By Yara Sharif
Coming from a place that is so divided by geo-political conflict as Palestine/Israel, it is crucial to define one’s role as an architect. Choosing an ideology of practice in such circumstances is not a technical activity: rather, it becomes an ‘ethical’ approach as well as a political statement.
In the case of Israel’s current hegemonic relationship with the Palestinian people, the line as drawn on paper is normally based on an explicit ideology of military expansion – one which is destroying both the space of land and the space of imagination. Despite the aim of different Israeli politicians, architects and planners to manifest Zionist power and obliterate all signs of Palestinian relation to the land, a range of counter-strategies have evolved lately, creating a new consciousness that seeks to reveal and challenge the underlying Israeli agendas of control and territorial aggression. However, what has been happening lately in Gaza has made even more visible the destructive strategies of the Israeli government towards human beings and their homes. What is taking place doesn’t need any further interpretation; rather it calls for practical and clear action by architects, planners and human rights activists to stop the massacres and follow a different course of action.
Daniel Libeskind a few months requested a boycott of China, calling for greater human rights and social equality. And his call spread fast through most architectural magazines including ‘Building Design’. It is quite impressive how loud the voice of an architect could be, however, the impact of their lines on paper and ground is even more effective, especially an architect like Libeskind, or Gehry, or Calatrava, who all left a huge imprint with their designs. The ‘Cord Bridge’ - an ‘outstanding’ design intervention which cuts across Jerusalem to help divide it off into a Jewish state which has no Arabs, and the ‘‘Museum of Tolerance’ by Gehry has been designed to be built on a Muslim cemetery in the area of ‘Mamilla’ in West Jerusalem. Is this justice? And where is Libeskind’s call now for architects to boycott Israel because of acts that betray human rights and justice? An international court ruled in 2006 against Israel's so-called ‘apartheid wall’ as being both illegal and violating human rights. Neither Libeskind, nor any other ‘star architect’ of that kind, have yet condemned the wall or spoken out on the subject. Those who thankfully did, were either not publicized enough or found themselves criticized for doing so. Richard Rogers, who took the initiative and had a leading role in objecting the ‘wall’, later changed all his political views and beliefs as his projects in New York are much more worthy than people’s life in Palestine.
As architects, it is time to question equality and justice in every line we draw, and because architecture can never be dissociated from politics, it is our role at this critical stage to make visible the fractures created by Israeli occupation and work on healing these fractures. It is time for a clear ideology to cut into the very heart of the Israeli occupation strategy through an ethical and just practice of architecture.
This letter is therefore a call to break the silence and to support the community in Gaza through design contributions which can connect rather than divide. In wake of this act of mass destruction, which many observers are denouncing as war crimes, there is an urgent need to rebuild communities as well as buildings. So let’s follow the steps of British Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, and take an action through an open forum where each can speak in their own language to support Palestine. This is an open invitation to say out loud: STOP THE MILITARY INTERVENTION, STOP WAR CRIMES, AND BOYCOTT ANY ISRAELI ARCHITECTURE THAT PROMOTES OCCUPATION AND FRAGMENTATION.
Yara Sharif is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, London, UK.