Tuesday, January 25

The General's House Part 3: From Tzahala to Lashabiyyeh

I'll try to wrap up my thoughts about General Galant's house with today's post. Did I make it clear that its really not fair to judge a person based on the shape of his house? Maybe he had a young, fresh-out- of- school architect eager to carry out a misbegotten theory. Or perhaps an overbearing father-in-law, providing the funds and calling the shots. We don't know.

We do know that our citizen-soldiers in the Israeli Army inhabit an alternative aesthetic universe while they are on duty. Army bases are visually barren spaces, with an amalgam of functional structures more suited to housing equipment than people.

Maintenance of these spaces is either a form of punishment or a duty to be carried out before one is allowed to leave. The temporary nature of a
soldier's inhabitance of the space reflects back to the physical environment, making it hard, ugly, and anonymous. Constant reminders of rank are infused into the space, from the formal shape of review formations, to the classic T shaped table in the officer's headquarters where the ranking commander gets 8 times the desk space of his underlings along the upright of the "T".

No one who has served in these spaces can forget the feeling of distance and separation from their home environment, even when they are physically close and interwoven with the spaces of civilian Israel.

Israel also has a long history of providing homes and even special neighborhoods for its valued officers. These neighborhoods, once they move to the open market, become some of the most sought after and expensive residential areas of the country. Examples include Schunat Haktzinim in the Old North of Tel Aviv, and Tzahala in the New North End.

High ranking officers and former officers were provided with modest houses on half-dunam lots at highly subsidized prices. Architecturally, these houses were in the romantic modern style associated with kibbutz and rural housing.

This simple dwelling, near the city but connected to the land was seen to be the ideal for Israel's officer class, in line with the modesty of the 1950's and 1960's in the new country. While Chiefs of Staff such as Moshe Dayan and Tzvi Tzur lived in these neighborhoods, a new model was being attempted in the South of the country. Perhaps the most famous General's House in Israel is that of Ariel Sharon. His ranch in the Negev is one of the very few private land-holdings in an area that is given over to development towns, kibbutzim, nature preserves, and army bases.

His acquisition of the land is mysterious, but is accepted as the due of a well loved and heroic soldier. The architecture of the house, while idiosyncratic, remains rural and informal with a jump in scale and floor area commensurate with Sharon's outsized presence and proportions. High lookout rooms projecting above the main mass of the house recall both farm silos and army guard towers, while reminding us of Sharon's vaunted abilities to see the strategic and tactical potential of terrain with a single glance. The actual guarding is done, appropriately, from an ugly prefab caravan glommed on to the outside perimeter wall.

Returning north to Galant's house, we can write the next chapter of "Housing for Generals". His house includes elements of formality and rank taken from the military reviewing stand. The proportions and bastioned solidity elevate this house above its neighbors, and the needlessly winding approach road adds to the suspense of approaching the house.

But what about those pointed arch windows? Why the reversion to a local Palestinian style? One answer may be found in another Israeli Army environment, the artificial Palestinian villages built to serve as training grounds for urban warfare. These installations are known collectively as "Lashabiyyeh" a name comprised of the Hebrew initials for urban warfare, and the "iyyeh" suffix common to many Palestinian small towns. The simulacra include winding alleys, market streets, houses, squares, and often the house of the mukhtar or village elder, complete with the characteristic formal second floor reception room. Successful infantry maneuvers within the Lashabiyyeh conclude with the capture of this elevated and commanding house.

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