Earlier this week, a group of about 250 Palestinians gathered in East Jerusalem in the E1 Area where the Israeli government announced the construction of 3,000 new housing units after the recent UN vote granting Palestine a status of observer member at the General Assembly. This group of people established a small village made out of tents on what is being stated as Palestinian owned private land. The photograph above shows the tents being set-up with the largest Israeli settlement in the West Bank in the background, Ma’ale Adummim (see previous article). Since then, the encampment got evicted by the Israeli army under the reason that it represented “a danger for the security of the area.”
You can read more about this story on +972 Magazine website but beyond this event, I would like to insist on the legal status tackled here. The opposition of the two settlements in one image allows us to question their relationship to the law. In both cases, there is a clear will to go against a legal system. As we know the Israeli settlements are in violation of the article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (see previous article) and therefore constitute a disobedience to the International Law. The Palestinian tent village, on the other hand, affirms a disobedience to another law, the colonial one, which was designed in a clear spirit of domination from one people on another. Of course, international law is not to be unquestionned as it has been, as always, thought and implemented by “the winners of history”, in that case, the winning countries of the Second World War. However, it does not seem irrational to consider that a law established after the horror of the war and designed in the abstraction of future conflict needs to prevail over another one which was designed unilaterally by a state with a clear self-centered agenda. After all, the state of Israel itself was implemented around the same time than the Geneva Convention and its very existence should not be reconsidered in my opinion.
In both cases, the disobedience is territorial and architectural. In that matter, the very ‘language’ of architecture used here is far from innocent. The fragile, precarious and manually built tents are a response to the various fences, walls and watch towers of the Israeli settlements. Such a dichotomy indicates the asymmetric forces involved between a state organized militarized operations of claiming a land and an immanent encampment in which the determination is affirmed through the very presence of their bodies. As I have been writing earlier (in the context of the Occupy movement), we have only one body and it can be only in one place at a time; therefore, the place we choose to be cannot be innocent and this choice can be said to be political in its very essence.
Few months ago, Joanne Pouzenc from CollageLab proposed that we would have an epistolary conversation in the frame of the CollageLab’s Points of view series which was opened by our good friend Daniel Fernandez Pascual. This conversation is still going on but while waiting for the publication of new articles here, I would like to propose what has been written so far as I suppose that it is a useful definition of the Funambulist’s editorial line:
There is a beautiful image behind the Funambulist: the image of this passionate guy in love with challenge, control and fear, putting himself in danger to either just reach the other side or because of its addiction to tension and adrenaline.
But for you, who and what is The Funambulist? What is the process behind it? And how did it started?
Apparatus and system for augmented detainee restraint. Patent assigned to Scottsdale Inventions LLC (2012)
The following article is a good opportunity for me to open a new category in the blog’s archive, one that I voluntarily keep very focused to differentiate itself from broader one (like ‘weaponized architecture‘ for example). This new category is entitled ‘cruel design‘ and gathers only pieces of industrial design or architecture whose primarily function is to subjectivize one’s body to an absolute submission. This characteristic is thought in differentiation to the many examples I have been writing about, which applies their controlling power on the bodies in a more subtle and disguised yet operative way.
A new example of this will to subdue a body in an absolute embrace of the violence of design upon the bodies, is given to us through the filing of a patent of a new kind of handcuffs by its inventor company, Scottsdale Inventions LLC as the website Patent Bolt reports. Those handcuffs, called Apparatus and system for augmented detainee restraint for the patent filing, enforce the restraint by electroshock and/or drug injection:
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.
Map of the Gaza Strip (Dec 2011) /// United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory
I think that many of us are infuriated in front of the unfolding new siege over Gaza by the Israeli army. As horrifying as those images of children and entire families being struck by the bombs sent by aircraft, battleships, drones or other remote controlled machine guns, it is extremely important to also insist on the daily oppression that the people of the Gaza strip have to face even when they are not being bombed. Since 2006 and the Israeli disengagement of its settlement within the strip, the situation is different from the one in the West Bank -which I have to say, I am more familiar with. When the West Bank has to suffer from multiple colonial apparatuses, Gaza functions pretty much as a gigantic prison from which, it is almost impossible to escape -even the Egyptian border remains close to most people. Most of the needs of its people (water, food, electricity, phone & internet networks etc.) is provided directly by Israel (for most of it, see the last map of this article) who has been, along the years, quite literally experimenting how little it could provide without provoking a severe humanitarian crisis in the eyes of the International Community. The access to the sea itself is heavily restricted – and enforced with real rockets – by the IDF to keep Gaza fishermen’s boats within a limit of three nautical miles. Needless to say, fishing cannot be a strong economy in this context.
The strip is thus a scale 1 experiment for the Israeli state to determine how to sustain the lives of 1.7 millions Palestinians – apparently more for its International reputation than for its philanthropic will as we can currently see – with the minimum of ressources. But, this very small piece of territory – and to some extents, this is also true in the West Bank – is also a terrain of experiments for military training and weapon technology. As some specialists have been detecting, some US military officials have been often spotted during IDF operations in a clear attempt to learn how to lead a siege in the Middle East. After the operation Lead Cast in Dec 2008-Jan 09 that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians of all ages, the Goldstone Report and various other testimonies have shown that white phosphorus bombs and flechette shells which are categorically banned by the International legislation. The various apparatuses of control around the Strip are also an opportunity for the Israeli army to implement new technology in matter of weapons like remote controlled machine gun stations t0 prevent the access of the ‘no-go zone’ (about 500 meters from the green line) and the ‘high risks zone (fron 500 to 1,500 meters from the green line):
map of the American military apparatuses on and around Manhattan as well as the strike records of the day / Map by Léopold Lambert
Two funerals, two faces of Manhattan. The first a display of strength and defiance, a jostling mass of thousands of conflict-hardened men, many brandishing weapons, pledging readiness to die for their cause over the bloodied corpse of the Commune resistance’s commander Louisa Davis.
The second consisted of a shattered family, incomprehension etched on their faces. A young father clutched the shrouded body of his 11-month-old son, a victim of the violence that is likely to cause more deaths in the days to come.
The thread connecting these two scenes could be found in the vapour trails hanging in the clear skies above Harlem, the black clouds of smoke rising from the ground and the thuds and booms punctuating the unsettling quiet of its usually bustling streets.
The newspaper The Independent recently released an article about the strategical layout of supermarkets. It is well known that nothing is really innocent in order to optimize the profits, but here the article provides a precise location and analysis of each part of this hyper-controlled territory.
The power of the plan is here at its most visible expression. Seen from above by the architect (whether (s)he is actually a certified architect or not is irrelevant), this arrangement of lines directs the bodies that are subjected to their materialization. The architect laughs to see them following her (his) plan, they think that they are free but do not see the mechanisms that conditions their behavior. Himself (herself), when (s)he leaves the office does not realize that (s)he is also subjected to a whole system of lines that have been thought by a multitude of other architects, designers, politicians, economists, advertisers, and various other experts who often think that they act for the common good.
Following Spinoza’s philosophy, we should not pursue a total anticipation from those lines and layout, but rather, we should acquire an enhanced awareness of how their power operate in order to decrease the power they get us subjected to. Similarly, as designers, we cannot trace lines deprived of power; however we can attempt as much as possible that this power precisely serves the principles of an individual or collective minor ethics in opposition to the normalized set of behaviors linked to a dominant economic-political system. Ignoring the power of the lines would simply doom us to serve the latter.
Beginning of the transcript…
It all started two weeks before the declaration of the Commune. Thousands of us invaded the incomplete structures of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan. We took action when most of us were getting evicted from our homes after the rents doubled in the last few years. The occupation started as a form of protest, but quickly evolved towards a real alternative-society model. We set up camps on the hundreds of slabs of the towers and started to live in them in a new form of urban living. Multitudes of hoists were insuring the vertical communication of food, essential goods and reclaimed construction material from the ground.
The first time that the NYPD attempted to take back control of the site, we were disorganized and managed to make them retreat only after having outnumbered them. When they came back a few days later, our defensive strategy was more responsive, and the hundreds of policemen did not even succeed in entering the site. Every day we were gathering in small assemblies to debate and construct the particulars of our small society. Many people were exhausted and discussions could quickly become harsh and long, but only a limited number of people left the movement during the occupation.
One night, after a bit less than two months of common life in the towers, we were suddenly awakened by the loud noise of a flock of helicopters that quickly invaded our space with their powerful spotlights. While Special Forces were landing on the roofs, hundreds of police officers in full riot gear were climbing up the structures, arresting all the people they encountered. The surprise of the attack led to a general panic that reached a dangerous level on some overcrowded floors. It was only after few hours of systematized and serial arrests, when the towers were almost emptied, that the event that would make history occurred. Even today, it remains unclear what really happened. A small number of us were still on the ground, ready to be brought away in the MTA buses requisitioned by the NYPD, when we heard a terrifying scream and made out in the darkness of the dawn the fall of a frail body from one of the highest floors of the main tower. Whether it was a suicide, an accident, or a murder was irrelevant to us. What we knew is that this tragic event would have never occurred without the police’s armed attack. Our rage was growing on the way to Rikers Island, where the thousand of us who had gotten arrested were eventually corralled in the central courtyard.
Mule Creek State Prison (Ione, California)
(Note the “No Warning Shot is Required Sign”)
The overcrowded Californian prisons give us an idea of the current architectural carceral paradigm. Far from the elaborated 19th century drawings of Jeremy Bentham, entire parts of those prisons are simple warehouse hosting dozens of detainees with no other internal wall than the rough-and-ready three stories beds aligned on a virtual grid. The pre-18th century jail was a dark dungeon in which prisoners were forgotten by the otherness, the current one, on the opposite, sinks the detainees in a strong and crude white light (even during the night) in a hall where every act and move are being potentially observed. The United States currently counts over 2,3 millions incarcerated people (about 3% of the adult population) and the State of California in particular, hosts 140,000 detainees reaching an overcrowded status that the Supreme Court has recently judged unconstitutional.
As I have been writing many times, the question of the design of a prison is an interesting one as it makes us face the extreme of architecture’s power over the bodies. The perpetual question for an architect consist in wondering if one might accept to design such a program, and in the case of a refusal, if one should even design offices, banks, stores etc. But if we do accept such a commission in the hope of making things better from “the inside”, one has to face a peculiar question when asked to design a prison. Even the most considerate architect has to recognize that the very essence of this program consists in providing life conditions bad enough to constitute an instrument of punishment. There has been some recent discussions about Scandinavian prisons (and for that matter, even about Scandinavian punishment system) which were said to be too comfortable to be considered as such. In that regard – and to stay within this logic – the Californian prison’s gymnasiums can be legitimately considered as good design as it precisely serves the punitive essence of prisons…
However, since the change of paradigm pointed out by Michel Foucault in his book, Discipline and Punishment, the new forms (since the end of the 18th century) of incarceration not only still include the old purposes of punishment and example, they also incorporate the goal of repent and “healing” for each prisoner. For this last purpose, punishment should not be excessive as it might radicalize the detainee against the society that put him at the center of an inclusive exclusion. In that matter, design is considered as an important catalyst and probably needs to be much more elaborated and humane than the Californian warehouses. Once again, I argue here in the position of somebody who would have accepted to design a prison in the first place. On the opposite position, we might want to argue that the very notion of a punitive architecture is obsolete and that we need to come up with new ways (which are likely to have nothing to do with design) of dealing with crime in a given society.
Shipping containers fortifying the Lahore Press Club in preparation for protests against the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims madeby convicted felon Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Photographer unknown.
First of all, I would like to apologize for the inconsistency in the guest writers essays’ schedule. After a long period of time without them, they are now flowing in the blog’s editorial choice; soon enough we should be back on a rhythm in which you will be able to read one per week.
The essay City, Space, Power: Lahore’s Architecture of In/Security, written by Sadia Shirazi is a brilliant mix of personal observations and thorough analyses of the current use of architecture in the city of Lahore (Pakistan) as a securitarian weapon. The notion of security is cleverly played with in Sadia’s title here, as her texts illustrates how Lahore’s inhabitants’ daily lives are subjected to the paradoxical violence of processes of securitization. Far from the evanescent spotlights of the media that cover consistently the terror attacks with no further perspective, the “architecture of in/security” is experienced every day by millions of people who are affected by it. Through a cartographic assignment Sadia also exposes how this same architecture, despite its effect on everyone, is implemented mostly in favor of the higher social classes and, ultimately participate to the literal fragmentation of classes within the city.
City, Space, Power: Lahore’s Architecture of In/Security
by Sadia Shirazi
The Power of Architecture – photomontage by the author (2012)
Recently, I was lucky enough to be asked to write an article for the seventh issue of the Chilean journal SPAM and I decided to use this opportunity to articulate the clumsy addition of ideas that I started to touch on during June’s “Foucault’s week.” I hope that the following text, Foucault and Architecture: The encounter that never was, is therefore a good synthesis of the argument I was trying to explore: Despite what architects might usually think, Michel Foucault never truly engaged the problem of the political power of architecture but rather kept investigating the notion of diagram. When confronted to this observation, we might find interesting to keep a Foucauldian method to address architecture.
Foucault and Architecture: The encounter that never was
by Léopold Lambert
curated by SPAM
A certain amount of architects often refers to Michel Foucault’s work as an inspiration to their design or their theoretical interpretation of our societies. The concepts invoked are almost always the same, and it is not rare to find in an architecture text, the notions of panopticon, heterotopia and/or utopian body. The thesis that I would like to defend in this text does not consist so much in the demonstration of architects’ misunderstanding of Foucault’s concepts, but rather that those spatial notions constituted only the frail premises of what could have been the Foucauldian interpretation of space. The research work that he produced through the fastidious descriptions of mechanisms of power involved within the institutions helps us to determine the precision that such an interpretation requires. To be a Foucauldian architect does not therefore consists in the repetition of his theses, but rather in their extension to which should be applied the same cogency. As a matter of fact, the first thing that a Foucauldian architect needs to understand consists in the paradoxical fact that Foucault underestimated the power contained by architecture as such.
The article Practicing Restraint written by Will Wiles for the last issue of Cabinet about punishment is a very interesting article introducing the cruel piece of design embodied by the straightjacket (camisole de force). I am used to write about architectures or instruments that are not necessarily assimilated to objects of restraints but which are ultimately achieving this effect on the body. The straightjacket, on the contrary, “wears” the violence it inflicts to the body in a demonstrative manner. The similitude to a traditional jacket reinforce this violent appearance; as if the game we played as children to cross our sleeves was transformed into a nightmare when we realized that the sleeves could not go back to normal.
Nevertheless,as W.Wiles points out in the very beginning of this article, this invention, along with the guillotine (another famous piece of French design!), constitutes the product of a technocratic will of reducing cruelty in comparison of previous objects in charge of the same functions. The guillotine’s operation used to be performed by an executioner with an axe with all the painful imprecision that it implies. The guillotine, invented during the terror, right after the French Revolution, constituted a more efficient mean of executing someone to the point that it remained the official instrument of French death penalty until its abolition in 1981. Similarly, the straightjacket’s function used to be insured by chains and was therefore considered as a form of progress when it was introduced as a new object of restraint at the Hopital Bicêtre in 1790 (two years only before the invention of the guillotine!). In his article, W.Wiles quotes Scottish physician William Cullen in 1784:
As I wrote in a previous post, I was lucky enough to be included in LOG 25 Reclaim Resi[lience]stance, edited by Cynthia Davidson and curated by François Roche. My essay consisted in a historical philosophical interpretation of the two very specific architectures that are the barricade and the tunnel. As said in the text, the title Abject Matter, is both communicating my will to read them through a materialist philosophy, as well as my questioning of the recurrent terminology of counter-insurgent strategies that tends to associate insurrections and social movements with filthiness and infection. I concluded my text with a short introduction to Gilbert Simondon’s concepts of form and matter, that I am hopeful to develop a bit more in the near future.
Abject Matter: The Barricade and the Tunnel
by Léopold Lambert
Seen through a materialist reading, the built environment can be a way of contextualizing political struggle. Architecture, as a modification of the material world, allows us to observe the political implications of such transformations. Whether intentionally or not, it has been recurrently used as an instrument of control upon bodies, and considering architecture’s ability to transgress a given system’s rules, the discipline seems inherently in collusion with this same system. Given this conundrum, is it possible to conceive of a resistive architecture? Two different operations on matter – aggregating and digging – can be seen as acts of creation toward two potentially resistive architectural typologies: the barricade and the tunnel.
Time Square on October 17th 2011 /// Photograph by Léopold Lambert
In March 2012, I wrote a text for my friend Lucas Issey Yoshinaga who was contributing to the Brazilian book Approach edited by Gustavo Utrabo, Juliano Monteiro, Pedro Duschenes & Hugo Loss. The other contributors ended up to be Graham Harman, Nannette Jackowski . Ricardo de Ostos & Bernardo Bento for a collection of five texts about our perception of the architectural discipline. I entitled mine Impetus, as a reflection on the current return of politics within the architectural discourse and education. This wondering/wandering was then based on the question on whether or not this new interest for politics was simply based on a opportunist trend or could potentially be crystallized and then engaged as a non-avoidable dimension of the architectural practice.
I recommend the reading of this very well made little bilingual (Portuguese & English) book that cultivates architecture’s sense of doubt about its role and action. The title, Approach, is a good indicator of its editors’ consideration for those texts which tries to avoid a peremptory tone to prefer a more dubious one. If you would like a copy you can write to mail(AT)alephzero.arq.br
by Léopold Lambert
In an old article about the notion of urbicide, I was introducing some ideas developed by Eyal Weizman in one of his lectures entitled Forensic Architecture. In the latter, he was calling for an approach of the international law based on architectural evidences. This approach corresponds to a current integration of building science in the practice of war, and therefore proposes its counter-weight in the frame of trials examining war crimes and other violations of the international legislation. Our era brings a very important amount of data that can serve the reconstitution of conflictual situations if they are interpreted by experts (in that case, engineers, architects etc.). Wars do not happen anymore in (battle)fields, but within cities and, most of the time, in the frame of asymmetric conflicts. It is logical that the same actors who builds the city are also the ones who can understand -if they decide that they want to understand- the use of the city made by the belligerents.
It turns out that Forensic Architecture is now a group of research hosted by the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths University (London). It involves many actors who work on different cases requiring their expertise. While some questions the current legislation about white phosphorus munitions, others reconstitute the ballistic of a tear gas grenade that tragically killed a Palestinian activist; some others are interested in the American drone attacks in Pakistan and the tragic regular shipwrecks between Libya and Europe.
This research council is extremely important when one is eager to consider it outside of the Academia in which it is hosted. It allows a whole new sort of forensic experts in a complex context for which traditional fields of expertise are not enough to solve crimes that are perpetuated in a very skilled knowledge of the international law’s weakness. Let’s not forget that in the current (civil or international) wars, the direct weapons that kill the most important amount of people are precisely the buildings themselves. One might say that buildings don’t get destroyed by themselves; however, the fact that ultimately it is the building that brings its inhabitants to die when it collapses is sufficiently appalling for architects to look very closely at this aspect of their field of knowledge.
For the last seven days, a group of twenty Eritrean refugees have been trapped between the two fences materializing the border between Egypt and Israel as they were trying to enter the latter. Today, the group was dismissed as a vast majority of them was expelled and three of them were brought to a detention center on the Israeli territory. This short post does not even want to spend too much time deploring the “normal xenophobia” that motivates European countries and Israel to let migrants dying at their frontiers – in that case, and from the article in the Guardian, one of the women of the group miscarried a child as no other humanitarian aid was brought to them other than a limited amount of water. This reality reached a long time ago the tragic stage where it has been accepted as a collateral effect of globalization and would requires a much longer article.
What I would like to stress on here is the geometrical paradox that makes a border acquiring a thickness. In reality, the line traced on a map is often materialized by a physical element and inevitably, this element has a given thickness. In that case, the materialization of the abstract border is achieved by a double fence, thus creating a space in between that seems ambiguous on the legal level. Technically this space is on the Israeli territory. Nevertheless, for seven full days, the state of Israel refused to grant access to its territory to those twenty migrants, implying that this space was not part of this same territory. Harriet Sherwood for the Guardian even precises:
An Israeli government spokesman said: “According to international practices and binding precedents, the fence is a de facto border, and therefore anyone who is beyond it is not located in Israeli territory and is therefore not eligible for automatic entry.”
Similarly to the Korean DMZ, or the Cypriot Buffer Zone, the space between the two lines of fences carries a legal status that is not the same than the ones on each of its sides. Whoever lives in this space can be said to be liberated from the law. However, such a liberation also implies the loss of a legal status for each individual which then becomes the target of one or both sides’ fire, or in that case, the dispossession of the right to be treated humanely both by Egypt and Israel. In his book, Homo Sacer, Giorgio Agamben invents the now well-known concept of bare life to characterizes the individuals subjected to the state of exception and who are now expelled completely from the political and legal process. We can probably attribute the border’s thickness as the space, par excellence that provides the conditions of existence of the bare life status.
Today’s guest writer comes from my dear friend Nora Akawi, who was kind enough to make it happen in a very busy schedule between her practice and teaching in Jerusalem, and her new responsibilities as the curator of the Amman Lab, the branch of New York Columbia University’s Studio-X in Jordan. In the following text, Mapping Intervals: Towards an Emancipated Cartography, she introduces the archive, and more precisely, the map as instruments of power through the subjective narrative they convey. Colonial mapping, collective forgetfulness, cultural genocide and domain name system are as many problematic aspects of the dissensus created by the attempted collective materialization of memory. In this regard, Nora quotes Jacques Derrida who affirms that “there is no political power without control of the archive, if not of memory.” From there, she examines what could possibly be an “emancipated cartography”, which would not refuse this control without which there is no political power, but rather would attempt to articulate the multiplicity of cultural narratives as the very essence of its materialization.
Mapping Intervals: Towards an Emancipated Cartography
by Nora Akawi
The map as a tool for domination is the visual inscription of a seamless story for a specific group of people sharing specific characteristics. It represents their history, knowledge and claims for control within a territory with specific borders.
So what is a map as a tool for liberation?
It has been a very long time that I did not write about the movement Take Back the Land (see previous article) which allows to ask very interesting questions about civil disobedience and fundamental rights. This movement, often represented by Max Rameau, constitutes, to my knowledge, the most illustrative and efficient illegal practice of architecture. In fact, the movement reclaims city’s space that suffered from speculative operations (vacant parcels, foreclosed homes) in order to accommodate those who, precisely, were the human victims of these same operations. The resistive actions orchestrated by Take Back the Land, beyond the simple civil disobedience, are implemented within the broader framework of a dialogue with the local community (neighbors and other people helped by these actions). Such a dialogue, not only organizes a better control of a group of people on the space it lives in, but it also sustain the illegal operations in time as it creates processes of defensiveness within a whole neighborhood putting pressure on the municipal authorities and the police.
The movement’s objectives are interesting to look at as they introduces very clearly what those resistive operations are trying to achieve:
- Fundamentally transform land relationships;
- Elevate housing to the level of a human right;
- Community control over land and housing;
- Empower impacted communities, particularly low income communities of color.
The Palestinian Archipelago: Island of Al Walajah surrounded by reefs /// Metaphorical map by the author
To mark the unfortunate anniversary of the Separation Barrier whose construction has been started ten years ago by the Israeli government, the online magazine +972 published a dossier about various aspects of the Palestinian life as changed by the wall. Let’s remind everybody that the wall is not following the 1949 armistice Green Line which separates Israel from the Palestinian territories, but rather attempts to push its line as far as possible within the West Bank in order to bring as many settlements as possible on the same side than the Israeli territory.
One of this +972 dossier’s chapter is dedicated to the case of the village of Al Walajah near Bethlehem. This village is situated very close from the Israeli settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo and is thus planned to be surrounded by the wall as a form of inclusive exclusion (read the previous article about the book with the same name). The village is already almost enclosed by the wall and only one last part remains to be built. According to Israeli journalist Haggai Matar who wrote the article, “The High Court at first stopped construction of the wall, but in 2011 allowed the state to proceed with construction even though a final ruling on the route has not been given.” Israel promised to build a tunnel for the village to be able to reach Bethlehem, but farmers won’t get an access to their land and the village in general will be surrounded by a wall and thus deprived from its direct environment.
It is important to observe that Al Waljah is also separated from Bethlehem by the well-known viaduct of Gilo (see maps and photo below). Most illustrative example of the Israeli colonial infrastructure, it carries a highway for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers and army. Walls, Settlements, and colonial roads constitute the reefs that transformed the “continental” land of Al Walajah into an isolated island of the Palestinian Archipelago. In this regard, this village’s situation is very similar to another one which has been already enclosed by the wall, Bir Nabala, not far from Ramallah that I evoked in a past article about the Israeli West Bank Highway, the route 443.
It is not the first time -nor it will be the last probably- that I evoke the Kowloon Walled City (see this past article for example) as a Proletarian Fortress which is very interesting to look at as it provides us a historical example of a district which immanently constructed its own form of urbanity. In few decades, this housing block like it exists many of them in Hong Kong, got transformed by its inhabitants into a compact piece of city in which all object and person finds its place and function despite the density. The section drew by Japanese architects for the book 大図解九龍城, is very illustrative of what life has been like in the Walled City as it includes a multitude of micro-scenarios animating the district from the darkness of the ground to the aerated rooftops. The Walled City, by its relative self-sufficiency was the object of many myths from the outside population and authorities who was seeing it as a criminal neighborhood, argument that was used to destroy it in 1993. The density of the district as well as the addition of many alternative bridges and pathways was making it indeed very difficult to control and the police is said to have simply gave up on it. From what several authors who worked on it tell us, although the walled city was a shelter for drug addicts, criminals were not living in it.
Graphic narratives seem the right way to describe such district as it allows the restitution of the richness of micro-events and sociality that were occurring in it. The global section (see below) is therefore full of small annotations describing those micro-events. Rio Akasaka had the good idea to translate them into English and to put them online. I also extracted a dozen of significant details from the section that can be seen below.