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A creative liberal's response to the Middle East situation

One minute she wants to be Eleanor Roosevelt, the next she’s all ‘what would Jackie O do?’

MONDAY. My friend Yossi the town planner calls from Tel Aviv. His furious orthodox family have frozen him out. Not only is he gay, he’s opposed to the current ‘urban remodelling’ of Gaza.

He wants me to mobilise condemnation of Israel among Britain’s more thoughtful architects. I explain that as a ‘creative liberal’ I can’t get involved. Let’s be honest, equivocation has a pleasing Classical symmetry to it, and I simply must not appear to be taking sides.

Those of us in the Campaign Against General Unpleasantness in the Middle East recoil from all violence, equally. Just as we call upon Israel to stop firing rockets into populated areas of Palestine, we call upon Hamas to lift the blockade on Sderot to allow food, medicine and journalists in, and women and children out.

Yossi calls me something in Hebrew, ‘creative liberal’ maybe. Look on the bright side, I tell him: Israelis may despise you for your anti-war stance, but if you were Palestinian your gayness would be much more of a problem, so… The phone goes dead. I hope he’s all right. I was going to ask him if he’d planned any good towns lately.

TUESDAY. Lunch with Rock Steady Eddie the Middle East fixer. ‘Listen, I know what you’re gonna say. It’s tasteless, and a bit previous. But you think about it. Not every day you get a pop at 40km of Mediterranean coast. Oh yeah, it’s gonna happen. And I know some people who are looking for rough ideas, tourist settlements, whatever. Interested?’

I look genuinely disappointed, get out my diary and shrug. Booked solid all the way through to July, mate. Eddie looks menacingly thoughtful. When he doesn’t get his own way he either pretends he couldn’t give a toss or turns into a villain from an Ian McEwan novel.

Luckily, no probs. ‘Plenty of underemployed architects around, my son, bite my arm off for an entrée to Gaza Med. Talking of which, what you having for starters?’

WEDNESDAY. Frank, the world’s greatest architect, calls for a quick catch-up. He asks me how things are going with Wap Biddly Pish, the envisioning consultancy I launched last year.

Pretty well, I say. We’ve been hired by Michelle Obama to re-imagineer the White House. Naturally I don’t tell him that we haven’t even agreed a brief yet. Dithery cow is permanently torn between frugality and glamour. One minute she wants to be Eleanor Roosevelt, the next she’s all ‘what would Jackie O do?’

I ask Frank how his Museum of Tolerance is coming along in Jerusalem. If it all works out maybe Israel can set up a Guggenheim-style chain of them across the region to promote peace and understanding. ‘You fucking with me?’ he snarls. No, no, I assure him. If the two key elements are an ‘iconic’ design and a location above a Muslim cemetery, you could bang them out all over the place. Hey, what about a Museum of Tolerance in Rafah? You know, when it’s quietened down a bit.

Click. Dial tone. Beginning to think there’s a fault on the line.

THURSDAY. Inevitably, I am Skyped by the lying shit Blair. ‘Hi, happy new year, shalom! Can you see me OK?’ His neurotic grin swims into focus on the screen.

As Middle East envoy, his job is to offer tough love to Israel. ‘Look, Iraq’s bought me a lot of clout here. I’m like a best friend who not only has the courage to say hey, you’re doing the wrong thing, but who goes beyond that and DOESN’T say it…’

He draws an obvious distinction between the terrorist entity notionally running Gaza, and ‘the moderate authority that runs the West Bank’. I think he means Israel. He needs concrete proposals. I suggest:

  • An international competition to design New Gaza, recycling current residential landfill into humane refugee storage units.

  • Replacement eco-tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, above ground and transparent, so that all smuggling may be UN-monitored.

  • An urgent conservation and enhancement programme to protect those lovely ancient villages in Israel discovered intact yet mysteriously devoid of people in 1948.

  • A green design guide for future illegal settlements.

FRIDAY. Darcy calls. His new outfit apparently expresses even-handedness. ‘Restraint on both sides, and a sort of sparkly buckle thing in the middle…’

SATURDAY. Despair, lunch, read some architectural bullshit about the vibrancy of dense urban environments, more despair.

SUNDAY. Lull in the recliner.

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