“Palestine is There”: A Problem, Evidently, for the Cornell Chair of Architecture


October 6, 2020 ///

This Monday, Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay was kicking off the stellar lecture series Algerian architect and architectural historian Samia Henni has put together for the department of architecture at Cornell University in the United States. Entitled “Into the Desert: Questions of Coloniality and Toxicity,” this lecture series features a list of speakers that is arguably unheard of in the context of an architecture school. In this list, Aïsha is joined by Dalal Musaed Alsayer, Paulo Tavares, Asaiel Al Saeed, Aseel AlYaqoub, Saphiya Abu Al-Maati, Yousef Awaad, Nadim Samman, Menna Agha, Alessandra Ponte, Solveig Suess, and Zoé Samudzi. The topic of the desert as a site of colonial exploitation or invention is itself at the core of Samia’s ongoing research on the French nuclear testing in the Algerian desert between 1960 and 1966. 


For one hour, Ariella Aïsha Azoulay unfolded her brilliant lecture entitled “Palestine is There, Where it Has Always Been.” She argued with great rigor and precision how the very notion of the “desert” in the context of Palestine had been used as one of the main component of the Zionist narrative of the inexistence of Palestinian people in Palestine, and of the implementation of an Eurocentric idea of progress by the Israeli state in its endeavor to “make the desert bloom.” Such an engineered narrative thus allowed the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba (before and after the establishment of the Israeli state) and the subsequent construction of the settler colony known as Israel. Aïsha is herself the daughter of a Palestinian Jewish mother who grew up in pre-1948 Palestine and an Algerian Jewish father who was part of the Zionist effort to settle Palestine. She spent most of her life in Palestine. 


The lecture gathered many spectators who, for many, were shocked when, a few minutes after Aïsha had began her talk, a message was posted by the person in charge of the technical side of the session on a clear demand from the Chair of the department of architecture, Andrea Lee Simitch:


“We are aware that these topics are sensitive and have multiple view points and would like to assure all participants that the department is looking forward to organizing a future lecture that presents other view points than those that are offered here today and in subsequent talks.”


2020 1005
Screenshot of the message sent by the Cornell Chair of the Architecture Dept through IT.

While many antiracist and anticolonial remote conversations that happened in the last few months have been regularly interrupted by white supremacists and zionist provocateurs, the Cornell school of architecture apparently intends to take care itself of such interruptions. There is, of course, the blatant contempt displayed against the organizer of the series, as well as the speaker herself — imagine one second the Chair of a department interrupting an invited speaker after 10 minutes of her presentation to affirm that she “looks forward” to organizing a future event that would say the opposite of what she is exposing. This coward attack against Samia Henni and Ariella Aïsha Azoulay is outrageous and we would like to send them our moral and political support. However, our outrage extends much further the bounds of this specific talk.


Firstly, it is crucial to observe how works that examine and engage with the settler colonial conditions of Palestine are fundamentally more and more experiencing various forms of censorship. This usually culminates in the designation of anti-Zionist activists, including Jewish ones, as “antisemites” in a dangerous blur of what constitutes an antisemite speech or person, to the greatest joy of antisemites themselves. Just a few days ago, over 1,300 academics including Judith Butler, Diana Buttu, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Noura Erakat, Robin DG Kelley, and Ilan Pappe, called on academic institutions worldwide to end the censorship of works and speeches that explicitly supports the Palestinian struggle against colonialism and apartheid. The fact that such a censorship happens in an architecture school should not be forgotten either, as architecture is in no way a neutral tool in the matter. In fact, architecture, along with Israeli laws and military, is one of the key tools for the Israeli apartheid to implement itself all over Palestine. 


The second point has to do with the blatant hypocrisy of academic institutions, in particular architecture ones. Many of them have understood (at least in North America) that it was no longer acceptable for them to provide their students and faculty with curricula and lectures that reinforce the white-dominated, settler colonial, patriarchal, and heteronormative status quo. Some have reacted by organizing a few tokenized events around the Black Lives Matter uprising to hide the screaming lack of Black people in their administration, faculty, and student body; others, admittedly, have initiated more ambitious programs, such as this lecture series curated by Samia Henni. Yet, they evidently did not realize the consequence of what it means to be consistent between anti-colonial and anti-racist posturing and an actual engagement to dismantle the structures of colonialism and white supremacy.

This letter does not demand anything from Cornell’s Department of Architecture administration (besides not interrupting any other lectures of the series), as we know that any conciliatory statement from their end would be disingenuous. This is rather a means to expose their cowardice and hypocrisy so that such malign interventions cannot happen without being called out publicly. We also write this having in mind that this type of censorship can influence the students themselves. Let’s hope however that they will have seen the obvious asymmetry between, on the one hand, a brilliant, detailed, deep, and smart exposé and, on the other hand, a petty comment written from outside of the conversation by a Chair more worried about her liability than the quality of knowledge produced in her Department and who will now be looking for a zionist speaker to establish what she perceives to be an intellectual balance. The story does not tell yet whether she’ll also be inviting a masculinist in response to a feminist event, a white supremacist after a Black Lives Matter one, and a climate-change denier after an environmentalist one. As for us, we very much look forward to following the rest of the lecture series proposed by Samia Henni and hope that we’ll be joined by many of you during the next talks.

Léopold Lambert, editor-in-chief of The Funambulist
Margarida Waco, Head of Strategic Outreach, The Funambulist
Omar Berrada
Yasmine Tandjaoui
Isabelle Saint-Saens
Jessika Khazrik
Dr Gabriel Varghese
Merve Bedir
Nyla Matuk
Mona Rahal
Malak Al-faraj
Ethel Baraona Pohl, co-founder dpr-barcelona
Zanira Sandhu
Dr. Anne Kockelkorn, ETH Zurich
Nick Axel
Céline Cantat
Solveig Suess
Venko Curlin
Josué Pérez Campos
Ameneh Solati
Pascal Schwaighofer
Muriam Haleh Davis
Anaïs Duong-Pedica
Sabrien Amrov
Abdulla Janahi
Julien Lafontaine Carboni
Ekaterina Navarro
Guy Mannes-Abbott
Gopika Praveen
Aurélie Faure
Mark Ayyash
Tasnim T
Meera Badran
Ana María León
Maria Topolcanska
Victoria Ngai
Layal ftouni, Utrecht university
Chiraz Gafsia
Mabel O. Wilson
Paola De Martin
Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, Barnard College, Columbia University
Augustin Jomier
Kareem Estefan
Rashid Khalidi
Michiel Dehaene
Razan Abou Askar
Shai Gortler
Carmen Popescu
Lucas Morin
Socrates Stratis, Associate Professor University of Cyprus, Cornell alumni
Michael Moynihan
Secil Binboga
Ana Ozaki
Nadia Jones-Gailani, Gender Studies, CEU
Reinhold Martin
Sarah Rusconi Origoni
Eudes Lopes
Philip Ursprung, ETH Zurich
Charles Heller
Constantina Theodorou
Maya Ober, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel
Lesley Lokko
Sara Diaz
Basil Harb
Caleb Lightfoot
Aseel AlYaqoub
César Reyes Nájera
Jean-Philippe Halgand
Brinkley Messick
Andrew Curtis
Asya Uzmay
Ruihong Li
Ismael Sheikh Hassan
Camillo Boano
Sophie Akoury
Godofredo Enes Pereira
Nabil Harb
Josh Begley
Carolina Rito
Zoya Gul Hasan
Robert Vitalis
Mayar El Bakry
Sophia Azeb
Brenda (Bz) Zhang
Kaye Geipel
Mithra Akhbari
Marral Shamshiri
Christel Leenen
Kenny Cupers
Sofia Manganas
Mitchell Lawrence
Deniz Sözen
Esra Akcan
Nicholas Gamso
Hollyamber Kennedy, ETH Zurich
Elis Mendoza
Greg Camphire
Natasha Ginwala
Killian Doherty
Esra Akcan
James Graham
Kathleen James-Chakraborty
Latika Gupta
Jessica Bair
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Karim Samir Farhat
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Alexandre Mecattaf
Daham Marapane
Laurel Mei-Singh
M’hamed Oualdi
Lynda Zein
Lawson Spencer
Samantha Martin
Alp Demiroglu
Stephanie Jaouen
Doreen Mende
Derek Yi
Dr. Nadine Schütz, IRCAM Paris
Niloufar Tajeri
Silvia Galdamez
Nadia Abu-Zahra, Associate Professor, University of Ottawa
Dubravka Sekulic
Anaïs Nony
Yazan khalili
Irene de Craen
Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, Graduate Program Director, Photography Department, Rhode Island School of Design
Surya Ghildiyal
Hannah Boast
sarah shakeel
Ola Hassanain
Fabienne Engler
Ryohei Ozaki
Ijlal Muzaffar, RISD
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Jiayi Wang
Iftikhar Dadi
Clemens Finkelstein
Murchana Roychoudhury
Wendy Matsumura
Michael Kubo
Irena Lehkoživová, VI PER, Prague
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Randa Farah
Marcelo López-Dinardi
Jully Chen
Mona Halaby
Mara Ahmed
Sben Korsh
Swati Chattopadhyay, Professor, History of Art and Architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara
Patricia Morton, UC Riverside and 1st Vice President, Society of Architectural Historians
Mary H. Regier
Zulaikha Ayub
mary regier
Jisoo Kim
Monica Grycz
Aline Suter
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Tal Barmash
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Serena Dambrosio
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Roy Wagner, ETH Zurich
Arnav Adhikari
Niki Franco
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E. Natalie Rothman, University of Toronto
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Alicia Walker, Bryn Mawr College
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tamar berger
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Matan Kaminer, Hebrew University
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Deborah Goldgaber, LSU
Suha Babikir Hasan
Quang Phúc Đông
Amy Buono
Tom Holert
Harriet Finkelstein
Lawrence Chua, School of Architecture, Syracuse University
Haiganoush Preisler
Saphiya Abu Al-Maati
Elisavet Hasa
Leila Shahid
Alyosha Goldstein
Hana Makhamreh
Michael Keefer
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ayesha hameed
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Tracy McNulty, Chair of Comparative Literature at Cornell University
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Laurens Otto
Lynne Horiuchi
Mira Henry
Ehsan Abushadi
Connor Roohan
Desirée Valadares
Dr. Anat Rimon Or
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Ipek Tureli, McGill University
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Kodwo Eshun
Nicholas Risteen
Ana Dana Beroš
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Daniel Hauser, artist, member of RELAX and F+F School of Art and Design
Paula Gaetano Adi, RISD
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Nada Elia
Pedro Sepulveda
Rashmi Viswanathan
Francesco Bergamo
Anne Meneley
Fernando Lara
Bruno Costa
Freda Guttman
Roseann Sijeeni
Matthew Ashton
Margaret Crawford, UCB
michael paninski
mirjam paninski
Shimrit Lee
Aylin Gürel
Maite Borjabad
Giacomo Pirazzoli, Univ.of Florence, Italy
Minh-Ha T. Pham
Cochet Florian
Alejandro Hernandez Galvez
Haim Bresheeth
Jelica Jovanović
Amari Peliowski
Olga Touloumi
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Dilşad Aladağ
Adam HajYahia
Nina Kolowratnik
Hubert Murray FAIA
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Jimmy Colaianni
Sam Glass
Zeynep Kezer
Filippo De Dominicis, Sapienza University of Rome
Marina Lathouri
Athanasiou Geolas
Iris Rennert
Leora Maltz-Leca, RISD
Paul Jaskot
Michelle Hartman
Edwin Nasr
J. Charles Bradley
Dr. Nancy Murray
Ro Caminal
Zoya Mohsin
Nidhi Subramanyam
Nadia Ben-Youssef
Zeyad el Nabolsy
Fernando José Pereira
Noura alhariri
Alana Lentin
Aslihan Gunhan
Amilcar Packer
Anna Luise Schubert
Max Ajl, PhD (Development Sociology)
Dr. Elaine C. Hagopian
Menna Agha
Irene Gendzier
Marie-A. Chiarenza, member of RELAX / Geneva University of Art and Design
Christine McFetridge
Gian Maria Socci
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Jean Entine
Marcello Nasso
Mary Corbin Sies
Charlotte Malterre-Barthes, Harvard GSD
Andrew Brooks
Kevin McGinnis ’13
Heike Schotten
Ellie Armon Azoulay
A. David Wunsch … Cornell 1960
Nasser Rabbat
Anaïs Sansonetti
Robert Yerachmiel Sniderman
Rebecca Ruth Gould
Pablo Martínez Capdevila
Aaron Wunsch, U Penn
Dr Uri Davis
Can E. Mutlu
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Munir Jirmanus
José Carlos de Paiva, Artist
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Hyun-Tae Jung
Ahlam Muhtaseb, PhD, California State University, San Bernardino
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Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, Director and Senior Scholar, Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies, San Francisco State Univeristy
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Ryan Ball
Nidal Al-Azraq
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Kush Patel
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Yogesh Chandrani Asst Professor, Colorado College
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Ariel Goldberg
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Issad louiza
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Labib Hossain
Michael Friedman, Cornell ’80, founding member Cttee Against Apartheid
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Maryam Aljomairi
Labib Hossain
Brian Goldstein
Ece Algan
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Rei Terada, Professor of Comparative Literature, UC Irvine
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Shahla Razavi
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Dala Nasser
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Ghassan B
Omar K
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Neelofer Qadir
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Aya Abdallah
Neil Hertz
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Laura Heyman, Associate Professor, Syracuse University
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Momen El-Husseiny, American University in Cairo (AUC)
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Antonio Camporeale
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Seema Singh
Jason Lin
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Clarisse Genton
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Ramy Arnaout
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Reem Alissa
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Scott Richmond, University of Toronto
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Leyla Faye
Weaam Alabdullah
Sandra Babcock, Clinical Professor, Cornell Law School
Nicolás Verdejo Bravo
Shimon Edelman, Professor, Cornell University
Rory Gilchrist
Tristan Pease
Annie Pease
Russell Glynn, AAP alum
Matthew Evangelista
Li Lorian
Katherine Larson
Régine Debatty
Mishari Al-Awadhi
Andrea Filippi
Julia Chang
Hagar Ophir
Antonio Moya-Latorre
Dipti Khera
Shahd Shehada
Liz Muller
Jacklyn Duchen
Jose Del Mundo
Diogo Pereira Henriques
Ray Swedenburg
Hala Bdier
Andrew Shapiro
Sarah Rifky
Courtney Lesoon
Sakina Kazmi
Hannibal Newsom
Jason Rearick
Frankie Reed
Ghada Barakat
Jana Omar Elkhatib
Curtis Ho
Heba AlAli, Kuwait University
Ahmed Abbes, Directeur de recherche au CNRS, Paris, France
Kenath Mitchell
Kuan Hwa
Fawaz Alawadhi
Raimondo Anna
Malcolm Campbell
Riham Madi
Bora Erden
Khalied Jacobs
Rula Zuhour
Usuf Chikte
Sarah Almaki
Tanzeem Razak
Lemon Pebble Design
Omar Khaledi
Tiago Assis
Esther Laurent-Baroux
Rachel Haidu
Carolyn Bailey, Harvard University
Sophie Oldfield
Omar Dairi
Akshita Sivakumar
Adjoa Armah
Michaela Staszewski Simona
Arinah Rizal
Yasmina Chami
René Boer
Sadia Shirazi
Hamza Bashandy
Miranda Pennell
Hani Henni
Hassan asmal
Benjamin Thomas White
Anna Stoll-Marci
Ayelet Zohar
Yves Chilliard, France
Jane E Goodman
Thomas Lancelot
Natasha Ali-Goldberg
Jacklyn Das
Duygu Demir
Heleen de Hoog
Aziza Chaouni
Linda Shi
Laura Saunders
Alhelí Harvey
Gelare Khoshgozaran
William Green
Arang Keshavarzian
Yarden Katz
Sabrina Haertig
Burcu Yigit Turan
CoCo Tin
Aaron Goldstein
Najib Shahrom
Youna Kwak
Fergus Ettles
Bekriah Mawasi
Elise Hunchuck, Editor, Scapegoat
Reut Reina Bendrihem
Freda Guttman
Lionel Reinisch
Ferial Massoud
Henry Grosman
Ikhlass Dehimi
Jason Livingston
Laura Briggs, RISD
Ivan Huber
David Theo Goldberg
Willis Kingery
Gary Fields, University of California, San Diego
Mark LeVine
Stefan Tanaka
Kirrily Todhunter
Mahmood Ibrahim
Sharri Plonski
heyer thurnheer. contextual artist rotterdam
Milia Lorraine Khoury
Larissa Belcic
Eloise Maltby Maland
Julia Huggins