Malkit Shoshan. 010 Publishers 2010

A story without an end by Esther Zandberg, Haaretz

A remarkable little volume maps three millennia of the land’s history, and a century of destruction and construction

One map is worth an entire atlas: The first map in architect Malkit Shoshan’s new book, “Atlas of the Conflict: Israel-Palestine” is a multilayered depiction of settlement in the Land of Israel in its various incarnations from the time of the reign of King Saul in 1040 B.C.E. up to our own times. It is a cartographic testament to the restless and endless continuum of territorial changes.

The graphic depiction of this historical continuum of thousands of ongoing struggles, battles, conquests, occupations, retreats, victories, defeats and bloodshed is reminiscent of a Rorschach blot. This is the frontispiece of the atlas that outlines the boundaries of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the past 100 years and places it in a spatial-territorial context. The book is the outcome of about 10 years of research. It has been published in English by the Dutch 010 publishing company in Holland for a European audience – and not in Hebrew, in Israel, for the Israeli reader.

Shoshan tries to “architectualize” and create a visualization of the conflict, and put it on the map. Or, more precisely, on the 500 maps that make up the book and demonstrate through various events – wars, settlement, agreements – the process of “the creation of Israel in the light of the destruction of Palestine.”

The atlas is a continuation and expansion of an earlier mapping and research project Shoshan did as a student, which was published in the booklet “Territoria” in advance of the Eighth Architecture Biennale in Venice in 2002. The study was shown in part in the exhibition “Borderline Disorder” curated by architect Zvi Efrat at the Biennale, which for the first time touched upon the national conflict in an architectural context. “Atlas of the Conflict” is to a large extent a mirror image of Efrat’s monumental work “The Israeli Project,” which documents the heroic architectural project of building the country. Shoshan’s atlas completes the work.

“I wanted to know how the image of hundreds of destroyed Palestinian locales looks on the map vis-a-vis new Israeli-Jewish settlement,” she says in the book.

Shoshan, who was born in Haifa in 1976, is a graduate of the architecture faculty at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Upon completing her studies she moved to Holland, where she now lives with her family. She is the founder and chair of the Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory, which works to advance architectural activity of social and political significance in countries in conflict: Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia and also Israel.

Three years ago she initiated an international architectural-artistic happening in the town of Ein Hud, on Mount Carmel, to protest a new Interior Ministry master plan that would cut down even further the living space in this Arab village, where for the first time one of the houses had been hooked up to the electricity grid. The happening took place with the cooperation of the Association of Forty for the recognition of the unrecognized Arab villages in Israel.

Shoshan’s interest in the physical space of the conflict began in her third year of architecture studies, when she was asked to plan a shopping center on an empty lot near Tel Aviv and found there remnants of a ruined Palestinian cemetery. She has devoted the continuation of her professional career to architectural political activism and to the comprehensive study of Israel’s territorial history.

Shoshan’s awakening occurred at the same time as the start of an architectural-political discourse in the country, of which hardly anything now remains. Now too architecture is enlisted in the planning of hundreds of homes in the occupied territories in response to the murder at Itamar, and thus contributes its share to the endless cycle of the conflict.

The book has two parts, an atlas and a lexicon. The hundreds of maps in the atlas are categorized according to key terms: borders, settlement types, land ownership, demography, landscape planning, water, archaeology, Jerusalem. Each of them is essential for understanding the conflict and the various forms it takes in a shared space. The maps are designed in accordance with accepted graphic conventions but are used to “deconstruct the power” of traditional cartography and afford equal presence in the expanse to the powerless, the undocumented and the unrecognized. For example, unrecognized Palestinian villages that have no address and are not on the map, both metaphorically and in actuality.

The lexicon complements the cartographic representation with a dictionary of terms, appropriate photographs and a gallery of portraits connected to the space of the conflict, either directly or through associations that are much more revealing.

As in “The Israeli Project” and taking inspiration from Rem Koolhaas’ book “S, M, L, XL,” alphabetical order has arbitrarily dictated the order of the contents. However, the arbitrariness is only ostensible and has messages of its own, as may be learned from a random selection of terms – absentee property, tunnels, pine trees, wall, stockade and tower, population, Bedouin, Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, seam line, settlement, Blue Line, dunam, Green Line, caravilla – terms that in some cases speak for themselves and expand the relevant definitions.

Thus, for example, under the entry for eBay, the online auction site that never dreamt it would take part in the conflict, there is an item about the sale of Katyusha-rocket pieces from the Second Lebanon War. The entry “Living Wall” is the personal story of a Holocaust survivor blogger from Kibbutz Manara who in 2003 tells about 60 years of fruitless wars on the northern border, fences and fighting, mine fields, more fences and more land mines ever since his arrival at the kibbutz, so that he himself has served as a “living wall.”

The entry “Zoo” is devoted to the unbelievable story of white donkeys in the zoo in Gaza that were painted to look like zebras. Malcolm X wins an entry of his own with a crude anti-Zionist statement he gave in 1964 to an Egyptian newspaper, which leveraged the ratings for the book a bit but also led to raised eyebrows even in Europe.

The graphic design of the atlas is a project in its own right and it won the designer, Dutch architect Joost Grootens, the prize for “the most beautiful book in the world” in a competition in Leipzig a few weeks ago. In the rationale for the prize the jury noted that Grootens succeeded in distilling a highly complex subject into a complex atlas in the near-dimensions of a pocket book and in making order out of chaos.

The award should have gone in part if not entirely to Shoshan herself. She articulated the idea for mapping the conflict more than a decade ago and realized it in the booklet “Territoria” with more graphic success than in the atlas. Like “Territoria,” the atlas also is a story without an end and will continue as long as the conflict exists. The signs indicate the atlas still has a long way to go. Regrettably, new editions will be unavoidable.

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