In a series of articles over the next few weeks we will explore how Israel has accidentally or intentionally made the Occupation invisible to most Israelis whether they live in Israel proper or reside in settlements in the West Bank.
In our second article we take the drive from Tel Aviv to Ariel. Ariel is the 4th largest Israeli settlement, but compared unlike the three that are bigger (in population) its is located deep inside the West Bank.
The Road to Ariel
The seamless, uninterrupted journey along the route 5 motorway from the beach of Tel Aviv to the settlement city of Ariel takes no more than 30 minutes. This motorway connects, if not blends, the Israeli metropolis with the occupied West Bank’s fourth largest settlement. This is a journey of invisible geography, a high-speed, rarely congested, almost endlessly straight motorway connecting Israel proper with Ariel which lies 17km inside the Green Line (almost halfway across the West Bank).
There are few distractions from points of interest once inside the Green Line; a Green Line that is itself ‘invisible’ on the ground without the aid of satellite navigation. In the not-too-far distance, on either side of the motorway, are the visible minarets of the local Palestinian towns and villages of the West Bank.
There are, however, no signposts along the motorway to tell you the names of these towns and villages. There are no motorway exit signs to these villages because there are no motorway exits to access them. They lie in for- bidden territory. The motorway is deliberately designed not to connect you to this invisible geography.
With no service stations along the 20-minute journey east of the Green Line and no motorway exits, there is no reason to slow down, let alone to stop. The journey is de- signed for constant movement; the landscape is engineered to be blurred, to be momentarily and safely consumed. If you look carefully (it passes by in a rapidly moving blur), you will notice the motorway’s edge is lined with hundreds of metres of coiled razor wire. For some this may appear an almost invisible boundary. To others, perhaps – at least those who take the journey regularly – it communicates a subconscious zone of protection.
The official and altogether more impenetrable Israeli separation barrier can be glimpsed on occasion in the middle distance, snaking across the landscape. The barrier in the distance looks deceptively anodyne, pastoral even. One could be forgiven for mistaking the it as an agricultural or property boundary fence. In open, rolling countryside in this part of the West Bank, there is no wall. Up close, this is in fact a 3m-high fence, separated by two continuous rolls of barbed wire and trenches, with a paved military road running down the middle. Israel has designed the commuting journey to suburban settlements to ensure it is as seamless and secure as possible, a continuous uninterrupted expansion of Israeli living space. This is engineered, Israeli frontier geography that seeks to strip itself of an irrefutable Palestinian reality.
Settlement-only exit signs on the drive from Tel Aviv to Ariel along Route 5
Travelling westwards from the West Bank, a large motorway toll-like security structure generates a sense of ‘here versus there’, Israel proper versus ‘the territories’. The toll-like barrier is not intended to signify a political or national border (it isn’t, after all, built on or close to the Green Line), but rather a security roadblock.
This is a watchful Israeli state that perpetuates the narrative that all Israelis are living this vulnerability together. Tel Aviv, Ariel, Israel proper, the settlements are one continuous Israeli space under constant and necessary vigilance. The invisible Palestinian villages and their inhabitants, unseen, with ‘no names’ and no apparent means of access or exit, simply hover in the distance in a landscape of invisible and guarded geography.
This is a form of landscape design analogous to the concept of the design of ‘negative space’ in photography. These negative spaces exist as residual landscapes of occupation, are arguably incidental or peripheral, but in many ways they are fundamental in shaping the consumption and defining the boundaries of how Israelis, Tel Avivians, perceive the Occupation itself. They do not just complete the totality of the picture, they shape it, inform it. Essentially they allow it to continue to effectively function. In doing so they also shape and inform the story Tel Aviv tells itself.