The atmosphere at the well-known, family-run restaurant, Habayit, in the village of Ein Hud in the Carmel forest, was positive and full of optimism for the future. The hosts, representatives of the 40 households living in the community, headed by local council head Mohammed Abu el-Hija, sat alongside the guests – a group of architects and artists from Israel and abroad, who deal in their professional lives with the connections between art, architecture, society and politics.
The group was convened by Malkit Shoshan, an Israeli architect living in Holland, the founder and chairperson of the Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory (FAST), and the initiator and driving force behind the ambitious, optimistic, naive and activist international festival-happening “One Land and Platform Paradise,” which will take place in Ein Hud from August 28 until September 7.
The event culminates four years of work on the part of the organization to prepare an alternative master plan for the village, which was recognized officially about a decade ago (however, the plan approved by the Interior Ministry does not suit the needs of the village and has caused great disappointment there). Shoshan declares that the alternate plan “redefines the task of art and architecture. It creates new social, economic and cultural tools and spaces that are accessible and flexible, for improving the community’s living conditions. It creates at the same time a model, a platform, for regional social involvement that goes beyond politics.”
The central focus of the festival is the master plan that will be presented for the first time to local residents and the public at large via an exhibition entitled “One Land,” curated by Shoshan. Along with this, a multimedia artistic event, “Platform Paradise,” curated by the Italian artist Maurizio Bortolotti, will take place in sites throughout the village and will turn Ein Hud into an “artists’ village,” according to Shoshan.
It is impossible to ignore the irony here: The residents of Ein Hud, which was an unrecognized village until about a decade ago, are the descendants of Arab inhabitants who fled in 1948 from what is today the predominantly Jewish artists’ village of Ein Hod. Time will tell whether the event will constitute the closing of a circle – or breaking it open.
The meeting a few weeks ago in Habayit was meant to present the entire project to local residents and to kick off its preparations. Shoshan explained the idea behind it to those present: In Hebrew that was translated into Arabic, and then into English, she spoke at length about future structures and public spaces, spice gardens and ornamental plants, a market for local produce, creative workshops, development of bed-and-breakfasts and hotels in Ein Hud, and so forth. This sounded so concrete that many of the listeners started to believe in their naivete that the foreigners who had landed in their midst had magic powers to fulfill these wonderful things in practice.
“The people here are desperate and they think you are really going to do this and do that,” a few people said. “We don’t have the room to build homes for our children, so why are you talking to us about these grandiose projects?” others asked over and over again.
Arguments broke out around the table over the style of the future B&Bs – whether they should be traditional or modern and Western. Only later on did Haifa artist Sharif Waked, who is participating in the project, warn: “It is worthwhile not to raise expectations. People here are developing expectations that you will do things for them and give them things, and build a hotel here for them tomorrow morning already – and everyone will have work and everything will be good.”
Tourism development is a touchy subject in this village, it appears. On the one hand, it is enticing to think of the potential: The scenery is breathtaking and villagers are aware of the enchanting oriental aura of Ein Hud. On the other hand, they are anxious lest tourism spoil their traditional customs and ways of life.
“Those who speak about tourism have to keep their word and work hard,” said Tsfiya Abu al-Hija, chef and manager of Habayit. “We have had experience with this in the restaurant and it is very difficult. If someone were to ask me today whether I want to open a restaurant, I would say that I don’t.”
The council head, Abu al-Hija, was asked what an event of this kind can do for Ein Hud, beyond being yet another festival of coexistence?
“I wasn’t the one who initiated the event, but I welcome it whole heartedly,” he says. “Every little thing can add something. If we want it to help raise public interest and support from the surroundings, from institutions, then we have achieved our goal. I believe it will also give people themselves hope that there is life, there is a future after 60 years of living here without anything.
“These people have come from outside and they recognize our rights, and the feeling is that if we fight for our rights then it is possible, despite everything, to get something.”
Shoshan, who is of course totally sold on the whole endeavor, says as she winds her way through the half-paved, twisting road that leads to Ein Hud that, “By means of the event we will be able to discover and nurture talented people who live here, and have no chance to succeed in the Israeli system, so they will flourish in their community.
As a community of creative people, we cannot deal with large political stories. We are taking one step forward to hear and to help people who simply say they wish to live, and to live well. I hope, too, that the project will lead to an awareness of the village’s justified demands and of its potential.”
Cooperation between Shoshan, who was born in Haifa and is a graduate of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology’s architecture faculty, and Abu al-Hija, started already when she was a student. The findings of a study she carried out (with Vitala Taoz) concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was published in a booklet called “Territory,” which she edited and which was printed with the assistance of the Association of 40 – an organization that works to help unrecognized Arab villages, of which Abu al-Hija is a member.
Parts of the study, which included the mapping of communities in the land of Israel throughout history, were displayed also at the Israeli pavilion at the Venice Biennale for Architecture in 2002.
The maps will shortly be published in a comprehensive atlas that will include some 500 diagrams sketching the area of the conflict.
Shoshan kept up the connection with Abu al-Hija even when she moved to Holland after her studies. From there she continued her socio-political and architectural activity in Israel and the rest of the world, funded by Dutch and international governmental and public foundations.
When the official master plan for Ein Hud was approved by the Interior Ministry some four years ago, and effectively cut in half the original area of construction slated for the village, Abu al-Hija telephoned her and told her how disillusioned he was.
Shoshan took up the cudgels. The FAST organization which she had founded announced an international competition to draw up a new master plan. The result, as mentioned, will be on show at the upcoming event and if it is accepted by a majority of relevant parties, it could help make history.
The plan that will be on exhibit is actually derived from a number of proposals made as part of the competition after no one won the first prize. The subject was complex and complicated, Shoshan explains.
In addition to extending the construction areas in Ein Hud and preserving its rural character, as part of the plan FAST has also formulated a proposal that is perhaps critical and maybe even romantic, for landscaping the entire area. Its main thrust is rehabilitation of the Mediterranean landscape around the village – of terraces, indigenous groves and traditional local agriculture that harken back to the era before the pine trees of the Jewish National Fund covered it, so the original area could no longer be recognized – “and scenery was created that was indeed green, but monotonous and barren,” as Shoshan puts it.
What chances does the alternative plan have of passing in the relevant bodies?
Shoshan: “The plan is better than the institutional one because it is suited to the character of the place and expands the areas for construction. You mustn’t forget that in the Interior Ministry plan every person in the village was allocated only about one-third of a dunam [1 dunam is 1/8 acre] on average, and most of the villagers are engaged in agriculture – as compared with neighboring Ein Hod, where the average area per capita is some four dunams. [Ours] is a practical plan that can be approved. In my opinion, the chances are slim, but they do exist.”
Adds Mohammed Abu al-Hija: “This is not an alternative plan: It is a correction and expansion of the existing master plan. We don’t want to come out against the Interior Ministry’s existing plan and wage a war against the authorities involved, but rather to work together with them. It is true that the formal plan has already been approved, but everyone who sits on the committees involved knows it is insufficient. I believe we will be able to convince the planning committees to accept the revisions.”
The FAST plan will be on show during the days of the festival in an inflatable pavilion in the shape of a heart, made of gold plastic material, that will likely be sufficiently bizarre to be remembered as the icon of the event. The pavilion was designed by Shoshan and will be called “The Golden Heart”; she says it will be the first-ever public space per se in the village. In actual fact, it is a balloon whose symbolic shape will be visible only from the sky, which is not unintentional.
“The government of Israel uses planes and satellites to follow illegal building throughout the country,” Shoshan explains. “That is why we have chosen the heart shape as a friendly gesture vis-a-vis the eyes of the authorities.”
Shoshan has meanwhile conscripted some 20 artists and architects, who deal with social-artistic projects, to display their works.
Among these are the veteran architect Yona Friedman, who was born in Hungary and is a graduate of the Technion, but has been living since the 1950s in France; he is known for his ideas, which were never put into practice, for mobile types of construction.
Also participating will be American artist Dan Graham; architecture historian Ula Bauman, director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute; fashion designer Nisreen Abu al-Hija from Ein Hud; American artist Deborah Solomon; and others. The event will be opened by the poet Salman Natour.
FAST was originally set up in order to make the public aware of the unrecognized Arab villages and “the state of territorial apartheid that exists” in Israel. The organization is funded by human rights and artistic foundations.
The planning competition was supported, inter alia, by the Netherlands Architecture Institute, the Another Jewish Voice organization in Holland and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. The festival will be supported by the Dutch Foundation for Fine Art, Design and Architecture, and OXFAM.
Since its establishment, FAST has expanded its activities to other areas of conflict in the world. Shoshan is involved, among other things, in studies in the southern Caucusus, for example: Indeed, in Nagorno-Karabakh, she is involved in a project for “defining borders.” In Detroit, she is studying the Iraqi refugees.
What is the motivation behind all these projects?
Shoshan: “Today people are busy dealing obsessively with the post-disaster. We are trying to draw conclusions from every place and situation about the next place and the next situation. Because what we derive from that may possibly prevent the next disaster.”