Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Terra Incognita: From beauty to brutalism The rise and decline of architecture in Israel


Terra Incognita: From beauty to brutalism
12/21/2010 22:39

The rise and decline of architecture in Israel.

Conrad Schick arrived in Jaffa in 1846. Born in the village of Bitz in the old German kingdom of Wurttemberg, his sharp mind brought him to the attention of Christian Fredrich Spittler, a clergyman who had a plan to revive the Holy Land, to bring the gospel to the East, and he needed missionaries. So he settled on the Schick to create a German Protestant foothold under the auspices of St. Chrischona Pilgrims Mission.

It doesn’t seem it was ever Schick’s destiny to convert the East. However his arrival in Jerusalem was to revolutionize the city in another way, through his architectural creations. It is not clear what professional training Schick had in architecture, but he had a keen eye for detail. He taught himself locksmithing, mechanics and watchmaking, and became a qualified amateur archeologist, scholar on the Holy Land and model maker.

Initially he worked out of a bruderhaus, a fraternity, that he rented with other missionaries. Lonely and quiet he tinkered on his clocks while the other brothers worked at soap making and other crafts.

He apparently wrestled with fears that he was becoming too worldly. It seems the death of his patron, Spittler, in 1867 may have freed him from his obligations. Or perhaps his finances ran low. In that year he took on a commission to excavate an area around a tomb that was to become the famed Garden Tomb in east Jerusalem, which some Protestants believe to be the true holy sepulchre.

Schick planned several Jerusalem neighborhoods, among them Mea She’arim, which was constructed in 1874, and the Bukharan Quarter. He designed the Bukharan Quarter to look like a European neighborhood, with wider streets than was then common in Jerusalem. His plans for Mea She’arim called for open spaces and courtyards and the use of the most modern technologies, such as street lights. Not all of his ideas were incorporated, but he left an indelible mark on both neighborhoods.

SCHICK DESIGNED beautiful buildings as well. In 1882 he built a house for himself on Rehov Hanevi’im, an unforgettable gem, which he called Tabor House. He designed Jesushilfe in 1867, a leper hospital in Talbiyeh that was run by a German organization. In the same year he began supervision of the construction of Talitha Kumi, a Christian girl’s school that once stood next to Hamashbir on King George Avenue. The building was considered of such architectural value that when it had to be torn down to make way for modern works, its fa├žade was preserved.

His work on St. Paul’s Anglican Chapel on Rehov Hanevi’im is considered a gem of Victorian “gingerbread” style. He also designed part of the German Deaconess Hospital, which is now the eastern wing of Bikur Cholim. Schick dedicated his life to Jerusalem and died there in 1901.

His architectural gingerbread was followed by Antonio Barluzzi’s often neo-renaissance style pilgrimage churches. It seems that, like Schick’s overall influence in 19th century Jerusalem, no great Catholic building was built in the land of Israel without Barluzzi’s hands having been dipped into the mold. Born in 1884 in Rome, his life did not seem destined for architecture. He obtained a degree in engineering and spent time in the army overseeing archeological excavations. For a while he worked as a builder, rising to director of construction before enlisting once again during World War I. He became a chaplain and somehow got himself torpedoed off the coast of Gaza and ended up in Jerusalem in 1918.

For the next 42 years until his death, he designed and restored some 24 major churches and Christian institutions, from the Church of the Visitation in Ein Kerem to the Church of Beatitudes that overlooks the Sea of Galilee.

Later he wrote: “Whenever possible – as now – it is the duty of all Christians to save these relics and to give them the honor that is due. And in this I do not believe that too much can be done, since no materials or work could be precious enough to be worthy custodians of such holy treasures.”

IF SCHICK devoted his energies to designing original structures and neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and Barluzzi devoted his religious faith to the Church’s attempt to reclaim the holy sites, then Ram Karmi’s achievement has been to translate the socialist pragmatism of Zionist planners into reality. Karmi was born in Jerusalem in 1931, served in the army and studied at the Technion and in London. The son of an important architect, the discipline ran in his veins and it was his expertise.

Like Schick and Barluzzi, his hands reached wide and he grasped many of the great projects of his day, from playing a role in the design of the Knesset, to building that great beast known as the new Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv. He was the chief architect of the Construction and Housing Ministry until 1979, built the Supreme Court and has been hired to restore the famed Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv.

In contrast to Barluzzi’s neo-renaissance style that sprang directly from his faith and Schick’s tinkering, Karmi has been devoted to the Brutalist style. There is nothing more brutal than to behold a Karmi building. Endless reams of concrete flow across the landscape coming together in imposing fortress like structures. The Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, one of the most horrid large buildings in the world, is a monument to the fact that the person who designed it probably never envisioned using it himself.

And this is the tragedy of the country’s Brutalist architecture. It escaped the roots from whence it springs, the people, and devotes itself to the stringent socialist belief in the way people “should” live. This is the essence of the planned neighborhoods. Consider the difference between the buildings that Schick hoped to bequeath to his Jewish clients, the courtyards and open spaces, and the ugly decaying tenements the Brutalists have designed for millions of new immigrants. As Paul Barker and Philippa Louis argued in The Freedoms of Suburbia: “It is about the way people wish to live. Why should their wishes be trampled on, in the name of the plan?”

Zionism has put down roots in the Holy Land in the shadow of three great architects, one who loved Jerusalem, one who loved the Church in Rome and one who loved the concrete plan. We would do well to return to a Schick building and ponder what the next 100 years should bring us in terms of freedom, as best symbolized by what we build.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Terra Incognita 122

Terra Incognita: The Israeli archipelago
Published in the Jerusalem Post 12/14/2010 23:22

The Jewish state is a country of islands. Each community, each town, each village, each neighborhood is its own society.
Art project: Take one large sheet of white paper and write “Israel” at the top. Do not draw borders.

In the Palestinian territories and on the Golan, place dark green dots on the Palestinian villages and towns. Place orange dots for the Jewish villages and towns (settlements). For the four Druse villages of the Golan, place purple dots. For the village of Ghajer, the lone Alawite village, place a tan dot.

Inside the Green Line, place red dots for the 268 kibbutzim and dark blue dots for the 500 moshavim.

For all the Muslim Arab villages, place a green dot. For the two Circassian villages, place dark brown dots. For the 17 Druse villages and towns, place light purple dots. For the Maronite village of Jish in the Galilee, place a light blue dot. For the Christian villages, most of which are shared with Druse or Muslims, but several of which are mostly Christian (Kafr Yasif, Eilabun and Mi’ilya), place yellow dots. For the 49 illegal Beduin villages of the Negev, place dark grey dots.

For the 30-40 development towns – home to Russians, Ethiopians and Mizrahi Jews – place grey dots.

For the haredi towns, neighborhoods and villages, place black dots. For Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv, place large empty circles (if you have done this project correctly, they should already have dots in several of them representing the Muslim, Christian and haredi communities).

The map you have drawn is a map of Israel. Of course there are no borders, there need not be. This is not the Israel you commonly think of, the wedge of land between the Jordan and the sea, with or without the Palestinian territories. This is the Israeli archipelago, and it represents much better the reality than the one found on any map. For Israel is more a country of islands, like those found in the Caribbean or the South Pacific. Each community, each town, each village, each neighborhood is its own island. Forget the myth that people “mix” at the university or in the army. For the most part, they do not.

THE REALITY of the Israeli archipelago confronts us on a daily basis. It is a cultural and socioeconomic reality and it transcends many factors in society. A recent article by Amos Harel described the country’s largest city as “the draft-dodging state of Tel Aviv [which]... resembles the haredi city of Bnei Brak in its percentage of draft dodgers.”

He points out that “most of the draft dodgers from Bnei Brak, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv studied at specific educational institutions – the former in a certain type of yeshiva, the latter in certain [secular] high schools.”

It turns out that Tel Aviv is ranked worse than the Beduin town of Rahat in draft statistics compiled by the army. The national religious sector accounts for a massively disproportionate number of officers and combat soldiers in the army. But alongside the disproportionate service is the disproportionate lack of service in the Arab, haredi and wealthy secular Jewish sectors.

Also, almost half of all Jewish women do not serve.

In the final analysis 52-55% of citizens do not do any sort of national service.

Statistics show such shocking dissimilarities among other places in society. Take the murder of women by their husbands and lovers; 18 were killed this year – seven Arabs, three Ethiopians and three Russians.

To put it simply, your chance of dying as a woman at the hands of your partner is not the same in Modi’in as in Lod and Ramle. And two communities don’t even share the same language for the murder of women – the Arab community, by and large, denies that honor killings even happen, while the Israeli Jewish community tends to excuse the killings as a cultural problem for the Arabs.

And suicides; who is killing themselves? Statistics show it is mostly people in towns with economically vulnerable and high immigrant populations. Of the 10 most common places for people to commit suicide, based on statistics from 1998-2004, we find Kiryat Yam, Kiryat Motzkin, Hadera, Kiryat Bialik, Bat Yam and Kiryat Gat. New immigrants from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia made up 32% of all suicides in 2004, which is out of all proportion to their numbers in the population. In contrast, few people in Nazareth or Bnei Brak are at risk of becoming a statistic.

So there are islands of death and wife killings in our society. But those are just a few of them.

THERE ARE islands in the media. The only place one will find people from the poorer or minority communities is on the reality shows (Big Brother, Master Chef, A Star Is Born, etc.); the rest of Israeli TV is dominated, culturally and physically, by a few elite communities.

There are islands of illegality, of squatters on state lands who do not pay taxes. Those are the 49 unrecognized/ illegal Beduin communities in the Negev, not to be confused with the seven legal ones the government built in the 1970s and 1980s. And the island of the foreign workers, stuck in South Tel Aviv, is helped by the islanders from North Tel Aviv who champion their rights.

There are islands of differing taxes for water. While the public was asked to pay extra for water in 2009 due to the shortage, the kibbutzim not only didn’t pay extra, but according to writer Nehemia Shtrasler they don’t even pay the same amount as everyone else for household consumption.

Consider the fracas over the Knesset bill that would allow communities to reject people based on internal criteria, or what is taking place in Safed or Jaffa between the local community and others who want to move there. “Racism! Racism!” we hear. But why is it not racism that 268 kibbutzim have been subjecting potential members to “selection criteria” for 62 years of the country’s existence? There is no greater pastime than pointing fingers at a group and demanding they live with the “other,” while your community fanatically keeps others out.

Israel is an archipelago, each community segregated from the others. Some rely on fences to keep the unwanted masses away, some live on state lands for free, and some are called “racist” in Karmiel or Safed for, oddly, asking that they be allowed to do what the others have done all along, and have an island to themselves. For better or worse, that’s the way it is; the least we can do is demand that those who want to break down the barriers between the islands first tear down the fences around their communities.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Terra Incognita 121 Why Eli Yishai Must Not Resign

Terra Incognita: Why Eli Yishai must not resign
Published in the Jerusalem Post 12/07/2010 23:51

His departure would add an injustice to the death and ruination the fire left behind. Leaving means walking out on responsibility, not owning up to it.

Last week, after being shocked by initial reports that 40 had perished in a fire on the Carmel, I was glued to the news and Internet trying to find out about the great natural catastrophe.

Always in the back of my mind was the worrying sense that it would not take long for the recriminations and complaints to start circulating.

Sadly the prediction came true. Yossi Sarid, a former education minister and Meretz MK, was the first to chime in. He must have begun writing his op-ed soon after learning of the fire, because it was ready by the early morning of December 3. He titled his rant “Israel devours its own people – this time with fire” and explained to readers that “you don’t have to be a genius to predict horrible disasters... Israel is a stupid, lawbreaking state.”

He appears to have been the first wellknown person to point fingers at Interior Minister Eli Yishai. “I also wrote about the minister in charge, the interior minister who is in no hurry when everything goes up in flames. He relies on God, whose salvation is instantaneous, like the blink of an eye. The minister is ready to set Jerusalem on fire at any moment as well.”

As if taking their cue, the blamers began the mantra: Eli Yishai must be the fall guy.

On December 6 Haaretz’s main editorial screamed: “In the wake of the Carmel fire, Eli Yishai must resign.” The grand poobahs intoned that “Yishai is responsible for the state’s fire-fighting forces, which were insufficiently prepared to contend with the massive blaze in the Carmel... Perhaps this is the way of a religious man, who prays with great intent and leaves the execution to a higher power.”

Noam Sheizaf, writing on 972mag.com declared “if Israel’s prime minister doesn’t show his racist and incompetent interior minister the way out immediately, he should face consequences, too.”

Inane comparisons came fast and furious.

Headlines blared that the fire was the “Yom Kippur War” of the fire services and “Netanyahu’s Katrina.”

Why is the initial reaction so unoriginal, so base, so ridiculous? Why are the comments so personal, castigating the interior minister and making fun of his belief in God? Had he been a secular Jew, or more improbably an Arab, what diatribes would have been cast on him? Yishai has defended himself. He and his friends have argued that the assault on him is a “lynching” due to people’s hatred of his political, ethnic and religious views.

Judging by the comments above, it is obvious that his religion has been a lightning rod for criticism.

MANY OTHERS have commented on Yishai’s past political behavior. A blogger at Tikkun Olam asked: “Do you think the corrupt Interior Minister Eli Yishai – someone far more concerned with deporting children of foreign workers from Israel than fighting fires – will resign?” Monday’s Knesset session, which should have been a solemn moment to reflect on the tragic loss of life, included calls for Yishai to go. Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz declared: “The interior minister should resign, because he has direct ministerial responsibility for the fire-fighting services.”

To their shame Shlomo Molla (Kadima) and Eitan Cabel (Labor) joined in. Using their logic, maybe it is Molla’s friends in Kadima who should resign, as they did little to improve the fire-fighting services when they were in charge.

But Yishai must not leave. His resignation would add an injustice to the death and ruination the fire left behind.

Leaving means walking out on responsibility, not owning up to it.

Resignation would send the message that the blamers, the whiners, the shrill voices are winning. All too often in recent Israeli history, they have been the winning voices. Those who cast the most aspersions, those who hate the most and scream the most are the ones who get the most attention. All too often in recent times “finding the culprit” has carried the day, rather than reasoned progress toward a better future. More often than not, the long knives have come out rather than the notebooks.

The only action of Yishai that is suspect is based on a Jerusalem Post report that shows he severed relations with a major pro-Israel Christian charity that wanted to donate more fire trucks (it had donated eight in 2009). But the accusations are confusing.

The organization wanted a photoop with the haredi politician, and for him to attend an event, “but they said no, and we dropped it.”

This doesn’t hold water; if the organization cared so deeply, it could have donated the trucks to the Fire and Rescue Service and, to be sure, its officers would have been happy to be in the photos.

Why did they need Yishai to be there; it was obvious it would run against his feelings toward a Christian Evangelical group.

When the Orthodox have accepted pro- Israel Christian donations, they have been ridiculed for it.

Did Yishai err here? It’s not clear.

Not one solid fact shows Yishai to have been negligent. During the previous decade, he was one of the voices in the Knesset calling for increased funding for fire-fighting services. Ze’ev Segal writes in Haaretz that “it is no surprise that documents have already been produced that show that the minister responsible for the Fire and Rescue Service, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, had in the past demanded an increase in the fire service budget.”

Yishai must not resign. The bullying rhetoric must not be rewarded. Instead, Yishai must go back to work and make good on his desire to see more funding go to the firefighting services.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Terra Incognita 120 The Iranian "octopus" and Wikileaks

Terra Incognita: WikiLeaks and the Iranian octopus
12/01/2010 05:52

The documents show that the Arab world understands the threat coming from the Islamic Republic better than the Americans do.

"[Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah always told us that the Arab regimes were collaborating, not only against their own people, but with others against the Arabs and now these WikiLeaks just prove how correct he always was.” That comes from an educated secular Muslim Palestinian woman, surely the kind of “base” that should be counted on to vote for Mahmoud Abbas. However the base is fickle and is captivated by the Iranian juggernaut.

The WikiLeaks documents have shown that not only are the Arab, and other Muslim governments, candid in their wish that Iran be crushed, they also have insights into how the Americans should fight terrorism.

LET’S BEGIN in Azerbaijan, a non- Arab state that borders Iran. There, President Ilham Aliyev said to the US on February 25 that “he supported economic isolation and believed it could be effective if enforced by a broad coalition.” Azerbaijan’s population is made up of Azeri Muslims, who are also a badly treated minority in Iran. Iran helped Christian Armenia against the Azeris in the wars of the 1990s.

The Saudis come out in WikiLeaks documents with a clear and strong voice in favor of attacking Iran. However they won’t send troops. One official in an April 2008 cable “recalled the king’s frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons program. ‘He told you to cut off the head of the snake’... Prince Muqrin echoed these views, emphasizing that some sanctions could be implemented without UN approval.”

The Gulf Arab states were particularly wary of Iran and encouraged the US to beat back the threat. According to a May 2005 cable, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi expressed interest in a harsh US response to Iran; “[he] agreed with [a] tough line with Teheran... A nuclear-armed Iran would destabilize the Gulf region and possibly allow terrorist access to WMD. [He] asked Lt.-Gen. Dunn whether it would be possible for anyone to ‘take out’ all locations of concern in Iran via air power.” In December 2009 he reiterated his concerns, noting that Iran believes itself to be a superpower and could not be dealt with like North Korea. Like other Arab leaders, he stressed that a deal with Iran would not transpire. The United Arab Emirates foreign minister noted in a February meeting that “the nuclear issue is only one aspect of the Iran problem, and that Iran’s regional meddling was a serious concern. He pledged the UAE’s backing as the US rallies support for new sanctions but questioned whether they would achieve the desired effect.”

Qatar’s prime minister noted in December 2009 that in regards to Iran, “they lie to us, and we lie to them.” Furthermore the Qatari leadership understood that military force would eventually result and didn’t seem to express any objections. In a November 2009 conversation with the American ambassador, the king of Bahrain expressed his support for the use of force against Iran. “King Hamad pointed to Iran as the source of much of the trouble in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He argued forcefully for taking action to terminate their nuclear program.”

Oman was on board as well.In an August 2007 meeting “Lieutenant- General Ali bin Majid al-Ma’amari, reviewed Oman’s view on Iran from a security perspective, highlighting Omani awareness of Iran’s deceptive tactics and expansionist ideological desires in the region.” Furthermore “Oman would not oppose imposition of further measures against Iran by the international bodies; however, Oman did not want to play an active role in advocating for such measures itself.” An April 2009 document reveals the degree to which the Jordanians understand the Iranian threat. This is interesting considering Jordan is neither a front line state nor does it have a consequential Shi’ite minority.

According to the American who met with Jordanian officials, “The metaphor most commonly deployed by Jordanian officials when discussing Iran is of an octopus whose tentacles reach out insidiously to manipulate, foment, and undermine the best laid plans of the West and regional moderates. Iran’s tentacles include its allies Qatar and Syria, Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, an Iraqi government sometimes seen as supplicant to Teheran, and Shi’ite communities throughout the region.”

The Jordanians “doubt” the US knows how to effectively deal with Iran. Furthermore “Upper House [of the Jordanian Parliament] President Zeid Rifai has predicted that dialogue with Iran will lead nowhere... military force becomes the only option: ‘Bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb. Sanctions, carrots, incentives won’t matter.’” WHAT THE leaked documents make clear is that the region fears Iran. Everyone wants it to be contained, sanctioned and probably attacked.

However they want Americans, Israelis or Europeans to do it for them. None of them discussed any activities of their own. None of them is shipping weapons to the Ahwazi Arabs in southern Iran or Azeris in the north. No one is arming the Baluchi or Kurdish separatists. They all fear Iranian intrigues in Iraq, yet none of them will counter them.

The most Yemen’s deputy prime minister would do is admit to lying to his own parliament while President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised “we’ll continue saying the bombs [directed at Yemeni terrorists by the US] are ours, not yours.” The Kuwaitis apparently encouraged the Americans to take the Guantanamo detainees and drop them into combat zones in Iraq to “get rid of them.” That would be better than having Kuwait take back the “rotten” people. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia suggested implanting the inmates with a chip and then releasing them. They could be tracked like horses or falcons. If they got out of line, a Predator drone could pay them a visit. These are inventive ideas (I’ve always felt the latter one would have been a good choice when Israel released the Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar in 2008) but they aren’t substantive.

There was a time when the Arabs did fight the Iranians, sort of. Al- Qaida members in Afghanistan, most of whom were Arab, hunted down Shi’ites and Iranian agents and murdered them in the 1990s. From 1980 to 1988 Iraqis died in droves to fight the Iranians. In that war, Saddam Hussein was bribed by Kuwait, the Gulf states and the Saudis to get his Iraqis to die to defend the other Arab states from Shi’ite fundamentalism. The Arab members of the Israelibacked South Lebanese Army fought Hizbullah for a decade.

Today’s Arab states are afraid even to tell their own base that Iran is a threat. Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt in Lebanon are begging Syria to save them from Hizbullah, even though it was Syria which probably arranged the murder their fathers. The WikiLeaks documents illustrate the complete breakdown and failure of the Arab leaders to realistically confront their problems, especially concerning Iran.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.