"Rigai tikkun: alimut politit, architektura ve'hamerhav ha'ironi b'Tel Aviv" ("Revisionist Moments: Political Violence, Architecture and Urban Space in Tel Aviv") by Tali Hatuka, Resling, 262 pages, NIS 94
"I felt everything go blank," "I was stunned," "I was in shock," "I'm a jumble of emotions," "Like a blast of reality hitting you in the face," "I prayed to my grandfather in heaven." Of all the people to whom I presented the riddle of what exactly provoked those statements - three said it was a terrorist attack, three thought it was war, two thought it had been the Holocaust, and only two solved the riddle: It was the weigh-in that took place on the reality show "Laredet begadol" (the local version of the American reality TV program "The Biggest Loser"), when it turned out that the contestants had gained 600 grams instead of losing two or three kilos!
This fusion of horror and banality is the focus of Tali Hatuka's new book "Rigai tikkun" ("Revisionist Moments"). The main topic is fascinating: the connection between violent events and Tel Aviv's architecture and daily life. The problem is that Hatuka's writing at times loses its coherence and is obscured by professional jargon, which frequently masks self-evident, trite truths. In more grievous cases, it serves as compensation for a type of moral insensitivity. For example, Hatuka's style places the wounded and dead - the real subjects and objects of terrorist attacks, wars and murder - in parentheses, like a kind of superfluous transgression, a mere addendum to the force or impact of the violent event: "In this respect the force of the violent event is the manner in which it impacts the immediate term (i.e., casualties), but also the local residents' future."
Hatuka's text is somewhat reminiscent of the story about students who were asked to design a pipeline for delivering blood from one city to another. They plan, measure, assemble - but forget about one key thing: to ask whose blood is supposed to be delivered, and why it has to be transferred to another city.
Furthermore, is there really anyone among us who does not already know that unresolved conflicts can end in war, and that war is both violent and undesirable? The book does not count on our knowing this, and explains: "In cases where conflicts cannot be mediated or avoided, they boil over into a violent situation called war; a confrontation between political collectives (disjoined as they may be) in which a possibility of violence is always present, and violent events occur on a daily basis. But a conflict situation is not desirable to a majority of human societies that aspire to maintain good order."
Nevertheless, if you can overcome the language barrier and translate the book in your head into human language - it will allow you to reach interesting insights. That, after all, is what a good book is supposed to do: to inspire the next book on the subject.
Of the three chapters that explain Tel Aviv's layout and the political violence that has occured within it, the most intriguing, to my mind, is the chapter on Kikar Yitzhak Rabin - Yitzhak Rabin Square (formerly called Kikar Malchei Yisrael). For me Rabin Square is a large, exposed lot that provides a shortcut from Ibn Gvirol Street to Masaryk Square. But because the sun beats down on it in the summer, while the rain makes it wet and slippery in the winter, this diagonal crossing is not a particularly delightful experience. And yes, once in a while I come there to protest, and that is where I was when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. To me Rabin Square is not a place where you live, sit on a bench or under a tree, watch passersby, arrange to meet, play with children. It is a place where you celebrate, where you shout, sometimes sing - and where the prime minister was murdered.
This is what the chapter deals with. It begins with a history of the square, its planning and intended functions. Hatuka then proceeds to describe various approaches to what she calls tikkun (literally, "mending") - in this context, restoring the order disrupted by the assassination - and she defines two schools of thought reflected in the discourse concerning the square's character: the attempt to nurture daily life in the square, versus the idea of turning it into a national symbol that confirms "the boundaries of the Jewish collective surrounding the history of the place," and turns the assassination into "the most powerful [mark] remaining at the site, whose traces must not be blurred."
Conquering the hill
This concept could have been presented in clearer and more transparent terms and developed in various directions: In a square that has become a symbol, there is indeed no place for routine activity. Nobody will pause there, for a moment, like in the square in Federico Fellini's "Amarcord," to stare in wonder at a peacock that has fanned out his tail; nobody will fall in love there, like in the movies "Cinema Paradiso" or "Kikar Hahalomot" ("Circle of Dreams"); and even the elderly will not come through there to pass their final days, with Filipino caregivers in tow.
The square in question does not acknowledge individual deaths, childbirth, love between a man and a woman. All these have been sucked up into the void of the blank expanse, making way for a collective national content that fills the square on the heroic evenings of celebrations and demonstrations.
The book is at its best when describing the struggle between those who "view the square through that one solitary moment" (the moment of the assassination) and demand that it be preserved as is because it contains "pieces of the history of the State of Israel, and among them moments of joy and national pride" - and those who propose building a parking garage beneath it, surrounding it with stores and connecting it to its surroundings and daily life. So far, as expected, advocates of the mythologizing approach have proved victorious: The assassination undermined the existing order, as Hatuka shows, and preserving the square as a collective myth is designed to restore that order.
The trouble is that the order to be restored is none other than the familiar disorder, which is made up of the melodramatic blending of celebration and disaster, of trauma and the obsessive return to it and to what preceded it. From that standpoint the square is like a mirror held up to a society, which - instead of confronting and processing its traumas - repeatedly revives them, in a structure of sharply dramatic about-faces that lead from pain to joy, from failure to triumph, from suffering to great happiness, and back again.
The mythology of Rabin Square combines both these facets of trauma and melodrama: It enables returning time and again to the nightmare moment of the murder, and moving from there, in a melodramatic acrobatic leap, to moments of democratic celebration, as the speakers quoted in Hatuka's book portray the protest rallies held at the square. These speakers talk about the importance of the history symbolized by the square and about the importance of the democracy it represents. But in actuality it is not history and democracy that are celebrated at this square, but rather "bits of history," only its high points, the moments that were supposed to alter it: the war to end all wars, the demonstration that will push for the political conflict's resolution, the left's downfall, the right's victory, the end of theocracy and so on.
Rabin's assassination fits in perfectly with all this, to paraphrase a line from the poem "Rosh Pina" by the Betar poet Shlomo Skulsky: It is the grave on the slope that is meant to enable conquest of the hill. Daily life around the square - the children, the old folks, the coffee shops, conversations, dates - these can only ruin its empty perfection. But we are not, after all, talking about a mere square. This square radiates anew what is found in books, in newspapers, in movies. Even if we escape to a far-away place, to a reality show, for example, we will find it there: "The Biggest Loser" deals with excess weight and how to shed it, but the language the contestants use is totally inappropriate to the subject matter. It is borrowed from the discourse on terror attacks, wars, and Holocaust commemoration. It fits in well with the myth of Rabin Square, the myth of the grave needed for victory.
In Israeli reality you do not simply gain or lose weight, with no objective; the objective is always hiding somewhere beyond: to stop history, to take that hill, to leap from death to revival, from destruction to salvation.
Nurit Gertz's book "Al da'at atzmo" was recently published by Am Oved.