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A call for Israeli architects to take a stand

haaretz.comArchitects out of Ariel

The time has come for those planning the red-roofed facts on the ground to refuse to design any more buildings in the settlements.

Esther Zandberg, 2 September 2010

After dozens of actors, theater workers, professors and writers declared their refusal to appear in the new cultural hall in Ariel or any other settlement, the time has come for architects and planners to wake up and announce publicly that they will not continue planning new buildings in the settlements.

The architects protests will be more meaningful than any other effort. Architecture is the implementer of political decisions. Architects and planners are the ones who implement in practice the occupation policy of Israeli governments and continue the conflict on the drafting table.

Unlike the scenery in a play, the facts that architects establish on the ground do not go back into the theater warehouse after the curtain falls. Their footprint is irreversible. Those who sketch the blue lines of master plans of settlements are bound more than anyone else by the red lines of conscience.

Architects have a hand in all aspects of the settlement effort in Judea and Samaria. They are the ones who prepare the master plans for establishing communities, they plan the red-roofed residential neighborhoods in Ariel and all the other communities, and shape the public facilities built there.

The new cultural hall in Ariel was also designed by an architect, as if it were just another cultural center in another community within the state of Israel.

A B’Tselem report defines Ariel as a long, narrow enclave that penetrates deep into Palestinian territory, a place that was designed as it was not for pure planning reasons, but based on political considerations the gist of which was a desire to create a buffer between Palestinian towns and interrupt the territorial continuity between them.

Architects and planners do not need B’Tselem; they know enough about analyzing maps and plans to discern on their own that this is the situation. Their voices are what should be heard.

In the architectural community, more than in any cultural area, it is common practice to have sterile separation between architecture and politics. This is a comfortable arrangement that enables many within the community to continue viewing themselves as leftist, while planning for the right.

From the ranks of architects, no public protest has been voiced against the presence of an architecture department in Ariel College, which instills in its students the art of alienation from the surroundings, in contrast to the proper principles of planning and the appropriate professional ethic.

They never spoke to them about politics, as students in the department said in an interview here seven years ago. No wonder that the surroundings seem to them like an unspoiled biblical panorama, they said, and they feel free and uninhibited there.

Culture Minister Limor Livnat’s call this week urging theater people to leave the political debate outside of cultural and artistic life is superfluous in the architectural community, where the political debate is always pushed outside professional life, although it makes its way in through the back door.

Trends and worldviews seep in from the other side of the Green Line and impact on architecture in the rest of Israel more than architects are willing to admit. A protest by established architects within the community, figures with a reputation and influence, could lead to a protest movement that will draw many, restore to architecture its confidence in itself and its values, and may also make its own contribution to the end of the conflict over the land. Architects? Protest? Peace really can happen.

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