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Growing pressure on RIBA over 'dismissed' Israel motion

The RIBA is facing renewed pressure ‘to resurrect’ its motion against the Israeli Association of United Architects amid escalating tension in the region

The Palestine Architects Society has called on Portland Place to follow through on its contentious motion lobbying the International Union of Architects (UIA) to censure the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) at an upcoming summit in Durban.

The petition comes a month after RIBA president Stephen Hodder said the anti-IAUA motion – approved by council members in March – had been fulfilled. The UIA had responded claiming the demands were beyond its ‘political scope’.

Although a RIBA working group was set up to investigate wider global ethics concerns, Israel’s recent military operation - which has resulted in more than 600 Palestinian and 29 Israeli deaths - has renewed criticism of the institute’s actions.

We are concerned and indeed surprised at the position taken by the RIBA

Writing to Hodder, Ahmed Edaily of the Palestine Architects Society said: ‘We are concerned and indeed surprised at the position taken by the RIBA and its deflection from the spirit of a democratically decided motion at their last council meeting.’

Edaily said the motion had ‘not been fulfilled, but dismissed’ and the new international committee only ‘sidesteps this important issue’.

He continued: ‘With the situation in the West Bank being tragically volatile and difficult these days, and all hopes for peace dashed, we sincerely hope that you take a different approach that responds to the urgency of the matter; one which supports your fellow professionals in Palestine who work under tremendous pressure and makes a stand against the violent and illegal spatial acts taking place at this very moment.’

The letter also criticised RIBA for failing to respond to a May petition from Palestinian architects calling for the institute to ‘stay firm’ on the motion.

Edaily said: ‘We are shocked at the complete silence by RIBA and the “no reaction” approach to the letter sent by the Palestinian architects.’

He argued RIBA’s silence had failed to live up to the spirit of a memorandum of understanding signed four years ago with the Jerusalem-Palestinian Institute of Architecture and Engineering.

The letter went on to allege RIBA had ‘consciously’ isolated backers of the motion and attempted to ‘emasculate’ its purpose and had therefore failed to meet its own professional codes of conduct conerning ethics.

Edaily said: ‘Instead of taking a firm stand to ensure that a democratically decided resolution was tabled at the UIA general assembly, you have had events organized with Israeli architects – like Moshe Safdie – who themselves have been involved in illegal building acts in occupied East Jerusalem, and had meetings with lobby groups like Constructive Dialogue and with IAUA representatives whose association’s members breach UIA ethical codes, resolutions and international law in their work in the Occupied Territories.’

He continued: ‘The Palestinian community bears the brunt of these illegal projects, with our civic life constantly under attack. The 19 March motion was a constructive step that would have had a salutary impact to support Palestinians under occupation.’

Former RIBA president Angela Brady, who tabled the motion, said she had been asking the institute to hold a meeting with the Palestinians for ‘some time now.’

She continued: ‘The RIBA motion still stands - despite attempts to void it. I hope that our international colleagues will bring this important discussion up at UIA Durban 2014 in August, in this year of Mandela and support the intent of the RIBA resolution.’

The RIBA refused to comment, but architect Stephen Games re-iterated his thanks for the way the institute’s president had drawn a line under the matter.

He said: ‘On behalf of the many architects who opposed recent unconstitutional efforts to politicise the Institute, we wish to thank the President of the RIBA, Stephen Hodder, for resolving this issue in a way that all parties can now feel satisfied with. 

‘Architects have been reminded by the president that while they are always free to speak privately,  their personal thoughts cannot be endorsed by the Institute if they go beyond what is lawful. We welcome this.’ 

 

Further comment

Kate Macintosh, former RIBA national member and past vice president

The letter of appeal from Ahmed Edaily, Palestine Architects Society, to the RIBA President to stand by the motion, democratically adopted by Council, and since side-lined in what appears as a series of back-room manoeurvres (including private meetings with Zionist non-architects, from which meetings supporters of the resolution were excluded) gives Stephen Hodder a last chance to show true leadership, and represent the Institute’s will in this time of tragic violence in Israel.

This should not take a lot of courage as the motion is simply the application of the UIA Standard 2.1. Article 10, which says:-

Architects have obligations to the public to embrace the spirit and the letter of the laws governing their professional affairs and should thoroughly consider the social and environmental impact of their professional activities

2.1. Standard: Architects shall respect and help conserve the systems of values and the natural and cultural heritage of the community in which they are creating architecture.

Article 10.
(1) The common objectives of all professional organizations are to establish and promote the highest standards of ethical conduct and excellence in the practice of the professions, to regulate the professional conduct of the members of the professions and to cooperate with their allied professional organizations. (2) In line with the foregoing objectives, it shall be mandatory upon a professional organization to take appropriate action on any formal complaint for unethical conduct filed against any member of its profession by a co-professional, a client, a professional organization or a government regardless of the residence of the complainant.

The announcement of further planning consents for building in the occupied territories was one major causes of the break down of the most recent peace talks. 

 

 

The full letter

 

Mr Stephen Hodder
President
Royal Institute of British Architects
66 Portland Place
London
W1B 1AD                                                                                                                                        
3/7/2014

 

RE: Motion for Suspension of the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) from the International Union of Architects (UIA)

Dear Mr. Hodder,

Following on from our letter dated 27 May 2014 with regard to the above matter, we are concerned and indeed surprised at the position taken by the RIBA and its deflection from the spirit of a democratically decided Motion at their last council meeting. This Motion has not been fulfilled, but dismissed. The setting up of a new “international committee” sidesteps this important issue. An international committee already exists at the RIBA.

We are shocked at the complete silence by RIBA and the ‘no reaction’ approach to the letter sent by the Palestinian architects. We were hoping – especially following the lengthy Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed on the 18 March 2010 with the Engineering Association, Jerusalem/Palestinian Institute of Architecture and Engineering – that the RIBA would not try to negate the Motion, or isolate the voices that call for it. Instead, it should consider further support and engagement with Palestinians as stated in the MOU. The latter has categorically called for the RIBA to support the building professionals in Palestine through collaboration, facilitating opportunities of exchange, engagement and dialogue, networking, recognizing and promoting the role of architects and specifically women architects.

One would have imagined this as an opportunity for it, but unfortunately, no communication, engagement, or support took place. At least, we were hoping for a reply to the letter, if not sharing it with the council members and taking a clear line of action to respond to it in a democratic manner.

We now realize that our fears and concerns are actually in place. Instead of taking a firm stand to ensure that a democratically decided resolution was tabled at the UIA general Assembly, you have had events organized with Israeli architects –like  Moshe Safdie — who themselves have been involved in illegal building acts in occupied East Jerusalem, and had meetings with Lobby groups like Constructive Dialogue and with IAUA representatives whose association’s members breach UIA ethical codes, Resolutions  and international law in their work in the Occupied Territories. The Palestinian community bears the brunt of these illegal projects, with our civic life constantly under attack. The 19 March Motion was a constructive step that would have had a salutary impact to support Palestinians under occupation.

It is to our disappointment thatyou consciously insist in isolating any voices and messengers standing up for the Motion. These constant attempts to emasculate the Motion are unacceptable and contradict professional codes of conduct with regard to ethics.

We now urge you not to dismiss the Palestinian voice in favour of the pro-Israeli lobby. We urgently request you to offer us an equal platform to discuss this matter further in front of RIBA council members, and return to your original stated position in support of the motion, so that it has a chance of being tabled in Durban. It is quite possible and practical that the motion can be placed on the emergency agenda at the General Assembly, if the will is there.

If the RIBA is still standing by its position as was published previously in support of the motion, then we do hope this is also reflected in your activities and statements, which do not contradict that position. We call for a clear and transparent dialogue where Palestinians are involved and that clear line of action in relation to our letter is put forward.

We would be happy to meet to discuss the matter further and we do hope you can make this possible. With the situation in the West Bank being tragically volatile and difficult these days, and all hopes for peace dashed, we sincerely hope that you take a different approach that responds to the urgency of the matter; one which supports your fellow professionals in Palestine who work under tremendous pressure and makes a stand against the violent and illegal spatial acts taking place at this very moment.

Eng. Ahmed Edaily

Engineers Association Chairman/Palestine Architects Society

West Bank - Palestine

 

Readers' comments (5)

  • Irrespective of the merits of the motion in another forum, is the RIBA a political campaigning organisation or a professional body, and do its terms of reference permit essentially political activity?
    The RIBA must be clear what it is, and not get involved in issues that are extraneous to its permitted roles, however strongly individual members may feel about them. There are multiple other forums available.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Whilst we probably agree for the most part on many simpler and less contentious political issues at a national level (particularly those that are included within the stated RIBA objectives - such as lobbying government for quality housing); I certainly never joined the RIBA expecting them to make any contentious political comment at an international level. I’m not even sure the RIBA is politically astute enough to have a motion here even if they have the powers.

    I do however believe the RIBA need to be clear here as the Palestine Architects Society seem to imply that the RIBA either supports them or is against them.

    If the RIBA are to have these sorts of political positions then more transparency is needed by many other groups. For example does the Palestine Architects Society support Hamas?

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Since when has taking a basic moral stand in relation to the activities of members of the architectural profession been essentially political activity?

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • It is the duty of architects internationally to take action, as the UIA requires, where a professional body does not make sure its members observe architectural and ethical practice, especially when it breaches international law and the 4th Geneva Convention. UIA Resolution13 quite clearly condemns such projects, and also where architecture erases another's culture within the country of one's citizens, and those under its occupation. We see the methodology of Israel's occupation and it's total control and dispossession of Palestinians unfolding with tragic and devastating consequences in Gaza -refusing to lift a nine year siege that has prompted such resistance. This has been met with a murderous onslaught killing mainly civilians and again massive destruction of homes, civic buildings, hospitals, schools and civic infrastructure, Similarly, mass demolitions of homes in the West Bank, and appropriation of Palestinian land accompanies every act of building of the illegal settlements repeatedly condemned by the world.
    Architects of conscience and ethical practice cannot turn a blind eye to this injustice, which strikes at the heart of our ethical conduct -and treat the RIBA resolution to suspend the Israeli Architects' Association as an annoying irritant.
    One of longest occupations in modern times by a 'democratic' country that holds the world record for breaches of international law and UN Resolutions cannot escape notice of the world body of a humane profession, that designs our homes and cities as the basis of a decent society.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Please somebody - in any Government or institution - have the courage to stand by principles set out in the original motion which were democratically agreed to. As others have said, if the RIBA wish to backtrack from this position, the least they should do is explain themselves - openly.

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