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Row over RIBA's Israel trip escalates

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Institute’s Palestinian counterpart threatens to cease co-operation in protest at its recent delegation to the region

Portland Place is one again engulfed in a major row over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the association representing Palestinian architects threatened to cease co-operating with the RIBA in protest at its recent delegation to the region.

A letter sent to RIBA president Stephen Hodder on Tuesday (11 November) by the Association of Architects in Palestine (AAP) and sister organisation the Engineers’ Association (EA) complains neither organisation was ‘consulted, or informed of the aims, objectives and schedule of this visit of the two RIBA delegates’ and casts doubt on its propriety.

The trip, revealed by AJ last week, took place at the end of last month and was undertaken by RIBA international vice president Peter Oborn and former RIBA councillor Sumita Sinha (see AJ 06.11.14).

The pair met both the AAP and the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) during their visit.

The trip was described by the RIBA as part of the inquiries of a working group it established to ‘consider the implications’ of RIBA council’s March decision to recommend the suspension of the IAUA from the UIA over its members’ involvement in illegal settlement building (see AJ 20.06.14).

The AAP letter to Hodder states: ‘We believe that the visit arranged by some RIBA members reflects a clear and deliberate act of diversion from the original RIBA motion adopted on the 19th March 2014.

‘We feel that the visit was planned as a tool to divert the RIBA motion and strip it of its spirit and goals. The statements made on the website of the RIBA, the lack of clarity in the aim and objectives of the visit, as well as the continuous engagement of the RIBA with the IAUA indicate that there is no intention to implement the 19th March resolution or to build on it.

‘Instead, it seems like the democratically debated resolution is being sidelined in favour of alternative agendas.’

The letter, signed by EA chairman Ahmed Edaily, concludes: ‘Any future co-operation between us depends on the RIBA’s position regarding this issue. The 19th March resolution still holds and must be pursued and we would like to know what your line of action is in order to bring it to fruition.’

RIBA council’s original resolution, proposed by former president Angela Brady, was passed by 23 votes to 16 with 10 abstentions but provoked a storm of protest from supporters of Israel.

The visit meanwhile has already been condemned by the RIBA councillor who seconded the motion, George Oldham, who has strongly questioned its motives and objectivity and is writing to all other members of council to complain (see AJ 13.11.14) .

Oborn and Sinha were unavailable for comment but RIBA councillor Daniel Leon, who is also a member of Constructive Dialogue, a built environment group which opposed the motion, defended the trip and said the two had tried to meet Edaily himself during their visit.

He added: ‘I hope Peter’s report proposes a positive way forward, using architecture as a positive force for bringing people together, rather than being divisive through boycotts. The RIBA has a powerful opportunity to promote dialogue and mutual recognition between parties.

‘Those behind the motion propose exclusion and sanction which is ultimately counter-productive to peace, and would punish the vast majority of Israeli architects who do not work on projects in the occupied territories. 

‘Exclusion and sanction is counter-productive to peace’

‘I hope the RIBA and its council can move forward to fulfil its real remit for the promotion of architecture, and not seek to enter the Middle Eastern political landscape in an amateurish and ill-informed way.’

An RIBA spokesman refused to comment directly on the letter but said Oborn’s roles within RIBA made his visit appropriate.

He added: ‘The group has been tasked with considering the institute’s role in engaging with communities facing civil conflict and natural disaster. 

‘The group will consider the implications of the recent RIBA council resolution…and coordinate RIBA’s engagement and dialogue with all stakeholders on this complex issue.

‘Peter will be heading back to the region [this week] at the invitation of the Palestinian IT Association to address the delegates of ‘Expotech’ in Ramallah on the RIBA’s recent research around Smart Cities.

‘The working group findings will be reported to the RIBA board and council by the end of this year.’

  • 5 Comments

Readers' comments (5)

  • Well, this imbroglio is proving entertaining as it will certainly achieve nothing else of substance

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  • The issue of Israel's rapid expansion of illegal Jewish only illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank is not complex.
    The Jewish only illegal settlements don't design themselves and until the IAUA comes out with meaningful action against said settlements (and the accompanying ethnic cleansing) the RIBA motion should stand.

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  • Well done by the Palestinians to demand that the RIBA honour its democratically decided 19 Council Resolution to call for the suspension of the IAUA (Israeli Architects association) for its casual disregard of its members breaches of ethical codes, UIA Resolutions and international law. This is all grave misconduct which the IAUA should have taken action on by its architects as per UIA Article 1.4 which states that "to maintain public confidence in the integrity and the ability of architects by demanding that Member Sections of the Union ask their architects to act with the highest moral and professional standards;"
    The International Committee, and indeed the RIBA President had publicly opposed their own Council's decision, and have acted with inertia and passivity and done everything to obfuscate and divert from the Resolution, even at the UIA General Assembly when they had a chance to pursue it, and despite Desmond Tutu making an appeal to support the suspension of architects who create the apartheid infrastructure and facts on the ground of Israel's illegal occupation.

    Decades of attempts at 'dialogue' and peace talks have failed -since Israel has no intention whatsoever from relinquishing its illegal and continually escalating land grabs, despite world condemnation, and the refusal of the big powers to stop the ethnic cleansing, in Israel itself with the displacement and forced removal of Palestinians and Bedouin from the Negev and Galilee and the main cities and the West Bank.

    Once again we have the same chorus from Dan Leon, recently appointed to the RIBA, and representing the Constructive Dialogue group, talking about "using architecture as a positive force for bringing people together, rather than being divisive through boycotts" when he knows full well that this is the usual distraction employed by Israel lobbyists to neutralise any required action being taken, allowing Israel a free reign to continue its frenzied settlement expansion, using architecture and its applied apartheid legislation to ensure the separation of the Israeli and Palestinian communities, while stealing their land and homes, and confining them into enclaves and in the case of Gaza, a high security prison.

    This is not the time for the RIBA "to promote dialogue and mutual recognition between parties" when one party is the oppressor intent on keeping the other party in a state of perpetual oppression and under its iron fist.This is not a case of "communities in civil conflict or natural disaster". It is a brutal unending occupation and a series of horrendous man-made disaster that must be ended.

    In fact those behind the 19 March Resolution are answering the call from the Palestinian civil society for the international community to send a message to the recalcitrant Israelis that there is a price to pay for the decades of impunity and their devastated lives, by proposing that " exclusion and sanction" is the only non-violent means left to change the situation, ultimately achieving justice and peace.

    Those Israeli architects who do not work on projects in the occupied territories, still work within a very discriminatory set-up for Palestinian citizens of Israel, in housing, planning, home ownership and development, and as a body have never stopped practising or objecting to this scenario. If they were sincere, they would welcome such a move to suspend their ineffective association, and support the Palestinian architects in achieving true equality for their community.

    Instead of this delegation, which was set up to appease the Israel lobby, and is an arrogant and colonial approach to a very clear cut situation that needs urgent action, the RIBA and its council should move forward to fulfil its real remit, and progress the 19 March Council Resolution, based on very clear cut and expert opinion and overwhelming evidence by Israeli architects like Eyal Weizman, Israeli human rights organisations like B'Tselem and ICAHD, and of course international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions.

    It is Dan Leon, the Constructive Dialogue crowd, and the International Committee who are the amateurs in this case, out of their depth in this serious case of needing upholding the professional ethics of architecture and the RIBA, instead of producing counterproductive measures that waste the resources of the RIBA, and prevent rather than enhance progress.

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  • The underhand manoeuvring of the RIBA President to avoid backing the resolution, properly adopted, to take a moral & ethical stance over the illegal Israeli developments in the West Bank, brings the institute into disrepute. He should either implement it or resign. If he does neither, which appears most likely, what on earth does the Professional Code of Conduct stand for? Mass resignation from the RIBA would be an appropriate response.

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  • Israeli ministers are today far more honest in revealing their plans for the colonization of what remains of Palestine than are their two-faced apologists in the West. You only need to read the centre-left Israeli daily Haaretz for a week or two to know exactly what the openly stated intentions of the Netanyahu/Bennett/Lieberman regime are: grab everything of value (agricultural land, water, mineral and natural gas resources etc) and get rid of the indigenous Palestinian population by one means or another. The only reason our leaders in the West pretend to believe the regime's PR is of course the political and financial clout of the Israel lobby.

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