- Homeland: Zionism as Housing Regime, 1860–2011 by Yael Allweil
In the 1980s and 1990s the history of Zionism was opened up to new interpretations largely thanks to critiques of nationalism that had begun to circulate in the Israeli academy. Prior to that time, the history of Zionism was often narrated as the culmination of a millennia-long history of exodus and exile during which Jews sought to return to the ancient land of Israel. A dominant framework for reinterpreting the history of Zionism has been that of settler colonialism. Now, recent scholarship by architectural historians is moving to consider Zionism in architectural terms. After all, establishing a "national home" for the Jewish people also meant building—especially individual homes for the masses who immigrated to Palestine. Indeed, beginning in the late nineteenth century, Zionist settlers invested great effort into housing: importing models from Europe, developing new ones, and, at times, erasing existing ones.
In her book Homeland, Yael Allweil argues that these efforts were not of secondary concern to Zionism. On the contrary, the design and provision of housing was central to the movement, and bridged ideological differences among the various advocates of Zionism. It was through housing, she insists, that Zionists made a claim to the land, and, equally important, articulated their identities with respect to each other and to the neighboring Palestinians. Over the book's three sections, Allweil examines a variety of settlements and housing models developed from the nineteenth century through the twenty-first, [End Page 100] ultimately arguing that the production of housing was and remains "the primary ideological base and concrete mechanism for Zionist nation building" (12).
Allweil takes as her point of departure the Ottoman Land Code of 1858, which, as part of the Tanzimat reforms, introduced a new form of land tenure to Palestine. The Land Code allowed individuals to purchase large areas of land that were previously owned by the imperial Ottoman state, and in that way, Allweil claims, gave birth to two distinct national movements: Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. Members of each group, she explains, were now permitted to purchase land from the state, developing unique settlements and housing models. Although she points to the ramifications of the Land Code for Palestinians, her argument focuses largely on types of settlements developed by Jewish settlers: moshavot, agricultural settlements where landless Jews (and Palestinians) were employed by Jewish landlords as agricultural laborers; the kibbutzim, collectivist agricultural settlements; and the city of Tel Aviv, founded in 1909 outside the walls of the port city of Jaffa. Each of these examples, according to Allweil, reflected a different approach to economic constraints and opportunities.
In the second section, Allweil examines how settlement forms introduced in the opening created by the Land Code—one catering for Palestinians and two for Jewish immigrants—shaped national consciousness in particular ways. To begin, she discusses two types of dwellings that emerged in Palestinian villages: mansions for landowners and mud huts for peasants. Allweil argues that these housing types facilitated the rise of two rival classes, or "two competing Palestinian national projects" (81): those residing in multi-room mansions, who sought to replace the Ottoman Empire with an elite of local landowners, and agricultural laborers, who aimed at creating cooperative frameworks of land ownership.
Allweil then goes on to discuss Tel Aviv. Here, she shows how the city originated as a housing estate to accommodate Jewish immigrants unable to find decent housing in Jaffa, and then only subsequently evolved into a fully functioning city. Tracing that evolution, she discusses Sir Patrick Geddes's master plan from the 1920s and its implementation. Allweil closes this section with Kibbutz Beit Alfa and an analysis of the development of its children's house, a two-story building where all children in the kibbutz ate, studied, and lived together. Describing the debates surrounding the construction of the children's house, as well as its symbolic importance, Allweil contends that it "articulated the...