A COMMON STATE / Uncube (2015)
“A Common State: Constructing Architectural Imaginaries for Palestine-Israel,” on Uncube (July 29, 2015)
Although I have consistently written against the Israeli politics of colonisation in the past, I now would like to attempt a rather perilous exercise of defense of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, not for the political and ideological strategies they have been embodying and continue to embody since 1967, but rather, as a thorn in the side of the so-called “two-state solution” in the way it is currently envisioned both by the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.
It is my conviction that a two-state plan, far from embodying the solution it claims to be, would constitute a catastrophe for the majority of the 15 million Palestinians in historical Palestine – i.e. the “Palestinian territories” and Israel, and in the rest of the world. The five million refugees in the overpopulated camps of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, would never be able to return to their land and the 1.7 million Palestinian citizens of Israel would either have to move to the newly created state or adapt to being sub-citizens of the Jewish State. Gaza and the West Bank would also be forever separated spatially. Despite the drastic difference in scale, we would observe a similar schism to that which occurred when Pakistan split from Bangladesh in 1971. Finally, this scenario would prevent any forms of trials and/or reparations for the decades of unjudged crimes of war and occupation.
The last three sieges by the Israeli army of Gaza between 2008 and 2014 (3,802 Palestinians killed including 2,523 civilians) give an idea of the danger to the Palestinians of embracing the absolute segregation forced upon them. Of course, the Israeli settlements in the West Bank already fully integrate this segregation on a local scale: their territorial limits are militarised and many of them are directly linked to Israel by having the Wall running on their eastern side, or by roads for the exclusive use of Israeli vehicles. However, on a larger scale (shown in the index map), we can also see how the Israeli settlements in the West Bank provide a population mix, which finds an echo in Israel itself with its 1.7 million Palestinian citizens. Of course, such a population mix currently operates through drastically assymetrical power relations and the settlement territorial organisation is designed as such; yet it operates nonetheless, and thus necessarily creates a relation, however antagonistic it might be.
The scenario of a common state, on the other hand, would require even more effort and imagination to achieve equality and reparations. A legitimate vision of a future common state of Palestine shared between local and returnee Palestinians, the Jewish population and an ensemble of other migrants necessarily implies, among many other conditions, the destruction of all apartheid apparatuses. The Israeli settlements in the West Bank, built as they are to function as just such a segregational device, would need to be the object of deep architectural and urban transformations to deactivate a function inscribed in their very walls.
Demolishing the settlements, like it was done in 1982 in the Sinai and again in 2005 in the Gaza Strip, rather than subverting/appropriating them, would suggest that an emancipative architecture could be built in lieu of these monuments to oppression; however, we have to realise that such an idea is illusory and propagates the problem. Architecture always crystalises and reinforces power relations in a given society. What needs to be done in the case of the settlements, is the deactivation of their segregational effects between colonisers and colonised, while paying strong attention to the drastic economic disparity that also splits the Palestinian society. Whilst many new middle-class neighborhoods are currently being built in Ramallah and its surroundings – the architectural resemblance to the Israeli settlements is striking – we should make sure that future integrated settlements of a common state do not become the shared living environments of only middle and higher social classes of the Palestinian and Israeli population. In order to do so, we do not need to think so much in terms of solutions but, rather, in terms of political struggle and the creation of new imaginaries.
Such potential transformations were investigated by the Bethlehem-based art residency Decolonizing Architecture (directed by Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti and Eyal Weizman) in their Manual of Decolonization (2009). The architectural method they imagined for a future intervention consisted of a series of operational steps within the settlements: the de-individualisation of the housing units, the re-establishment of property parcels prior to the land expropriation, and the ungrounding of “the petty bourgeois lifestyle (…) roads and parking lots, private gardens, fences, sidewalks and tropical plants” (DAAR, 2009).
These interventions in no way represent a complete toolbox for the deactivation of the architectural implementation of apartheid, however. Designers are certainly equipped to, and capable, of proposing others. In this regard, the collection of rare aerial photographs associated with this text constitute a fragment of what I intend to be a larger atlas of settlements that designers could access to investigate potential interventions for a future beyond apartheid and false solutions.
Israeli settlement of Susiya (Hebron Governorate): 923 inhabitants, established in 1983, 417 acres.
Israeli settlement of Otniel (Hebron Governorate): 787 inhabitants, established in 1983, 164 acres. Israeli settlement of El’azar (Bethlehem Governorate): 1,905 inhabitants, established in 1975, 110 acres. Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev (East-Jerusalem): 42,115 inhabitants, established in 1985, 642 acres. Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Yericho (Jericho Governorate): 1,851 inhabitants, established in 1978, 202 acres. Israeli settlement of Giv’on (Jerusalem Governorate): 500 inhabitants, established in 1977, 27 acres. Israeli settlement of Psagot (Ramallah Governorate): 1,658 inhabitants, established in 1981, 164 acres. Israeli settlement of Petzael (Jericho Governorate): 214 inhabitants, established in 1975, 295 acres. Israeli settlement of Sha’arei Tikva (Qalqiliya Governorate): 4,727 inhabitants, established in 1983, 243 acres. Israeli settlement of Bracha (Nablus Governorate): 1,691 inhabitants, established in 1983, 150 acres. Israeli settlements of Tal Menashe, 300 inhabitants, established in 1992, 77 acres; Hinanit, 813 inhabitants, established in 1981, 188 acres; and Shaked (Jenin Governorate), 661 inhabitants, established in 1981, 182 acres. New Palestinian town of Rawabi in construction. Locateda few kilometres North of Birzeit University (Ramallah protectorate), Rawabi is expecting to host 40,000 people of the Palestinian middle class in the coming years. Diplomats Housing Project under construction in Ramallah. When seen from far, this new Palestinian middle-class neighbourhood is often mistaken for an Israeli settlement by newcomers. Israeli settlements and separation barrier in Palestine, July 2015 (Map by Léopold Lambert / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0).