Sunday, January 23

The General's House

The dominant image in Israel's weekend newspapers is an unusual house that belongs to Israel's next Chief of Staff, Yoav Galant. Finally, instead of judging a man's fitness for high military office on the basis of his heroism, his political maneuvering, or his honesty, we can judge based on his taste in architecture.

Yes, its an unusual house for Israel, and one that arouses some emotion in those who see it. It is larger than most people's houses and the lot is a comfortable exurban 5 dunams (1-1/4 acre), 10 times the size of the standard Israeli residential lot. General Galant reminds us that he acquired the land when he was a lowly Lieutenant Colonel, dismissing any suspicions of undue influence.

But that's not what people are upset about. The case against him revolves around adjoining lots that he seems to have fenced off and, um, occupied. One of these is a large extension to his garden, and another is described as an "escape route". A neighbor's dispute is being played out at national political levels.

All of this seemed pretty dry to the average reader until the moment that aerial photos of the
house were published. Suddenly, the picture locked into place. This was a grandiose man, concerned with appearances, status, dominance. One could imagine General Galant conducting a "Sound of Music" style roll call for his children in the formal courtyard. The pointed arch openings recall Palestinian mukhtar houses, but the square, rigid formalism of the house is reminiscent of the British military fortresses that staked out the land during the Mandate.

As elements of style, both arched windows and formal symmetry are out of the mainstream in Israeli architecture. If they appear at all, they are associated with public buildings of a certain age, or nouveau riche or kitsch. When these styles adorn the house of a young striving officer, they raise questions of appropriateness in the minds of the public.

To be continued...

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