Garden of the Forking Paths

By Gili Merin

“I leave to the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths (...) In all fictional works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts’ui Pên, he chooses— simultaneously—all of them. He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork.”

—Jorge Luis Borges, 1941


I. Introduction

Suspended between often arbitrary cartographic acts and the geographical reality, thirteen territories remain enclaved between the overdrawn and ever-disputed Israeli-Lebanese border.  The following photo essay documents rural and urban forms of inhabitation along this intricate frontier. The region is tangled in the contradicting narratives of its geopolitical paralysis, discovered through interviews with locals, the IDF, and through extensive geographic research.  Although both sides of the frontier share nearly identical climatic and geological conditions, the border anomaly has given rise to a number of architectural aberrations.  Deviant infrastructures, over-planned landscapes, postwar new-towns, communal or collective settlements, picturesque fabrics, makeshift follies, historical relics of fallen empires and abandoned or overused border fortifications, can be found on both sides of the border.  The peculiarity and often radicality of these forms, derived from their implicit ex-territorial and inherent diasporic condition, are an appraisal and affect of the spatial vocabulary of the border.  They are emblematic of the Israeli denial of a stable form by maintaining an open-ended process and an ever negotiable space, postponing the moment of its ultimate territorial definition.

Map of enclaves as drawn by the Lebanese army and given to UNIFIL (depicted by Author)

II. The Cartographic Anomaly

In 2011, the Lebanese army handed this diagram to the United Nations, who then transferred it to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).   The drawing depicts the dimensions and locations of thirteen enclaved territories which are found, according to Lebanon, on the wrong side of the electric fence. 

The border between Israel and Lebanon was first delineated when France and Britain partitioned the declining Ottoman Empire into the French mandate of Lebanon and the British mandate of Israel.  Initially, 38 boundary markers were installed to demarcate the frontier, then, after numerous alterations the 1923 Mandate Line was signed and drawn on three 1:100,000 maps.  The armistice line of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, known as the "Green Line," is based on this line, but was never officially signed and therefore does not constitute an international border.  Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and remained there in various territorial and military configurations until June 2000.  Upon the IDF’s withdrawal, Lebanon asked the United Nations to draft a new boundary.  Trilateral meetings between Israel and Lebanon with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as a mediator lead to the creation of a 1:50,000 map where the width of the line itself amounts to 35m, with half-a-dozen stretches differing from the 1923 border in lengths of up to 475m.  Conflicting recollections and documentation of past agreements further complicate how this line, known as "The Blue Line," has materialized in the landscape.  It is no surprise then, that in August 2010 Lebanon announced that thirteen enclaves have been left on the Israeli side.  These oddly-shaped ex-territories total approximately 95 acres.  Despite much discussion between both sides, there are no imminent plans for land swap.  In the upcoming years, the area will be left in a geopolitical limbo where hostility potential is at its highest.


III. Reportage

House in Kibbutz Baram.

Founded in 1949, Baram is one of many communal-rural border settlements built to serve a dual role: first, to reinstate the border and second, to create a peripheral security belt to the country’s center. Baram is among the last Kibbutzim [*] in Israel that is not privatized.  Its economic system remains entirely communal: members share a common education and health system, eat meals together in the great dining hall, and, until 1997, children were raised in a separate “children’s home.”

[*] A Kibbutz (plural Kibbutzim) is a communal settlement based on agriculture.

Bunker in Kibbutz Adamit

Adamit was founded in 1958 by members of a Zionist-socialist youth movement. It lies to the west of the ruined Palestinian village of Iribbin. The Kibbutz was abandoned in 1967 and was repopulated in the 1970s with immigrants from the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Today, there are 135 inhabitants and the main industries are a metal factory and agriculture.

Multiple family house in Arab el-Aramshe

Arab el-Aramshe is a Bedouin village built in the 1960s by the Jewish National Fund in order to accommodate the nomadic tribes which were spread around four hills and to make room for Kibbutz Adamit.  The village is home to 260 families.

A private house in Shtula

Shtula was established in 1967 as part of the “Sof Sof Operation” aiming to strengthen the Jewish presence in the upper Galilee and in particular by the Lebanese border.  Several houses in Shtula were constructed in the widespread “Build Your House” method of the 1970s, where a family is given land with nearly no design constraints.  Shtula has a population of 238.

Construction in Matat.

Matat was the first of 26 Mitzpim (meaning lookout-points) built between 1979-1981 in one of many government-funded programs to populate the north with Jewish residents.  At the time, 75% of the Galilee was non-Jewish. In order to promote migration to this region, the government created many frontier-line benefits such as tax exemptions and discounted insurance.  Matat has 188 residents.

House in Arab el-Aramshe

The addition on the left-hand side of the house serves as a private domestic shelter.  This was required by the Israeli Ministry of Housing in 1990, replacing communal bunkers similar to those seen in Kibbutz Adamit.

A “Tegart Fort” used by the IDF next to Moshav Avivim.  To the right, a UNIFIL post is stationed on the Lebanese side of the border. Above on the hill is the Lebanese town Maroun El-Ras.

The Tegart fort is named after the British officer Sir Charles Tegart, who arrived in Palestine in 1937 to serve as a security advisor during the Great Arab Revolt.  He created a series of fortified siege-resistant police stations built of reinforced concrete, equipped with a water cistern and a soon-to-be iconic watch tower. Today, the forts are being used by the IDF for the same purpose: safeguarding the border and evoking an atmosphere of severe supervision. A hundred meters to the north is the UNIFIL in Lebanon, established in 1978 to restore Lebanon’s authority and confirm Israel’s withdrawal from its land. The gold dome clearly visible above is the miniature replica of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, built in 2010 and initiated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then president of Iran.

A motorcycle accident on road 899, also known as “Highway North”.

Running 63 km along the Lebanese border, highway 899 was paved in 1937 by the British Mandate Authorities in Palestine in an aim to reinforce the border during the so-called Great Arab Revolt. Until 1948, the road was closed to civilian traffic and special permission had to be obtained to use it.   Today, it connects the various settlements built along the border.  It is constantly being maintained and renovated.

An IDF post, deeply camouflaged and rising several meters away from the border.  

The post is located on a steep hill allowing a wide vantage point into Lebanon.  Topographically, the border is defined by two parallel chains of mountains, the higher in Lebanon and the lower in Israel, with deep rugged valleys.

A contemporary agricultural land patch adjacent to the border on the Israeli side. The Lebanese villages of the Nabi Youchaa and Blida sprawl in the distance.

Vernacular villages sprawl on the Lebanese side of the border, where families reside close to each other and cultivate land in their home’s proximity.  On the other hand, the Israeli landscape is the result of excessive, top-down planning executing post-war regional theories. Many rural-communal settlements on the Israeli side are physical markers of the border, reinforcing peripheral security by civilian land occupation and creating a collective frontline solidarity. These settlements are supported by vast agricultural efforts that contribute not only to Zionist territorial strategies, but also to an intense ideological attempt to create a young generation of farmers-fighters who would physically work the land and, in due time, defend it.  The fields often belong to the commune and not to a single family.  Great swathes of forests have been planted on the Israeli side to serve as organic tank-barriers and natural border markers.

Four details of the border between Lebanon (left) and Israel (right)


Efrat, Zvi, ed. "Borderline Disorder." The 8th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale Di Venezia, 2002.

USA Department of State. The Geographer Office of the Geographer Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Israel – Lebanon Boundary (Country Codes: IS-LE). Vol. 75. International Boundary Study.  February 15, 1967.

Gili Merin is is an architect, photographer and journalist based in Tel Aviv. She studied architecture in the UdK Berlin, Waseda University in Tokyo and The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, where she teaches today. Gili’s various training include AMO*OMA Rotterdam, COBE Berlin and ArchDaily in Santiago, Chile.

This research was conducted at the Post Brutalism studio at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem, with the guidance of Prof. Zvi Efrat and Arch. Natanel Elfassy.