16 / 11 / 02 – 15 / 12 / 02
Exhibition / Films / Talks / Performance

"The Mountain: Principles of Building in Heights"
By Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman

from: A Civilian Occupation. The Politics of Israeli Architecture (July 2002)

see also:
"The Politics of Verticality": www.opendemocracy.net/debates...

"The Laboratory and the Dark Room" Rafi Segal (deutsche Kurzbeschreibung)

Shaked-Hinanit Settlement, Israel

The West Bank is distinct in its topographical extremities, ranging from between 400 meters under sea level, at the shores of the Dead Sea, to about 1,000 meters in the high summits of Judea and Samaria. The fact that the conflict is 'played out' in a mountainous region influenced the emergence of particular forms of engagements and relationships. Israeli state planning made strategic use of height. It adopted the mountainous landscape into an instrument of domination and – power by placing settlements on the hilltops and laying them out as optical devices according to geometric systems that maximize visibility. By strategically overlooking the lower valleys where most Palestinian villages are located, the settlements precipitated the creation of two parallel and self-referential ethno-national-geographies that manifest themselves along the vertical axis in the physical 'above' and 'below.'

Topographical Migrations

The settlement project in the West Bank can be seen as the culmination of Zionism's journey from the plains to the hills. A journey that attempted to resolve the paradox embedded in early 20th century Zionist spatiality; one that while seeking the return to the 'Promised Land' inhabited mainly the plains instead of the historical Judean hills, thus reversing the settlement geography of biblical times.

Braudel's observation that ”the mountains are as a rule a world apart from civilizations, which are urban and lowland achievements (1) suits well the ancient geography of Israel. The mountains of Judea became the breeding ground for an isolated form of monotheism, while the plains, inhabited by the 'invaders from the seas', close to the international road system and to the seaports, gave birth to an integrative culture set apart from the isolation of the mountains.

The Zionist movement, now itself an 'invader from the seas,' modem, socialist and pragmatic, settled mainly along the coastal plains and fertile northern valleys. A settlement distribution which suited its ideology of
agricultural cultivation. This spatial pattern dominated the Israeli landscape until the Political Turnabout of 1977 in which the hawkish Likud party replaced Labor in government for the first time.

The topography of the West Bank is easily identified as three long strips of land running north to south. The most eastern, and topographically the lowest, is the sparsely populated Jordan Valley; west of it rises the high and steep mountains of Judea and Samaria along whose main ridge most large Palestinian cities are located. Further west are the green and fertile slopes of Judea and Samaria. With their moderate topography, agricultural soil, plenty of water and. a position overlooking the coastal plain, they describe the West Bank's 'Area of High Demand’. (2) It is in this strip that most Palestinian villages and Jewish settlements are located.

In a strange and almost perfect correlation between latitude, political ideology, and urban form, each topographical strip became an arena for another phase of the settlement project, promoted by politicians of different agendas, inhabited by settlers of different ideologies in different settlement typologies.

The 'civilian occupation' of the West Bank was a process that began in the deep and arid Jordan Valley during the first years of Israeli rule under Labor governments (1967-1973). In those years fifteen agricultural villages were built in an attempt to bring the Kibbutz and Moshav (3) movements back to the forefront of Zionism. These were constructed according to the Allon Plan (4) that sought to establish a security border with Jordan while relying on the principle of 'maximum security and maximum territory for Israel with a minimum number of Arabs.' As the political climate in Israel changed, the topographical migration – a vertical movement from the lowlands to the mountains coincided with the development of transcendental sentiments and a feeling of acting according to a divine plan. Settlements thereafter started a long and steady climb to the mountains, where they were scattered as isolated dormitory communities on barren hilltops, and without the agricultural hinterlands cultivated nothing but 'holiness.'

The second strip that of the mountain ridge, started to be settled en-mass mainly after the Political Turnabout of 1977. It was primarily Gush Emunim (5), a national-religious organization that was fusing 'Biblical' messianism and a belief in the 'Land of Israel' with a political thinking that allowed for no territorial concessions. The Gush was thereafter pushing the governments to establish ever more new settlements in the mountain region, in and around the Palestinian cities. The settlements of the mountain strip shifted the stimulus of expansion from agricultural pioneering to mysticism and transcendentalism. Beyond the security aspect of these settlements, the climb from the plains to the hills was argued with the rhetoric of the 'regeneration of the soul,' as acts of 'personal and national renewal,' imbued with the mystic quality of the heights. With respect to the mountains, and in opposition to any dismantling of settlements, Ephi Eitam, the retired general currently leader of the National Religious Party, announced recently that: 'Whoever proposes that we return to the lowlands, to our lowest levels, to the sands, to the secular, and that it is the very sacred summits that we leave in foreign hands, proposes a senseless thing.' (6)

The third strip is the one closest to Israel's pre-1967 border. This strip consists mainly of settlers seeking a better quality of life. The settlements there are in effect Garden-Suburbs that belong to the greater metropolitan regions of Tel-Aviv, and consist mainly of private developments. Unlike the ideological settlements that inhabited the mountain ridge of the West Bank, it was the rhetoric of 'living standards,' 'quality of life,' 'fresh air' and 'open view' that facilitated, mainly in the 1980s, the dissemination of these suburban settlements. For the price of a small flat in Tel-Aviv settlers could purchase their own red-roofed house and benefit from massive government subsidies. (7)

The Vertical Perspective

Shortly after the end of the 1967 war, when a new and previously unimagined extent of territory lay in the possession of the Israeli army, a special double-lens aerial camera (8) capable of registering stereoscopic images was acquired, and a series of photographic sorties launched. The stereoscopic camera is designed to capture two simultaneous images at a slight angle from each other. When viewed through a special optical instrument, the shades of gray on the two flat images are transformed by the gaze of the intelligence analyst into a three dimensional illusion of depth, reproducing a tabletop model of the pilot's vertical perspective. (9) The knowledge of the West Bank was primarily gathered from the air. (10) Photometrics – land surveying from aerial photography, reproduced at variable scales and with breathtaking clarity – replaced the conventional land-surveyed maps as the most rapid and most practical way of representing the territory.

This mapping was the end result of an intensive process of photography, analysis and classification, one in which the terrain was charted and mathematicized, topographical lines drafted, slope gradients calculated, built areas and land use marked. This process was so complete and rapid that at the time the West Bank must have been one of the most intensively observed and photographed terrains in the world. This massive project was not undertaken as an objective research – it was an act of establishing national proprietorship that anticipated a spatial reality yet to come.

The mountain summits of the West Bank lent themselves easily to state seizure. In absence of an ordered land registry in the period of Jordanian rule, uncultivated land could be declared by Israel as State Land.(11) Since Palestinian cultivated lands are found mainly in the slopes and the valleys, where the agriculturally suitable alluvial soils erode down from the limestone slopes of the West Bank summits, the barren hilltops, clearly visible on the aerial photographs, could be seized by the State. The result, summed up in dry numbers, left about forty percent of the West Bank, composed of a patchwork quilt of isolated plots –
discontinuous islands around summits in Israeli hands. (12)

The West Bank was thus divided across the vertical axis. In almost every area the hilltops were de facto annexed to Israel, while the valleys between them were left in Palestinian ownership.

As intelligence analysts gave way to cartographers and planners, the stereoscopic images became the primary tool with which topographical lines were drawn on maps and, upon occasion, even provided the slate for the design work itself. The process of settlement construction starts with planning on top of an orthogonal-photographic map (ortho-photo) (13) or a topographical map in the scale of 1:1250. Since the construction of the mountain settlements necessitated building in areas with steep slopes and in special morphological formations, the terrain was divided into separate topographical conditions and to each was allocated a distinct settlement typology. (14)

In the formal processes which base mountain settlements on topographical conditions, the laws of erosion had been absorbed into the practice of urban design. The form laid out by nature in the specific summit morphology became the blueprint of development. The mountain settlement is typified by a principle of concentric organization in which the topographical contours of the map are retraced as lines of infrastructure. The roads are laid out in rings around do summit with the water, sewage, electricity and telephone lines buried underneath them. The division of lots is equal and repetitive, providing small private red-roofed houses positioned along the roads, against the backdrop of the landscape. The public functions are generally located within the innermost ring, on the highest ground. The 'ideal' arrangement for a small settlement is a circle. However, in reality the geometry of the plan is distorted by the insistent demands of a highly irregular topography, as well as by the extent and form of available State Land. Rather than exhibits of ordered form, settlements are usually manifestations of anti-forms, the end results of tactical, land-use and topographical constraints.

Socially, the 'Community Settlement' – a new settlement typology developed in the early 1980s for the West Bank – is in effect a closed off members' club with a long admissions process and a monitoring mechanism the regulates everything from religious observance through to ideological rigor and even the form and outdoor use of homes. Furthermore, they function as dormitory suburbs for small communities, which travel to work in the Iarge Israeli cities. The hilltop environment, isolated, overseeing and hard to reach, lent itself to the development of this newly conceived form of 'utopia.' The community settlements create cul-de-sac envelopes, closed off from their surroundings, utopian in their concentric organization, promoting a mythic communal coherence in a shared formal identity. It is the externally enclosed and internally oriented layout of homes which promotes the inner social vision and facilitates the close managing of daily life.

Shortly after Matityahu Drobles was appointed the head of the Jewish Agency's Land Settlement Division in 1978, be issued The Master Plan for the Development of Settlements in Judea and Samaria, (15) in which he declared that:

'Settlement throughout the whole Land of Israel is for security and by right. A belt of settlements in strategic locations increases both internal and external security [ ... ] therefore, the proposed settlement blocks are spread out as a belt surrounding the mountains – starting along the western slopes [of the Samaria Mountains] from north to south, and along the eastern slopes from south to north, within the minority population as well as surrounding it...' [emphasis in the original].

'Being bisected by Jewish settlements,’ Drobles explains on another occasion that 'the minority population will find it hard to create unification and territorial contiguity.'

Drobles' masterplan, outlining possible locations for scores of new settlements, aimed to achieve its political goals by way of a reorganization of space. Relying heavily on the topographical nature of the West Bank, he proposed that new high-volume traffic arteries, connecting Israel mainland to the West Bank and beyond, should be stretched along the large west-draining valleys and that for their security, new settlement blocks should be placed on the hilltops along their route. Furthermore, he proposed to locate settlements on the summits surrounding; the large Palestinian cities and alongside the roads connecting them to each other.

Optical Planning

High ground offers three strategic assets: greater tactical strength, self-protection, and a wider view –
principles as old as military history itself. Like the Crusaders' fortresses, some incidentally built on the West Bank summits, settlements operate through 'the reinforcement of strength already provided by nature. (16)

The settlements are not only places of residence, but create a large-scale network of 'civilian fortifications,' generating tactical territorial surveillance in the State's regional plan of strategic defense. But unlike in the fortresses and military camps of previous periods, the actual fortification work is absent in the settlements. Up until recent times, only few mountain settlements were surrounded by walls or fences, as settlers were arguing that their homes must form a continuity with 'their' landscapes, that they are not foreign invaders in need of protection, but rather the Palestinians are those who need to be fenced in. The fact that during days of Palestinian uprising many settlements are being attacked generated debates concerning the use, effect, and moral significance of walls and fences. Extremist settlers claimed that besides the aspect of the 'open panorama,' defense could be exercised through the power of vision, rendering the material protection of a fortified wall redundant and, in cases of a solid wall, even obstructive. (17)

In 1984 the Ministry of Construction and Housing published a guide line for new construction in the mountain regions. It was in effect a building manual for the construction of settlements in the West Bank. One of the main concerns of this manual is the view. One typical phrase advises architects that: ‘ Turning openings in the direction of the view is usually identical with turning them in the direction of the slope ... (the optimal view depends on) the positioning of the buildings and on the distances between them, on the density, the gradient of the slope and on the vegetation.’ (18)

The urban layout that follows topographical lines around the mountain summit is contingent with the principle of maximizing the view. A clear view of the surrounding landscape is easily achieved for homes inhabiting the outer-most ring. The homes in the inner rings are positioned accordingly in line with the gaps left between the homes in the outer one. This arrangement of homes around summits – outward looking, imposes on the dwellers axial visibility (and lateral invisibility) oriented in two directions: inward and outward. The inward oriented gaze protects the soft cores of the settlements, and the outward oriented one surveys the landscape around it.

With respect to the interior of each building the guideline further recommends the orientation of the bedrooms towards the inner public spaces, that of the living rooms towards the distant view.

Vision dictated the discipline of design and its methodologies on all scales. Regionally, a strategic function was integrated into the distribution of settlements across the entire territory, thereby creating a 'network of observation' that overlooks the main traffic arteries of the West Bank; topographically, it was integrated into the siting of the settlements on summits; urbanistically it was integrated into their very layout, as rings around the summit, and in the positioning of homes perpendicular to the slope; architecturally, it was integrated into the arrangements and orientation of rooms, and finally into the precise positioning of windows. As if, following Virilio, 'the function of arms and the function of the eye were indefinitely identified as one and the same. (19)

Indeed, the form of the mountain settlements is constructed according to the laws of a geometric system that unites the effectiveness of sight with that of spatial order, thereby producing sight-lines that function to achieve different forms of power: strategic –in its overlooking of main traffic arteries, control – in its overlooking of Palestinian towns and villages, and self defense – in its overlooking its immediate surroundings and approach roads. Settlements become, in effect, optical devices, designed to exercise control through supervision and surveillance. Responding to mathematical layouts and maximizing visibility across the landscape, means that power, just as in Foucault's description of Bentham's Panopticon (20) could be exercised through observation.

In his verdict supporting the 'legality' of settlements, the Israeli High Court Justice Vitkon, while arguing for the strategic importance of a settlement, declared:

'With respect to pure military considerations, there is no doubt that the presence of settlements – even if 'civilian' – of the occupying power in the occupied territory substantially contributes to the security in that area and facilitates the execution of the duties of the military. One does not have to be an expert in military and security affairs to understand that terrorist elements operate more easily in an area populated only by an indifferent population or one that supports the enemy, as opposed to an area in which there are persons who are likely to observe them and inform the authorities about any suspicious movement. Among them no refuge, assistance, or equipment will be provided to terrorists. The matter is simple, and details are unnecessary. (21)

What becomes evident is that in placing settlers across the landscape, the Israeli government is not utilizing merely the agencies of state power and control, namely the police and army, for the administration of power, but that it 'drafts' the civilian population to inspect, control and subdue the Palestinian population.

An inconsistency develops between what the settlers want to see, the way they describe and understand the panorama, and the way that their eyes are 'hijacked' for the strategic and geo-political aims of the State. The desire for a single family home is being mobilized to serve the quest for military domination, while an ad of domesticity, shrouded in the cosmetic facade of red tiles and green lawns, provides visual territorial control.

The Horizontal Panorama

The journey to the mountaintops sought to re-establish the tie between terrain and sacred text by tracing the location of 'biblical' sites and constructing settlements adjacent to them. Settlers turned topography into scenography, forming an exegetical landscape with a mesh of scriptural signification that must be extracted from the panorama and 'read' rather than merely be 'seen.' A settlement located near the Palestinian city of Nablus advertises itself thus: '...Shilo spreads up the hills overlooking Tel Shilo [Shilo-Mound], where over 3,000 years ago the Children of Israel gathered to erect the Tabernacle and to divide by lot the Land of Israel into tribal portions [ ... ] This ancient spiritual center had retained its power as the focus of modem day Shilo.(22)
No longer seen as a resource to be agriculturally or industrially cultivated, the landscape, imbued with imaginary religious signifiers, established the link that helped re-live and re-enact religious-national myths that displace (on the very same land) ancient with modem time. This romantic 'biblical' panorama does not evoke solemn contemplation, but produces an active staring, a part of a religious ritual that causes a sensation of sheer ecstasy. 'It causes me excitement that I cannot even talk about in modesty' (23) said Menora Katzover, the wife of a prominent settlers leader, about the view of the Samaria Mountains.

Another sales brochure, for the Ultra-Orthodox settlement of Emanuel, published in Brooklyn for member recruitment, (24) evokes the picturesque: ‘The city of Emanuel... [s]ituated 440 meters above sea level ... has a magnificent view of the coastal plain and the Judean Mountains. The hilly landscape is dotted by green olive orchards and enjoys a pastoral calm.'

In the ideal image of the pastoral landscape, integral to the perspective of colonial fictions, the admiration of the rustic panorama is always viewed through the window frames of modernity. The impulse to retreat from the city to the country reasserts the virtues of a simpler life close to nature. It draws on the opposition between luxury and simplicity, the spontaneous and the planned, nativity and foreignness, which are nothing but the opposite poles of the axis of vision that stretches between the settlements and their surrounding landscape. Furthermore the re-creation of the picturesque scenes of a biblical landscape becomes a testimony to an ancient claim on the land. The admiration of the landscape thus functions as a cultural practice, by which social and subjective identities are formed.

Within this panorama, however, lies a cruel paradox: the very thing that renders the landscape 'biblical' or 'pastoral' – its traditional inhabitation and cultivation in terraces, olive orchards, stone buildings and the presence of livestock – is produced by the Palestinians, whom Jewish settlers came to replace. However, the very people who cultivate the 'green olive orchards' and render the landscape biblical, are themselves excluded from the panorama. The Palestinians are there to produce the scenery and then – disappear.

It is only when talking about the roads that the Palestinians are mentioned in the brochure, and then only by way of exclusion: 'A motored system is being developed that will make it possible to travel quickly and safely to the Tel-Aviv area and to Jerusalem on modem throughways, by passing Arab towns [emphasis in the original.] (25) The gaze that sees a 'pastoraL biblical landscape' does not register what it does not want to see – a visual exclusion that seeks a physical exclusion. Like a theatrical set, the panorama can be seen as an edited landscape put together by invisible stage-workers that must step off the set as the lights come on.

The panoptic arrangement of sight lines serves therefore two contradictory agendas: supervision and a self imposed scotoma. What for the State is a supervision mechanism that seeks to see the Palestinians, is for the settlers a window onto a pastoral landscape that seeks to erase them. The Jewish settlements superimpose another datum of latitudinal geography upon an existing landscape. Settlers could thus see only other settlements, avoid those of the Palestinian towns and villages, and feel that they have truly arrived 'as the people without land – to the land without people. (26)

Latitude has become more than the mere relative position on the folded surface of the terrain. It literally functions to establish parallel geographies of 'First' and 'Third' Worlds that inhabit two distinct planar strata in the startling and unprecedented proximity that only the vertical dimension of the mountains could provide. The landscape doesn't simply signify power relations, but functions as an instrument of domination and power The extreme relationship that developed between politics, strategy and building practices within the topography of the West Bank exposes the terrifying role of the most ubiquitous of architectural typologies. Rather than the conclusive, binary division between two nations across a boundary line, the organization of the West Bank has created multiple separations and provisional boundaries that relate to one another through surveillance and control – an intensification and ramification of power that could be achieved in this form only because of the particularity of the terrain.

1. Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995, p.34.

2. The main characteristic of the Western Hills is their proximity to the main urban centers on Israel's coastal plain. In the development plan for 1983-1986, this strip was defined as the 'Area of High Demand' because of the short travel times (twenty to thirty minutes) from there to the employment, centers inside Israel. See Yehezkel Lein, Eyal Weizman, Land, Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank, Jerusalem: B'tselem, May 2002 especially pp.90-93 (draft published online at www.btselem.org).

3. Kibbutz and Moshav are cooperative agricultural settlement typologies that were promoted by the Socialist Zionism already prior to the foundation of the State of Israel.

4. As early as the end of 1967, Yigal Alton who served at the time as the head of the Ministerial Committee on Settlements began to prepare a strategic plan for the establishment of settlements in the West Bank. Although never formally approved by the Israeli government, the plan provided the basis for the location of the settlements up until 1977, and as the foundation for the 'territorial compromise' advocated by the Labor party. The initial objective of the Alton Plan was to redraw the borders of the State of Israel to include the Jordan-Valley and the Judean Desert in order to facilitate the military defense of Israel. Within.these areas, the plan advocated 'the establishment of a string of Israeli settlements ensuring a 'Jewish presence' and constituting a preliminary step leading to formal annexation. The Alton Plan also recommended that, as far as possible, the settlement and the annexation of areas densely populated by Palestinians should be avoided.

5. Gush Emunim (The Block of Faith) was established in 1974 following the Yom Kippur War under the spiritual leadership.of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook.

6. Ari Shavit, 'A Leader Awaits a Signal,' Haaretz, Friday Supplement, 22 March 2002 p.20 [Hebrew].

7. All Israeli governments have implemented a vigorous and. systematic policy to encourage Israeli citizens to move from Israel to the West Bank. One of the main tools used to realize this policy is the provision of significant financial benefits and incentives. See: Yehezkel Lein, Eyal Weizman, Land Grab, pp.60-72.

4. The double-lens aerial camera was an RC-8 with a format of 24x24 cm.

9. Stereoscopic image-making has its roots in seventeenth century Italy with the binocular drawings of Giovanni Battista della Porta. As a photographic technique it was developed in 1838 by Sir Charles Wheatstone in England and was quickly popularized across Europe as a kind of salon-tourism. It was first used as a technique of reconnaissance by the Royal Air Force in the Second World-War.

10. On the process of aerial mapping of the West Bank and Israel see also: Moshe Saban, 'Aerial Photography and Photometrics,' in Amiram Harlap Architect, ed., Israel Builds, Jerusalem: Ministry for Construction and Housing, 1988, p.53.

11.This is based on a manipulative use of the Ottoman Land Law of 1858, according to which a person may secure ownership of land by holding and working it for ten consecutive years. If the land was not farmed for three consecutive years the state could take possession of it. By this method, approximately forty percent of the West Bank was declared State Land. Approximately ninety percent of the settlements were established on State Lands, and the remaining lands were seized by other means. See: Yehezkel Lein, Eyal Weizman, Land Grab, pp.37-40.

12. See the Regional Council Jurisdictional Areas on the 'Jewish Settlements in West Bank' map on page 48-49

13. The Orthogonal Photographic ,Map, is an aerial photograph where lens distortions are accounted and compensated for. Further information may then be overlaid, most commonly, in the form of topographical lines and roads.

14. The steeper the land, the further away from agriculture the settlement. Small agricultural settlements were recommended for slopes of 15 25 %, suburbam settlements for 25 50%, while towns were recommended for slopes 50% and over.

I5. Matityahu Drobles, Masterplan for the Development of Settlement in Judea and Samaria for the Years 1979-1983, Jerusalem: The Jewish Agency Settlement Division, 1979 (Hebrew).

16. R. C. Small, Crusading Warfare, 1097-1193, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press, 1995, p. 117.

17. See the Article of Sharon Rotbard, Homa Umigdal, in this catalogue pages Whereas the historic precedent for fortified Zionist settlements could be with the Wall-and-Tower settlements of Homa Umigdal that relies on the physical fortification of a wall – these where mainly settlements designed for a flat Iandscape in the northern plains of Israel. To enable distant views a tower was required. In the Jewish Settlements of the mountainous West Bank, home-windows have a compounded double function that includes a ramification of both the function of the tower as well as the function of the wall. This is made possible, of course, because settlements were built on the hilltops.

18. M. Boneh, Building and Development in the Mountain Regions, Government of Israel, Jerusalem: Ministry of Construction and Housing, May 1984, p.14

19. Paul Virilio, Bunker Archaeology, Paris: Les Editions de Demi-Circle, 1994, p. 17

20. See Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison, Londom: Penguin Books, 1991, pp.179 207.

21. HCJ 834/78, ameh et al v. Minister of Defense et al, Piskel Din 33(l) 971; Beit-El; p. 119.

22. www.shilo.co.il as on the 4th of April 2002.

23. Daniel Ben Simon, 'It is Strange to Die after the Second Meeting,' Haaretz, Friday Supplement 29 March 2002, p.5 [Hebrew].

24. The brochure is titled: Emanuel, A Faithful City in Israel, The Emanuel Office. Brooklyn, NYC.

25. It is worth noting that the use of the term Arabs for the Palestinian Arabs is not politically innocent. The settlers do not recognize the Palestinians as a separate Arab nation.

26 This famous slogan is attributed. to Israel Zangwill, who arrived in Palestine before the time of the British Mandate. The slogan described the land to which Eastern European Zionism was headed as desolate and forsaken.