By Fergus Alexander
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Road to Hell

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Review of "A Civilian Occupation", editors Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman, Verso £13
Issue 281

‘The city of Emanuel, situated 440 metres above sea level, has a magnificent view of the coastal plain and the Judean Mountains. The hilly landscape is dotted by green olive orchards and enjoys a pastoral calm.’ This is how the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Emanuel advertised itself. The overt biblical imagery offers no reference to the people who cultivate the landscape, the Palestinians. The biblical references are cynically used to reinforce the Zionists’ ancient claim on the land. In fact the only reference to Palestinians in the brochure concerns the roads: ‘A motored system is being developed that will make it possible to travel quickly and safely to the Tel Aviv area and Jerusalem on modern throughways, bypassing Arab towns.’

The editing out of Palestinians from the landscape and the minds of Israeli settlers has not happened by accident. Indeed through essays, diagrams, maps and photographs this fascinating exhibition catalogue shows that ‘the mundane elements of planning and architecture have been conscripted as tactical tools in Israel’s state strategy, which has sought to further national and geopolitical objectives in the organisation of space and the redistribution of its population.’

What is most shocking is the amount of planning that has gone into the creation of Israel. Immediately after the declaration of independence in 1948 a development plan covering all the available land was devised. Unlike most large scale planning this has been almost entirely acted upon. The plan’s aim was to spread the population from the three main cities of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem to a number of new small to medium sized towns spreading across the state. Immigrants coming to Israel were sent to live in these military outposts, and a Class A tax reduction status was given to all settlers.

In the essay ‘The Mountain’, Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman expertly describe how hilltop settlements are designed not only as places of residence, but also as a large scale network of ‘civilian fortifications’. Settlers’ houses are designed so that living spaces all have views on to the landscape below. An armed population therefore guards all access roads. Interestingly the views from settler’s houses are designed so that Palestinian towns cannot be seen. Thus the idea of ‘a land without a people for a people without land’ is reinforced. By settling on the hilltops Israel has superimposed itself on top of Palestine, thus making any border between the two impractical. The book concludes that only a one-state solution will work, but leaves it to the reader to ask how this could happen.

This collection was banned by the Israeli Association of United Architects, which said ‘these ideas are not architecture’. However, this book proves that architecture is not politically naive. But is the situation in Israel unique, with its communities separated by walls and exclusive roads, and with the unwanted, poor and oppressed edited out of the immediate landscape? ‘Is this not a worst case scenario of capitalist globalisation and its spatial fallout?’

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