– Spring 2009

The Future Archaeology of Israel's Colonisation

Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, Eyal Weizman

Tags: Eyal Weizman

This investigation uses architecture to articulate some of the various spatial dimensions of a possible process of decolonisation.1 It engages, however, a less-than-ideal world. The work's starting point is not a political resolution of the Palestinian conflict and the just fulfilment of Palestinian claims and should thus not be thought of in terms of a solution at all. Rather it aims to think through ways of mobilising architecture as a tactical tool within the unfolding struggle for Palestine. It studies the potential application of physical interventions to open a horizon for an ongoing process of transformations.

Whatever trajectory the conflict over Palestine takes, the possibility of further partial evacuation of Israeli colonies and military bases must be considered. It is the most likely scenario in the international political machinations imposed on Palestinians. It will most likely involve small-scale re-articulations in the carceral archipelago of Israel's colonial project, throughout Palestine. However, zones of Palestine that will be liberated from direct Israeli ground presence provide a crucial laboratory to study the multiple ways in which we could imagine the reuse, re-inhabitation or recycling of the architecture of colonisation at the moment this architecture is unplugged from the military/political power that charged it. Recognising that Israeli colonies and military bases are amongst the most excruciating instruments of domination, we assume that a viable approach to the issue of their appropriation is to be found not only in the professional language of architecture and planning but rather in incorporating varied cultural and political perspectives within an architectural arena of speculation.

Gaza 2005

Israel's attitude to the question of the evacuation of the settlement and their buildings is tied to the

  1. Decolonisation: We suggest revisiting the term of 'decolonisation' in order to maintain a distance from the current political terms of a 'solution' to the Palestinian conflict and its respective borders. The one-, two- and now three-state solutions seem equally entrapped in a 'top-down' perspective, each with its own self-referential logic. Colonial regimes are exemplified by various aspects of force relations beyond formal exclusions. Decolonisation implies a continuous process that aims at the dismantling of the existing dominant structure - financial, military and legal - conceived for the benefit of a single national-ethnic group, and engaging a struggle for justice and equality. Decolonisation does not necessarily imply the forced transfer of populations. Under the term decolonisation, for example, Jewish communities could go and live in the Palestinian areas.

  2. Public Lands. The differences between the various categories of collective land ownership were erased by the regime of occupation, which considered all these lands as 'public lands' and thus as the property of the sovereign. As sovereign Israel used these 'public lands' to construct upon these areas most its settlements.

  3. The Public, the Communal and the Non-Governmental. The long period of Palestinian 'statelessness' under colonialism shifted the manner by which public space is understood and functions. Until the beginning of the 1990s, Palestinian cities where directly managed by the Israeli Military. Through the 'civil administration' the military controlled planning and development permission and thus the central activities of the different municipalities. During this period the Palestinian cities where transformed into dormitory towns with very little public space. Furthermore, the 'civil administration' actively inhibited pubic institutions from developing. Private clubs, cinemas, schools and universities were put under close scrutiny or forcibly shut. The military required any association of more than three persons to have a permit. But difficulty in establishing and maintaining public institutions persisted even after the Oslo accord of 1993. The main reasons that impeded the creation of open public space in the Palestinian cities were the borders set up for Palestinian 'self administered areas'. These borders where drawn tightly around the build up area of the Palestinian cities and villages leaving out little potential land for new construction. The structure of land ownership within Palestinian cities meant that very little land was not privately owned, and municipalities have had a difficult access to lands. Most open spaces and new institutions were created by the many international organisations and NGOs.

  4. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (trans. Constance Farrington), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2003, p.27

  5. The morning after. The first moment of access to the colonies and to the military bases is a possible moment of transgression whose consequences are unpredictable. Although in the Gaza Strip it was the Israelis who demolished most of the buildings, those buildings left intact (mainly public, industrial and agricultural buildings) were mostly destroyed by the Palestinians. The morning after the military left, Palestinians carried out as many remnants of building materials they could use and carry. This destruction is a spontaneous architectural moment of re-appropriation, and as such we believe that it should not be prevented or controlled. It is only after the indeterminate result of this moment of first encounter, and within the possible rubble of its physical results, that architectural construction may begin. It is important to also note that some of the municipal buildings of one of the evacuated Gaza colonies (Neve Dekalim) has turned into the nucleus for the Islamic university of Al Quds.

  6. Al-Muqata. An interesting example in this category is Al-Muqata in Ramallah, the present-day seat of the Palestinian President. It was built by the British military as part of their effort to put down the Arab revolt of 1936-39 (often referred to as 'the first intifada'). From 1948 to 1967 it was used as a military base and prison by the Jordanian military and for the same purposes by the Israeli army after 1967. The place was evacuated as part of the Oslo process and became Arafat's headquarters. During this time the compound was closed off and monitored, and some of the cells were used again for incarceration and torture. After the death of Arafat the place was monumentalised into a site of pilgrimage.

  7. Derek Walcott, 'Ruins of a Great House', 1956. Available at http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=9184 (last accessed on 16 December 2008).

  8. Ann Laura Stoler, 'Imperial Debris, Reflections On Ruins And Ruination', Cultural Anthropology, Spring 2008.

  9. Combined use. Although our proposals are based essentially on the third approach, we consider the possibility in some cases of also using the other two at the same time. Demolition, for example, will be important in cases in which colonies or military camps are constructed in particularly valuable landscape areas, just as simple reuse as residences could be proposed in areas where demand for housing is particularly urgent and in which colonial architecture is constructed on lands belonging to private Palestinians. In these cases, only the owners can decide on the future reuse of these structures.

  10. NGOcracy: The role that NGOs play in Palestinian society must be explained: Palestinian civil society was greatly strengthened during the Intifada of 1987-92. Local leaders organized resistance and a set of alternative services like schooling and medicine, to those shut off by the Israeli army. When the Palestinian Authority was established in 1993 there was a clash between two systems of government. The Palestinian Authority, whose leaders have largely come from abroad, attempted to centralise and regulate the network of self-governing institutions that developed throughout the Intifada. The network of institutions locally formed during the first Intifada was transformed into the infrastructural framework of contemporary NGOs in Palestine. The local leaders of the first Intifada largely preferred to become directors of NGOs rather than 'officials' in the Authority. Most former leaders of the leftist 'Popular Front' are now directing leading NGOs. A good example is Mustafa Barghouthi and his healthcare network. The West Bank has since been governed in parallel by the Palestinian Authority and by a series of local and international NGOs, both under the umbrella of ultimate Israeli sovereignty. In many cases Palestinian NGOcracy (as the phenomenon came to be known) provided better quality services - medical, educational, planning - than those of the Palestinian Authority, which was always 'less than a government in less than a state'. NGOcracy has its dangers of course. Most NGOs, much like the Palestinian Authority, are internationally funded, and although donors are operating 'in support of Palestinians' they are in fact not accountable to the people of Palestine and often pursue the cultural and political agendas of the donor states. Philanthropy has thus become one of the main vehicles for western countries to intervene within the politics and culture of Palestine. Baring these dangers in mind, the network of NGOs seems to us an important vehicle in developing new types of Palestinian public, social and communal spaces, and some NGOs might be the first to occupy the evacuated and transformed spaces. We have noticed that the archives of these NGOs are also the 'living archives' of Palestine. A combined archive of the hundreds of local NGOs, or access thereof, would provide information about the environment, welfare, human rights and politics throughout Palestine, and thus offers a diffused and multi-focal alternative to state centred information centers.

  11. The Smile. Whenever we presented and discussed our plans and models the initial reaction of our discussants was a smile. In the beginning we feared we were ridiculed. Were our plans too far fetched and outlandish within this environment of permanent impossibility? It is true that models are reduced worlds 'under control' and that they often make people smile. Everybody likes models. But on the other hand, the smile we noticed may be the first moment of decolonization. It is feels strange - particularly for Palestinians - to imagine the transformation of Israeli settlements. But we would like to interpret the smile as an opening up of the imagination to a different future. Decolonisation starts when Palestinians articulate their right to plan their future and regain their agency.