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RIBA Council members travel to Israel and Palestine for talks on settlements

  • 12 Comments

Two members of RIBA Council have visited Israel and the West Bank as part of the institute’s continuing investigations into Israeli architects building settlements on Palestinian land

Last week, Sumita Sinha and Peter Oborn – RIBA’s vice-president of international – travelled to the region and held talks with both the Israeli Association of United Architects and the Association of Architects in Palestine in a trip funded by the RIBA.

Sinha and Oborn were there as members of a working group established by RIBA in April to ‘consider the implications’ of RIBA Council’s controversial motion the previous month to call on the International Union of Architects (UIA) to suspend the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) over illegal settlement building.  

The working group, which is chaired by Oborn, is also considering the RIBA’s wider role in ‘engaging with communities facing civil conflict and natural disaster’.

Oborn told the AJ he would not comment on the working group’s activities ahead of reporting its findings and recommendations next month. However, he said that the group would be making at least one other foreign trip before this.

RIBA council’s motion – which was proposed by former president Angela Brady and voted through by 23 votes to 16 with 10 abstentions – provoked a storm of protest from supporters of Israel.

This included the RIBA being branded ‘anti-semitic’ by the Jewish Chronicle and a highly critical open letter sent to RIBA president Stephen Hodder by former British Land chairman John Ritblat and his art patron wife Jill, both of whom are honorary fellows of the institute.

 

  • 12 Comments

Readers' comments (12)

  • Dear Sirs, Israel does not fit within the remit of the RIBA International Committee delegation to assist" communities that face civil conflict." The Palestinian situation is one of occupation and colonisation backed by military force, in which our fellow professionals play a central role in the design and building of illegal settlements. This was the focus of the RIBA March resolution, which it must now appear the RIBA top brass wishes to bury. Sir Alan Duncan, former Tory International Development Minister, recently condemned the actions of the Israeli Government saying that "the situation in the West Bank was akin to apartheid, and supporters of settlements were extremists".

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  • What is ouragious about the RIBA visit is that the delegation consisted of two people who did not support Council's Resolution to suspend Israel from the UIA - carried by a substantial majority. Neither Angela Brady who proposed the Motion nor George Oldham who seconded the Motion were consulted about the visit yet alone considered for inclusion in the delegation. It is now clear that the President (Stephen Hodder) has spent the last 8 months, including an attendance at the UIA Congress, bowing to Israeli pressure to bury the Resolution, in flagrent disregard of Council's wishes. As someone who has spent over ten years on Council this behaviour is unheard of. Council should consider an immediate vote of no confidence in Hodder and if carried he shouild resign his position, another first in Council's history.

    Bob Giles
    Past Council Member and Vice President of the RIBA

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  • At the time of a similar debate over Apartheid South Africa in the 70s there was a similar furore, and arguments made that the RIBA should not be political. Now that thankfully all people in South Africa have equal rights, there can be no question that when the RIBA severed links with the South African Schools that this assisted towards the wider movement leading to the guaranteeing of democratic rights for all. In the future the current RIBA resolution will be seen in a similar light. People's inalienable rights are equal wherever they happen to be born and the UN Resolutions must be upheld.

    Sean Macintosh Architect.

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  • The main question is if RIBA should take a political role and if it should why it does choose to target only one country?

    You may argue that in the 70’s RIBA took the same action against South Africa but the question if there are any similarities or whether is simply fashionable to bash Israel without understanding the history of the region.

    If it is not about fashion or like the Jewish Chronicle claims as “anti-Semitic” then why did RIBA not choose to take action against China over the occupation of Tibet?
    What about Turkey over the occupation and settlements of Cyprus in the 1970’s or the Hatay Province occupied in the late 30’s?
    Should we also take actions against our own British Architects that build in Gibraltar, Falkland Islands or even Northern Ireland?
    In all of the above areas there were architects building in these areas, why did RIBA choose to do nothing?

    Also, the question should be asked is why our honourable RIBA members mentioned the word ‘apartheid’. As if you look into the actual reality, Israel is the only country in the area that treats its 1.6 million Arab minorities with full equal rights; they can work, build, buy properties, pay taxes, vote to the parliament and have elected members in the parliament.

    I wouldn't brand RIBA as Anti-Semitic however whatever they are trying to achieve is a wrong decision, being carried out in the wrong way & with many questions marks over its motives!

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  • In answer to Lior Broch above, this is a matter of professional ethics that is the responsibility of architects internationally to take up, as the UIA Article 10(1) explicitly requires. Yes it has political implications, because this is a unique case where architects are carrying out state and military policy of building illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land against international law and the 4thGeneva Convention -these are equivalent to war crimes and constitute grave professional misconduct. Despite the UIA spefically condemning such projects in its Resolution 13, repeatedly at General Assemblies, Israel's architects association (IAUA) has insisted (again contrary to UIA Article (1)4 which states that an architects' institution must ensure its members do not practice illegally) that it will not interfere or censure its architects building in illegally occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank on land acquired by force and violence. This has all been well documented by Eyal Weizman and Rafi Segal in their iconic books "A Civilian Occupation" and "Hollow Land" and exhaustive reports by B'Tselem, Israel's human rights organisation.
    The 19 March RIBA Resolution was based on a deep understanding of the history of the Region, was strongly supported by many influential architects and was democratically debated in voted through by Council, It was the responsibility of Council to see it through at the UIA General Assembly in Durban, and it was backed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu -no less. Instead, due to pressure both from Israel and the Lobby here, both the UIA and the RIBA neglected their duty and responsibility to take action on suspending the IAUA from the UIA, not because it is "fashionable to bash Israel" but because of its 5 decades-long occupation and horrendous brutality and racism -perpetrated by the architecture and planning of the land grabs and illegal settlements, and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and Bedouin in the Negev and the West Bank.
    While Palestinian citizens of Israel posses some of the trappings of democracy, they are also subject to apartheid laws
    that in fact prevent them from living or owning property in 93% of Israel due to the Land Aquisition Acts and the Laws of Absentee Property . They cannot live in Israeli community housing, by the recently passed Admission Laws, and are constantly subject to harrasment, accused of being 5th Columnists, and its MKs subject to threats of expulsion.
    The Palestinians on the Occupied West Bank are subject to a more serious form of apartheid than South Africa, as has been well documented worldwide.

    Yes other countries like China need investigation -but that does not prevent the RIBA from taking up one of the most unjust crimes against a people of our time.


    Apropos the misguided delegation of the International Committee, this relates to, and tries to deflect from the 19 March Resolution, which is about the unacceptable professional practice of architecture. Israelis and Palestinians are not equal stakeholders in this issue . The RIBA should not be setting itself up as a 'mediator' which brings this into a political field which was so decried when the Motion was proposed.

    This is muddying the waters in what a clearly defined professional issue. In fact this delegation and its proposal are very damaging to the solution of this situation by neutralising
    it - in essence making sure that Israel's architects, who have collaborated and are an integral part of the occupation and colonisation, and who have never protested as an association against these crimes, are let off with 'dialoguing', and keeping the Palestinians in the same servitude -but offering them a few scholarships or educational advice -in effect accepting status quo of the occupation and making sure that real change, as requested by the Palestinians in applying pressure, boycotts and sanctions, will be made more difficult.

    Taking the previous action that the RIBA took against South African schools, it is as if instead of cutting its links with the schools, it made them more secure by visiting them and also the ANC and trying to 'mediate' between the two unequal sides, while ignoring the call for Boycotts by the ANC.

    This delegation is a colonial and arrogant approach which should be exposed, and it made clear that it is completely misdirected and damaging to the cause of helping the Palestinians to self-determination by applying world pressure on the intractable Israelis, by breaking institutional links with those professionals who are creating and underpinning the whole basis of the occupation, which is creating the facts on the ground.

    The 19 March Resolution still holds and must be pursued.

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  • The visit by some RIBA members reflects nothing but a clear and deliberate act of diversion from the original RIBA motion adopted on the 19th March -- which calls for the suspension of Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) from UIA.

    Not only the Palestinian team were not informed in advance with the aims and objectives of the visit. They were used as tools to strategically divert the RIBA motion which still stands and should be pursued.

    The Palestinian building professionals are shocked by the announcements made following RIBA members visit without any prior discussion or consultation with Palestinian team or with the RIBA team members who backed the motion of the 19th of March.

    The Palestinian Engineering Association stresses that the original motion to suspend IAUA -- for the unethical architectural practice strategically exercised to fragment the Palestinian society and their spaces -- should stand firm and get consolidated with clear strategy and plan of action by RIBA. Any attempts to divert the motion – especially by those who happen to have voted against it – is unacceptable.

    The release above with its contents is misleading and and indeed dangerous. What the Palestinians are suffering from is a result from the Israeli occupation and its illegal act of land confiscations, illegal settlements, apartheid wall and war crimes committed by Israel in breach to International Laws and the 4th Geneva Convention. This is not a 'civil conflict', nor it is a 'natural disaster'.





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  • In response to Abe Hayeem,
    I am sorry, but I refuse to be dragged into your delusional campaign of hate and biased/one-sided account of history.

    While you are trying to use this stage for your own political agenda I tried to stay on the subject - “If RIBA should take a political role as judge & prosecutor for the dozens of conflicts around the world”?
    If yes, should RIBA Members sponsor the travel, food, salaries and all the expenses involved for the expeditions of the “expert” judge panels?
    Since RIBA already took the role as a judge & prosecutor which is fine - why did they choose to target one single country?

    This is not justice, it is simply discrimination. The reason Israel was chosen is because it is an easy target which is fashionable to bash.

    I have lived in Britain long enough to know that the UK loves to hate Israel. I noticed that when I first came to London as a student many years ago, a London based architect refused to let me into his house for the only reason that I was born in Israel.

    Weak people hate, strong people embrace. RIBA has the opportunity to embrace and support the Israelis that do indeed refuse to build in the disputed land OR just become another Bully and boycott them all.

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  • Lior Broche: this is not a delusional campaign at all. It is very clearheaded, and carefully considered, and not directed to 'bash Israel" but because the RIBA has to answer the call of Palestinians to support them in their impossible struggle for justice in taking a stand on the issue that is at the heart of this ongoing crisis, which is the land-grab and settlement-building in which architects and planners are directly involved. The usual "whataboutery" citing all the countries with human rights abuses, is used to divert the issue with accusations of anti-Semitism, absurd when so many of those who support this action are Jewish and many are Israelis. In fact it is Eyal Weizman who has been most eloquent on this, and his statement was published in the AJ. To quote him "The duties of professional organizations such as the International Union of Architects and the Royal Institute of British Architects are not only to promote design excellence but also the political and ethical implications of architecture, in the UK and internationally. Such organizations must thus confront violations of human rights and international law, especially when these violations are undertaken by architects and through architecture.
    The Israeli regime of military occupation is in violation of international law including the Geneva Convention and human rights laws and regulations. This is accepted by virtually all international bodies including the International Court of Justice, the UN, the EU amongst others.
    In the context of Israel’s occupation, architecture — employed for the construction of settlements, segregated roadways, industrial zones, and the wall — is the very means by which these violations are perpetrated. Israeli construction in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is undertaken upon land illegally seized from its private or public owners. It squeezes out Palestinian communities, robbing them of their resources and water, and cutting them apart from each other. The architecture of Israel’s occupation is an ongoing form of violence that must be stopped.
    While not all members of the Israel Association of United Architects are involved in building in Occupied Palestinian Territories and many may be against such actions — as an organization it must take an ethical and legal stand, but it has not. Anyone who has seen the built realities of Israel’s occupation would understand that this stand is also professional. Architects should be pained to see the beautiful and fragile landscape of the West Bank ruined by a form of architecture that is as careless as it is criminal."
    Israel's architects are uniquely involved with state and military policy -more than any country in the world. It is singled out because it claims to be "the only democracy in the Middle East"
    and yet behaves as a brutal police state -becoming even more out of control, because the US and UK have re-inforced their complete impunity to international law, while paying lip-service in condemnation of its war crimes and land-grabs -stolen from Palestinians, making their supposed state impossible.The UK too bears a responsibility for creating the Zionist state, starting from the Balfour Declaration. So it seems quite logical now for the RIBA to do something, and for those Israeli architects, who oppose the illegal actions of its government, to actually support this action -which in fact against the AIUA as an institution, and not individual architects. As Eyal Weizman says, echoing Desmond Tutu "Non-intervention in this context is not neutral but the taking of a political position for the violent status quo by default".

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  • Dear Abe,
    This is simply not true; RIBA was founded in order to promote British Architecture – that’s it!
    Therefore, as a British Architect member I’d much prefer them to push for reform in our dysfunctional planning system that gives absolute control to planners that have zero knowledge or understanding about architecture & design.
    I am personally frustrated at how easy it is for projects to be stuck for ridiculous reasons for months in the appeals system and the outdated bureaucracy of the UK planning system.

    If RIBA would like to fight for the worldwide justice of architecture then why not fight to recover and hand back to its original owners all the architectural items that have been stolen from countries in the past and are currently sitting in British museums?

    Israel is a democratic country where you have full freedom of speech and press, therefore people behind the ‘campaigns of hate’ know they can get away with it.

    It seems unjust that this blanket approach towards Israeli architects will alienate the architects that make a conscience choice not to be involved in the projects that are based in disputed land.

    There is so much wrong within the Middle East at the moment but RIBA decides to pick up on a small and easy target to get political gain in knowing that they can safely send their ‘panel of experts’ as judges.

    I would like to see how they would be welcomed in China or Turkey !?

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  • Dear Abe,
    This is simply not true; RIBA was founded in order to promote British Architecture – that’s it!
    Therefore, as a British Architect member I’d much prefer them to push for reform in our dysfunctional planning system that gives absolute control to planners that have zero knowledge or understanding about architecture & design.
    I am personally frustrated at how easy it is for projects to be stuck for ridiculous reasons for months in the appeals system and the outdated bureaucracy of the UK planning system.

    If RIBA would like to fight for the worldwide justice of architecture then why not fight to recover and hand back to its original owners all the architectural items that have been stolen from countries in the past and are currently sitting in British museums?

    Israel is a democratic country where you have full freedom of speech and press, therefore people behind the ‘campaigns of hate’ know they can get away with it.

    It seems unjust that this blanket approach towards Israeli architects will alienate the architects that make a conscience choice not to be involved in the projects that are based in disputed land.

    There is so much wrong within the Middle East at the moment but RIBA decides to pick up on a small and easy target to get political gain in knowing that they can safely send their ‘panel of experts’ as judges.

    I would like to see how they would be welcomed in China or Turkey !?

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