Campus / International / News / October 1, 2009

Life in two dimensions

Visiting Professor Amos Morris-Reich gave a lecture called, “Life in Two Dimensions: A History of ‘Territory’ in Israeli Culture,” to explore the relationship between two similar words for “territory” with very different meanings. Despite the word for “territory” (pronounced “shetach”) and its plural, “territories,” (pronounced “shtachim”) coming from the same three letter root, they are not thought to be the same or even thought of together in Israeli culture.

After fighting against its neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel took control of surrounding areas and thus “territories,” according to Morris-Reich, became “one of the most important terms in Israeli post-1967 political lexicon.” There has been much conflict involving the areas taken by Israel: the Sinai, Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. These areas captured were some of the holiest places and were more important than some of Israel’s largest cities such as Tel Aviv and Haifa. Thus the word for “territories” has since been loaded with various political, ideological, and religious meanings.

Morris-Reich explored the roots of “shetach” from several points, including how the words were used in spoken Hebrew, the development of the word as a geometric term in Hebrew scientific literature of the Middle Ages, and later, in the early 20th century when it was used as concepts of “here,” “in place,” and “in practice.”

“Shetach,” which originally had a neutral connotation and meant “surface,” “place,” “earth,” and “land,” also has a meaning of going vertical and is connected to the vertical notion of Israel. A resident of Israel is said to be going up to Israel. To contrast, mundane actions are referred to as going down, i.e. going down to the fields.

“One goes to the ‘shetach’ to perform some sort of task. Shetach also appears in the context having to do with experimentation, namely as an arena or scene within in which events take place. Shetach is where the real things happen…Shetach is used to describe experiments conducted under real world conditions in which disorder or relative disorder are inert,” said Morris-Reich.

The word for “territories,” (“shtachim”), although a “neutralizing term,” became anything but as it evolved over time. Morris-Reich wanted to contrast the paradigm that favored politics over culture in analysis and wanted to view these words as part of Israeli cultural ideology, not based on the political disputes of “liberated versus occupied” territories.

The captured territories, while they shared the common theme of being called territories, were called different names due to different ideologies. The areas captured were called the “liberated territories,” “occupied” or “Israeli-held territories,” “disputed territories,” which is a common translation, or simply “the territories.” The term “territories” was also sought because it was secular.

“Historically, the places that were captured in 1967, they are, in the Jewish imagination—that’s the land of Israel…So, from this cultural perspective, it may be said that the use of the term ‘shtachim’—a thoroughly secular term, devoid of religious, mysterious, or mystical sentiment to describe those areas captured in 1967—was an attempt to sidestep the Jewish religious significance of the territory in question and facilitates its rehashing as a medium of exchange when creating a geometrical, political abstract, separating the territories captured from their Palestinian inhabitants,” said Morris-Reich.

Morris-Reich explained that the attempt for neutralization failed. “For many Jews, the areas in question soon reacquired the significance as ‘Jewish places.’ The significance of which is often both religious and historical and for just as many, and sometimes the same people, the realization emerged that the land in question was a home for Palestinians.”

Sheena Leano

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