|Titolo:||"A civilian Occupation"|
|Sottotitolo:||The politics of Israeli Architecture.|
|Autore:||Segal Rafi & Weizman Eyal|
[Rif. 224] Stampato anno: 2003 - Num. pagine: 187 - Costo: 15 Euro
A Civilian Occupation
What’s inside these incendiary catalogues? Well, I saw one before the storm struck. The front cover is a bold design by 2002 Israel Prize for Design laureate David Tartakover, with a blood-red West Bank imprint dead centre, superimposed on the title: A Civilian Occupation. The contents tell a story of Jewish settlement: from the days of the British Mandate in Palestine and ‘wall and tower’ settlements built explicitly to claim land, to the 6,045 residential units built in the Occupied Territories by Ehud Barak in his twenty months as Prime Minister, even while he was negotiating a final withdrawal and a Palestinian state. They tell of the bending of the professional disciplines of planning and architecture to the ends of realpolitik. Finally, they make a lacerating case for ending the Israeli occupation – and professionalism’s corruption with it.
This message is delivered through an interweaving of analysis, polemic, photographs, maps, plans, and simple fact. It includes much professional analysis, of settlement masterplans and infrastructure, alongside critiques of gated suburban communities that would not be out of place in any architecture magazine. But there is no way that A Civilian Occupation can be described as purely professional – that is, if you define professionalism as the measurement of gradients or the analysis of the tensile strength of materials.
The catalogue includes articles by non-architects, as well as architects: by Gideon Levy, a former aide to Shimon Peres; by Meron Benvenisti, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem. But the official announcement of the Berlin Congress for which it was intended promotes “socio-political relevance” and “interdisciplinary exchange”, and proudly states that artists, politicians and philosophers will play a part.
The professions of architecture and planning are shot through with social and political implications. They produce the realities of the environment within which people must live. Nowhere is geography and lived environment more intensely political than in the Occupied Territories, where – geographer Oren Yiftachel writes in the censored catalogue – settlements have become “the most difficult obstacle to a peace agreement
with the Palestinian people”.
Thomas Leitersdorf, an architect who has worked on both sides of the Green Line that separates pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank, says in an interview in the catalogue: “The strategy in Judea and Samaria at the time was to ‘capture ground’: you capture as much area as possible by placing few people on many hills. The underlining political idea stated that the further inside the Occupied Territories we placed settlers, the more territory Israel would have when the time came to set the permanent international borders – because we were already there… I was given map-coordinates and was told to build a town. How big? – The biggest possible.”
In a defining verdict on the legality of settlements, Israeli High Court Justice Vitkon argued, “there is no doubt that the presence of settlements – even if ‘civilian’ – of the occupying power in the occupied territory substantially contributes to the security in that area and facilitates the execution of the duties of the military… The matter is simple, and details are unnecessary.” The title of A Civilian Occupation could be taken directly from this judgment. It is clear from these two quotations that the settlement enterprise was strategic, military and political from the first.
Weizman and Segal note that “An inconsistency develops between what the settlers want to see” – the holy Land of Israel – and “the way their eyes are ‘hijacked’ and used [by] the State”. Yiftachel reports that the ‘Israel 2020’ state masterplan prepared by dozens of professional experts in the 1990s recommended the cessation of settlement building. “What is the government’s response? In defiance to the work of urban, economic and social experts, it begins to construct new settlements…”.
*Paul Hilder is an independent adviser and writer working on democratic renewal, Europe, and the middle east. he is a co-founder of openDemocracy.net.
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