest of these fears.  Long before searching for reactions before “this slow escalation of hopelessness and terror in the few ways open to us,” the record of a titration-like destruction of the cityscape that the Bomb Damage Maps reveal provide an amazing contemporary, if quite cartographically removed and antiquated, Baedeker to trace the expanding mental landscape comparable to Pynchon’s account of Slothrop’s attempts to grasp the shifting landscape of the Blitz.


Bombed out london from St Pauls

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Filed under aerial bombardment, bombing raids, Gravity's Rainbow, Vietnam War, war crimes

Hostile Homelands: Excavating Israel’s Presence over Time

An unnamed Palestinian looks wistfully at the wall of sheer concrete that bisects Jerusalem’s West Bank, from atop his hilltop perch.  It is hard to note what goes through his head.  But the Separation Barrier built in order to divide Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from Israel can only be regarded with some resignation.  Rwriting the border by means of an eight-feet tall sheer unscalable concrete wall is but the most recent sovereign defense of Israel as a state and territory by building boundaries to defend Jewish claims to settlement beyond earlier national bounds, and into the regions of Judea and Samaria–in an apparent attempt to refute a two-state solution, or to place a roadblock in its path, and deny his homeland.  The tenacious persistence of such unilateral mental maps creates a tenuous defenses of untenable borders stands to obstruct progress to a two-state solution:  the figure seems to contemplate the mapping of space and how maps change his relation to place.

This may be a projection.  But the historical resonances of the remapping of Jerusalem as a part of the nation, and of re-inscribing the sovereignty of Israel, transcends the project of providing a protective security barrier for Jerusalem residents.  Although the sitter’s face is blurred, he seems to try to reckon with the permanence of the new barrier, facing the wall that arcs across the photograph’s base and dominates the local landscape.  Squatting in a manner that recalls the posture and pose of Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker,” the Palestinian seems posed in a moment of reflection on the new boundary of sheer concrete that leaves him unsettled.  The man’s undefined stare almost seems to question the permanence or the history of the remapping of boundary lines in the city of Jerusalem–as well as weigh its historical weight as a new division of the city of which he is probably a resident.  The impossibility of knowing or of fully understanding the obstinacy of almost compulsive wall-building across the region, built in the hopes to define claims to territory in an openly unilateral way, is a form of mapping on the ground with a finality that the observer seems to ponder as it has been drawn around his own ability to navigate space.

The man stares pensively, hand on cheek, perhaps reflecting with apparent resignation at the recent division of the city and its implications for his own relation to the city.  As much as embody an emblem of philosophy,  the similar pose of the squatting Palestinian seems to seek to come to terms with the wall within the long history of the city’s contested space–actively contemplating the visible scars of a new divide of territories long contested between Palestinian and Israeli inhabitants across divided claims to homelands, that not only regulates entry to Jerusalem but restricts access to their former lands, but removes more fertile lands for agriculture from the Palestinians who live in the West Bank.  As much as relate to remapping Israeli authority and jurisdiction, the Separation Barrier recapitulates a tortured relation to the Holy Land.  For if Rodin’s statue was a centerpiece for his Gates of Hell, based on Dante, it became an emblem of interior reflection not other-worldly, losing its identification with an actual hell.




This image of individual reflection is almost given new meaning in response to the  Separation Barrier that divides the contested city of Jerusalem.  For the man’s gesture responds to the problematic place of the wall as a historically determined act of nation-building, as much as the image of thought and interiority Rodin’s monumental statue conjured when it was serially reproduced after its exhibition in the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and recast as an icon of intellectual reflection removed from cultural context, in Paris, Louisville KY, San Francisco, Palo Alto, New York, Munich, and Tokyo–


The_Thinker,_RodinAuguste Rodin, Le Penseur (first entitled Le Poète) on Plinth/Musée Rodin, Paris


To be sure, the image was an idealization of a masculinized vision of Western thought, whose bronze casts were mobile and sought after from 1904 to 1985, encouraged as a signifier of cultural value in any location.




In contrast, the presence of the anonymous Palestinian on a Jerusalem hilltop engaged in contemplating the embodied presence of the Boundary Barrier as an obstruction is site specific, much as the barrier has been carved into the in deeply fraught site-specific ways.


Mideast Israel Palestinianscoex-httpsframasphere-orgtagsemployeeThomas Coex/Getty


Whereas Rodin’s Thinker was taken as a transcendence of site, the photograph of Thomas Coex suggests that the individual photographed in the act of contemplating the wall is blurred and almost consumed by its concrete presence.  Much as the Barrier is a sign of the heightened dangers of boundary-crossing in Jerusalem, it is a reflection of a need to map in authoritative fashion the legal bounds of the Israeli state, and the most recent manifestation of a struggle to define the boundaries of Jewish settlement.  The latest rewriting of the boundary lines that seek to define and authorize Jewish settlement, it uses a language of borders to displace Palestinian inhabitants of the region in order to define the sovereignty of the “Jewish” nation in the long-contested region of the city, destroying the ability of its inhabitants to live peacefully side by side.

The image is of course also a reflection on the deep theme of exile, or the experience of exile, that is so strong a feature of Kabbalistic imaginary and of Jewish history:  for if the return to the city of Jerusalem, and indeed to the land of Israel, is in a sense understood as redemptive, in the sense that it is a conclusion of years of exile, the figure photographed by Thomas Coex seems an exile of his own land.  If the mythic image of exile–or of galuth–is presented as inflicted by the Separation Barrier, the tortured relation to Jerusalem and its inhabitants is rather the theme of A. B. Yehoshua’s historical novel Mr Mani, which imagines the frought relation of five generations of men in an old Jerusalem family to the layered nature of Jerusalem’s settled space–layers which most maps over-simplify.


1. If mapping provides the ultimate manifestation of human reflection on space, attempts to come to terms with Israeli state is a problem of mapping habitation of a land that was already occupied.  And if Renoir’s statue was initially designed and cast as a model of Dante contemplating the landscape of Hell, the Barrier prompts a reflection on the division of inhabited space and of the hell of contestedly dividing worldly space over time.  The Separation Barrier runs across private possessions and limiting access to the city.  Although long-planned by the Israeli government’s cabinet since 2002, the Separation Barrier articulates a new boundary line in new terms, seizing of lands by the state to construct a new boundary for the state, annexing settlements in the West Bank to Jerusalem, and defining  new points of transit for Palestinians to enter the parts of the city administered by Israel, and restricting and constraining the Palestinian settlements’ future growth.  The emergence of the Intifada from 1987 in Jerusalem most recently seemed to cut the city into two, and the assertion that “We are not a nonexistent entity” but are “here too,” refusing to accept being marginalized and controlled that after having lived in Jerusalem for hundreds of years, increasingly upset Israelis as the novelist and activist Yehoshua, who has cast himself as a conscience of the nation, narrating a historical relation of the Jewish people to space.

The silence of the observer seems to mirror not only the fate of a two-state solution for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence–the hope to share land with two states for two peoples–but the unilateral nature of the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, but of liberalism in the Middle East.  The problem of mapping the relation of territory to states is particularly acute, given the difficulties of mapping the spatial imaginaries of Israeli settlement onto a map of the Jewish nation that is able to accommodate non-Jewish inhabitants as equal citizens.  In an era of increasing border boundaries–and of the belief that stronger border walls will only strengthen the notion of the nation–the construction of the Separation Barrier seems the latest illustration of the deep tensions within the unilateral mapping of a spatial imaginary onto a territorial map that create a deeply problematic transition from the Jewish nation, long cultivated in diasporic times in an almost mythic status in a spatial imaginary, to a nation state.

Before the increasing intractability of spatial imaginaries and geopolitics on the ground, Israeli author A. B. Yehoshua offered readers an archeology of spatial attachments and conflicts with Palestinians in Mr Mani, a set of intergenerational testimonies and dialogues that describe the lives of Mani men across five generations, in a post-modern Pentateuch that retells or unpacks stories of the settlement of the land in a counterpart to the predetermined narrative of sacred history that unpacks the problems of mapping and remapping the region’s settlement by Jews.  Sustained attempts to project that spatial imaginary onto a settled land has created a dialectic of reclaiming, remapping, and obliteration of past traces, and remaking within a map.

If the figure of the Thinker provided a tops for wrestling with the scope of loss over time– recalling Thomas Crawford’s earlier 1875 monumental Dying Chief Contemplating the Course of Western Civilizationas much as Rodin–the notion of an ineluctable course of history of which the Separation Boundary was the conclusion seems even more relevant.  Crawford’s neoclassical figure, designed to decorate the United States Senate building by illustrating the triumph of governmentality over the state of nature, suggests a similar sense of pathos and nobility, but communicates a sense of historical suppression.


1875_4_img1.jpgNew York Historical Society


The neoclassical marble statue seems to reckon with his own garb and weaponry, despite evoking the antique Dying Gaul.  The blurred Palestinian figure suggests, instead, the effacement of identity in an era of barrier building.   Or is the dislocated and fundamentally modern place of the Jewish settlers who arrived from the diaspora in attempts to found what would become an actual nation somewhat more tortured an expression of a relation to place?  Yehoshua’s deeply historical archeology of the place of one family of men, with surname Mani, raises questions about the uneasy relation of the projection of the Jewish nation from the individual psyche to the settlement of the land.


2.  So methodically has the Israeli state come to erase a signs of settlement of Palestinians in areas as the Gaza Strip–particularly after the allegiance of the area with Hamas, whose dedication to the establishment of a Palestinian state and refusal to recognize Israel has intensified opposition to the Palestinian occupation of the land.  In the face of such conflict, maps have become a crucial way of asserting the presence of refugees and settlers in the region, with the HOSM resistance of remapping blocks, buildings, and signs of Palestinian presence in such  contested territories in the Gaza Strip.  The division of the region by surveys for Open Street Maps has proceeded by careful remapping in the face of the sustained Israeli military interventions to drive Hamas from the region–with names as Operation Protective Edge, in attempts to preserve its settlement by dense numbers of refugees and Palestinian settlements, in order to keep a record of the inhabited lands sandwiched at the confines of two states.


Gaza Strip

(The assiduous Humanitarian Open Street Map excavation of the Gaza strip’s inhabited space has provided a detailed account of region that has been under attack, lest any record of that habitation be erased from the map, and the record of their habitation hasn’t ben preserved–

Gaza MapCompare.pngHOSM/Pierzen

–creating a record of Palestinian settlements that create a permanent record of contested regions.)

Given the deep historical layers of claims to Jerusalem–long the center of a Jewish spatial imagination cultivated in the diaspora–the concrete claims to nationhood of fixing a boundary about biblical lands transcends local politics, and reaches to an almost timeless problem of defining Israel’s status as a nation state, at least how the expansion of claims to contested frontiers of the state have emerged.   The Separation Barrier takes its place in the series of monuments whose construction was fueled by religion, cultural memory, and claims to statehood as they were repeatedly historically rebuilt.  The man surveying the sheer concrete Separation Barrier contemplates his relation to a newly drawn map.  As the window for a two-state solution rapidly contracts, the prominent boundary built through the West Bank, expanding the effective territorial bounds of the Israeli state, can be seen as the most recent projection of the Jewish nation onto the city’s mental space. For as much as preventing the motion through space of Palestinians with nearby homes, the wall is an act of territorial occupation.

3.  The man who contemplates the Separation Barrier in the header to this post captures a tension of relations among Israel’s settlers and the Palestinian residents.  The Separation Barrier is of course the most recent defensive projection and registration of the mental space of Israeli Jews who long settled the region–adopting a colonial relation to its settlement in what were often or always tortured ways–and the culmination of a long tradition of mapping Israel as a state.  For the Barrier defends not only territory, but a privileged mental space about Jerusalem, unilaterally expanding the boundary of Israel as a nation-state by aggressively defending the settlements.  To unpack that history may be an attempt to keep that window open a bit longer.

For although the weighty and imposing “Separation Barrier” constructs as an impediment to transit, the ability to be map their creation is to question their permanence, and to give greater prominence to the manner in which boundary crossing was endemic to the region–from the Balfour Declaration to the Ottoman state’s occupation of the city of Jerusalem whose fortress city was once surrounded by a moat.  The Barrier is a symptom of a remapping of the settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem–the proposed site for the capital of a future Palestinian State–by drawing new territorial boundaries  in defiance of the United Nations, and an affirmation of the indivisibility of the city as a capital.  Narrating the city’s settlement demands resolving the full rights of its inhabitants, and the problem of boundary crossing that it raises–and seeks to present–raises a problem of narrating a tense and highly symbolic relation to place, as much as defining boundary lines around the city’s walls.

Indeed, what ethical relation the Israelis are able to adopt in relation to the Separation Barrier that is now treated as a defining feature that exists to defend and preserve the historically transmitted notion of a “Eretz Yisrael” that the first settlers were called to inhabit and take as their own?

Eretz Ysrael

For in echoing the stone wall built to sanctify the biblical city, and repopulate and purify its Jewish community, one is tragically and farcically invited on a mission of time travel; seeing the wall as restoring the nation proceeds on a flawed assumption of the identity of the Israeli nation and a Jewish nation.  As such, it joins how the city’s many monuments are prompts of the past, which transform the many sites of burial, walls, and headstones into triggers of a deep relation to both interior and geographic space that are difficult to untangle.

This post detects the crucial role maps both physical and mental play in the complex excavation of a historical memory of the settlement of Jerusalem and the Holy Land in A.B. Yehoshua’s 1993 classic Mr. Mani, an exploration of the psychology of settlement, and the difficulties inherent in the project of translating the abstract notion of the Jewish Nation to the boundaries of a state:  while the novel is often read as an account of Sephardic diaspora, reflecting the author’s own family, the problems are not only of mapping a nation, but perhaps of the persistence of maps that problematically don’t include people or actual habitations to imagine one’s relation to a territory.  And the idealized relation to space without people that maps create are central to the current problem of the settlements, as they are to the possibility of a two-state solution, as Yehoshua’s intervention was made to show.

The complex archeology of claims to the region are excavated in the panoramas that French photographer Auguste Salzmann devised to document the ancient buildings of Jerusalem for a European audience received significant praise in the Annales Archéologiques for instilling a spiritual relationship with the sacred city through a modern technology, as the erudite reviewer of his photographs judged them worthy of display in sacred sites as churches and seminaries in 1854, suggesting the strong interior value of the photographic panoramas as of “living Jerusalem” although they focus on ruins, rather than human activity, to the degree “there is no description that inspires thoughts more numerous or more profound,” so overwhelming were these sites in the Old City as the hilltop view from East Jerusalem.

DP131233.jpgSalzmann, Panorama of Jerusalem from the East, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The excavation of the layers of Jerusalem as a site of living history reflects Yehoshua’s own deeply personal and intensely psychological relation to place among the men in a family of diaspora Jews who arrived in the city in the late eighteenth century, in ways that map the spatial imaginary of Jerusalem for its current residents as much as archeologically excavating historical structures of the city’s walls in the Jewish imagination.  For Yehoshua suggested the arrival in the city from the diaspora posed an immediately fraught question of translating its spatial imaginary into the actual religions and peoples who lived in the geographic place, which resulted in the parallel transition  of the abstract identity of the Jewish nation–granted the habitation of Egypt and Israel in the scriptures–to a bounded state.  The problem of this translation was evoked by Yehoshua in other contexts, but the tensions play out in Mr. Mani. “The question of boundaries is a major question of the Jewish people because the Jews are the great experts of crossing boundaries,” Yehoshua once mused:  they become masters of establishing them at their own peril.  After fearing that a territorial state would deprive Jews of a unique “ability to see the world, to move in the world, and to contribute to the world,” the dangers of restricting Jerusalem to the Jewish people or Jewish state are most sharply placed in evidence by the mania of building boundary walls in a deluded attempt to purify the nation.

Mr. Mani provides a postmodern pentateuch that situates the 1982 war with Lebanon that defended the territorial boundary of Israel’s northern frontier by crossing into Lebanese territory with a great loss of young soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces, traversing the boundaries of their state for the first time in particularly bloody ways in response to an attempt to assassinate an Israeli ambassador in London, the novel situates the context of the conflict in the deep conflicts between a spatial imaginary of a Jewish nation that is difficult to translate into the boundaries of Israel as a state, and returns to excavate the underlying tensions of this translation in the deep memories and spatial imaginaries rooted in the burial sites of Jerusalem itself.  As if to excavate the conflicts between a spatial imaginaries of nationhood against the image of the identity of a Jewish people, Yehoshua partially reconstructs the genealogy of the men of the Mani family, through partial perspectives at select points of history–moving from the Mani present on the island of Crete, Homer’s “Island of the Gods” and home of the most ancient Minoan civilization, as a German paratrooper engaged in the island’s bloody airborne occupation in 1941 lost 6000 young soldiers in their attempt to secure the southern boundary of their Reich, through the Mani who attend the second Zionist conference from Jerusalem, with hopes to build a state around his hospital, his father who had sought to seize the Ottoman lands from the English with Palestinians, his father who sought to create a Jewish state while attending the second zionist conference from the hospital he ran in Jerusalem, and whose ancestor pursued the dream of converting Arabs to the Jewish faith.

4.  The obstinate optimism of building such walls, or mapping such a country, seems transmitted across generations, echoing the biblical image of Nehemia’s rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.


The walls that were historically mapped around Jerusalem were never restorations of a community, however, but betrayed a deeply uneasy conflict that lay in the lack of mutual recognition of inhabitants of the land.  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,” and the Separation Barrier is less a claims to the integrity of Jerusalem than impassible structures for Palestinians.

For building such a boundary wall through inhabited parts of the city has not only compromised rights to residence of many, as the boy may seem to contemplate, but recapitulates sustained conflicts over national claims to rights to inhabit a homeland:  the  Separation Barrier is a boundary of recent creation, but seems to transform the unconscious status of the city as a promised space, outside national borders–the city on the hill, treasured in the collective unconscious as a site of future residence by those generations living in sovereign states–into a barriers to transit or movement, symptomatic of surveillance states which spatialize their boundaries in ever more visible ways, as if to define them for their residents as much as outsiders, by confounding the notion of a homeland with a territory, and guiltily opposing a homeland to its former inhabitants.  Yehoshua’s Mani often tragically repeat claims to territorial ownership that the Separation Barrier seems to repeat perhaps with greater blindness to its consequences.

No map is neutral,” but the project of wall-building about nations has expanded with mythical proportions to defend Jewish and Israeli claims to the land.  But whereas the biblical figure Nehemia rebuilt Jerusalem by rebuilding its walls to restore its greatness and purify its community, bisecting Israel’s peoples by a cement wall of division creates a map of apartheid which sullies the notion of cohabitation by dividing the peoples living in the Holy Land from the nation of Israel.  Indeed, if walls are in the news, the poured concrete wall in Jerusalem aggressively projects a spatial imaginary onto the map, in the name of self-defense, by mapping the nation’s presence onto the land in ways that its residents are prevented from forgetting.  Nehemia’s wall is cast in the Bible as a wall of renewal and rebirth for the nation of Jerusalem, but the national defense of Israeli claims to the West Bank conceal the deep contradictions within the forceful assertion of the presence of the Jewish people to its residents, and seems built to prevent the notion of a future Palestinian state through a systematic accelerated settlements designed to annex multiple settlements in the West Bank–renamed Judea and Samaria to invest importance in their ties to the Jewish state by returning these regions to their biblical Hebrew names.

If I had to define Zionism by one word,” mused Yehoshua, “I would say boundaries.”  In collapsing the settlement of Jerusalem over time in a microhistory of five generations of men in the Mani family, Yehoshua’s novel offers a readers a map of the shifting relation of Israel to its borders of Israel across generations, asking us to inquire about the translation of the notional map of a Holy Land preserved in the Mediterranean diaspora.

thomas-coexafp-gettyThomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

5.  The perpetual and current contest for who will name Jerusalem essentially returns to the fraught question of mapping a spatial imaginary onto the actual inhabitants of that space, and resolving any discrepancy in the authority of a map.  The anonymous hilltop observer stands in an almost existential relation to the city’s current division.  He observes the city as if to survey the particular obstinacy of its construction.  The deep ties to place that it asserts are difficult to unpack, but its defense of ties to place and to the space of the nation are so directed toward exclusion–and the defense of claims to a fixed territory in a form of a desire for time-travel raises questions of the violence of its claims.  Indeed, it responds to a shadow-map not only of the city, but of the shadow map that underlies it, and to Jerusalem’s place in the boundaries of that sharply contested map–


–which takes the West Bank as a basis for a Palestinian State, even as it is almost built in order to be contested, and almost tauntingly demands to be redrawn yet again.

Daniel Bar-On.pngDaniel Bar-On

The historical mutation of a sense of Israel as a nation-state unfolded in a sense of privileged relation to it space oddly emerged out of a diaspora identity, foreign to the transmission of ties to territory–and which imagined the notion of the “Jewish Nation” as having ties to the region by analogy to a nation state.  For Israeli author A. B Yehoshua, the  psychical attachment to the city that long stood in conflict with its inhabitants, and long concealed deep tensions between the attachment to an almost hidden, historical topography particularly dangerous in how it erases the multiethnic nature of its inhabitants:  his novel about how five generations of the fictional Mani family traces to the effects of migration from the existence of diaspora to an entity with boundaries to be defended–as if a thought experiment about the transmission of an imagined privileged relation to place and territory.  The demand to defend space has become so strong to hide or conceal the occupation of a land in which Jews are almost destined to stand in uneasy relation to as they bear the weight of the translation of a history of border crossing into the defense of a state’s fixed frontiers and the defense of its boundary lines.  Even while Yehoshua has described the tortured state of relations to Palestinians as extending back to Jews’ first settlement of the region during the diaspora, when the notion of belonging to a “Jewish nation” was construed in primarily religious terms, particularly difficult to ever translate into the context of a modern nation-state–and to take as a basis for Israeli nationality.  Yet the wall seems to impose a notion of national identity on Palestinians that forces them to accommodate a spatial imaginary of the Jewish state.

Coex Coex/AFP/Getty Images

3600040131.jpgJerusalem-area settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, December 2016. Olivier Fitussi


6.  The ability to process the imposition of the barrier for Palestinians poses pressing questions of whose homeland it maps, of course–particularly pressing in an era of a relentless appetite for settlement expansion that uses walls to create new borderlines.  The boy pictured above sits outside of the region bounded by how a sheer concrete barrier that maps space–and remaps the psychological space of recently expanded settlement of Jerusalem.  The transformation of such ties to the defense of national boundaries of the Jewish state is taken as something of an organic artifact by Yehoshua, who seeks to unpack the reality of the modifier and the nation, and the translation of the nation from Jews who cross boundaries in the diaspora to defending Israeli territory in the Lebanon War.

Yehoshua provides a basic yet almost therapeutic historical perspective on the translation of the mental space of the diaspora provide a basis for the intensely uncomfortable relation of the Jewish state to the defense of its boundaries–and the dangers that continued neglect of the dispossession of claims to territory.  In ways motivated by Yehoshua’s optimistic hope for a two-state solution recognizing a multicultural alternative to the increasingly intolerable division and separation of Jerusalem.  Living in a bounded territory, Yehoshua’s narrative suggests creates a tragic state events for a people whose hope for a sense of settlement.  His narrative, cast as a post-modern pentateuch of one of half of conversations from radically different historical periods, is of necessity only half of a complex story:  its sections moves across time in reverse, starting from the brutal defense of the boundary of Israel with Lebanon–the first violent crossing into another nation’s boundary, and act of a militarized nation–back to the exile of a Jew on the island of Crete in World War II, seen through the eyes of a Nazi paratrooper who he befriends, who was born in Jerusalem, the father of that man who attended a Zionist conference, his father who imagined the creation of a multiethnic state after the Balfour Declaration, and the first Mani who arrived in Jerusalem in the late nineteenth century.

By allegorizing the historical resonance of a Jerusalem family as a lens for psychological   attachment to Jerusalem, Yehoshua unpacks the deep existential relation of the Palestinian who sits before the boundary wall, and the claims it makes to defend the national boundaries of a state to preserve a dream of a return of settlement.  Despite the existential division of newly settled lands and the inhabitants of villages outside Jerusalem, the sheer concrete border barriers erase the deep history of contestation of borderlines to which they respond and are the result–much as they indeed seek to erase that history and its real consequences.  Indeed, despite the difficulty of crossing boundaries and borders that the Separation Barrier creates, its bounding structures seek to deny any claims Palestinian sovereign authority by  subsidizing settlement of lands Palestinians have settled on the West Bank, denying rights of legal habitation by affirming the very sort of boundaries that, in paradoxical if illuminating ways, the Jewish people survived in the diaspora by having crossed:  if one has long oriented oneself to the sacred sites of Jerusalem, and other burial stones by which settlers oriented themselves to their settlement of the land, the new state-built barriers serve to separate the inhabitants of regions from their homes and define a fixed relation to place.  For in giving boundaries to the notion of a Jewish nation–long predating a mapped territory–Israeli settlement expansion and land theft in East Jerusalem and the West Bank has denied sovereign rights or civil rights to Palestinian residents of the region, long before UN Security Council Resolution 2334 condemned the continued expansion of Israeli settlements.  Indeed, in an era likely to tilt vigorously toward greater territorial expansion by settlers, it seems possible to excavate the ethical contradictions of the settlements.

By excavating the shifts in the spatial imaginaries of Israel back to the nineteenth century, Yehoshua turns to prose to excavate a sense of the unease of settlement across time.  Rather than examine its monumental structures and works of art, Yehoshua interrogates the maps that lay beneath the rebuilding of the territory of and around Jerusalem from a novelist’s perspective.  The novel provides less of a continuous map, than a fragmented narrative which offers a vantage point on the denial of sovereignty and dispossession of space implicit in drawing and redrawing lines that were achieved not only by building walls, but through maps:  such tools of staking possession to space that have denied Palestinian’s inalienable rights by continuing to press forward with further settlements on inhabited land.  Indeed, when the UN Resolution called upon all states to recognize the differences between “the bounds of the territory of the State of Israel and the land it has occupied since 1967,” it recognizes a past that threatens to be lost in undermining the notion of Palestinian  self-rule.  The spatial imaginary that created boundaries of Israel was perpetuated in maps, and helped prioritize a non-pluralistic and one-sided concept of a collective relation to place and space.

In helping us to see to open the psychological relations or spatial imaginary inscribed into and onto the city of Jerusalem in his novel Mr. Mani, Yehoshua conjures the intensity of a historical transmission of spatial ties to Jerusalem , still evident in its walls and holy sites, that were concretely represented and staked through actual and mental maps.  And in this sense, the mapping of Israel, its place-names and its translation to a homeland for the people of the Jewish nation provides a compelling way to read his text; his text provides a way to read the remapping of the city by the recent Separation Barrier to uncover–and overcome–that are rooted historical dilemmas the Barrier both seeks to overcome and mask.

The spatial imaginary of that has concretized around Israel as a nation has deep lying precedents in this mental concepts of space and place that are transmitted in maps the embody and project a psychological relation to place.  Yehoshua described the writer to be “more like a judge, than a historian,” but offers, in his amassing of evidence of boundary crossing, an occasion to judge the ability of the Israeli state to separate itself from its occupation of lands as it declared its sovereignty as a state by dispossessing others of their lands, and has siezed on its territorial identity and integrity a basis for not being oppressed–at the cost of being an oppressor of Palestinian rights.  Indeed, in killing the notion of a two-state solution by affirming the integrity of Israel as a nation far beyond the limits recognized in 1967, and affirming the continued territorial expansion of Israeli settlements that undermine any attempt to recognize Palestinian sovereign rights, the very apartheid policies set in place by Benjamin Netanyahu on the West Bank and Gaza Strip represent an expansive of a biblical narrative, the expansion of the oppressive denial of human rights and the region’s unavoidable multicultural and multi-ethnic identity.

Israel’s recent relentless expansion of a monumental national frontier in the walled city, constructed as a protective wall of surveillance to prevent Palestinians from crossing into the Jewish sectors of the city, cuts a line of division across areas where he and many Palestinians had long enjoyed free transit:  it defines a mapping of sovereign presence across the city.  Is creating a new set of walls across the sectors of the walled city–where walls sear its division into its social geography, and individual perspectives so difficult to fix with stability–boundary building takes the place of nation-building, naturalizing territorial disputes.   Walls and boundaries may seem to have been long part of Jerusalem’s distinctive topography, organizing its habited space.


But if the stones of burial sites long served to orient people to space, the burial stones of Jerusalem that long provided a point of orientation to Jerusalem’s sacred space stand in odd juxtaposition and contrast to the new prominence of how walls divide its settled space.  If the fracturing of the perception of Jerusalem is underscored by the extent to which its older and newer walls divide, cut across, and confine space, but while melding with the spatial memories of the division of the city into sectors, the increasing redefinition of these more newly built walls as walls excluding claims of sovereignty, and as definition of the boundaries and borders of a state, rewrite the occupation of  Jerusalem in fundamentally flawed ways, based less on social memories than on the denial of human rights.  In treating the city as a template or microcosm for understanding and defining the fixed borders of the state–and the certainty of territorial claims–the seeming permanence of these new walls cut across sites memory and of places of human habitation in striking ways, despite the prominence walls have long enjoyed in Jerusalem.

009-sohei-nishino-theredlistSohei Nishino, “Jerusalem” (composite of photographs; January, 2013)

For isn’t the sheer concrete boundary another redrawing of the boundaries of the Jewish state, resonating with a narrative of the Jewish nation, as much as the security state?  The Separation Barrier is nothing less than an affirmation of a homeland, asserting an identity tied to the possession of a land long tied to Jewish identity and a declaration of permanent presence.  And as such, it is a particularly tortured affirmation of that identity.  (It is no coincidence that the Israeli political party “The Jewish Home” has organized its agenda around the defense of settlements, disenfranchisement of Palestinian property, and affirmation of jewish identity.)  The obstruction of the sheer concrete walls are however negotiated with daily by some Palestinians who live in Jerusalem.  Indeed, if Jews and others long oriented themselves to Jerusalem is around sites of burial or commemoration, the poured concrete walls divide the city into separate zones in ways that seek to circumscribe the rights and claims of Palestinian inhabitants, imposing the very constraints on movement that the Jewish people–before claiming a territory bounds as a nation–were long so very skilled at crossing and learning to navigate and move between.


Gates and boundaries long defined Jerusalem.  But the crossing of the gates and boundaries of Jerusalem were long points of entrance to a city that provided access to a range of forms of remembering, sites of importance, and indeed a mental map to its past habitation by peoples, for religious worship or study–risk being obscured by the barrier along the west bank.  The depth of these sites, and the physical geography of the city, in the spatial imaginary are obscured by the concrete wallss that erase the meaningful repository of meaning–and indeed long centering function–of Jerusalem as a holy place.

7.  The  Separation Barrier not only introduces an eyesore to the scarred cityscape.  It evokes a long history of almost compulsive contestation over the sovereignty of a city of deeply symbolic spiritual significance, as much as merely impeding transit.  If Yehoshua is wrong to separate Israeli-Palestinian relations from territorial issues, the fixation on territorial expression and expansion of the Jewish state contains a dark side of inhumanity that demands to be expelled.

The remapping of Israeli territory around Jerusalem is extremely important to the state:  as much as remapping of lines of the sovereignty of the state, it is symbolically important as a defensive mapping, if its rapid construction also seems particularly dangerously provocative as a one-sided remapping of contested sovereign boundaries that deep raises questions of human rights.  If the construction of the concrete Israeli-Palestinian Barrier Wall that was planned from 2000 brought accusations of being a de facto expansion of Israel’s eastern border, the implicit tension of exclusion and inclusion compresses a history of long-contested border conflict.  Since it was approved by the cabinet in 2005, a moment of relative peace in Israeli-Palestinian relations, the growing  Separation Barrier expanded over a decade not only to protect settlements–but also to isolate Palestinians from the region, in response to the first and second intifada.  It may have compromised Israel’s political ideals in ways that manifest a fraught unilateral relation of the state to human rights in the division of the region’s inhabitants.

For the physical barrier that was approved in 2002 was built as a security structure across Jerusalem, but serves as a redrawing of Israel’s long contested border region on the West Bank, disregarding the owners or inhabitants of the lands on which it was built.  The barrier cuts across land of Palestinians it confines, one-sidedly asserting the primacy of an individual relation to place in a country inhabited by a plurality of cultures and religions.  The  Separation Barrier‘s recent construction may eerily echo the repeated remapping of homelands within the identification of the Promised Land by a people long practiced in border crossing, but does so in a particularly violent way.  If boundary-crossing was central to the collective memory of the Jewish Diaspora, the boundary is a drawing up of borders, but not only a reflection of the expansion of the modern security state.  Is the remapping of border boundaries evidence of the expansion of the security state in the twenty-first century, or is it a continuation and new manifestation of a deeply historical compulsive return to the remapping of  bounds of a homeland for the Jewish state?

The observer who sits on a hilltop observer seems to contemplate his own uncertain relation to the wall, and indeed to Jerusalem.  For the concrete barrier unilaterally remaps his own lived relation to space, and raises questions of the fate of the individual before the growing apparatus of a security state, and a material sign of the ability to remap the relation of the nation to lands that have long mapped at the center of the Promised Land:  for the construction of the wall depended on a one-sided seizure of claims to private Palestinian ownership, invalidated by  Seizure Order SO-62-06, removed houses from their agricultural lands and blocked the future development of Palestinian settlements.


Can one describe a culture or psychological impact of a new border-making, poking border-crossing as its necessary corollary?  The Separation Barrier maps the state’s sovereignty beyond meeting security needs.  The image of Palestinian exclusion that the image silently echoes the fraught concept of the territorial mapping of a Jewish nation long nourished in the diasporic imagination.  If the image of the nation was nourished across repeated crossings of national boundaries of nations, the wall is a sign of the boundedness of Jerusalem’s settlement as a privileged area, and of the one-sided settlement of the Holy Land.

In this sense, Yehoshua constructs a “collective psychology” transmitted across five generations of Mani men who settle Jerusalem in Mr. Mani (1990), a novel that provides a backstory of the identification with a territory far before the region was a state across quite different periods, tracing a retrospective genealogy of how each defined their lives in relation to the city, as if repeatedly asserting the right to inhabit and map by their lives.  Yehoshua seems recount the trauma of a historical identification with Jerusalem, preserved thorough the Diaspora, and remapped or mis-mapped onto the Israeli state, as if to exorcize the binding of individuals to a land without consent of its inhabitants.  Yehoshua, a founding member of Peace Now, assumes a sense of the conscience of the nation.  He described the inspiration for his imagined excavation of Jewish identity form the diaspora to the present day overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem while attending his father’s the funeral of his father in the old Sephardic cemetery on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Old City and Wailing Wall, whose 60.000 graves provided the place of resting that his father had chosen to rest.  Yehoshua felt an ambivalent unease about city where he was raised and his family had dwelled for five generations, but while watching the ceremony performed in an unused burial plot, purchased by his grandfather in East Jerusalem, in a cemetery no longer functioning, in a graveyard long contested and desecrated between 1947 and 1967, as smile crept across his face as the internment in sacred ground provoked an epiphany to map the history of a Jerusalem family’s tie in this constrained physical place, provoked by a sense of a deep binding to place that was transmitted from the past, from which arose an imagined genealogy.

Overlooking the Old city amidst crumbling gravestones, a smile spread across Yehoshua’s face as he reflected on his father’s blinding of his body in the long-disputed and contested sector of the city, as from the internment of his father sprung the expansive genealogy mapping how Mani men bound their self to place in the long-divided city across five generations, excavating the tortured binding of self to place transmitted from the diaspora to the modern state.


It is fitting that the story begins from an episode at an older site of burial in Jerusalem overlooking its Old City.  The retrospective genealogy arises from the burial of Yehoshua’s own father prompted his reflection on the historical binding of Jewish residents of the city.   For the difficulty of defining home in Jerusalem was a binding of oneself and one’s identity to place–Yehoshua realized at the moment of interment that his father’s final attachment of himself to Jerusalem revealed that all “the nostalgia, the research into the past [in which his father engaged] was not just a kind of intellectual, but something that ended physically.”  The ceremony of burial in the abandoned cemetery provided a concrete metaphor for interest in Jerusalem’s historical past, and a reflection on what it meant to so intensely lodge a sense of the individual in the divided city.  The  cemetery still bearing desecrated between 1948 and 1967, where some 150,000 Jews were buried, was long valued for its proximity to the Temple Mount, from Ottoman rule of Palestine to the Mandate under British control, and offereda microcosm of historical density of the cementing of self to place, quite unlike the concrete wall, and to the material presence of the past.

mt-olives-2Burial Ceremony in Jewish Cemetery in the Mount of Olives, circa 1900

mt-olives-3Jewish Cemetery in the Mount. of Olives funeral, circa 1940

From the cemetery the lies atop the Mount of Olives, and a perspective similar to that Sohei Nishino assembled in his panoramic composite map, Yehoshua began to assemble the narrative of a family which had wrestled with the divisions, historical fracture lines and multiple boundaries that long divided Jerusalem, and how the crossing and recrossing of those boundaries seemed to echo the numerous boundary-crossings of the diaspora.




Although it was written long  before the first intifada, Yehoshua’s expansive and epic novel offers an eerily illuminating historical precedents for the mapping and remapping of identity in Jerusalem which the symbolic prominence of the Separation Barrier in the old city echoes.  Yehoshua suggests almost the historical transmission of  desperate attempts to map the cohesion of the Jewish state as a territory as if it were an affliction rooted in the problem of translation of an idea of the nation cultivated in the diaspora into a map’s cartographical definitive certainty: as such, his novel provides a background for the prominent place of the Separation Barrier, and casts it to be something like the most recent scar, and remapping, of an ongoing conflict.   Yehoshua in turn describes writing the novel about Jerusalem’s pasts as a therapeutic act of looking at Jerusalem in new ways to reconcile himself with a city with which he felt deeply uncomfortable and ill at ease.  And while the suffering of the Palestinians is more often foregrounded in our concepts of the Middle East, it is for Yehoshua the Mani family that suffers in mapping its own relation to the Holy Land, and the long-suffering relations to place are excavated in his five-part historical novel that raises questions of whether peace is possible in the mapping and counter-mapping of the city Jerusalem, as he asks whether a state of restoration from a state of exile can ever be a redemptive one if that state is understood to have fixed boundaries.

For Yehoshua’s imaginary tracing a genealogy of unease across the five generations of Mani who come to define themselves by their inhabitation of a divided Jerusalem–an imagined genealogy with deep affinities to his own–presents a picture of the intensity of identification with place so tragically compromised the optimism for the Zionist dream of an exemplary nation.  Yehoshua’s intensely psychological novel suggests something close to sympathy for how the Mani develop a common if tortured relation to the ancient city they make their home, and to its residents, as if in imitation of William Faulkner’s empathic rendering of the residents of Yoknapatawpha County, in Yehoshua’s case excavating the remapping of their relations to the divided city as part of their identity, as if intricately excavating the physical archeology of Jerusalem.  “Mar Mani“–the novel’s Hebrew title–evokes the historical name of the Manichean who preached rebirth, and the  persistence by which Mani men who repeatedly strive to inhabit the promised land of Israel from the diaspora suggests a weird continuity, situating their deep drives against the aspirations and foundation of a Jewish state, which repeatedly and insistently run against the multi-ethnic composition of Jerusalem in increasingly haunting ways.

The imposition of a Separation Barrier for “security purposes” limits border-crossing by Palestinians forced to negotiate the construction and to cross the Separation Barrier that is increasingly permanent in Israel’s  topography. as well as the bounded  nature of Jerusalem as its capital.   Although the wall exists to monitor and constrain the crossing of Palestinians into Israeli territory, its presence raises questions of human rights of motion and of residence, as well as pressing questions of its historical basis of its legitimacy as a remapping of rights of residence in the Holy Land–and the power of the compulsive mapping counter-claims to homelands.  Are conflicting claims to settlement and homelands too at odds to be able to be resolved?



8. The novel excavates an almost compulsively repeated remapping of identity in the city–and reveals the persistent difficulty and unease of mapping self onto a location, far different from the triumphal claiming of sovereignty over the city’s sacred space.

The secular claims to sovereignty over Jerusalem by Israel as a nation have often been studied and reviewed, as the walls that divided the city have been long mapped.  But the difficulty of mapping the relation of the Jewish nation to the a region long contested escapes cartographical documents, and raises questions of the interests that they serve which have been so hard to resolve.  If was long difficult to map the region cast as a Promised Land in national lines, the latest improvisation of a national relation to the land that constrains its actual residents raises questions about the historical shifts in boundaries in the city and state of Israel, and raises questions once more about the mapping of the nation to the region.  Thenewly-built Separation Barrier effectively expands the boundary of the sovereign state, in an attempt to preserve the Jewish homeland whose security was once more threatened eaduring the first and second intifada, establishing a boundary to obstruct transit by terrorists–and to protect the settlements on the other side, as well as stake an expanded territorial claim.  Yehoshua’s Mr. Mani excavated the inter-generational transmission of a fraught psychology of settlement in the Holy Land that seems a thick description of the current relation to an increasingly contested map in the mutual incomprehension of a compulsive mapping and remapping of national space.

The remapping of boundary lines traced by the recent Separation Barrier is in a sense excavated on existential terms from the perspective of  a people whose national identity was long understood primarily without territory or territorial claims–and forced into the repeated crossing of boundary lines–in Yehoshua’s novel, by tracing an inter-generational account of a relation to Jerusalem and Israel that emerged from the diaspora.

The Mani had somewhat circuitously settled over five generations in Jerusalem, and Yehoshua’s retelling of that tortured relation to the city invites readers to confront questions the emergence of a tie to the ‘Promised Land’ from the geography of the diaspora and of unsettlement.  Beginning from a contemporary account of the young girlfriend of an Israeli soldier fight in Lebanon to defend the borders of modern Israel circa 1981, who finds in the figure of her partner’s father an attachment to the past after she attends a memorial service in a hilltop cemetery whose headstones evoke the longstanding relation of the Mani family to Jerusalem, Yehoshua leads readers backwards through a imagined dialogues of earlier generations, tracing male members of the Mani family who live in the city.  In a sequence of five dialogues that consciously constitute a post-modern Pentateuch, fragmentary and disjointed as they are, a set of dialogues give testimony about the fraught relation of Mani by situating  each at historical crossroads of Israel’s identity long before contestation of the Golan Heights back to the arrival of the first Mani in Jerusalem in the eighteenth century.  While the story is removed in time, the evidence it offers of a compulsive tie to place exposes some of the same issues that have led to the rebuilding of the boundary barrier, and the new relation it has created of both Palestinians and Israelis to the homelands they seek to defend.

If the transformation of Palestine into the Promised Land is based on a scriptural promise, Yehoshua’s retrospective pentateuch consists of one-sided testimonies about the Mani patriarchs–from the widowed Gavriel in Jerusalem,  to Yosef Mani to Moshe Mani, to Yosef Mani to to Eliyahu Mani, who moved from Persia to sell weapons to Janissaries before the French Revolution, as if peeling back layers of an onion to explore the particularly fraught relation of individual identities of these Jews who map the spatial imaginary of the Diaspora onto the world of the inhabitants of their Promised Land in particularly self-destructive ways.  The historical depth of the non-linear narrative of the family’s relation to the region raises questions of the translation and transmission of the notion of a Jewish nation:  as we view similarities among the boundary crossing of the Mani family that moved from the diaspora to claim a place in the Promised Land, they offer perspective on the costs of a defense of state boundary lines, and the difficulty to map a deeply individual relation to the same territory to fixed lines.

For in moving from the present to the historical arrival of Jews in the Holy Land, long before the Balfour Declaration, the series of necessarily fragmentary dialogues collectively excavate the transmission of deep ties to a notional relation to Jerusalem over time–in ways never clearly able to be defined in a map–that suggest the deeply fraught relation of a remapping of the Jewish nation on state lines, and the repeated remapping of its sovereignty translated and embodied the Jewish nation.  It is striking that Jerusalem, the scene of the novel’s beginning and of much of its action, has been divided on maps more than any city, including Berlin, over the twentieth century, and was so long contested as a site that was defined by maps, in ways that reveal the deeply personal ties that exist to its land.  The sectors of Jerusalem reflect their populations, yet bear the historical scars of the territorial division of the city, long before boundary lines since the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine created Jerusalem apart from Israel and as a “corpus Separatum” on a map, removed from state sovereignty, and which has been transmitted through its actual configuration–and make it such a suggestive synecdoche for the flawed notion of a relation of the nation to space.  The current Separation Barrier is now twice as long as the so-called Green Line negotiated by Israel’s army in 1949, and is continued to be enforced even as increasing numbers of Palestinians have filed multiple petitions against its actual route.


Despite the sense that the jagged edge of the new Separation Barrier, daunting in its proportions and poured cement, performs a symbolic statement of state authority, sheltering residents but also existing as a sign of their protection, at a time when the number of boundary barriers and walls have grown from but fifteen in 1990 to seventy by 2016, it expands Israeli jurisdiction in Jerusalem by several feet in a country where every inch of occupied lands was once contested, and sovereignty defined in a fairly short historical term.   It unilaterally expanded the edges of sovereignty that are increasingly contested, criminalizing boundary-crossing by remapping historically contested lands in new ways, and claiming a clear expansion of more militarized frontiers as a nation state–echoed in the introduction of Hebrew toponyms on the region’s map.

lines-in-jerusalem-47_491949 “Green Line,” shown in red/Israel State Archives

The effective redefinition of the “homeland” of Israelis in Jerusalem beyond the “green line” that divided Israeli and Palestinian sectors of the city partitioned its territory around a new boundary line.  The boundary barrier walls constructed to protect the inhabitants of its territory against terrorist strikes further constrains where Palestinians lived, and provided a new redefinition of the Jewish nation by expanding its territorial translation–crossing the boundary in new ways.  For the Separation Barrier suggests a similarly forceful if dubiously legal assertion of the authority of who will be in charge of the remapping of the Israeli settlements.  The expanding of the mapped boundaries of Jewish settlement provide a particularly worrisome translation of the claims to Israel’s integrity as a homeland of the Jewish nation, as well as a particularly dangerous assertion of the distinctly different status among the inhabitants of the Holy Land, and indeed introduced the walls that divided the city as walls of jurisdiction–and walls of the state–of almost Kafkaesque proportions, removing its inhabitants from the abstract authority of the state and excluding them from the civil society of the city the they once knew.

The new border between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements resonates as a radical remapping of territories long contested, but that the state finds increasingly difficult and is desperate to reconcile, at the same time that Palestinian neighborhoods and populations are growing far more quickly than Israeli ones, who they will soon outnumber in Jerusalem alone.  Does it make sense to try to divide the city into two halves, and to try to divide the populations by claiming an expanded territory for the Israeli army to have jurisdiction?  Or might it have ever been remade differently?  Although its almost existential presence is difficult to view historically, its absoluteness also demands being placed in the longstanding renegotiation of the boundaries of the Jewish “nation” as a sovereign state–and the contested project of remapping a Jewish land.

9.  When placed in historical perspective, the creation of the Separation Barrier is a testament to the boundary-crossing in which the very foundation of the Israeli state seems to have compulsively engaged–and the difficulty of instituting clear boundary lines on a notional ideal of the state as a political imaginary that long predates the modern Jewish nation, and exists in many ways independently of the political situation on the ground, or indeed, oddly, almost of global geopolitics.  For the Separation Barrier materializes the Jewish nation’s boundaries that culminate the expansion of the curtailed claims of Israel to what in 1947 as the “corpus separatum” of an internationally administered Jerusalem–a proposed an entity removed from the Israeli state, supported by many even after Jerusalem was taken by Israel in 1948–has been effectively expanded.  Indeed, the contested relation of Jerusalem as a part of the Israeli nation, evident in the repeated disputes of the location of embassies to Israel in Tel Aviv, rather than Jerusalem, as if to resist its recognition as the nation’s capital, condenses the problems of drawing boundary lines within the Middle East, expanded in 1967, by translating them into the territorial boundaries of a sovereign state, and giving boundaries to the idea of a Jewish nation.

jerusalem_corpus_separatum_1947_map“Corpus Separatum” mapped in 1947 by the United Nations

The recent division is only the latest in the contested remapping of Israeli boundaries and Palestinian lands, to be sure, but bears reflection for the lack of a “road map” to future peace, or reconciliation, and an emblem of the intractability of claims to territorial possession.  Although the construction of the Security Barrier has claimed not to divide a people, but rather to separate Palestinian and Israeli populations to offer freedom and security for both, it is a concrete artifact of the impossible tension between populations of Palestinians and Jews, and the long-contested claims for the region as a homeland–and has made the crossing and drawing of boundary-lines central to the mapping of the Jewish state.  The same problems that have frustrated the very ability for it to be coherently or continuously mapped in the manner of other nation-states–and perhaps encouraged its boundaries to be repeatedly resisted and crossed–have made the notion of such a barrier so fraught for mapping a division between populations in one city.  Despite citing precedents for partition in Cyrpus, the fence to obstruct the immigration of Mexicans to the US, or the fence that Turks have built around Iskerdun at the Syrian border, the fence remaps the region in ways that erase historical claims of residence or precedence.  By effectively re-mapping the boundary lines that define the state, the “Separation Barrier” both defines a stable security barrier, but unilaterally re-maps regional boundaries and expands the contested settlement of extensive historical scope.

For the wall qualitatively enhances and alters the state’s frontier–redefining the previously mapped border in strategic ways with entrenched consequences of shrinking areas of settlement and restricting Palestinian movement and access to natural resources. And it reclaims territory by one nation in n a purely unilateral fashion, where no previous internationally recognized barrier exists.  While the boundaries that the security wall creates are particularly divisive, the remapping of a boundary of what were Palestinian homelands by resettling the land, as if in inverse relation to the razing of houses in Palestinian territories that Israeli forces have occupied, as if to deny their occupation of the land, in a strategy of the obliteration of settlement that has recurred in the region:  for the creation of concrete border barriers around settlement impede the use or movement, and are indeed strategic ways of taking control of the chief regional aquifers, at a time when water is being taken out of the Holy Land far more quickly than it is able to be replaced—the large areas of built settlements in the West Bank mapped lie atop major aquifers and effectively restrict access to this precious natural resource–and arable land.  (If Palestinians may come to out-number Jewish Israelis on the land, but control over water and water-rights–a vital necessity and a question of increased contestation, and a practical need for farming–the settlements secure rights of settlers, the thinking goes, and affirm the primacy of their claims to a contested area.)

Expansive boundary barriers have both eroded any mutual mapping of stable boundary lines, and strategically remap the region’s division: they interrupt roads, regular transit, and pathways of communication, obstructing transit by Palestinians to their neighbors, from their sources of employment and livelihood to shift the access of inhabitants to the territory and restrict the space in which they can move and in indeed the territorial claims they can stake, creating a bizarre human geography that cannot be adequately or fully mapped on paper, or by lines and polygons, as much as they demand to be mapped to be take stock of all their quite tortured consequences.  Yet the equation of militarily occupied settlements to “colonies” seems problematic–so much as extensions of sovereignty distinct from a “home” territory, appear to extend “home” territories. Moreover, the “colonial” status of the settlements–while used to foreground their invasive nature–invites the danger of forgetting the historically contested dimensions of territorial assertions of those who can often cast the occupation of territory as reclaiming lands.

map4-1.jpgBoundary wall showing sections completed by February 2007; red lines were under construction

Over 500 internal checkpoints and roadblocks, not able to revealed at the scale of the map, further break up the continuity of Palestinian lands and isolate each part of the West Bank from the other–even if it is presented as a security need, which has brought benefits of increased peace and a clear decline in the numbers of victims of suicide terrorist attacks.


The tortured route of the Separation Barrier through the neighborhoods, terrain, and ethnic spaces of Jerusalem and its municipal boundaries was designed to prevent routes of suicide bombers and was created by Governmental Decision of February, 2005, allowing legal challenges to its course along the West Bank to be decided in Israeli courts.

Security Fence.png

Security Fence legend.pngIDFMU GIS Team

Are such boundaries enforceable, or sustainable for residents and for the notion of a state?

A deeper question is whether such barriers are psychologically sustainable in the region.  By effectively extending the nation’s boundary miles eastward from the definition of Israeli territory at the 1949 Jordanian–Israeli armistice line into the West Bank more than 15 km, the Border Barrier seemed intentionally to remap the relations of Palestinians to their regional homelands.  The contested construction of such an expanded boundary wall is a physical metaphor for a unilateral remapping of the Israeli state:  the “separation wall” whose first segment was finished in 2003 has accordingly gained the Arabic name of the Wall of Apartheid–as much as the Wall of Separation–in a haunting evocation of the politics of remapping people and territory.  Indeed, the absence of adequate historical recognition or metaphorical appreciation of the depth of a desired boundary building is threatened by some short-sighted forgetfulness or selective amnesia by casting the growth of settlement through the lens of the territorial expansion of a nation-state.

The question of  “colonization” and colonial violence has a clear place in a discourse and history of human rights in an era of decolonization, but may also distance the settlements and their defense from serious human rights questions.  Indeed, by casting the building of the Separation Barrier as the project of a secular nation state–erasing the historical depth of mutual incomprehension in long contested boundary lines.  Yehoshua surveys this genealogy through the collective psychology of a family of Jerusalem residents.  Yehoshua began to write the book during the war with Lebanon in 1982, and in response to it.  The book is less an account of a family history, however, than a detective story that seems to invite readers to assemble clues as it excavates the continued and almost compulsive attempts to organize identity of a family about its claims to Jerusalem.  In an explicit and open echo of a biblical line of descent, evident in names of the Mani family’s male members, we follow Efraim, Gavriel, Moshe, Yosef, Avraham and Eliyahu Mani, extending from the Israel-Lebanon war back to the initial presence of Mani who arrived in Jerusalem n the late eighteenth century.  The excavation of the history of the “old Jerusalem family,” told in dialogues that recede into its past and the Jewish diaspora that are episodic and fragmentary does not directly reflect the territorial division of Palestine or the Holy Land, raising questions of the fraught unease of staking claims to settlement on a map.


10.  The novel compels questions of the ethics of translating the notion of a nation cultivated in the diaspora to a secular nation-state in ways that he suggests may challenge the very integrity of Israel as a state. The difficult translation of a notion of the Jewish nation from the diaspora into national terms is cast into historical relief in particularly eloquent and haunting terms by  Yehoshua’s post-modern pentateuch.  For Yehoshua, the mapping of boundaries of sovereignty in the manner of a nation-state was a particularly fraught if not misunderstood translation of jewish identity.  And while his historical novel was written long before the construction of Separation Boundary, it seems a relevant and evocative post-Zionist excavation of the settling of the Holy Land.  Tracing the presence of a Jewish family in Jerusalem from the eighteenth century, receding back in time by uncovering untold layers of previous generation of Mani men who repeatedly return to fatal miscommunications between mapping Jewish settlement of the Holy Land, centuries before the building of the Border Barrier.

The novel’s compelling retelling of the tortured geographies these protagonists follow, and the contested relations to the region’s inhabitants their complex itineraries reveal–the depth with which their relations to Palestine are increasingly appreciated in historical perspective, as the novel casts its unpeeling of historical layers as a revelation of a secret, hidden trauma.  Rather than excavate legal claims to mapping Jerusalem, Yehoshua suggests the human relation to the land with an almost Faulknerian degree of empathy.   Each dialogue returns to engage the compulsive restaking of claims of identity in relation to the territory, from the visit of Gavriel Mani to an old Jerusalem cemetery, which unpacks the tortured nature of his relation to the land.  Its episodic structure seems to excavate layers of the historical transmission of the hope of settlements across five generations of Mani men.  Each of five chapters of discrete discussions that provide depositions of the historical settlement of Jerusalem by the Jewish family.  Constructed in a series of one-sided dialogues the suggest the fate of Mani men who almost compulsively return to Jerusalem, it reveals and maps a complicated motion across boundaries in diaspora that extends back in time to the eighteenth century, when Eliyahu Mani moved from Persia to sell arms to the Janissaries to the Mediterranean at the time of the French Revolution, tracing the migration of Mani across the Mediterranean through the compulsive boundary crossing–setting their individual tortured itineraries in the context of the nourishing of a spatial imaginary of a tie to the Holy Land that repeatedly collides with the geography of the region’s habitation by Arabs, against the background of tacit conflicts between its Arab and Israeli residents.

The five discreet stories of Mani men, but increasingly reveals deep psychological, as much as objective, questions about relations to space, and to the territory of the Holy Land to which the Mani first migrated as Sephardic Jews while living in Salonica, and for the most part have long made their primary residence–only the first of the dialogues occurs in Israel.   In five one-sided dialogues that span two centuries, we encounter five generations of the mysterious Mani who travelled to Jerusalem, burdened with and tortured by the psychological costs of this attraction, whose encounter with the other is somehow obscured by their own search for identities.  Each successive dialogue offers parallel that help readers to intuit a mysteriously powerful inter-generational transmission of a need to situate and shape their identity against Jerusalem that seems self-destructive in the end in how they seek to map their identity onto a secular political space, and a place that is defined by differences as much as the promised place that exists in their minds.  The ‘family resemblances’ of how a mental geography collides with actualities among Mani men is a mediation on the question of Jewish identity–revising the collective identity and narrative of the Jewish people by asking its readers to recognize the self-destructive qualities the Mani share as if a birthright.

But the striking collision of the spatial imaginary of The Holy Land with the actuality of its settlement is among the most haunting aspects of the book, as played out in successive lives of generations of Mani men.  As much as describe the disturbing psychological traits of the family–although compelling–the family resemblances readers recognized emerge around the transmission of a promise of place preserved among the members of the Mani family that in itself perhaps cannot be mapped.  Although first written when Yehoshua was called up for military service during the Israeli-Lebanon war of 1982, it asks readers to confront issues of mapping of Israel’s boundaries and the transmission of a psychological relation to the Holy Land cultivated in diaspora:  the repeated boundary-crossing across generations seem both increasingly self-destructive and compulsive, from the suicidal Gavriel Mani,  visited by the partner of his son in military service in Lebanon, who cannot get a requested leave, to his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.  Hagar, who is attracted to Gavriel as she is without a father, is entranced by him as she joins him in setting a funerary stone for Ephraim’s mother in an old cemetery, near the Palestinian quarter, as Ephraim is prevented from joining his father on military leave from Lebanon.  If she is attracted to the opacity of Gavriel’s deep attachment to earlier settlement of the region, the story opens an exploration of how the previous generations of Mani share increasingly tortured relations to the homeland that they lived.  Yehoshua uses non-linear episodes of discussions between younger and older generations about the Mani family to reveal levels in their similarly tortured identities, perhaps tied to a moment revealed in the final chapter of an “original” sin, that assemble a tortured psychology of resettlement that long predates the 1947 partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, and reflects on the translation of the Jewish Nation to the bounds of a secular state, offering a human geography that captures the relation to the land that escapes or evades maps.


An implicit if subtle culmination of each of the five chapters is the realization that the motion of its Jewish protagonists are increasingly constrained over time and in successive generations:  while Ephraim is engaged in the border war in Lebanon which may not be just, Gavriel seems immobilized in his Jerusalem apartment, in the next dialogue we revisit his father, who had left been expelled from Palestine by the British and left Jerusalem only to cross paths at the southern edge of the Third Reich, at the Labyrinth of Knossos, with a Nazi paratrooper in 1941, who believes Crete to be the Reich’s natural destiny and becomes obsessed with interrogating the Mani who identifies himself as a “former Jew“–who he first mistakes as a Greek–about his presence on the island.  As we recede into the early twentieth, late nineteenth and even late eighteenth centuries, the novel’s expansive historical scope endlessly returns to cross-roads of Jewish history, retelling an archetypal narrative of the promise of settlement in Israel in reverse to raise implicit questions about the current crossing of frontier of the Israeli state from the Balfour Mandate to the third Zionist congress to the early nineteenth century.

For Yehoshua broaches tacit questions of the ability to translate the image of the Jewish nation in the frontiers of the qualitatively different idea of a national state:   over five chapters that extend backwards in time, a collective narrative of settlement is refracted from other points of view, without direct reference to either scriptural, spiritual or Zionist narratives or ideologies, that forces readers to rethink the generational transmission of an attachment to place.  Yehoshua began Mr. Mani as he struggled to give historical grounds to the confused scope of crossing the border with Lebanon, in an unprecedented military action when he saw Israel as acting, for the first time, as a nation that aggressively sought to expanded its own actual frontiers, and to reflect on the role of repeated boundary-crossing in the family, as if to enjoin the reader to reflect on questions of the transmission of a tortured tie to space in a family who return to map the coherence of their identity in spatial terms.

In order to explore Israel’s relation to its boundaries and territory outside of either a religious or Zionist narrative, Yehoshua’s novel uncovers a poignantly tortured relation of members of the oldest Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem, inviting readers to rethink the historical survival of a deep psychic attachment to place whose history the current affirmation and protection of settlements on the West Bank appear to have continued.  The Separation Barrier was built in years long after the novel’s composition, but echoes a similar dynamic in its strongly symbolic remapping of the region, which reveals deep affinities to the promise of place that Yehoshua describes among the Manis.  It resembles the wall dividing Palestinians that Israeli former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin imagined–although he had also negotiated a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestinians–in response to the first intifada, in 1992, although it was built in the context of the second intifada.  The wall’s construction has come to redefine its landscape and seems emblematic of a flawed territorial identity of Israel:  while created as a security barrier to prevent terrorist attacks, it effectively isolates almost a tenth of Palestinians from their territory.

The new border not only extends beyond the Green Line to protect Israeli settlements, but encircles many Palestinian towns to constrain human movement, providing but has been expanded by military interventions beyond previous international accords, and by crossing the boundary that was once agreed upon have moved beyond once clear confines in ways that provide a perilous unilateral expansion of the Israeli nation that seem unsustainable, as the Israeli government has apparently defended settlements beyond borders adjudicated at the rise of the state along the so-called “Green Line,” here rendered in red and distinguished by the Hebrew toponyms in map otherwise English or Arabic in a map that long hung in the office of David Ben Gurion–which bounded an Internationally administered region beyond national jurisdiction in Green.  The superimposition of Hebrew language already reveals a conflicted historical palimpsest, difficult to account for in any map and ethically fraught in its implications for the relations of individual to a territory as symbolically important as Jerusalem.  Even writing the presence of Israel onto a map to define its territory was complexly loaded in multiple potentially conflictual ways.

lines in Jerusalem 47_49.jpg1949 Map that hung in David Ben Gurion’s office, showing “Green Line” in red/Israel State Archives

In recent years, the Boundary Barrier has been built along lines that reflect a complex mosaic of ethnic divisions, with little road map present for the region’s future settlement.


Joshua Doubt

The construction such concrete wall reflects a tortured relation to the territory, even if it is an existential obstacle in the present.  Readers become complicit observers to conflicted relations of the image of the Israeli state to expanse and borderlines.  The excavation of a collective unconscious of the region’s fraught settlement  Yehoshua reveals in the tragic narratives over generations of an “old Jerusalem family” in Mr. Mani–tracing the repeated boundary-crossings of Mediterranean Jews and fraught ties they fashion to Jerusalem.

Yehoshua’s novel itself provides a compelling historical commentary on the psychic power of the wall, whose construction it predates, and of conflicts perhaps inherent in the hopes for founding a Jewish state.  Much as the territorial Isreali Border Barrier has compromised the ideals of Israeli, the conflicted nature of the aspirations to statehood become examined through the lens of something like a family pathology of resettling in Jerusalem in the lives we encounter in Mr. Mani, which portrays a history of Sephardic Jews who arrived in the city as re-enacting a perpetually tortured relation to the residents of what they regarded as the Promised Land.  The apparently discrete historical episodes of each chapter narrate how generations of Mani crossed boundaries crossed in the novel as if to peel away the psychological layers of individuals that have continued to animate the the region’s ongoing settlement, and deserves sustained reading as such in the light of the redrawing of the region’s map.

11. The ongoing protection of settlements of Jews and Israeli’s beyond the divisions of the city has provoked a relatively recent effective remapping of boundaries for current generations of Palestinians and Israeli Jews along the Border Barrier.  The Barrier has created expanded the divisions of Jerusalem  beyond the international boundary recognized by the Green Line, drawn first in green wax pencil by Moshe Dayan in 1947 to recognize neighborhoods of the city that would remain under Israeli control–and which continues to divide the city culturally along ethnic lines in increasingly traumatic ways.  Is this trauma only able to be mapped in the present?


The complex mapping of an incredibly torturous divide of the barrier have recently expanded the city line and municipal boundary of West Jerusalem that have effectively made boundary crossing part of daily life.  The walls create stubborn new borders around settlements on the West Bank that have now extended far to the east of the Old City, serviced by separate busses, mapping a relation to the region without a clear plan for moving forward along a road map.  The melancholic image in this post’s header condenses in an almost existential longing a deep history of territorial conflict and mapping indigenous rights of residence, and the tension by which the tenacity of defending local rights to settlement–cast in terms of the “redemption” of lands by some orthodox Jews but including a range of less conservative settlers as well, who demand protection.

While fraught today, the broader problem of border and boundary crossing is examined in resolutely micro-historical fashion through the diasporic Jews in Yehoshua’s Mr. Mani, a post-modern pentateuch of a the settlement of Jerusalem by five generations of Mani men, although written before the barrier walls that had such deep humanitarian consequences were built.  In five dialogues, as if in an archetypal structure, stretching backwards to the ideals of the Mediterranean diaspora, we witness the arrival of Mani settlers–Avraham, Yosef, Moshe, Yosef, and Gavriel–in Jerusalem, as if unwilling by-standers to history, that rewrite an archetypal narrative of the foundation of the Jewish state situated it in the Mediterranean society of the diaspora.  Rather than predict the wall’s division of urban space, Yehoshua’s novel hauntingly excavates the search for a Jewish homeland from the eighteenth century, mapping the conflicted relation to the boundaries of the region in the shared if tortured attraction each generation of Jewish settlers in Jerusalem.  Yehoshua’s deeply ethical engagement with boundaries in the novel, a collective psychology of the settlement of the Jewish state that is decidedly pre-Zionist, if written with the present trauma of the division of Jerusalem prominent in his mind–describing, as it does, a prehistory of the frustrations of individuals nowho try to “put [their] identity in a new Israeli identity”–an “identity that replaced the term Jew and enlarged it,” as Yehoshua (who was born in 1937)  described members of the Sephardic family of his mother.  His secular retelling of the Jewish settlement of Israel provides a deeply moral exploration of the meaning of the region’s settlement at a distinct remove from Zionist or religious master-narratives.

In Mr. Mani, Yehoshua reconstructed narratives of five generations of Mani from fictional testimonies of a sequence of one-sided dialogues that try to track their destinies, and their compulsion to settle in Arabic-speaking lands, as they define their identities in relation to a Holy Land.  The monologic dialogues invites interpretation of the tortured geographies by which Mani “resettle” long before the foundation of an Israeli nation by circumstances that hauntingly and compulsively enact a psychological relation to the Holy Land; finding a place for themselves within a divided city seems a psychological compulsion for the Mani family, and their collective biographies offers a haunting counter-narrative of the difficult occupation of the region, witnessed from the traumatic Lebanon War of 1982, when the novel was begun and is set–a war for which the author was mobilized, and which prompted him to feel the need to excavate the state’s relation to its territory.  Each of the five partial dialogues examine protagonists who as far back as the mid-nineteenth century who, in different historical moment and crossroads, recurrently reveal a  traumatic relation to the land.  Each testimony about the Mani reveal, in a non-linear fashion, deep psychological continuities members of five generations in their attempts to find a residence in the region that they know as the Holy Land, crossing borders to adopt new identities in often surprising–an identity that never exists in clearly spiritual terms.

The successive chapters of Mr. Mani examines the itineraries of a previous generation, as if charting a family of Sephardic Jews committed to settle in the region even as it moves from Israel to the diaspora.  Each chapter illuminates successive generations’ conflicted relations to its actual inhabitants, as we come to examine and evaluate the concealed histories of how the Mani family came to inhabit the city.  Yehoshua’s novel uncovers a prehistory of the current occupation, through the fraught symbolic place of Jerusalem in the Jewish state–and its mythic status in the diasporic community–against the almost compulsive and perhaps pathological pull of translating an idea of the Jewish state into territorial terms, that suggest the deep historical haunting of the fraught boundaries of the capital of the modern Israeli state.  For in chapters that extend from the present Jerusalem to the eighteenth century, but are  written from the point of view of the present, Yehoshua invites readers of Mr. Mani to excavate an ongoing struggle of a tortured family to inhabit Jerusalem as a promised land.

As if unveiling layers of a stratigraphy of Zionism, each chapter examines the fates of preceding generations of Mani men in strikingly non-linear terms, through surviving sides of dialogues between an individual and their elders, extended accounts akin to testimony if not a legal depositions, about the fated destiny of five generations of Mani men.  The dialogues suggest the difficulty each faced in reconciling a pull to settle the territory without ever acknowledging their relation to the land’s actual inhabitants.  Reading about generations of Mani who moved in the Mediterranean in each discussion, we come to terms the performative actions of each in relation to Jerusalem, that beyond an excavation of family history cumulatively challenges if not undermines and re-maps a foundational narrative of the Jewish state through the difficult fate of each generation of Mani as they try to define themselves in a long contested space.  If Yehoshua has described the ambivalence of his relation to Jerusalem, and the book he described as his “great achievement” to excavate the relations of previous generations of the city in hopes to “understand a present trauma by [returning to] crossroads in the past.”

Yehoshua created the imagined family history in inescapably autobiographical tones as a fifth-generation Jerusalem family of Sephardi origin, but the fractured narrative of Mr. Mani invites readers to assemble a collective psychology of the family who immigrated to the Holy Land, rewriting a mythic archetypal language of Israel’s settlement at crucial points in the history of the diaspora–including the Holocaust, Balfour Declaration, First Zionist Congress, and French Revolution and Mediterranean Diaspora–through the lens of individual tortured men.  Yehoshua has long held an active role in ending the violence between Jews and Palestinians as an active member of Peace Now and the New Movement, who long believed in the necessity of working with the “Green Line” boundaries between Israel and Palestine that would divide the Holy Land into Israeli and a demilitarized Palestinian state–as he feared the compromises that a binational Jewish state would entail.  As Yehoshua has argued against the need to cease defending settlements, or “intertwining ourselves in the living tissue of another people,” as a deep danger to the Jewish state, redrawing the territory on a map, he describes the difficulty of his characters in cross the cultural boundaries of the  map in ways that give voice to his  own ambivalence about Jerusalem’s settlement and territorial expansion and the loss that this expansion inevitably entails of the very ideals that motivated Israel’s foundation.


12.  The five chapters of Mr. Mani focus on distinct chapters of Jerusalem’s history–and turning points in its centrality to Israel as a nation.  Through the fractured demography of the Mani, Yehoshua excavates reveals a striking psychological continuity each share; despite the wide ranging physical and spatial geography of the setting of each dialogue, each returns to how Mani seek to preserve and impose their visions of a promise of settlement in Palestine over time in a strikingly non-linear fashion.

The contrasting testimonies that describe tortured relations of the Mani to the city.  Jerusalem almost becomes a protagonist of the book, more than the historically textured sense of its divisions of its sectors and divided populations were in earlier novels set in the city, A Late Divorce and The Lover.  If those novels which describe protagonists who move among Jerusalem’s separate territories and negotiate its cultural boundaries of Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, Mr. Mani is haunting in revealing the continued psychical point of orientation among generations of Mani.  If its religious and ethnic divisions are repeatedly evoked in each chapter, an atmospheric sense of the city’s historical boundaries shape the tortured psyche of the generations of diasporic Jews in Mr Mani who struggle with  Jerusalem as a sacred city–a concept that looms large in the protagonists mind, as each maps their lives in relation to its diverse inhabitants, in hopes to discover their own identities by the act of reconciling the image of a Holy and sacred city with its actual map.  Frequent boundary crossing and the hopes that Jerusalem continues to hold suggests a mental geography of the nation that Yehoshua both seeks to excavate for the reader of Mr Mani, and seeks to use to confront its divided status of its geography in the present day:  indeed, the reader of this 1989 novel cannot but recall the recent construction of security walls or separation barriers built to protect West Bank settlements today, which the state has described as measure of internal of internal security, but are constructed without dialogue with Palestinians, and remap dividing lines of “Us here” and “Them there,” failing to map the region save by reinstating its division.

The concrete presence of historical Jerusalems from the eighteenth to late twentieth century strikingly speaks to the current divisions in Jerusalem–and the Israeli state–as it forces the reader to face its tortured history through one family, outside the political divisions, treaties, and legal precedents in which the region’s history is most often mapped.   In a temporally disjunctive manner extending into one family’s past, Yehoshua’s novel presents five one-sided dialogues occurring across five generations uncover the haunting guilt that possesses the members of a family who move from the diaspora to Palestine.  As we read one half of each chapter we inferring elusive family relationships and striking resemblances among Mani men, uncovering the discomfort and guilt each feels in relation to the settlement of the land, and the tragic consequences each find in response to hopes for the mythical promise Jerusalem retains generations, and the deep guilt the feel in inhabiting the region.  The partial testimonies of each dialogue reveal psychological traits of the family through the self-destructiveness of each Mani, their difficulty in dwelling in Jerusalem, and the compulsions that encouraged their arrival in Jerusalem.  Inferences about testimony that five generations offer their elders inevitably press beyond its allegorical if not archetypal structure raise broad questions about their settlement of the region, but remain hopeful nonetheless–despite the repeatedly tragic fates of the Mani who settle in Jerusalem, they survive–their survival is the central thread of the novel.

The use of such an archetypal structure of five books–of “nearly biblical range”–retains a haunting focus on Jerusalem’s pasts as if to rewrite a mythic relation to the symbolic status of the territory, by revealing the tense relations between a Sephardic family to Jerusalem’s populations in extenso, dwelling on the impossibility of reconciliation in the tortured reconciliation of an idealistic vision of a Jewish nation transmitted in the diaspora as they move to Jerusalem, and suggest that the difficulty proves fatal in their inability to engage constructively with its settlers or inhabitants across each generation–and indeed the deeply tragic relation they keep to the region.  Instead of simply mapping their routes of arrival, the non-linear structure of the novel uncovers a fatalistic attraction of Mani men to Jerusalem to trace what seems a psychic map of Jews’ relation to the territory of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, in ways that coincide with major world-historical events–Israel-Lebanon War; World War II and the Holocaust; the third Zionist Congress; the Palestinian Mandate and Balfour Declaration; the French Revolution–but offer opportunities from which we infer the psychological traits they share and history of their individual self-destructiveness.  Each episode unmasks and maps a more haunting historical precedent of repeated mutual incomprehension, despite its continued optimistic goals, as if to examine the depth of obstacles to peaceful boundaries or boundary lines as precedents for the 1982 Israeli-Lebanon War.  Indeed, Yehoshua’s marriage to a practicing psychoanalyst may have compelled him to try to delineate the almost biblical psyche of a family asserting its own place in the Holy Land.  Echoing his political sentiments in Peace Now, Yehoshua seems to try to excavate and expel a repeated narrative of latent self-destructiveness of the creation of a Jewish nation rooted in Jerusalem, as well as to recuperate its optimism.

The result seems a counter-narrative of the state, told from below, as each Mani fatally seeks, in tragic ways, to claim an elusive and unmapped and uncharted identity in a its space:  for each testimony presents the problem of a preceding generation in testimonies which betray secrets of the family, reveals their arrival in Jerusalem to search for an elusive identity, portraying what Yehoshua has described as “an inter-generational psychology” as much as a collective biography.  Rather than dwell on the major historical events of history to which it gestures–the Israeli-Lebanese War; the Holocaust; the Palestinian Mandate and Balfour Declaration; Herzl’s presence at the Third Zionist Conference; a Jerusalem “shaking off the dust of centuries, now that Christianity is rediscovering it and it is giving new hope to the Jews,” as one Mani says–Yehoshua directs our attention to how the Mani try to take a place in Jerusalem.  The excavation of their relation to Jerusalem suggests a disastrous attempt to accommodate its divisions.  Each testimony about the Mani powerfully resonates with the context in which Yehoshua wrote in the 1980s, when increasing numbers of young settlers began moved into the West Bank, and Israeli troops sought to defend settlements in and near the Golan Heights, by going beyond the territorial borders of the Israeli state.  Indeed, the novel reflects the extent to which the subsequent accommodation of ultra-Orthodox parties in Israeli politics threatens to normalize the defense of such settlements.

By an archeological revelation of hidden pasts–and by inferring of psychic structures of which individual Mani seem not fully aware, we increasingly infer shared psychological traits of these driven Mani men from individual narratives, reconstructing the tortured idiosyncratic narratives by how the “old Jerusalem family” come to settle in Palestine five generations, as if to gain a new narrative about ways the contested space of the divided city has promised diasporic Jews a sacred home in the extended testimonies delivered before parents or parent figures, military magistrates, or a rabbi, as if before a hidden God.  The result is a micro-map of Jerusalem’s settlement, reconstructed through inter-generational discussion in an archetypal parable in reverse of the family’s often tortured relation to the Holy Land, and to Israel and its boundaries–and to the others who inhabit that land with eery parallels that of the Jewish state.

As evidence accumulates in Mr. Mani about the mysterious family to which the title refers, each interlocutor expands lengthy accounts of the unclear motives and decisions driving the Mani men, uncovering the secrets of their elusiveness and the self-destructive hopes for a new identity in the disquietingly flawed relation to mental maps of the Holy Land, which have little place for its inhabitants.  The absence of acknowledging or including these residents is so striking to evoke the mythic states in “Then and Now” maps by plasticine overlays of different historical periods–which can be peeled away but affirm an underlying territorial continuity between the Kingdom of Judea and later ages, that also erase their presence inhabitants–illustrating current Israeli frontier as transhistorical or imposing the transhistorical place name “Israel” that so resonates with the current state.



JUDEA.pngOxford Biblical Atlas 

Indeed, there is a similar sense of a condensation of history within the individual lives of members of the Mani family that Yehoshua has reconstructed in the novel, and a sense of the striking density with which they inhabit a historical space.  In Mr Mani (1990), there is no explicit mention of the walled division of Jerusalem’s divided neighborhoods, despite the frequent recurrence of walls in Jerusalem’s different sectors, walls around the city, and the evocation of the hidden presence of Palestinians and Arabs in the city’s pasts.  This presence repeatedly haunts the relation of the Mani to the region in ways difficult to fathom or fully comprehend.   So much is reflected in the historical telescoping of biblical topography into the current struggle over the settlements in the West Bank that the o-called Separation Barrier on the West Bank reflects.  Indeed, as the lands of the West Bank are known as “Judea and Sameria,” evoking the ancient Kingdom of Israel, it is based on an insistent translation of the past into the present that would confound any reader of a historical map as an example of mythistokry.

The actual demographic map is indeed not only far more complex, whose actual borders and Arab settlement impossible to reconcile with such strongly imagined maps.


Yehoshua’s novel provides an archeology the family’s settlement of Jerusalem bearing on the present problem of its national borders and boundaries, but a map that few would recognize.   Yehoshua has sequenced the testimonies about six Mani men–Mr. Mani–directly in the shadow of world-historical events.

13.  Each chapter and section of the novel’s historical excavation focusses attention on the problematic nature of an idealistic identification of individual identity with the Holy City of Jerusalem, nourished for over a century and a half.  The result is less a map of space than an exploration of the dangers of relations to a place–and a hope to expel the continued attachment to the region as a site of individual identity that has remained so intertwined to the expansion of boundaries for its settlers from the first partitioning of Jerusalem in relation to the Israeli state.


The common of generation of Mani failure to define their relation to the other inhabitants of the region–or “the other” of Palestinians and Arabs–illuminates as it raises questions about the transmission of a flawed if compulsive connection to the land.  And it raises, implicitly, the possibility of releasing oneself from this transmission, and indeed the very one-sided nature of their discussion on what those boundaries are.

zionistyiddishshekels_pppa_0.jpgLand of Israel for the People of Israel!”/Zionist Settlement poster, circa 1917

For with modern relevance and reverberations, each Mani struggles to define the idealistic affinity developed in the diasporic community with his relations to its inhabitants–which none successfully articulate–listening to the testimony offered in one side of conversations, we can almost trace the transmission of a shared if flawed compulsion to create a connection to place, which, by the end of the book, we only hope to release that have been for generations of Jews and Palestinians so historically difficult to resolve in maps:  viewed from the perspective of members of the Mani family, these maps are often far less clear than the urgency of their attempts to create a personal and a collective relation to the Holy Land–long before the UN Partition of 1947 defined the Green Line drawn or the barrier walls built around the West Bank (marked by a red line below) and around Jerusalem.  The maps, often drawn in one-sided fashion, have given tacit approval to settlements across the recognized boundary lines of the state.  Even as it maps a peculiar itineraries of settlement, Mr. Mani raises questions of the meaning of crossing into the region from a diasporic community, and an unclear sense of identity that is produced by a mythic status of Jerusalem for diasporic Jews.

482px-west_bank__gaza_map_2007_settlements1UN Partition Map and Current Israeli Barrier Wall around West Bank and Jerusalem, with Israeli Settlements noted by black triangles.  Wikipedia.

14.  For the transmission of this psychological tie to place among members of the Mani offers a deep history of the problem of creating a national map for the image of the Jewish nation, as each processes an image of Jewish identity long cultivated in the diaspora to the city of Jerusalem.  The archetypal structure presents something of parable or a hidden history of the Jewish state–each speaker offers an account of individual Mani, presenting what Yehoshua has described as an “inter-generational psychology” of the transmission of their identities as they cross the multiple historical boundaries of the Holy Land.


The five interrogations that comprise Mr Mani offer the reader evidence in an quasi-legal forum about their almost pathological desire to settle in or near the Holy Land.  If each map generations of Mani who once settled in Jerusalem, and defined it as a homeland, these images seem to provide an answer for the uncertain relation of contemporary Israelis to their land, and start from the future daughter-in-law who was raised on a kibbutz, but visits her boyfriend’s father in Jerusalem while he serves in the Israeli army during the invasion of Lebanon.  Hagar travels in her partner’s place to be at the burial of the man’s wife in Jerusalem, visiting him in the historically resonant Talbiya neighborhood–whose name derives from Arabic–and contrast between the mythological status of the city as a site of destiny and its multi-ethnic character.  The secrets of the several Mani suggested to lie in an old cemetery suggest the demographic divisions of the city, and its odd status as a site of Jewish destiny:  the cross-generation visitation of the graveyard in provides a hinge to move backwards in time in each later section and observe Mani men across six generations, and the deep psychic affinities of Mani men have shared from the eighteenth century through the Israel-Lebanon war, excavating a micro-history of the family’s past analogous to the material geography of Jerusalem’s contested neighborhoods and even archeological ruins.

If a first dialogue describing Hagar’s encounter with the widowed Gavriel Mani that is set in the old Talibiya neighborhood of Jerusalem, we share her initial fascination ing the Mani, born in Crete, but resettled in Jerusalem, home of his forefathers, and where his great-great-grandfather settled in the mid-nineteenth century.  It provides the basis for subsequent chapters excavate the Mani family’s arrival in Palestine and complex relation to this home–which may liberate the reader from the fatal attachment each feels to the Holy Land.  Indeed, in ways that are particularly striking, Yehoshua removes the problem of boundary-crossing from being embedded in post-1967 political history, identifying a pre-history for still-current unilateral demands for Jewish territorial contiguity and “redemption” of Jewish neighborhoods, and that illuminates the personally destructive consequences of such particularly one-sided border crossing, no matter their intent.

In each dialogue, Yehoshua has situated the family in the context both of the diaspora and the formation of the nation of Israel that remain particularly problematic.  Each testimony, presented as if an official forum, also tacitly engages problems of settlement of the Holy Land in a one-sided relation to its actual inhabitants, dwelling on the deep difficulties of mapping the promise of that settlement that will overcome the flawed or fatal lack of connection to its inhabitants and human geography.  Each speaker is also situated in relation to specific world-historical moments but is presented to excavate the past secrets of the family, and sketch, in episodic ways for readers to assemble, their inter-generational psychology.  Individual Mani men moved through and across boundaries in the Mediterranean to Jerusalem, moving from the Peloponnese to the Ottoman Empire to Crete and to Jerusalem, attracted by a notional tie to place, sharing a terrifying intrepid impulse to cross boundary lines to map the imaginary nation and identity in the city.  Continued boundary crossing over these generations seem to speak to the problematic creation of currently contested borders of the Jewish state.

Yehoshua’s novel suggests the difficulty of hopes to translate a cherished idea of the nation cultivated in the diaspora to its physical site with dire consequences–as they attempted to reclaim an identity in Jerusalem, in ways particularly resonant to the present.  Even if their lives are mapped in historical terms, they continue to raise questions that almost invite us to judge haunting accounts of all Mani imagined themselves across generations as inhabitants of the land, as they struggle to imagine their place within Jerusalem and Holy Land.  The dialogues trace something of a genealogy of the city’s status as a homeland for Jews, through episodes of the local history that return to a shared fascination with the legacy of the Mani through specific choices and acts.  Hauntingly, no member of the Mani clan understands himself as transmitting such a self-destructive impulse, or is aware of acting on it.  Yet the similarities in the uneasy sense of self with which each border-line personality in the family seem to struggle leads us along a tortured geography of diaspora to piece together, and leads us to question of how grasping the saga of the arrival of the “old Jerusalem family” to which we are introduced by the mysterious Gavriel Mani, observed through the unexpected visitor of his son’s girlfriend, Hagar, who seems driven to save him from his own repeatedly attempts at suicide at his son’s request.  As the family moves into divided Jerusalems, crossing its divisions becomes a metaphor for boundary-crossing across historical images of the city’s settlement through the differently tortured sense of individuality of each self-deceiving Mani man.

There is not any map in the book tracing the geography of their migrations, perhaps centered on Sephardic Jews from the Mani peninsula in the Peloponnese, the dialectic of migration and settlement through the Mediterranean diaspora is the central sub-map of the book, yet one told less from the point of view of a voyager than in terms of an ineluctable pull to uncover the presence and place of the Mani in Jerusalem and “Israel,” as we uncover how their arrival intersect a new sense of the nation–we start to map a collective itinerary across the Mediterranean far more tortured than can be traced by smooth arrows, vectors, or lines, and to question that idealistic attachment to a region.   For the deep psychic attachment transmitted to the land less able to be clearly mapped by lines or polygons–the alternative genealogy of the Israeli state is based on border crossing as much as migration and settlement, which may be able to be questioned, seems motivated by the cultivation of the promise of a place of settlement in the Holy Land, as if pursuit of a perpetual promise without attending to the settlement of the land.


Rather than include or orient us to a map, or trace individual itineraries, Yehoshua seeks to present a picture of psychologically intertwined self-loathing and an idealism that appear innate traits of the Mani men who move across the boundaries of Mediterranean as if to ask us to judge how they arrived.  The unease among these border-line personalities may derive from the “original sin” by which the line is first settled in Jerusalem–a tragic narrative revealed only in the final pages of the novel in 1848–as a consequence of identities cultivated in the diaspora, combining hopes to reconcile idealistic notions of belonging to a nation that leads that may explain their individual borderline personalities.

15.  Yehoshua’s novel of ties a geographic migration nourished in the diaspora to Israel’s borders.  Each dialogue offers testimony of inhabitants of the Holy Land who face difficulty ever integrating with its inhabitants as others.  They rarely do so as easily as they imagine:  all are condemned to live in a compromised place where they wish to map their notions of Israel without concern for the inhabitants of its territory, either under Ottoman administrators or British military police or consuls.  As we trace the lineage of the Mani family in chronological reverse, as if excavating imaginary family archives, and episodes of Jerusalem’s history as a divided land, as if in an inversion of the foundational narrative of the Jewish people.  (Several inter-textual parallels are repeatedly underscored, both by the family’s patriarchal biblical names–“I am weary of the names of dead patriarch commemorating downfalls and defeats; Avraham Mani confesses to his mute rabbi in Athens in 1848, describing his naming of his child; “I had my fill of Genesis and went on to Exodus, from which I took the name of Moses in all simplicity“–but their fortunes do not improve. )

The novel’s fragmented narrative is suited to suggest the difficult manner that this family has embedded itself within Jerusalem, tracing against the backdrop of the Middle East their idealistic gravitation to Jerusalem, hoping to find an identity and stabler sense of self as they cross the boundaries that define Palestine and Jerusalem’s historically divided neighborhoods.  By mapping the persistent psychic attachments of Mani onto the lived structure of the long-divided city, Yehoshua suggests a hope to erase boundary lines with which each generation repeatedly struggle, as they struggle to navigate a divided city’s lived geography and boundary lines.

Old Jeruslaem--1912; 1:8350 U Texas, 1912; University of Texas (detail)

Jerusalem 1883Jerusalem , 1870 (detail)

Moving from sets of testimony about the Mani and their forbears, as if lifting layers of its physical geography and inhabitants, Jerusalem is the central  canvas if not the only backdrop against whose geography much of the novel’s potted narratives is plotted.  Yehoshua presents the surviving half of each dialogue as if to offer snapshots of Mani men, receding from the present to the 1940s to British occupation  to the time of the first Congress of Zionism to the late eighteenth century.  The often tortured monologues that present parallels in the impulsive ties of Mani to territorial boundaries, and conclude as they seem repeatedly driven to perform sudden self-destructive suicidal acts, forcing us to reexamine their construction of its links to the city and ties to the territory of Palestine, if not the tacit approval of the Israeli government has given to the expansion of boundary lines in the “reclaiming” and “redemption” of historical lands beyond the nation’s actual frontiers.   Can the nation survive based on such older historical narratives of the region’s sacred identity, and without recognizing the humanity and rights of its inhabitants? he seems to ask.

Yehoshua does not offer reconstructed dialogues as a history.  Yehoshua has clarified how he saw the writer “more like a judge than a historian” in a 2004 interview.  The distinction, which recalls historian Carlo Ginzburg’s distinction between the different uses of evidence to reach conclusions by using proofs, and the forums that judges and historians address, distinguish the verdict of the judge from the inference of documents’ reliability and the access they allow to extra-textual realities–despite their common ties of uses of proof.  The fascination of the Mani is as emblematic figures of ties to the Holy Land, and the fascination of the family and its imagined arrival from Crete begins from Hagar’s encounter with Gabriel Mani.  Although we cannot hope to ever understand the Mani, or their motives, the fascination that each holds for those who meet them invites judgement on how each cross the boundaries of the past, and symbolic of the broader settlement of a region that was already inhabited, and how past of a diasporic identity dominates and haunts the present of members of the family.  The collection of clues in each extended “dialogue” to an elder generation offers a history of below through the family’s attempts to create a home in Jerusalem.  The micro-history of the Mani and their compulsive attraction to Jerusalem’s something of a counterpart, as such, to familiar larger events in the foundation of the Jewish State–past Nazism and Zionism to the diaspora, that invites an alternative narratives for the future of the state, released rom Manis’ ongoing psychological investment in continuing to cross boundaries the Holy Land’s inhabitants.

The gathered testimonies about the fascinating if tortured relation of Mani to the Holy Land across five generations invites us to judge the complexion and character of their minds that leads to their attachment to Jerusalem, and the survival of notion of national identity cultivated in the diaspora complex each to develop his identification with the divided territory.  Each dialogue bridges two generations, as the speakers search for a clarity in the lives of the Mani that never arrives, but seems increasingly apparent.  The testimonies excavate layers of earlier members of the family and may offer something of a plea to map a different future.  Yehoshua dedicated the novel to his father, “a lover of Jerusalem and its past,” and might have described “Jerusalem and its pasts“:  each dialogue uncovers a past attraction to inhabiting the city’s neighborhoods that raise questions of the mutual comprehension of its residents–from Hagar’s visit to a Palestinian hospital as she believes she is pregnant with Efraim Mani’s son, to the bizarre relations of Moshe and Yosef Mani to the populations of Palestine in the late nineteenth century that long predate the founding of the Jewish state.  The imagined lives of Mani men invite investigating and narrating the Jewish “nation” through ordinary people, with a psychological depth that does not allow judgment, but to recognize the danger of dreams to transport a Jewish nation into a homeland that is already occupied through the repeated trials each faces to re-establish and re-articulate their identities in the Jerusalem.

16.  Unlike an objective map, incomplete testimonies suggest the deep psychological affinities in their settlement in Jerusalem, and the transmission of deep psychological ties, during the translation between  nation and nation-state.  The comprehensive narrative less invites moral pronouncement than offers an occasion to questioning compulsive crossing of borders and border lines of continued contemporary relevance, as the conflict of border crossing continues as West Bank settlements grow, with 117 recognized and over 100 illegal settlements receiving tacit government approval, creating permanent obstacles to individual mobility of Palestinians and an essentially militarized organization of space, increasingly defined by exclusionary barriers and boundary walls.

In each chapter of the novel, a different generation of the Mani is placed in movement across borders in the Jewish diaspora–from Persia to the Ottoman Empire and Istanbul to Salonika, Jerusalem, Athens, Palestine, Crete, and back to Jerusalem–as border-crossing becomes an occasion to explore the notion of the nation that runs across generations of the diasporic community in Jerusalem as refracting their conceptions of the Holy Land.  These ideals similarly lead to struggles of Polish Jews, Germans, and English Jews to define their relations to the same region.  Indeed, border crossing in Palestine, Jerusalem, and Israel seem to be a feature of the Mani to which they are condemned.

Although the novel was written in the 1980s, the geographic trajectory book offers a lens still perhaps important to examine the border-crossing nature of the “illegal settlements” of the West Bank that the Israeli government tacitly sponsors, and how after the freezing of settlements in 1992, and whose continued construction of settlements to realize the dream of a Greater Israel.  For the expansion of such settlements increasingly extend across recognized borders and despite the repeated meaningless claims that construction only remains within “boundaries of the settlement” or “the approved designated lines“–in ways that pose dangers to the nation.  So much is clear in the range of legally recognized settlements and illegally established outposts that stretch across the so-called “Green Line” originally intended to demarcate a boundary between Israel and Palestinian Territories.  As illegal settlements expand the terrify of Israel all the way to Bethlehem, approaching as far as Palestinian territories, they include cities in the imagined Jewish nation preserved over centuries of diaspora, such as Jericho and Hebron, without acknowledging their historical and current habitation.

Settlement Map PN il.png for expanded national map

Legend settlements.png

The crossed boundary line has almost become a status quo pushing the boundary of Israel beyond its recognized limit over the past ten years, where settlements–here rendered in black–existed in odd relation to Palestinian habitations in deep crimson red, as if seeping across the border line, by 2002.  The conflict of crossing borders and of illegal territorial expansion continues in the many settlements whose construction the government has recognized or approved–117–or the over 100 illegal settlements across the region that are increasingly built up, and have been built up to reclaim spaces and change the map outside of a negotiating process of deliberation and in particularly one-sided ways.

Settlements-in-West-Bank-2002.jpgIsraeli West Bank Settlements and Palestinian Villages, 2002

The growth of such settlements across the West Bank continued to such an extent as their communication with Jerusalem was encouraged by an Israeli-only network of transit and transportation across Palestinian territories–as if a secret network of bus-lines dedicated to preserving the ties of settlers increasingly asserted to the lands where they lived.  The transport network that extends beyond the negotiated “Green Line” and beyond the Separation Wall indeed provides a way to move among the settlers’ experiences of living in an archipelago in the West Bank and Palestinian territories based in West Jerusalem.  That these buses to settlements are for Israelis only suggests the exclusion of Palestinians from routes of transit to the old city, and a constant practice of border-crossing across the wall.

Isreali transit routes to settlements.png

MERI/Visualizing Palestine, noting Journey times from West Jerusalem

If such networks of bus routes provide an infrastructure of boundary crossing, Yehoshua examines the deep psychological dynamics of such boundary crossing as it was repeated in historical time across five generations, as if considering the phenomena of the normalized crossing of boundaries as a perpetual fact of existence in the settling of the Promised Land as well as the settlement of the West Bank.

The thematization of boundary crossing haunt the lives of Mani men, and seems almost a compulsion that cannot be denied.  In each dialogue, a snapshot is offered tracing how each Mani crossed boundaries and borders of different historical periods, as if moving across borders to search for or create the idealized image of a nation that existed in their minds.  Each Mani seems afflicted pathologically with a disastrous and perverse impulsive movement toward the Holy Land, or away from it, as each collides with Peoples settled in the Holy Land–as if the family psychology offered an extended allegory of the dangers of boundary crossing.  Mani men indeed seem to repeatedly orient their actions by notions of a nation that we try to piece together, the results are inherently imperfect.  The novel begins with the disastrous attempt of Israeli troops to occupy southern Lebanon in 1982–the time when the attempted suicide with a straight-edge razor of Gavriel Mani in an old area of Jerusalem, discovered by the girlfriend of his son, Hagar Shiloh, who attempts to comprehend the terrible nature of his suicidal drive of his father of a man whose son Efrayim is fighting in the 1982-3 Israeli war with Lebanon, both catastrophic for local civilian populations and difficult for many Israeli soldiers.

17.  The attempts to defend Israel’s northern boundary in that war provided an occasion to reflect on boundedness and boundary-crossing in the novel, which re-maps the arrival of Jews in the Holy Land, opening both  family secrets of the pasts and revealing the boundary-crossing history of Mani.  When Yehoshua started his novel in 1982, during the particularly invasive war at the northern border of the country–the first war to bring serious dissensus in the country, whose aims to clear a twenty-five mile strip along the Lebanese border was substantiated by a massive bombardment of PLO camps in Lebanon, air force bombing of targets up to Beirut, and, as the military moved far beyond the Israeli settlements, deploying some 400 tanks as 1,000 guns fired salvo after salvo to destroy neighborhoods of West Beirut.  The responded to a submachine gun attack on an Israeli ambassador in London by a Palestinian, but continued attacks were justified as protecting Israeli settlements and northern Israeli communities, as a war planned for two days provoked deep psychic wounds on the nation and self-examination of what was seen as an “elective war,” leading to massacres of refugees as well as Israeli losses of life.


waltz-with-bashir-13-1303Waltz with Bashir


Yehoshua wrote Mr. Mani when deeply distraught at the military expansion of the Israeli state, when settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem was pronounced for a decade,  although the scale of settlements had nowhere approached the scale of today.  He set his novel during the invasion of Lebanon, as the companion of a medic in the Israeli army pays a visit to Jerusalem to meet the medic’s father.  Her discussion of her involvement with this old Jerusalem family offers an extended reflection on mapping the nation, and the relation of the nation to the territory years long before it was clear to map–or how the territory could be partitioned.  The invasion of Lebanon provided a critical moment of boundary-testing for Yehoshua, as well as for the Jewish state’s identity, in which Gavriel Mani is both a symbol of a Jewish past and presents the problem of how the Mani became an “old Jerusalem family” at a time when Israel first questioned the testing of its borders.



lebanon_3.jpg_1718483346.jpgIsraeli-Lebanese Border, 1982/Wikicommons


The unpopular war in Lebanon continued as a fight against the presence of the Palestinian Liberation Army in Lebanon–with repeated assurances that Israel did not desire Lebanese territory, despite their fundamental rewriting of the map of national sovereignty.  Although the war effort in part tried to guarantee that the border would remain “safe” for nearby settlements, the bombing of regions across the border of southern Lebanon created the first debates as to the ethical value of war in Israel:  crossing outside of the Israeli border, if ostensibly to protect the border area, seemed clearly to violate the ideals of the nation and human rights.  Yehoshua described the contemporary reactions to the war as a betrayal of Israel as a nation, and of its national identity, describing the impact of the first day of the war alone as a revelation that prompted rethinking of national identity among Israeli:  while he had done military service as a paratrooper during the 1950s, Yehoshua described his opposition to the war by the difference of Israelis from other nations–“We are not the Romans, we are not the French or the Germans . . .   After six million dead, you don’t risk going to war on your own initiative” he reminded an interviewer in 1992, shortly after he wrote the novel.  The war begun by Begin, he believed, was a watershed that fundamentally “changed the values Israel had held for a long time.”  Its ostensible defense of boundaries and settlements mirrors the government’s tacit defense of the illegal settlements on the West Bank.

lebanon_82Density of Settlements on the Israel-Lebanon Border, June 1982



18.  Yehoshua takes boundary crossing becomes as the central motif of his inter-generational novel:  for Mr. Mani unpacks a tortured recapitulation of a repressed history of the arrival of the family of the Mani across the borders of Israel, through a series of border-line personalities of oddly unstable selves.  “The question of boundaries is a major question of the Jewish people because the Jews are the great experts of crossing boundaries,” Yehoshua has observed, and his stories are perhaps more poignant for their psychological traits and the fragile personal boundaries of identity.  In the context of the invasion of Lebanon, this genealogy has particular bearing on the defense of a region that extended far beyond its borders, ostensibly based on  notion of preserving its integrity, but a notion based on maps, and stymied by the illogical nature of their relation to a habited place, provides something of a premise to trace the relationship between Jews and boundaries, as much as to reflect on the defense of borders.  When the father of Hagar’s was killed in the Six Days’ War, she remembers in the first discussion, a psychologist arrived at he family’s Kibbutz, encouraging open discussion of the past “To keep the pus of repressed thoughts from festering,” in a particularly vivid turn of phrase, and the exposure of the torture arrival of the Mani to Jerusalem provoke a broader on borders.  From Hagar’s visit to Gabriel Mani in the formerly Christian Talbiya to the departure of his parents from Crete in the 1940s to the arrival of Avraham Mani from Salonica five generations ago, in a genealogy of order crossing and its consequences.  “[Jews] have a sense of identity inside themselves,” Yehoshua has argued, “that doesn’t permit them to cross boundaries with other people. And this is the phenomena of the Jews from the beginning. They have a very strong nucleus of identity composed of religion and nationality that could let them cross boundaries; but there is also the conflict with their environment.”

Border crossing was in fact quite widely mapped in the 1982 Lebanon war, when military forces crossed borders to arrive almost at Beirut.  The difficulty of integrating the tremendous costs of war with the advances across boundaries shown in the below two maps underscore the relevance to Yehoshua’s novel of actuality of question of crossing boundaries, if they fail to adequately integrate the human cost of such motion to the land’s inhabitants–and provide an occasion to reflect on the tortured relation of defending an Israeli “homeland.”



Military advances in Israeli-Lebanon War across the border, 1982-3


Yet the reader of Yehoshua’s novel finds this definition placed in the context of the deeply complex relation Mani men share to the space of Jerusalem from the eighteenth century to the modern days.  Their attachment to place seems rooted in their psychology as in the psychology of the diasporic Jewish community, but seems tied to a disregard for its actual inhabitants that seems perverse, if not almost a compulsion that indicates something that verges on self-loathing.

The reverse chronology of each chapter performs something like an archeology of the foundational desire of Avraham Mani, ancestor of the Mani family, to leave an heir in mid-nineteenth-century Jerusalem.  His son, Moshe Mani, whose birth is a akin to an original sin, will remain in Jerusalem to run an obstetrical hospital serving all faiths in the region; Moshe Mani’s descendant, the mysterious Yosef Mani, who lives in British-occupied Jerusalem in the early twentieth century adopts alternate Arabic, Turkish, and Hebrew identities and seems to try to forge a new flawed identity as they confront the region’s divided map, carrying out an imperative or a paradoxical destiny begun by his forefathers, who reconciled their diasporic existence and an imperative of return to the Holy Land, that becomes an opportunity to invert the biblical narrative of a nation of Israel–or the Zionist ideas of a Jewish state–that tacitly question and engage debate about the boundaries of the modern Israeli state, and the “reclamation” of territories historically inhabited by Jews.

Yehoshua seems to ask readers to puzzle the paradoxes of reconciling an idealistic belief in the possibility of a future “national regeneration” with the people who occupy the map, as if to exorcise the place of prominence Yehoshua has elsewhere argued it holds in “our collective and personal subconscious,” but which can be resolved only by an understanding of mutual humanity.  Partitioning the map–or mapping a solution–has little sense, distinct from the value of the map as record of military operations in times of war.  A similar tension exists in maps of illegal settlements that increasingly dot the West Bank–and the shadow-game that is played by an Israeli government that sponsors their construction and defense, even if it fails to recognize their presence on a map.

19.  The rapid growth over the past twenty of such settlements in recent decades on hilltops of the West Bank by Orthodox Jewish families have not been officially mapped as legal entities.  But their growth–and the suspicions Palestinians share about the support of Israel’s government for establishing a Palestinian state–prompted fear that they had been tacitly recognized on the impartiality of a Google Map platform–what passes as the authoritative and widely used source of mapping, albeit with limited validating authority.  The rapid protest lodged about an apparent alteration on Google Maps provoked a popular  online petition to circulate widely this mid-summer–“Google:  Put Palestine on your maps!“–after a group of Palestinian journalists openly if falsely charged the “two Jewish founders” of Google sympathetic to Israel under-handedly removed or deleted “Palestine” as a whole from the server, as if to disappear Palestinian Territories outside a court of law.  Indignation at the apparent under-handed endeavor to purge their presence from the map triggered immediate tweets of protest and sympathy, as tempers raged:  “Palestine exists; our history, culture and our grandparents are older than Israel itself and Google cant erase that,” protested one Palestinian angrily; “Put back Palestine on your maps,” or, “in fact just name the entire area occupied Palestine while you’re at it.”  The alarming if fake tweet juxtaposed the alleged erasure of Palestine was fraudulent, but mimicked Google’s typeface.  Google, an only slightly paranoid strain of thought ran, had erased Palestine, and must pay.

Alleged change in Google Maps from 25 July, 2016

Fear of such a one-sided drawing of the map echoed familiar actualities of being omitted from the map.  Indeed, fear of being swindled by a one-sided interest of a monopolistic mapmaker Jews founded–“so google completely removed palestine from google maps. I love how normalized erasure and stealing land is in 2016”–imagined a corporation nefarious enough to re-write the map from a pro-Israel point of view for the world, suggesting a deeply anti-Semitic reflexive charge of global conspiracy.  The charges were probably provoked by the disappearance of “West Bank,” as a temporary bug in the server prompted fears that the territory was being erased, according to Google.  (One Israeli maliciously enjoyed counter-tweeting “Google erased #Palestine because it was never there. Be realistic.”)  In fact, Israeli officials had previously protested Google’s renaming of “Palestinian Territories” to “Palestine” on come search engines, perhaps substantiating such fears.


The protest gained currency as it grew on Facebook to collect over 280,000 signatures, and unleashed angrily indignant tweets calling for boycotting Google.  The petition had tapped a widespread paranoiac level of distress, as fear of a plot to delete “Palestine” by the major map-provider of the world, reflecting an all-too-present fear that the authoritative maps of Google reflected the insistence of Israeli Jews to redraw the map of a region irrespective of its actual inhabitants.  Social media protests launched by the hashtag, #PalestineIsHere posted broadsides that “what the Google search engine has done is part of an Israeli plan to propose the entrenchment of ‘Israel’ as the name of a state for generations to come and the abolition of ‘Palestine’ once and for all, and its erasure from any map.” If arising from a rumor from an indignant Palestinian group in Lebanon, the fear beginning from a temporary removal of “West Bank” and “Gaza Strip” from the online mapping engine echoed a fear that Israel had acted to erase Palestine and Palestinian rights from the map–the realization of such a fear being that the most authoritative mapping engine had erased its presence.  Google was compelled to clarify that indeed “Palestinian Territories” had never in fact appeared on their maps, although “West Bank” was erroneously temporarily removed.  The sense of injustice that began from the sudden disappearance of these names from the map proceeded from the tacit recognition of settlements across the West Bank, but the hidden history of a nation that almost proceeds in its idealistic origins as if the identity of Palestine Territories does in fact not appear on the map–and did not exist.  Maps of the Middle East increasingly fail to record the presence of the inhabitants of the territory, or their relation to it.  Yehoshua’s novel traces the difficulty of comprehending the actual settlement of the territory, or integrating it into the symbolic identity of a Jewish nation long cultivated during the Jewish diaspora.

20.  The map becomes in fact a crucial vehicle and medium by which several Mani seek to define their relation to the land, in ways that have a considerable historical relevance.  In one section of the book, set during the Palestine Mandate, Yehoshua returned to the theme of such boundary lines, from unforgettable characters who confront the social reality of the Middle East and Holy Land with the ideals of a “place” of the Jewish people in terms that offer an imagined history, in a haunting of individual delusion.

Perhaps the most compelling figure who wields a map of the future Israel, during the British occupation of Jerusalem, is Yosef Mani, Avraham’s son, who is animated by the misguided conviction that the inhabitants of early nineteenth century Palestine only need be reminded they are actually Jews–“They’ve only forgotten, and in the end they’ll remember by themselves.  And if they insist on being stubborn, I’ll be stubborn too,” and “chastise them until they see the error of their ways;” Efrayim Mani, a Jew whose parents left Jerusalem for Crete, who gives tours of Minos’ Labyrinth at Knossos, and tells his German captor in 1941 that “I was Jewish, but I am not any more . . . I’ve cancelled it,” thereby forcing his Nazi captor to realize that thebeastly essence of Jewishness can cancel its own self,” and believe that “there’s nothing Jewish that a Jew can’t do without” since it only exists in a Jew’s mind; and the figure of Moshe Mani, who arrives at the First Zionist Conference where he invites a Polish Ashkenazi practicing pediatrician at the First Zionist Conference, and persuaded him to travel with him to Jerusalem, to observe his inter-faith obstetrical clinic.  The haunting figures are less historical than invite judgement on Zionism and the present, and question the animating myth of recovering an identity through a relation to the land.

Yehoshua’s novel traces the movement from the “diasporic existence” to Jerusalem in an “inter-generational psychology” of Mani men.  He invites readers to excavate in reverse in Mr. Mani through a set of dialogues that relate to Manis who struggle with their identity, moving historically backwards from Gabriel to his grandfather and Efraim Mani, in a chapter of the revealing intergenerational psychology of almost pathological disengagement of inhabitants  of the Holy Land–increasingly appearing a tragic narrative from which no redemption exists.  The perilous pathology echoes the contradictions Yehoshua has held lay in the cultivation and disproportionate elevation of religious imperatives during the diaspora, when the “normal” existence outside national territories–for in the diaspora, Jewish nation is rooted and embedded in its existence apart from a territory–intersects with and the flawed hope of rooting or placing that identity on a map by military force, in an unethical imperative of settlement which threatens the very existence of that nation.  Kenosha has long voiced deep concerns about the imposition of identity on a map in Mr Mani, long before the Zionist movement, as born out of the diaspora, which speak to the expansion of settlements beyond the Green Line, overlooking the Dead Sea, in an echo of the Zionist project for rebuilding Palestine.)

Jews! Rebuild Palestine.pngMitchell Loeb (c. 1931), Palestine Poster Project Archives

When asked to identify Zionism with one word, Yehoshua chose “boundaries“–acceptance and consciousness of physical and geographical boundaries within Israeli identity–which Yehoshua hopes to resolve by mutual recognition of territorial separation of the Jews and Palestinians and their distinctness of their national identities.  Traffic in past imagined maps or fantastic ones both presented a guide for a flawed identity, but an obstacle to the humanistic goal empathic understanding of the other.

21.  Will the boundaries of the Holy Land and of Israel ever able to be mapped, and what might constitute a clear consciousness of the most practical boundary lines for Israeli identity to exist?   The dialogue in Mr Mani set in the context of a moment in the historical bounding of the region of the Holy Land around Jerusalem as a nation–the Balfour Declaration of 1917–that gives rise to the Palestinian Mandate, and the interest in processing this new national map by a descendent of Avraham Mani, Yosef Mani.  In an episode of the novel set on the eve of the Balfour Declaration after World War I, when maps of the region were first drawn, Yosef eagerly imagines the English declaration as bearing the promise of a new national home, and begins to conceive the region’s landscape as a map, and call attention to how it will appear after the promise that it will be mapped as a national homeland for the Jews.  The future lawyer Colonel Stephen Horowitz, during the British occupation of Jerusalem, is tasked to prosecute but seeks to understand and defend this Mani.  Yosef, a “native”-born interpreter working for the British, is facing espionage charges of passing state secrets to the Turkish army by sharing privileged military maps of British operations–and essentially passing secrets, although Horowitz long ponders to what ends.

As the English army is adopting military positions across the Holy Land, pushing to Jerusalem and advancing to Ramallah on the eve of the Balfour Declaration, Mani’s theft of military maps is discovered.  While serving as an interpreter for the British army, Mani spied a military map, left discarded in a wastebasket in the English army’s general staff room, and he picks the rolled up map that he has spied in the trash, immediately perceiving its value to the enemy–but if trafficking stolen maps is his trade, the theft occasions an occasion of map-inspired madness.  Yosef believes he can use the map to gain a platform to celebrate an imagined impending grant of land to Jews, convinced they will soon resettle lands the British will cede–misconstruing British support for a Jewish Homeland and “Zionist aspirations” by immediately creating a Jewish National Home.


Historical Day of the Balfour Declaration (Palestine Mandate, c. 1925)/Palestine Poster Project

zionistyiddishshekels_pppa_0.jpg“Land of Israel for the People of Israel!” (Yiddish poster, circa 1917)/Palestinian Poster Project

Yosef Mani quickly absconds with the rolled up map hidden under his prayer shawl on his way to pray at a Sephardic synagogue, which contains the plans for invasions on Ottoman forces as he leaves the city by the Damascus Gate.  When services conclude, he leaves the walled city, dons an Arab cloak, in a typical Mani subterfuge of shifting identities, and progresses unsuspected north through the Gate to Ramallah, past British military tents, to a group of soldiers in Turkish uniform–and with an air of pride hands the map to their presiding sergeant, after the has left the city to cross its space to the Ottoman troops.

Irish damascus gate.jpg


Yosef offers the map not for money, but in exchange for being allowed to address local villages of Arabs by a speech, to whom he speaks desiring to lay a basis for plans for a future Jewish star.  In the midst of one of the speeches that he gave to in el-Bireh, he read the as-yet-unpublished Balfour Declaration, and removed a colored paper map of late nineteenth-century Palestine from his pocket that he had drawn, explaining to his audience to that this is indeed their “country” and exhorts them eagerly, “All over the world people now have identities, and we Jews are on our way, and you had better have an identity or else!”  Brandishing a large paper map, Yosef theatrically announces that half of the territory belongs to the Arabs, and cuts it in two pieces lengthwise with a scissors.

When he offers them half of the bisected map, of a region roughly from the mountains to the Jordan river, villagers held back from reaching out to the map they are offered object to the division Mani proposed–“But we want the sea, too!” one cries.  Briefly taken aback, Mani removes a second map from his other pocket, cuts it horizontally, and presents that half-map to his audience in a pathetically deluded attempt to arrogate authority to himself, but also trying to appease to the upset audience the Turks assemble for his speech.   Acting in the belief that he is a missionary for progress, this Mani repeats such speeches across Palestine, in exchange for varied goods stolen from the general staff room of the British army, a bid for authority that he hopes might prepare for what he sees as an impending return of Jewish people to the Holy Land.

Continuing as if a merchant trafficking in the multiple identities he moves between in the Holy Land, Yosef Mani continues this tactless campaign of public speeches, provided with a stage to repeat the same spectacle in Nablus and Jenin, that in short time “every Arab between Ramallah and Nablus knew of him.”  If lines distinguish “us” and “them” both insulate “us” and do more than cognitive work in assigning a fixed other place to “them,” the map seems a way Mani wants to present a new situation about a possible future of the Jewish presence in the Holy Land–for he believes the Balfour Declaration will inaugurate an English withdrawal from Palestine, and a rebirth of a Jewish nation to which settlers will arrive, albeit mistakenly.  While it is clear that Yosef Mani has also systematically stolen both military maps and assorted documents from the British in an attempt to traffic them with the Turkish and the Germans, and new policies to burn all trash enacted–although Yosef Mani’s love for such public performances leaves the British reluctant to give him a public stage at a military court, no matter how clear his guilt of unlawful espionage, or to inaugurate the British occupation of Jerusalem by the hanging of a Jew as a military traitor.  Yosef faced an impossibility of mapping a single plan of action for its inhabitants:   one things of the appeal that Yehoshua himself published during the 2008–2009 Israel-Gaza conflict addressing the residents of the Gaza Strip, urging them to end the violence of the violence that responded to the institution of checkpoints around its border:  “Precisely because the Gazans are our neighbors, we need . . .  to try to reach a cease-fire as quickly as possible. We will always be neighbors, so the less blood is shed, the better the future will be,” urging the opening of the border crossings that had so isolated the Gaza residents in exchange for an immediate cease-fire,” urging the resumption of normalized relations.

22.  Since Yehoshua wrote the novel, and the attenuation of the Palestinian Peace Process that once seemed so promising, maps have prompted increasing anxiety–and especially the changes in the map that are being engineered by Israeli settlers, with the growth of unauthorized settlements on the West Bank and Occupied Palestinian Territories.  For the rigidity of the map has returned as settlements have crept onto maps of the West Bank over the two decades, during which they were illicitly and illegally promoted, as the Palestinian Peace Process stalled.  The presence of these hundred villages is difficult to omit from any regional maps, despite qualifications that exist as to their legality–and given the clear motivations of their over 350,000 inhabitants, who want to physically change the region’s map and reclaim the very territory that Yosef Mani tried to pass on to the “Arabs” he lectured back in 1918, in an attempt to redraw the actual Jewish state again.  Indeed, Yehoshua has called for the end to settlements and their defense as necessary to the future interests of the Israeli state–itself threatened, he feared in 2009 that the “ugly future” of a bi-national state would threaten an Israel that practiced “formalized and official Jewish discrimination against Palestinians,” and compelled negotiation “even if we are skeptical as to the ability of the two peoples to reach an agreement of peace and security” to prevent the “ceaseless violence” and “political monster” of a binational state.

Despite Israel’s public agreement to the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel’s current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in no hurry at all to cede the land settlers have occupied over the past fifty years in hilly regions of the West Bank.  Despite a formal refusal to endorse the annexation or occupation of land for new settlements, the government’s tacit approval given to the construction of walls about multiplied settlements in recent years provides a virtual authorization–not on paper, but in public, but by planning, funding, and constructing settlements across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, they have created a series of redoubts that extend to the Dead Sea, not officially authorized but which the current government is engaged in “authorizing them in disguise”–retroactively authorizing unauthorized settlements as if legally to introduce them on the region’s map.  If the policy has given rise to numerous petitions to halt unauthorized projects of construction, they are entering into the content of the region’s map, appearing as if part of the land–as if a one-sided resettling of Palestinian lands.  Barely more than half of the settlers identify as religious, but the strength of the religious community within Israel has made support for settlement a platform of the nationalist parties.

23.  To chart the expansion of legal and illegal settlements over time, web maps offer an ideal interactive tool of plastic flexibility to situate the spawning of these settlements on the West Bank’s mountainous terrain, and trace their multiplication and expansion over time.   And while the complex information about the scale and intensity of settlement is suited for the format of web-based maps, as are the speeded-up aerial photography or satellite imagery over time, it is difficult to measure the impact on the region and its inhabitants of the growth of the footprints of settlements and settlement “outposts” that begun to be established from the mid-1990s with active and tacit support of the Israeli government.

Settlements in West Bank NYT : Peace Now Setlement locations.pngNew York Times/Peace Now

The recent and apparently unsupervised growth of such illegal “outposts” has been mapped over time from about 2000 by Peace Now, although the more interesting map perhaps reside within the settlers’ heads.  Indeed, a selective map of settlements, while interesting, moreover fails to document or capture the invasive nature of such towns, and the extent to which their construction poses a challenge to human rights–although the changes they have brought to the landscape of the West Bank are apparent, their effect on the way of life and rights of Palestinians remains far less clear in such a map.  Even when projected on a Google Earth View or satellite map, the actual experience of invasiveness and violation of human rights these settlements create is inadequately conveyed.

Settlements and Outposts.pngPeace Now interactive map (2016) of settlements (blue) and outposts (red), noting Green Line

The existence of real walls, such as the West Bank barrier constructed over the last decade, lying beyond the Green Line, partly made of fence and in part cement blocks, is partly in the West Bank, and attempts to accommodate some settlement plans, and to smooth their way to their appearance on the map.  Indeed, they often exist to protect the expansion of individual settlements, in ways that would seem necessary to map.  The presence of these walls on Palestinian land were not in existence when Yehoshua wrote his novel, but they impede the human rights of Palestinians, and impose an idealized vision of the nation that not only impedes human movement but offers a visible illustration of Israeli presence that seems often tantamount to a territorial land grab, as much as a religious resettlement or redemption.

Green Line:Blue Line sttelente.pngDetail of above interactive map, with West Bank Barrier (blue)/Peace Now

Expanding numbers of settlers moving across the Green Line and in East Jerusalem have grown markedly from the initial arrival of Ultra-Orthodox settlers who sought to “resettle” lands they believed had historical resonance.   New settlers respond to a choice of cost and way of life and include many Israelis not openly religious, who seek jobs.

The growth of Israeli populations who are settlers–from the youth who move to hilltops to the Orthodox settlers who “reclaim” redeemed land–has increased the population of settlers in dramatic fashion since the 1967 war defined the boundary of the Green Line, and especially since the time when Yehoshua wrote in the early 1980s, as settlement has attracted increasing shares of Israeli and gained population.


The population increase of those regions most settled by Israelis have grown during the rejection of any rights of return for Palestinians to their lands, or a “just solution” to the issue of refugees and the creation of a separation barrier has belied the huge increased of settlers in settlement blocs by 2010–and a growth in settlers around Jerusalem.  So great is the expansion of settlements, indeed, that although Israel’s current government has refused a Palestinian “right of return” the recent video released by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  affirms that rather than being an obstacle to peace, the West Bank areas of settlement in Judea and Samaria constitute a legitimate claim of Israeli Jews and Palestinians seek to pursue a policy of “ethnic cleansing” in asserting a region without Jewish Israeli settlers.


The tacit encouragement of such settlements have received from the government has grown markedly in recent years, as those living in the settlements and East Jerusalem together has grown by over 200,000.   The concrete barriers that have sprung up about such settlements to preserve their “safety” may to an extend be understood as akin to or as extending the set of psychological barriers and walls that long existed in the historical demarcation of intense territoriality of the historical division of space in the Old City of Jerusalem–the city of the Mani family from before the nineteenth century, but its very one-sided nature seems to have even dangerous results.


24.  Despite the multiple physical walls that have been built in Jerusalem and an increasing number across the settlements in the West Bank, separating and serving to protect inhabitants for reasons of “security,” the security has not improved.  Although they are often regularly crossed, and have a clearer symbolic presence as if they are sought to be inscribed upon a map, in an odd illustration of the “self-destructive pathology” that itself, as Yehoshua has argued, threatens the Jewish nation as a nation, although he has been concerned with the “absorption of Judaism into Israeli identity.”  So regular is the sense of justice in built barriers constraining movement of inhabitants that Isaac Herzog, a leader of the Israeli Zionist Union Party, openly advocated to wall off Jerusalem’s 200,000 residents of Palestinian descent in East Jerusalem in early 2016.

The result is cordoning off Palestinians by a concrete border wall and “smart” fencing, and effectively cantonizing the city by physical barriers within the city itself to aggressively affirm demographic divides.  Herzog described the plan to preserve a “two-state” solution that affirmed, under the pretense of a need to ensure mutual peace, “we’re here and they’re there.”  Walls already mark much of the city and West Bank settlements, and seem to constitute a sort of colonization of space well-known, but demand clearer criticism as an open attempt to encourage the rewriting of the map, and legitimate the continued crossing of boundary lines, as well as a register of raised anxieties of individual and collective safety.

THomas Coex:AFP Getty.jpgThomas Coex/Agence France-Presse; Getty; February, 2016

Sadly, many such walls already exist, as those that separate East Jerusalem neighborhoods from West Bank cities as Abu Dis–

Screen-Shot-2015-09-07-at-9.19.05-AMThomas Coex/Agence France-Presse

eb415108ce0947dde85e017e47267c2f55f893beAnata (West Bank)–Thomas Coex/Agence France-Presse

The increased expansion of such fortified settlements in the West Bank began a proliferation of walls across the region, defending not only the authorized outposts or those awaiting approval as authorized (colored here dark and light green respectively), but the many that are not unauthorized as well, and were illicitly established over the past two decades, seen lying beyond the recognized state border, and in a particularly mountainous terrain where they seem redoubts all the more.  Unauthorized outposts that settlers have established extend closer to the Dead Sea, as do those in the process of “authorization” as settlements, while the majority of those “authorized” lie closer to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

A preponderance of the settlements that are unauthorized outposts are perched high upon hills in mountainous territory often mythically important to the Jewish people, which have grown in recent years as strongholds overlooking the Dead Sea.  They are widely distributed in the West Bank as well as nearby the boundaries of Israel, and extend far into the West Bank–at times far closer East to the boundary Jordan’s boundary than the “Green Line” of the 1947 Armistice, or boundary of the Israeli state.

WEst Bank Illicit:Unauthorized:AuthorizedRudy Omri/New York Times

The spread and unspoken sanctioning of settlements slip into maps, as they take their place in the landscape of the region, even after decisions to halt their construction without ministerial approval:  even without being approved, they are able to obtain material support and construction materials, encouraging the growth of projects of building that seem, to Western eyes, to exist as a “normal” and uncontested space, which may include rental properties openly advertised and whose construction projects have continued.

Erfat--Etzion Block.pngErfat, Etzion Block/New York Times

Bruchin West Bank.pngBruchin, West Bank

Har Homa--West Bank.pngHar Homin, West Bank/New York Times

As such settlements have grown, even before they appear on a map, the enter collective consciousness.  Imposing concrete barriers have been erected around them on the West Bank from 2002 by the Israeli Government to protect settlements, justified by security reasons–carving up the territory that of outposts of the Jewish state, in ways which set a precedence for building barrier walls that create frontier, and demands to be compared to the spread of wall-building across Europe.

eb415108ce0947dde85e017e47267c2f55f893beAnata, in West Bank, Thomas Coex/Agence France-Presse/New York Times

East Jerusalem neighborhoods exist sequestered behind imposing walls–

Mideast-Israel-Palest_sham-33-725x434Pigs Zeev in East Jerusalem behind Israeli Separation Barrier, AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

–and settlements have been built up, as new suburbia, on the West Bank hills, cordoned off behind imposing protective walls and specially built barriers–

Har Homa--West Bank.pngHar Homa, which borders Bethlehem (New York Times)

WO-AV929_ISPAL_H_20150327193936.jpgAnata (West Bank), Thomas Coex/Agence France-Presse, Getty Images

While these walls are built to block or exclude individuals and obstruct passage, people regularly cross them, and work around them by new forms of resistance, on their way to work–in spite of their deep violation of human rights, events they have been naturalized by Palestinians able to circumvent their authority daily on the way to work.

26ISRAEL-web1-master768-1.jpgThomas Coex/Agence France-Presse–Getty Images/New York Times

It is rare, however, that they are successfully alternatively envisioned as sites of imagined escape in transgressive graffiti–as in this playful but all too serious Banksy image–so imposing is their presence, as if to forcibly mark Israeli settlements in a modern map of the Holy Land and restate secure settlements.

Yet the place of these barriers, and the insistence on their appearance, although without space yet on most maps, seem aggressively situated to create a new map, or re-carve spaces on the West Bank in ways that suggest an ongoing and continuing gambit of land-based territorial war, if not only a redrawing of lines to separate “us” from “them” as much as to obstruct physical passage.  They are of symbolic use–and the rupture of that symbolism is what makes Banksy so effective as art undermining the oppressive walls.

25.  If Europe has far more walls than it ever did during the Cold War, at the end of which only some seven walls of partition existed worldwide, the basis of wall-building has expanded in ways that reflect the growth of a process of globalization the has redefined the apparent need for boundary lines that define lines of economic difference with new insistence and apparent urgency.  Indeed, 2015 became the year of extensive construction of security fences and border surveillance–and it saw the construction of fifteen new national walls, and public entertainment of a project to construct extended border barrier between Mexico and the United States that Donald Trump has made the centerpiece of his campaign, in a sort of synecdoche for national resistance to globalization.

The preponderance of these imposing concrete walls, which seem begging to enter the regional map, beg a clearer comparison not only to the physical structure of the walls often built from old military surplus, but also in relation to the prevalence of wall building and barriers across Europe and much of the globe.  Walls completed or under construction most often seem to lie in the Middle East–may pale in comparison to those planned, but pose a problem as stark as that of refugees because they fail to place people in their maps.


Border Walls and Fences/The Economist (January, 2016)

So quickly did walls come to proliferate with abandon as if to define boundaries between economic difference that 2015 seemed 1989 in reverse–for rather than the Berlin Wall’s fall opening up a divided Europe, walls created a new “fortress Europe” based not only on physical walls, and razor and barbed wire fences, but even on “mental walls,” as Timothy Garton Ash argued, made from a “psychological mortar” that is the product of growing fears and stirred up with xenophobic prejudices and demanding increased border controls to guarantee security–as much as to prevent the arrival of Syrian displaced refugees.


Israeli state has cited numbers of other precedents for fences constructed “between peoples,” from the US-Mexico border fence, designed to naturalize the economic inequality of two regions, or the EU fence built to separate its enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco to thwart poor refugees originating from sub-Saharan Africa from entering Europe’s southern boundary, or the barrier built between India and Pakistan, and partitioning of Belfast in Northern Ireland into Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods.   But the Security Fence seems to stake claims for priority by confining populations, in ways that bury the historical nature of future development of Palestinian claims to the region, and normalize a new frontier where one did not once exist.

Digging further back over fifteen years, a recent study counted twenty-five new walls built along national borders, in an incredible resurgence of border barriers designed to keep out unwanted others. Their construction is a massive collective illustration of growing insecurity–both to maintain their own fragile senses of identity, and to reject open borders, and preserve its place on the map, which while associated with refugees and the growing fluidity of populations in globalization, preceded fears about refugees–although they are often linked to economic inequalities as much as insecurities.

A full half of the nations to build walls around their borders did so, sharpened specifically by a sense of heightened danger and a compromising of economic security, and an unprecedented compromising of human rights.  But the power of the barriers built to create boundaries of safety in Israel and to partition the land in ways to secure these lines became more increasingly prevalent, long more routine–and openly accepted–in Israel than anywhere else.

947499_2_Walls around the world_standard.jpgUniversity of California, Berkeley/University of Quebec in Montreal

A final pressing question is perhaps how the limits these walls intentionally create for human rights will ever be able to be overcome in future generations.

b41ad192afb24aab95fe680f8abbffdd-b41ad192afb24aab95fe680f8abbffdd-0Sandra J. Milburn/The Hutchinson News (via AP); Boston Globe

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Filed under border barriers, Jerusalem, Jewish diaspora, national borders, Two-State Solution

The Arid Region of the United States and its Afterlife: Beyond the 100th Meridian

The map may not be the territory.  But it powerfully orients relation to the territory–and to the presence of water in the land, as well as the land itself.  Indeed, the mapping of how the “Arid Region” of the United States could be settled by John Wesley Powell created as the second Director of the United States Geological Survey, a post he held from 1881–1894, but which he had first expansively described in 1878.  The United States Congress followed Powell’s recommendation to consolidate the western surveys into the new U.S. Geological Survey, and he long sought to create a map capturing the fragile water ecology of the American West.  The completion of his classic report on the region first suggested a new relation to the distribution of water in the region in ways that would best serve all of its residents, and in his later map, he tried to articulate so clear a relation to the region’s future settlement.  Powell’s view on the need for systematic irrigation of the region stands in almost polemic relation to the place that the western states held in the spatial imaginary of the Homesteading Era:  indeed, his insistence that led to the charge to undertake a systematic irrigation survey of lands in the public domain of the wester United States in 1888, long a topic for which he had agitated, and his map of the region reflected a demand to integrate a topographic survey, hydrographic survey, and engineering survey of the region.  Perhaps the map offered a new sense of the territory, if “territory” includes the waterways that would be able to adequately irrigate all open lands.


Arid Region of US


For the reception of Major John Wesley Powell’s attempt to map what he called the “Arid Region of the United States” reveals both he difficulty in mapping the relation of water to the land, and the appeal that a piece of paper might gain over time.  The detailed map provided something of a ground plan and register of how the arid region might be best inhabited, and of the relation to the land and landwater of a region’s inhabitants.  And it provides an early recognition of problems of water management and distribution in the western states–captured in its naming simply as the “Arid Region” as if to set it apart from the plentiful water in other regions–that later eras began to appreciate in ways that Powell’s contemporaries were less able to see in his ambitious attempt to reorganize the management of its regions around its multiple inland watersheds that he had hoped to canalize.  For Powell’s ambitious 1890 remapping of lands west of the 100° meridian in the United States tried to encompass their unique aridity and to pose a solution for its future inhabitants with special attention to its drainage districts–as discreet riverine watersheds.


Arid Lands ReservationsArid Region of the United States (1890); detail


The best practices that motivated Powell’s map as a basis to orient the government to the land’s groundwater.  The distinctive scarcity of water in the western states became evident in a time of sustained drought, giving unexpected currency to how Powell’s map reoriented readers to the “Arid Region of the United States.”  The brightly colored map to which the explorer, geographer, and anthropologist not only dedicated an extreme amount of attention in his later life, and of which he became something of an evangelist, suggests a early recognition of the scarcity of water and its management, in an era when there is a specter of considerable anger around poor practices of water management in much of the western states, tempered by an expectation that groundwater would be available for farming and irrigation.

The rivers in the United States are quite widely distributed, leaving much of the western plateaux at a distance from riverine waterways–


Western Rivers.pngTim Sinott


–and the image of Virgin Land so deeply ingrained across that regions settlement that its unique character of low rainfall and widely dispersed water sources was erased in the spatial imaginary which replaced the detailed map Powell of the administration of groundwater in the western states that Powell had created with his surveying team as a guide to the region that he knew so well, and which he sought to communicate when he became second director of the United States Geographical Surveys (1881–1894).  The governmental office did not give him authority to organize , but to create a new map that might better organize the nation to the lesser rainwater in what was known as the Great American Desert.  For Powell attempted to re-orient homesteaders to the imperative of western migration through the map, by organizing water administration and the future prospect for canalization in order to grow prospects for the irrigation of the region and its future farmlands that have considerable ethical power to speak to us today.

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Filed under climatology, data visualization, drought, environmental stewardship, water management