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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.

Coex https:::framasphere.org:tags:employee

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:

Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA

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. It 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.  

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 Manichean 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.

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.

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–

Jerusalem:Epicenter

–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.

jerusalem-demographic-map2

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
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Filed under boundary walls, collective memory, Israel, Jerusalem, Jewish diaspora

Sacred Toponymy Matters: the Territory in the Map

In very few cases are the associations of place-names so powerfully resonant as in those that derive from a biblical frame of reference:  they speak across time, in a powerfully incantatory way, unveiling a sense of space in maps, and claims to that spatial jurisdiction.  Palestinians ruefully note that Jews–or Israelis—live in ruins, the myth of their past inhabitation inhabits the present through place-names on a map, and on a scribal map, as it were, that underlies the most sophisticated GPS claims to boundaries: if geopolitical boundaries are determined by hexadecimal coordinates of GPS in current treaties, textbook maps in the Israeli courses of Civics frame the territories won in the 1967 Six-Day War as a historical geography of liberation of lands in the West Bank that fulfill “a return to Judea and Samaria, areas where our patriarchs and matriarchs lived” and “where the Kingdom of David and Solomon was established.” The regions are identified as physical loci of collective memory, and indeed invested with elevated status as places to almost sublime transcendence of contemporary politics as constituting “the heart of the Jewish people,” more than contested lands. Such textbooks that instruct readers that “already in the Bible period, Jews lived in this area, and the Bible . . . this is where the patriarchs and matriarchs were buried,” evoking the lands and boundaries Jews gained as a people set forth in the Book of Numbers not as modern, but confirmation of expansion of the nation’s borders concluding a sacred narrative of the establishment of Biblical era, rather even if it is inhabited by Palestinians.

Such maps fulfill especially pernicious ends in failing to orient Israeli students to the world in which they live. One can find “Judea” and “Samaria” in books of Genesis and Joshua point to the Jewish presence in the region–although I first heard them referred to as places in the current world was when I moved into a condominium in Los Angeles’ Fairfax district, and was told by my neighbor Clara Markowicz that her husband was born in Judea, coming home with cans of goods she requested as I heard, in the stairway, of a region I had to ask as Israeli friend to clarify after I had brought her several bags of groceries in a gesture of neighborliness. The region had a concreteness in her mind as a birthplace, of almost mythic stature; the foundation of settlements that were often military outposts that became residential rapidly expanded as they were established after a pioneering rabbi founded a local yeshiva that seeded the settlement in the collective imaginary on a scriptural foundation that would later gain sovereign status within the rapidly changing arial map of “Israel” as a nation.

Local toponymy is rarely so transparently or so powerfully painted on a cartographical canvas to evoke of narratives of collective memory as in maps of the Holy Land, designed to orient readers to a sacred space, as much as within a territory–and to confirm the elision between past and present by the magical condensation of space that cartographic conventions allow. Although many of the best-known maps of the regions are reconstructions, the location of holy sites as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, Caeserea or Mt. Sinai create points of entrance, more powerfully than siting points, for plotting multiple master-narratives across a historical gulf and spanning different epochs; the map is alternately the container and the field, the historical synthesis, but also the screen: Israeli annexation of 40% of the West Bank anticipates how a Trump plan would “turn temporary occupation into permanent occupation” over the land God told Moses would “fall to [the people of Israel] for an inheritance . . . in its full extent” in Numbers 34:2-3, as bounded by the “edge of the Salt Sea on the East.”  

The “conceptual map” for “Peace to Prosperity” a vision that Trump issued is proclaimed the “ultimate deal” ensuring sovereign unity of Israel, but proposed a very, very old idea of sovereign boundary lines. It was perhaps encouraged by his own love of borders, the plan pacified evangelical Christians who arrived to be volunteers in settlements and envisioned these new boundaries. Numbers 34:1-10 idealize the very boundaries of Canaan the Lord descibed “as an inheritance” extending to the Dead Sea –“up to the Salt Sea on the East“–as Israel’s territory only expanded to its full extent to the north in the time of King David, rabbis realized Pro-Israel evangelicals, skilled in the territorial visualization and eschatology, deferred questions of residents, wondering at living beside folk not sharing faith and lifestyle in the Holy Land–as strategic allies over the long term. If President Trump would be able to mimic the God-granted boundaries in his “vision” of the State of Israel that annexes land far beyond the current security barrier, and demilitarizes the West Bank by annexing some 40% outright, the sovereign expansion to include all settlements whose legality in international law has been intensely debated for over fifty years, but often reassessed “in light of new realities on the ground.”

The redrawing of the settlements on occupied land would be included in the “greater map” of Israel proposed, which demands interpretation against the deeper symbolic map sketched in Biblical pronouncements, rather than being defined by the new authority of GPS coordinates in international law:

Vision for Peace: Conceptual Map, January 28 2020

The power of such potent toponymy mark place by offering access to a sacred space, in ways that illustrate the dual deictic functions all maps have of showing or making present and of conjuring narratives.  So evocative is the verbal map of the region in scriptures that the map they help to weave and any later maps that respond to this image create a place where time collapses–where the present is poised to dissolve into the past. Current plan s for Israeli annexation of the West Bank in July 2020, given the green light by the Trump administration and the dauphin Jared Kushner, absorbing areas control by the Palestinian Authority and annexing areas all the way to the River Jordan, absorb regions now militarily ruled by Israel with a semblance or presence of local autonomy–“belligerent occupation” denotes more of a stalemate than peaceful accord–uniting areas populated by Israeli settlers into a single territorial unity and sovereign identity.

In one sense, the new announcement of annexation was a map of annexation issued by the Israeli government. But if the Netanyahu government announced it, the winking go-ahead was already announced in the “conceptual map” unveiled in Washington, D.C. by Trump January 28, 2020, by a U.S. President still in denial about reports he had received about the threat of a global pandemic emerging at brisk rates in China, already detected by the week previous by public health agencies in the United States, related to travel from China.

Can the characterization of this geopolitical map of expanded boundaries as a “vision” conceal the pandering to evangelical audiences of promoting a newly expanded Israeli territory? The deception of the map as a “vision of peace” echoed visionary maps of the Holy Land, long dear to evangelicals, as if to curry wishes of American Evangelical communities, and the hurried announcement seemed to solidify the map’s borders in the public imaginary, before the pandemic spread. The map that unifies the state of Israel with the Gaza Strip and West Bank, integrating the new infrastructure of an underground tunnel running between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, seemed to suggest ready access from Beersheba to the Dead Sea, without having to pass through checkpoints,–and incorporate what were long deemed illegal redouts of “Israeli enclave communities” to a united and harmonious geopolitical unit, relegating the entire idea of a divided Jerusalem to the remote past, beneath the feet of Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History, and enshrining a non-contiguous Palestine: the prominence of these “new towns” on the map, in exchange for a freeze in future settlements–reversing a longstanding American opposition to West Bank settlements by a single map of new toponyms in the Samarian mountains, as Har Barakha, consolidated from Palestinian villages.

Vision for Peace Conceptual Map (detail)

The powerful biblical narrative of inheritance is so imbricated with the political map, so self-consciously entangled are map and text, or sacred toponym and physical space. Perhaps only a map can create such an entangled union that is presented as objective, or trick the viewer to read entanglement as objectivity. If the Old Testament discussed military maps, administrative maps, and historical maps, these were written, instead of drawn.  Reading the Pentateuch or New Testament extends an invitation to organize an image of regional coherence absent in the Hebrew or Christian Bible, however, and in a society where maps were increasingly familiar medium of information, they offered a powerful poetic and increasingly a polemic means to create a palpable present for readers of scriptures even when they were–or perhaps especially because they were–both physically and geographically removed from the region and the very space that they described, but preserved in a different space of the book, and through it into the very different register of collective consciousness.

Maps drawn of Palestine and of biblical history combine the ostensive functions of displaying place (showing) with the connotative functions of map signs to make present a landscape that was perhaps never seen as such:  in so doing, they show readers where they might be, and offer a map that corresponds to their reading of sacred narrative, and indeed of giving enargaic power to that narrative in the present.  But they are most powerful examples of a form of “distanced reading,” around which one can weave multiple narratives about the territory, or narratives of pilgrimage and sacred visitation, without necessarily going there and visiting the very sites that the maps situate before the viewer.  For the particular power of maps of the Holy Land lies in how they offer the possibility for a reader to enter the narratives as much as they provide a description of space.  When the most familiar verbal map of Canaan–“from Dan to Ber-sheba” (2 Sam. 24:2)–created a very loosely defined region, it allowed viewers to enter the specific sites it described.  Drawn maps served to frame the pilgrimage across and intellectual inhabitation of a region and emplot specific events for viewers who become, even when physically removed from the region, vicarious witnesses to an always-present Holy Land.

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Filed under biblical maps, historical maps, Holy Land, Israel, sacred territory