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“Chicago”
Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Israel


Welcome to Chicago! No, not that Chicago.

This is “Chicago”, the fake Arab town built by Israel in the middle of the Negev desert to train its military forces in urban warfare.

Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Israel


Though artificial, our hometown's dessicated twin is “highly realistic.” Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, whose photographs of “Chicago” are collected in this book and are replicated here, wrote: “To create this alternative universe, Palestinian architecture has been carefully scrutinized. Roads and alleyways have been constructed to mimic the layout of towns like Ramallah and Nablus. In one corner the ground has been covered in sand, a reference to unpaved refugee camps like Jenin. Graffiti has been applied to the walls with obscure declarations in Arabic: 'I love you Ruby' and 'Red ash, hot as blood'. Burned-out vehicles line the streets.”

Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Israel


Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Israel


Perhaps more interesting than its spatial “authenticity” is the fact that the “history” of this ghost town “directly mirrors the history of the Palestinian conflict.”

The first and second Intifada, the Gaza withdrawl, an attempted assassination of Saddam Hussein, the Battle of Falluja; almost every one of Israel's major military tactics in the Middle East over the past three decades was performed in advance here.


This is where generations of Israeli soldiers rehearse over and over again like actors in a Hollywood studio set. Here, with props on hand or littered about, they perfect their stage presence, try out some new moves and hand gestures, and fine tune their dialogues in front of cardboard cutouts of generic terrorists. Here also, they practice their showstopper: walking through walls. And then it's time to step out in front of live television cameras, the whole world already a captive audience, to play out their well-choreographed routines.

Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Israel


Meanwhile, “Chicago” is so named because its bullet-ridden fake walls apparently recall the punctured real walls of Al Capone's Chicago. While still acknowledging the dizzying complexity of Arab-Israeli relations, one wonders if a small yet meaningful step towards lasting peace could be taken if, on Israel's side, it stops vicariously engaging with the Palestinians in secret, replicant cities after first exorcising this mythological, gangster-infested Chicago from their collective memory and replace it with something real and true?

Not everyone was a mobster then, the same way not everyone offered something to our former governor for Obama's senate seat. The same way not all Palestinians are terrorists.

Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Israel


In any case, should the ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman and his party's racist ideology get their way in a ruling coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu, and all Israeli-Arabs get expelled from Israel, their homes and cities dismantled and resettled over, at least part of their history, albeit one written by others, has been recorded for future archaeologists to study.


Subtopia: MOUT Urbanism
BLDGBLOG: A miniature city waiting for attack
8 COMMENTS —
  • David
  • February 24, 2009 at 8:14:00 PM CST
  • Thank you for this portrait. It's absolutely fascinating ... and unfortunately all too relevant.


  • Anonymous
  • February 26, 2009 at 8:06:00 PM CST
  • i posted yesterday and came back to see your response - it turns out you are afraid of dissent - pathetic.


  • Alexander Trevi
  • February 26, 2009 at 10:39:00 PM CST
  • The comments were deleted, because the responses were unhelpful, reactionary, defensive, disproportionate, as are the responses to the deletion, with one exception. I'll replicate it here, unedited but still (sadly) unattributed.

    --

    Yes... I agree with those above. The photos are amazing, but your comments are mostly vapid. You seem to be suggesting that this is all some elaborate stage where the sadist Israelis can revel in violence rather than what it really is -- a tool to train the IDF so they can be effective with minimal collateral damage. Perhaps you should take your own advice on generalizations. Every Israeli is not a bloodthirsty warmonger.

    --

    To respond only to this comment: First of all, I find "what it really is" a rather mundane task to concentrate on. What I find more interesting to investigate in my spare time is the various trajectories I can project from a real world phenomenon into something Marvelous (note that it's capitalized as I'm referring to the aesthetic of 16th and 17th c. Europe). Fault me for saying that it's a stage, because it's actually a model for a new Israeli-Palestinian conflict theme park in Dubai, but not because I failed to see "what it really is", as if acknowledging "what it really is" is mandatory, a moral obligation, an evidence for lacking reprehensible motives, and a necessary condition for a commentary such as mine to transcend dullness. I'm not afraid of dissent; I'm afraid of being relegated to "what it really is", of myopia.

    Second, there seems to be an unfamiliarity with how this blog (N.B. it's a blog) approaches its chosen purview (I'll say that it's "landscape", but with the caveat that its borders are not yet defined) and how I chose to operate. No matter how much I try to write everything I want to say, craft a post with a sense of finality, each post has to be considered unfinished with its themes having the possibility of being revisited again. All thoughts are inconclusive and dependent on previous and future posts. It's a process. I won't demand readers to stick with this blog for all the bits and pieces of ideas to coalesce into a whole. There is no and will never be finality. If they are willing to do that and offer some constructive criticism, however, I'm all the more happy for their patience and guidance. But I think there has been an undue burden, an unfair demand placed on me from the safe terrain of anonymity to perform according to some undefined measuring stick each time I post something. But hopefully what has been aggregrated so far, or this part here and that chunk there, aren't vapid.

    Third, regarding the advice: taken.

    Fourth, to reiterate, this was my response only to the comment (by "Anonymous") here on my comment and to some extent the comment immediately previous.


  • malthus360
  • March 2, 2009 at 11:14:00 AM CST
  • Interesting. I thought the name "Chicago" was a reference to "Chicago Rules," i.e - you put one of mine in the hospital, I put one of your's in the morgue.


  • Anonymous
  • March 3, 2009 at 10:00:00 AM CST
  • If you knew anything about Arab popular music you would know that the fascination with the romance of Chicago's gangster past is not simply an Israeli projection.


  • Alexander Trevi
  • March 3, 2009 at 1:57:00 PM CST
  • More on MOUT facilities here, which has a link to CMOUTS. They "specialize in producing 'Mobile Operational Urban Training Structures' for the military sector utilizing Conex cargo containers."


  • Elias
  • March 5, 2009 at 6:21:00 PM CST
  • Why waste time training a real army and retraining all men again and again for 30 days each and every year till the age of 40 when you can fool your enemies with inflatable arms?

    http://englishrussia.com/?p=2025

    they're damn cheaper too!


  • Anonymous
  • April 24, 2009 at 6:31:00 AM CDT
  • Adam and Oliver are giving a talk as part of a photographic lecture series taking place on the 19th May.
    Following that there are another two lectures by Simon Norfolk and then Tom Stoddart, and its all in aid of the charity PhotoVoice.
    All the details are on their website at www.photovoice.org

    Nia


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