Monday, May 11, 2015

Israel as old-new invention: Highway 1 Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

Great piece by Morgan Meis excerpted and linked below.
His opening story reminded me of the abandoned military equipment my son and I played on/posed on in the Golan Heights; see video below  5:45ff



The Road to Jerusalem

Highway 1 is a normal highway, winding up the hills from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And it is anything but a normal highway.

By Morgan Meis Highway 1 is a normal highway, winding up the hills from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And it is anything but a normal highway.  BY 

The highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Highway 1, looks like any other highway in the world. This fact alone is disconcerting. The road to Jerusalem should be special. Somewhere deep down I suppose I wanted it to be a dirt road, a cobblestone road, anything but a normal highway. I even fantasized that the ascent from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would not happen by means of a road at all. It would just happen. In reality, it is a highway. A highway filled with too many cars and bastard truck drivers probing the limits of vehicular stability and good sense.
About two thirds of the way up to Jerusalem, however, an interesting and unusual sight does present itself. It is the sight of abandoned vehicles along the side of the road. They aren’t normal vehicles, passenger cars or trucks. The vehicles are painted in the telltale green that only gets slapped on things owned by the military. You don’t get much time to inspect these military vehicles as you drive by on the highway. It is hard to guess their purpose, though it looks like they’ve been there for a while, remnants from something that happened in the first
half of the 20th century.
My friend Ori, who was driving me from Ben-Gurion airport outside of Tel Aviv, explained that the vehicles were remnants of the military convoy that broke the Arab siege of Jerusalem during the War of Independence in 1948. The convoy was led by an American general, Mickey Marcus, Ori told me. “We call him the first Israeli general—aluf in Hebrew—since biblical days, since Joshua blowing his trumpet at the walls of Jericho.” The aluf, Ori said, was shot dead in the final days of the campaign. But the convoy made it through to Jerusalem.
For a week or so, while exploring Jerusalem old and new, the sight of those abandoned military vehicles along the road sat unbothered in the back of my brain. Then, I saw them again on a trip back down to Tel Aviv to visit friends. I began to understand what had nagged at me when I saw the vehicles the first time.
Half-destroyed military vehicles do not normally sit alongside a modern highway. These vehicles are monuments to the military struggles that attend the founding of the modern state of Israel. Such monuments might, in another country, come with an acknowledgment. No such luck in Israel. The armored troop carriers are presented without comment, without informational signs or explanation. The monuments are completely visible for everyone to see at the side of the road, and, at the same time, completely invisible, completely hidden in terms of symbolic value.
There is, I thought to myself, an unusual historical consciousness at work here. But I found myself lacking the proper set of keys, the proper codes to unlock the symbols, to understand how to read this ambivalent historical marker.
In Tel Aviv, I happened to be visiting my friend Roy Brand who, along with Ori Scialom and Keren Yeala-Golan, curated a project called The Urburb: Patterns of Contemporary LivingThe Urburb was exhibited at the Israeli Pavilion of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennial. When I saw The Urburb, it had been recreated at Artport, a gallery on Ben Tsvi Road in Tel Aviv.
In his essay “Machine Event” for the publication that accompanies The Urburbexhibit, Roy describes the project like this:
Our installation is simple and direct. Four printers, customized for the pavilion’s space, draw images on desert sand, and then erase them. Every few minutes a new image replaces the previous one. Together they tell the stories of one hundred years of modernist construction in Israel. From the Ottoman period through the British Mandate for Palestine, visitors enter the construction site that became modern Israel.
Watching the customized printers drawing their images in the sand has a mesmerizing effect. I felt like I could stand there for hours, just bearing witness as the machines scratched their images and then erased them, over and over again. As I watched this process, the seeds of understanding began slowly to germinate. I started to realize, I’m not in an ancient land at all. I’m in a place that is engaged in a vast experiment with the radically new.
Or, as Roy puts it, Israel is the place of the “old-new.”
Israel is an old-new invention, a modernist project grafted onto a historical landscape. The age-old myth of a biblical legacy joins the modern myth of New Towns magically sprouting from the sand. This combination suggests a divine, ex-nihilo rebirth. Modernist construction, evident everywhere around the globe, is wholly dominant in a country whose majority was built from 1914 to the present.
So, it is not crazy at all to think of Israel as a land of brand new highways and modernist construction project...continued

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