Corinne Silva photographed the trees in Wounded two weeks after a fire raged through the Mount Carmel Forest in December 2010. Lasting four days and nights, it consumed more than 25,000 square kilometers of woodland.
Only a small percentage of Israel’s forests are native; most have been trans-planted. Since the declaration of Statehood in 1948, Israel has re-shaped the Palestinian landscape by planting over 200 million trees. The State-driven forestation plan has a number of functions: firstly, it is a method of occupying land that is then reserved solely for the State; secondly, it provides a major source of immigrant labour, thereby allowing for a nationally planned population dispersal. It also serves to cover over any remaining traces of destroyed Palestinian villages. As well as their pragmatic functions, these forests are also highly symbolic, functioning to create and maintain a hold on the land in the imagination as well as on the ground.
Zionists conceived Palestine as a barren wilderness that needed to be restored to its former Biblical glory. ‘Making the desert bloom’ was the intention of first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. In the Bible and many Jewish texts, trees are used in descriptions of the landscape and as metaphors for people and their nation. Images of trees being uprooted, withering in drought or burned might be used to convey God’s displeasure towards the people. The destruction of thousands of trees in the Carmel Forest is deeply painful for the Israeli psyche; not only a step backwards in the process of incremental occupation and alteration of this landscape but also a symbolic victim for the nation.
In Wounded the photographs of burned trees are accompanied by the sound of a body moving through foliage, recorded two years after the fire. The thousands of oak, cypress and pine trees that helped the flames to spread were not replanted after the fire, and so, for the first time in decades, it has become possible to experience the natural generation of the flora of the Carmel region – and listen to its sounds against photographs of scorched trees.