Trans by Adriana Varella

Mergence And Emergence: a Biological
Model For Reading Israeli Architectural
and Political Space

By Ayelet Zohar

In 1996, during a ceremonial speech given to graduates of an IDF flying course, Mr. Ehud Barak, then Israeli Minister of Defense declared that “Israel was like a Villa in the Jungle.” The idiom, most probably coined by Mr. Barak himself, quickly spread to different sectors, and became a source of ridicule and support, debate and controversy.1

Mr. Barak’s metaphor is well known to the Israeli public, and the current text sets forth to examine the tensions revealed within the subtext of this phrase. It concerns patterns of mergence, and strategies of emergence, within the specificity of the Israeli spatial arena, following natural models/processes that validate the tension of man and environment, within the contextual study of architecture and politics. These tensions are examined in light of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s critical thought, in particular, their elaborations on the concepts of becoming and repetition.2

Israeli architectural space consists of two foundational realities. One of them is the settlement movement (town, kibbutz, moshav), building in open surroundings, emerging from previously uninhabited natural environments: deserts, sand dunes, swamps, barren mountains, etc.3 These buildings were based on simple, unassuming, hasty models that swiftly emerged from the ground. This strategy was later integrated into the modernist spirit of Israeli architecture, with the adoption of the Modernist, abstract, geometric, a-cultural models of the International Style, transplanted and grown within the local context [Fig. 5].4 Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, however, are based on the forceful destruction and annexation of Palestinian villages and towns. This was done by razing them to the ground then starting afresh on top of the existing ruins with Modernist structures, or by using the existing architectural elements as the foundation for new Jewish communities and buildings – whether by immediate squatting in deserted dwellings left by deported Palestinians, or, by later manipulations, additions and alterations to the surviving structures to serve the needs of their new inhabitants.

Trans by Adriana Varella
Jaffa, 1948.

In order to articulate these two architectural practices as they are performed in the Israeli landscape, I borrow the outlines of two central biological strategies of visual display that are based on resemblance and the need to assimilate into the environment, by considering two natural models of mimicry: Batesian mimicry and Müllerian mimicry. Batesian mimicry [Fig.7] refers to a hierarchical system of relations between a model and a mimic that pretends to be similar to the original/singular model, in order to benefit from its likeness. This practice often occurs by the direct mimicking of a poisonous model, thus deceiving the eye of a potential predator, who is led to believe that the mimic is as poisonous as its original, enabling the mimic to survive through the dissemination of false warning signs.

However, contrary to Batesian mimicry’s clear distinction between model and mimic, Müllerian mimicry [Fig. 8] refers to a process where multiple species follow a singular pattern, therefore becoming comparable to each other, without a specific origin or model, through a mutual process of change and adaptation. Müllerian mimicry demonstrates a mode of mergence and assimilation that forms a system of relations transcending the power structure of original and copy, model and repetition, or subject and background (the more common models for mimicry and camouflage). Müllerian mimicry forms a multiplicity of likenesses, enabling the mergence and assimilation of varying species in a continuous series of variations. This mode of mimicry and mergence allows for a better chance of survival, since the damage and loss inflicted on the group of similar individuals reduces the actual number of injuries for each species.5 I cite these biological models as a possibility to relate to the particular histories of Israeli architecture, as a potential model for analyzing structural practices, and the relations between man and the environment.

Trans by Adriana Varella

In my adaptation, Batesian mimicry serves as the model for discussing how the Palestinian built environment was a foundational construct for the shaping of Israeli architecture in locations where mergence into the existing infrastructure was its primary mode of action. I then refer to the format of Müllerian mimicry in the context of imported and locally developed Modernist models, especially Bauhaus/The International Style/Living Machines and local Modernist housing programs that dominated Israeli architecture (especially in peripheral regions), in what is conveniently coined Agency Housing [Fig. 9].6


In their 1980 text, A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari defined the idea of becoming as a fundamental process of existence, through a series of persistent alterations that occur via repetition and modifications, arriving at the last stage of becoming-imperceptible, as the highest goal in the chain of becoming. Becoming encourages a process of constant reconditioning of singularities, as well as cultural systems – through becoming-animal, becoming- woman, becoming-imperceptible – with the term describing the effect of mergence and assimilation. Becoming, in the writings of Deleuze and Guattari is the most accurate description of conversion, process, transformation and transience. Interestingly, the end point of the processes of becoming, is becoming-imperceptible, or becoming like everybody else, in a manner that erases any form or modality of singularity, uniqueness and separated-ness. Existence does not stop, but it changes shape and form to merge with its environment or neighboring others.7

Their answer to the question of ‘what is becoming-imperceptible?’ is ‘to be like everybody else,’8 an unexpected answer which constitutes their world-vision: it is counter-individual, and it is not about physical mergence or concealment. Becoming-imperceptible is an extension of how becoming everyone is becoming everything.9 Becoming everyone (“devenir tout le monde”) marks the singular (building) presence against its background, but offers a possibility of blending into that environment, by dissolution and disappearance, into everything else, losing uniqueness, separateness, singularity, originality and subjectivity. This phase of becoming-imperceptible, positions the subject in a field of exchange that links to the concept of mergence through the reduction of difference and distance, building and background, subject and object. Becoming is used by Deleuze and Guattari to denote a process of impermanence and constant alterations,10 a pivotal concept in understanding the relations between the (architectural) object and the environment. Elsewhere they specifically articulate the difference between mimicry and becoming, presuming that if camouflage is defined as a blending into the background, then becoming is embodied in the need to constantly alter the function and surfaces of the viewed object in relation to a given space. Therefore, mimicry is to be understood as a repetition of a given object in a fixed, unchanging manner, by means of appropriation and repetition, while camouflage is a performative amendment that constitutes and active adaptation into the surroundings.

Models referring to concepts of mergence and becoming part of the environment need to start with the structures of Palestinian villages and towns – as evident here through the images of Lifta, a Palestinian village located in the immediate outskirts of Jerusalem. Comparing the image of the village in 1938 [fig. 10], alongside contemporary images taken some sixty years after its desertion [Fig. 11], exposes how the village’s structure gradually blends into the soft lines of the mountains slopes it rests upon. This same aesthetic repeated in Alfred Mansfeld’s (1912-2004) Modernist design for the Israel Museum (1965) that retained a desire to be assimilated and to become part of the environment[fig. 12]. Using a replicating modular Modernist design system, Mansfeld devised a modular unit that could be constructed independently, or in combination with additional units that conjoin organically into the landscape, in a manner that echoes the structuring of Palestinian villages [Fig. 13]. Other examples demonstrate the power relations between Jewish and Palestinian populations: the village of Ein Hod on the western slopes of the Carmel Mountain was deserted by its Palestinian inhabitants during the 1948 war. It was then transformed into an “Artists’ Village” by the Israeli authorities in 1953, which settled artists into the deserted buildings of the village [Fig. 14]. Some of these buildings were refurbished, extra areas were annexed, with minor renovations and new top floors added, creating a conglomerate of basic Palestinian structures that were later reshaped and adapted to the contemporary dwellers’ needs. An extreme example of this kind of layering with the imposition of contemporary glass structure over remnants of a Palestinian house, can be seen in the Etzel Museum / Gidi House – designed by architects Amnon Niv, Amnon Schwartz and Danny Schwartz – where the loose ends of a Palestinian house, the last one remaining from the Manshiyeh neighborhood that had been reduced to dust, was reshaped to commemorate the fighters of the Etzel organization, in their battle to conquer Jaffa [Fig. 15].


Emergence is a model that follows the idea of Müllerian mimicry, where patterns of existence and behavior emerge from the need to survive – not as an integral practice that consists of a process of assimilation into the environment, but rather, from the logic of multiplicity and similarity between objects, regardless of their relation to the environment. Müllerian mimicry is an idea that gains

its power of existence through repetition and multiplicity, which form an infrastructure of possible support for the multitude, through the loss of singularities. Concepts of repetition (and difference) were already introduced in the early stage of Deleuzian writing, arguing that:

If repetition can be found, even in nature, it is in the name of a power which affirms itself against the law [...] if repetition exists, it expresses at once a singularity opposed to the general, a universality opposed to the particular, a distinctive opposed to the ordinary, an instantaneity opposed to variation, and an eternity opposed to permanence. In every respect, repetition is a transgression.11

An uttermost form of mimicry and repetition is found in the replicas of Chabad House – the Lubavitcher Rabbi’s home in Brooklyn, NY that was faithfully replicated and transplanted at two separate locations in Israel: in the desert town of Mitzpe Ramon overlooking the Ramon Crater, and in Kfar Chabad in central Israel, where the Lubavitcher Rabbi used to reside during his visits to the country [Figs. 16-18].

The aforementioned concept of the Villa in the Jungle is an idiom that poignantly illustrates the Zionist model: in “The Jewish State” (1895), Theodor Herzl wrote how that state would represent the “highest cultures” of Europe:

We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism. We should, as a neutral State, remain in contact with all Europe, which would have to guarantee our existence.12 In 1897, during the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Max Nordau (1849-1923), a physician and social critic who co-founded the World Zionist Organization with Theodor Herzl and served as president of the Zionist congress, addressed the representatives, clearly indicating the progress and enlightenment of the West versus the inferiority of Asians and Africans.13 Ben Gurion thought Israel and the Zionist project would become a Light unto Nations, and promoted the concept of a Chosen People. These examples reflect the foundational ideas of Zionism as a European, colonialist project – that makes use of a fortified villa in the Mideast jungle, an island of enlightenment in the primitive Orient. As in most cases of colonial relations, the settler’s sense of supremacy, the concept of bringing light and education as a simplistic justification for the imposition of power, creates the justification for taking over, then settling, and imposing Western ideals, cultures and structures. In the Zionist project this concept took shape in modes of separation and protection (as in the first settlements of Wall & Tower), and through the use of European paradigms of architecture, most of which were based on Modernist values and shapes (Bauhuas/International Style/Living Machines/etc.), executed via acts of multiplication and repetition of these models. In a process similar to the strategy of Müllerian mimicry, these structures were duplicated innumerable times, in a plethora of variations, creating difference within repetition. Settlements in these cases started from

a blank slate, like the empty dunes of Afridar in Ashkelon [fig. 1], next to the mergence of Jewish immigrants settled into the deserted Palestinian houses of the Majdal neighborhood of the same town [Fig. 20], emphasizing the presence of the historical and biblical past [Fig. 21] over the annihilation of the recent presence of Palestinian inhabitants [Fig. 19]. In recent times, new settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank perform duplications of architectural plans throughout the region, with minor local adaptations, regardless of any distinctive need or regional specificity [Fig. 22]. As time progressed, and waves of immigrants flooded the new state, alongside new territories which were annexed through conflict and war, buildings were erected hastily, with little attention given to modes of adaptation and singularity. Emergence, the transplant of architectural objects to new areas through modes of duplication, repetition and multiplication, became the dominant mode of existence – with the eradication and/or covering up of prior (Palestinian) existence of the recent past: simultaneously, the Jewish biblical and ancient past was lionized through the practice and discourse of archaeology [Fig. 21], making it the immediate link, the reason d’être and justification for Jewish settlement in Israel (and later in the Occupied Territories), the norm and form of this transplanted existence.


Finally, within the discourses of mergence and emergence, mimicry and assimilation, Roger Caillois has identified that it is not just the point of view of the spectator who attempts to identify the mimic as a potential victim, but the vantage position of the imperceptible which is valuable. When analyzing the standpoint of the concealed, Caillois recognized the schizophrenic element encompassed within the situation: not being identified, or becoming completely merged into the background means the loss of subjectivity as we define it, into a condition similar to what may culturally be identified as loss of identity – injury to borders of personality, and dispersal into space.14 I find these two models – that of Caillois, as well as Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming- imperceptible – to powerfully describe the state of being for Israeli-Palestinians, forced into the model of disappearance and obligatory mergence, adaptation of norms and life styles of “The Jewish State,” living according to values and forms of (Jewish) Israeli society – in acts of mergence and assimilation, hindering the possibility of forming an independent and emerging model.

Trans by Adriana Varella
LifeObject: Merging Architecture and Biology, published by Sternthal Books, 2016. Photography by James Andrew Rosen

AYELET ZOHAR is a lecturer at the Art History Department at Tel-Aviv University. She is a trans-disciplinary artist, an independent curator and a visual culture researcher. Zohar completed her PHD at The University of London, working on Strategies of Camouflage, through which she discussed and expanded on ideas of mimicry, assimilation, invisibility, transparency and imperceptibility. Zohar has published extensively on different aspects of camouflage in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including a text on Ibrahim Nubani (Theory, Culture & Society); a Photo-Essay on Hanna Farah and the expulsion from Kufur Bir’im (Bezalel Journal of Visual and Material Culture); and a text concerning Abed Abdi’s painting on the memory of the Nakba (solo exhibition catalogue, Beit Hagefen Gallery, Haifa).

1. [Ethan Bar-Yosef quotes an earlier occasion where Mr. Barak made use of the expression in a speech at St. Louis, 1996. Eitan Bar-Yosef, A Villa in the Jungle: Africa in Israeli Culture (Jerusalem: Van Leer Institute/ Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House, 2013), 10.]

2. [Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Brian Massumi (trans.) (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1988[1980]), 474-500.]

3. [See for example images taken in Afridar neighborhood of Ashkelon [Fig. 1], first kiosk in Tel Aviv [Fig. 2], Kibbutz Ginosar [Fig. 3], Kibbutz Beit Yosef [Fig. 4], etc.]

4. [This practice mostly refers to the architectural trends of the International/Bauhaus Style of the new neighborhoods of Tel Aviv and Haifa.]

5. [James L.B. Mallet and Mathieu Joron."Diversity in Mimicry: Paradox or Paradigm?" Trends in Ecology and Evolution 13 (1998), 461-466.]

6. [The term Agency Housing refers to the expanded phenomenon of 1950-1960s housing types that used a single basic model that was reproduced in many new settlements; most of these were initiated and funded by "The Jewish Agency for Israel." See Zvi Efrat, The Israeli Project (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2001), 53-80.]

7. [Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 279-282.]

8. [Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 279.]

9. [Not just everybody – as in the English translation – but everything. In French – “devenir tout le monde, ça veut dire – faire le monde.“ Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 280. The French wording is inserted into the English sentence in the English translation.]

10. [Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 232-253.]

11. [Gilles Deleuze, Difference & Repetition, Paul Patton (trans.) (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994 [1968]), 2-3.]

12. [Theodore Herzl, The Jewish State, Sylvie D'Avigdor (trans.) (New York: The Maccabean Publishing Co., 1904), 28.]

13. [Taken from Max Nordau's address to the First Zionist Congress, Aug 29th, 1897. "Texts Concerning Zionism: Address by Max Nordau at the First Zionist Congress," Jewish Virtual Library, http:// jsource/Zionism/nordau1.html [accessed April 2016].]

14. [Roger Caillois, "Mimicry and the Legendary Psychasthenia," John Shepley (trans.) October 31(1984): 17-32; originally published in Minotaure 7, 1935.]