# PALESTINE /// Architectural Stockholm Syndrome

Israeli Settlement of Kokhav Ya’akov / New Palestinian Housing Complex (both near Ramallah) /// Photographs by Léopold Lambert

I wrote many times about the numerous Israeli settlements in the West Bank (I will repeat once again that they violate the article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention), but I never dedicated a whole article about what I call here an Architectural Stockholm Syndrome that is symptomatic of a problem within the Palestinian society. This syndrome that you can observe in the two pictures above lies in the quasi-imitation of those settlements’ architecture and planning for new groups of Palestinian buildings.

It has been shown many times that colonization defines itself by an absolute intrusion of a nation into another’s collective life and imaginary. One has to understand that the docile policies of the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank for almost two decades had for result to allow the bourgeoisie to develop within the Palestinian society. This bourgeoisie, in addition of strongly contrasting with the 25% unemployed people of the West Bank, is mostly depoliticized and, for part of it, silently accommodates itself of the status quo of the conflict. The architectural consequence of this class struggle within a broader geopolitical struggle is the development of those somehow luxurious groups of housing buildings, built in what must be a more or less aware reproduction of the newest and most luxurious examples of the region: the Israeli settlements.

The political consequence of such ambiguity between the colonized and the colon, in addition of the well understood internal class issues it creates, consists in the dismantlement of the creative collective imaginary that ties a nation together when it is oppressed by another one. It also participates to the ratification of the current situation as it introduces various forms of comfort which are in complete contradiction with the participation to the struggle. This contradiction has been perfectly understood by the Palestinian refugees in this regard. When offered to improve their life conditions in the numerous camps of the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, they have been consistently refusing for three generations, as such improvement would be a form of acceptance of their current situation as a definitive one. On the contrary, their rudimentary conditions of life keep them in a wakefulness position that can easily serve a political participation.

The Palestinian bourgeoisie simply follows the economical policies of the Palestinian Authority, and more specifically those of Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister – although he had never been confirmed by the Palestinian Legislative Council which has been physically unable to meet since 2007 – who is leading a large strategy of estate development in the Area A around Ramallah. In this regard, the latter is implicitly accepted as the capital city of an hypothetical Palestinian state, when the real capital is supposed to be East Jerusalem, which has been annexed by Israel in 1967 and since then, included on its side of the barrier when the latter was built.

As I have been attempting to show in this article, architecture is extremely far from being innocent in this external and internal politics. In this specific symptomatic description, architecture can be considered as a weapon that serves a minority but severely hurts the Palestinian commons. Nevertheless, we can and must act to the creation of a Palestinian architecture that could both uses tradition (the work accomplished by Riwaq in this matter is remarkable) and a more specific response to the occupation (like strategical propositions by Decolonizing Architecture). This architecture would thus be weaponized to the same two levels than the one that reproduces the colonization’s scheme: it would both expresses the Palestinian’s nation identity and actively take part to the territorial struggle engaged in the West Bank.

Those of my readers who know me a little bit might be aware that I modestly attempted to give a small proposition for such an architecture (with all the faults that it involves), but I will have the occasion to talk slightly more about that soon (although I refuse to publish my design work on this platform).

On the left, the same new Palestinian Housing Complex; on the right, the Israeli Settlement of Kokhav Ya’akov

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It seems to me that you are (unawarely perhaps?) romanticizing the rudimentary conditions Palestinians are living in. I’ve read Yiftachel’s work on ‘grey geographies’ and I understand how re-building one’s destroyed home and other spaces can be understood as a practise of resistance. However, I wouldn’t so readily jump to your conclusion. Robert Neuwirth on our “shadow cities” TED Jul 2005) was debited with committing a similar conceptual fallacy. I quote:
“this extreme and patronizing exotization of the poverty legitimates the miserable conditions in which people in slums (or ‘cities of the future’) lives, and ignores –or naturalizes– the public policy underlying the perpetuation of poverty. Is this a first-world or educated middle-class disease? I’ve seen discourses like that in Colombia, claiming that life in the most abject slums is just ‘free and simple’. Who benefits with the ‘softening’ of the visions of poverty?”
Since you recognize that there is “a class struggle within a broader geopolitical struggle” it is required to pay attention to the former struggle independently from the latter, inasmuch as the two may be connected. It is easy for one such as myself, for example, to discredit the bourgeoisie but in the developing world this is a desired status to arrive to. It signals the people’s exit from poverty.
There is of course something hauntingly uncanny in these Palestinian settlements appropriating their colonizer’s aesthetics (something similar happened in Cyprus in the late 50s when Cypriots begun altering their private homes by incorporating architectural features developed by the British for the houses for their personel in Cyprus). Nevertheless, this appropriation was also the result of cultural exchange, and not only of dominance.
Also, strategical architectural propositions are key to the struggle (though I do not necessarily share your vision of a Palestinian architecture established on “tradition”), but the point is for the two societies to achieve soft co-existence, not hard segregation. If there is anything the western world can offer to the debate with sincerity is that ethno-nationalism has never achieved shared or common spaces. The predicament Palestinians and Israelis are sharing is not an isolated incidence of that region. Eventually, they will be required to design an inclusive solution and for that reason, I believe, architecture’s contribution -as a political tool- should be one that increases potentials rather than continue to draw hard, ethnical and economic lines.

Big fan of the blog by the way.

Léopold Lambert

Dear ‘Bufferer’ (is that Αντί?)

Thank you very much for your message and thank you for following the blog, it is always great to have some feedback.

I would certainly agree with you and Robert Neuwirth (who actually saw the project and presentation I was talking about at the very end of my article) that the romanticization of the slums by the architects is very often ridiculous. I believe that you are attributing a similar romanticizing to my writing – and you might be very right to a certain extent – as far as the refugee camp is concerned. What I wrote about, however, was ‘comfort’ and I think that there is a whole world between comfort and poverty. When I call for a non-comfortable architecture, this is not only for this given situation, but also in general and again, I think that there is a proper balance to find between precarious conditions and comfortable ones.
I find extremely problematic a society that has a bourgeoisie and simultaneously a 25% rate of unemployment like it is the case in the West Bank.

As for the specific Palestinian architecture, I was using the word tradition for three purposes: The first one was to go against a usual pro-Zionist argument that says that the Palestinian people is not an ancient one, which of course is wrong; the second one is that it seems important to understand the past to create something new, and the third one was simply to refer to the very important work accomplished by Riwaq.

In any case, thank you again for sending me out of my own ‘comfort’ (here we go again) zone.



I think it is a very interesting post.
Do you know by any chance what the “New Palestinian Housing Complex” is called” or what region it is in?


Léopold Lambert

Alex, the complex is a bit North of Ramallah on the road to Birzeit University. I don’t know the name of it but I bet that you can find it somewhere. Good luck!

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