What these towns did achieve was “not only low-cost housing depositories for waves of new immigrants… [but also] an effective system of confiscation, obliteration and substitution of an existing Palestinian rural and urban infrastructure.” – The object of Zionism, p. 453
Since Israel was declared an independent State in 1948, it has gone through an unprecedented process of destroying and rebuilding.
On the one hand, Palestinians have been forced to become refugees, leaving their towns and homes; on the other hand, almost the same number of Jewish immigrants have come to populate the Promised land.
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This process (unprecedented at least in the magnitude of the numbers of displaced people) needed an architecture strategy that would manage to build around thirty new towns and four hundred new rural settlements (again, almost the same number destroyed by war).
This need for building left a gap in which to dream of utopia: if a new State is to be created, what shape should it take?
This is what ‘The object of Zionism’ discusses and documents, in an unprecedented effort to explain Israel, architecturally and further.
As we learn through the book, the building efforts were a top priority for the State of Israel.
Architects with visionary projects were summoned; a State planning group was organised; even language took on epic proportions: through this new State, they would “redeem the land”, “conquer the soil” and “make the desert bloom”.
‘The Israel Labour Party set up the governmental Planning Deparment. And their views on the city were clear in their book ‘Physical Planning in Israel’:
“We live in apartments overlooking our neighbors, or at best over hot and narrow streets. Our homes do not have a view of rolling green lands that may pacify us. The “Old World”… is already degenerate, sick, spawning urban monsters. Here [in Israel] there exists an opportunity for a fresh start on a tabula rasa” – Physical Planning in Israel’ cited in ‘The object of Zionism’
The big city was loathed by this new State, who took on to rebuild everything it had destroyed.
Instead, the kibbutz and the moshav became models of rural settlements, based on cooperation in forms of production and consumption.
And, instead of metropolis, the Planning Department devised their ideal models for bigger settlements: medium-sized towns, based in the garden cities popular at the time, which had been implemented in new towns in North London after World War II and based on anti-capitalist and anti-bourgeois principles.
However, taking a model that worked in North London and trying to apply it in the desert proved difficult.
‘The object of Zionism’ offers a comprehensive look at Israel’s architecture and the ideas that drove it.
Its essays are enlightening and deep and it is profusely illustrated with plans, posters, pictures and letters from architects and statesmen of the time.