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2009 International Conference on the Arts in Society.

Venice, Italy, 29-31 July 2009

Israeli New-Towns and Propaganda Films in the 1950s

Keren Filman and Iris Aravot

In the 1950s the young state of Israel (founded in 1948) adopted a "melting pot" policy,
entailing the transformation of immigrants from North Africa, the Middle East and
Eastern Europe into "new Israelis". Architectural planning and design were recruited to
create the appropriate environment, an aim that the profession adopted in both discourse
and practice.
The documentary film industry too was recruited to support the same agenda: at the time,
newsreels served the government as an instrument of propaganda. They documented
events in the life of the young state, including the process of building the new-towns and
shaping the individual and the new society.
The research reviews, analyzes, and compares the architectural discourse and the
propaganda films concerning Israeli new-towns. It focuses on the shaping of the modern
Israeli individual and society, comparing the promotion of ideologies and the shaping of
Israeli identity in propaganda films and in the architectural professional discourse.

Review, analysis, and comparison of the architectural discourse and the propaganda films
concerning Israeli new-towns: the shaping of the modern Israeli individual and society,
promotion of ideologies and the shaping of Israeli identity.

A unique phenomenon in the history of the state of Israel in its first decades was
the founding of 36 new-towns. This project, intended to meet the needs of mass
immigration of the time, also served as an instrument for population dispersal, national
security advance and economic improvement. Moreover, and central to the argumentation
of the present research, it was also a powerful means of shaping a new identity for the
immigrants within the melting pot of modern Israel.
Architectural planning activity was recruited to create the environment for the new
Israelis, an aim that the profession adopted in both discourse and practice.
The documentary film industry too was recruited to support the same agenda: at the time,
newsreels served the government as an instrument of propaganda. They documented
events in the life of the young state, including the process of building the new-towns and
shaping the individual and the new society.
The research reviews, analyzes, and compares the architectural discourse and the
propaganda films concerning Israeli new-towns. It focuses on the shaping of the modern
Israeli individual and society, comparing the promotion of ideologies and the shaping of
Israeli identity in propaganda films and in the architectural professional discourse.
The professional architectural discourse and the propaganda films were closely
related to the state authorities and realized the governmental policy. The architectural
discourse was not open to the public, but its results had immediate and ultimate influence,
especially on the new immigrants. As against that, the propaganda films formed the
broadest and most explicit interpretation of the new towns for the immigrants as well as
for the veteran Israelis and Jews outside Israel. The relationship between the professional
discourse and the propaganda films sheds light on the space between activities and their
constructed image, and the ideological system that guided them. In the cracks of this
space appear the situations and values that the ideology tries to cover and conceal.
The new immigrants carried out the assignments of wilderness occupation and population
dispersal in the films. These "extras”, which were brought directly from the ship, were
presented heroically as "pioneers" who populate and construct the new-towns. While
planners tried to imbue society with a new identity in the spirit of the modernism of
technical, functional and rational construction, the films inadvertently revealed the
sterility, monotony, and sense of stagnation and loneliness that prevailed in these towns,
as well as showing their inconsistency with the patriotic text, full of lofty Zionistic
Due to formal restrictions this paper will discuss two topics alone, which
characterize a network of issues revealed by the comparison, and which will be able to
give an impression of the mood, opinions and ideologies of those times.
1. The first part will deal with the "designated town". It will examine the identity of the
new town as intended by the architects, and how the theme of Modernism was well
connected to this new identity.
2. The second part will focus on the smallest unit of the new-town: the apartment in the
housing estate and its inhabitants. The paper will examine weather the professionals
thought of planning for the user, or if the latter was to adapt himself to the apartment as
part of the new identity that was being designed for him.
The paper will present the discourse connected to each of the two topics, and the changes
it underwent within the two decades under discussion. The professional discourse will be
represented not only by architects and planners, but also by sociologists, intellectuals and
politicians. It will be compared with the visuals and texts of the cinematic propaganda
discourse, and with its explicit and implicit messages.

Architectural Identity - Modernism

"Israeli Architecture is a new artistic phenomenon, of several decades, and
far from crystallizing its own way or style (....) The Erez-Israeli (land of Israel)
architecture was created from displacement of urban architecture of indistinctly
rooted values.
The functional approach and the aspiration to overall organization were
integrated by the Israeli architect within the local conditions, and were adapted
to the humble and limited scale of pre-statehood with practicality and lack of
pretension" (HaShimshoni 1963:213)
HaShimshoni, in his article "Israeli Architecture", raises the difficulties in creating an
identity for Israeli architecture in the absence of long-standing tradition. Nonetheless, he
speaks about the connection of the Israeli architect to the functional approach and his
aspiration to order, actually describing the adoption of Modernism.
This part of the paper discusses Modernism both as an architectural trend which
influenced the planning of new-towns, and as a wider term, a social conception
representing the opinions of the local population as against the immigrants.
Most National regimes between the two World-Wars were reluctant to accept Modernism
due to contradiction between nationality and local ethnic and territorial elements. This
was not the case in Israel. The Jewish population, its architects and the leaders of pre-
statehood saw in the Modernist rejection of historical styles an appropriate solution for
the renewed Zionist Movement, and in its call to functionalism, frugal aesthetics, novelty
and economic production - a tool to cope with the assignment of physical planning.
Not unlike the European Modernist movements, which tried to destabilize and to
deconstruct existing systems, and to separate and cut off all historical contexts, Israeli
planners too sought to blot out Oriental aspects of the local landscape.
Golda Meirson, the Minister of Work expressed this view as an achievement of the
Housing Department:
"Those passing through the country’s roads these days and seeing hundreds of
new buildings, whitening on all sides.... imagine that all that exists from
primordial times (Mairson, 1954:19)
Modernism, however, was not the only component in the creation of the new
architectural identity. Rather, it was the situation that prevailed in the country during
those first years of state building: economic regulation, austerity, lack of money and
materials, mass immigration and pressure of time. The documents of town-planning and
neighborhood building indicate that these factors ultimately designed the space and the
urban identity.
The 1951 "The Physical Planning in Israel" by Architect Arieh Sharon, which delineated
the new-town planning in Israel, described in great detail the housing project, industry,
transport, agriculture etc. It even exemplified forms of housing for the new-towns, and
colored plans of land use. Nevertheless, one aspect was missing, the one that would
mould the image of the new-towns and will grant them identity: namely emptiness.
A typical shot (consecutive series of pictures) in the propaganda films consists of a
remote and high angle view of a new-town. Golda Meirson's above mentioned words fit
together very well with the emerging townscape: one or two story houses scattered in the
wilderness. In many instances the camera, while focusing on other subjects, documents
by the way the emptiness of the town. This emptiness and sterility surprise us: not only
doesn't the camera beautify reality, as expected in propaganda films, but it lays emphasis
on its unpleasant aspects.
This may be explained in the prevailing atmosphere of the time: austerity, being satisfied
with little. The film creators, so it seems, did not try to hide this reality, on the contrary,
they were proud of it.
Presenting the difficult reality as part of an ideological concept is repeated in the Israeli
propaganda films. One of the first frames in the film 'Ashdod' , for example, focuses on
the sand that dominates the whole city. The camera is directed in a low angle to the legs
of a woman, moving away from our sight, pushing a baby pram on the sandy path. The
text that accompanies the shot reads:
"You would not call Ashdod a beautiful city, just as you wouldn't say that a
newborn baby is beautiful, and mean it. But this is a city which has a future,
and that is that really counts"
This sentence can perhaps explain why the wilderness and inaction of the new-towns is
not hidden. Their situation in that time was a necessity, as well as a part of a greater
assignment, namely that of suppressing the wilderness. Just like the baby that will one
day become a man- so wilderness is a part of the natural growth process.

Fig 1. The mother and the baby pram in the sand. Ashdod (Helga Keller, 1961)

The idea of the Modern Town comes up in the film 'A Town Named Eilat'. The voice of
the narrator describes noon time, when the heat is at its peak and work stops:
"Most people rest in their homes with the blinds shut. Eilat looks then as a
deserted town ".
The camera swivels in a 'following pan' towards the housing blocks; there is nobody in
the street, no car. The emptiness in this case is explained as the natural result of the heat,
not as the everyday life routine.
Still, how will Eilat be characterized as a normal, Western, modern town? For this
purpose the camera follows a woman in the street, and the evidence of existing urbanity
appears in the sings of post-office, bank and school on her way. The narrator declares:
"It is not a large city, and certainly not a Capital, but it has all the signs of a
modern town."
Already in the early 1960s severe criticism was voiced on the outcomes of new town-
planning. In a discussion of New-Towns at the Architects association Yasky (1964:4)
raised the identity problem in an explicit manner:
"As for the architectural identity of the urban surroundings, this is an issue
that we, here in Israel, must be sensitive about more than any other problem of
town-planning, and especially so regarding new-towns. One goes in this
country from Eilat in the south to Kiryat Shemona in the north, passing by Beit
Shemesh and Beit Shean. All this places lack self identity; all are alike, at least
in concern with man-made things. "
Other participants in that discussion criticized the reliance of Israeli planning on
examples in other parts of the world. They described results such as detachment of
planners from the nature of place or lack of attention to "our special circumstances”
which actually derives from the western modern ways of building. Nevertheless, they
neither criticized nor did they question the adoption of this "new architecture".
The tenant
In his 'Social Problems in Housing", Darin (1959:80) describes the way the
Israeli architect has to approach the future tenants while planning apartments:
"...The dwelling habits of immigrants from various countries too make the
planning of housing burdensome. There are habits which must be taken into
account and cannot be stopped drastically, but [we, architects, have] to
educated stepwise towards the general living standards acceptable in Israel"
The concept that tenants have to be educated to Israeli ways of living was not
Darin's view alone. Many of the planners of the time believed that the "melting pot"
framework wherein immigrants were to be reformed into Israeli-Zionist-Western
personalities, included re-education in the field of dwelling too.
In his article on the Living Unit in the rural and urban housing, Yaroset (1954:13)
"The experience of choosing the apartment types in the second phase of [the]
'affordable housing' [project] teaches us that we do not have to build for anyone
the way he is used to live. He has to be taught how to live in the right
apartment... Since developed and civilized population too has only little
familiarity with housing, there makes no sense to speak about considerations of
immigrants [opinions] from Asia or North Africa. The tenants do not discern
between one apartment or the other. It is our duty to educate them, and it is for
us to decide about the dwelling types and how it should be lived in them"
Yaroset, an architect at the Housing Company LTD, believed that the architect and the
entrepreneur had to make all the decisions regarding the living style and to deny the
tenant any possibility of choice. Furthermore, the tenants, and especially those of Asian
and North African origin had to be taught how to merely use the apartment. In a similar
manner Darin (1959:80) required: "There are habits that cannot be taken into account
and it is necessary to educate the tenant to wean them"
Despite the tendency of professionals to see in tenants an anonymous and
changeable group or conversely, a moldable mass to be formed into the housing units,
there were also opinions that emphasized the importance of the individual. Ben Sira
(1954:18) asserted:
"The population should be [defined] first, and the form of building should
follow. Housing should not be planned for the average unknown tenant because
there is no 'average tenant'. ... There are many groups of people, differing in
their family ties, age, country of origin and profession."
The films do not render the connection between land of origin and the characteristics of
dwelling as important. On the contrary: most of them vigorously emphasize the equality
in apartment allocation among the new-immigrants. They promote the expectation that
immigrants adapt themselves to the new house, the new town, and the new culture.
The film 'Ashdod' documents an immigrant’s family entering her new house. The first
shot presents the building homogenous exterior with its uniform balconies. In the next
shot the camera penetrates into the apartment, passing by the father and the daughter
sitting at a small table, while the mother is serving the meal. The narrator explains in a
monotonous voice:
"The same apartment, the same view, two and a half rooms, a kitchen and one
bathroom for each family of immigrants."
The reality of the situation re-appears constantly and demands indirectly that the
immigrant be satisfied with that which is given equally to all: two and a half room
apartment, kitchen and bathroom. The frames prove it: different families living in
identical dwellings.

Fig 2. The proof of equality: uniformity outside and inside of the building. In 'Ashdod'
(Helga Keller, 1961)

The beginning is described also in the film 'First Days'. The Clerk of the Jewish Agency
accompanies the family into her new apartment. The women enter the kitchen and check
the existing equipment. The narrator explains very similarly to the 'Ashdod' text:
" A great experience to enter one's home. For the clerk - it is a routine. And
what else is needed, after all!? There is a two and a half room apartment. You
are taken care of. There is food for the first days. Actually - all that is needed."
In the next scene the father tries to turn the light on, but there is no electricity. The
"Electricity does not function. Patience. Patience. When all the apartments are
occupied the building will be connected to the electric circuit. And when will
that be? More immigrants will come tomorrow and the day after tomorrow".
A clear message: patience.
The script continues in following the family during its first day, and when the evening
falls the remaining suitcases are brought from the port. The narrator:
"More things from the remote home. Each thing and its memories. How good
that there is activity and commotion, and no time for pondering, for thinking
what will be tomorrow!"
Again, it is the film that appeals to the emotional aspect. The past and the memories,
which are hardly ever mentioned in the architectural discourse, are very prominent in the
cinematic medium. The sequence ends at night, when the family lights an oil lamp and
the father brings the suitcases up to the apartment. All gather around him.
In the distancing last shot the father smokes a cigarette, the mother lays on his knees, the
father extinguishes the oil lamp and darkness flows in. The narrator, in a quiet voice says
slowly: "The place where you eat and sleep starts to become yours".
The final scene conveys a message of reconciliation, the atmosphere is rather sad, but at
the same time witnesses the beginning of adaptation. The boxes and suitcases were
emptied, the things were put in place, the apartment was used for eating, drinking and
sleeping, and the extinguishment of the oil lamp signifies the end of the day but also the
end of a life cycle. Tomorrow is a new start in the new-town of Dimona.
Fig 3. The end of a day. In 'First Days' (Helga Keller, 1962)

Thus, documentary films and the architectural discourse delivered different messages and
expectations of the new-immigrant-tenant.
Later critical writing regarded planning for the 'average family' not only as a wrong
approach, but also as a discriminating one. The change in lifestyle, according to those
writings, was forced mainly on Oriental immigrants: those who used to live in a detached
house of one single big room within a large courtyard were accommodated in extensive
apartment blocks, in small rooms and without access to open private space. This enforced
form of dwelling caused changes in lifestyle, intra family, neighbors and inter-generation
relations. ( Swirsky and Behrnstein, 1993;)
In the second decade of independent statehood, i.e. in the 1960s, there were still opinions
that planning should not follow differences among population groups. Nevertheless, there
were many who thought otherwise, and the types of dwellings changed accordingly.
The metamorphosis among professionals is expressed by Glikson (1964) during
the conference on new-towns:
"Each social image is personal. In a country like ours, which has both Western
and Oriental elements, we have to study the image of society, we have to draw
conclusions from the ways North-African families live in four-floor housing."
The dwelling types of the era show alternatives, such as patio-houses, row-houses and
variations in location and mutual orientation. Further to the diversity of type a new
consideration of users need is apparent, such as the patio-house that meets the need of an
open court attached to the house.

To Summarize
This research sought to answer the question: how were the propaganda films
used to promote ideology and new identity in new-towns in comparison with the
architectural professional discourse on the same issues? It was assumed that both
endeavors were tools in the realization of the state agenda and implemented the
governmental policy.
The architectural discourse and the propaganda films, both represented the then new,
emerging space and its identity. The former created the spaces as artifacts and land-uses;
the latter helped shape their interpretational image.
The planners dealt with a wide range of issues concerning the new-towns: physical and
natural aspects, architectural design, land-use and socioeconomic planning. The films
focussed on absorption of immigration, working places, especially in the industry, the
fast pace of building,etc. They never discussed architectural or planning issues directly.
(In contrast to British propaganda films, for example)
By studying both fields together the research hoped to link doing and imaging in the
creation of the new-towns, and to reveal thereby the ideology underpinning both. The
comparison uncovered those aspects that the state tried to camouflage or hide, sometimes
revealing gaps between different governmental agencies.
The propaganda films were intended by the state to convey messages about the new-
towns, connecting them to the prevailing agenda of Zionism and statehood. Some were
hinted at in discrete ways, while others were explicit and straightforward, especially
when addressing the issues of land occupation, cultivation of the wilderness, pioneering.
Interestingly, none of films, including the later ones, alluded to the critical views that
were voiced and professionally followed in the 1960s, within the Ministry of Housing
itself. The films clinged to the atmosphere of the 1950s and paralleled the professional
discourse of this earlier decade.
Surprisingly, however, in many instances the films revealed and intentionally emphasized
unpleasant views, such as dwellings in the midst of wilderness, bereft of any
development of public places, where emptiness dominated. The research interprets such
scenes as part of the austerity and modesty of the day and as an integral part of the
'wilderness-cultivation' ideal.
Central issues discussed by the planners, such as the relationship with older cities and
social problems, are totally absent from the films, and not without reason. The long-
standing community did not always welcome the immigrants and there were many social
problems. Those who commissioned these films did not want to show this gloomy aspect
of reality and simply excluded it, sometimes despite the directors’ protests. (Gross, 1991)
Finally, the lens of the camera reveal hidden sights that planners did not intend, but that
they created. These are not documented in the architectural discourse, and the pictures
bring us one step closer to understanding the reality of that period. Alternatively, the
pictures may deceive us and conceal the government goals represented in the
architectural discourse. These camouflaged elements demonstrate that some of the
actions of the state were political, and they sometimes contradicted personal welfare.

(all references are in Hebrew)
Ben-Sira. J., 1954, “The Shape of the building in the public housing”. Journal of the
Association of Engineers and Architects in Israel 4 (12).
Darin, H. (ed), 1959, The Public Housing, Gadish, Tel Aviv.
Glikson, A., 1964, “Discussion on New Towns”, Journal of the Association of Engineers
and Architects in Israel 3 (22).
Gross, N. and J., 1991, The Hebrew film, Chapters in the History of the Cinema in Israel,
Limited addition by the Authors publication, Jerusalem.
HaCohen, D., 2001, “Absorption and Immigration”, in Y. Efrim and Z. Shavit (eds),
Trends in Israel Society. The Open University. Tel Aviv.
Hashimshony, A., 1963, Architecture, in Binyamin Tamuz (ed), Israel Art, Masada, Tel
Meirson G., 1954, “The Housing Problems in the Country”, Journal of the Association of
Engineers and Architects in Israel 4 (12).
Sharon, A., 1951, Physical Planning in Israel, The Governmental Printer.
Swirski, Sh. and Bernstein, D., 1993, “Who Work in What, for whom and for What”, in
U. Ram (ed), The Israeli Society - Critical Aspects, Breirot, Tel Aviv.
Yaroset, Y., 1954, “The Dwelling Unit in the City and the Village Housing”, Journal of
the Association of Engineers and Architects in Israel 4 (12).
Yasky, A., 1964, “Discussion on New Towns”, Journal of the Association of Engineers
and Architects in Israel 3 (22).
Zaslavsky, D., 1954, Immigrant Housing in Israel - Building, Planning and Developing,
Am Oved, Tel Aviv.
Ashdod - Helga Keller, 1961
A Town Named Eilat – Lazar Doner, 1963
First Days - Helga Keller, 1962