Hostile Homelands: A. B. Yehoshua Excavates Jerusalem’s Boundary Lines

The Palestinian mutely contemplates the sheer concrete expanse of the Separation Boundary as an exile from his homelands, as if pressed by the newly constructed boundary barrier that he rather stoically observes.  What passes through his head, we can’t say, but this blurred figure, captured as he rather eerily recalls Rodin’s Thinker, seems to contemplate the new future of a redrawn boundary to which he has an existential relation. The erection of poured concrete walls have created an apparently permanent border boundary across what he regarded as a homeland, and would contest. But the existential present of this moment conceals the depth with which such boundary lines were long historically contested and redrawn on maps, in a contest of wills that transcends the individual or present tense.   For the man outside the Separation Boundary contemplates a complicated map of shifting territories, difficult to bound, whose boundaries have been painfully renegotiated in the past as they are again rewritten in the present. And as we debate “border security” in the United States, contemplating an artifact that was imported in large part from Israel, we would be well to consider its prehistory, and the criminalization of the crossing of borders in the past. Does A.B. Yehoshua’s imagined archeology help us to do so?

Difficultis of discerning this face of the figure contemplating this Separation Boundary doesn’t conceal that his removal from the city of which he is resident, and the traumatic division among two halves of the city that he once knew as his home.  If the dream of Zionism parallels the time of the commission and production of monumental bronze castings of The Thinker, commissioned in 1880 from the sculptor who began to produce multiple versions from 1904, around the foundation of the political movement of Zionism launched in 1904, to establish the protection and international recognition of an Israeli stage, the fiction of deep affective commitment to the place and boundaries of Israel in the historically defined Holy Land is the subject of seductive palimpsestic unpeeling of the past of one family in A.B. Yehoshua’s Mr. Mani, a historical novel retrospectively stretched across five generations who seek their orientation to a Holy Land and to Jerusalem in ways that they cannot fully ever grasp–but which the reader begins to as he reads the novel’s five parts, as the boundaries of the state of Israel are peeled apart over time in what seems a modern pentateuch of the state, and a new genealogy of the Holy Land.

The boundary line that has been drawn over an area once easily and regularly crossed by foot suggests the deep stakes at claiming a tortured relation to the homeland by the Israeli state, and the threat that the rebuilding of this boundary creates not only in his psyche, but that haunts the psyche of the Israeli state.  The deep memories of a tie to place that the boundary barrier seems to defend cut off residents from their home, even as they intend to create claims. The contrast between the existential remove of watching the concrete separation barrier recently constructed in the city and the historical attachment to the land of Jerusalem prompts questions of archeology of boundaries, barriers, and attachments to place.  The tension between the most recent barrier and the deep historical ties to place seem to condense the repeated historical redrawing of boundaries in the city and the nation, and  psychological problems of drawing or respecting boundaries between peoples and individuals, and the fragile nature of place across shifting boundaries. If rooted in questions of migrations from Europe, across the Mediterranean, and in Israel, which gains concreteness only in the difficulty to map the psychic relation of the person within this place.

Elias Khoury begins Gates of the Sun by describing the specific romance of the map in similarly inter-generational terms, and in truly global terms as ruminating over over the spinning of a globe in a camp outside Beirut, Abu Salem remembers a past toponymy in mesmerizing manner, shifting from Biblical to Palestinian register that shifts to from rhapsody to melancholy and from a real to an imagined map–“”That’s Acre. Here’s Tyre. The plain runs to heart, and these are the villages of the Acre district. her’s Ain al-Zaitoun, and Deir al-Adsad, and al-Birwa, and there’s al-Ghabsiyyeh, and al-Kabri, and her’s Tarshiha, and there’s Bab al-Shams. . . . . Ain al-Zaitoun is the most beautiful village, but they destroyed in in ’48,'” describing an Arabic Palestinian village that existed from the sixteenth century which was depopulated and left the map, as it entered the new boundaries of the modern Israeli state–within whose boundaries it disappeared, receding from maps into personal memory.

The historical challenges of occupying Jerusalem, and indeed preserving a deeply personal and spiritual tie to land, seems tied to border crossings–and indeed creating boundaries–across the city’s ancient geography that the man stoically overlooks.


We are perhaps all too ready to project his traumatic relation to the the contested boundary lines of contemporary Jerusalem, where concrete walls cuts Palestinians from the very regions of a city they long inhabited as it seeks to redraw its map, as if to further traumatize its residents.  While the figure of the Palestinian echoes the notion of a Rodin’s Thinker, contemplating his place in the world, he has a far more clearly located place than the famously mobile piece of sculpture, whose reproduction in casts and in marble transited around the world, moved on a pediment to any space, evoking an idealized act of thought in whatever context it stood, begging the question of its own subjectivity in relation to space:

Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA

As a student who had studied in Paris–and, one imagines, understood the possibility of Hebrew as a literary language that would embrace multiple identities and subjectivities, as French did in the monde francophone–the image of a Rodin statue is, while a bit jarring to place as an explanatory motif to enter the Holy City and boundary-drawing of the Israeli state, an apt choice to place Yehoshua’s very public if not political literature in relation to the boundaries that he witnessed drawn up around the Israeli state, and treated his own work as a testimony to. It is striking that, of course, unlike the subjectivity of an Arab or Israeli, multiple casts of Rodin’s statue were famously mobile, able to circulate globally, independent of site, as icons of man’s intellectual superiority over the world and his surroundings. But the man sit with a site-specific sense o reflection, and effectively caught in the act of being displaced from his surroundings: a city which has long been praised because of its integrity in the religious imagination, and translated to a nation a term that was long reserved for applying to a people, has been beset by divisions that the boundary wall has mapped in Jerusalem is both palpable and insurmountable reminder. The statue reveals a pragmatics of division that is oddly and paradoxically described as intended to preserve the integrity of the city, by defining its place and security in the public imagination as if to recuperate and preserve a sense of the imagined topography of unity of the Mandate in 1946–before the foundation of kibbutzim, before the Irgun’s armed resistance to British military authorities, and before the foundation of the state Israel, if with clear boundaries of sovereignty.  

Did the story of the settlement of Jerusalem as a succession of subjectivity offer a truly transcendent relation to place, before which maps receded as purely provisional conventions to orient one to space or place? The novel provides a place, perhaps, if a bit by happenstance, as expressive of the cosmopolitan remove and liberal principles by which A.B. Yehoshua seeks to map the place of the subjective figure in the fractured Holy Land, and indeed the recuperation of Enlightenment principles by which to do so for a literature that he sought to provide the country, very much as a pragmatic resource akin to plumbing, running water, or electricity and gas, as much as a refined culture. The embodied culture of space may have led Yehoshua, whose father arrived from Salonika to the Palestinian Mandate, and whose mother arrived with her father from Morocco, when few Jews lived in the area that became bounded by the future state of Israel, to angrily reject the existence of the diaspora as a future for Jews and even as a meaningful or authentic mode of being for modern Jews, and especially among his readers: if Mr Mani seeks to orient its readers to the complex drawing and redrawing of boundaries in the Middle East around Israel, in order to transcend them, and takes the figure of a succession of subjectivities to provide a unity by which to place oneself in the continuity of the Israeli state, despite its modern creation, Yehoshua railed angrily in increasingly bitter terms about the diaspora or galut as “masturbation” rather than true being, in later years, as if in relation to his own sense of impotence at the sheer size of the diaspora–a reflection of the prospect of his own sexual impotence?–compared to confronting a multi-ethnic sense of territoriality in Jerusalem, and in the Holy Land, he had first encountered as a child.

The sectorizing of the city by such boundaries were akin to a rejection of history, or of the Zionist vision of crossing borders–a vision, to be sure, later corrupted in the shift of Zionism to Israel’s borders’ fierce defense. The sense of imposing borders on history, however, and on place, led Yehoshua to create one of the fiercest stories of the repeated crossing of borders over time, of location despite borders, a book written in a sort of locative voice, transcending early proposals dividing the city among Arabs and Jews drafted the very year of Yehoshua’s birth in the Palestinian Mandate, and a vision of segregation that the work and vision of his father to create a commonly understood legal code would span. The turn to writing and to stories to suggest the intertwined nature of Jews beside Arabs, not segregated apart, provided a means to narrate the demographic mixture of Jerusalem at the time–the city was populated by about 92,000 Jews; 32,000 Arabs; 27,000 that precipitated the division of the city into East and West regions as the prospect of a Jewish Mayor of Jerusalem was flatly rejected

Proposed Partition of Jerusalem’s Local Administration into Jewish and Palestinian Sectors, “A Proposal for Dividing Jerusalem between Jews and Arabs (Survey of Palestine,” Jaffa Aug., 1936)

The crossing of boundaries and persistent problem of crossing boundaries to preserve a coherent vision of Zionism becomes the question or logic for the generations of Mani in a question of what Rivka Galchen called “serial subjectivity” that cannot be understood but in relation to the impetus of crossing boundaries of the map, itself drawn in the year of Yehoshua’s birth. The fictive figure of a “Mani” at the center of this fictitious archeology of a heterodox in Jerusalem parallels the reconstruction of the historical figure of “Mani,” a prophet who was a member of a large Jewish Christian sect in Babylon with strong Gnostic elements as the future prophet described in the New Testament. Mani’s faith was rooted in the creation of a new gospel, in visions perhaps influenced by the fact that his mother was of Parthian descent, of Armenian origins, and was raised in a community of Jewish Christians, but who preached a heterodox faith that combined Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism in a new heterodox complexion: he wrote six works in Syriac, and was eventually crucified after he preached his idiosyncratic heterodox faith to the Indian court of Shapur I in 242, crossing barriers in his life that the six generations of Mani whose fictional archeological record Yehoshua invites the reader to sort out across recent incursions and wars, each replaying the Manichaean conflicts that the historical Mani preached: the genealogy traces conflict across borders in a succession of ages, as if participants replayed the historical Mani gospel of a Manichaean struggle across Middle Eastern borders, asking if the very heterodox combination of cultures can survive. But the combination of boundary crossings that constitutes the basic story or “news” of the novel–fictive news, but news of present relevance–suggests a deep temporality of all boundaries, and indeed offers a means to work toward their transcendence.

The strong sense of an occupation of the city by generations–“All the generations before me/donated me, bit by bit, so that I’d be/erected all at once/here in Jerusalem, like a house of prayer/or charitable institution,” poet Yehuda Amichai evokes the deep tie to a past that physically ties him to Jerusalem’s present and pasts.  The proprietary sense tied to generations of Jews as bound  to the city of Jerusalem by a binding tie to place defies mapping. But the excavation of this actually quite modern sense is excavated in Amichai’s poetry and an inevitable subject of Israeli fiction.  The next poem in Amichai’s 1973 collection, Poems of Jerusalem, turns from the ties to place to the disruptive nature of the border barrier already built in the Old City, on each side of which flags are raised–“To make us think that they’re happy./To make them think that we’re happy.”–but that obscure who is flying a kite over the Old City, on a string held by a child who stands on its other side; if he cannot ever forget his tie to the city, its walls of separation are never able to be forgiven, but “If I forget thee,/let my blood be forgotten,” to describe the tortured relation that he felt in 1973 to the mapping the relation of the city so closely intertwined to his blood-line.

The issue of bonding to place within one’s blood line was more clearly mapped across time when A.B. Yehoshua compiled a fictional dossier on the testimonies across six generations of men residents in Jerusalem in Mr. Mani, a five-part 1992 historical novel that rewrites a Pentateuch of the Israeli state, or at least the Zionist dream of basing a Jewish state in Jerusalem, a city whose layered history Yehoshua knew well from his father, a local historian of the city, and that in a sense captures his own deep ambivalence to Jerusalem as a homeland or occupied city.  By tracing testimonies of the male members of the Mani family who settled in the city and manufactured this imagined tie to place, he allows them to give evidence of their ties to the city across generations we read in chronological reverse, in ways that seem to unpeeled their own deep internalization of their ties to the city of Jerusalem–and the cross-generational desire to create or recreate a physical tie to place. Even if it is only textual, and returns to landmarks in the city, more than to boundaries that we can understand as fixers, the novel traces mental boundaries, offering poignant testimony of the redrawing of Jerusalem on the map. As much as it is a story of the serial succession of subjectivities in Jerusalem, and the Holy Land, the “job” Yehoshua fills for himself of navigating and crossing boundaries–boundaries that were created in his own life, as a man born in the Palestinian Mandate, where his father worked to translate Hebrew to Arabic documents–take the task of forging a new Israeli literature in Hebrew that itself knew no boundaries, but was based in orienting readers to the palimpsestic realities coexisting in the Holy Land. Although this reaction to Yehoshua’s work in the form of a deep dive into the realities of cartographic boundaries was written in the diaspora before Yehoshua’s passing, it is a testament to the persistence of a gravitational pull of place in his work, rendering it as a sort of counter-mapping to the creation of boundaries proclaiming an end of history.

While the novel is removed from historical mapping and remapping of the settlement of the city, it traces a deeply psychic map, preserved in Faulknerian fashion of what might as well be a fictional country but could not be disguised as such. The intensity of personal projects of mapping a relation to place and remapping the desired union of each generation to the city, as if to realize the frustrated desires of their forefathers to map and thereby to create a new relation to place, without attending to its residents, so deep was their desire to protect, redraw, and identify with the place of the ancient city.  The creation of one side of the conversations of the Mani men provides a basis to excavate the deeply unfulfilled emotions needs that they bequeathed their descendants, and the incomplete relation that each transmitted as a failure to bind their own family to the city, and the difficulties that they have mapping their relations onto the presence of the city’s actual inhabitants.  The deep neediness of Mani men reveals the strength of ties of rooting oneself and family in place, and the heightened trauma of such a desire for attachment that has built up over generations, a traumatic tie to place that is visited upon its other residents.

The trauma of the Palestinian who regards the concrete barrier is not, literally, on most maps constructed of Jerusalem or of the Holy Land.  Indeed, the trauma of excluding Palestinian presence in the city that the Jewish state has adopted plans to occupy fully, and the provocation of publicly acknowledging it as a capital, seems to seek to enshrine the trauma in maps.  For the boundary barrier expanded the line of Israeli control over the contested city–and even exceeded the territorial claims the so-called Green Line of the 1949 Armistice, or the pre-1967 bounds–but were never intended to provide a territorial boundary for the state.  If those bounds were treated as the new boundary of a national territory after 1967, the expansion was tired to be remapped by the progressive construction of the barrier or boundary wall much further in recent years, as if to over-write and banish earlier memories of settlement, and to stake a rewritten Israeli sovereign relation to the city, now provocatively defined as a national capital on maps.

THomas Coex:AFP Getty

Thomas Coex/AFP

At what cost?  The project of a unified Jerusalem will hardly conceal the deeply pained relation to the territory, however, and seems destined to only augment its military defense.  At this point, it may be opportune to return to the historical excavation of the pained nature of these boundaries–and the compromises that they create in the occupation of lands–is addressed in deeply psychological terms in Yehoshua’s Mar Mani, or Mr. Mani, which traces or excavates the ever-growing costs of such a divide.  The curiously retrospective structure of the five books of the novel peel back historical layers of mapping a personalized Jerusalem through the testimony or discussion with men in a family of Mediterranean Jews and their ties to Jews of central Europe, that throw into relief the intensity of a psychological concentration that takes the Holocaust as its justification for the fulfillment of a Zionist project for retaking the Holy Land.

The project of settling Palestine is seen through the eyes of the long stateless Jews and the ties they have staked to the land from the late eighteenth century.  While often cited as a justification for the existence of Israel as a state, Yehoshua includes the genocide of the Second World War in his novel about five generations of a family who settled in Jerusalem, but throws the history of their tortured relation to place in a far broader context of the ways that people have long pressed against boundaries, and indeed, confused their own personal boundaries with relations to barriers and boundaries that existed, were drawn, or were being redrawn on maps, even as they tried to use maps to navigate their relation to the city for their descendants.  Is the tortured relation to the city something that was bequeathed as a failure to define personal boundaries, and to understand the boundaries that might have existed between Jewish settlers of jerusalem and its inhabitants, that continued to inform either the construction of the wall that extends beyond the pre-1967 border line–


–and the hard place of the wall that divides the complex expansion of the old municipal border of 1949 to encompass its Palestinian and Jewish populations, and the tortured relation each feels to its place.


The border boundary that divides Jerusalem today as emblematic of an utter divide between populations, illegal and asserting itself to be a concrete evidence of the application of the law:  the boundary wall seems to deny any past habitation and any past, to create a new realty of borders, even as it seeks to affirm and inscribe a new divide in the city, even if under the pretext of protection from terrorist attacks.  But the broad historical conflicts of claiming Jerusalem as a Jewish city–even in the face of a Palestinian majority presence–and ruling it as a sovereign part of a Jewish state, rather than one the acknowledges its multiple ethnicities, conceals the tortured relation to place that is the result of denying any voice to its original inhabitants.

Building the boundary reminds us of the existential quality to any line of partition, and the deep effects with which it immediately effects the place and its inhabitants.  The wall, one might say, stares back at the man, sheer concrete without any sense of history or human habitateion, to protect the area extending past the Green Line as if to fix its future movement in the historically shifting map in stable terms.  This unstable map–which seems poised to be shifted once again, for national gain, in the 2017 annexation of the new construct of “Greater Jerusalem” including settlements along the West Bank, transforming a place previously without integrity to fulfill a prophecy of the “expansion” of the city as a part of the Jewish state, using a term of false if apparent neutrality to conveniently conceal and not account for the historical presence Palestinian inhabitants of the same place.

The wall is a remapping of history, and human habitation, after all, and a defense of claims by the Israeli state, built as if concretizing a timeless prophecy, and built as a timeless construction.  The remapping of space and the space of Jerusalem seems the subject of the e classic novel of A.B. Yehoshua about six generations of a Jerusalem family whose intent to throw the immediacy of the current conflict into historical relief continues to have bearing on the apparent absence of population in the retracing of shifting boundaries and the claiming of sovereignty over lands that, in the historical myopia that sees the utter tragedy of dehumanization of the Holocaust–or the condition of statelessness–as the fulcrum for its foundations if not the justification of its existence, but removes its borders and boundaries from history or from the land’s inhabitants, by cartographically declaring it to be an almost timeless truth of territorial advancement and an iconic image without need for an explanatory legend.

Shifting borders.png

The Palestinian man who pauses in Thomas Coex’s photograph, to process the one-sided and unilateral imposition of the boundary barrier, seems to struggle to read its place in a spatial map in a city that so often been remapped.  The recent remapping seems to try to undo the extent to which its sheer concrete seeks to erase any element of contingency within its overlapping pasts, or any alternate  future.  The Palestinian who so wistfully regards the wall of sheer concrete bisecting Jerusalem’s West Bank, seems to question from his hill-top perch the possibility of return to a homeland and his reconfigured relation to place by being walled off from his former homeland, as if looking on the ancestral lands which were tended by members of his family, without an ability to make legal claim to them:  the problematic issue of the transmission of a relation to place, and the construction of a Jewish nation of fixed boundaries are examined in affective terms in the powerful 1993  Mr. Mani, where the negotiation with the psychic power of the ties to a bounded nation become both the starting point–the first of five dialogues across six generations is set during the 1982 Lebanon offensive campaign to protect Israel’s northern boundary–but unpacks, onion-style, borders over a long twentieth century, examining the deep psychic effects of a unilateral practice of boundary drawing on the Jewish state and its inhabitants.

To begin from the image of the most recent boundary wall of the Separation Barrier starts to unpack the relation to place that the novel explores from a point after it was written, but that includes a Palestinian perspective in its unravelling of a genealogical transmission of a troubled relation to place.  The pain of exclusion, despite international media attention, has rarely been captured as a trauma of the Jewish state, but the map that it creates of Jerusalem’s new boundaries–and the boundedness of the state of Israel by the Israeli military–demand to be situated in a map not only of borders, but detail the pain of their creation, and the psychological relation to their imposition.  As Ursula K. LeGuin has noted that “The worst walls are never the ones you find in your way.  The worst walls are the ones you build yourself,” the Separation Barrier is an attempt to define the boundaries of settlement along the West Bank, whose electronic fences, concrete barriers, observation towers, lookouts, and armed patrols block movement in ways deemed a violation of international law–but has provided a new boundary line by which Israel has laid claims to the West Bank.  (For a clearer focus on Yehoshua’s novel and its illumination of boundary-drawings, readers might do well to skip ahead to later sections of this post,  §12-14 and especially §14-30.)

The Barrier lays claims to the integrity of Jerusalem.  In ways that affirm impassible structures for Palestinians across roads and routes to travel, it is both a confiscation of lands and an important claim to possession of lands of fixed boundaries  It creates a state of amnesia of former claims to homelands–or of lost relations to land as the Israeli state increasingly redrew its boundaries form the first U.N. Partition Plan after World War II in 1947–in ways that have increasingly redrawn the defensible boundaries of Israel’s birth or emergence as a ‘modern’ nation of fixed boundaries, which, as it has grown in proportion to the disproportionate population growth of the region–albeit the four-fold increase of Jews is met by a five-fold growth of Palestinians.


How was the Jewish nation created as a Nation but in the unilateral imposition of new boundary lines?  The settlement of Jerusalem has recently taken its most violent form of remapping in the creation of a wall that cuts off Palestinian residents from their former homelands.  But the deep drive to remap the city as a new homeland for the Jewish nation after years of exile has created a problem of exile of its own that demands to be mapped less in terms of the historical imposition of constantly revised borders than the untenable nature of the continual remapping of Jerusalem’s settlement and identity in unilateral ways, as if the promise of mapping did not have to account for or respect the demographic entanglement that increasingly defines the region, but which its maps have been designed not to preserve–and increasingly to serve the interest of defining and defending the territory of Israel as a nation-state.

The Israeli Separation Barrier that increasingly divides Jerusalem remaps relations of Palestinians and the Israeli state in an increasingly provocative and fraught ways within the Holy City, by openly redefining an individual relation to it as a place.  Organized by a network of checkpoints, ID controls, and incursions into land that was once Palestinian, some fifty years after the unification of the city in the Israeli state was defined by the 1967 war, the sheer concrete wall built to unilaterally and definitively remap the region continues to the remap–and mishap–the relation of the state to the country’s inhabitants.  The historical purpose of the Separation Barrier was indeed to remap the city of Jerusalem and its safety in a Jewish state, at a remove from its Palestinian residents.  Such a forced remapping was explicitly acknowledged by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s on senior advisors as seeking to “give order to space” on the eve of the Wall’s construction, able to reshape how “people relate to places” in a region where human relation to place is not only very sedimented but particularly strong as it has been contested for so long.  The framing of a new relation to place by such open boundary drawing does not arise from precedent–or from being passed down across generations–but elevates the cumulated effects of boundary drawing designed to protect and exclude.


Separation Boundary or “Security Fence” in red; greater Jerusalem outlined in blue; the historical Green line of 1948-67/palmap, 2009


The almost compulsive redrawing of the boundary lines on the map, while often seen as a continuation of Zionist principles or Zionism, suggests a new notion of the nation of fixed and defensible frontiers, distinctly unlike the Jewish nation that was transmitted in the diaspora or that was nourished in the nineteenth century: and the novelistic unpacking of the transmission of a deeply affective tie to that nation is the subject of the five generations of the Mani family encountered in the isolated dialogues in A. B. Yehoshua’s 2009 Mr. Mani, which places the even if it was written before the creation of the Separation Boundary redefined the geography of Jerusalem.

1.  While often presented as the extension and culmination of a scriptural claim to inheritance, the transmission of a legal notion of the nation demands examination as a transmission of a shifted notion of the nation, and the excavation a generational sense to the increasingly defined boundaries of Israel as a Jewish nation–and the sentimental or affective relation to the boundaries of the nation as lines needing to be defended to ensure that nation’s safety–demand excavation as a deeply affective relation to place, transmitted less in legal or logical terms, than as a deep-running mental map framing a relation to place that is fashioned and reconfigured across generations more than transmitted whole.  Although the Separation Boundary that maps a relation between Israelis and Palestinians in blunt terms–“us here; you there“–is argued to be a Zionist principle and precept, but exist as an effect of a sustained drawing of boundaries less as lines that were crossed, or could be crossed, than as mapping a nation able to be militarily defended with its own deep psychic effects.

While the Separation Boundary is a new rewriting of the defense of these boundaries and of a psychic attachment to place, drawing boundaries in ways Israeli novelist A. B Yehoshua early tried to excavate what he saw as attempting to contain tensions by framing and codifying a fixed relation to a space of settlement.  The expansion of settlements around Jerusalem through 2011 that the Barrier seems to defend–

Population increases in Settlement areas around Jerusalem.png

While the Separation Barrier authorized by Ariel Sharon as a means to define the border between Israel–and of Jerusalem–to the West Bank eroded the justice of Palestinians and their place in the Israeli state, it created a new height for this redrawing of boundaries.

John Berger argued, in a short 2002 essay on borders, reprinted in Hold Everything Dear, grew after the events 9/11, as the building of walls came to constrain movement; the activity of wall-building was observed by Berger  to be tied to an emptying of language about homelands–such an emptying was “the essential activity of the building of walls–walls of concrete, of electronic surveillance, of missile barrages, frontier controls, and opaque media,” he argued–that reinstated once fluid boundaries across which people moved through lived space along territorial oppositions, invested with inflexible legal authority that obscured the absence of legal precedent.  The Palestinian who watches the newly built boundary of Israel, and contemplates the authority of its presence in his life in almost existential manner, poses a question of mapping a personal relation to space and place, as well as providing an emblem of the exclusion of Palestinians from the land they once inhabited.  For if the drawing of new borders undercuts the long process of the historical negotiation and renegotiation of borders, creating a deeply dangerous sense of historical amnesia, the erosion of the past habitation of space seems deeply weakened by the relatively sudden imposition of this sheer concrete boundary–first called a “barrier,” to acknowledge its role in obstructing the motion of populations, if to downplay its constructed nature, by tractors, but in ways that obfuscated the separation of Palestinians from their lands, so much as the act of segregation it created by treating its construction as a means that “gave order to space” so much that it would become the new “reference line” for all future negotiations, whose monumental would over-write previously negotiated maps.

But isn’t it also a line of exile?  If so, this sense of exile demands to be mapped as the genealogy of a complex spatial imaginary.   Created in the name of security, and in an age of globalization designed to erase boundaries and barriers, the rise of the barrier has deep needs to redraw the occupation of territories despite the lack of legal precedents.  First termed a ‘fence,’ and then a ‘wall,’ erases the deep psychic effect of the eight-foot tall sheer concrete Barrier with four-meter ditches dug on either side, a no-man’s-land monitored throughout by electronic surveillance, and the insurmountable division between place and alienation from place it creates.  Studded with twenty-foot observation towers every two hundred meters, the massive military investment in its construction is a remapping of a city that was once multi-ethnic, and is increasingly referred to in the news as an “apartheid wall” if far more commonly termed a “security fence,” “security wall,” “separation barrier,” and “separation wall,” or even mystifyingly cast in an odd litotes as a “concrete fence.”

The persistence of linguistic confusion underscores Berger’s point:  while designed to be disinterested in language, the creation of the Separation Boundary by Israeli Defense Forces is designed as a categorical division of the holy landscape.  If walls are built all over the world an illusion of security from Berlin to the West Bank, the size of the Separation Barrier, over four times as long and over twice as high as the Berlin Wall, obscures the absence of legal precedent in its creation of a new cartographical reality.  For it serves to cut residents definitively from their lands by a remapping of classical proportions that interrupt daily lived experiences and claims to land in ways that are not able to be ignored for those who live there.


Wall around Qalqiliya (August 1, 2003)/ The Electronic Intifada


Guardian (2003) (interactive map)

The deeply alienating eight-foot tall Separation Barrier not only creates but may be seen as the lastest manifestation of deeply tortured psychic to the land.  Indeed, the consequences and ramifications of such tortured relation to the lands are unable to be ignored.  Rewriting the border is only the most recent sovereign defense of Israel as a state and territory building boundaries to defend Jewish claims to settlement that revise earlier national bounds, affirming possession of lands.  If they are argued to echo the experience of exile ritually transmitted among generations in the Jewish nation, the experience of galuth long mystically interpereted and understood as an exile from God, and a removed promised land and deferred promise,  as if long prepared to be inhabited, the depth of psychic inheritance suggests a much more complex remapping of lands, mapped less as a direct inheritance than an oddly amnesiac transmission of spatial imaginaries of exile, running against the demographic realities of the entanglement of local populations, and intended to assert new security needs.  Rather than it reflects the repeated traumas of the transmission of practiced movement across and outside boundaries, the Separation Barrier is rooted in the creation of an erasure of personal experience:  the monumental separation barrier is not a “natural” reclaiming of place, but works in traditions of the remapping of the Holy Land as a region of settlement and residence, and its fortification as a borderline by Israeli Defense Forces removes residents from their homeland, as much as recreate a a sense of exile–rather, it recreates the deep pain of ignoring residents that has been transmitted among generations of settlers of Jerusalem.

As Scholem identified the pain of exile in the nineteenth century that was interpreted as an exile from God, the pain in the figure perched contemplating the sheer unscalable concrete of the Separation Barrier from the nearby hilltop, is far more concrete:  he sits in mute dialogue with the reshaping of East Jerusalem; as much as he is consumed by the pain of staking a return, he resents claiming a national identity of fixed borders.   If the sense of exile was transmitted across generations, as a psychic inheritance, the Separation Barrier cannot be so clearly mapped, but shares psychic roots in a clearer spatial imaginary.  As much as it can be symbolically excavated as a relation to God, the psychic relation to the mapping of territories of the Israeli nation across generations were a theme mapped by A. B. Yehoshua , an activist and member of a old Jerusalem family, invited viewers to reflect in his 1990 novel Mr. Mani, which moves across five generations from the present to earlier eras of mythical proportions in the framing of Israel as a nation of fixed frontiers, from Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War, where Israeli Defense Forces openly launched an invasion across Israel’s northern boundary–even as they claimed “We have no aspirations for a single inch of Lebanese territory” and described the north push, somewhat deceptively, “a struggle for the sake of peace“–if a peace that would change the northern border for almost twenty years, and created a huge number of refugee camps in response to the Israeli invasion allegedly so aggressively staged to preserve its border. The invasion was the first aggressive move of Israeli army across its borders, but provides the basis to investigate and to excavate conflicts around borders and border-crossing from before the foundation of a Jewish state.

Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (2002)

Instead of mapping a psychic inheritance of exile, Yehoshua’s meditation on the five Mani men map in tortured ways the defense and definition of these boundaries as an artifact of the state.  Rather than being cast in terms of a genealogical transmission of a lineage with a promised destiny, the tortured history of the declaration of boundaries emerges across five chapters or books each set in historical moments receding in time that raise questions about the naturalization of the boundaries of the Israeli state and the contradictions of the definition of Israel as a nation and the transmission of ideas of the Jewish nation.  Rather than provide a continuous history, the specific moments of each one-sided dialogue with five male members of the Mani family, or framed as reminiscences of dialogues with Mani men, has the effect one only gradually appreciate of inverting of the transmission of knowledge from father to son–haged or story-telling to meet the injunction of telling the story between generations long cultivated in exile–by suggesting how deeply rooted is the pain of settlement among Jewish families as they emerged from the diaspora, in ways that map an extended historical reframing of the history of settling Israel–a post-modern pentateuch.  While the inspiration of this structure may be partly happenstance–Yehoshua was of a fifth-generation Jerusalem family, but the interlocking structure of their testimonies offer a genealogy of the nation–and the sense of a nation–the uncovering of the psychic relation to the map that emerged from the late eighteenth century, as much as the galuth cultivated in the diaspora, created a relation to national boundaries of which the Separation Barrier may be the result, and the most painful inheritance of a deeply fraught relation to place.

2.  For Yehoshua presents a psychological archeology of the occupier, as it were, entangled with the  project of mapping the Jewish nation as a nation-state less as the transmission of a symbolic tie to place than a compulsion with deep psychological roots.  This post tries to place the problem of mapping a homeland as a nation through how maps provide a point of reference for the complex relation of Jews to the shared space of Jerusalem.  As if to help readers reflect on the historical mapping of these boundaries may suggest the torment and  painfulness of claiming this homeland, Yehoshua weaves a deep meditation on the continued meaning of the geographical partitions, inherent in trying to translate the exiled Jewish nation to territorial bounds, and the problem of the relation of Mani men who see their sense of mortality as inseparable from their settlement of the Holy Land.

In surprising ways by focussing on the lack of unity and hidden sense of guilt that Yehoshua seeks to excavate in the tortured relation of individual to place in the testimonies of a Jerusalem family, who in occupying the Holy City remain tortured by the anxiety or haunting of a sense of guilt inseparable from their relation to place–so long as they neglect the stories of its former inhabitants, or restore people into their maps, who are excluded from them in ways that–while far more bitter for the Palestinians as this man who existentially regards the erection of the sheer concrete Separation Barrier to try to process the new relation to his lived space it creates–seems to continue a compulsive if tortured need to continue to assert a relation to place.


It is hard to note what goes through the head of the blurred figure who watches the sheer concrete wall–no doubt a Palestinian–atop his rocky perch, but he appears to  contemplate a distinct sense of loss.  The prime purpose of the wall seems to be to erase and obscure the history of previous patterns of residence and enforce new boundaries of the modern state.  This intent to force people’s relation to place was echoed in the reduction of Palestinian lands by almost a tenth and the apparatus of surveillance and oversight that constrain Palestinian presence and movement in the city to demote their motion to non-citizens excluded from the state.  The treatment of residents as nationless refugees by the wall creates a new existential relation to place not visible on a map, and that prominently orients their relation to place.  Israeli author A. B. Yehoshua confronted the problem of mapping the problematic nature of that relation to place–as much as to people–in his historically expansive post-modern Pentateuch of Jewish settlement, simply titled Mr Mani, a novel focussing as if in microcosm on one family’s relation to the settled space of Jerusalem, through the testimonies of different generations on the family’s relation to place.  It is no coincidence that the author, who grew up in Jerusalem but does not dwell there, began the book after the inheritance of the papers of his father, Yaakov Yehoshua, a local historian of the old city, as if in result of excavating the nachlass his father had bequeathed him, to untangle the relation of the people to the land or to make sense of the map that processed their relation to the city.  

For against the screen of historical change, there is a sense that the novel uncovers the psychological inheritance, as if to ask whether it is unchanging, and how long it will remain so prominent. While the novel focussed largely on the male members of one family, the result is a compelling history of the collective relation of a Jewish nation to the place as it was so forcefully remapped as a modern nation. If  one of the most mythic narratives of the arrival of a promised land is described in the Old Testament, and the foundation of the Old Kingdom, the narratives generations of Mani men present as before the jury of history in Mr. Mani try to excavate a relation to place that has changed–and is misunderstood and mapped as a timeless relation to place.  Rather, the but a repeatedly frustrated attempt to stake an individual claim of actual relations to a land among generations of the Mani family suggest something less akin to an inter-generational transmission of verbal knowledge–an oral transmission central to Jewish identity–but in reverse.  The excavation of the past testimonies of Mani, constructed in one half of a dialogue about individual five patriarchs of the Mani of  different generations.  Collectively, they invite the reader to trace the transmission of a sense of striving for identity hat leads  to a mipmapping of a nation state in a land without political coherence–or boundaries–until very recent dates.

If Jerusalem has often and repeatedly been excavated for meaning, the dialogues offer a stratigraphy of relations to the monuments of the city and its walls in different periods, by which the viewer can orient oneself both to the family that has long “lived” in Jerusalem, and claimed a territorial identity to the city over time, as if to encounter witnesses who narrate their relation to place at a time when the military defense of Israel’s new boundaries were for the first time achieved by leading an army into the sovereign territory of another nation.  The occasion of the war offers a basis for the imperative to uncover layers of  generational histories to uncover a secret of Mani family–but also a hidden secret, it seems, of the Israeli state, from the moment of a visitation of a gravesite in Jerusalem on the Mt. of Olives, in the Palestinian section of Jerusalem, that uncovers the tenacity shared across six generations of Mani, as if to raise the question of how the transmission of a nation rooted in fixed territorial boundaries arose.

Although the testimonies in each chapter of Yehoshua’s novel recede in time, as if in an archeology that gradually exposes the secrets transmitted either knowingly or unknowingly in the Mani family, whose chronological links emerge only gradually for the reader, the excavation of the Mani family’s history suggests a dark secret as much as the  transmission of knowledge:  the attachment to place of Gavriel Mani is to an extent explained, or psychoanalyzed, in the deeply flawed preservation of an intensely psychic relation to place that seems transmitted among these men.  As six distinct speakers try to clarify their own experience in the Holy Land, we understand their experiences from the vantage of 1982, during unprecedented incursion of another country in the Lebanon War, backwards to 1848 and to the French Revolution, we open the story of self-destructive nature of Mani men who subsume themselves to an idea of the nation.  

The book repeatedly returns to the problems of mapping the nation, and imagining that the nation of Israel as mapped and defended with concrete bounds of the sort that are best visualized in a map. The deceptive defense across the northern border is placed in an archeology of the complex relations to borders of Israel as a state, not to normalize the violence of the aggression, but to contextualize its military incursion as the tragic result of a history of trading across borders and border zones.

3.  It is a tacit knowledge of place and tie to place that is excavated as lying at the heart of the current paradoxes of the Jewish nation, as if to excavate the notion of Israel as a state of defensible frontiers.  Yehoshua assembles individual historically isolated testimonies that parallels the transformation of boundaries built around the nation that has become Israel, but seem to echo and return to the defense of Israeli boundaries most recently incarnated by the Separation Boundary.  In doing so, the novel traces the paths of an imagined stemma of the word “nation” and “boundary” a corruption of the metaphorical sense of the Jewish nation from  the diaspora, which cannot be understood but in reference to the project of the Separation Boundary, even if it did not yet exist:  for the fixation of the Mani on boundaries serves to define a personal relation to place help to situate the notion of a secret hidden truth that stands as an original deceit or lie–akin to original sin–that the needy ties and almost obsessive return of the male members of the family to Jerusalem might be better understood as a hereditary affliction.  The testimonies of episodes of the family story revises  the triumphant narrative of resettlement, and raise questions of what alternative narrative the reader might reconstruct.

The biblical sense of a triumphant narrative from Exodus is not only inverted or undermined, but re-interpreted outside of religious terms, as a traumatic relation to place that is afflicted by turning a purposive blind spot to the existence of previous inhabitants of place.  The memory of ruins is recuperated is situated historically in Yehoshua’s novel, less as a collective memory than a shared trauma of a deeply rooted psychic attachment to the notion of Israel as bounded nation demanded to be mapped as if it were an ordinary nation-state.  Inviting readers to “understand the present by digging through the past,” less in a declensionist narrative of Zionism’s hopes or a realization of a divine promise, the novel invites readers to examine not a triumphal narrative of the transmission of teacher to student of a promised settlement of the Holy Land as concealing the pain of nourishing such a deeply cultivated image of return through mental maps of the status of the precedence and legitimacy of a tie to place that is created in mental maps.

The result is to illuminate the trauma of mapping Israel as a nation across generations of Mani who are drawn compulsively, animated by their translation of a diaspora image of the nation to a territory, to settle lands already settled, long before 1948.  The effect of uncovering the pain of these psychic ties or hopes to define a proprietorial relation to the land is all too often obscured in political narratives or in those premised on a divine promise of restoring separation.  The pain of settlement is rooted in the exclusionary precepts of settlement.  For since Mani leave the diaspora in the late eighteenth in hopes to arrive in Palestine from Salonika, the tenacity of settlement is shown to have been transmitted across the early Zionist congresses, Mandate of Palestine, and Second World War among Mani men in what can only be called a pained rather than a promised relation to place, long before the nation was mapped as a territory.  In deeply resonant ways, each Mani man is driven by a fierce tenacity of settlement, rather than being dominated by the pain or unease of the galuth, or exile.  Each translated their image of a nation to the Holy Land through different attempts at its remapping, without acknowledging its actual settlement.  In so doing, each generation seems to confront the problem of remapping the Jewish nation as if it were a bounded “nation” from the time of the French Revolution, afflicted by a compulsion to affirm and map their tie to place in ways that cannot be read but as echoing the obstinacy of building the Separation Barrier.

THomas Coex:AFP Getty

Such an imagined excavation of past narratives of relations to Jerusalem’s boundaries is itself a massive remapping, attentive to the boundaries of the state of Israel help to map past precedents for a potentially  flawed project of the Israel’s modern state.  In ways less triumphal than pained, the testimony repeatedly  omits the people who reside in those very lands, possessed by the vision of mapping fixed boundaries of a people who so long lived in a condition of diaspora, as it was understood as a “nation” in new terms..  If unintentionally, Yehoshua’s story provides a precedent for the affirmation of the Separation Boundary wall and the bounding the nation, through its unpacking of precedents to defining a bounded place as a privileged site of military protection.  The excavation of layers of history historicize  the affective and emotional relation to place has led the Israeli state to redefine the relation of residents to place, by remapping place in ways that exclude the threatening nature of “open space.”  

But if it remaps the city, how can it be mapped, or what art can be able to map the symbolic reconstruction of how “Israel” occupies the space long defined as a historical site of the Jewish nation, before the existence of nations in the terms that we understand them today. The mapping of the place of the wall in the spatial imaginary of Jerusalem challenges the arts of mapping and sufficiency of any solely visual map, the symbolic power of its place-names and so long nourished and cultivated in a spatial imaginary and indeed in maps, which stand at the end of the day less as a form of legal precedent–as they are often treated–or historical record, than as evidence of an assertion of the primacy of a relation to place, that fatally seems to subsume the desires of its own inhabitants, in ways that almost seek to offer a key to remap Yehoshua’s own intensely complicated and fraught relation to the walled city that was first divided from 1947, and whose absence of division is removed from public memory–much as future generations of Israeli soldiers may not have memories of the absence of the Separation Boundary that has terrifyingly but increasingly become part of the city’s permanent landscape.


The bounding of place haunt the state’s pasts.   Yehoshua’s dense genealogy of attitudes to ties to place maps, on a psychic level, rather than an objective one, the deep guilt in the redefining of people to places that needs to be excavated, and a reflection on the question not only of whether it is not tenable for the region’s future, raising questions about whether the tenable nature of settlement was already deeply compromised by its earliest maps, which tired to translate the clams of defending a Jewish nation as a nation of fixed bounds, as defended by the Israel-Lebanon war when Yehoshua wrote the book, and newly asserted in the Separation Boundary.  The art of mapping the claims of the Separation Boundary are a steep challenge to map, either in terms of its legality or precedent, but the narrative of Mr. Mani is strikingly told in terms of excavating historical and mental maps that Yehoshua suggests helped redefine the Jewish nation by fixed frontiers from the late eighteenth century.  

The perspective of such a place seems among the most urgent forms of resistance to acceptance of the Separation Boundary as a new mapping of space.  But the symbolic territory of the site of the Old Temple and buildings that gathered such longstanding symbolic relevance during the Jewish diaspora were long problematic to remap in ways that omitted the perspective of the region’s actual residents.  Yehoshua’s book, while written with a clear political consciousness questioning the future of the Israeli state that has come to present itself as the defender of the Jewish nation, examines the individual level of the remapping of space, excavating less the claims in a map than the deep, and rarely recognized trauma, that the author places at the roots of so forceful and deeply melancholic remapping of the individual’s relation to place, rarely evident on a map.

4.  The fencing or bounding off of land within the Israeli state with the creation of a monumental boundary wall–or Separation Boundary–created a new monument in the Holy Land and city of Jerusalem, as if a precedent that would erase the authority of earlier maps within the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, but call for a deeper historical unpacking of the remapping of Palestinian lands that were understood long before the state of Israel as a set of Hebrew toponyms and place-names around the site of the Temple, as much as by fixed frontiers.

Jerusalem 19th c temple map.png

Eran Laor Cartographic Collection/ National Library of Israel

Contemporary to the first surveys of Jerusalem in the very early nineteenth century—the first known survey map of Jerusalem was drafted in 1818 by the well-traveled botanist and collector Franz Wilhelm Sieber of Prague, skilled in graphical arts, and trained as an engineer–most often purposely omitted boundary lines.  They rather staked a clear notional relation to place, as if to preserve the image of the region whose geography had been described in scriptural narrative, and to show its continued existence as a place–and presumably for settlement.   The Israeli occupation of Palestine might be dated from 1948 or 1967 as a compromising of human rights, before the 2005 building of the barrier’s construction as an “anti-terrorist fence.”  But the lack of recognition of Palestinians during the occupation impels a deep remapping of the historical privileging of Israel’s presence in Jerusalem, over a far more extensive time; indeed the state-settlement of the Holy City might be imagined more evident as a stratigraphy of the collective mapping of the Holy City whose ruins have provided a logic for the settlement of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The definition of the new boundaries around Jerusalem and the Israeli state are heightened as a confirmation of the end of the diaspora, to be sure, and the state of exile or Galuth long nourished and preserved in the diaspora.  The mapping of territoriality was newly understood as an exit from galuth and the pain of exile, in the recovery of Holy Israel and the translation of “Israel” to a mapped state:  the translation shifted from crossing than establishing and fixing boundaries in the twenty-first century defense of settlements on the West Bank and near East Jerusalem, perhaps to affirm the energy of Israel and ward off the psychic distress of exile, if the distress of the Palestinian figure now excluded from his land perched on a hillside was reduced to watching the newly constructed wall in a condensation of the suffering of the Nakbah–those tragic events of ethnic cleansing 1948 when some 700,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homes and tens of thousands killed, as Israel’s borders were made.

The danger of naturalizing boundaries of occupation that has now existed over fifty years and restating claims to ownership of land around the Holy City–once seen as international–proceeds from a new mapping of access to lands based on a narrative relation to  rights to the ruins of a land.  The special relation of Jews to the ruins of itself creates a uniquely compromised relation of Palestinians to the present of the city, depriving themselves of their present or indeed the passage of time, as it keeps time in check:  if “Jews are better than Palestinians at living in ruins,” as the contemporary Palestinian author Ala Hlehel, who lives in Israel, wrote provocatively if polemically in 2017, foregrounding the relation of the ruins that Jewish settlers had reclaimed in Palestine as foregrounding the ruins that Israelis had later made of the Occupied Territories:  the notion of ruins to be resettled so central in the biblical narrative and in a Zionist map of place, and of the traces of a new homeland, suggested that the presence of ruins constitute a present that obscures the presence of other presents in particularly painful ways:  the notion of “ruins,” “ruined dwellings,” “waste places” and “ruined cities” of Israel translated from the Old Testament to the current landscape of the Middle East is a mipmapping, as is the diaspora hope  of returning to  rebuild old “ruins” as living communities “gathered out of the peoples . . .  brought forth from nations.”   Yet if this was something of an animating and inspirational  fiction in the collective imaginary that compelled the region’s rebuilding and settlement, the defense of these boundaries is quite distinct.  Hlehel  framed an argument about the difficulties of settling lands as if they were not settled, that may have captured but one side of the historical complexity of the evolution of the landscape of the Holy Land.  

If Yehoshua has a deep relation to the power of words in poetry, this book may most directly engage the complex realtion to archeological pasts discussed by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. For one cannot but recall Amichai’s questioning in “The Jews” in an extended poetic reflectionthe relation of Israeli Jews to history–“The Jews are not a historical people/And not even an archeological people, the Jews/Are a geological people with rifts/And collapses and strata and blazing lava.”  Amichai’s poem abandoned the metaphor of ruins to address the paradoxes of Israeli–and Jewish–nationhood, to which Yehoshua seems sympathetic in his stratigraphy of settlement that suggests the landscape filled with geological disasters–rifts, breaks, and calamities–rather than continuities.  For if the promise of rebuilding the חָרְבָּה or “perpetual ruins” and ruined places of Israel described by Isaiah and Ezekiel 38:7-16 suggested a survival of places which was preserved for those returning from a state of exile, but the courses of settlement and the remapping of a community in Israel and Palestine has proceeded outside of a clear linear narrative, but in fits and starts.

The problem of the continued occupation of the lands hence demands particular artful tools of mapping to represent, and arts of cartography that extend beyond the definition of past and present boundaries on a map of sovereign claims:  and the transformation or grafting of a new notion of nationhood onto the Jews, linked more closely to a territory than it ever was.   To be sure, Hlehel has however watched with horror as the expansion of Israeli settlements in “occupied lands” as displaying “colonial features under the cover of the Torah narrative” in which what he terms the “occupation machine” of borders, surveillance apparatus, security arrangements that constrain geographic movement, and abridge rights “functions to exhaust those who are subject to it”:   but this dynamic exhausting all inhabitants, has its own history.  In the present, to be sure, the agency of settlement seems obscured:  “the wheels are so interlocked, . . . so tightly wound, integrated, and coherent that it is hard to distinguish its beginning from its end,” but  the deep symbolic and psychic ties to the ruins of biblical civilization evolved in ways that always concealed beneath rights of their occupation a deep disquiet that Yehoshua helps readers to uncover, in a narrative of a suitably post-modern Pentateuch, rooted less in the transmission of an ideal or promise, or a covenant, but in something akin to the perversion of an inheritance, in a deeply unstable political landscape, that doesn’t adhere to the transmission of a received written narrative.

A deeply rooted psychological attachment to the geography of ruins is not only one of a continued past, but an active present, that long exercised a potentially compromising relation to the present across time, that was both deeply rooted in a past and that deployed a sense of the past in new ways as a basis to understand their place in a foreign landscape.  Whereas Sigmund Freud took the historical layers in Rome as a figure to imagine the layering of time in individual memory–as he put it in Civilization and its Discontents, to imagine the “mental life” as the contemporaneous layering of an individual’s pasts–he did so in ways that communicated his discovery of the layering of pasts in Rome, perhaps in ways unlike the survival of a remote past in Jerusalem, but as a contemporaneous survival of multiple ages of the past.   The survival of such multiple pasts might be made evident by an analogous excavation of their lost traces, in an another imagined map, of the inhabitation of Jerusalem by Jews are based on rebuilding ruins.  If Freud trusted the continued presence of the past in mental life allowed the past be “brought to light” through careful study and internalization of maps of the city, the basis of claims of state-sanctioned settlements on what are deemed “significant archeological sites” whose residents can be expelled suggest the paradoxes of building borders on ruins might lead one to see the occupation of Jerusalem as a rebuilding of a collective memory of the Jewish nation in borders that never existed among its “perpetual ruins” of the place.

5.  The pain of its settlement and violence of defending its boundaries as signs of belonging were long omitted from this map   Indeed, the recent project of building a “security fence” by the Israeli state–a term Ariel Sharon adopted in the sense of using its archaic meaning as a means of protection, and a barrier–belie the deeply divisive effects of such a Separation Barrier on Palestinian.  Indeed, continued description by the Israeli Prime Minister of a “security fence” during 2003 was adopted by many Israelis concealed the effects of such a Separation Boundary or Apartheid Wall as if to cleanse it of its values as a militarized marker–although the Wall remaps the territory, of an eight-meter high sheer wall surmounted by wire fences, cyclone fencing, and electronic sensors with deep ditches on either side, and punctuated by watchtowers and firing posts, effectively remapping habitation of the land and the rights or mobility of Palestinians.  

The inadequacy of such brutalist terms as a “fence,” “wall” or “barrier” omit questions of the unfairness of unilaterally remapping of Israel’s boundaries. They are aggressive statements of acts of illegal impeding and remapping of rights of inhabitation and movement, as the word “security” justifies a need for its existence that justifies its illegality.  (American media from CNN to Fox to AP to Washington Post to even the BBC adopted a similar set of locutions of a “security fence” or “separation wall” to downplay its civil rights offenses, as OSS Archivium noted, as a rewriting of territorial boundaries with the effect of confiscating long-inhabited lands.)  The painful neglect to map–or recognize–inhabitants is examined as a theme of tortured relation to the land of Mani men who witnessed the remapping of the nation, and provide a narrative that resists and questions the finality of this map.


Avi Ohayon / Israeli National Photo Collection, 2003

The particular pain of this relation to space–and to the boundaries of a new space of settlement in the area of Jerusalem and its Old City–have long animated settlement before the foundation of the Israeli state by members of the Jewish nation.  The problem of remapping the city as a national capital raises deep questions of the preservation of received narratives of the site of Jerusalem as a place, and the telling of stories about its settlement and the narratives of its settlement.  Remapping the unity of Jerusalem was long presented as a defensive act by the Jewish state:  but it is a gambit to retain the centrality of the city to the Israeli state, and remains a mapping that obscures and erase the presence of Palestinians in the region.  Rather than map the occupation of the region, or the refusal to recognize Palestinian presence, the collective remapping of Jerusalem was elaborated in collective memory most evident in its non-dramatic moments, however, but sedimented in its remapping, in a time when increasing numbers of Palestinians are born into the occupation, potentially naturalizing a situation in which a majority of Israelis are born into rule over areas of the city occupied by Palestinians, and accept their legal claims to settle ancient lands.

In deeply historical  but suggestively psychoanalytic ways, the quite different generational testimonies provide accounts of a fraught tie to place, collectively  unpacking a very sedimented psychological map of the Jewish people’s relation to the city that is not only symbolic, but impulsive or compulsive in its intensity.  The sense of sharing an  ahistorical relation to place that emerges in the photograph that accentuates the  remove of the anonymous hilltop observer from his homeland:  his very identity seems blurred by the prominent presence  of the wall, even as his presence embodies the steep difficulties in mapping or envisioning “Israel” as a sovereign state within Jerusalem, in the manner it is being constantly remapped, as the complexity of cartographical overlays of the city’s post-1967 transformations have made clear, which obscure the life stories of its residents.  Balancing the individual attachment of place–and the story of the individual–within the collective remapping of the city that has inflicted a regime on many of the region’s residents that they are regularly legally excluded from.

The persistence of the deep psychic attachment to the unity of Israel–and to how the defense of its borders as a confirmation and embodiment of Jewish identity–extends across generations may be realized through maps, of which the exclusionary border of the Separation Barrier is perhaps the culmination; but it can only be fully excavated by the individual nature of the transmission from the diaspora in the deep psychic attachment to the land, by the way that the story about the territory is narrated by individuals in time.  The excavation of testimonies within this collective past is the subject of Israeli progressive novelist A.B. Yehoshua imagined in the testimonies from five generations of settlers of Israel that compose the five books of Mr Mani, a fictive if almost archival version that juxtaposes individual testimonies of the Mani across five generations, to reveal how although each is rooted in distinct historical periods of global change, and notions of the ‘State of Israel,’ the deep affinities connecting them suggest the blindspots and pain in insisting to translate the Jewish nation into a bounded land.   In moving across epochs, and untangling the migration story of Mani men, Yehoshua skillfully historicizes the arrival of Jews in Israel, on the one hand, and raises questions about the settlement of lands that have been defined as the uniting of ruins or sites of collective memory within the borders of the Jewish nation Israel, and the defense of these boundaries that were for the first time aggressively defended in the Lebanon War.

The overwhelming impact of these stories is to suggest the extent to which the individual narratives of these men of an old Jerusalem family describe a fraught, rather than a natural relation to place, unpacking the hidden stories of settlement in ways that respond to the questions raised by the aggressive defense of the boundaries of the new nation-state in the 1980 war.  The book begins in the words of a woman speaks to her mother as she describes her relation to the Mani who serves in the Lebanon War of 1982, when forces sent to repel PLO forces who had congregated near the border in a threatening way, began a massive air-and-sea advance to Beirut. The excavation of the history of a nation-state whose 1948 declaration led to the joint attacks from the borders of neighboring Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon in 1948, uncovers and excavates layers of a stratigraphy of a collective relation to place by individual testimonies beyond the struggles for borders transmitted in maps. The testimonies Yehoshua uses are not Palestinian or including Jerusalem’s inhabitants, but map the persistent problems of insistently remapping Israel’s presence in the city and in its boundaries.  The result of the layered narrative aims to excavate a collective memory inherent in Jerusalem’s divided quarters, as if by analogy to Freud’s adoption of a the coexistence of multiple epochs of time in Rome provided a metaphor and powerful figure for individual memory, that speaks to the construction of the Separation Barrier.

The place of Jerusalem in collective memory of the Mani–and the trauma of the collective memory of Jerusalem’s occupation–becomes historically excavated from the time of the diaspora in Mr Mani, however, as if to offer a vantage point outside the received history of how Jerusalem has been remapped, and was remapped at individual historical moments as 1948, 1967, and 1980, less in terms of the narrative of the violence inflicted on Palestinians, to be sure, than as a problem of sustaining the transmitted remapping of a human relation to place.  If literary questioning of the abilities for this remapping seem at the heart of Mr Mani, posing the question if indeed a single figure committed themselves to repeatedly mipmapping the relation of his family to the city,–and the human difficulties or possibilities of sustaining and indeed even envisioning such a tortured relation to place.

Although the Israeli Defense Forces who advanced to the Western Wall with hopes to “unify” Jerusalem fifty years ago, when the control of East Jerusalem was ended with the expansion of municipal boundaries of the city.  Despite hopes for a peaceful unification of the long divided city, the expansion of the Israeli state to the holiest of Jewish places never fulfilled the image of a restoration of peace or end to the exile of a diaspora– as hoped by Israeli Defense Forces who advanced to its base in 1967.  In a territorial drive that increased the territory of Israel by a third, the expansion of newly annexed lands raised questions of the problem of mapping the idea of a Jewish nation onto fixed bounds, now embodied in the fraught construction of the Separation Barrier that ostensibly seeks defensively to monitor the entry and exit of Palestinians from the largest city in Israel, but reveals the depth conflict between mapping a Jewish city and a democratic one that demand excavation as much as the monuments of the city.

The recent expansion of settlements along the West Bank that the ‘unification’ of Jerusalem rampaged the city.  The wall made Jerusalem into the epicenter of an expansion of territorial expansion and the remapping of the state, even if it once had no clear part of the state.  Yet the presence of the Separation Boundary must not be accepted as the definitive remapping of the state and of the relation between the state and Palestinians that it asserts.  Expansion of settler communities on hilltop villages are is mapped below by the dark blue dots of settler communities–areas in light blue of settler-run municipalities and hilltop outposts, that have dramatically revised the boundaries where Israel administers law–and lighter tan areas where it administers security–that have so prominently made boundary crossing part of present-day Israeli life in ways that suggest a collective remapping of their occupation of the West Bank.


Economist: Boundaries and Jurisdiction of Israeli State after 1967 War/B’Tselsem

6.  Each chapter of Mr Mani focusses both on the repeated history, almost compulsive, of boundary-crossing, by which a transmitted notion of the Jewish nation was preserved in the territories of other states.  The translation of a people long crossing boundaries preceded the sovereign boundaries of their notional nation as a state, Yehoshua claims, as if to understand the difference of the recent assertion of new territorial bounds by the Israel.  The ambitious scope of the novel is nothing less than an attempt to excavate the transition of a notion of a Jewish nation to the mapping of a state in which the presence of Palestinian settlers or non-Jewish presence has remained problematic from the start, but begins from the creation of Jewish-majority regions of Israel by the bounding of its borderlines, and the excision of Palestinian populations for the legal and demographic consolidation of West Bank in which almost 400,000 Israelis now live, including East Jerusalem, through the collective problem of the remapping the Jewish people in a territorial boundaries as a sovereign state, assembling the historically fragmented sections of the ancient city in an image of  the lost integrity of the Jewish nation.

For Yehoshua imagines moments of this remapping as moments of re-enacting the longstanding almost obsessive compulsion to remap the Israeli nation as a state within the Mani family, and unveiling the dark origins of this remapping before the Israeli state and before Zionism, in the attempts to retell and remap the spiritual relation to the land, as if using individual testimony to suggest the possibilities of remapping as mismappings that stripped Palestinians of rights.  If the Separation Barrier is emblematic of the walls that increasingly divide human populations in the world, unpacking the received histories of the state’s relation to the city reminds one of the impossibility of preserving the integrity of Jerusalem within an Israeli state, if that state undermines the possibility of a democratic and inclusive map, rather than one mapping boundaries that create lower-class citizens.  The assembly of the fragmented pasts of Jerusalem are imagined to have had a very much longer prehistory in the Israeli historical novel, which while beginning from the present–or from the realization that the Jewish state is invading another country and bombarding the inhabitants of neighboring county, during the offensive advance into Lebanon in the devastating 1982 war.  Fragments of progressively temporally receding dialogues with Mani men across five books examine the drives of the Mani to define their selves against Jerusalem to different degrees, examining in microcosm a collective transmission of ideals of settlement that extend to the family’s first ties to eighteenth-century city; each stands as a fragmentary half of a dialogue, but in an almost explicitly cartographic symbolism, their totality across time helps to survey the relations that the male members of the Mani family have to the city of Jerusalem.

The story challenges us to remap the relation of the nation to its space, indeed, and the clear causality of finding new boundaries into which the Jewish nation might be claimed to live more safely, and finds it incumbent upon themselves to defend.  In order to underline the repeated and recursive return to boundaries and boundary making that defined the relation of Jews to the land of Israel, before the founding of the state, Yehoshua seeks to appreciate the difference in the new relation of the Jewish state to boundaries–a relation quite distance from the relation to boundaries of the Jewish nation.  For Yehoshua offers partial perspectives on the intensity of their ties to Jerusalem and the ongoing difficulties of defining a relation to the inhabitants of the sacred city from a family that has long lived in the diaspora, intent to identify itself with the city’s mythic past, less in terms of annexation than the constant rewriting of their relation to the map.

By recasting settlements as neighborhoods, appropriating land within East Jerusalem and beyond as “state lands,” and expanding jurisdictional lines as annexed to the municipal entity, the cartographic erasure of occupants of regions formerly inhabited, but which have lost all signs of previous inhabitation in the spread of over the settlements dispersed beyond Jerusalem on the West Bank, and policed by soldiers protecting settlers who have moved there, by prioritizing the rights of Jewish settlement, is excavated beneath the metropole within what seems a pained relation to the restoration of Jewish presence in a region that the boundary wall circumscribes.

Jerusalem bselem.pgn
Annexed lands

B’tselem (2002)

Tensions between the Jewish nation and the state that acts as aggressively to guard borders as any nation arose in 1982–when Yehoshua’s novel was written and begins, when the mission of defending northern boundaries led to the aggressive occupation of Lebanon, conspicuously redefining Israeli forces to the land as occupying powers.  The claims for such borders are effectively excavated in the city of Jerusalem across the five sections of an imagined genealogy uncover a complexly fraught relation of the family to the settlement of a space long inhabited by others, and the conceit of the demand to remap their own habitation of Jerusalem’s space stands figurally as a topos and exemplary case for the fraught difficulties of defining an individual relation to the land, as if to provide in microcosm the psychic understory and foundations for the repeatedly shifting boundaries of Jewish settlement that, not only since 1967, but long before, were imposed upon inhabitants of the land.

This is a story not only of maps, but of the fraught personal problems that lie beneath the torturous mapping of a “unified” sovereign space as if it was based on precedents or natural rights.  The tortured red line of the Separation Barrier that snakes past the earlier frontier of 1967 and seems planned to include more recent hilltop settlements offers a boundary that defines as permanent the place of new incursions into Palestinian lands, increasingly difficult to accept as having any legal precedent.  By examining the testimony about different periods of mapping and remapping these boundaries, Yehoshua’s novel serves to destabilize their unavoidable nature, and to open new spaces for narrating their creation.

1967 borders.png


West J.png
Annexed lands


The desperate sense of exclusion in the contemporary AP photograph is itself an odd artifact of a nation that long mapped the land of Israel from the pain perspective of exile:  for the attempt to The sense of Palestinian exile was captured in the iconic photograph captured the blurred face of a Palestinian, as if rendered out of focus as if by the sheer concrete of the boundary and white houses of Jerusalem, the city from which he seems psychologically and physically remote.  In ways that raise questions of how to map the relation of the historical homeland of the city to its inhabitants, the hilltop man seems excised from the city; the focus on the sheer concrete wall seems to blur his relation to place, now circumscribed by a wall, denoted in red below and punctuated with checkpoints, remaps one’s sense of a once-continuous place.

Btselem/Separation Barrier

7.  The haunted nature of that inhabitation exists jointly in a historical record and in a difficult to map deeply psychological relation to place and a symbolic–as well as an objective or actual–space.  Tropes of redemption and return were the central motifs of metaphorically mapping the Jewish nation in the past, and the territorial claims of Israel in Jerusalem are particularly difficult to disentangle from this eschatological geography of  the Jewish people.  Yet telling a story about the difficulties of settlement–and the pain of settling Jerusalem–is a narrative that has been too often masked or repressed, and the retelling of  the experience of such settlement is peeled away in the post-modern pentateuch of five different discussions with the male members of a fictional old Jerusalem family assembles a fragmentary narrative of expiation to a relation to space.

The fragmented stories of the Mani family assemble ties to place by moving  backwards to a state of exile or diaspora across five historical periods, excavating an arc of Palestine’s almost compulsive settlement in order to assemble the mysterious psychology of Mani men and their tortured narratives about their relation to place, often encountered as if in different neighborhoods or zones of the historical city, that suggests psychological paradoxes of the depth of attachment to a city already inhabited by others.  The historical arc cannot be reduced to a snapshot, as it unpacks a web of claims to boundaries and their crossing and assertion across the city in five historical periods, extending back to the early nineteenth century, but it may recover a sense of original sin to the land whose depth may lie at the deepest base of the Separation Barrier that creates the most painful remapping of the city–and painful confining of its inhabitants–today.  The powerful narratives told in the diaspora of the Jewish nation cast the tragedy of exile of a nation–galut–as preparing for the possibility of a future redemptive return remains difficult to square with the continued pain that is cost by the removal of Palestinian residents from land.

Mr Mani unpacks and rewrites what might be seen as a received narrative of triumphal return, to a problematic occupation never clearly mapped in relation to the area’s occupants.  In many ways, the Separation Barrier concretizes this pain, and is emblematic of the painful difficulty to create and defend the frontiers of Israel as a sovereign nation that the Israeli army who police this frontier–known as the Israeli Defense Force, or IDF–daily provide for many of the city’s residents.  If the Separation Barrier  is the he problems of excavating the pain of this resettlement and defense of lands in which one has a necessarily pained relation, embodied in the creation of the sort of boundaries that the Jewish people long crossed, but which now divides the city from its western half along a quite tortured path.

Btselem/Separation Barrier

In ways, the definitive remapping of Israeli territory in the Separation Barrier is the culmination of a history of remapping long hostile homelands as the basis for a state, and may sadly reveal the contradictions of asserting statehood.  Coex’s color photograph invites us to imagine the perspective of a blurred and unnamed Palestinian posed on a hilltop just bond the Separation Barrier that Israel has built in order  separate the nation from the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and from Israel.  His despair at physical exclusion from Jerusalem seems staged in order to emphasize exclusion:  the impression of exclusion inverts the topos of exile that was long cultivated in the diaspora, an image of exile cultivated by the Jewish people from the time of Jews’ 1492 expulsion from Spain, in a narrative long predating Israel, and nourished in Salonika, Lublin, and Catalonia.  But the galuth is deeply interior, a state of mind of exile defined by a remove more than empirically mapped, the photograph evokes the exile of the Palestinian from his homeland.  It documents the rooted nature of an existential condition in place, transmitted over time with spiritual dimensions, in mapping the attempts to manage the intense subjective pain of exile more than measure an actual distance from a lost land.

8.  In contrast to the image of protracted suffering that the photograph evokes and seems to condense, insight comes through the expansive if imagined historical reconstruction of an Jerusalem family, told in chronological reverse as if to excavate the tortured ties of the Sephardic Mani family that were encountered across five generations from when they first came to Jerusalem, in Mr Maniwhose disjointed narrative maps an interior torture of its own of the pain of not only exile but return.  The pain is perhaps most compelling in contrast to the renewal of a Palestinian exile–not only against the 1948 trauma of the geographical displacement,  or Nakbah–النكبة–but present in the earliest settlement of Palestine and individual pain that seems the remainder establishing Israel’s frontiers as if in recognition of a guilt of the claims to the land.  Yehoshua delineates the scale of this mental pain through one-sided conversations with or about the actions of these resolute Mani men in their crossing of boundaries, to map the compulsive drive to define the borders of the Jewish nation as a state echoed in the contradictions of the Separation Barrier  today as a new stage and emblem of the historical occupation of the region.

In the five testimonies that the reader discovers and indeed assembles from earlier generations to piece a story together of the men that came to inhabit Jerusalem–and who seem to have naturalized their relation to place in ways that have remapped the city’s region–Mr Mani exposes the pain of galuth as coexisting with the earliest stages of the settlement of the Holy Land, far more strongly than the possibilities of redemption that were transmitted from the diaspora to the first Zionist congresses.  For from the earliest settlers of this Holy Land, the tenacity of the tie to a region or place, without acknowledging its inhabitants, created a deep unease, of deplacing and removing its residents, as much as inflicting despair.  The formal similarity to the image of the interiority that is evokec by pensive figure Rodin’s Thinker seems to be unavoidably recalled in each section of the book, as well as the the photograph of the man squatting across from the Separation Barrier. But rather than evoke timeless remove in a manner abstracted from place, the unnamed man perched before the international city of Jerusalem seems defined by his despair in relation to the city, now hidden behind sheer concrete walls by the Israeli state, as he contemplates his remove from his rocky perch and the exile that it captures.


Thomas Coex/New York Times

Lawrence Wechsler cogently observes in Convergences, western paintings provide templates, models, and symbolic forms to confront and shape dynamic settings of many photographs, and Thomas Coex captured an image of a contemplative Palestinian that echoes the classic image of Rodin’s Thinker, and invites us to enter into the thoughts of exclusion from Jerusalem that the boundary wall creates, drawing on the image of contemplation to describe the frustration of processing the individual relation to space after the Separation Boundary–and indeed the rigid boundaries that the boundary creates for Palestinian residents whose presence it ignores.  How to define or map the remove of the Jewish people from this place, and the compulsion to return, or the perspective of those excluded by the Separation Barrier and Nakba?  The gesture of the seated Palestinian coincidentally echoes the European statuary of Auguste Rodin, and The Thinker, in ways that  intensifies his apparent consideration of the problematic place of the wall as an unilateral assertion and act of nation-building.

The perhaps accidental echo of interiority suggests a situated nature of the universal image of thought and interiority Rodin’s monumental statue conjured, gives an oddly site-specific quality to an image that was in fact widely serially reproduced after its exhibition in the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, cast and recast as an icon of intellectual reflection removed from cultural context, from Paris, to Louisville KY, San Francisco, Palo Alto, New York, Munich, and Tokyo, as an icon of the figure of intellectual interior reflection of striking mobility.   The statue’s ever-present nature and the cross-cultural popularity it gained as an icon among Westernized bourgeoisie of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries made it almost an icon of ubiquity and placelessness that give new poignancy to the specific nature of the Palestinian’s contemplation of the exile created by the Separation Barrier.


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

The Thinker idealized a masculinized vision of Western thought, in multiple bronze casts from 1904 to 1985, as if it was among the most mobile signifier of cultural value of intellectual transcendence, if not a celebration of the universality of human reflection, showing a physical wrestling with intellectual thought, and celebrating a triumph of thought, whereas the immobility of the man watching the Separation Barrier seems almost vanquished by it:  the image, originally of Dante for Rodin’s monumental Gates of Hell, has become a symbol of the triumph of intellectual reflection over place–and a telling point of reference for the photograph of a Palestinian whose relation to place was tried to be forcibly changed by the Separation Boundary.


The assertion has long plagued the foundation of the Israelis state, creating similarly haunting dilemma.  The anonymous Palestinian perched no the generic hillside contemplates the obstuction  of the Separation Barrier as an obstruction is site specific, and a scar, carved into the in deeply fraught site-specific dispute of territoriality and tradition.  Besides, galuth cannot be contemplated in the abstract:  it is experienced, and exists for the interior, and despite its spatially determined nature of the “exile of the nation from its natural place,” cannot be mapped.  The problem that the Separation Barrier and Mr. Mani both raise is how the process of return can possibly be ethically or consensually mapped in the Middle East.

Mideast Israel Palestinians

As if rehearsing the narrative of the exist from Galuth of the Jewish people, the sheer concrete of the Separation Boundary creates an exile for the Palestinian.  Of course, the irony of such contemplation of exile for the man perched on the hill is apparent.  For he contemplates the the city from which the settlements are cut off.  As he looks wistfully at the wall of sheer concrete that bisects Jerusalem’s West Bank, from atop his hilltop perch, he faces exile from a homeland as if to question the possibility of return.

It is impossible to gain access to what goes through his head, but the photograph seems to condense a complex reaction to the remapping of Jerusalem.  But the Separation Barrier could only be regarded with some resignation, and anger.  Rewriting the border by means of an eight-feet tall sheer unscalable concrete wall is only the most recent sovereign defense of Israel as a state and territory building boundaries able to defend Jewish claims to settlement beyond earlier national bounds, implicitly, perhaps, undergirded as affirming possession of lands long prepared to be inhabited and inhabit as a restoration of a “natural” place, despite the demographic entanglement of its actual inhabitants.  Indeed, the redefinition of psychological attachment to place that the Barrier seeks to create rungs against the complex demography Jerusalem long enjoyed.


Although the Separation Boundary, the most massive infrastructure project ever attempted in Israel, suggests a desperation of affirming the territorial bounds of the Jewish people and Israeli state, he compulsion to map the settlement of Israel as a nation is traced in a collective biography that Yehoshua, starting from the bloody defense of northern boundary during the 1980 Lebanon war.  If archeology is long associated with the Holy City of Jerusalem, the excavation of this compulsion offers maps the trauma of constantly crossing in hopes to begin the Jewish settlement of Jerusalem.  In a reflection on Zionism and kabbala in 1937, the German Jew Yitzhak Baer argued in 1937 in the novel Galuth that the experience of exile is not eternal and cannot be expected to last forever, and the Jews manifest an identity “even higher” than all nations, arguing “God gave to every nation its place, and to the Jews he gave Palestine” in ways that met a new audience in 1939 in Germany.  When he affirmed that if the destiny of galuth would endure, “by natural law, Galuth cannot last forever;” he promised the “negation of exile” must occur.

Claims for the necessity of the negation of exile have mutated to claims for 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.  This image of individual reflection and indeed interiority was perhaps accidentally captured as a response to the  Separation Barrier dividing the contested city of Jerusalem, once defined, in the  1947 war of the founding of the Israeli state, as a “corpus separatum,” outside of any state and under international supervision because of its multi-ethnic composition and recognizable symbolic meaning.


9.  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 the boundary creates a map that articulates his own relation to place, and to try to process the insistence on map-drawing that the Separation Barrier expressed.  The sense that the period of exile–or diaspora–of Mediterranean Jews is however renarrativized in particularly effective and reflexive ways in Mr. Mani, written by a member of an old Jerusalem Jewish family who sought to track the migrations of a fictitious Sephardic family across territorial boundaries, to ask if the sort of equation that Baer made in his rumination on exile–a slim book that acquired highly symbolically if not polemic value when this genealogy of Jewish extra-rational genius appeared in English in 1947 and in Hebrew in later years, the generations preserving a vision of national identity in Baer’s work are gently suggested in the narrative of Yehoshua’s own reverse chronology to have made a deeply incorrect linguistic confusion or slippage in their sense of themselves as a nation during the French Revolution, and Yehoshua imagines his own ability to uncover episodes of that confusion of mapping Jerusalem as the seat of a nation.


For the echoes of historical exile for the jews are reimagined in the narratives of the Mani–or the partial testimonies of Mani men who are engaged directly or indirectly by individual witnesses, to invite us to map their place in history outside of a clear narrative of predestination, and to suggest the contingency of their interpretations of their relations to place.

Yehoshua’s work is centered around Jerusalem–city of his birth, and of which his father was closely involved in preserving and transmitting, in ways that made him a local historian against he marshaled imagined evidence.


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 face of the Palestinian is blurred in Thomas Coex’s photograph, 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.  While 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.

10.  The photograph may be an unintended testimonial to 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 homelands, and claims that not only regulates entry to Jerusalem but restricts access to their former lands, but remove more fertile agricultural lands 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.


Thomas Coex/Getty Images

One might continue, in a somewhat indulgent manner, to consider the striking iconography of this pose.   Rodin’s Thinker was taken as a transcendence of site; in contrast, 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 reflects on the deep resonance of the 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 fraught 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.

As a reflection on a map, and a lost sense of territory, one might consider a precedent before Rodin:  although the figure of the Thinker provided a tops for wrestling with the scope of loss over time, Thomas Crawford’s slightly earlier 1875 monumental Dying Chief Contemplating the Course of Western Civilization, visited a similar theme, modeled after classical statuary much as Rodin, but which addressed the ineluctable course of history which seems particularly relevant to the deep history of the Separation Boundary.  For if the Separation Boundary seems the final conclusion to a contestation of territory since the time of the very establishment of Israel as a state, just after Baer’s book was translated, the pathos of the figure recalls Crawford’s neoclassical idealization of an Indian, designed to decorate the United States Senate, 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.  Indeed this image–from a building of state–is an interesting point of comparison to the questions of statehood and nationality that the Separation Boundary raises, even if Coex’s subject might not have intended to convey.


New York Historical Society

As if reckoning with his own supersession by the course of empire, leaving on the ground his own noble garb and weaponry, as the Dying Gaul who contemplates Roman strength with a melancholy that illustrates his humanity, the figure of the Palestinian in exile seems to regard backwards the loss of territory, as if blown forward by winds viewing the present crashing at his feet.

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, ambitiously narrating a revised historical relation of the Jewish people to national 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.

11.  Before the increasing intractability of spatial imaginaries and geopolitics on the ground, 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.

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.

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.png


–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.

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 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 were earlier excavated in the panoramas Auguste Salzmann photographed to great acclaim that document Jerusalem’s ancient buildings, praised in the Annales Archéologiques for instilling a spiritual relationship with the sacred city through a modern technology.  The photographs displayed in sacred sites as churches and seminaries from 1854 suggest the strong interior value of the photographic panoramas as of “living Jerusalem” though they focus on ruins, rather than human activity, asking viewers to animate placed by images which “there is no description that inspires thoughts more numerous or more profound,” as the hilltop view of the Old City from East Jerusalem.


Salzmann, Panorama of Jerusalem from the East, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The injunction to excavate the layers of Jerusalem in Salzman’s photographs as a site of living history reflects Yehoshua’s own deeply personal and intensely psychological relation to place.  That relation is remapped among the stories he tells about men in a family of diaspora Jews who arrived in the city in the late eighteenth century.  Their stories 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.

12.  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.

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 that was uniform in its composition.  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 Coex/AFP/Getty Images

The deeply modern problem of mapping Jerusalem that Yehoshua confronts in the book returns to the fraught question of mapping a spatial imaginary onto the actual inhabitants of that space to resolve the authority of their own mental maps of place–a theme of Yehoshua’s novel that recurs in the fragments of testimony we have from each of the interlocutors of Mani men who reveal their particularly pained relation of asserting the national identity of the Jewish nation on an actual map. The anonymous hilltop observer analogously stands in an almost existential relation to the city’s current division.  

The Palestinian man seems to look out on a map. 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.png

Daniel 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, 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–as if an imagined surrogate of his own–allows him to trace to the effects of migration in reverse, as a motion not of exile but of settlement of the ancient city.

By moving 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, and to excavate the mapping of Jerusalem’s past as if to provide a new transcendent image of the conflicts of its settlement.  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 as if to force them to accommodate a spatial imaginary of the Jewish state.


Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images


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

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.

13.  In helping us to see to open the psychological relations or spatial imaginary inscribed into and onto the city of Jerusalem in 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.

For 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 seized 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.

Sohei 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 walls that erase the meaningful repository of meaning–and indeed long centering function–of Jerusalem as a holy place.


Filed under A. B. Yehoshua, boundary walls, Israel, Jerusalem, national maps

4 responses to “Hostile Homelands: A. B. Yehoshua Excavates Jerusalem’s Boundary Lines

  1. Fred Skolnik

    Dear Blogger

    I would very much like to use the Lebanon War map above (with the northbound arrows) in a novel I’m writing. Could you possibly tell who holds the copyright so that I can obtain permission.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.