Cities; Urbanism; Architecture; Art
“…Cities do not politically or geographically, begin or end at municipal borders. Tel Aviv is both a “municipal city” of four hundred thousand and a national metropolis of three million people. This is a fractured and atomised landscape that encompasses the tolerance and prejudice, vulnerability and fragility – seen and unseen – of urban life. It is an infrastructure of physical and social architecture that exists in seamless visible and invisible boundaries..”
The Seamless Neighbourhoood – Redrawing the City of Israel will be published in 2016
The following article is an extract from The Seamless Neighbourhoood
The Israeli (Jewish) Dead Sea Drive
The drive to the Dead Sea along Route 1 east of Jerusalem operates in a kind of third dimension of occupying space. This is day trip geography familiar to Tel Avians most of whom are likely to have taken this journey by car many times.
This is a quintessential desert drive, a desert drive into open and empty spaces, of endless space, a kind of frontier geography evocative of American popular culture and the iconography of the US desert landscapes. This is more imaginary Arizona and “Easy Rider” than Occupied Palestinian West Bank.
Ten Kilometres east of Jerusalem, beyond the vast suburban hilltop settlement of Ma’ale Adumin begins the slow curving descent into open desert landscape. Thus begins a journey that can be characterised as a form of leisurely drive-thru occupation.
The recuperative pleasure of the Dead Sea leisure ahead is reinforced with playful informative fun tourism signage. The side of the roadway is dotted every few kilometres with reminders of the quick descent below sea level. The beautiful little blue mosaic tiles affixed to rocky outcrops appear with increasingly regularity. “250 Metres below Sea Level”, “350 Metres below Sea Level”, “450 Metres below Sea Level”. The few Bedouin encampments that dot the landscape add a nomadic pastoral almost biblical backdrop of animal husbandry, a few goats an odd camel.
Beyond the Lido Junction where Route 1 intersects Route 90 the remaining 50km southwards settles into a kind of relaxed care free occupation drive. This is a 50 km drive of empty geography, free of obvious or discernible interfering political reference.
There are no Palestinians, at least no visible Palestinian towns, no minarets popping up over distance hills. Even the Bedouin have vanished. This is unlike no other drive across the West Bank. Unlike Route 5 to Ariel, there is no barbed wire rolling along the side of the motorway. There is in fact no motorway as such. The two lane highway gently winds and bends hugging the hilly terrain. This is a rugged natural desert mountain landscape.
The open desert road is imbued with a sense of freedom. Free of obligation, free of association, detached. The road and drive ahead is slowly purged of any awkward if fleeting memories or associations of a Jerusalem left behind, a Jerusalem of walls and barriers, conflict and segregation.
It’s as if having passed through the real and metaphorical “pinch point” of Jerusalem, whether having driven around or through the city, over or under the maze of flyovers, past the visible walls and barriers you have somehow escaped the oppressiveness of Israeli political geography.
Perhaps it is the medicinal intentions or aspirations of the curative Dead Sea experience ahead. The anticipation of cleansing, bathing, purifying that dissolves or absolves the political context. This is after all a life affirming, skin nourishing, chemical dissolving pleasure trip.
The irony of course is that having escaped the overtly visible political landscape of segregation in the rear view mirror, it is only East Jerusalem that one enters into the expanse of Occupied Territory. The Dead Sea Drive East of Jerusalem is after all also a drive through Israeli Occupied Palestinian West Bank.
The illusion of “anywhere-ness” is served by a subtle but complex sense of both absence and presence.
The absence of a visible occupation whether it be Israeli Settlements or Palestinian towns accidentally but conveniently erases the underlying political landscape. This is a landscape of the great outdoors, a kind of desert day-trip geography.
The presence of ‘the familiar’, the comfort of ‘the known’ exerts just a powerful subliminal sense on striping this landscape of The Occupation. This is a desert drive inside occupied territory but also an everyday holiday drive that is ordinary.
This comfort of the familiar in a desert landscape is found in simple everyday objects in the landscape. It is the presence of the isolated but commonplace design of the Israeli bus stop shelter. It is ordinary and routine road signage in Hebrew. Road signage guides and channels us, gives the necessary occasional security. Road signs are literally directional, providing a recognisable and functional support.
The banality of the convenience of the roadside cafe or the road side service station is equally important. Nothing could be more ordinary, reassuring then stopping for ice cream or coffee at the “Lido Junction”. The petrol station, shop and cafe located at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 90 plays a critical if somewhat unasked for, normalizing role in anchoring the ordinariness of the Dead Sea Drive.
This is last petrol garage before the 50km drive south along shores of the Dead Sea. Stopping at the “Lido junction” is almost ritualistic. It is synonymous with refreshments, last chance for a restroom pit-stop or stocking up on snacks for the road ahead.
This is a safe place, a normal space, not unlike any other big roadside cafe-petrol station in Israel. And therein lays its peculiarity and odd familiarity. The Lido shop and garage is of course not actually in Israel. This is the Occupied West Bank. There are in fact few, if any other unsecured “open”, petrol stations or roads side cafes of this scale located 30km inside the Green Line, that feel so utterly devoid and detached of the reality of its location.
“The Israeli (Jewish) Dead Sea Drive” is as much an extension of the Tel Aviv experience, or the Tel Avivian mind, as it is a physical incursion into the West Bank, perhaps more so.
This is day trip geography, day trip occupation. The Dead Sea Drive is temporary, ones presence in the West Bank is almost fleeting, a few hours, a couple of days, perhaps just a few times over a number of years.
Yet it’s the very ease of the ordinariness of taking the Dead Sea Drive that gives it a peculiar sense of detachment. For many day-tripping Tel Avians, this isn’t political, it isn’t an exercise in occupation, and perhaps many would think it perverse to even consider it so. A drive to the Dead Sea through an Occupied West Bank is not of course the equivalent to the conscious decision to choose to live in a Settlement; it is however part of an altogether more complex reality of the ordinariness of the seamless of the Israeli occupation.
It is this very ordinariness or seamlessness of the lived experience of the Israeli occupation that we would argue psychologically anaesthetises an Israeli (Jewish) understanding of the occupation itself.