Book Review: Eyal Weizman's Hollow Land

Eyal Weizman Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation London, Verso, 2007

One of the main challenges in trying to analyze the Palestinian-Israeli context is the ever-changing dynamics taking place on the territorial-political level. Time and space are complementary elements of the complex apparatus shaping and re-shaping the “reality on the ground.”


In this sense, the challenge consists of the ability to produce a set of effective notions which could grasp the constitutive flexibility and changeability of Israeli practices of dominion over the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), as well as associated interactions and responses of the plethora of actors which have progressively populated the scene in the recent decades. Among the basic and most theoretically stimulating questions constantly feeding Hollow Land is exactly how apparently situational –in space and time– measures have become the founding pillars of a coherent strategy of Israeli control, colonization and separation.


In the beginning of the book, Eyal Weizman situates his theorization within a very powerful framework of analysis, a framework resulting from the re-elaboration and application of the wide and analytically productive notion of architecture: “The architects in this book are therefore military men, militants, politicians, political and other activists” (6). Architecture is conceived both as a means of practical expropriation, occupation and re-shaping of the occupied spaces (chapter two on Jerusalem), and as a wider apparatus “constructing” the regime of colonization of the oPt – and its field of forces – through an often contrasting – set of multifaceted techniques, expertise, economies, ethics, notions and ideologies.

Through a rich military-political-historical reconstruction, the author sheds light on the “Copernican revolution” that took place within the Israeli architectural philosophy of occupation after the Suez defeat (1973). In fact, it’s in that period that the “agoraphobic” theory of fortification – the linear defensive theory, promoted in different forms by Bar Lev and Allon, according to which the external “borders” had to be reinforced for a better defense of the “State” – was supplanted by a more “transgressive”, anti-disciplinary, anti-geopolitical and anti-legal philosophy as the Ariel Sharon’s theory of the “defense in depth.” Weizman highlights the very nature of this “fortification in depth,” which consists of a network-centered dynamic practice of the space, rather than a line-centered geometric one. Spatially, the territorial geography of the oPt was filled up with a proliferation of new frontiers, as the territory itself has been progressively conceived as elastic, dynamic shifting, in opposition to the “ancient” notion of borders. Operationally, military bases, training camps and strongpoints were dispersed on the hilltops and in the strategic points of control, forming a matrix of military-territorial dominance. In substance, military authority became “dispersed” and military responses were given more and more “adaptively.”

This powerful reconstruction of the colonial frontier constitutes the backbone on which the post-1973 fragmented (institutional and anti-institutional) Israeli political/colonial organizations grafted their activities on that extraterritorial configuration that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip became after 1967. The “in depth” defensive plan has provided a basis for the planning of a “colonization in depth”: “Battlefield terms such as strong-point, advance, penetration, encirclement, envelopment, surveillance, control and supply lines migrated, from the military to the civilian sphere” (84). Military vocabulary and practices slid on the civilian arena. The organizational “controlled chaos” of the following decades – of which settlers and settlers’ organizations are only some of the protagonists – became the effective political ecology on which the government of the colonial frontier was exerted.

Ajami neighborhood in Jaffa where the gentrification and judaziation meet, one of the stakest manifestation of Isreal's demographic and geographic engineeringIn Weizman’s analysis, the “tautologically ambiguous” regime of Israeli occupation transformed itself into a permanent mode of government through different processes: using the violence of the “security measures” – transformed into permanent measures – as response to the subaltern’s violence; exploiting the effects of the official political-diplomatic discourse, which always represented the situation as close to a final solution; reinforcing the colonization practices through legal tactics which would have progressively “legalized” the practices of territorial control and dominance over the Palestinian population.

If this mode of government had to face certain economic and administrative obligations vis-à-vis the occupied Palestinian population in the pre-Oslo period, the post-Oslo “spurious” regime allowed the colonial apparatus to dismiss its previous obligations and to fully focus on those “ temporary security measures” which had constituted the legal basis of its mode of governing its extraterritorial frontier. Relieved of its responsibilities, after the delegation of the humanitarian duties and the main services to the PA via the international community, the Israeli architecture of occupation re-modulated its “securitarian” politics, pushing colonial violence much deeper into Palestinians’ lives (perhaps, here Weizman extends the notion of necro-politics to both physical and political death). It’s within this context that Israel’s architecture re-articulated its territorial and repression practices, elaborating new techniques and devices of control of its frontiers, expanding its colonial activities – especially in Area C – under the guise of security measures, and increasing the use of direct violence against the Palestinian population under the guise of “proportional measures.” Mobile phones and high tech companies, military-academic institutes like OTRI (Operational Theory Research Institute), civilian consultants and organizations all enhanced this “un-systematic” architectural apparatus of “measured” colonization and devastation.

Perhaps, one of the most brilliant chapters of Hollow Land, the one in which the “chaotic” nature of the Israeli architecture reveals its clarity, is the one on the Separation Wall. The different architects of the Israeli-Palestinian scenario emerge in their practices of “elasticity inductors.” All these different actors, moved by different ideologies, approaches, concerns and tasks, participate to the re-modulation of the path of the Wall traced by architect Tirza, the settler-consultant who planned the constantly re-oriented line of separation for Sharon’s government. Petitioners, human rights associations, lawyers, security experts and soldiers fought and are still fighting on the common battlefield of the “proportionality,” a principle embodied by the Israeli Supreme Court, in this case. The result of these apparently disordered tactics, interweaved with the presumed menaces to security and the elasticity of the Wall, all contributed to construct “a coherent strategic reality” (173).

Among the effects of this “irresolvable geography” there is the creation of what Weizman calls a “mutual extra-territoriality”: on one hand the Palestinian villages caged between the Green Line and the western part of the Wall and, on the other hand, the settlements situated on the eastern side of the separation structure. In order to “remedy” this fragmentation, and to reconnect the different territorial layers and dimensions produced by the logic of separation, the Israeli political architects planned a complex system of tunnels, hollowing the Palestinian land: “A new way of imagining space has emerged. After fragmenting the surface of the West Bank by walls and other barriers, Israeli planners started attempting to weave it together as two separate but overlapping national geographies – two territorial networks overlapping across the same area in three dimensions, without having to cross or come together. […] However […] the system of tunnels and bridges clearly demonstrates the very limitation of the politics of separation. Out of the endless search for the forms and mechanisms of “perfect” separation emerges the realization that a viable solution may not necessarily lie within the realm of territorial design” (182).

Providing a very articulated categorization of the reality, Weizman shows the necessity to re-think many of the categories used by several official discourses on Israel/Palestine: such notions as occupation, national sovereignty, borders, territory, law and strategy lose their – let’s say – “traditional” pertinence and relevance in the Israel-Palestine laboratory, as they are constantly re-shaped by their exceptional and elastic political constitutivity.