We took a Shabbat walk around the moshav yesterday, for the first time in a number of weeks. The progress on the new neighborhood is most impressive. The heavy earthmoving equipment whose rumble has become familiar, and the parade of concrete trucks passing up the hill behind our office, have not been in vain. The entire mountainside has been carved up into terraces, with massive stone-faced concrete retaining walls between them. The road surfaces, still unpaved, are a fine dust, as the machines have pulverized the soft limestone with their repeated passage. Huge mounds of rubble are everywhere, and among them, somewhat incongruous islands of the original landscape, weathered rock, thorny shrubs, carob and olive trees, wild herbs.
When the original settlers arrived here twenty years ago, they brought their own California architect as they wanted to avoid the typical level-the-mountain-and-build-a-row-of-houses approach. They designed a community based on clusters of homes integrated with the natural landscape, with natural rock terracing where necessary, and a central road and parking lot, so that most houses did not have direct vehicular access. As we have aged, some of the beauty of Shorashim has turned out to be an inconvenience, and many people will not accept not being able to park near their house. And yet, I think most of us treasure the unique qualities of our village.
But that was then, and this is now, and somehow, the butchery of the hillside seems in keeping with the culture all around us. The D-9 (Caterpillar's biggest model bulldozer) has become the symbol of the Israeli army in Palestine, featured in the news almost every day as it demolishes homes, uproots olive groves, or digs impassable trenches to cut off transportation among Palestinian villages and towns. Now, of course the D-9s are at work on the much vaunted "security fence" (whose route remains largely secret), the largest engineering project in our history, which will make us safe when all else fails (no, don't mention Maginot and Bar Lev, please), at astronomical economic, social, and environmental cost (but, presumably, huge profits for contractors). There must be a lot of these monsters around, as they are also well employed in the construction of the Trans-Israel Highway, Israel's first toll road, an ecological disaster which will serve as a massive and eternal monument to backward planning concepts and failure to learn from the experience of other nations.
My daughter did her army service as a Hummer driver, and loved the feeling of power that comes from off-road driving in such a vehicle: no natural obstacle can stop you. Imagine driving a D-9! Total control. Not only can you go over obstacles, but you can simply pulverize them, push them out of the way, rearrange the terrain to fit your needs, right now. The D-9 symbolizes a strand that has always been part of Zionism, the strand that says that we can and must assert our ownership of this land by remaking it in our image. We will drain the swamps, make the desert bloom, populate the wasteland This strand, it seems to me, conflicts with another, the Zionism that speaks of the beauty of the land, of the mystical connection to its landscape, its flora and fauna, the cycle of its seasons. As in the first two chapters of Genesis, we have a conflict between ownership and stewardship. But if you move ahead to Leviticus, to the laws of Sabbatical and Jubilee years, the dominant approach seems to be stewardship. It may be our promised homeland, but we are not free to do with it as we please.
Several years ago, when a contractor was grading the security road around Shorashim (another sore subject; see this diary from May 11, 2003), the bulldozer driver apparently ignored or misread the blueprint, carving some long gashes in the landscape that do nothing and go nowhere, but will not heal for years, if ever. I think there's a metaphor in there