restricted access 4. The Presence of Absence: The Memorialism of National Death in Israel
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4 The Presence of Absence The Memorialism of National Death in Israel DON HANDELMAN AND LEA SHAMGAR-HANDELMAN EDITOR'S COMMENTS This chapter, written by Don Handelman and Lea ShamgarHandelman , is entitled "The Presence of Absence: The Memorialism ofNational Death in Israel." Their contribution centers on the relationships between the presence or absence of the body of the dead and the visual representation of death on the surface of the land. They single out three different landscapes of national sacrifice for analysis: military cemeteries, military memorials and monuments, and the Holocaust Memorial (in Jerusalem). In more general terms, their contribution focuses on the manner by which death is appropriated by the Israeli state for the purpose of creating collective memories within its territory. A man whose son died in the war walks up the street like a woman with a dead fetus in her womb. "Behind all this, some great happiness is hiding." Everything visible conceals something visible. (Amichai 1986:96) -Rene Magritte Lea Shamgar-Handelman (1934-95) died on August 4, 1995. The absence of her presence is deeply and sorely felt. 85 4 The Presence of Absence The Memorialism of National Death in Israel DON HANDELMAN AND LEA SHAMGAR-HANDELMAN EDITOR'S COM_MENTS This chapter, written by Don Handehnan and Lea ShamgarHandelman , is entitled "The Presence of Absence: The Mernorialism ofNational Death in Israel. " Their contribution centers on the relationships between the presence or absence of the body of the dead and the visual representation of death on the surface of the land. They single out three different landscapes of national sacrifice for analysis: military cemeteries, military memorials and monuments, and the Holocaust Memorial (in Jerusalem). In more general terms, their contribution focuses on the manner by Ivhich death is appropriated by the Israeli state for the purpose of creating collective rnemories within its territory. A man whose son died in the war walks up the street like a woman with a dead fetus in her womb. "Behind all this, some great happiness is hiding." (Amichai 1986:96) Everything visible conceals something visible. -Rene Magritte Lea Shamgar-Handelman (1934-95) died on August 4, 1995. The absence of her presence is deeply and sorely felt. 85 86 Don Handelman and Lea Shamgar-Handelman The political existence of modern states is predicated on their control over precisely (indeed, absolutely) bounded territories, their control of access to these territories, and their determination of who has the right to live here (Handelman 1994). Territory is said to belong and to be integral to the state. In the modern era, such spaces are constructed, shaped, and furnished as national landscapes, as territorial contexts molded with meaning and sentiment through the interaction of ideological claims, historicist ethos, and political strategies (Williams and Smith 1983:504; Cosgrove 1984:13). Those people (usually citizens) who identify with the ideological tenets and historicist visions of the state often feel themselves to have special affinities with its national landscapes. They may well see themselves as emerging (naturally , historically, mythically) from the land and belonging to it, just as this belongs to the state. Issues of ownership and belonging are especially acute when national territory is contested space, where peoples in conflict compete to constitute landscapes that substantiate and that harmonize with their own claims to affinity with the land. The validation of political claims to land in the modern era is obsessed with the creation of reality-indeed, with the substantive reality of national presence that is perceived as singularly and uniquely engendered for/by a particular people and state, and whose presence must be made visible and empowered by material presence.! In the romanticism of the modern state, territorial borders are boundaries of being within which national landscapes are threaded with collective memory. The territory of the State of Israel is contested space that Israeli Jews shape with meaning and emotion in ongoing ways, to constitute landscapes that resonate with and are unified by their claims of ownership and belonging.2 Of central importance to the production of these claims is the placement of death-that is, death in general, but especially that which is understood to have national import. The placement and commemoration of national death have been central to the molding of holistic collective memory and identity in numerous states of the modern era (Shamgar-Handelman 1986; Mosse 1979; Ben-Amos 1989; Tumarkin 1983; Kapferer 1988:149-67; Ingersoll and Nickell 1987). Our sense of death is that it transforms presence into absence. Presence...


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