In December 1952, Fred Schaefer published an article criticizing Richard Hartshorne, President of the Association of American Geographers and his magnum opus The Nature of Geography (1939).i Schaefer’s article reflected the theoretical orientation and activities of American geographers at the time. His perspectives were mainly adopted by the younger generation, and generated the paradigmatic revolution in geography. Schaefer was an outsider, who criticized a respected scientist (an insider) and challenged the very core of the geographic establishment. His criticism focused on Hartshorne’s interpretation of German geography (Butzer, 1989). It was an important academic event, but can also be understood from the sociological perspective of personalities who were active during that period.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of academic geography in Israel, the current paper raises a hypothetical question: Could a similar scenario take place in Israel? Could an outsider generate a change in the establishment of geographical research in Israel? The discussion of this hypothetical question should address two related issues: What is the tradition of geographic thought in Israel, and how can the history of geography in Israeli academic institutions explain this tradition?

In order to understand Israeli geographic thought, we conducted a survey of articles by Israeli scholars, who expressed opinions about their scientific work.ii This was no easy task. The Department of Geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was established in 1949/50. Subsequently, four more departments were opened at other universities in the 1960s and 1970s. This yielded about 100 faculty members, thousands of academic articles (mainly in Hebrew and English). At the very least, these scholars produced about 3,000 to 3,500 scientific publications over a period of more then 50 years. However, out of this abundance of articles only about 25 to 30 (less than one percent) explored issues related to geographic thought. For our purposes, articles on geographic thought will be defined as those dealing with philosophical issues related to the field (Meir, 1979), as well as those dealing with the development of scientific geographical research in Israel. This definition also applies to reviews and summaries that characterized the writing of Israeli geographers as concrete, and as providing relevant findings in various aspects of the field (Reichman and Gerson, 1976; Waterman, 1985).

The current paper probes the tradition of Israeli geographic thought and presents criticisms voiced by Israeli geographers themselves, based on a new interpretation of texts in the field. Specifically, the paper will explore geographic historiography, beyond specific research topics that have been investigated by geographers over the years. This new interpretation of the texts diverges from the detailed surveys of Waterman and Reichman & Gerson. While the earlier surveys focused on classifying the various fields of research and their development, the current study attempts to identify the manifest and latent messages conveyed by these texts through critical analysis of their content and the contexts in which they were written. Moreover, the paper will attempt to identify the tradition and norms of geographic thought in Israel as they developed over the years.

This account can be understood against the background of known changes in geographic thought throughout the world.iii In addition, it is clear that there are other relevant contextual factors, such as changes in Israeli society and culture as well as political events. Obviously, the current article cannot cover all of these aspects.

1. The German Roots:The Founders and their Disciples

The origin of geographic thought in Israel goes back to Germany, which had a decisive influence on the character of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the orientation of the founders of the geography department there. iv The Hebrew University’s academic model was influenced by the German context, e.g., colonial research institutes that explored new territories for the purpose of settlement. Since the establishment of the Hebrew University in 1925, it was clear that nationalism was linked with academic research, or that the study of Eretz Israel (Palestine) was related to the need to focus research on fulfillment of national goals (Zionist settlement) (Katz, 1998). This was the atmosphere that prevailed in the mid-1930s, when David Amiran (Horst Kallner) founded the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University. Amiran, who had attended universities in Germany and Switzerland, fit in well at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which was a local branch of Germany academic culture. He was surrounded by other researchers in the fields of geology, history, and Bible Studies , who had roots in Central Europe: their scientific language was German, and they sent articles to German periodicals. v

The unification of Germany in 1870, and the atmosphere of growing nationalism led to the intensification of geographic research. New departments and research institutes were opened, funding was channeled to physical studies in the colonies (Fahlbusch et al., 1989). Even later, political processes affected the image of the field. For example, the rise of Fascism in the 1930s enhanced the importance of the regional perspective of research and education. This orientation was developed at the end of the 19th century by Ratzel. Not surprisingly, some of the German geographers who worked between the two world wars considered it their civic duty to promote enlightenment and the principles of the field (Mosse, 1981; Schultz, 1989, Sandner, 1989). David Amiran, based his professional principles on the classic approach toward geography. The following is a brief outline of principles and ideas that he brought with him to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

  1. Unification of the field, and integrative ideas. As a science, geography must deal with physical as well as human aspects. Therefore, academic training in the field relies equally on both dimensions. This, of course, was reflected in the initial programs at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which included physical geography as well as anthropogeography. By the same token, preference is given to integrative learning and research, which aim to bridge between the two worlds (i.e., how man changes the land).

  2. Preference for regionalism rather than a thematic orientation. As the branches of geography developed in separate directions, the German tradition preferred the regional orientation, largely for nationalistic reasons. A leading proponent of the regional orientation was Hettner, who considered regionalism the overarching goal of the field. Hartshorne also adopted this idea, and perpetuated it in his well-known book. When the department of geography was established at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the regional orientation played a dominant role in the curriculum and research.

  3. Preference for ideas focusing on development and classification of landscape. This principle encourages research that enables presentation of physical changes in localities or regions (“changes in…”), as well as studies dealing with classification of types of topography and localities. For example, Amiran’s research dealt with classification of landscapes “outlines of the country’s structure,” or descriptions of the development of the country’s landscape and settlements (Amiran, 1943; 1955).

  4. Preference for field work and training (trips). German geography placed considerable emphasis on work in the field, which was reflected in study trips during the initial training period. Students were also required to conduct field projects abroad or in colonies, as a prerequisite for appointment to academic positions at universities (Butzer, 1989). These principles were adopted by David Amiran, and became elements of the study program and empirical research in Israeli geography.

  5. Patriotism and practical application. Following the intensification of nationalism in Germany and other countries, the field of geography became an increasingly significant topic in terms of its contribution toward the state and toward development of cultural and economic assets. Thus, for example, in Britain during the 1930s, Stamp conducted land use surveys, which were applied toward planning. Similarly, in the United States Whittlesey presented his famous map of agriculture (James and Martin, 1981).

The German heritage in geography (principles, ideas, approaches, and methods) was expressed in various ways, and its impact on Israeli geography is still evident. Thus, for example, in line with the idea of regional classifications based on landscape (the physiographic approach), Amiran published an article on the physical division of Israel, in which he outlined the principles for dividing the country into different regions (Amiran-Kallner and Rosenau 1939). These principles delineated the classic regions of Israel as they appeared in the Atlas of Israel (1957, volume b/2), and were used repeatedly in numerous textbooks. Finally, the regional division served the government, and its principles used by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics as a basis for defining the natural regions of Israel in the 1961 Population and Housing Census.

The professional heritage described above laid the groundwork for the academic orientation of the Hebrew University’s Department of Geography when it was established in 1949/50. This heritage was perpetuated in subsequent generations by the founders of the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University, who established professional and value imperatives for Israeli geographic thought.

  1. The Imperatives

As mentioned, the founders of the Geography Department, David Amiran and Yitzhak Schattner, and the first generation of their disciples established the ideological and philosophical foundations of the field. These foundations were based on the classic approach that developed in Central Europe during the second half of the 19th century, in the context of nationalism and national growth (Robic, 1994, Sandner, 1994). These ideas characterized the scientific and values-oriented environment in which they were educated, and were reflected in the ideational, values-oriented, and philosophical statements appearing in the introduction to the first edition of the Atlas of Israel compiled by the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1957).

“Since our country is situated at a focal point where major regions of the world converge, special caution and precision must be exercised with respect to every aspect of planning and development. It should be mentioned that development plans implemented today are well based in knowledge of extensive geographic information, and will be applied where relevant and useful. Therefore, the practical function of the Atlas of Israel is to summarize the areas that have been investigated for years by institutions dealing with the geography and history of Eretz Israel, as well as with related disciplines. This scientific cartographic summary will also be a practical instrument for the economic and demographic advancement of our country (Atlas of Israel, 1957).

The above statement in the Introduction to the Atlas suggests that the spiritual heritage focused on three imperatives: (1) The regional imperative; (2) the practical imperative; and (3) the values imperative. The statement does not recommend a specific research method. Rather, its emphasis on the regional imperative appears to link other ideas: “Human possibilism”, and the “regional distinctiveness”. “Human possibilism” means that the human spirit will prevail over the determinism of the natural environment. Natural conditions provide the opportunities, and human culture shapes the country’s landscape. Therefore, every region has its own personality, and it is the geographer’s task to reveal that distinctive regional character. The Israel Atlas emphasized the practical imperative, and thus revealed the importance of “civic duty,” i.e., the need to conduct practical and applied research dealing with concrete topics rather than basic theoretical research. Finally, the above statement stressed the importance of the imperative of values and ideology, i.e., commitment of Zionism and the State of Israel, contribution toward building the land, and patriotic narrative.

The patriotic spirit of the Introduction cannot be disregarded. It can be explained not only through the ideological approach of the founding fathers, but also by the parties that financed the publication of the Atlas, i.e., the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government. The Atlas of Israel marks a symbiosis between the state and Zionist establishment on the one hand, and the academic world on the other. The academic scholars supplied classic scientific methods and research instruments that were appropriate for the task, while the state and Zionist establishment provided financial support for the research and handled distribution of the publications. Consequently, despite the abundance of information that led to the publication of the Atlas of Israel, the Atlas was based on the regional approach toward geographical research, which was accepted at the time and reflected the professional identity of geographers.

The Department of Geography at the Hebrew University aimed to educate the younger generation of professionals in the field and impart the relevant geographic information as well as the ideological and traditional imperatives. Therefore, it designed a curriculum in the 1950s, which emphasized the traditional content of the field and created an important socialization mechanism, i.e., field trips. Coming from the geographical tradition of Central Europe, the founders considered work in the field as important as classroom instruction. Therefore, the curriculum for geography required field trips amounting to dozens of days and hundreds of hours every year. The trips included compulsory tours, camps, field work, and experiential activities. In this way, students had an opportunity for first-hand observation. According to the scientific tradition of the academic scholars at the Hebrew University, field trips focused on “regional trips,” which had been the accepted pattern for decades. This orientation was based on the premise of unity in the academic discipline, in the landscape, and in man and nature. This assumption was also expressed in the early stages of regional teaching and research.

It can be assumed that besides their declared educational goals, regional study tours sought to achieve the espoused goals by imparting values. The underlying values are symbolized by the words “familiarity with the land, its regions, landscapes, and inhabitants”. These were part of a mechanism for continuous socialization in Israel, as reflected in schools, youth groups, and the army. Field trips generated a direct connection with the land, which also conveyed the desired ideological messages: “our right to the land,” “fulfillment of a dream,” “making the desert bloom,” etc. (Bar-Gal, 1993; Almog, 1997).Thus, the tours provided strong support for the imperatives of the founding fathers: strengthening the unity of the field, learning through first-hand observation, and imparting values by making the Zionist enterprise come alive.

  1. Metamorphosis of the Regional Imperative

It is not surprising that Masters’ theses and doctoral dissertations written by members of the first-generation Israeli scholars of geography were based on these ideas and philosophies. This is well demonstrated in a monograph on the Beit She’an Valley by Dov Nir, based on his doctoral dissertation:vi

“The neglected landscape of the Beit She’an Valley turned into a functional landscape […] by Jewish settlement […]. Development of abandoned areas through nationalization enabled efficient use of the land […]. The ruling powers, which had opposed settlement during the British Mandate period, began to support it in theory and practice (Nir, 1966, p. 129).

Dov Nir absorbed the regional paradigm, and viewed it as the main approach toward research in the field. During the same period, he translated his ideological, value-oriented perspectives into professional concepts such as “operating [working] the landscape,” “functional landscape,” “development of land,” which he used in reference to Jewish settlement. He contrasted these ideas with concepts such as “neglected landscape,” “abandoned land,” “hostile rulers,” which referred to the government and inhabitants that preceded Zionist settlement in the Beit She’an Valley. These terms derive from the Zionist lexicon, and are consistent with the value orientation presented in the Atlas of Israel.

The second generation of Israeli geographers was trained during the 1960s, and some of them were exposed to the paradigmatic change, as reflected in American scientific literature. Several terms have been used in reference to this new orientation, such as: “The positivist approach,” “the quantitative revolution,” and “the social orientation”. Therefore, the second generation’s empirical approach and methodology created philosophical and personal tensions with the first generation. This provided a convenient excuse for publication of articles dealing with geographic thought, which focused on the apologetic strategy.

Yehuda Karmon was the first Israeli scholar to publish criticism of geographic thought. One of his articles challenged the approach of American geography toward urban issues, and he expanded further on the topic in a later publication (Karmon, 1975, 1991). He became concerned with the issue following the penetration of “new geography” into the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The new geography focused on quantitative models, and mainly discussed functional and morphological aspects in cities. At the same time, Dov Nir began criticizing the shift of research toward global and general orientations, while ignoring local and regional research (Nir, 1976, 1983, 1987).

As the discipline developed in the Anglo-American world, the value of the regional perspective began to decline, and regional studies diminished in the professional literature (Livingstone, 1992; Peet, 1998). Despite this general scientific trend, the value of regionalism did not change in Israel. The value of “building the nation” did not disappear. Instead, it changed in form. During the 1970s, the values conveyed through regional geography evolved into anthologies based on the regions of Israel: “Judea and Samaria”, “the land of the Negev,” “the Galilee lands” (Shmueli et al., 1977, 1979, 1983).

The Zionist values that caused numerous researchers to organize their studies on the basis of these regional anthologies are not difficult to identify. Their importance lies not only in the value dimension of national consciousness and collective memory, but also in daily practice – the government’s need for updated information. Examination of regional development is one of the most important civic duties of the discipline in Israel. The regional anthologies reflected changes in the landscape resulting from Zionism, Zionist institutions, and the State of Israel. Even though the “Lands of the Galilee” was published 25 years after the Atlas of Israel, the values orientation that encouraged academic thought did not change.

It can be assumed that the values underlying regional geography carried over to the content of other areas related to the field such as rural geography and regional development, as reflected in Zionist possibilism and changes in the Israeli landscape. Besides these areas, the field of historical geography developed, and focused on the following messages: “patriarchal rights”, “building the nation”, etc. This is also evident in the analysis of research on villages in Israel (Amiran, 1978; Amiran, 1991), as well as in research on the nature of historical geography (Ben Arieh, 1991).

4. Metamorphosis of the Practical Imperative – Building the Land

Besides the regional and value-oriented prescriptions outlined in the Introduction to the Atlas of Israel, one more guideline was established: The need to enlist applied academic research in geography in order to fulfill a civic obligation. This approach typifies some of the work of second and third-generation geographers. The reviews by Baruch Kipins and Elisa Efrat express this position in the sphere of applied geography (Kipins, 1987; Efrat, 1991).

In addition to the value-oriented idea that application of geographical knowledge is a civic duty, Kipins and Efrat shared another assumption related to the development of the discipline. Specifically, they assumed that geography is on the decline as a scientific discipline, and that it is undergoing a crisis with respect to qualitative and quantitative dimensions. Therefore, in their view, philosophical changes should be introduced in order to make the discipline more attractive. Kipins concluded that Israeli geography should direct itself toward institutions that can provide jobs for graduates in the field. Specifically, he referred to various institutions representing the establishment, such as local authorities, planning offices, and government ministries. Thus, Kipins advocated a pragmatic, instrumental perspective that views geography not as knowledge per se, but rather an instrument for attaining employment.

In contrast to Kipins’ pragmatic arguments, Efrat provided ideological, patriotic explanations for promoting geography, such as the need to enlist geographers in efforts to solve current problems faced by the state. Efrat harshly criticized basic geographic research for failing to yield practical conclusions or recommendations. He argued that the findings are of no use to those who make decisions and policies concerning regional development.

In general, Efrat argued that the discipline of geography must be relevant and concrete in order to survive, and in order to gain prestige in the eyes of decision-makers and government authorities. This premise, however, which emphasizes popular prestige at the expense of intellectual and theoretical prestige, can be viewed as a prescription for suicide in the academic world. According to this view, the very existence of geography as an academic field rests on its intellectual and theoretical status.

The fields of geographical research surveyed above perpetuate the regional perception of Zionist ideology. According to Uri Ram (1996), these areas can be classified as part of the “Neo-Zionist” school. In addition to the usefulness of the information that geography provides to Israeli society, regionalism and its evolution in settlement and historical research clearly serve political power by perpetuating the activities and their impressions in writing. Documentation and dissemination of such knowledge in the school system strengthen national identity and perpetuate collective memory. The founding generation of Israeli geographers operated in the context of an ideological and value-oriented system, and acted out of collective commitment to build the nation. They may have felt that they were engaging in independent academic activity and in independent, objective research that is not based on specific values. However, their publications and imperatives for future generations reveal additional dimensions.


A. Metamorphosis of the Values Imperative

Despite the major paradigmatic revolution experienced by second- and third-generation geographers who adopted analytic approaches and quantitative methods, they did not abandon the ideas of the founders. Thus, new fields of research were created while others began to decline. In addition, the field of political geography underwent a process of rejuvenation and revival in the chain of generations. According to one of the founding fathers, Moshe Brawer, political geography was the definition preferred by the second generation. It seems that the definition is not just semantic, but symbolizes the unique orientations that distinguished each generation of geographers. However, the chain of generations was also characterized by continuity in the basic value perspectives of Israeli geographers, i.e., a continuous chain that perpetuates neo-Zionism.

In the Introduction to an article on the history of the field, Brawer et al. (1992) discuss the factors that created the unique link between the generations. The field known as geopolitics was crystallized at the end of the 19th century, and reached a peak between World Wars. Afterwards, the value of geopolitical knowledge and theories declined in the Western world, as German geographers serving the Nazi regime applied it for political purposes. In the late 1940’s, when few departments of geography in the world offered courses in political geography, Moshe Brawer specialized in the field. During the 1960s and 1970s, political geography was revived, and integrated ideas from related disciplines such as political and behavioral sciences. Thus, the second and third generations of geographers in Israel were raised and educated in accordance with these new approaches. Specifically, political geography in Israel pursued several directions:

Caution: Border crossing! Research on borders was based on the philosophy of regional geography and focused on a political perspective. One of the basic assumptions of regionalism is that every unit of investigation must have a border. Otherwise, it cannot be defined as an independent unit that can be distinguished from the surrounding vicinity. Therefore, at the time of the Balfour Declaration (1917), the issue of demarcating of the borders of the Zionist entity following the demise of the Ottoman Empire became a concrete, critical question. Regional and political geography attempt to provide assistance in the area where the new political entity was established. Consequently, research on borders gained theoretical importance, in addition to having practical political implications.

The first scholar to apply geographic enlightenment toward the issue of the borders of Israel was Abraham Jacob Brawer (1929). He adopted the German idea of distinguishing between different types of borders, i.e., “historical domain” versus “political reality,” and his son, Moshe Brawer, followed in his footsteps. In the political context of the establishment of the State Israeli and ongoing war in the region, Moshe Brawer focused on investigating the borders of the country. Thus, he followed the mainstream of geographic thought established by the founding generation. In addition, he made his theoretical knowledge available to the government when the peace treaty with Egypt was being negotiated (Brawer et al., 1979). In so doing, Brawer followed a long line of geographers who made their skills available to political and military institutions. This heritage has continued for hundreds of years, from the expansion of the Spanish Empire to this very day. As research on the history of the field has shown, these studies link geographic knowledge with the context in which it is generated and the services provided by geographers to governments and armies (Godlewska and Smith, 1994; Hooson, 1994; Kirby, 1994).vii

For Israeli geographers who adhere to nationalistic values, transmitting knowledge to politicians or military officers is considered a professional norm. The relationship between geographic knowledge and the Israeli army is also complex. This does not refer to operative aspects of geographic knowledge as part of a system of strategic or tactical considerations. Rather, it refers to integration of geographic research in academic institutions, providing knowledge to the military, disseminating the knowledge for internal purposes, and publishing information for the civilian population. In the context of Israeli society in the1950s and Zionist education to love the land, the discipline of geography and researchers in the field have been linked with the army. It should be mentioned that even in the contemporary era, most Israeli geographers serve in the military and some even supply professional knowledge to the army. Analysis of geographic texts written for the army indicates that most of them represent a standard pattern, where “geographic conditions” (i.e., natural conditions) provide the background for understanding political and historical events. This perspective is primarily deterministic. It is a simplistic, clear trend of thought based on regional geography, which is characterized by intrinsic logic and convenient to grasp. Arnon Soffer is one prime example of an Israeli geographer who provides professional knowledge to the army and security forces. His geographic texts have moved full circle, from the academic world to the military and back again. Specifically, they have been popularized and adapted to the military context, then used again in academic settings.(Soffer, 1992)

Enlightenment for serving the state. As part of their collective and personal duty, Israeli geographers assist the government in power and advise decision-makers in various organizational and institutional contexts, such as: Local authorities, national and Zionist institutions, security forces, etc. Their research deals with a broad array of topics, and the geographic knowledge is disseminated directly and indirectly in state institutions. Thus, the issues at hand include regional development, regional settlement and resources such as water, etc.

Issues that are ostensibly examined from a scientific, hypothetical, or theoretical perspective can easily have practical implications for decision-makers in the government. For example, Stanley Waterman, a third-generation geographer who dealt with the issue of political zoning in Israel, attempt to arrive at an optimal division of electoral precincts. He followed other political geographers in the world who dealt with electoral systems, how they operate, and potential changes in election outcomes caused by reapportionment of political precincts. Waterman felt a need to emphasize his civic commitment to Israeli society. Therefore, he offered direct recommendations for political decision-makers in Israel: “Don’t be too enthusiastic about the potential of electoral reform to reunite the divided society of Israel.” (Waterman and Zefadia, 1993).

Can it be assumed that the politicians who demanded electoral reform in Israel knew about Waterman’s research? Did they fulfill the ideological-value imperative of the founding generation, which called for making enlightenment available to state institutions? Does this reflect the symbiosis between the academic world and the government? Is it part of the debt that enlightenment owes to those who sustain it?viii

Demarcating the “Borders of the Self”. Besides the practical heritage and the regional perspective, the founding fathers bequeathed the need to define the distinctive characteristics of Zionist territory to future generations. In some cases, research on these characteristics was based on a literary perspective that will be referred to here as “know the other side”. This refers to research dealing with various aspects of minority groups in Israel such as Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews. By creating a profile of the characteristics of the “other side,” it is possible to delineate the borders of the “self,” e.g., the Zionist self, can be defined as the majority population in Israel, or as marking the borders of the country’s developed areas. Some may view this perspective as integrating geographers into the broader orientation of highlighting the “voice of the other,” which typifies critical, radical scientific writing.

It is possible that in Israeli geography, the trend toward “listening to the voice of the other” did not emerge out of a desire to change the values of society. Rather, it may reflect a reverse trend, i.e., “know thine enemy”. We refer here to an outline of the borders of the “Zionist self” through research on the “other,” i.e., the Arabs. There is an abundance of geographic articles on aspects of settlement, politics, culture, economy, and society among Arabs in Israel. These studies, which deal with topics such as the development of Arab villages, go beyond conveying objective facts to the reader. They also reflect Zionism’s perception of the “other population” residing in the land. Stories such as “the development of the Arab village,” or “[the transition] from nomadism to permanent settlement” (Grossman and Meir, 1994) indirectly convey the messages and values of Zionism concerning the region and its inhabitants. Thus, the portrayal the “other side” is a way of defining the self.

As mentioned, the strategy of “knowing the other side” conveys the ideological values of the investigators and their cultural world, beyond imparting objective information collected by previous generations of Israeli geographers. Although there are many more examples to support these arguments, the above cases suffice for the purposes of the current paper. However, before dealing with additional aspects of Israeli geographic thought, it should be noted that researchers on the Right and Left of the political spectrum use these strategies. Their political perspectives are conveyed covertly through specific research topics. For example, it is easy to follow the (“Left-wing”) political attitudes of David Newman, who studied the settlements of the Gush Emunim movement in Judea and Samaria (Newman, 1982, 1984). To the opposite extreme, national geographers convey right-wing values and messages, as evidenced in Arnon Soffer’s (1988) demographic studies.

B. Who are we, and who are you?

In order to understand the characteristics and history of Israeli geographic thought, the paper has focused on interpretation of Hebrew documents, which addressed the community of Israeli geographers. An attempt was made to show how scientific and value imperatives have evolved among the various generations of geographers. Specifically, the second and third generations have based their work on a consensus about the values set by the founding generation, even if they have adopted more advanced topics, approaches, and research methods.

The current section examines three papers written English, which attempted to summarize the general trends in development of geographic research and teaching at academic institutions. These papers were intended for the international community of scientists. The background of their publication may shed further light on the arguments presented above. The first survey was published for the Congress of the International Association of Geographers, which was held in Moscow (Reichman and Gerson, 1976). The second survey was published about ten years later in a scientific journal (Waterman, 1985); and the third survey summarizes the changes in research on physical geography, which were published in the proceedings of a scientific conference (Schick, 1993).

Reichman and Gerson reviewed the trends in development of Israeli research, about a decade before the “quantitative revolution” and analytical approach were adopted in Israeli geography. In their article, they expressed their fears about the internal unity of geography in Israel, and argued that the field has become divided along two main lines: Physical versus human geography, and the traditional descriptive approach versus the new quantitative approach. As members of the second generation at the Department of Geography in Jerusalem, Reichman and Gerson discussed these processes, which they had witnessed, and which they had been involved in designing. According to Reichman and Gerson, the second generation could not follow the rapid changes in Israel on the basis of the traditional research approaches. Therefore, they adopted analytical approaches, and used various models to arrive at generalizations. They point out areas of research that had begun to develop as a result of this process, such as the study of arid or urban regions. At the end of their review, they mentioned the need to bridge the gaps between the geographers, and to maintain the unity of the field in that way, i.e., through interdisciplinary research such as studies of floods.

It should be mentioned, however, that Reichman and Gerson’s study did not reveal to non-Israeli readers an important event that is critical to understanding the history of the field in Israel. At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, there was a conflict about the geography department’s academic connection with the various faculties. This connection was critical for the professional advancement of faculty members. Therefore, even though the department ostensibly functioned as one academic unit, the faculty members belonged to different faculties. This caused practical problems (e.g., allocation of budgets and rooms) in addition to raising theoretical issues (e.g., curriculum, research approaches) and personal issues (e.g., pay scale and academic positions). As a result of these tensions, the department was split between different faculties, which were located on two different campuses. Physical geography was taught at the Western campus (Givat Ram) as part of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, and human geography was taught at the Mount Scopus campus, as part of the Faculty of Social Sciences (in 1981). Essentially, not only was the department divided in Jerusalem, but the professional weltanschauung that the founding fathers had attempted to impart was damaged, i.e., the comprehensive nature of the field, the unity nature of the phenomena examined, and the dialogue between man and nature.

The comprehensive regional perspective was harmed by the division of the Department of Geography in Jerusalem. This damage was expressed by curricular changes in the department. Lessons in regional geography gradually disappeared from the syllabus, except for those related to Eretz Israel. This fact supports the hypothesis that paradigmatic changes and the decline of the traditional world view defined at the beginning of the 1950s strengthened the other imperatives of the founding fathers, particularly the values imperative, i.e., commitment to Zionism and fulfillment of civic duties. In practical terms, research in historical geography, which was clearly “neo-Zionist,” began to play a dominant role. Concomitantly, contemporary research on settlements began to develop, which made geographical enlightenment available to the state. During the 1980s and 1990s, an ideological and personal gap also developed between these two fields at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Accordingly, “investigators of the present and planners of the Zionist future” (who followed the approach of social sciences) were placed against “investigators of the Zionist past” (who followed the approach of the humanities).

Despite the hegemony of the Hebrew University’s Geography Department until the end of the 1970s, and notwithstanding its dominance in various fields of research, the internal discord hardly carried over to other departments of geography, which preserved the framework of internal cohesion between physical and human geography. In other words, the traditional ideas of geography were transferred from the veteran center in Jerusalem to the periphery of new departments that became important centers of knowledge in themselves. This process does not contradict the emergence of new research topics and advanced approaches that emerged in those departments. Rather, it explains the tendency toward integration of research in areas such as: Environmental studies, ecology, regional development, and marine studies.

In the 1970s, following the division of the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, physical geographers at the University isolated themselves in the Faculty of Natural Sciences until the 1990s. This prolonged period of isolation did not eliminate research in physical geography, nor did it cut off faculty members who had built an empire of their own. During that period, research in physical geography also expanded at other universities (e.g., at Haifa and Ben Gurion Universities), and was just as important as the research conducted in Jerusalem. Asher Schick described the work of Israeli physical geographers at a scientific conference abroad, where he mentioned some interesting points of the development of the field in Israel (Schick, 1993). Schick indicated that systematic scientific research began with the work of Yitzhak Schattner, which examined the geomorphological aspects of the landscape. Dov Nir’s research on regional geomorphology followed in Schattner’s footsteps.

As in human geography, the quantitative revolution also spread to the field of physical geography. This was evident in the emphasis on measuring processes rather than describing them. The paradigmatic transition was accompanied by the establishment of research stations for measuring geomorphological processes in desert regions (1965). These stations enabled physical geographers to address numerous topics. Therefore, integrative studies such as research on slopes, land, and plant life were carried out there. The Israeli geomorphological studies were based on natural science experiments, and the quantitative approach they adopted became an accepted norm. Owing to these characteristics, the research findings could be separated from the local context in which the studies were conducted.ix

The universal perspective of physical research is basically different from Israeli research on human geography, which was mainly local. This characteristic of Israeli research was identified by Stanley Waterman in his review of the development of research on human geography in Israel from 1967 to 1984 (Waterman, 1985). At the same time, he notes a fascinating “territorial dissonance”: On the one hand, Israeli geographers study their own land but do not examine neighboring regions in the Middle East and Europe. On the other hand, many of them study distant regions, especially in North and South America. In this respect, Waterman argues, Israeli geographers differ from their colleagues in other disciplines such as history, archaeology, and political science who conduct extensive research in Europe and throughout the Middle East.

C. Cracks in the Values Heritage

In the attempt to identify critical aspects of Israeli geographic thought, it is necessary to go back to the initial stage in the development of the discipline at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This period was characterized by absence of skepticism or criticism among s compared with their counterparts in the fields of history and sociology.

For many decades, the curriculum of the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem emphasized teaching of knowledge and research methods. Less attention was devoted to development of philosophical or critical thought. It was not until the 1980s that the department offered advanced courses on the history and philosophy of geography. However, the Department of Geography was the oldest one at the Hebrew University, and since its faculty members were some of the foremost authorities in the field, it determined the theoretical orientations and methods of research. The faculty members of the Hebrew University’s Department of Geography were actively involved in establishing new departments, and they essentially determined the academic future of colleagues in other departments for years. It can be assumed that in the process of centralizing academic power, the Department of Geography in Jerusalem had to influence the thought and behavior patterns of geographers in other areas of the country during the 1960s and 1970s.

Several contemporary geographers have been attempting to introduce an alternative orientation that challenges this trend. However, they have hardly succeeded in arousing a dispute in the Israeli academic community. Some of the criticism has focused on Jewish-Arab relations (Newman, 1985; Yiftachel, 1991), while other critics have challenged the hegemonic Israeli society (Hasson, 1983; Fenster, 1996; Blumen, 2000). Out of various loaded value questions, the issue of Jewish-Arab relations is probably the first that will generate a distinct group of “new geographers”. The group will originate at Ben Gurion University where Newman and Yiftachel serve on the faculty. Its members, who share several basic perspectives in common, have proposed innovative approach toward the land that may arouse opposition from other geographers. One example of this innovative approach can be found in Yiftachel’s (1993) publications, which challenge the commonly accepted narrative regarding Arabs in Israel. Similar papers have been published by David Newman, criticizing the regional policy of the Israeli government for intentionally creating an ethnic mix of Jews and Arabs in various regions of the country. Moreover, both Newman and Yiftachel cite numerous critical sources from other disciplines such as sociology and political science.

There are those who may argue that something went wrong in the process of these two geographers’ socialization to Israel. Their scientific writing reveals opinions that are sometimes on the borderline of the political consensus in Israel and are likely to cause academic and public debates with their counterparts in the community of Israeli geographers. Jewish Israeli geographers have been conducting an ongoing debate with an Arab Israeli geographer, Jazi Falah, and many of them consider his alternative interpretations a thorn in their side (Falah, 1989). Is the “ideological aberration” related to the fact that Newman and Yiftachel received some of their professional education outside of Israel, far from the influence of the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and from its academic and values heritage? Or perhaps these opinions are used as an alternative to gaining academic legitimacy from colleagues abroad who are open to hearing views that strengthen the voice of the opposition. Is it possible that within the stifled conservative world of Israeli geographers both Newman and Yiftachel have found an alternative way to survive in the academic world and receive royalties for their publications while evading the imperative of fulfilling a civic duty?

6. “Gatekeepers” and the Sociology of Geography in Israel:

Conclusion and Moor Questions

The current paper examined the tradition of Israeli geographic thought, which originated in Germany, and explored its evolution over the years. This tradition has been proclaimed in the “geographic manifesto” of the Atlas of Israel (1957), which contains guidelines based on three imperatives focusing on regional aspects, practical aspects, and values. In the context of changes in geographic thought throughout the world, Israeli geographers have explored the first paradigmatic transition, i.e., the transition from regional-descriptive geography to a quantitative-analytical approach. However, they have been more hesitant about exploring the second transition, which generated ideological pluralism and facilitated critical research. From this point of view, Israeli geography has remained conservative, despite the advanced research methods used in the field.

This elicits another interesting issue related to the history of geography in Israel. The founding generation focused on the classic regional approach. Therefore, it should have defended that research tradition while preventing the penetration of the “new spatial” approaches. Such prevention was already possible in the first stage, when members of the founding generation approved the doctoral dissertations of the second generation. To their credit, it should be mentioned that they allowed the second generation complete freedom in their scientific activity during the period of training. Thus, the founding generation was conscious of the changes taking place in the field throughout the world, and hardly prevented the “quantitative revolution”. They also made it possible for geographic research in Israel to follow in the same direction as research in the world. This was probably due to the feeling that intellectual innovation may contribute toward modernizing knowledge, which also made an important contribution toward building the emerging nation. However, with the followed generation there is a tendency of less pluralism. The tendency of intellectual conservatism of the second and third generations may be related to the hidden dimensions that the founding generation transmitted to their disciples.

Clearly, the current paper did not cover all of the aspects of geographic thought, such the impact of changes in the Israeli landscape, or the impact of social and cultural changes. Nor did it deal with political issues, such as the Six Day War, the intensification of nationalism, the return to the Greater Land of Israel, and the impact of these developments on the history of geographic thought. We propose, however, that another context, i.e., the sociology of geographers, may also be influential. Although this topic goes beyond the scope of our discussion, it deserves further consideration.

  1. The sociology of Israeli geographers. The typical Israeli geographer is a secular, Israeli-born male of Ashkenazi (European) origin. The departments of geography in Israel can be characterized as parochial. Most Israeli geographers acquire their basic education in the country, and the time they spend abroad (doctoral studies, sabbaticals, post-doctoral studies, and conferences) hardly changes their fundamental orientation. Only a few geographers born and educated abroad are accepted on the Geography Departments of Israeli universities, and their representation is minimal compared with other disciplines in the Israeli social sciences. Most Israeli geographers also work with other state institutions such as the Ministry of Housing, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Education, local authorities, the military, etc. Another question concerns the political orientation of Israeli geographers. Does it differ from that of Israeli sociologists, who lean toward the Left (Ben-Yehuda, 1998). How do these facts affect the topics they investigate and the findings of their research?

  2. The history of geography departments. The paper dealt extensively with the structural change in Department of Geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and discussed its implications for geographic thought in Israel. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the sociology of geography departments in concerned. Thus, for example, it would be worthwhile to analyze the involvement of the Department of Geography in the establishment and operation of other departments at the Israeli Universites. The department not only affected the personal destiny of geographers affiliated with other departments, but also affected curricular material and patterns of research. The department’s impact was also felt on an indirect level, as reflected in the desire to compete with or emulate its activities. Moreover, the physical and social distance between the different departments from government institutions clearly have an impact. Thus, the advantageous location and historical status of the Hebrew University’s Department of Geography was expressed in close access to government resources and decision-makers.

It should be emphasized that the three imperatives of the founding generation, as defined in the “Geographic Manifesto,” which represent the tradition of Israeli geographic thought, are also expressed in the current tendency toward examination of local phenomena in order to fulfill the imperative of civic duty, mainly from a historical and applied geography perspective. At the same time, the importance of the founding generation should be emphasized again. This has not only been reflected in the imperatives they formulated or in their efforts to impart knowledge to the next generation. It was also evident in the development of disciplines that enabled the historic revolution to take place in the field of Israeli geography. Against this background, the question remains: Why did the revolutionary avant-garde of the 1960s become today’s gatekeepers?


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i Schaefer studied economics in Berlin and took some courses in political geography. He taught geography at Iowa University, probably because he had no other choice. In his article (Schaefer, 1953), he attacked the philosophy of Hartshorne’s research, as well as the assumptions that provided the basis for Hartshorne’s regional philosophy. In retrospect, the scientific value of Schaefer’s work and publication has been criticized from various perspectives. However, there is no argument about Schaefer’s contribution toward changing the field. For further information on Schaefer and what happened to him, see James and Martin, 1989.

ii Every word, the “thought of Israeli geographers” is difficult to define. “Thought” refers to articles characterized by considerable reflection on the field and various aspects of it. The term “geographers” has definitions in Israel, as in other parts of the world: travelers, explorers, and authors of literature about travels around the world often call themselves geographers. The current article refers specifically to those who completed higher degrees at departments of geography in universities, who currently serve on the faculty of those institutions in Israel.

iii There is extensive literature on changes in geographic thought. Some general sources include: Johnston, 1979; Unwin, 1992; Livingstone, 1992; Peet, 1997).

iv The current article focuses on geographers working at universities, since they transmit the tradition to their disciples. “Professional” geographers working outside of academic institutions will not be considered here. Moreover, the article will not consider the few cases in which scholars from other disciplines crossed the lines and established themselves in departments of geography. As in any other attempt to categorize material, the generations of geographers in Israel have been defined arbitrarily. In every generational division, there are some groups that typify their generation, while other cases are more difficult to place in a specific generation. It should be mentioned that one generation can span 10 to 15 years, and converge with the next generation.

v The current article does not purport to provide a detailed survey of the development of the geography departments. It only use this as a framework for understanding changes in geographic thought. In addition, this is not the place to provide a comprehensive survey of the development of German geography. These issues are discussed in the appropriate literature.

vi The Bet She’an Valley is part of the Rift Valley, located about 25 kilometers south of the Sea of Galilee.

vii Kirby mentions that during World War II, hundreds of geographers worked at the offices of various agencies affiliated with the army and the government. Some of them dealt with traditional issues such as mapping, but others prepared background material on the “occupied territories” in Europe. This material was intended both as current information, and as preparation for the post-war period. At this time, there was already a controversy between Hartshorne and younger researchers in the social sciences who used the quantitative approach.

viii Of course, we did not count all of the geographers who are affiliated with the government and make their knowledge available to the state. Other geographers with such affiliations include: Shalom Reichman, who served as chief scientist of the Ministry of Transportation; Shlomo Hasson, who developed the topic of neighborhood community councils in Jerusalem; Aryeh Shahar, who developed national master plans; Yehuda Hayut, who was affiliated with the Ministry of Transportation and the Ports Authority; and Yoel Mansfeld of the Ministry of Tourism.

ix It is true that the research methods and topics indicate that physical geographers were more universal than human geographers, since they dealt with “pure” topics that are not related to politics. However, critical analysis of research in physical geography from the perspective of its contribution toward furthering imperialism and colonialism does not exclude Israeli research. According to this approach, geological and geomorphological research in the Sinai deal with a region of political occupation, where the spirit of imperialism prevails (cf. German, British, and French research in their colonies, Golewska and Smith, 1994).