Welcome to our Blog

Click here to read the what this blog is all about.
Click here to see a listing of posts arranged by category.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sha'ar Hagai Part II

This is a follow-up post to what we previously wrote about Sha'ar Hagai. At the time, Itai Horowitz directed us to an article from 2003 about the Convoy Memorial found in Sha'ar Hagai, written in Katadra (106, p119-138). The article, authored by Maoz Azariahu, raises three interesting points, regarding (i) how ruins gain collective importance, (ii) why they make good monuments, and (iii) about authenticity.

(i) Azariahu tells the story about how the ruined convoys were preserved. He writes that immediately after the War of Independence, there was no consensus for leaving them in place. Ben Gurion, for example, wanted to replace them with a conventional memorial, and others wanted them moved to a museum. On the other hand, Yigal Yadin wanted them to remain in place. Two design competitions were held, one in the 50s which was rejected, and a second in 1961 which led to the existing memorial in Sha'ar Hagai, built in 1967. However, in the 19 years it took the government to decide on a memorial, the ruined vehicles established themselves in the collective conscience of Israel, and by then the public wished for them to stay in place. I think this kind of public emotional attraction is key to successful ruin preservation.

(ii) The author points out that these types of ruins make great memorials because they serve a dual function. They are both witnesses, actively telling the story, and represent physical testimony. It is easier for someone to identify with them and feel as if they personally experienced and understand the events.
"Most of those who encounter the monument did not experience the event; for them the event belongs to the past, a historical event rather than a personal experience. Their personal memory in this sense is a memory of seeing the memorial as a representation of the historical event. The uniqueness of the convoy ruins is that they serve as witnesses that tell the story and as physical testimony that proves the veracity of the story. They don't just tell the story, like standard monuments that are built after the event takes place; rather, they are part of the story itself. The create a direct bond, above time, between the past and the present, and are a sort of bridge that allows the viewer to recreate the past in his mind."
(iii) Finally, Azariahu raises the problem of authenticity. These ruins succeed because they are taken to be authentic. However, as in nearly all situations, their authenticity is only partial. Firstly, they do not lie where they originally stopped. Rather, they had to be moved out of the way for traffic to pass. In addition, they were moved in 1970 when the path of the road was shifted. This was accompanied by landscaping the area around them; again in 1983, when the road was widened; And again in the 1990s, when, in addition to being relocated, the vehicles themselves were conserved.
It is a little disheartening to see just how difficult it is to retain authentic ruins. On the other hand, the fact that these ruins remain a powerful symbol perhaps shows that this requirement isn't total. In weighing authenticity v.s. total decay and loss of the objects, perhaps there should be room for compromise.

Photos from Israeli National Photo Archive


  1. I worry that allowing room for compromise, as has been done in the case of the Sha'ar Hagai Convoy Memorial, essentially leads to the destruction (ie. full conservation) and stopping of the decay process and ruins the authenticity of these ruins. The newly painted and conserved "ruins" of the original vehicles hardly feels truly ruinous.

  2. It's true that today, when the vehicles are arranged in a row and on a plinth, it is clear that something is false. But for years, even though the cars had been moved and repaired, they still looked and felt authentic and ruinous. I agree that compromise is a slippery slope, but I also see that for years the aura was kept up even though the cars were being conserved.