Thursday, August 10, 2006

War as Vacation

I found this article both hilarious and unsettling. Estimates are that about 6 percent of the 7 million people living in Israel have been displaced by the recent attacks of Hizbollah, which is about 420,000. The number of displaced in Lebanon is now close to 1 million.

[Image: Burnt villages, from a photoessay by the BBC - Darfur's camp life.]

When we consider refugee space around the world, we typically think of dangerous encampments raided by Somali warlords, or semi-flooded shanties barely held together just off the edge of a tsunami ravaged coastline; I think of an apartheidist matrix of concrete walls and checkpoints and all the electrified barbed wire fencing that has come to define the West Bank, or the jails that hold hundreds of Sudanese refugees. There are entire populations living under UN tents and tarps scattered across the globe, where desperate efforts are made to keep communities from going extinct.

[Image: The checkpoint enterting Ramallah, The Other Side of the Green Line, Michael Totten.]

The Lebanese today are mostly fleeing to Syria, or to some of the few makeshift villages erected by scattered humanitarian relief along the outskirts of the major targetted areas. But for those unable to escape the war zone that is now for the most part the entirety of their homeland, they are living in the streets, squatting in bombed out buildings, cowering in blankets of rubble under the relentless aerial campaigns that prey on their streets and homes every day.

[Image: A photoset of Israel's bomb shelters on bonnym's flickr stream.]

In Israel, however, the refugee urbanism that protects people in times of disaster or war is more of a well oiled machine, an extremely versed architectural excercise, where fallout spaces are a permanent part of the infrastructure; where bomb shelters and underground escapes are mandatory and the culture of Israeli militarism is permanently cemented into the psychic landscape.

[Image: Photo of Israeli bomb shelter via the NYT.]

But bomb shelters aren’t the only way to retreat from harm's way there. Nor are architects or military urbanists the only ones to take charge of refugee shelters in times of war. Apparently, some clever club owners have gotten in on the action. Leave it to the ingenuity and hustle of rave promoters and the good old fashioned spirit of techno-lusting partiers forever in search of the next full moon party to put together this camp in Ashkelon, where, as they say, "We'll keep dancing here as long as Hezbollah still has rockets."

[Image: A refugee camp in Ashkelon, Partying in Israel's War Zone, Speigel, 2006.]

According to this article, the streets are lined with flags, tents are filled with tanned bodies doing yoga and squads of orthodox Jews recruiting on the spot. There is the constant thumping of bass where body-painted would-be club-goers wear colored armbands not as proof of entrance into the club (as is common in Israel) but as indications of time slots for dining hall rotations. “One could easily mistake the place for a nightclub if it weren't for the fact that everyone here has been displaced by a war,” writes Matthias Gebauer. “Live bands play each night…the camps have a party atmosphere, with frolicking on the beach, music and even joints.” More absurdly, he says, “Trying to find a silver lining in the crisis, the hotel manager even says the bombings have created new couples -- people are fleeing the bombs and finding love.”
Now, I understand the need to make the best out of a real bad situation, but the idea of people partying on the beach under a full moon while their military virtually destroys an entire country a few miles away I find a little disturbing. As if the carpet bomb slaughter of hundreds of innocent people is something to celebrate, as if the fact that their own country - steeped in endless war, with innocent casualties on both sides - and the complete annihilation of a neighbor is somehow a reason to rejoice. Perhaps it is just burying their heads in the sand, or the need for escapism that is so great that raving on the beach is just a natural reflex, but I gotta admit - these images don’t sit well in the rest of the context, as far I'm concerned. It looks like the experience of living under constant war for decades has finally amounted to a borderline luxury site of Israeli fallout space (which is certainly a better alternative than the more popular underground chambers). These pics make the ‘duck and cover’ look like a perfect form of Israeli pastime, or, war as vacation. The whole cause of conflict looks as if it has been translated in to one massive beach party, conflict as business of paradisal retreat, or as the author suggests, a Club Med for refugees.

(Thanks Ludwig for the link!)


Post a Comment

<< Home