Profession against Occupation
CATALOGUE OF OPPRESSION deemed too "political"
AS leaders of the "civilised", "democratic" world meet to admonish Palestinians under occupation for voting the wrong way, and threaten their children will suffer worse deprivation and suffering unless their leaders fall into line, two other meetings in London will confront the realities of occupation.
Horrific events like bombings naturally make headline news. Television viewers in Britain were treated each teatime to the melodrama of the Israeli government's removal of Gaza settlers (now queuing for handsome compensation). So far as I'm aware the joint peaceful demonstrations by Palestinians and Israeli peaceniks at Bil'in have not yet made our TV screens. Palestinians lighting a Chanuka menorah beyond the fence? Not news, it seems. Hamas flags alongside Gush Shalom, peaceful villagers and Tel Aviv anarchists together facing tear gas? Not news.
"Nation shall speak peace unto nation," says the inscription over the BBC world broadcasting centre, Bush House. But when they do, it won't be on telly. Maybe they should make the sign read "George W. Bush House" these days.
But I digress.
What very rarely makes the news or even gets much documentary coverage is the day to day reality of occupation: land grabbing, humiliation at checkpoints, house demolitions, the use of planning, the Wall, and strategically-placed settlements to dominate the land and people. The European Union and British government suppressed their own official Report on East Jerusalem.
(Fortunately, alerted by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, some 40 organisations defied the ban and published the supressed report on their websites - see
Let's hear Jeff Halper, of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions(ICAHD):
"Restrictions of Palestinian use of their own land and policies of restricting Palestinian housing through zoning, permits and demolition of "illegal" houses are the mechanisms by which Israel maintains its artificial domination over the city. In 1967, the 70 km2 (70,000 dunums) labeled "East Jerusalem" were added to the 38 km2 of "West" Jerusalem, tripling the size of the city. Almost immediately Israel expropriated 35% of Palestinian land in order to build massive housing complexes (Ramat Eshkol, French Hill, Ramot, Rekhes Shu'afat, Pisgat Ze'ev, Neveh Yaakov, East Talpiot, Har Homa and Gilo, not to mention large areas in the Old City), exclusively for Jews. Indeed, while about 85,000 housing units have been built for Jews since 1967 in East Jerusalem, only 9,000 housing units have been approved for Palestinians, and all of those built with private funds rather than by government companies or with government subsidies. What's more, another 54% of Palestinian land has been declared "open green space," making it illegal for Palestinians to build on it. This means that only 11% of East Jerusalem land (just 7% of the total municipal area) is available to the third of the population that is Palestinian. Palestinian housing today is inadequate, over-crowded and confined to small parts of the city; the Municipality itself admits that 25,000 units of housing are lacking in the Arab sector; yet 2000 demolition orders are outstanding, affecting some 6000 families. Israel's policy in the eastern part of the "united" city is clear: to confine Palestinians to constricted ghettos (encouraging those who desire a better life to leave the country altogether); to ensure Israeli domination through the massive construction of an "inner ring" of settlements in the eastern part of the city; and to prevent a meaningful Palestinian political presence in the city
Architects and planners are in the front line of this:
"They want to say that architecture has nothing to do with politics, but architects and planners have always been the executive arms of the Israeli state, erasing the old cartography and trying to create their own on top of it."
Eyal Weizman, one of the creators ofA Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture
At the end of July 2002, in the same week that an Israeli US-made F16 dropped 1,000 pounds of laser-guided explosives on the Al-Daraj neighborhood in Gaza City, a different kind of explosion shook the supposedly quiet world of architecture. The catalogue for an entry by the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) to the World Congress of Architecture in Berlin was suppressed by the leadership of the architects association. They said the ideas in the catalogue were "not architecture" and that it would damage Israel's image abroad by presenting "an anti-Israeli, one-sided presentation."
Created by Israeli architects Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman, the catalogue, A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture , detailed how Israeli architecture and urban planning had been involved in the take-over of Palestinian land, from 1948 when the state was established to the settlements now dominating the hillsides of the West Bank. In a foreword note, Weizman and Segal said they would show how "the mundane elements of planning and architecture have been conscripted as tactical tools in the Israeli state-strategy."
Weizman and Segal had been chosen by the IAUA to prepare its official entry in the Berlin congress, but when the catalogue appeared, IAUA president Uri Zerubavel, and 15 out of 20 council members, moved to suppress it; they confiscated most of the 5,000 copies and pulled the exhibition out of Berlin. Uri Zerubavel himself has refused offers to design Israeli settlements in the West Bank, for "private political reasons", but he drew back from advertising this issue for an international exhibition.
Weizman and Segal managed to rescue about 850 copies of A Civilian Occupation, and the publisher, Babel Publications, decided to publish and distribute it internationally. One of the architectural editors for Babel noted that the catalog typified a "moral dilemma facing all architects." "Some who work for big corporations or large real estate operators create things just as monstrous as the architecture of the occupied territories," he said. "The catalog makes us think about the political dimension of all architecture."
(the book was published in the UK by Verso, see:
Jeff Halper, who has taught at Haifa and Ben Gurion Universities, describes himself as a "engaged anthropologist", and is co-ordinatoor the ICAHD. He is speaking at St.Mary's College in Twickenham on Friday February 17, 5-7.30pm, on "A New Apartheid Regime or Peace? Israel/Palestine after the March 2006 Election". Dr Nur Masalha, from Galilee, will be in the chair. It's in lecture theatre G7, St Mary's College Waldegrave Road, Twickenham TW1 4SX
How to reach St Mary's College? For directions by car and public Transport, see www.smuc.ac.uk/about/location.html
But before this, a group of professionals concerned with their responsibility are meeting in London tomorrow evening, Thursday, February 2, to launch Architects and Planners for Justice'. The idea and invitations have come from Abe Hayeem, an Indian-born Jewish peace activist and professional architect, and Orna Neuman, an Israeli designer.
The meeting is at the offices of the Richard Rogers Partnership, Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, W6., from 7-9pm . Robert Bevan, author of "The Destruction of Memory -Architecture at War", will be introducing the issues that the book highlights, and there'll be time for questions and discussion.
If any architects, planners or others interested want to come, or get in touch, you can RSVP