IN THE CITY THAT YOU CAN SEE
Anthony Michael Morena
Mostly you don't see them because they don't want you to see them. They built things that you support on top of them: convention centers, hospitals, parks. No one hates parks, we're not monsters. Even Tel Aviv University, which has to be one of the most liberal institutions in this country. It's underneath these public grounds, behind bushes, along dry rivers, that you will notice what is missing in the maps you can follow like veins underneath the lines on your palm.
Once in a while, it all comes through.
For years I've been passing the Hiriya garbage dump-slash-Ariel Sharon park, right on the edge of my in-laws' neighborhood. Right now, it is a rehabilitated wasteland: they are building a picturesque park on top of a 200-foot plateau of grass-covered human garbage. But along its foot there is a river, dry most of the year, called the Ayalon, and on its banks, as far back as antiquity, there used to be a farming village.
Its name, recorded biblically, was Bnei Brak, but at the time of its depopulation it was Hiriya. The town had previously been known as Ibn Ibrak, the Arabic version of the original name. It was changed to avoid confusion when Jewish pioneers reused the name Bnei Brak for a new village to the north. For a while both cities existed. The first disappearance took place in name only. Afterwards, the dump was built on top of Hiriya, and that is what people called it. You can still see some of the original houses there, on the edges. On the way to Route 4 there's a gas station restaurant with a sign for Carlsberg out front.
I passed through there on my bike a few weeks ago. There are plans to expand the new park, and excavations were taking place. Huge mounds of dirt piled twenty feet high and warning tape. I looked down under the tents about three feet below the ground and there were floor plans down there. Whole houses. Roman-era, Byzantine, old enough not to belong to anyone anymore. Too deep to be the old Arab village, which remains after just fifty years, at eye level.
Farther into the edgelands that border the highways and farms, I tracked along the fence of the airport, until it cut in front of my path. There was a map in my hands I could no longer follow. I tried to get there anyway, and took a step across the fence.
All cities grow. All cities take on more features than the map they used to follow. But sometimes those cities grow where others still remain. Unpeopled, streets become ghost streets, haunted only by the ability for people to forget that this is not their beautiful house, this is not their beautiful wife. What the antiquities department does in situations like the one in Hiriya, where unremarkable ruins are discovered and there is a project underway, is uncover the ruins, document them, fill in the holes with concrete, and pave over what remains. I lost sight of the map that took me to where I was going, but I began to draw up a new one.
When the police pulled up and stopped me, I was waist deep in the tall weeds, and my tires were full of thorn needles. Not everyone gets to walk away from this. Not everyone has the privilege to be lost.
In the fields at Beit Arif, I knew there was an abandoned village, Al-Tira, whose only remains were a single mosque standing in the middle of tracks of farmland. It was Saturday, the fields were empty, but I was worried about getting chased by dogs. Cutting across the farms, lost for a while, I finally found a lone eucalyptus tree in the middle of a field growing next to a crumbled wall. Searching for the mosque there, I took my eyes off the road and hit something, some half-buried part of whatever structure that wall was still a part of—a house, a yard, a store—and lost control of the bike. I got a hold of it again and started to move on, approaching a large gate that cut the field off from the newer town that was built there. I was paying so much attention to that gate, worried there would be guard dogs. I did not see the tan domes of the mosque, far from the eucalyptus, in the dry brown stalks and reeds to my right.
This is a reminder, a push pin, a reminder: at this resolution, no map can take you back where you were going. Once you arrive here, it won't be easy to say that the highway that goes to the airport is not the street with three schools on it, to tell the economy cars in the parking lot from cemetery gravestones, the park from the orchard, the mosque from the overgrowth, and the people that live here from the people that live here.
The Palestine Exploration Fund Map (1880) is in the public domain, and can be found on Wikicommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Survey_of_Western_Palestine_1880.13.jpg
I wrote this piece during a month-long group project with a number of writers where we each wrote a flash or micro-essay or prose poem a day and shared it via email with the group. One writer sent a piece that was expressed wonder at the open, unexploited, and unclaimed nature of the Israeli landscape, maybe not without irony. It made me think about things I had seen and things I had not while I've been here.