Rebranding Desolation

The Allure of Israel’s Desert Landscapes

in Israel Studies Review
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Abstract:

This article explores the trope of desert desolation in the Zionist state-building project. It traces the strategic uses of desolate imagery in the pioneer narrative (1880s–1920s), by the New Hebrew culture (1923–1948), during the ‘golden age’ of urban and regional planning (1948–1956), and through marketing the Negev desert town of Mitzpe Ramon to tourists (1993–present). These eras highlight the tension between desolation as reflecting the alienated ‘outsiders’ gaze’ versus desolation as energizing and inspiring place making. I argue that since unproductive, desolate landscapes pose an economic threat, both Israel’s collectivist and capitalist settlement projects have confronted the challenge of strategically rebranding desolation to promote its allure.

Contributor Notes

AMELIA ROSENBERG WEINREB is a Senior Lecturer of the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her recent projects include “Jewish Cuba’s Contact Zone” (Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, 2017) and a book manuscript tentatively entitled “Inscribing the Desert: An Ethnography of Landscape in a Small Negev Town.” E-mail: amy.weinreb@austin.utexas.edu

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