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Space, power and illusion
on May 27, 2008
Weizman begins his introduction by telling the story of the founding of Migron, a Jewish settlement built on Palestinian land in the West Bank. Convincing the Israeli military to build a cellular antenna, settlers first hire a single 24-hour guard. The guard is followed by his family, followed by five more families, and "by mid-2006 it comprised around 60 trailers and containers housing more than 42 families: approximately 150 people perched on the hilltop around a cellular antenna" (p. 2).
But Weizman is not content to recite the facts of Israeli occupation. His analysis draws heavily on post-structuralist thinkers like Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari. Covering everything from Israeli architectural aesthetics, checkpoints and border terminals, to the Wall, Ariel Sharon's conception of depth security, Israeli urban warfare doctrine and targeted assassinations, he repeatedly penetrates the surface of his extensive empirical research, locating the social narratives which give birth to these phenomena.
He is primarily concerned with charting what he calls the "elastic geographies" of the occupied territories (p. 5), a continually modifying frontier in which architecture and space become both a form of power and a conceptual way of understanding the political issues at stake.
Some issues he tackles are well worn, but by combining his extensive fieldwork as a consultant for B'Tselem with a robust theoretical approach, he still brings interesting insight. In a series of chapters covering Israeli settlements, checkpoints and the construction of the wall, he exposes not just the extensive control of Palestinian society, but also the way in which Israel's sense of security has come to depend on a conception of the territories as a malleable and vulnerable space. The spread of these control mechanisms in Israeli society, he claims, constitutes a "cognitive and practical system that sees the physical separation of Jews and Arabs, and the total control of Palestinian movement, as an important component of Jewish collective security" (p. 155).
Some of the issues, however, are less well known, such as his analysis of Israeli archaeology, architecture and landscape. He shows how city planning and architectural policies have attempted to make Jerusalem "an exhibition-piece of living biblical archaeology" (p. 29), drawing on Palestinians as "fossilized forms of biblical authenticity" (p. 43) while simultaneously seeking to reduce their contemporary presence.
Weizman's strength is in the way he hits on two registers at once. His section on Jerusalem connects in a straightforward way with Israel's sustained attempts to minimize the Palestinian population in the city, and to visually and ideologically "unite" the Jewish suburbs with the historic city. But it also taps into the enduring manifestations of the contradiction between Zionism's secular modernism and its ancient biblical promise.
Above all, "Hollow Land" doesn't just explain Israel's spatial practices of occupation. It explores the way in which Israelis' and Palestinians' self-understandings are deeply embedded in these structures. This is Weizman's contribution. While some may feel his work is too abstract, this is where the "cycle" that so often takes the blame for this conflict is found. Weizman is painting a picture of how we have lost ourselves within the conflict, and what it might mean to find a way out.