Chapter 2: Palimpsest
a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
"Sutton Place is a palimpsest of the taste of successive owners"
In 1974, the Knesset decided it was time for an upgrade for the residence of the Prime Minister. This decision, of course, came directly on the heels of the disengagement from the Yom Kippur War, an attack on Israel that rallied international sympathy and support for the regime. This set the stage for the Camp David Accords and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Menachem Begin administration, which, in turn, put the pieces in place for the modern settlement ideology and justification schemes we see today. Beit Aghion, the new Residence of the Israeli Prime Minister was designed by a Greek-Jewish merchant. Its International Style calls forth the university education that both Ben Gurion and Ben-Zvi received at Istanbul University. During the chapter about our visit with Riwaq architectural organization, we will see more about the profound implications of this International Style in terms of the ways in which the new Israeli state was able to appropriate so much Arab and Oriental culture and include it under the “Israel” brand name. As Siwan, a public relations student we will meet at the Palestinian Prisoners Museum in East Jerusalem, said, this brand was the most sophisticated the world has ever seen, in terms of its rhetorical and aesthetic design. Israel's ability to design a rhetorical and aesthetic scheme for its regime, one that works to appropriate so many ‘positive, liberal and socialized’ elements of its surroundings and occupied interior is central to the longevity of its fascist, apartheid regime of conquest and ethnic cleansing. In 1974, austerity in the desert was out, and ostentation in the upscale corner of Balfour street Jerusalem was in. Key in this decision, as Haaretz reported, was avoiding the embarrassment of a Prime Minister living in a house expropriated from an Arab family.
The typical Muslim-Ottoman style of the Prime Minister’s new residence calls forth the idea of Jawad from Silwan - “they [the settlers] stole every one of our details, our food, our homes, our dress, and then claimed them as their own.” Surely the wooden hut that housed Ben Gurion has much more in common with the cabin of Daniel Boone and that of Manuel Tzoc in the highlands of Guatemala. And although American lore likes to pay attention to Washington’s wooden teeth and austere smile, Mount Vernon was certainly no log cabin. So I suppose the question is not, ‘What does a settler look like?’, but rather, ‘What do the heroes of settlers look like, and how do the progeny of these heroes carry on the legacy as justification for genocide?’ So often, the settlers that follow those pioneering heroes look and live so much differently. For, isn’t that the foundational point of settlement: an escape, a reconstruction and an improvement, a brave and valiant few who pave the way through the roughness of ‘uninhabited, empty and undeveloped spaces’ for the riches and privileges we now enjoy? There is this strange relationship between first world, ‘democratic’ societies of consumerist luxuries and the lore of the simple, austere, pioneering hero with humble garb and home, a straight shooter and a visionary of humanity. Perhaps this is our way of justifying the palimpsest, the tanks and warplanes and missiles, the transnational corporations that get built over log cabins and coonskin hats, or ´Jerusalem stone´ in Arab villages like Ein Karem and Wadi Hilweh. Perhaps it was David’s simple slingshot that justifies the AK Special and the torture chamber. Ben Gurion and Ben-Zvi may have been valiant settlers of humble means, pioneers even. But, let us not forget that they ordered the murder of Jacob Israel de Haan, and countless others, who may have led the Jewish settlers to a far more humane partnership and a solution that involved a non-Jewish state. We will see more of this when we discuss the rhetoric and aesthetic of agricultural communes in the context of a moshav settlement that is currently being used as the justification for forced displacement and genocide in the Jordan Valley.
It was in this way that the new, Post-’48 Israeli political regime ´covered over´ the lurking possibilities of Israel being a socialist state, and of the dominant ideology of its settler population constituting a non-Zionist political-mindset that would stand in the way of the future military conquests, campaigns of ethnic cleansing, fascist authoritarianism and state infrastructures of apartheid that were soon to take shape, not to mention the billion dollar war industries it created, a subject of finance we will see more of when we visit Omar Barghouti and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement in Ramallah. In fact, by covering over these lurking possibilities – and not simply erasing them –, the new Israeli state was able to capture and harness the settler-power residing in that initial strain of socialist, liberal ideology. It was, if you will, a sort of political palimpsest instituted in the first administrative regime of the independent Israeli state that would pave the road for future regimes that were increasingly and more overtly hawkish, conservative and authoritarian, but nonetheless able to wield this rhetoric and aesthetic of a benevolent, liberal and modern society.
Surely, this strain of socialism and soft-Zionism lurking below the palimpsest of fascism remained just visible enough for communal agricultural settlements, Jewish National Fund pine forests and archaeological digging sites to continue strongly all the way up until the present day, forming the basis for the horrors we would witness while touring the ground of occupation.