Nili Goren for Making Room Contemporary Israeli Photography in Tel-Aviv Museum of Art
In Assaf Evron's Untitled (M12s) and Untitled (M67s), the War of Independence armored cars are presented as sculptures floating in space. Mute relics of the defense measures of the convoys attacked on the road to Jerusalem, the "silent iron skeletons" in Haim Guri's song "Bab al-Wad," float in a white space devoid of environmental context. However, their shadow, cast under them, arranges this detached composition in a familiar spatial order, with a concise definition that may even reinforce a historical-cultural belonging. The iron vehicles are removed from the original landscape, where they are planted in a geographical and historical context, and repositioned in the photograph in an artificial, sterile and alien space. History, however, like the shadow, does not let go of its hold on the iron skeleton.
The vehicles were in fact trucks armored with wooden panels and iron coating, and this added weight, combined with the weight of the passengers, supplies and ammunition, stalled the movement along the narrow roads on the long ascent to Jerusalem. Many convoys were hit, their people killed, and supplies and trucks fell into the hands of the Arabs. The location of these armored cars along Sha'ar HaGai (on the road to Jerusalem) is inscribed in Israeli consciousness and is considered the characteristic symbol of the War of Independence. Over the years, various disputes have echoed in the media, regarding the monument of the armored vehicles and dealing with their conservation, design, perpetuation and even their authenticity—as well as the problem of metal theft ("The armored cars that broke through the siege of Jerusalem cannot withstand the metal thieves" said the daily Maariv newspaper's website on 10 May 2005 (in Hebrew,www.nrg.co.il/online/35/ART/932/713.html).
In 1958, a decade after the war, Uri Avneri claimed in a sharp essay in the weekly HaOlam HaZe, criticizing the Ministry of Defense and the Government, that the armored cars had become a circus, just as the War of Independence had become a show for American tourists. In 2011, Israeli historian and geographer Michael Assaf published a research maintaining that the remains that had become the memorial were not the original vehicles, but a staged fabrication. Among the cited documents, recording the correspondence between the various parties involved in constructing the memorial, there was a letter to the editor of a newspaper, published as "Hollywood in Sha'ar HaGai," claiming that some of the exhibited vehicles by the road were of models that had not been in use during the War of Independence (www.nrg.co.il/online/54/ART2/238/983.html).
The authorities in charge of the monument kept changing the location of the vehicles and their display. First the remains were scattered along the slopes on both sides of the road, then assembled on one side, later relocated across the road, and finally placed on cement stands on the avenue separating the traffic lanes, lit at night by spotlights. It seems that the very act of uprooting the vehicles from the landscape, planting them in the virtual space and burning them into a photograph extend the fundamental discussion about perpetuation, about the authenticity of the memorial, whose testimony is not mediated but direct, and about private, collective, historical and visual memory. The armored vehicles are not sculptures erected in order to symbolize an historical event (like the nearby memorial honoring the blockade breakers of the road to Jerusalem). They do not transmit testimony, they are the testimony itself. The photograph raises the possibility that this is not a testimony to historical events but rather to their existence on the ground, just as a photograph attests only to the existence of information translated into a visual image.