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Occupation magazine - Life under occupation

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Imagined Territories
Yonatan Mendel
London Review of Books, Vol. 29 No. 15,
2 August 2007

Hollow Land: Israe`s Architecture of Occupation by Eyal Weizman

Being the son of an Israeli civil engineer I never believed I would one
day write something about architecture. My father would come back home
with many boring black and white sketches, and I realised as a child
that I would not become an engineer. He tried to teach me the
differences between engineering, architecture, design, contracting and
surveying, but he was not sure I understood them, and quite frankly he
was right. Yet as Eyal Weizman explains, architecture is more than just
sketches; architecture is what we see, architecture is everywhere.
Focusing on the Occupied Territories, Weizman takes his readers on a
tour of the visible and invisible ways in which Israel implements its
control over Palestinians. This journey leads from the streets of Jenin
to the view over Gaza from an Apache helicopter and on through the
subterranean tunnels in Rafah. It is a landscape of many colours: from
red roofed settlements, through the green pine trees surrounding them
and up to the black one-way mirrors of the Allenby border crossing into
Jordan, which allow Israeli security agents to monitor Palestinians in
transit without themselves being seen. There are many methods of
navigation: a bridge over a road over a tunnel-road, or a Jewish
highway through an ocean of Palestinians. Architecture is not only
everything and everywhere, but also everyone. The Israeli political
leadership, settlers, judges, army officers, security-men - even
architects - have a part in the shaping of houses, roads, windows,
cladding and angles, to facilitate the complex mission of occupying the
Palestinian territories.

Weizman studied at the Architectural Association in London. Currently
the director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, he
has taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and been a practising
architect in Israel, with projects related to the arts and human
rights. Hollow Land is about Israeli architecture in the Occupied
Territories, beginning with the massive settlements in Jerusalem, going
on to the settlements in Gaza and the West Bank and looking finally at
the `creative` measures taken by Israeli planners, including the
military, to render the occupation more `comfortable`, `human` and
`effective`. According to Weizman, architecture is much more than the
way a building looks or the materials used in its construction: it is
grand design and it begins when groups or individuals act in a space -
`space` being comprehensively defined to include anything that has a
territorial dimension. `Acting` in space might take the form of
targeted assassination from the air and extends to the control of areas

Israeli building projects in the Occupied Territories, also known as
the settlements, owe their existence to, and draw much of their
character from security needs. As Weizman shows, there are religious,
messianic and political dimensions to the settlements, but security is
paramount. Starting with the creation of rural settlements in 1948, he
writes, the IDF drew up security principles designed `to prevent
infiltration or the return of Palestinians to their lands`, and
instructed planners to devise `a compact and dense layout, in which
homes were located no more than 30 metres apart`

Later in its short history, when Israel began to build beyond its
borders, security was again a justification. Ariel Sharon, head of the
Israeli Ministerial Committee for Settlements and a future `architect`,
said in 1977 that `a thin line of settlements along the Jordan would
not provide a viable defence . . . The vital strategic issue was how to
give depth to the coastal plain . . . The answer was to build a
[network] of urban, industrial settlements. Likud had just won the
election and as a result of Israel`s failure to predict the imminence
of the 1973 war, the settlements were designated `good for security`,
though the truth is that the army spent the first days of the Syrian
assault evacuating settlements in the Golan before it could proceed
with military operations. After the 1973 war, new settlements were
portrayed as a `defensive system designed to help protect the state
from invasion, a precaution against another surprise conventional war`,
while the task of the settlers was, in the words of High Court Justice
Alfred Vitkon, `to investigate and report Palestinian movements` and to
`monitor them and inform the authorities of any suspicious movements`.

A single settlement only marked the beginning of a `securing` project:
it was not enough in itself. Logic required that more settlements be
built around it. Then, in order to secure the newly established blocks
of settlements, a secure network of roads was needed to run between
them, but in order to secure the roads, more settlements needed to be
constructed along them. Which is not to forget the Wall that is needed
to secure Israelis from the Palestinians, as well as securing the army
patrols that secure the fences around the settlements, which secure the
roads that altogether, in a bizarre way, secure Israeli citizens living
in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beer Sheba. This evolving master-plan, which
begins with placing civilians in the front line and ends with layer
upon layer of security to secure security, ignores the crucial fact
that the settlers and settlements were the central cause of security
threats and a major incitement to Palestinians. In other words, the
security imperative is one of the greatest threats to Israel`s

Another example given by Weizman concerns the neighbourhoods built in
East Jerusalem following its occupation in 1967. In 1968 the
municipality `supported the tightening of the stone bylaw` - a Mandate
requirement to build in `Jerusalem stone` - `and the use of stone
cladding within the entire area annexed to the city. The idea was that
this would serve as evidence of a united city as well as securing its
new, uncertain, legally unrecognised boundaries. Architecture once
again played its political and security role.

Weizman shows that the settlements in the Occupied Territories were
placed in strategic locations in order to achieve Jewish continuity on
the one hand, and to destroy Palestinian continuity on the other. They
were built with red roofs in order to distinguish them from Palestinian
communities and surrounded by pines in order to acidify the soil and
make the land unusable for Palestinian shepherds. Windows gave onto
`the slope facing the threat`, the better to inform on Palestinian
movements in compliance with IDF border-fortification practice,
requiring a `defensible line` to run not on top of a mountain ridge but
at about three-quarters of its height.

Yet, while security was invoked as a reason for everything and
anything, another process, ostensibly more `peaceful`, was taking place
on the ground. A survey conducted in 2002 by Peace Now asked 3200
Jewish families from the West Bank and Gaza to justify their move to
the Occupied Territories. A decisive majority, 77 per cent of the
270,000 settlers in question, stated that they moved for `quality of
life` reasons: bigger houses, rural lifestyle, better finance packages
and so on. Only 20 per cent claimed that national-religious factors
were decisive, while a mere 3 per cent said that `national security=B4
was uppermost in their minds. That a majority of settlers are motivated
neither by security nor on ideological grounds tells us something about
the huge role of non-security considerations in the settlements
themselves. Large numbers of non-religious, non-nationalistic,
left-of-centre voters live in the Occupied Territories - a fact that
forces us to consider settlement not only as a state project, but as a
thriving enterprise in which a variety of Israelis, for different
reasons, carry out the mission of the state. Few, if any, regard
themselves as living on occupied land, often because of the support
they receive from the state and their ignorance about the pre-1967

Hollow Land is eloquent about the architectural chaos and confusion
created by Israel in the Occupied Territories. National-religious
settlers perceive their existence as the fulfilment of the Zionist goal
of living in the land of the Bible. Weizman concludes that `the very
thing that renders the landscape `biblical` or `pastoral` is the
cultivation of terraces, olive orchards, the existence of stone
buildings and the presence of livestock, all of which depend on `the
very people whom the settlers would like to displace`. Here he puts his
finger on a crucial question: where and what is Israel and where and
what is Palestine? Both Palestinians and Israelis, he believes, see the
two places as one and the same: an amalgam of the map of Israel and
that of Palestine. Reading Weizman, I realised that I had never in my
mind seen the map of Israel without the Occupied Territories. They are
both part of `my` geography. Though political geographers must have
done so, I do not know a single Palestinian who will draw Palestine as
a small rectangle on the left (the Gaza Strip) unconnected to a weird
looking shape on the right (the West Bank). Maps like the two below -
one of Israel without Palestine and the other of Palestine without
Israel - should really have been included in the book.
map 1

While the Palestinian imagination still consists of aspirations, the
Israeli imagination has, over time, achieved a kind of reality
consistent with its ambitions, in what might - borrowing from Benedict
Anderson - be thought of as its `Imagined Territories`. Israel`s
insistence on building in the Occupied Territories forced it to take
into account the existence of Palestinian villages and roads but as
Weizman shows, Israeli `architects` had then to reconcile their wish
for Jewish continuity with their need to separate Jews and
Palestinians, which was managed, as Sharon explained, by `a combination
of tunnels and bridges`. The territories in the last decade have been
subjected to Israeli architecture at its worst: roads carving Palestine
from within, tunnels dug from below and bridges straddling it from

Weizman demonstrates how in many cases Israel has kept the main roads
for itself, forcing the Palestinians to use tunnels under the roads or
bridges over the tunnels. Travelling from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem via
route 443, one takes a road which is part of Israel to cross an area
which is part of Palestine. The Oslo Accords have meant that in some
places `the tunnel and bridge are under full Israeli control, the
valley below the bridge is under Palestinian civilian control, while
the city above the tunnel is under Palestinian civilian and military
control. Weizman writes that `at places where two road networks cross,
a vertical interchange of bridges and tunnels will separate the traffic
systems, and Palestinians from Israelis. Twenty-six such interchanges
of vertical separation have already been built, another 19 are under

Picturing the map of the Occupied Territories, Weizman advises us to
think in terms of the `Scandinavian coastline, where fjords, islands
and lakes make an inconclusive separation between water and land. To
put it another way, Israel has established a country on the one hand,
and a constellation of extraterritorial `islands` surrounded by a
Palestinian `sea` on the other, as in the illustration below.
map 1

If these imaginary territories have become reality, others, for example
the Palestinian village of Bilin, near Ramallah, remain a dream that
waits to be realised. In Bilin, the separation wall has expropriated
2000 dunams (nearly 500 acres) of Palestinian agricultural land for a
future building programme. The Israeli Supreme Court justified the
confiscation, stating that it would secure the life of future citizens
in a future settlement. One could argue that the absurdity of imagined
territories as a practical policy has penetrated Israeli society and is
now seeping into Palestinian consciousness. Two different examples are
given by Weizman, in Rafah and in the Jenin Refugee Camp. In Rafah,
Palestinian militants tunnelled under the `Philadelphi Route`, a wide
Israeli security corridor bulldozed through the middle of the town. A
labyrinth of tunnels, in which one would need a compass to find one=B4s
way, was constructed by Palestinian families wanting to pass from the
Palestinian side of the city to the Egyptian side. They were later used
for smuggling cigarettes, prostitutes, weapons and armed recruits.
Apparently, Palestinians in Rafah managed to create a territorial
passage to both sides of the city, under the feet of Israeli security.

The case of Jenin is more depressing. Residents in the refugee camp had
to decide how to rebuild their streets, destroyed in the massive IDF
campaign of 2002. While considering the renovation, the UNRWA head
engineer Ahmad Abizari claimed that the streets would have to be
widened, at least to the width of a tank. Assuming that Israeli tanks
were bound to be sent in again, Abizari wanted them to access the camp
without smashing houses and destroying infrastructure. Eventually, his
engineering programme was accepted.

Control is surely the central theme of Weizman`s book. The fact that
Israel has experienced seven wars in less than six decades and still
does not have peace agreements with all of its neighbours means that
people live with the feeling of constant threat. This feeling,
justified or not, has made Israeli decision-makers very cautious in
negotiation and loath to change the political status quo, whence, as
Weizman shows, the need to reach agreements granting the Palestinians
some control or sovereignty while retaining Israel`s right to have the
final word. Architecture has played a key role in Israel`s policy of
transferring authority, while keeping it in its own hands.

Israeli domination is clear at checkpoints on the West Bank, where
soldiers decide if a Palestinian child, student, taxi driver or elderly
woman can pass freely from one place inside Palestine to another, or
enter Israel. In some cases - the Shaar Ephraim terminal, in the
north-west part of the West Bank is an instance - the Israeli Ministry
of Defence has decided that in order `to lessen the existing friction
in the security checks, humanise the process and improve standards of
service, security will be privatised and civilians rather than
soldiers will conduct all checks. This doesn`t allow Palestinians to
take charge of their own security, or even establish a joint
Israeli-Palestinian mechanism, but exchanges one system of domination
for another, replacing Israeli soldiers with Israeli security men.
Israel has always excelled at repackaging old practices.

Even when reaching agreements with Palestinians on international
terminals, like the Allenby Bridge connecting the West Bank with Jordan
or the Rafah Crossing connecting the Gaza Strip with Egypt, Israel has
managed to create the illusion that Palestinians are in charge. At
Allenby Bridge, as stated in Article X of the first Annex to the Oslo
Accords, Israeli security agents would be separated from Palestinian
travellers by tinted glass. According to Article X, incoming
Palestinians would see only `a Palestinian policeman and a raised
Palestinian flag. They would also see a Palestinian police counter in
front of one of several large one-way mirrors. The mirrors, Weizman
writes, `were positioned so that Israeli security behind them could
observe, unseen, not only the Palestinian passengers but also the
Palestinian police personnel themselves`. The system works as follows:
a Palestinian border policeman receives the passenger`s papers,
examines them, then slips them into a drawer hidden behind the counter.
The drawer is opened from the other side by Israeli security, who
process the papers, deciding if the bearer can enter, and then return
them with one of two coloured notes - one colour for permission, the
other for refusal. George Bush described these solutions as `soft
sovereignty`, but Palestinians must regard them as no sovereignty at

At Rafah Crossing following Israel`s withdrawal from Gaza, Palestinians
received the honour of another `soft sovereignty`. The agreement
brokered by Condoleezza Rice states that Palestinians and Egyptians
will run their common border, but the entire process of crossing from
Egypt to Gaza or Gaza to Egypt will be overseen by Israeli security.
According to the agreement, an advanced CCTV system sends real-time
pictures to a Joint Control Room staffed by European observers and
Israeli security. The cameras relay the face of each Palestinian
standing in front of the Palestinian border police as well as images of
X-rayed luggage to Israeli security, who can then call for a rescan, a
bag search or a border closure. When Israel wants the terminal shut it
forbids European observers to enter the control room, while according
to the agreement, Egyptian border police must close their side
immediately. Since the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in June 2006, the
terminal has been closed 86 per cent of the time and since Hamas took
control of Gaza in June, it has been closed altogether, leaving 5000
Palestinians stranded in Egypt. Does `soft sovereignty` bring full
sovereignty closer or refer it further away?

As studies by Weizman show, Israel has a great effect above ground on
the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank but there is a continuing
struggle for control below ground. Eighty per cent of the mountain
aquifers supplying Israelis and Palestinians are located under the West
Bank. However, 83 per cent of available water is used for the sole
benefit of Israeli cities and settlements. At Camp David in 2000, when
Ehud Barak negotiated the future of the Temple Mount compound with
Arafat, Clinton favoured another `soft` solution, giving Palestinians
full sovereignty over the mosques on the Temple Mount, while Israel
would have full sovereignty under the ground - an idea based on the
assertion that the remains of the Temple lie beneath the Al-Aqsa mosque
and the Dome of the Rock. This proposal was rejected out of hand by
Arafat and the negotiations ended. Israel was yet again unwilling to
deliver full control and persisted in wanting some kind of hold,
archaeological or even symbolic.

Before Israel`s disengagement from Gaza, a think tank called
Alternative Team concluded that `whether or not we are physically
present in the Territories` - Israelis like to avoid the word
`Occupied` - `we should still be able to demonstrate our ability to
control and affect them.` It was an acknowledgment that Israel would
retain control over Gaza even after it had pulled out, which is largely
what won Sharon the popular support needed for the withdrawal. The
`control` in question was Israel`s non-secret weapon of targeted
assassination, killing Palestinian militants by firing missiles from
helicopters. Between September 2000 and the end of 2006, 339
Palestinians were killed from the air. Weizman points out that since
the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, these `targeted assassinations have
become the most significant and frequent form of Israeli attack.
Another Israeli technical innovation has been the launching of unmanned
drones that can remain in the air around the clock. Israel is - and is
perceived to be - in control, and has proved that it can leave Gaza
without really withdrawing. All along, the `architects` of Israeli
occupation have ensured more or less absolute control of the
Palestinian territories, whether an Egyptian-Palestinian terminal, a
Jordanian-Palestinian crossing or a post-`withdrawal` strategy is
involved. Who knows if this absurdity will one day bring Israel to
envisage checkpoints on the Turkish-Syrian border or the Iranian border
with Iraq, or start issuing permits to people wishing to enter or leave
the Nahar al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon? Israel`s fear of
losing its grip is at the heart of these `creative` methods of control
and of its current regional status as a pariah.

It`s a shame that Hollow Land is unlikely to be translated into Hebrew
or read by Israelis. Weizman`s own experience shows that criticism of
Israel is unacceptable: after he won a competition to represent Israel
at an international conference, the invitation was abruptly cancelled.
The fact that he was opposed to the settlements in the West Bank
disqualified him. Hollow Land paints a desperate picture of a country
driven by paranoia, awash with security and drowning in fantasy; and of
planners and architects compounding this terrible situation. They are
in his view greatly responsible for the ongoing crime of occupation,
and play a prominent part in its elaboration, construction, renovation,
whitewashing and cementing. Even as he points out the complexity of
Israeli architecture in the Occupied Territories, he begs us to
`consider whether the political road to partition is the right one to
take`. Whatever `state survives the occupation will be `fragmented an=
d perforated`, bounded along great parts of its borders by a separation
wall that is, in effect, `constantly permeable and transparent from one
side only`.

Elinoar Barzacchi is the former Chief Architect for the Jerusalem
District at the Construction and Housing Ministry. Her best known
project was the Maaleh Adumim settlement, built in the early 1980s. The
settlement, located about three kilometres east of the Jerusalem
municipal boundary, is Israel`s biggest, containing 32,000 people, with
a projected growth to 71,000 in 2020. Its strategic location
definitively separates the northern and southern parts of the West Bank
and could sabotage the creation and functioning of a future Palestinian
state. Barzacchi now looks back on her project and shows signs of
regret. Today she is the head of Ir Amim (City of Nations), an Israeli
NGO that deals with issues affecting Israeli-Palestinian relations in
Jerusalem and the political future of the city. `Essentially, had I
known then what I know now, had we thought at that time about two
states for two peoples, I say Maaleh Adumim should not have been
established,` she stated in an interview with Haaretz last year.
Unfortunately, her troubled conscience is not going to change the
architectural configuration in the Occupied Territories. Architects and
planners have participated in the occupation with the enthusiasm,
decisiveness and motivation of soldiers hurrying to the front line. A
soldier`s doubts only begin to take shape after his return from the
battlefield - and long after the damage has been done.

Yonatan Mendel is Walla News Israel`s correspondent for the Middle
East, and covers cultural and political aspects of the

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