Amelia Rosenberg Weinreb

abstract: This article explores the trope of desert desolation in the Zionist state-building project. It traces the strategic uses of desolate imagery in the pioneer narrative (1880s–1920s), by the New Hebrew culture (1923–1948), during the ‘golden age’ of urban and regional planning (1948–1956), and through marketing the Negev desert town of Mitzpe Ramon to tourists (1993–present). These eras highlight the tension between desolation as reflecting the alienated ‘outsiders’ gaze’ versus desolation as energizing and inspiring place making. I argue that since unproductive, desolate landscapes pose an economic threat, both Israel’s collectivist and capitalist settlement projects have confronted the challenge of strategically rebranding desolation to promote its allure.