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A Civilian Occupation The Politics of Israeli Architecture

A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman February 12 –March 30, 2003 Storefront for Art and Architecture 97 Kenmare Street, New York, NY 10012 info@storefrontnews.org

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“A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture, was originally commissioned by the Israel Association of United Architects (IAUA) for the International Union of Architect’s Congress in Berlin in July, 2002. After the catalog was completed, the IAUA withdrew their support of the project, cancelled the exhibition and banned the catalog…Bringing together investigations by Israeli architects, scholars, photographers and journalists addressing the political role of architecture and planning in Israel, this project supplements prevalent historical and political analysis of the conflict with a detailed description of its physical transformations. Architecture is presented as a political issue –the material product of politics itself –illustrating the spatial dimensions of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict..”

–“A Civilian Occupation: The politics of Israeli Architecture,” Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman

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The curator of Storefront for Art and Architecture, Sarah Herder, found out about Segal and Weizman’s work and the wrath it incurred in the mainstream media, and invited them to exhibit. “We used the natural design of the building to the exhibit’s advantage. Gallery becomes the “found past,” said Herda. “This exhibit at Storefront is the first public presentation of this work. Later in the year they’ll be exhibiting in Berlin.”

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The topography of the West Bank is easily identified as three long strips of land running from north to south. The most eastern strip, and the lowest in elevation, is the sparsely populated Jordan Valley. To the west rise the high and steep mountains of Judea and Samaria along whose main ridge large Palestinian cities are located. Further west are the green and fertile slopes of Judea and Samaria. Here, moderate topography, arable soil, an abundance of water and a view overlooking the coastal plain make this region the West Bank’s ‘Area of High Demand.’ It is in this strip that most Palestinian villages and Jewish settlements are located…In a strange and almost perfect correlation between latitude, political ideology and urban form, each topographical strip became an arena for different phases of the settlement project, promoted by politicians with various agendas, inhabited by settlers of different ideologies in different settlement typologies. —KW Institute for Contemporary Art Berlin

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The narrow hallways of the gallery turn at sharp angles toward the unexpected, like the highways that cut through the West Bank. I got there early, when few people had arrived. Soon the place was packed. Another metaphor for the verticality of space that is the essence of the exhibit, a space in which maps are to architecture as blueprints of the gallery would be to the exhibit and its observers. –AE, 2/12/03

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“Since the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza strip, a colossal project of strategic, territorial and architectural planning has lain at the heart of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict…The landscape and the built environment became the arena of conflict. Jewish settlements –state-sponsored islands of ‘territorial and personal democracy’, manifestations of the Zionist pioneering ethos –were placed on hilltops overlooking the dense and rapidly changing fabric of the Palestinian cities and villages. ‘First’ and ‘Third’ Worlds spread out in a fragmented patchwork: a territorial ecosystem of externally alienated, internally homogenized enclaves located next to, within, above or below each other…A new understanding of territory had to be developed to govern the West Bank. The Occupied Territories were no longer seen as a two-dimensional surface, but as a large three dimensional volume, layered with strategic, religious and political strata…From 1967 to the present day, Israeli technocrats, ideologues and generals have been drawing maps of the West Bank. Map-making became a national obsession. Whatever the nature of Palestinian spatiality, it was subordinated to Israeli cartography. Whatever was un-named ceased to exist. Scores of scattered buildings and small villages disappeared from the map, and were never connected to basic services…It was only by introducing the vertical dimension, through schemes of over–and under-passes, that linkage could be achieved between settlements and Israel, between Gaza and the West Bank. These solutions did not reject the map as a geopolitical tool. Instead, they superimposed discontinuous maps over each other…The horizon became a political boundary, separating the air from the ground. At the same time, another boundary –dividing the crust of the ground from the earth under it –has appeared. In the West Bank, the sub-terrain and the air have come to be seen as separated from, rather than continuous and organic to, the surface of the earth.” –Eyal Weizman, “The Politics of Verticality,” OpenDemocracy.net

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Slide show on a wall projecting images of projection: one society literally projecting their architecture upon another. Artifacts are neat for excavations, but really it’s the buildings that define, for us, cultures of the past. The ruins in three dimensions. –AE, 2/12/03

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“We work and live in Israel. We care about architecture and we care about Israel.” –Rafi Segal, 2/12/03

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“Mountains play a special part in Zionist holiness. The settlers’ surge into the folded terrain of the West Bank and up to its summits combines imperatives of politics and spirituality. As the political climate in Israel changed, the reconstruction of Zionist identity began. The settlements started a long and steady climb to the mountains, where isolated dormitory communities were scattered on barren hilltops; without agricultural hinterlands, they cultivated nothing but “holiness” on their land. The settlements of the mountain strip, built during the late 1970s and early 1980s, shifted the expansion stimulus from agricultural pioneering to mysticism and transcendentalism. These settlements were promoted mainly by Gush Emunim (The Block of Faith), a national-religious organization that was fusing “Biblical” messianism, a belief in the “Land of Israel”, with a political thinking that allowed for no territorial concessions…The climb from the plains to the hills coincided with the development of a feeling of acting according to a divine plan. It promised the ‘regeneration of the soul’ and the achievement of ‘personal and national renewal’, imbued in a mystic quality of the heights.” –Eyal Weizman, “The Politics of Verticality,” OpenDemocracy.net

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Most disturbing about conquest through architecture is that it’s so damn real. Concrete, pardon the pun. Not myth or religion or literature of other forms of rhetoric. Can’t kill yourself smashing your car into an idea. –AE, 2/12/03

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“Is this like something from Virilio? The Architecture of War?” –AE, 2/12/03

“This is the architecture of conflict.” –Rafi Segal, 2/12/03

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“Many different types of settlements perch atop the hills of the West Bank, providing islands of biblical identity that are also strategic vantage points. High ground offers three strategic assets: greater tactical strength, self-protection, and a wider view. This principle is as long as military history itself. The Crusaders’ castles, some built not far from the location of today’s settlements, operated through “the reinforcement of strength already provided by nature”. These series of mountaintop fortresses were military instruments for the territorial domination of the Latin kingdom. The Jewish settlements in the West Bank are not very different. Not only places of residence, they create a large-scale network of “civilian fortification” which is part of the army’s regional plan of defense, generating tactical territorial surveillance. A simple act of domesticity, a single family home shrouded in the cosmetic facade of red tiles and green lawns, conforms to the aims of territorial control. But unlike the fortresses and military camps of previous periods, the settlements are sometimes without fortifications. Up until recently, only a few settlements agreed to be surrounded by walls or fences. They argued that they must form a continuity with the holy landscape; that it is the Palestinians who need to be fenced in. Rather than the conclusive division between two nations across a boundary line, the organization of the West Bank’s particular terrain has created multiple separations, provisional boundaries, which relate to each other through surveillance and control. This intensification of power could be achieved in this form only because of the particularity of the terrain. The mountain settlements are the last gesture in the urbanization of enclaves. They perfect the politics of separation, seclusion and control, placing them as the end-condition of contemporary urban and architectural formations such as ‘New Urbanism’, suburban enclave neighborhoods or gated communities. The most ubiquitous of architectural typologies is exposed as terrifying within the topography of the West Bank.” —Eyal Weizman, “The Politics of Verticality,” OpenDemocracy.net

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“The use of Civilian architects for military purposes is unethical. When an architect works for the military, he knows he’s designing for military use. When he thinks he’s designing for civilian use, but it is used to enforce a military agenda, it’s wrong.” –Rafi Segal, 2/12/03

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Patches of Palestinian populated areas like cancers on a white wall. Melanoma. Must be burned from the skin. “Panoptical organization,” they call it. In the long Hall, the “main strip” of the exhibit, are the bulk of photographs, mostly aerial views, of mountaintop settlements. Chevrolet Bible. Fast Food frontier. What’s going on, what are they thinking? And the roads cutting the land cutting communities from other communities, cutting the “First World” from the “Third.” —AE, 2/12/03

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“I think it’s important to have a young generation involved. It’s crucial to Israel and to the project. The book is all done by Israeli architects, photographers, designers and writers.” –Rafi Segal, 2/12/03

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Settlements dot the mountains adjoined by roads resembling the “signs” in Peru with their curves and bends in the middle of nowhere like signs to something high above and indifferent. –AE, 2/12/03

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A new generation of settlers, “youth of the hills” rejected suburban culture for frontier life-style complete with horse-back transportation. Fort Apache. –AE, 2/12/03

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Some Aerial Shots:

Sa’nva, Jenin Region, 2002 Supposed to be an artists’ colony for Russian immigrant artists. Located between Nablus and Jenin. Deserted with the outbreak of intifada. Five ultra orthodox families moved in, only one of which remains. Security requires a platoon or airborne infantry.

Asa ‘el, Hebron Region, 2002 four bachelors and one married couple secluded plan to worship and “live close to the land.” The Eastern Ring Road off Hebron Mountain blocks Palestinian expansion toward the east.

Derech Ha’avot (Hebrew: the way of pariahs) outpost Home of Ani Gawitzman.

Ma’ale Edummim, Greater Jerusalem, 2002 Biggest settlement city in West Bank. Established 1977. Population, 25,000. Emerged out of an archeological site planned as permanent settlement by Thomas Lietersdorf. The design of Ma’ale Edummim set the standard for building mountain settlements and has won many design awards in Israel.

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“Do Israelis know about all this?” –AE, 2/12/03

“Israelis don’t know enough, but that’s no excuse. When was the last time we heard that? ‘I didn’t know.'” —Rafi Segal, 2/12/03

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“One of the most crucial issues in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict takes place below the surface: about eighty per cent of the Mountain Aquifer, the region’s largest reservoir, is located under the West Bank. Yet this massive resource supplies approximately forty per cent of Israel’s agricultural waters and almost fifty per cent of its drinking waters. Indeed, it is the main source for its large coastal urban center. Indeed, it is the main source for its large coastal urban center…The latitudinal co-ordinates affirm the nature of the substance. When sewage overflows and private shit, from under the ground, invades the public realm of the street, it becomes simultaneously a private hazard and a public asset –to be used as a tool by the authorities.” –Eyal Weizman, “The Politics of Verticality,” OpenDemocracy.net

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“It’s a serious ethical issue: using civilian architects to promote the political agenda of State.” —Rafi Segal, 2/12/03

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Nothing “holy” here. No mountain oases. More like trailer parks, or at best gated -extremely gated –middle class communities. –AE, 2/12/03

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“In a quest for biblical archaeology, Israel has attempted to resurrect the subterranean fragments of ancient civilization to testify for its present-day rights above ground. The quest for ‘Biblical Archaeology’ attempts to match traces of Bronze Age ruins with Biblical narratives. Modern Israel tried to fashion itself as the successor of ancient Israel, and to construct a new national identity rooted in the depths of the ground. These material traces took on immense importance, as an alibi for the Jewish return. Against the tendency of Biblical Archaeologists to short-circuit history and celebrate a phantasmagoria of great Biblical events and destructions, a newly emergent Archaeology, advocated in both Palestinian and Israeli universities, has started digging the more recent, upper historical layers of the Arab and Ottoman periods. These archaeologists have worked to uncover the evolution of the daily life of the “people without history” as long-term processes, featuring gradual cultural and social changes. –Eyal Weizman, “The Politics of Verticality,” OpenDemocracy.net

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Exhibit winding jarring like the settlements themselves. –AE, 2/12/03

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“From the struggles over Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) to the historic stone with which all Greater Jerusalem is now clad, Jerusalem is an intense case study of the politics of verticality…Charles Warren, a captain in the Royal Engineers, was in 1876 one of the first archaeologists to excavate the tunnels and subterranean chambers under the Temple Mount. He recorded no conclusive ruins of the Temple, but a substance of completely different nature: ‘The passage is four feet wide, with smooth sides, and the sewage was from five to six feet deep, so that if we had fallen in there was no chance of our escaping with our lives. I, however, determined to trace out this passage, and for this purpose got a few old planks and made a perilous voyage on the sewage to a distance of 12 feet… Finding the excessive danger of the planks, I procured three old doors… The sewage was not water, and not was not mud; it was just in such a state that a door would not float, but yet if left for a minute or two would not sink very deep… we laid the first door on the sewage, then one in front of it, taking care to keep ourselves each on a door; then taking up the hinder of the three it was passed to the front, and so we moved on. The sewage in some places was more liquid than in others, but in every case it sucked in the doors so that we had much difficulty in getting the hinder ones up…’ If that Indiana Jones-type description was correct, what Clinton and the negotiating teams hadn’t realized was that the Temple Mount sat atop a network of ancient ducts and cisterns filled with generations of Jerusalem’s sewage. —Eyal Weizman, “The Politics of Verticality,”

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New world. Not the old-fashioned two-dimensional map world, but a world of ancient sewers running under ruins under “modern” buildings that will one day be ruins and the jet-fighters overhead wise to it all. –AE, 2/12/03

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“A bewildering network of bypass roads weave over and under one another, attempting to separate the Israeli and Palestinian communities. And the future could be wilder –a 48-kilometre viaduct between Gaza and the West Bank… The Israeli settlements in the West Bank are dormitory suburbs, reliant on roads connecting them with the urban centers of Israel proper. So-called ‘bypass’ roads were a feature of the Oslo accord. The Israeli government was allowed (with specially allocated American money) to construct a network of fast, wide security roads that bypass Arab towns and connect the settlements to Israel…The bypass roads, some still in the process of paving, would become a massive system of twenty-nine highways spanning four hundred and fifty kilometers. They allow four hundred thousand Jews living in land occupied in 1967 to have freedom of movement. About three million Palestinians are left locked into isolated enclaves…These roads make any attempt to detach the West Bank from Israel proper almost impossible. They demonstrate the alienation of the settlers from the surrounding landscape. But if the settlements themselves are hard to attack, Palestinian militants have identified the roads as the soft point where settlers can be hurt. Attacking civilian vehicles and military patrols traveling along the roads, they attempt to cut these slim economic lifelines.” -Eyal Weizman, “The Politics of Verticality,”

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“Half the settlements are unoccupied.” –Rafi Segal, 2/12/03

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We’re not dead yet. We can still observe such things and…what, talk about them? Read illicit books, attend illicit exhibits, secretly disagree with the State the State the State. The state of things the State created and maintains.-AE, 2/12/03

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“What is most important is to see. Look at the photographs. They tell you all you need to know about the architecture, the politics of the West Bank.” –Rafi Segal, 2/12/03

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“Airspace is a discrete dimension absent from political maps. But it is a space of utmost importance –cluttered with civilian and military airways, allowing a vantage observational point on the terrain under it, denying that position to others…Occupation of the skies gives Israel a presence across the whole spectrum of the electromagnetic field, and enables total observation. The airspace became primarily a place to ‘see’ from, offering the Israeli Air Force an observational vantage point for policing airwaves alive with electromagnetic signals –from the visible to the radio and radar frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. …The West Bank must currently be the most intensively observed and photographed terrain in the world. In a ‘vacuum-cleaner’ approach to intelligence gathering, sensors aboard unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), aerial reconnaissance jets, early warning Hawkeye planes, and even an Earth-Observation Image Satellite, snatch most signals out of the air. Every floor in every house, every car, every telephone call or radio transmission, even the smallest event that occurs on the terrain, can thus be monitored, policed or destroyed from the air…Most missions are built up in the air, where satellite, reconnaissance plane and helicopter gunship complete each other’s task. As the attack helicopter is on its way to the suspected area, live intelligence about the target’s location, intentions and destructive potential is transferred as radio and image data –Eyal Weizman, “The Politics of Verticality,”

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Who was the asshole who called architecture “frozen music?” –AE, 2/12/03

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“Most people, even Israelis, think in terms of horizontal space, grabbing more land. It is far more complex than that. It is what you see here. These “modern” settlements with the real architecture of the land, the Palestinian architecture as background.” –Rafi Segal, 2/12/03

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“The Apache gunship, equipped with a sophisticated electro-optical array of precise target acquisition technology, traveling fast and low, detects, identifies and acquires the target, then fires a Hellfire missile into most often a Palestinian’s vehicle. At other times, ultra-violet paint splashed by collaborators on the roof of a car marks the target for the pilot to destroy….The aerial policing and execution of Palestinians within their cities was made possible by the integration of these technological advances. And the act of their liquidation is now subject only to will….If the horrific potential of iron bombing already exhausted the imagination, in this next step of warfare, armies could target individuals within a battlefield or civilians in an urban warfare. Summary executions can be carried out after short meetings between army generals and politicians working their way down ‘wanted’ men lists. This kind of aerial warfare is so personal as to set a new horizon for the horror of war.” –Eyal Weizman, “The Politics of Verticality,” OpenDemocracy.net

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There are no Palestinians or Israelis in the photographs. Who could see them if there were, in these mostly aerial shots? Just clear focus on ersatz suburban “settlements” and trailer park communities and in the distance the older stuff, passe, history’s unshaven calluses, where the cancer grows for a while, until treated –AE, 2/12/03

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“If living a top a mountain brings you closer to god, what about flying in an airplane, or hanging out at the observation deck of the Empire State building?” –AE, 2/12/03

“I don’t know.” –Rafi Segal, 2/12/03

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“People must know how the politics work in architecture. We have writers, artists, architects, scholars working on this project. This is what is happening in the West Bank.” –Rafi Segal, 2/12/03

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If you live in Manhattan, go to the Storefront for Art and Architecture on 97 Kenmare Street and experience this exhibit. If you don’t live in Manhattan, get yourself there before March 30th and experience this exhibit. –AE, 2/12/03

ADAM ENGEL can be reached at asengel@attglobal.net

 

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Adam Engel is editor of bluddlefilth.org. Submit your soul to bluddlefilth@yahoo.com. Human units, both foreign and domestic, are encouraged to send text, video, graphic, and audio art(ifacts), so long as they’re bluddlefilthy and from The Depths.

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