Land Without Earth and Corporeal Memory

Ilana Salama Ortar

This article discusses two of my art works initiated in 1999 under the rubric of Civic Performance Art and Architecture of Emergency. Civic Performance Art is a site-specific intervention in a State of Emergency or State of Exception that attempts critically to introduce multicultural interstices into a complex geo-political reality. It aspires to create a new public space, based on interdisciplinary performances and installations which include interaction with and participation of people. It pervades all levels of people’s experience when displaced physically (immigrants), socially (in rundown districts) or politically (by war and occupation). My work process involves interpretation of the word “camp” as a State of Emergency together with the activation of remembrance through site specific architectural fabrics and the reconstruction of memory via critical architectural and environmental models, particularly with regard to Israel-Palestine.


The two projects which are discussed as one in this article, Land Without Earth and Corporeal Memory were articulated in two border zones. The first focused on the theft of agricultural earth by Israel, in the Security Zone of Southern Lebanon, of which I learned by chance and then investigated in the Lebanese and Israeli Press. The second was made in the Golan Heights, on the Israeli-Syrian border. It centered around a young Druze man who had lost half his body following a landmine explosion when he was fourteen.

           My analysis of the project is based on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer.[1] His notions of a State of Emergency, Bare Life, and Sovereign Power transposed into the context of the Middle East provide a critical perspective on the day to day experience of Israeli politics. I use The Homo Sacer to describe the projects in terms of both specificities and patterns: specificities because Zionism implies particular conceptions of body and land; patterns because Israel is one more expression of a dominant political presence which, by suspending formal rules of justice makes it difficult to discriminate between democracy and absolutism. The Hebrew language is central to this reflection. It deconstructs Agamben’s concepts of language, thereby producing new meanings and articulations between the concepts themselves; the concepts and their translations and the concepts and local issues, rendering Homo Sacer particularly pertinent to the Middle East.

          The links established in my analysis between “bare” and “exposed” and the connection between “bare life” and “bare territory” point to a bio-politics based interpretation of “bare” in which a mutilated body and stolen earth are considered together as analogous. The specific innovation here is that the term “exposed land” is neither a mere metaphor in which man is replaced by land, nor simply a literal translation of the terminology developed by Agamben but is rather a material reality. I wish to emphasize the difference as well as the similarity between the examples of soil theft and loss of limb in the context of Agamben’s theory however. The Hebrew-based triad “blood, man, earth” radicalizes and dramatizes the concepts under discussion, pointing to the painful depths reached by States of Emergency, Bare Life, and Sovereign Power when expressing themselves physically at the expense of bodies and land. Not only is human life left exposed on the border, but also earth, territory, in a place in which the abstract, metaphoric idea mingles with physical reality.

            The article deals with two projects conducted from 1999 till 2000. Land without Earthlooks at the unilateral transfer of fertile earth from an area under IDF control dubbed the “Security Zone” in Southern Lebanon, to Northern Israel during the years 1995–1998. Corporeal Memory involves a resident of the Druze Village Mag’dal Shamas in the Golan Heights who at the age of fourteen picked up an object when he was out grazing goats, which turned out to be a mine. The mine exploded and blew off the right side of his body. He was thirty two years old at the time the project was set up. Although each project stands independently, by looking at both side by side in one paper, I hope to create a dense conceptual and semantic field which will illuminate the complex terms “land” and “corporeal Memory” in “a state of emergency,” both of which are shot through with politics.

Land Without Earth: the emergence of the project

As citizens of Israel, I and a Sapir Academic College film crew were unable to enter the security zone in southern Lebanon. We therefore decided to get as close as we could via the military dirt road which circuited the area. The journey we undertook became from here on a conceptual smuggling of the border. As we drove along the border road, a witness to the soil theft told his personal story. I should stress that we remained on the Israeli side of the border the whole time, but the camera “crossed” the border to the other side.

The first sentence uttered by the witness at the start of the journey, which later acquired symbolic significance was “where you see grass we didn’t touch the earth. The fertile earth was taken from the exposed places.” He led us the way he used to drive when he was employed mining the earth, pointing out the specific spot from which the earth was mined, a mere five hundred meters away. In order to approach the spot more closely we continued filming from the roof of the car. We were able to discern an area completely denuded of plant life and to demonstrate that the color of the earth at that exposed point was pale ochre, compared to the red-brown clay which covered the areas around the site of the theft. Using a stills camera with a zoom lens, I was able to approach a border stone, which became a conceptual measuring stone because of its material constitution.

Image 1.

Salama Ortar, Ilana, Conceptual smuggling of the border with a camera, 1999, the Israel-Lebanon Border.


Image 2.

The border stone as an inadvertent monument, 1999, in Salama Ortar, Ilana, Conceptual smuggling of the border with a camera, 1999, the Israel-Lebanon Border.


 A journalist from the Ha’aretz daily newspaper provided us with additional information about a contractor from Rosh Pina who had been among those responsible for transporting the earth from Lebanon. Joseph Algazi’s article was published in the English version of Ha’aretz on 24thDecember 1999, with the title: “Soiled Hands, Spoiled Lands”.

Image 3.

A page from Ha'aretz, 24 December 1999


It spread over half a page and was illustrated by a photograph of the border stone which I had taken, covering the other half of the page. The subheading read “For years Israelis have been taking tons of earth from southern Lebanon and using it for military, agricultural and gardening purposes. It will be impossible to ignore this phenomenon in the pending negotiations betweenIsrael and Lebanon.” Eventually my project received public acknowledgement thanks to the newspaper article.




Corporeal Memory: the chronological story

In 1999, when I came to the Druze village in the Golan Heights to meet with the witness to the unilateral transfer of earth over the Lebanese-Israeli border, I came upon a young Druze man. In 1979, aged fourteen, he was shepherding his family’s herd of goats on a pasture near his house in Mag’dal Shamas, when he found an object he did not recognize, and picked it up in his hand. It was a mine which exploded within seconds. He lost his right eye, his right hand and his right leg. When I met him he was thirty two years old. He told me his story and asked to go on sharing with me his feelings about his injury. During the first project, Land without Earth, I was able to meet with and film the landmine victim to hear the rest of his story, in Mag’dal Shamas, a village in the Golan Heights, or the Syrian Heights, occupied by the State of Israel during the Six Day War in June 1967.

The film covers two time periods: the first is a flashback to the thirty two year old man’s childhood, marking each stage of his life in which some event took place connected to the amputation of limbs and body parts from his whole body. The second focuses on his progress in the present. The journey begins with my traumatic encounter with his amputated limb, continues with the scene of children the age of the child he was then, before his injury, playing hide and seek on a minefield, with the natural enthusiasm and mischief of childhood. Next we move to a scene in which children climb on the fence separating the Golan Heights from their homeland, Syria, on a rise known as “The Hill of Tears”. The section focusing on the child he had been ends by coming back to the man in the present who returns to the killing fields to point out the place where his injury took place. The focus then shifts back to the landmine victim himself; we enter his house and see him playing backgammon with the witness, the protagonist of the first film, so that both share the screen just as later on both projects meet in these pages. We then return to the room in which the film began, at which point the mine victim slowly describes in words his feelings about what has happened to him, reaching a climax in the final frame, in which the man who prevailed, becomes the man damaged to his very soul.[2]


Image 4.

Salama Ortar, Ilana. Corporeal Memory, documentary experimental film, 2000,12  min.


Image 5.

Salama Ortar, Ilana. Corporeal Memory, documentary experimental film, 2000,12  min.


Image 6.

Salama Ortar, Ilana. Corporeal Memory, documentary experimental film, 2000,12  min.


Land Without Earth: from chronological to investigative journey

A lecture given by the Lebanese artist Amal Sa’adeh at the Beaux-Arts in Paris in October 1999 triggered Land without Earth. The theft of earth from the security zone of Southern Lebanon to which she referred left me shocked and stunned. Could part of the land in northern Israel, and the scenery we visited there so often in our childhood have been transferred from another place, actually stolen? If so, what are the political and ethical ramifications of the Security Zone within southern Lebanese territory, and what does this mean for my own identity as an Israeli? How could it be that the border between one sovereign state and another could be blurred to the point that it disappears?

I began my investigation of this episode from the only clue I had, an article in the An Nahar newspaper from 2nd November 1998 which the Lebanese artist had used in her installation.

Image 7.

The Lebanese daily al-Nahar, 2 November 1998


The reports and the written word

From the moment I found this article in the Dayan Centre, I understood that in order to verify the story I had to remain in the realm of print media and therefore decided to undertake a comparative survey of Lebanese and Israeli newspapers in order to find out what information each country had propagated with regard to the soil theft episode. I was interested in how each side defined those involved, and how the event itself was described, how the crux of the disagreement was presented. I wanted to see whether the voice of the victim or of an objective observer would be heard in the reports, and to understand the part played by language in this context, and how it influenced public awareness. The Ha’aretz newspaper devoted an eighth of a page on 30th October 1998 to a report about the soil theft. It quotes the Israeli coordinator of activities in Lebanon, Mr. Lubrani:

I wonder where this came from. We are already accustomed to accusations as thoughIsrael were redirecting the Litani to the Sea of Galilee. Now it’s earth. Tomorrow they’ll tell you that we’re taking their air.[3]

The Lebanese daily newspaper An Nahar devoted two pages to the episode on 2ndNovember 1998 including three pictures. The caption of one of the pictures is “A bulldozer in Mar’g El Chiam in the process of stealing earth and transferring it over the international border, as can be seen in the upper part of the picture from behind the road.” The text reads thus:

On 29th October 1998, Nebieh Beri accused Israel, in the Lebanese Parliament, of stealing a vast amount of Lebanese agricultural earth from the Hezbiah area to El Arkub, in which the old British airport stood. It appears that it was transported in tractors and trucks to the Jewish settlements of northern Galilee and to the new Metullah which stands next to the colonialist (musta'amarah,  (مستعمرة Metullah. It appears that the Israeli occupying army has destroyed Lebanese countryside, and prevented the Lebanese army from approaching. Parliament has sent a letter [of protest] to the Arab League, to the UN and to members of Parliament.[4]

In Arabic musta'amarah or “colony,” derives from the expression Isti’amariah استعمارية) , colonialism), and implies that the settlement to which the earth was transferred is not legitimate, as with all of the Jewish settlement in Israel, which is seen as part of a colonial movement. Arab settlements are never termed thus, but are called villages, towns, and cities.[5]Use of such terminology clearly participates in the fashioning of Lebanese public opinion. The three pictures accompanying the article add a visual aspect to the subject under discussion: one shows the large border stone as seen from Lebanese-Israeli border, looking towards the Security Zone.

On 8th November, 1998 a further article on the subject appeared in Ha’aretz, reporting that Israel had retracted her denials:


Israel confirms for the first time the Lebanese claim, that Israeli civilians are digging in the area of Adasiah village in southern Lebanon, and transferring agricultural earth to the Galilee. A defence source told Ha’aretz that a repeated check carried out by the defense authorities, following the publication in Ha’aretz on 30thOctober, revealed that Israeli civilians stole earth from within Lebanese territory, without permission from the army.[6]


At this stage I reached two conclusions. First, judging by the journalistic text, the accusations against Israel of soil theft were true and second, since the entire dispute about the controversial earth, the cluster of reports and counter-reports was conducted in the pages of the Lebanese and Israeli press, the print media had become a public space in which discourse was conducted between the two states about the earth.

I still had difficulty understanding how theft on such a scale could be carried out without any support from the army which controlled the occupied Security Zone. I felt my own earth shaking under my feet. I understood that I had to take further steps to uncover the truth with the aid of live testimony, witnesses who could tell me about the episode first hand. I was not satisfied with the findings I already had, since I had  never seen the area being spoken of and did not myself have a visual record, relying instead on the visual record as published in An Nahar, in which the area is photographed from the Lebanese border looking over Israel. I wished to have a picture of the situation from the opposite direction –– a gaze directed from Israel northwards. I therefore approached the Centre for Alternative Information in Jerusalem, through whom I met the Druze witness from Mag’dal Shamas in the Golan Heights.




The film Land without Earth

The film begins with a three minute long shot in silence.


Image 8.

Salama Ortar, Ilana. Adamot, Land Without Earth, experimental documentary film, 1999, 17 min.


The film crew, the witness and I sat in the car, filming the road leading to Metullah, with only the camera lens poking out of the car window. We see a passing scene of eucalyptus trees; in the distance are the steep hills at the foot of Mt. Naftali on the road to Metullah, hints of wadis and flat land next to the road. I wished to convey the sense that the camera was touching the earth, penetrating it, as though it were a painting using the earth, as though the earth was present as a material impacting the celluloid film.

Image 9.

Salama Ortar, Ilana. Adamot, Land Without Earth, experimental documentary film, 1999, 17 min.


Image 10

Salama Ortar, Ilana. Adamot, Land Without Earth, experimental documentary film, 1999, 17 min.


After these three long minutes of footage, we approached Metullah, going up the road to reach the new part of the city, boasting two new family houses. The deep voice of the witness, reporting how he transported the earth, breaks through the prolonged and perhaps disturbing silence. This was a very difficult moment for me. As a child, travelling to the north of Israel was always very exciting but the visit recorded on film was different, loaded as I was with information as a result of my journalistic research. Not far from the border, and from the town of Metullah, there is a site called “Stove Falls” a sort of local Israeli Niagara Falls. This scenery denotes childhood for me, and some of my childhood memories are planted here, in this earth. Now, from the moment I verified the story of the earth theft, I felt that the land had betrayed me, as though I was looking at something unreal. This was not my land, and if so, where did I stand, as an Israeli citizen, where was I? In the film I approached this earth, just as in the three minutes long, silent long shot, as if it were a painting, and was distressed to discover something false, dishonest in the space. Doubts began to arise in me about stories I had heard as a child. This was a most painful awakening, because it was associated with both my personal identity and with a collective identity. The land, which since childhood had been a constant source of longing and pride, the Lion monument at Tel Hai which proudly commemorates how borders of the homeland were guarded, could this be the same landscape, or had the road signs been misplaced? Perhaps this was not the same place.[7]

We continued on our way to the object of our journey, the border from which we hoped to find a way (although we did not yet know how) to see the relevant territory, somehow to cross the border. We came to the IDF’s dirt road, which divided Israel from the Security Zone inLebanon along the entire border.


The witness: Now, left. Here is the land, now. I’m sure that it was taken from there, from that hill, there. Keep driving, let’s turn to the excavation site.

Look, Ilana, far away to the left, the packed ground. Wait, let’s get closer…what I’d like to show you is a sort of general view of the surroundings. You see, there on the left, is a low rise. That is one of the places from which I myself loaded earth. Now we have reached the last lamppost of Metullah. On our left is the villageof Killa, ahead of us is Marg’ Ayoun, and on the right, Lechiam. The valley between these two places, especially the front part, between the two fences, is the place from which the fertile earth was stripped then. You can still see the heaps of earth, the red clay. You can see the hollow places and traces of the excavation.

Where the grass grows very thin, all those places were shaved. You can see clearly where the grass is very thin, and where it is thick. From these places there were constant transports of earth, clay, for agricultural purposes, gardens, or to pave army roads. Usually the army repairs damaged roads itself. They took their materials from here. In 1996 I myself loaded earth from this specific place. You can also see a red lorry just there, by the road. You can see there a pile of fertile earth.


Here the witness went on to point out the border stone placed by the British when they built an airport here, on the other side of the fence, about 500 metres from us.


The witness: You can see there, that is the border stone. You can see there the level of land, how it moves down, by the red color in the stone there, the exposed part of the stone is a kind of grey, we can see it. These are border stones, so you can see to what depth the land here was exposed.[8]


The sensations I experienced at the beginning of the film continued to seep in. Here before me was the border stone, as a sculpted object, the change in the spectrum of whose colors told the whole story of the geopolitical development of this area. The lowest part, the foundations of the stone’s construction, was a red clay color marking the level to which the original earth which had enveloped most of the stone had left its mark, while the upper part which had always been above ground, was ochre-grey. Within this span, the color gradually changed, which made the front of the stone (like a sort of totem pole) into a marker demonstrating the drop in the level of the surface.

We left the dirt road which surrounds the Security Zone, and headed back to Metullah. This was the posterior part of the town in which had once housed the municipal rubbish dump. Part of the dump can still be seen, but next to it is a young orchard, as the witness testified. Referring again to the area of the security zone visible from the road, he went on:


People do not live in this place. You can see that the houses have been abandoned, but they were once flourishing or full of life as they say. This is a legal lagoon.

Ilana: What do you mean by that?

The witness: This is a place which Israel officially controls for security reasons. Israelclaims that it is now under Lahad’s control, but according to international law, responsibility for southern Lebanon is in the hands of the State of Israel. These are stories which the Israelis tell themselves. They have persuaded themselves that it is in fact Lahad and “not us” but no one believes it because it is under full Israeli control, and the Israeli army is deployed right over these lines. They have in fact tried to call this failure a success; they even want to give Antoine Lahad Israeli citizenship. Now he has an Israeli passport.[9]


Corporeal Memory: continuing the research journey

As I said, I met the landmine victim Salach during the creation of the first project. Despite his serious injury, and his disabilities, he chose, with great courage, to begin his life again, and to overcome his physical handicaps in vision, stability, mobility and manual dexterity, although the memory of the amputated limbs rises up and floats beyond the physical borders of his present day body, so that they situate death in the present. He says that he has managed to recover from his serious injury and to heal. But I wonder, given his story, whether it is at all possible to heal. I think this is a contentious word in a situation in which a person loses his right eye, his right hand and his right leg, and is left with one leg, one hand and an eye which is also injured. When he first asked me to document his life on film, I hesitated, since I had great mental difficulty in documenting what appeared to be half a man, in other words to imprint within myself pain and loss which I was not sure I could contain. Moreover, I felt that perhaps all this was completely impossible artistically speaking. I believe that artistic creation is a process whereby one takes materials from within and without, internalises and establishes them, works them in one’s own way, and then brings them forth to the world once more, as an aesthetic-artistic object. All this requires that the artist first internalise the materials, however, and I was not sure that I could contain all of Salach’s pain and loss within me. A second problem was that I did not know which artistic medium I could use to express absence, the absolute loss of half a body.

With regard to the first difficulty, my own process of internalization, I drew strength from the man who would become the aesthetic object of my art. My dialogue with him revealed that he was blessed with emotional resilience. He gave me the strength to pursue the project, to contain the fact of his life, breathing, functioning, driving a member of the community and longing for his life to be documented. The physical absence did not harm the authentic dialogue between us, rather the contrary; it gathered momentum and became a challenge. As to the second difficulty, the solution presented itself gradually. When I saw Salach for the first time, dressed in short trousers and slowly putting on his single shoe, I understood that it would be possible to document the lack artistically with minimalistic artistic intervention. I felt that he contained within himself the existence of his amputated limbs. The lack declared itself in speech and action and so I chose to construct the project using film. All that was needed was to position the camera and to allow it to document, absorb, listen and trace the man, with almost no intervention: the feelings arose by themselves.


The film Corporeal Memory

In the film we see people shouting over the border, while small children climb on the fence. The camera zooms in on the children, in a scene which bridges to the next scene, in which we go into the house at the edge of the village. Salach wanted us to meet his relatives living next to the border with a minefield around their house. Yellow, triangular warning signs saying “Danger, mines” are scattered around their backyard, which is also the children’s playground. We left the children playing catch and proceeded to the field, the actual spot where Salach was injured. He threw a stone towards the dry field ahead of us:


This is where it happened.

You take me back a long time…Look at those kids watching us, I was like them. I have nothing to hide…I had two legs and now I have one, two hands and now one. I had two eyes and now half, yes, one half of an eye, not one eye. As of this point I began a new life…a new story. It was in the past lush with green, not like now…look, it’s all dry. For me life stopped on that day.[10]


At the sound of his words, it occurred to me that the land which had soaked up the victim’s blood was once green, and now it was dry, no longer functioning as agricultural land. The goats can no longer graze here. I thought that this was a threatening linkage, woven into the semantic tapestry of man, land and blood: adamadamah and dam in Hebrew. These three words evoke a space immersed in the winds and smells of war. This space, which had been a battlefield and which was still under foreign occupation, continues to bear the consequences of being a threatening place. Blood can be a sign of life, according to the Bible, but also of death. Here, in the place I stood, you could feel death in the air.

We went on filming Salach from behind, marching towards the car on crutches. In the background oriental music and the sound of the crutches clicking on the ground can be heard. The camera sweeps over the triangular, yellow warning signs. Next we have a shot of an old Druze picking fruit. We film the sunset, creating a transition (born of longing) to our witness, injured by the landmine, together with the witness of the first project, at home, dressed in white and playing backgammon. The camera is focused on them, but peeps outside, and captures a tall IDF command post, with an Israeli flag flying above it, overlooking the surrounding area, including the landmine victim’s house. Salach has meanwhile taken off his outdoor clothes and has changed into sweatpants. In the following scene we see his room. He sits on his bed, touches the stump of his leg and begins to speak. There is a close up on his body, zooming in slowly on his glass eye, and his injured other eye.



It took a long time to get into the story and also it takes time to get out of it. Yesterday, after you left, I called [a friend] and set him in front of me and talked to him for two or three hours in order to exit the story before I could fall asleep…It’s not that I want my leg back or that I miss it, in my dreams I run with both legs and I touch with both hands, but this I feel only in my dreams. . . . . The more I think about this, the more I feel the pain. In order to distance the pain, it is necessary to touch and get used to my new body, get used to my true body, take the senses that have remained with the good limb and apply them, to familiarise myself with and feel the stumps. These are now the new limits of my body, the ends that remain. Behind these ends there are many things. There are still veins there that feel and talk and cry that they were not born to be in this state, that they were not born like that. OK, you were not meant to be born like that, you should not be like that, but you are now like that. On one hand you want to continue with your life because the years go by, but on the other hand this is what has happened…Why?


While speaking, he begins to cry. The camera zooms in on the semi-healthy eye and then on the false eye. He covers his eyes with his fingers as though to cover up the crying, and continues:


I often ask myself, why do I have to suffer so much in order to live? Is this the price I have to pay in order to live? I cannot…I cannot…[11]


These images led me to imagine the landmine victim as someone whose amputated half makes itself present via the living half. The past presence of the amputated limbs, of the land scraped bare, recalls Merleau-Ponty’s ideas about perception:


These gaps in memory merely express the temporal structure of our  body. At each successive instant of a movement, the preceding instant is not lost sight of. It is, as it were, dovetailed into the present, . . . . . But the impending position is also covered by the present, and through it all those which will occur throughout the movement. Each instant of the movement embraces its whole span, and particularly the first which being the active initiative, institutes the link between a here and a yonder, a now and a future, which the remainder of the instants will merely develop.[12]


It is as though the living part is looking at the dead part, not as a realistic, concrete, living object, but as an imaginary entity, dreamlike, like a memory. The memory persists in the living part. How did such memory persist for the stolen earth?


The border stone as an involuntary monument

The border stone mentioned above is one of several which marked the limits of the British airport built in Southern Lebanon during the Second World War. At its edge a virtual boundary line stretches between the stones, marking the border. Nowadays, the foundations of the stones are exposed and the particular stone featured in my project constitutes a perpendicular marker, measuring the level of earth and demonstrating the quantity of agricultural earth which was transferred over the border. The surface level has sunk by about one meter since the Israelis began excavating earth here.

The scars of the earth theft are engraved on the border stone, a memory intrinsic to the fall in surface level. The absence of what once was is made present by the traces left in the site, in the form of the changing spectrum of colours on the surface layer of stone: from pale ochre in the upper part to red-brown clay on the lower part. Historically, the stone’s construction marked a border, and in this project it becomes a geopolitical yardstick of the space in question, a mark of the exposure of the earth theft, demonstrating the differences between land as an expression of territory and land as material, as well as a means for mapping out the progress of a cinematic journey.

Given this state of things, the border stone that has witnessed and internalized geopolitical developments, functions as an inadvertent monument, a silent witness. It comes to mark a lack via the presence of the traces on the surface patina of the stone of what had been uprooted. The theoretician and curator Stephen Wright, who curated the installation Landwithout Earth as part of the Negotiations exhibition in A Space in Toronto commented on the border stone:

An installation that was a pile of earth on the floor of an art space would not be up to the task of dealing with that kind of problem symbolically. At best, that kind of project would evoke the absence of a presence –- the fact that there was no earth on that land. But the real issue is not so much the absence of a presence, but rather the presence of an absence.[13]

To return to the landmine victim, we can draw an analogy between the human body of the injured man which carries within it the memory of his amputated limbs, and the territory which carries with it the memory of earth which was excavated from it. In both cases we may speak of the memory of organs which were amputated but which are always present in what remains. In the second project the injured man feels his amputated limbs and continues to recall everything which has happened to him, while in the first the border stone evokes the memory of the amputated land above the surface.



Adama, Adam, Dam (Land, Man, Blood): two projects as a single semantic tapestry

I used the title of the first project, Land without Earth, as the title of the film, given that the structure of the Hebrew word Adama, which as I have explained, contains within it the three words adamaadam and dam (:אדמה, אדם, דם earth, man, blood). The two projects discussed in this article became entwined and share a common basis: their stories are a result of events in a space of emergency, in which war was or is still being waged. This is a situation in which the human and the land share a common fate: they both involuntarily undergo domination by a sovereign power controlling their space. This state of emergency leaves its eternal scars on the body of the adam/a (man/earth); engravings in the body, both of the man and of the earth. This is not a mere metamorphosis. The man does not simply become something else, but a specific something. He is lacking, in this case part of his body.

This analogy between the Hebrew words adamaadam and dam carries within it resonances of past and present, completeness and lack, light and darkness, plenitude and emptiness together with a resonance between the two projects Land Without Earth andCorporeal Memory. Thus a kind of semantic, conceptual tapestry is woven during the artistic process made up of a back and forth dynamic of ideas and emotions between the two projects around the words adamaadam and dam, creating an analogy between discussion of territorial space and human reality in a state of war, with its effects and consequences, and opening a deep fissure in their presence.

The word adama has a complex etymology and carries several meanings in Hebrew. It means a space (equivalent to a place, or Makom[14] in Hebrew), and thus carries geopolitical meaning; it is a territory of cultural significance with regard to homeland, home and belonging. It also has a material meaning: earth, the stuff which is the land, whether fertile or desolate.

Both the projects discussed in this paper deal with the triad adama-dam-adam. In fact the Biblical references are to reciprocal pairs rather than triads, with a triad emerging from a cycle of these pairs: adama-adam, adam-dam and adama-dam. According to the Ben Yehudahdictionary the first direct reference to a connection between adama and adam appears inMidrash Tanhuma: “The scripture in Exodus 20 says ‘make me an altar out of earth.’ Why out of earth? Because adam [man] was created out of earth, and was named Adam because he was taken out of adama [earth].”[15] Thus adama and adam seem to be connected, although it is possible that this Midrash refers only to a name and does not constitute linguistic evidence. The word dam is not connected to adam here, although according to the Ben Yehudah dictionary the word adom (red) is connected to dam (blood).

Adama and Adam

In the book of Genesis we find “And God formed man [adam] of the dust of the ground [adama], and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”[16] In the same chapter there is a reference to this connection between adama and adam:


“in the day that God made the earth and the heavens . . . no plant of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet grown: for God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.”[17]


The earth according to Genesis becomes fertile, agricultural land yielding fruit and vegetables, only once Man tills it. Thus, in the Bibilical story of creation, adam and adama are two entities created for each other, deriving from each other, and therefore having an undeniable reciprocal relation whereby each comes to fulfill its potential by virtue of the other. Genesis tells us that the meaning of the existence of man depends on his tilling the land, while the existence of the land is justified in that it provides man with bread. This is only part of the Biblical dialogue between adama and adam, which includes of course the beginning and end which we all share: “By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return.”[18]


Adam and Dam

Adam is the name of the first man, but the word refers to all humankind according to the Ben Yehudah dictionary: “Male and female he created them . . . and called their name Mankind [adam]”.[19] The word dam (blood) is defined by the Ben Yehuda dictionary as “the liquid red material in the body of animals which leaves the heart and passes through the arteries.”[20] In this context the Bible makes a clear analogy between a wicked deed or murder and the word blood. “Shedding blood” is the Biblical term for murder of a live creature in which there is injury done to the outer matter of the body which causes bleeding to death. “Whoso sheds man’s blood [dam] by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made the man [adam].”[21]


Adama and Dam

In a state of war or war-dependent emergency which causes unnatural deaths, the terms adamaand adam come near to the term dam. In such situations the Biblical dialogue between the terms adama and adam, which are mutually implicated and which fulfill each other’s potential for life, begin to be undermined.


Adama, Adam and Dam in the Corporeal Memory and Land without Earthprojects

Adama, or earth, in the colloquial idiom “mother earth” refers to a life giving, entity which takes man to her bosom when he dies. “By the sweat of your brow shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the ground.”[22] However, mother earth appears to have stolen from the landmine victim part of his body in the most traumatic fashion, instead of giving him life. The pastorality of a goatherd grazing his flock is instantly destroyed. The goatherd, who goes innocently about his daily business, holds a mine which blows up in his hand and half of his body is amputated, or dead. One may imagine the quantity of blood which would have been spilt onto the ground on which he stood: this absorption of blood into the ground is not a metaphor, it is real. 

The Druze goatherd’s house is in the Golan Heights, captured by Israel from Syria in 1967 and annexed in 1981. For the young Druze, war brought about the loss of his identity and he was forced to take on an Israeli ID card. The young goatherd was injured on ground which was no longer his own, and the injury did not produce any result which could answer to the nationalist rhetoric of occupation and death for the sake of the homeland on either side.[23]

Let us return for a moment to the scene in the film where the landmine victim throws a stone to point out the exact spot where the injury took place: “it happened there”. This living witness to bloodshed now “here” while the blood which drained from his body and soaked into the ground is “there” and can no longer be returned to its natural, logical site. The natural balance between blood flowing through his body, maintaining all his organs, making of them one harmonious unit, has been disrupted irreversibly. The blood has become a metaphor for death.

This metaphor creates an analogy with the above discussion about the whole versus lack. Here we see a movement in and out; there is something which undoes the vitality of blood when it passes from its innerness, from a protected, natural, appropriate space, outwards: it is spilt, and it drains away and then is always accompanied by a morbid chime of death. As long as it remains in situ, (national, local, belonging in the triad adama-adam-dam) it remains in the sphere of life, but when it is taken out of its milieu, it becomes death.

The two exposures, of the body and of the earth, bring about an injury to one’s identity. One may ask what the identity of a Syrian man on whom Israeli citizenship has been imposed is, or what the nature of this southern Lebanese territory which is no longer a place is, since its earth has been stolen from it. The sovereignty of the land has been breached, the territory has passed into Israeli hands, and Salach is no longer free to live in his village without fear of an unexpected landmine injury. The sovereignty of the landmine victim over his own body has been breached because the injury has amputated half of his body, while he was going about his everyday business. The landmine victim is not going to conquer a homeland for himself; he simply wants to live an ordinary life in his home, in his homeland. In the state of emergency of war, his life has become subject to the will of others, similar to the situation in southernLebanon.

The absence of limbs of a person and the lack of layers of earth which were stolen, are an expression of the state of emergency which was created as a consequence of war. This is an expression of a political presence bringing about an absence; it is an expression of political interference in a living space which was previously complete and pastoral.

Thus bloodshed, which as we have seen, is a figure for murder and serious crime, perpetrated against both man and land, determines the analogy running as a thread and guiding principle throughout this discussion, between the shared fate of the amputated body of the landmine victim and the land from which earth was stolen, whose its fertile layers were amputated. Both adam and adama find themselves in a state of emergency, in an exposed space, under the shadow of war. The film Land without Earth opens with a long silence of metaphoric significance: the silence of my own pain in the face of the silence of the land, which someone has taken the trouble to steal and also the silence at the end of the film Corporeal Memory, where the camera zooms in slowly on the landmine victim’s glass eye, and the stump of his amputated right leg.

I wished to approach the body in the films documenting the two projects, the body of the landmine victim and the land stripped of its top layer of earth, as though it too were a body. I wished to attempt to give them the floor, as it were, to allow them to speak. In fact, I wished to confront my own feelings and to transpose them in terms of the earth and the man; to express in the work of art that which blood was responsible for in the earth and in the man.



Adam and Adama as an example of Homo Sacer; bare life and bare earth

In Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Giorgio Agamben explicates the terms Homo Sacer and “bare life” which as I intend to show are exemplified by both man (adam) and earth (adama), as expressed in the two projects discussed in this article. Both subsist in what may be defined as a state of emergency or a “State of Exception.”

Homo Sacer is a man deprived of social and civic rights. Murder of such a man is not considered a crime, but although he may be killed it is forbidden to sacrifice him to God and thus lend meaning to his death. Agamben defines such a life as “sacred”:[24] “life that cannot be sacrificed and yet may be killed is sacred life.”[25]  According to Adi Ophir, this is a “double exception (to both legal and religious rule), and a life exposed in a no-man’s land in which the principle limits of culture have been rubbed out, so that the life of the Homo Sacer becomes bare life.”[26] 

                 Driving along the Israeli-Lebanese border with the witness in the Land without Earthproject, he described the border stone around which the earth had been stolen, the stone construction which has internalized the geopolitical developments in space by the change of the color scale on its façade. Discovering the stone during our journey he used terms like “the exposed part of the stone” and “the land here was exposed”. The affinity of the word “exposed” with Agamben’s thought comes immediately to mind because it adds a local interpretation to the notion of “bare life.”

In Hebrew the word “Chisuf” (exposure or denuding) is a term used by the IDF to refer to the act of uprooting Palestinian fields in an apparently arbitrary but actually carefully planned operation. The idea is to punish the Palestinian population by uprooting vegetation from their territory under the pretext of clearing a visual field for security purposes.

This word “exposure”, used intuitively by the witness, represents the situation of emergency he experienced in his living space. Indeed the definition of “exposed life” may illuminate the entire geopolitical significance of the Druze village in the Golan Heights, and of the Security Zone in southern Lebanon. Life in those territories has become “bare life”, abandoned by the sovereign power. The sovereign is “he who decides on the state of exception” which is the “state power’s immediate response to the most extreme internal conflict.”[27] In Ophir’s view, Agamben is arguing that the sovereign is he who has been authorized by law, and has been authorized legally to abandon life, in exceptional circumstances, and is even authorized to decide about the exceptional circumstances in which one may abandon life.[28]

Under which circumstances might the State take such actions against another people; in which legal context may they suspend the law of the Other, and what is the “normal order” to be reinstated? In Land Without Earth, Israel controlled an area of southern Lebanon for, she argued, reasons of self-defense, declaring the Security Zone a restricted area of military deployment. Israel had no territorial claims as such, but nevertheless retained sovereign control over the area. In this temporal-legal framework, we see that Israeli citizens tore up earth in this place, transferred it to another country (Israel) and left the area stripped of its rich topsoil. As a result, the place is no longer what it was: the place is no longer the place.

Corporeal Memory documents an area which experienced war. Israel did not wish to perpetuate the temporary nature of the place, and therefore legislated the annexation of the Golan Heights to Israel. Rather than a legal vacuum, the State of Emergency produces a legal, juridical “détournement.” Law does not disappear, but is distorted, multiplied, transformed and imposed, according to the wishes of the sovereign power. In the case of the Golan Heights, the Syrian residents were forced to take on Israeli citizenship. Moreover, as a former battlefield, the border area contains unmarked landmines which bring life in that place to the brink of an abyss. The boy who went out to herd his goats near his house, found himself to be no longer what he had been, after his injury which left him missing half of his body. The man is no longer the man.

Place no longer a place, man no longer a man: such a situation of earth and body is not restricted to the border zones I describe. The study Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture, edited by Israeli architects Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman,[29] resonates strongly with my work in this respect. Though they focus on the West Bank, many of their findings and analyses might well be applied to the Security Zone of southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights. Take this comment by architect Sharon Rotbard, for example:


Thus in the Occupied Territories today we find two countries superimposed one on the other: on top, “Judea and Samaria,” the land of settlements and  military outposts, bypass roads and tunnels; and underneath “Palestine,” the land of villages and towns, dirt roads and paths.[30]


In the civilian occupation they depict,[31] sovereignty, exposure, body, and landscape are brought together through a violence that aims to produce the ideal image (ideal for the Israeli state) – Homo Sacer for the sake of staged representations:                                                                                                           

“Within this panorama, however, lies a cruel paradox: the very thing that renders the landscape “biblical” or “pastoral” – its traditional inhabitation and cultivation in terraces, olive orchards, stone buildings and the presence of livestock – is produced by the Palestinians, whom the Jewish settlers came to replace. And yet, the very people who cultivated the “green olive orchards” and render the landscape biblical are themselves excluded from the panorama. . . . The gaze that sees a “pastoral, Biblical landscape” does not register what it does not want to see, it is a visual exclusion that seeks a physical exclusion. Like a theatrical set, the panorama can be seen as an edited landscape put together by invisible stage hands that must step off the set as the lights come on.”[32]


Indeed, the question of the relation of body and earth can be extended to Israeli policy in general. In this sense, the Israeli version of sovereignty and governance could be investigated from the viewpoint of “biopower”[33] as formulated by Michel Foucault: “The very essence of the right of life and death is actually the right to kill: it is at the moment when the sovereign can kill that he exercises his right over life. It is essentially the right of the sword.”[34] “The right of the sword” seems an especially apt term to refer to power in whose name war has long since spread from the circumscribed dimension of battlefields and soldiers to any landscape and civilian, to involve any realm of life. Biopower, the trusty companion of total war,[35] conceives of itself as limitless, turning entire areas into exposed zones, subjugating citizens to the will of the sovereign authority. 

In Land Without Earth there is indeed a state of exception, an abandoned territory: the Israeli occupied zone of southern Lebanon whose border is permeable alongside the Israeli one. I refer the reader once again to the testimony in the report by Yosef Algazi in Ha’aretz on 24thDecember 1999 by the CEO of a contracting company in Rosh Pina who took part in the transfer of earth from Lebanon, to the ease with which the transfer was effected, with no need for border permits from the army or any other authority (or by letting it go without any legal restriction: transferring this territory to a no man’s land). 

         The affinity between abandonment in a field in southern Lebanon and the state of abandonment and exposed life in Agamben’s thought indicates a state of emergency subsisting in the areas under discussion in this article. The landmine victim in the Golan Heights and the situation in southern Lebanon represent lives in a space of emergency or a space in which a “state of emergency” exists exposing the space of life and existence of the person or the environment to every sort of injury. It is the sovereign power controlling the place which is responsible for this situation.

The almost inevitable result transpired: the body of the child living his everyday life in an environment subject to the consequences of war, in an exposed environment, fell afoul of the political situation in which the space found itself. The boy’s injury resulting in the death of half of his body is in fact a political intervention in that body. In the soil theft episode, the state of the territory was subject to the political situation subsisting in the space which experienced a territorial death, and created a state of exposed space.

In Lebanon, a land invaded by all sorts of powers, the space itself becomes a HomoSacer; whoever carries out more violence in the field wins, be it Israel or Hezbollah, and the result is that the land and the people who live there are exposed. The impotence of the individual in a state of emergency renders the body a bio-political entity; a situation in which the political, or sovereign rule is imprinted on the body of the individual, a distortion of individual intimacy, suspended between life and death.

Aristotle distinguishes between the bios and the zoe. The bios is the art of living together in a political community, while the zoe is life itself, as plants and animals can live it.[36] Here, land taken from over the Lebanese border is vulnerable to theft because all that remains there iszoe (agricultural, fertile earth was stolen, the only kind which can allow the bios to grow), since the political presence which lent this organic material territorial and political meaning has disappeared as a result of the war. The organic material, therefore, no longer belongs to political life, but only to life as such. It is like an accessible limb which smugglers may grasp in order to add life (zoe) to another, Israeli territory, which lives well (bios). But in doing this, the Israeli territory loses its universal validity. It is no longer the Land of Israel, it no longer symbolises the relation of law, but rather of non-law, actually theft. The territory thus loses its meaning as well as its bios to be replaced by the image of abundant zoe.

The term “exposed land” is not only a metaphor in which man is replaced by land, neither is it simply a literal translation of the terminology developed by Agamben. It relates to the worrying provocation of soil theft. This is, I argue reflexively, a metaphor which consists of a material reality, which mingles with physical reality. I wish to emphasize the difference as well as the similarity of the example of soil theft in the context of Agamben’s theory however.

We usually tend to understand sovereignty as a means or an operation of rule or authority over a population in a geographic territory according to the classic infrastructure of the sovereignty-population-territory model. In the case before us however, the relation is different: the strata of earth are themselves involved in the events. This is not a story of eviction of people, but of the theft of earth from under the people’s feet, and its transfer to another place belonging to the perpetrator, the Israeli northern border town of Metullah. The testimony and viewpoints relating to exposed life, relate to a liminal status of people over and on the border. I juxtaposed these two cases in order to illuminate my claim, that not only is human life left exposed on the border, but also earth, territory, in a place in which the abstract, metaphoric idea mingles with material reality. There is an analogy here between refugees uprooted from their land, with nowhere to return to, and land which has been uprooted from under its inhabitants. In the case under discussion, “nowhere to return to” means something else; the place itself, the locus or topos has been stolen, a fact which has material implications, since nothing can grow there anymore; the place itself has become barren. It is as though something radical has taken place there, leaving its mark, like a radioactive attack, since there is no earth, only emptiness.

This idea is carries within it a reversal of fundamental, classical concepts of Zionism. The theft of a place, the exposed earth, is the reverse of the Zionist narrative with its understanding of redemption, of holding onto the land. In this narrative, Zionist pioneers made the desert which was the Land of Israel before Zionism, bloom. Here we are dealing with the reverse case, in which fertile land is stolen and laid waste in another place.

At the end of the nineteenth century, when Baron Rothschild purchased land around Metullah, hundreds of Druze farmers who had worked this land were obliged to leave it. A few years later, in 1907, the educator Yitzchak Epstein published an important article in the journalShiloach: “A Question Disappeared.” The fulfillment of the Zionist dream, he argued, obliges one to take into account a matter which the Zionists had ignored up till then: this people who had already been living on “our desired land” for hundreds of years and shows no intention of leaving it. Epstein wished to undermine the idea of Israel as virgin earth, the Zionist assumption that the Land of Israel consisted of unworked land, because of a lack of available labour, and the laziness of the inhabitants, by arguing that “there are no desolate fields.”[37] Epstein’s claim is a violent attack on the Zionist vision, the idea of the liberation of the land. Moreover, the declaration that the Land of Israel was not fertile until the Zionists arrived and developed it, set against the story of the theft of fertile earth, introduces a shift into the Zionist vision. So what, or who’s is the land now?

We reach 2011 and this question still haunts me. From 1996 to 2008 I taught at theCommunications, Film and Television School at the Sapir Academic College in the city of Sderot,near the border between Israel and Gaza. Every day, we were threatened by Kassam missiles fired at the town from Gaza. On the other side, the Gazan Palestinians experienced daily Israeli attacks and bombardments. The fear of being bombarded has temporally relocated to the south. Still, there is a heavy cloud of emergency throughout the country. The Space of Emergency, this utterly oppressive domination, has spread all over the region. I ask myself: where are we headed? Is there indeed any place to go to?



Conclusion: the effectiveness of a work of art in a Space of Emergency

The evolution of the project began with acquaintance with the subject via the work of the Lebanese artist Amal Sa’adeh, who told her story and referred me to the An Nahar newspaper of 2nd November 1998, followed by a journalistic investigation, and then the creation of two new artistic projects, culminating in an article in Ha’aretz on 24th December 1999. The creative process began and ended in public space: the Lebanese and then the Israeli newspaper. A discussion of free movement of both sides into the field of the other’s public space is beyond the scope of this essay, but I note that the two newspapers met at the point of the comparative research I undertook. This is in keeping with the rhetoric of this entire project, a major part of which transgresses a border. The pages of the newspapers were a kind of common ground which could be presented as an alternative to the slow approach to the bitterness of conflict. In fact both sides which have never conducted a direct dialogue, created a kind of dialogue via an intermediary, contact on the pages of the newspapers. So gradually, by creating a montage back and forth, the Israelis conceded the facts which were presented in the Lebanese press. The final outcome of the project could be called the crossing of a border: from the work of art to politics and vice versa; a process of research and artistic expression which entered the newspaper in a photograph and an article in Ha’aretz, as material which could help prepare public opinion for the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon. The work of art combined with the newspaper, or the newspaper integrated the work of art in an article whose aims were political.

The limits of artistic activity were expanded to earn a place in public space. One could say that via artistic activity, the artist is able to lodge a handhold in a new border stone, which broadens the field of influence in a space which till now was restricted to public, political discourse, defined as journalism. The article spread over half a page and was illustrated with a picture of a marker stone, which I had photographed, over the other half of the page. The subheading of the article read: “For years Israelis have taken tons of earth from southernLebanon, and used it for military, agricultural and gardening purposes. It will not be possible to ignore this phenomenon in the pending negotiations between Israel and Lebanon.”

In the course of the work, I tried to define for myself the role of art in this political process. The projects described in this article do not aim to change politics, but are rather aesthetic experiences. I have, however, attempted to look from all points of view at two phenomena: an emotional, artistic approach interwoven with analytical research. The fact that this project interested a journalist and helped bring a political issue to public attention using my research and the film, typifies the way Civic Performance Art can help in a troubled society. The essay demonstrates how theoretical debates which aspire to create a new collage of ideas, are relevant to and concretised by the reality of States of Emergency or States of Exception; how theoretical ideas create change by an act in the world of art and how art acts in the real world to influence the articulation of theoretical debate.



[1] Giorgio Agamben, “Homo Sacer” : Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford: Stanford UniversityPress, 1998.

[2] "Corporeal Memory", documentary experimental film, dir. Ilana Salama Ortar, was made with the support of The Centre for Alternative Information (Jerusalem and Bethlehem); the El Haak organisation (Ramallah) and the International Lawyers Association (Geneva). It was first screened in 2000 simultaneously as part of the human rights films festival which was organised by the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and in the El Mataal hall in Ramallah.

[3] Ha’aretz, 30 October, 1998, p. 1, (Hebrew, translation mine).

[4] An Nahar, 2 November, 1998, p.1

[5] I am indebted for this lexical analysis to Ha’aretz journalist Yoav Stern and to Prof. Yossi Yona of Ben-Gurion University.

[6] Ha’aretz, 8th November 1998, p.6a

[7] Ilana Salama Ortar, The Camp of the Jews, Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House, Red Line Art Books, 2005, pp.98–99.

[8] "Land without Earth", documentary experimental  film, dir. Ilana Salama Ortar, 2000

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (Trans. Colin Smith), London & New York: Routledge, 2002, p.140

[13] Hanadi Loubani and Sara Matthews, “‘Land without Soil, Art without Artwork,’ Interview with Ilana Salama Ortar and Stephen Wright", Fuse Magazine, Vol 26 No.4, 2004, pp. 27–35.

[14] Also one of the names of God in Jewish tradition.

[15] Midrash Tanchuma – Eitz Yosef.  Jerusalem: Arieh Publishers. 5704–1943 [9thCenturyEurope, multiple authors; Vilna: Solomon Buber, 1885] (Hebrew). I am indebted to Rachel Seling of the Hebrew Language Academy for this reference.

[16] Genesis 2:7, The Jerusalem Bible. (Harold Fisch Rev. and ed.), Jerusalem: Koren Publishers, 1977.

[17] Genesis 2:4–5

[18] Genesis 3:19

[19] Genesis 5:2

[20] Ben Yehudah, Eliezer, The Modern and Classical Hebrew Language Dictionary, Tel Aviv: Le’Am, 1948, pp. 950-53.

[21] Genesis 9:6

[22] Genesis 3 :19.

[23] I do not here take a stance on behalf of the victim, but rather point out that the connection between body and earth is tragic in his case.

[24] To take this point a little further: “The sacred man is one whom the people have judged on account of a crime. It is not permitted to sacrifice this man, yet he who kills him will not be condemned for homicide; according to the first tribunitian law: ‘if someone kills the one who is sacred according to the plebiscite, it will not be considered homicide.’ This is why it is customary for a bad or impure man to be called sacred”. (Agamben 1998, p. 71, citing Pompeius Festus 1961). 

[25] Agamben, 1998, p. 82

[26] Adi Ophir, “From the Sanctification of Life to its Abandonment: An Introduction to Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer and Sovereign Power and Bare Life,” In Shai Lavi ed., Technologies of Justice: Law, Science and Society, Tel Aviv: Ramot, 2003, pp 353–434. (Hebrew, translation mine), p. 368.

[27] Ibid, pp.1–2. Agamben is in dialogue in this regard with Karl Schmitt who says that “it is the sovereign individual who determines the state of emergency.” See Karl Schmitt, Political Theology:Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Chicago and London: The University of ChicagoPress, 2005, p. 5.

[28] Ophir, 2003, passim.

[29] Rafi Segal and  Eyal Weizmann, “The Mountain” In A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture, New York: Babel & Verso, 2003, pp. 79–99.

[30] Rotbard 2002, pp.52-53.

[31] One recalls in this context Achille Mbembe’s analysis of colonial occupation for instance in his article “Necropolis”: “Colonial occupation itself was a matter of seizing, delimiting, and asserting control over a physical geographical area – of writing on the ground a new set of social and spatial relations. . . . Space was therefore the raw material of sovereignty and the violence it carries with it” (25-26). See Achille Mbembe, “Necropolis,” Public Culture: Vol 15, No.1, 2003, pp. 11–40.

[32] Segal and Weizman 2002, p. 92.

[33] A definition which Mbembe sharpens as follows: “But under what practical conditions is the right to kill, to allow to live, or to expose to death exercised?  Who is the subject of this right? What does the implementation of such a right tell us about the person who is thus put to death and about the relation of enmity that sets that person against his or her murderer? Is the notion of biopower sufficient to account for contemporary ways in which the political, under the guise of war, of resistance, or of the fight terror, makes the murder of the enemy its primary and absolute objective? War, after all, is as much a means of achieving sovereignty as a way of exercising the right to kill. Imagining politics as a form of war, we must ask: What place is given to life, death, and the human body (in particular the wounded or slain body)? How are they inscribed in the order of power?” (Mbembe 2003, p. 12).

[34] Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976(Trans. David Macey), New York: Picador, 2003, p. 240.

[35] Whose definition, the total mobilisation of resources in order to win, is particularly relevant today. Clearly, study of the relation between total war, biopower, mass violence (avoiding use of the term genocide”), and modernity is beyond the scope of this essay. Still, I wish to note that they draw together situations where body and earth are reduced to the status of pawns, obstacles, casualties.

[36] Aristotle, "Politics" in Aristotle in 23 Volumes (Trans. H. Rackham), Cambridge MA: HarvardUniversity Press, pp. 10-18.

[37] Algazi 1999, p. 73, citing Epstein 1907.

Ilana Salama Ortar works and lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, and part time in London & Berlin. She was born in Alexandria, Egypt and immigrated with her parents to Israel. For the past 20 years, in what she describes as Civic Performance Art and Architecture of Emergency, she has been developing interdisciplinary site-specific art projects dealing with issues of migration, refuge, and uprooting. These projects examine specific geographical, political, cultural and historical situations of displacement and attempt to integrate people‘s experiences into shared critical architectonic environments. They are intended to create perceptible critical approaches and propose new "distributions of the sensible" in public spaces. Civic performance Art concept stems from her own experience as both a displaced person and a citizen living in the conflict-ridden Middle East. Her experiences have alerted her to ways in which displacement and habitat (architecture of emergency) affect the social and cultural life of individuals and communities, their memories and identities. Such issues become all the more pressing in the current context of global population movements and the politics of regulation.


Readings, April 2011