- Construction Site: Architecture And Politics In Israel/Palestine
The cycle of violence fomented by Israel’s continuing domination over the Occupied Territories has been made ever more intense by the Bush administration’s backing of Ariel Sharon’s plans to disengage from the Gaza Strip while retaining control over much of the West Bank. Sharon’s unilateral strategy followed the series of proposals for renewed negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians that emerged in 2003. Amongst these initiatives was the detailed blueprint for peace known as the ‘Geneva Accord,’ which was unveiled after two years of covert negotiations conducted by unofficial representatives of the Israeli’s and Palestinians with the assistance of the Swiss Government.1 Negotiated within the context of all previous agreements dating from 1991, and designed to achieve an historical reconciliation of the two peoples based on a two state solution for Israel/Palestine, the Geneva Accord does not attempt to inaugurate a radical utopia. As Amos Oz, the famous Israeli novelist who participated in the Jordanian conference that publicized the Accord wrote:
This conference was not meant to inaugurate a honeymoon between the two nations. Quite the opposite — it was aimed at, finally, attenuating this warped intimacy. At drafting a fair divorce agreement. A painful, complicated divorce, but also one that unlocks the handcuffs. They will live in their home and we will live in ours. The Land of Israel will no longer be a prison, or a double bed. It will be a two-family house. The handcuffed link between the jailer and his prisoner will become a connection between neighbours who share a stairwell.2
Regardless of the Geneva Accords’ merits, or the accuracy of Oz’s characterisation of its goals, his summary is striking for the building metaphor it uses. Indeed, the imagery and practices of architecture, building, construction and demolition has permeated politics in Israel/Palestine for some time. For example, ever since he commanded the 1953 demolition of homes and deaths of 69 civilians in the West Bank village of Kibya Ariel Sharon has been known as “the Bulldozer”.3 Since 1967, house demolitions have become an element of Israel’s “matrix of control” over the Palestinian population and resulted in the destruction of more than 9,000 residences.4 Right wing military politicians like Effi Eitam have declared that Palestinian urban growth confronts Israel with a “jihad of buildings” that results in a “habitat for terror.”5 The negotiators of various diplomatic frameworks — such as Yossi Belin, who was central to both the official Oslo Accords of 1993 and the unofficial Geneva Accord of 2003 — are called “architects” of peace and the negotiations themselves take place in carefully choreographed spaces.6 Finally, Israel’s construction of a physical barrier — begun in 2002 and described by the Palestinians as a “wall” but labelled a “security fence” by the Israelis — calls attention to the way building is articulated with politics.7
The prominence of such imagery and practices in the violent and contested politics of Israel/Palestine leads many to suppose that architecture and politics have a clear and unproblematic relation — politics is taken to be reflected in architecture, and architecture is understood as embodying politics. The purpose of this essay is to evaluate the relationship of architecture to politics in Israel/Palestine, through a review of two important books, in order to discuss whether the architecture-politics relationship can be understood in these direct terms, or whether there is a more complex and problematic relationship between the two.
Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank and Gaza — territories occupied by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967 — is founded on the expropriation of Palestinian land, has seen the construction of more than 200 new physical communities, the movement of some 400,000 Israeli’s into these sites, and their connection to each other and Israel proper through a system...