Surroundings / Separation Seems to Have Spread Everywhere

It is no coincidence that on one side of the huge bank of earth separating Caesarea from Jisr al-Zarka, it is pastoral and green (the Caesarea side) and it is barren on its other, intimidating, side.

There is no good fence. The decision to build the separation fence and the walls is always made by those with the power and the means. Those on the other side are always the weak. It is also no coincidence that on one side of the huge bank of earth separating Caesarea from Jisr al-Zarka, it is pastoral and green (the Caesarea side) and it is barren on its other, intimidating, side. This separation is physical, with an ethnic, national or class basis; the separation between Jews and Arabs, between Middle Eastern and European, between the rich and the poor, this is the main logic that currently organizes Israeli expanses. It also does not stop at the separation fence in the West Bank, but finds its way into the very heart of Israel proper.

These profound and uncompromising claims are the focus of the "Hafrada" ("Separation") exhibition, which opens today in the gallery of the Architects Association in Jaffa. The exhibition, curated by Shelley Cohen and Haim Yacobi, consists of pictures of 12 separation sites photographed by Yair Barak, Orit Siman-Tov and Amit Grun at the invitation of the curators. There are the apartheid walls between Caesarea and Jisr al-Zarka and between Nir Zvi and the Arab neighborhood of Pardes Snir in Lod; the architectural monstrosity of the Carmel Beach Towers in Haifa, which stick up like a raised fist opposite the distressed neighborhood of Neveh David; the threatening wall surrounding the luxury residential Holyland neighborhood in Jerusalem; and several other sites.

Separation seems to have spread everywhere. It is as if it builds itself and has become part of Israel's urban and rural landscape, and is even decorated with aesthetic camouflage - whether in Haifa, Arsuf, Jaffa, Modi'in, Lod, Ramle, Be'er Sheva, in the closed and secured residential neighborhoods of the wealthy, in mixed cities, in distressed neighborhoods that are sometimes turned into closed ghettos, or education buildings and other public buildings protecting themselves from strangers.

The separation plague has even attacked the already separate Tel Aviv bubble. Although Tel Aviv is not participating in the exhibition, it is impossible not to wonder at the fences being built around the green stretches along the city's boulevards and the expropriation of another chunk of public space and the semblance of urban normalcy.

In addition to the photographs, there will be screenings of documentary films, televised reports, newspaper articles and texts relating to the sites and their subject material.

This is the eighth exhibition in the "Mekomi" ("My Place"), which Cohen has been curating at the gallery and addressing the Israeli expanse with a critical eye. The series has contributed more than a little to the new architectural discourse and to a change in the sparse architecture exhibition's scene in Israel. Cohen is also constantly trying to put the politics of Israel's space on the agenda of the architecture community, which effectively implements politics on the ground.

The current exhibition seeks to warn against the normalization of separation and to appeal to planners, planning committee members and decision makers in the planning arena to "think twice before voting in favor of a separation wall, even if it is the easiest solution." Although such people counter that wherever there is a fence or a wall, there really is a problem, the tragedy is that they view the separation as a solution.

"Problems are not solved by separation," says Cohen. "They always pop up somewhere else instead."

The contemporary separation debate in the public and cultural discourse in Israel focuses mainly on the separation fence, but "Hafrada" brings the debate of politics in architecture back into Israel and points out the relationship between Israeli spatial design inside and outside the Green Line. Most of the sites photographed for this exhibition are inside the Green Line and were carefully chosen to reinforce the exhibition's all-encompassing, sometimes almost demagogic, thesis, and they sharpen its arguments.

The exhibition is accompanied by a booklet (a real catalog was not produced due to budgetary constraints) containing summaries of articles by sociologists, cultural critics, architects and social activists who relate to the relationship between the planning and the rationale behind the separation, and try to peel back the ostensible necessity, apolitical issues and normalization.

"Beyond the rational facade of the arguments explaining the construction of the separation fences, walls and obstacles," say Cohen and Yacobi, "there is another level that is both elusive and weighty, connected with the fears aroused at the times and places of meetings with the other. Fear is the main component of the political-spatial discourse, and its presence in the space is not a simplified reflection of reality. Fear creates the separation and separation produces fear."

In his article in the booklet, Uri Vaknin writes about Israeli architecture as a tool of oppression and about the housing projects in Jerusalem's Katamon neighborhood that turned their Mizrahi (Jews of Middle Eastern origin) residents into a "human wall" facing the Jordanian border (before 1967); Dan Rabinowitz explains how the Trans-Israel Highway, which promises to connect the center with the periphery and the rich with the poor, cuts off Arab villages along its length from their agricultural lands; Tamar Berger writes about the class separation fence that has sprung up between Reut and Modi'in; and another article speaks of the closed neighborhood of Andromeda Hill in Jaffa as being "implanted like a foreign body in a painful surgical procedure."

The timing of this exhibition - in a period during which events in the unmitigated reality are stronger than any representation - is undoubtedly frustrating. What else can be said about the separation in the format of an exhibition in a gallery in Jaffa (a location that ironically could have been one of the sites in the exhibition) that has not already been said, displayed, screened, broadcast and written recently from many stages?

The curators believe that "now is the time in which the fate of Israeli space is going to be decided for generations, and for this reason it is precisely the time when it is worth struggling and raising our voices, even if a million articles about the earthen bank at Jisr al-Zarka or the Trans-Israel Highway have already been written.