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Rebel Architect #3: Eyal Weizman and the architecture of occupation

The third in a series on radical architects shows how architecture is mobilised as an instrument of war in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Eyal Weizman, professor of spatial and visual cultures at Goldsmiths University, has long studied how the Israeli authorities have used the built environment to facilitate the illegal occupation of the West Bank, and goes so far as to say that ‘the crime was done on the drawing board itself’.

‘The Architecture of Violence’ – directed by Ana Naomi de Sousa and the third in Al Jazeera’s Rebel Architecture series – follows Weizman as he visits the West Bank to examine how architecture is used to enable settlements and to intimidate or marginalise Palestinians.

‘Architecture and the built environment is a kind of slow violence,’ say Weizman. ‘The occupation is an environment that was slowly conceived to strangulate Palestinian communities, villages, towns to create an environment that would be unliveable.’

Graphic indicating the access granted to a typical hill-top settlement against that of nearby Palestinian areas. Film still from 'Architecture of Violence', Al Jazeera.

Graphic indicating the access granted to a typical hill-top settlement against that of nearby Palestinian areas. Film still from ‘Architecture of Violence’, Al Jazeera.

Weizman notes that settlements are placed on hilltops where they dominate the surrounding landscape and are served by highways which allow settlers ease of movement, while barriers, turnstiles and the separation wall work as obstacles to Palestinians.

‘To control a space, you need to create differentiations in speed of movement,’ says Weizman. ‘When you put Israeli colonies on highways, you accelerate their movement through the space. In the same way, on every twist and turn of the terrain the Palestinians will encounter a border, a checkpoint, a fence, a valley that they cannot cross.’

Weisman adds: ‘When conflict erupts, the slow violence of the environment is being put into immediate use. Israeli soldiers move down into Palestinian towns and villages from the settlements themselves. The checkpoints harden and nobody can move through. The border completes around them and the entire territory springs into use.’

The Israeli army has also developed techniques for fighting in the dense urban fabric of Palestinian towns. Weizman recalls the incursion into the Jenin refugee camp in 2002, when bulldozers formed ‘an integral’ part of the offensive and were used to clear a path through the camp, after which ‘the fleet of bulldozers grew exponentially and became the means of fighting in Palestinian urban fabric’.

Eyal Weizman in front of a military watch tower. Film still from 'Architecture of Violence', Al Jazeera.

Eyal Weizman in front of a military watch tower. Film still from ‘Architecture of Violence’, Al Jazeera.

However, Weizman believes that where architecture is part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution, and is the director of Forensic Architecture, a European Research Council-funded project which aims to use architecture as evidence in legal cases. The project is currently analysing drone warfare in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Gaza and is also trying to reconstruct what happened between the warning shot and the destruction of a Palestinian home which killed seven members of one family.

‘When violence is enacted through architecture, architecture must rise to resist it… and it must find the tools [to resist] within its own toolbox,’ he says.

‘I love this land and I care deeply about both people who live here. I would have loved to practice my architecture free of the constraints and violence of this conflict but I think that to be an architect is not only to build and contribute to the destruction of this place that I love but to use architecture as a way to interpret, protest and resist.’

 

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