Oren Yiftachel

Oren Yiftachel

OREN YIFTACHEL: National & Ethnic Politics

  

Nation-Building and the Division of Space:
Frontiers and Domination in the Israeli 'Ethnocracy'

Oren Yiftachel

Department of Geography, Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva, Israel, 84105
Fax: 972-8-278991; Email: yiftach@mail.bgu.ac.il

 

ABSTRACT

Studies of nationalism have only rarely explored the intra-national stratification associated with the politics of nation-building. The paper focuses on these processes from a spatial perspective, by studying the population of 'internal frontiers' in settler societies, focusing on the case of Israel. The settlement of the frontiers in the Israeli 'ethnocracy' exacerbated the marginalised incorporation of Mizrahi (Eastern Jews), as many of them were settled in peripheral, low status and segregated localities. These structural conditions help explain the persisting disparities between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews. The case of Israel thus exposes a paradox: the very frontier settlement promoted as essential for nation-building, may cause intra-national fragmentation and conflict.


The topics of nationalism and nation-building feature prominently in recent academic research. However, despite their breath-taking scope, most nationalism studies remain abstract and general, devoting only scant attention to the impact of nationalism on intra-national disparities and cleavages. In particular, 'national space' is often treated as unproblematic, overlooking the contours of its internal divisions. Issues of space, territory and identity are of course researched, mainly by geographers, but most work does not explore thoroughly the link between nation-building and spatial group relations within 'the nation'.

In the present paper I intend to examine this link in the context of settler societies. More specifically, I will focus on the impact of nation- and state-building on the settlement of peripheral ('frontier') regions, and on the subsequent socio-political division of space. Following a theoretical discussion, the analysis will move to the case of Israel, where an 'ethnocratic' regime has developed. In this context, I will critically examine the socio-spatial relations between the two main Jewish ethnic groups, namely Ashkenazim and Mizrahim. Ashkenazi Jews (Ashkenazim in plural) immigrated to Israel from Europe or America, and are also known as 'Western' or 'European' Jews. Mizrahi Jews (Mizrahim in plural) immigrated from Muslim Countries in Asia and Africa, and are also known as Oriental, Shepharadi or Arab Jews.

This paper argues that the settlement of Israel's frontiers has caused a regressive and uneven division of space -- all in the name of the 'national interest'. Although Jewish settlement chiefly aimed to Judaise disputed (and previously Arab) territories, it also created and reinforced social disparities between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews. Israel's settlement activity has therefore exposed a paradox in the very nature of nation-building in a settler-society: instead of creating national unity, it enhanced fragmentation and disparities.

The term 'nation' is defined here in its narrow Eastern European connotation, to mean a group aspiring for, or exercising, ethno-territorial sovereignty. 'Nation-building' is thus the deliberate effort to construct an over-arching collective political identity based on belief in common culture, ethnic origin and homeland. State-building' is a complementary project, aimed at forging civil solidarity and loyalty around state institutions, territory and common interests. State-building does not always overlap with nation-building, since peripheral ethnic minorities are often excluded from the state-imposed definition of 'the nation', but remain citizens of the state. Hence, in our context here, 'intra-national' group relations pertain only to groups that fall within the particularistic definition of 'the nation'. In Israel, the self-defined Jewish 'nation' includes all Jewish ethnic groups, but excludes the Palestinian-Arab citizens. State (Zionist) nationalism and 'nation-building' in Israel thus only refers to Jewish groups, while 'state-building' pertains to all Israeli citizens, including the Arabs. Finally, 'Israel' is defined in its pre-1967 borders, not including the Occupied Territories.

The need to explore critically intra-Jewish spatial relations is supported by several reasons. First, recent analyses of state-nationalism have highlighted the 'numbing' influence of national and state frameworks commonly used in the social sciences and popular cultures. As Billig and Taylor show in their recent work, these frameworks have been treated as 'banal' and 'given', thereby stifling much of our ability to conduct critical research about the external and internal boundaries embedded into state politics.

More locally, the spatial impact of Jewish-Israeli nationalism has been routinely analysed using an Arab-Jewish dichotomy, thereby casting a shadow on important intra-Jewish conflicts. The present paper attempts to add to previous critical analyses, but shift the focus, and problematise patterns of domination and inequality within the Jewish-Israeli nation.

Third, there has been a paucity of critical Israeli research on the subject. Scholarly works on the settlement of Israel's frontier's abound, but very few have seriously studied their intra-national dynamics of spatial and social control. Scanning a sample of well known works, we can show that the emphases in this field have been placed on Jewish geopolitical goals; on the 'success' and 'impact' of settlements; on descriptive historical accounts; on socioeconomic studies; on institutional evolution; or on the ideologies of settlement types. Further, the abundance of research on Jewish ethnic relations has not paid sufficient attention to the impact of space (and its social construction) on the evolving relations between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim. While these studies provide firm foundations for the study of Israel's peripheral areas, none of them seriously 'unpacks' the ethnic, social and political inequalities linked to the very process of state-designed frontier settlement. The present paper takes a step toward redressing this deficiency. Let us begin this task by establishing a theoretical framework, within which we can later examine the case of Israel.

 

Nation-building and Social Control

As noted, the literature on nation-building in settler societies exposes two main deficiencies: (a) it has paid only scant attention to the impact of nation-building and settlement on intra-national group relations; and (b) it has taken the 'national space' is an unproblematic 'platform' for social and political processes. To elaborate, let us start with nationalism literature which shows that the contemporary division of the world into 'nation-states' is not a 'natural' process born out of linear or essential processes of time-space configuration, as implied by most nationalists. While the exact causes of the transformation from previous forms of socio-political organisation into the dominant national world-order are hotly debated, the proponents of both 'primordial' and 'instrumental' leading interpretations agree that nation-building practices, institutions and policies have played a major role in the reshaping of today's 'nation-states'. Much of this reshaping has occurred because present geopolitical norms have premised the right to self-determination on the existence of convincing national cultures. Nation-building projects have thus proceeded with a view of constructing convincing cases for 'immutable' and historically rooted territorial cultures, as a most efficacious way to legitimise the quest of particular groups for sociopolitical dominance and state power.

Much of the literature on national struggles for statehood (rightly) emphasises the emancipatory potential of ethnic self-government, particularly in comparison to external and more oppressive regimes, such as colonial powers or traditional aristocracies. However, nation-building projects have a 'darker side' which is seldom explicitly discussed: the oppression of sociallperipheral minorities. The emergence of nationalism and nation-building projects has often entailed the assimilation or inferior incorporation of peripheral groups in the name of the 'national cause'. This has been manifested in a multitude of control mechanisms, aimed at preserving the dominance of majorities over the nation's history, territory and institutions.

In this context, the writings of Chatterjee and Piterberg highlight the explicit and implicit adoption of 'orientalist' norms and practices in the national discourses and cultures of both colonised and colonising peoples. Having internalised the orientalist perspective, which treats non-European cultures as inferior, national elites have then used the same logic to marginalise and control socially peripheral groups for the interests of the broader nation-building projects.

In this way, the organising theme of European-based nationalism -- that of creating a unified national narrative in time and space -- has been diffused globally by later national movements. This has given such movements a societal 'license' to appropriate selective cultural and territorial assets of minorities in order to bolster the (supposedly inclusive) national cause. In other words, the quest for national unity often creates -- but at the same time also conceals -- patterns of intra-national oppression and inequality. Let us now explore the social reconstruction of space in settler societies and its role in the effort to present a unified time-space 'picture' of collective national existence.

 

Nation-building and the 'Frontiers' of Settler Societies

Among the various models or 'waves' of nation- and state-building projects, the case of settler states is a particularly fascinating one. In broad terms, settler societies combine three major social groupings, which are often hierarchical in terms of power and prestige: a powerful 'charter group', later immigrants who are incorporated by the charter group, and a weak indigenous group, which is often excluded from 'the nation'. A common public policy response to the deep divisions between the three major social groupings ('charter' settlers, indigenous peoples and later immigrants), has been the pervasive exercise of social control practices during their nation- and state-building endeavours. In settler societies, one such practice has been the settlement of frontier regions and the social division of national space, as demonstrated in the Israeli case below.

Frontier regions, which are located at the geographical, political or cultural margins of the collective, play a central role in the construction of national and state identities. Frontiers denote the (material or metaphoric) 'twilight zones' at the edge of a collective's control; they delineate directions for expansion and growth, and provide basic symbols, legends, challenges and myths used for the construction of national identity. In frontier regions the collective sharpens its identity by interacting with 'others', and by protecting the national centres, which are made self-evident by the existence of frontier developments

Significantly, 'internal frontiers' also play a central role in nation- and state-building. These are 'alien' areas within the collective's boundaries into which the core attempts to expand, penetrate, and increase its control. Activities associated with internal frontiers may include the dissemination of national culture, the settlement of minority regions, the 'taming' of hostile natural environments, or the modernisation of 'backward' regions -- usually in the interest of the dominant group. The social construction and promotion of frontier regions has formed a central pillar of identity building projects in most settler societies, such as the United States, Australia, Israel and Canada. In other post-colonial states, such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, governments have also delineated internal frontier regions, into which they have deliberately resettled members of the ethnic majority, in an effort to enhance state control in these regions.

Internal frontiers are usually created in regions with high concentrations of ethnic minorities, subject to struggles over the control of land, power and resources. In these regions, the majority uses the positive images and ethos of frontier development, the expansionist frontier mentality it has developed, and the power of the state apparatus, to preserve and bolster the dominance of the core group, as elaborated below.

 

Frontier Regions and the Division of Space

The delineation of frontier regions and their internal dynamics of settlement are critical to the understanding of the inter-group division of space. Social elites (usually from the main 'charter group') are able to create an uneven division of space, which reinforces their dominance in society. This is usually achieved by controlling the state apparatus of urban and regional planning, enabling elites to direct the population and settlement of particular areas, guide development, regulate land ownership and use, and impose municipal and bureaucratic boundaries.

Several examples will illustrate the applicability of this dynamic in settler and settling societies. For example, it was mainly poorer immigrants that settled in Australia's frontier country towns, mining areas, or agricultural stations; mainly low skill workers and unemployed were directed into new opportunities opened up by the Spanish government in the Basque country; mainly Javanese peasants who were resettled in Kalimantan and Irian Jaya, during Indonesia's 'transmigration programme'; the Greek government directed most Greek refugees 'returning' from Turkey to the country's new northern frontiers, following the population exchanges of the early 1920s; mainly landless Sinhalese farmers were resettled in Sri Lanka's Eastern Province as part of the government's attempt to wrest control over that region from the Tamils; and mainly Mizrahi (poorer and less educated) Jews were settled in Israel's frontiers, as shown below.

The social division of space is also central to the understanding of group relations because it determines to a large degree the reproduction of social inequalities and identities. Location obviously affects opportunities, levels of development. quality of services, social networks and levels of conflict or cooperation with social 'others'. More subtle institutional 'walls' can also be raised around places and regions (such as school districts, zoning regulations or land prices) in order to reinforce and reproduce uneven distributions of resources and opportunities. This inequality is often exacerbated by the impact of status, stigma, real-estate values and political power attached to certain places. As such, the social division of space, and the life-domains this division creates, must be understood as integral components of the inter-generational stratification of society.

The role of human geography is quite central to the production and reproduction of group identity: as Gregory and Boyer illustrate in their recent writings, the built environment does not only 'store' but also produces and reshapes collective group memories, in the 'great theatre' of human life. As such, the social production of space constantly reconstructs social perceptions about what 'has been', what 'is' and what 'should be'. As Said reminds us, the production of socio-political space during the process of settlement and colonisation is seldom neutral, reflecting the (often forced) 'acquisition, subordination and settlement of space'. When the built environment is predominantly transformed by the dictates of one ethnic group (as often has been the case in Israel), the collective identities of all groups are affected and reified in relation to the evolving reality of socio-spatial stratification.

The links between nation--building, spatial policies and social inequality are conspicuous in most settler societies, and particularly in contested frontier and peripheral regions. The inequality is augmented by the place-bound reproduction of social, economic and political inequalities notedabove. This is coupled with the economic and cultural dominance of the charter group, and with the 'acculturation' experienced by most second-generation immigrants.

In overview, then, a paradox is embedded in the process of frontier settlement: while aiming to strengthen the nation-building project and enhance state contiguity and unity, it may actually sow the seeds of intra-national stratification, fragmentation and conflict. We should therefore conceptualise both nation-building and the social division of space as double-edged: both can be used to either emancipate or oppress peripheral ethnic minorities.

These theoretical observations will form the framework within which to explore a specific case of a settler state: Israel. In light of the discussion, several specific question will be examined: has Israel developed the notions of 'internal frontiers' as a central component of its nation-building project? Has the settlement and planning of such frontiers been associated with a discernible social division of space? Has it influenced the social stratification of Jewish society?

 

The Israeli 'Ethnocracy': Nation-Building and Frontier Settlement

Israel is a settler state, which was occupied mainly by Palestinian-Arabs prior to the beginning of Jewish migration about a century ago. Jews, who maintained a religious bond to Israel in their Diaspora, migrated into the land and settled on it, in a process described by Shafir as 'pure settlement colonialism'; by Aronsohn as 'colonisation without colonialism'; or by Zureik as 'internal colonialism'.

While a full discussion of the nature of pre-state Jewish colonisation is not possible here, I would suggest an 'ethnic-survival' form of colonialism as the most appropriate conceptualisation. Accordingly, it was a particularly territorial, rather than economic, form of colonialism, and was a highly intransigent type of colonialism due to the status of most 'colonisers' as refugees, literally fighting for survival. In addition, it had a specific (Central-Eastern European) ethnonational character, and was set a-priori as a nation-building project, differently to other colonial societies, where local nationalism developed later.

Like several other settler states, Israeli society is marked by three dominant social groupings: a core ('charter') settlers group (chiefly Ashkenazim), indigenous people (Palestinian-Arabs) and post-1950 immigrants (mainly Mizrahim). The current ethnic composition of Israel was largely determined during the 1948 war, when 80 percent of the Arab population fled or was driven out, while Jewish refugees arrived from Europe, and later from Middle Eastern countries. Most of the Arabs living in Israel have resided in the country for centuries, while the bulk of Ashkenazi Jews arrived during the pre-state and immediately after 1948. Most Mizrahi Jews arrived in Israel in the early 1950s, as immigrants of relatively low socioeconomic status who joined an already established state and culture. At the end of 1996, the Ashkenazi group formed 34 percent of Israel's 5.7 million citizens, the Mizrahi Jewish group 37 percent, and the Arabs 16 percent. The other 14 percent were recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union who compose a distinct ethnic group not discussed in this paper.

Jewish-Israeli nation-building has been a persistent and calculated project of establishing a national-territorial identity, based on the reconstruction of Jewish 'indigenous' identity and on the exclusion of Palestinian-Arabs. Consequently a central and most enduring goal of the Zionist movement has been the Judaisation the country. Israeli state-building has been a complementary project of establishing territorial and institutional infrastructures for the 'reviving' nation, affecting all state residents, including the Arabs.

Israeli nation- and state-building have thus created what I have termed an 'ethnocracy'. This is a regime governed by two main principles: (a) despite several democratic features, ethnicity (and not territorial citizenship) is the main organising logic for the allocation of state resources; and (b) a dominant 'charter group' enjoys a superior position over other ethnic groups; this group appropriates the state apparatus, and dictates the nature of most public policies. The combination of the two principles typically generates ethno-class stratification and segregation. Given these 'ethnic rules of the game', and given the dominance of the Ashkenazim as the Israeli 'charter group', the Israeli polity has been characterised by on-going practices of ethnic control over both Arab and Jewish minorities.

A central dimension on the social control imposed over peripheral groups relates to the European origins of Ashkenazi Jews, and the 'survival' motive behind the entire Zionist project noted above. During the early fifties, following the mass immigration of Jews from Muslim countries, the Ashkenazi Jews found themselves in the minority, constituting only 35-40 percent of the state population. A genuine fear of 'Levantinisation' of the county, and the erosion of Ashkenazi dominance was felt among the elites, as expressed by a series of articles in a leading journalist (Arye Gelblom) in the influential daily "Ha'aretz" (24-28 February, 1949):

We are witnessing the arrival of a people whose primitivism reaches record levels, their education level is rock bottom and worse than all, they lack any talent to absorb anything spiritual or cultural... Have you given a thought what would happen to our country if these people would be its residents?... In the end, the masses of illiterate, primitive and poor will absorb us into their culture and not the other way around....

More commonly, though, the fear was expressed by airing a series of negative images of the Mizrahim, as a way of stigmatising their culture, and pushing them to adopt the Ashkenazi way of life. For example, David Ben Gurion (Israel's first Prime Minister and dominant leader) stated in 1950:

The successful absorption of people from Eastern communities... (and) the transformation of this human dust into a cultural nation... is not an easy task.... we need to resort to enormous educational and moral efforts, accompanied by genuine, deep and pure love for these forsaken brothers... in order to imprint in these incoming and defeatious diasporas the values of our proud culture, language and creativity.

In parallel to this stigmatisation, Israeli policy makers devised powerful strategies of control, aimed at maintaing Ashkenazi dominance in all facets of Israeli life. Some of these strategies involved the rapid de-Arabisation of Mizrahi Jews, the stigmatisation of Arab culture and language and the imposition of restrictive military government over Israel's Arab citizens until the mid 1960s. To be sure, these measures were to some extent legitimised by the protracted Arab-Jewish conflict (which rendered all Arab connotations as negative). Yet they also worked to preserve Ashkenazi dominance in Israel.

The settlement of frontier regions was a complementary control strategy, because it performed two main functions: (a) it resettled many of the Mizrahim in the periphery, thereby distancing them from Israel's main loci of power and influence; and (b) it settled large numbers of Mizrahim on confiscated Arab land and villages, thereby driving a wedge of conflict between the two main non-Ashkenazi groups which together could threaten Ashkenazi dominance.

In addition, Jewish settlement in Israel formed a central physical and cultural pillar in the construction of an all embracing new Jewish national identity. It performed the classical functions of frontier settlement: providing the collective with both territorial and spiritual foundations to consolidate the new identity. It also provided a unifying cause for Jews from different backgrounds, fostered and enhanced altruistic values such as pioneering, personal sacrifice, remoteness and danger; created consensus and public legitimation for the allocation of massive resources for the establishment of (non-economic) new settlements; and presented a focus for world Jidentification, essential for the financial viability of the state. The importance of frontier settlement for Jewish nation-building was strongly underscored by the symbolic residence of Ben Gurion (Israel's first Prime Minister) and later Golda Meir (Israel's fourth Prime Minister) in a remote Negev kibbutz settlements. On the role of settlement in nation-building Ben Gurion noted in the national assembly of the Jewish Agency in 1952:

During the last few years we have brought hundreds of thousands of Jews to Israel, and we have built institutions and economy of which we can be proud. But unless we begin once again to settle the frontiers of our country, populate these regions on mass, and work the land, we will not complete the historical mission of creating a genuine of revival of rooted Jewish national independence.

As Hasson notes in his recent culturl analysis of the Israeli frontier: 'The idealisation of Israel's frontier settlements encouraged the creation of a unique social and moral identity, mobilised support, and served as a vital tool for nation building'. However, these unifying icons and rationales for frontier settlements have also worked to gloss-over and conceal the inequalities and divisions created by the policy.

While previous studies have thoroughly analysed the policies of spatial control over the Arab minority, the more subtle use of such policies to marginalise the Mizrahim has been largely ignored. These policies reinforced and deepened their inferior position which emerged in most other facets of Israeli society, such as the labour market, education, and culture and institutional formation. Ashkenazi dominance rested on covert 'orientalist' assumptions and practices, which legitimised the subordination both Arabs and Mizrahi Jews, although by different force and using different practices.

The corresponding spatial process mainly entailed the dispersal of many Mizrahim into frontier settlements at the country's peripheral regions, and the subsequent reinforcement of socioeconomic gaps. The Mizrahim, who had little other housing choices, thus became a passive spearhead in the Zionist task of Judaising the country. Development and housing policies have mainly advanced the interests of (the mainly Ashkenazi) social and geographical centre, at the expense of the periphery. To be sure, considerable numbers of Ashkenazim (especially refugees from Europe) were also settled in Israel's periphery, but most of them migrated soon after into the country's core regions, using social contacts which the Mizrahim lacked. The Ashkenazim who remained in the periphery generally found ways to segregate themselves from low-income Mizrahim, as detailed below.

 

 

 

Israeli Frontier Regions and the Social Division of Space

In some ways, the entire state of Israel can be described as a frontier, given Zionism's continuous drive to Judaise the country. Still, two main regions were constructed in the national Jewish discourse as the country's principal internal frontiers: the Negev in the south and the Galilee in the north. These were typical frontier regions, adjacent to Israel's international border, and populated mainly by Arabs. Israel's settlement and Judaisation efforts have changed the demography of the two regions, although the heart of the Galilee region residents of Arab villages still account for of 72 percent of the region's population, while the Bedouin-Arabs of the Negev constitute about a third of the Beer-Sheva region (see Figure 1). Several other regions were also delineated as internal frontiers, particularly the 'Jerusalem Corridor' and the Lachish region, although all were secondary in importance to the first the Galilee and Negev in the Israeli public rhetoric (Figure 1). Nevertheless, all four regions were clearly reconstructed as 'internal frontiers', endowing Jewish settlement in the region with total Jewish consensus, legitimacy, and resources.

Consequently, large public resources were invested in order to generate development, support peripheral settlements, and attract further Jewish migration to these areas. These included tax breaks, subsidised land and housing, investment incentives, development of regional infrastructure, classification of many settlements and regions as high priority "Development Areas A", and "Immigrant Absorption Centres". The massive frontier settlement effort was also assisted greatly by Israel's highly centralised planning system, where decisions were often taken in secrecy, where the state owned over 90 percent of the land, and where planning authorities had enormous powers of implementation. Frontier settlement efforts clearly illustrate the attempts by the Israeli (Jewish) nation--building project to match the historical narrative of Jews longing to return to Israel for nearly two millennia of life in the Diaspora.

Historically, three main waves of Jewish settlements in Israel's frontier regions can be discerned. In the first wave, during the 1949-52 period, some 85 kibbutzim (communal farms) and 158 moshavim (cooperative farms) were built, mainly along the international borders. During the second wave, from the mid 1950s to the mid-1960s, 27 development towns and further 56 moshavim were built. The development towns and the moshavim (of both the first and the second wave) were populated mainly by new Jewish immigrants from Middle Eastern countries (Figure 2).

As a result, in 1961 some 273,000 immigrants were settled in the newly built development towns, and over 55,000 in moshavim. In the early 1960s, 164 of the 214 Israeli moshavim were homogenous Mizrahi. This massive population relocation was made possible by the provision of state housing and land in development towns and moshavim. Newly arrived Mizrahi Jews from low socioeconomic background -- many of whom residents of temporary immigrant camps -- were left with little option but to settle in these peripheral location. Given the social and political weakness of the development towns and moshavim within the Israeli state, Hasson (1998) observes that their regions had quite quickly transformed 'from frontiers to peripheries'. Nevertheless, the development towns were still portrayed as essential for both Israeli security and nation-building, as stated by Arye Sharon, Israel's government planner during the 1950s, in a 1958 planning conference:

The development town is not only an essential component in our national urbanisation strategy which will strengthen Israel's peripheral regions, but it is also a way of absorbing the masses of immigrants who recently arrived, ready to take part in the settlement activity which is at the heart of building this nation, this country, this land...

The third wave, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, saw the establishment of 125 small ex-urban communities known as 'community' or 'private' settlements ('yeshuvim kehilatiyim', 'yeshuvim pratiyim' or 'mitzpim'). These are small suburban-like (or 'rurban') neighbourhoods, ranging between 30 to 1,000 households, scattered between the Arab villages and the development towns of the four regions. Their establishment marks a fusion of two societal forces: the state's attempts to continue its nation- and state-building projects, by reviving a latter-day notion of 'frontiers', and the use of the nation-building settlement mechanisms by Israelis wishing to realise their 'house and garden dream' away from the country's dense urban areas. Yet, policy documents at the time urge the government to continue and settle the frontier for 'national' Jewish reasons, as evident from a Jewish Agency 1978 plan which states:

"We must continue and bring Jews to the Galilee and the Negev. The rapid increase in the numbers of Arabs in these regions and their wide-spread practices of seizing state land illegally, presents us with two main options: let the situation evolve naturally so we lose these regions, or reinvigorate the tradition of Jewish settlement and save them from Arab hands..." .

However, while ex-urban settlements was presented to the public as a renewed effort to settle Israel's hostile internal frontiers, thepeople migrating into these small settlements were mainly middle class Ashkenazi suburbanites. Most of the new ex-urban settlement developed as highly attractive single-residential neighbourhoods, with high standards of public amenities and physical environment. This became possible because the internal frontier regions -- once distant and isolated -- had become far more accessible, due to rising levels of car ownership and an improved Israeli road system. Continuous state attempts to maintain a societal image of 'frontiers' and the improved accessibility of these regions, have thus allowed Israeli 'core' populations to penetrate the peripheral areas, and create isolated islands of ex-urban environments of the highest amenity.

Significantly, the social differences characterising the three waves of settlement were reinforced by institutional structures. This was evident in the separate local government jurisdictions which were established for kibbutzim, moshavim, development towns and ex-urban settlements. As shown by Newman, the creation of 'homogenous spaces' was tolerated and even supported by the Israeli authorities, leading to common cases of 'gerrymandering' and a distorted political organisation of space. This norm of creating ethnic enclaves within mixed region was originally based on the desire to accommodate the original settlers of the frontiers -- the kibbutzim, who were part and parcel of the nation's Ashkenazi core group. In that way, social services (especially education) remained segregated, and kibbutz residents were 'spared' the need to mix with residents of nearby (mainly Mizrahi) moshavim and development towns. The seeds of the regressive social division of space in frontier areas was therefore sown already in the 1950s.

Furthermore, the kibbutzim and moshavim belonged to state-wide organisations which provided them with many essential services and items of consumption, at the expense of development towns, where business and industry languished. Given the concentration of capital and political clout in Israel's coastal plain and among Ashkenazi elites, the main function of the development towns and some of the moshavim became the provision of cheap labour to large labour-intensive industries. The institutional separation continued with the third wave of settlement, with the establishment of new (and usually exclusionary) local government boundaries for most ex-urban settlements, as elaborated below.

Particularly relevant for our analysis is the role of the state in reviving the notion of 'frontiers' with the effect of heavily subsidising the effort of the core group to improve its quality of life. In so doing, the Israeli state not only shifted material resources from poor to rich (through the generous use of public resources), but also redivided the country's social space and further segregated between upwardly mobile (and mainly Ashkenazi) ex-urbanites, and the socially deprived (and mainly Mizrahi) residents of development towns and moshavim. All this was 'concealed' behind the rhetoric and practices of consolidating the 'national frontiers'.

 

Latter-Day 'Frontiers', Social Control and Segregative Practices

As clear from the above, Israel's latter-day 'frontiers' are, at least in part, accessible areas, suitable for ex-urban middle-class migration. In other words, the areas are no longer genuine pioneering frontiers, in the way defined earlier. Let us now proceed to a more detailed examination of the socio-spatial practices of social control exercised in Israel's internal 'frontier' regions.

Three main spatial practices were used to exert this control. The first, as mentioned, entailed the dispersal and confinement of weak Jewish populations (particularly from Mizrahi origins) to isolated development towns and moshavim. The development towns, through on-going housing, social service and employment policies, quickly became dependent on hand-outs and initiatives from the national core. Many of the towns' residents became 'trapped' by stagnant local real-estate markets, and lower levels of training and social networks, which limited their socioeconomic mobility. A recent addition of Soviet immigrants to the towns, despite affecting rapid growth in population, did not change the prevailing socioeconomic profile of the towns, mainly because they attracted the least educated and wealthy from among the new immigrants.

The second spatial practice entailed the use of segregation mechanisms by residents of the ex-urban settlements which transformed these localities to what is often known as 'gated communities'. The segregation process begins with the establishment of a new settlement which required governmental (planning) approval. Such approval was, however, difficult to obtain, because ex-urban settlements were not communal or cooperative -- the two preferred types of non-urban settlements in Israel. However, well-organised and influential groups managed to receive approvals from the Israeli planning authorities to build these new settlements, often aided by the Jewish Agency and by Jewish communities from abroad.

The segregation process continues with the employment of 'resident screening procedures' to select only 'appropriate' candidates to the ex-urban settlements. This power is given to the residents of ex-urban localities, even though they reside on public land. These screening procedures were developed originally to select candidates for the pioneering socialist and highly ideological kibbutzim and moshavim, during the early years of Jewish settlement. However, these are still operable today in the Israel, but have clearly changed their function from a process of positive selection of pioneers to an elitist practice of spatial and social segregation. Later in the process segregation is deepened by the redrawing of local government boundaries, in order to separate groups of ex-urban settlements in their municipal management from poorer Jewish and Arab localities in the same region. The new boundaries attempt to cement the privileged social status 'achieved' by the ex-urban settlements.

The settlers' high social status was confirmed by a recent survey which compared the ex-urban settlers to state averages in several social indicators: the rate of college graduation is three times higher; the mean household income is 60 percent higher; and white-collar occupation is nearly three times higher than the state average. In addition, 91 percent of ex-urbanites cited better social setting, improved living environment and more spacious housing as reasons for relocating to these settlements. Here we can clearly see how (dated) nation-building mechanisms of screening pioneers for the frontiers have been used to create middle class ex-urban enclaves with the active support of state institutions, legal powers and developmental resources.

The uneven social spaces created in the frontier regions are reflected in the real estate market, as illustrated by the example of Ofakim (a southern development town) and Lehavim (an ex-urban locality in the same region). In the mid 1980s, average single residential housing prices both localities hovered equally around $65-70,000. In 1995, however, the average house price in Ofakim moved to $120,00 while in Lehavim it rose to $215,000. Remembering that the state was actively involved in subsidising Lehavim -- like most ex-urban settlements -- we can note the significant shift of resources to private hands through public mechanisms of 'frontier' settlement.

Figures 3 and 4 also show that these social differences have been translated into clear patterns of territorial domination. Figure 3, which covers the Galilee region, shows that municipalities with an Ashkenazi majority cover 62.3 percent of the local government area in the Galilee (with only 6 percent of the population); those with an Mizrahi-Jewish majority cover 21.5 percent (with 24 percent of the population); while Arab municipalities cover only 16.1 percent of the area (with 72 percent of the population).

Similarly, Figure 4 shows that in Israel's other main frontier -- the northern Negev, municipalities wiAshkenazi majority cover 55.4 percent of the area, while their residents constitute only 4.9 percent of the region's population. Municipalities with Mizrahi majorities, on the other hand, control only 20.8 percent of the region's municipal area, with a population of 62.1 percent. The uneven social division of space is most conspicuous with regards to the Arabs in the northern Negev, who control only 1.5 of the region's local government area, while constituting 24.8 percent of its population (the remaining 22.3 percent of the northern Negev municipal area belong to two councils -- Arad and Eshkol; these accommodate relatively balanced Ashkenazi-Mizrahi communities which together account for 8.2 percent of the region's populace; the calculation does not include the large tract of land in the centre of the Northern Negev frontier which has no municipal status). Figures 3 and 4 thus display vividly the spatial expression of the Ashkenazi-dominated Israeli ethnocracy.

 

Mizrahi Resistance and Power Relations

Given the dynamics documented above, it would be logical to expect growing levels of resistance to the imposed order. Resistance has indeed appeared on a variety of levels, although it has been quite partial and inconsistent. For example, several development towns mayors campaigned for neighbouring ex-urban settlements to be included within their municipal boundaries and even issued several Supreme Court appeals to that effects. However, the existing pattern of local governments shows clearly that none of the ex-urban settlements established between the late 1970s and 1995 has been incorporated into the municipal area of a development town, attesting to the power relations between the two groups.

Another indication of these power relations has been the support of successive governments (regardless of their political leaning) in the municipal protection of the ex-urbanites, and thus prolong the isolation of the development towns. To illustrate, independent municipal status was recently given to the ex-urban settlement of Kfar Havradim (in the Galilee) and Lehavim (in the Negev) with populations of 2,100 and 2,300 residents, respectively. These settlements then became the smallest local governments declared in Israel since the 1960s, with sizes below the normal regulations of the Ministry of the Interior.

Expressions of resistance to the Ashkenazi dominance continued to surface in the periphery, mainly because in a competitive electoral system like the one used in Israel, on-going ethnic control must exert a political price. Such opposition has been felt since the 1970s, first with the rise of the 'Black Panthers' movement, and later with the political ascendancy of the Likud. The Labor Movement, which represented most of the Ashkenazi elites and middle classes, has polled poorly in Israel's social peripheries since the 1970s. Subsequently, the Likud, which spearheaded the anti-Labor agenda in Israeli politics has managed to capture most Mizrahi votes since the 1970s (even though the Likud too, has always been led by Ashkenazi Jews). This electoral pattern was critical to Labor defeats in a series of elections, including in 1996, when Benjamin Netanyahu received 67 percent of Jewish votes in the Negev and 59 percent in the Galilee. In development towns, Netanyahu averaged 73 percent, in contrast to the 27 percent averaged by Labor's candidate, Shimon Peres.

Israel's 1996 elections also demonstrated a wider political backlash against Israeli elites, with parties representing peripheral minorities strengthening dramatically, especially in Israel's internal frontier areas. Accordingly, the parties representing the Arabs in Israel increased their power from five to nine Members of Knesset (which has 120 seats). Likewise, the Shas party (representing mainly poor Mizrahi Jews) grew from six to 10 seats and received a large percentage of the vote in most of Israel's development towns. The newly created immigrant party (representing new-comers from the ex-Soviet Union) won seven seats and also received a large share of the votes in development towns. Together, parties representing peripheral ethnic groups have more than doubled their Knesset representation. While a change in Israel's electoral system that allowed vote-splitting for the first time can account for some of this change, I suggest that it also mirrored a more profound backlash against the country's dominant Ashkenazi core.

Before concluding the analysis, a few reservations are in order. First, it is not claimed here that the regressive social division of space has been caused entirely by frontier development. Powerful groups tend to find ways to segregate themselves in most market economies, and in most regions. However, the nation-building tools in Israel's frontiers have significantly assisted in that process, thereby causing the widening of socioeconomic gaps between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews. Second, the social division of space is not totally impregnable, and the demographic situation is not static. There is some migration from development towns to the new ex-urban settlements, although migration in the opposite direction is virtually non-existent. Third, the regressive process noted above does not mean that Israeli development towns are stagnant. In recent years some of them have even experienced a notable resurgence. I argue, however, that the towns' resurgence would have been firmer and quicker, should the ex-urban migration been directed onto their municipal areas.

 

Concluding Comment

We have seen above that the nation- and state-building efforts of the Israeli 'ethnocracy' have generated an intensive Jewish effort to Judaise the country and settle its 'internal frontiers'. This, in turn, resulted in policies of control imposed over both indigenous Arabs and Mizrahi Jews. The crux of this practice has been a regressive division and uneven social construction of space, which assisted the country's Ashkenazi elites and middle classes to preserve their privileged social position.

The foregoing analysis has thus affirmed the three research questions posed earlier: Israeli society has indeed developed the notions of 'internal frontiers' as a central component of its nation-building project; the settlement and planning of such frontiers have been associated with a regressive division of social space; and these processes have augmented the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi stratification of Jewish society.

Over four decades after their arrival and settlement in Israel, the Mizrahim are making inroads into the Israeli middle class and even into some elites, and certain elements of Mizrahi culture, such as music and food, have found their way into mainstream Israeli life. Yet, most Mizrahi Jews, especially in the periphery, continue to lag behind their Ashkenazi counterparts in most aspects of mobility and socioeconomic status. As revealed by a recent study, in some aspects, such as income and educations, the gaps are even growing.

Group relations in Israel's internal frontiers have thus witnessed persisting disparities and growing fragmentation. This hampered efforts for regional integration and slowed the development of over-arching regional interests. Peripheral areas in Israel have been unable to rise and compete against the more developed and powerful national core, and a large part of this powerlessness can be attributed to the segregated and uneven division of space. This has been generated, financed and legitimised by Israel's nation-building 'imperatives'.

Most recently this topic received a wave of renewed attention. In September 1997 Ehud Barak, leader of the Israeli Labor Party, made a public apology on behalf of the 'generations of Party members' to the Mizrahim for the 'lack of national recognition of their suffering and pioneering efforts'. Barak's public apology spurred a range of responses from scholars, publicists, public figures and politicians. The vast majority of these condemned Barak's declaration as 'hollow' and 'cynical' and presented a denial of any wrong-doing by the country's Ashkenazi founders. The prevailing reaction was articulateby Y. Brunovsky, a leading columnist of the influential daily "Ha'aretz": 'Barak's apology is nothing but a pathetic gimmick' (17 October, 1997). The reaction to Barak's apology demonstrates clearly that while the Mizrahim are beginning to influence the Israeli public discourse, their structurally inferior position has not been widely accepted yet.

This debate also serves as a reminder that the time is right to introduce more enlightened spatial policies Israel's peripheral regions. A timely new approach can enhance equity and promote the emergence of an over-arching regional identity in deprived frontier regions. Such a policy would break-down the 'defence' erected around exclusionary ex-urban settlements, and work to direct large numbers of suburbanising middle-class Israelis to existing development towns. The challenge lies in preventing this suburban wave from creating a new spate of ex-urban 'gated' communities, as attempted at present at numerous rural locations. Instead of continuing traditional approaches to 'frontier settlements', Israeli planning policy-makers should rise to the challenge and start to perform a progressive role in the shaping of Israel's future human geography.

Returning finally to a theoretical level, we should note the central role of space in general, and the social division of space in particular, to the processes of nation- and state-building. Like the revision of national histories in the name of building a 'homogenous' nation out of loosely related ethnic groups, the remapping of national space is critical to the reconstruction of the new national collectives. However, space is not merely a flat platform on which these processes take place; it is an active factor which constantly shapes and reshapes inter-group relations. We must therefore probe further not just at the border zones between state and ethnic entities, but also at the internal social dynamics often concealed behind the nation-building projects. We should therefore treat critically the spatial manifestation of nationalism, by constantly taking stock of the ever-changing relations between the 'nation and its peripheral fragments'.

 

Acknowledgments

This paper was finalised while on a Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, Department of Political Science. I am grateful both for the Fulbright Foundation and the Department for their support. Comments on previous drafts received from Yehuda Gradus, John Paul Jones, Adriana Kemp, Asad Ghanem, Yaron Tsur, Yoav Peled, and the anonymous referees are highly appreciated. I am also grateful for the assistance provided by the Negev Center for Regional Development at Ben Gurion University, Beer-Sheva.

 

Biographical Note

Dr. Oren Yiftachel teaches political-geography at Ben Gurion University, Beer-Sheva, Israel and is a research fellow at the Negev Center for Regional Development. He studied urban studies, urban and regional planning and political geography in Australian and Israeli universities. Among his books: Planning a Mixed Region in Israel: The Political Geography of Arab-Jewish Relations in the Galilee, Avebury, Aldershot (1992); Planning as Control: Policy and Resistance in a Divided Society, Pergamon, Progress in Planning Series (1995); Ethnic Frontiers and Peripheries: the Politics of Development and Inequality, (with A. Meir, Eds) Westview, Boulder (1998).