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Trade delegation mission to Israel and Palestine: profession reacts

  • 10 Comments

The United Kingdom Trade & Investment (UKTI) has organised a trade mission for architects looking to work in Palestine and Israel

The trip, which will take place from 8 to 11 December, will take in construction projects in Tel Aviv and Ramallah and look at opportunities afforded by cities being built in New Jericho and Galilee.

Architects on the UK delegation will also meet with both the Israeli Association of Architects and the Association of Architects in Palestine.

It will be the first time that the London arm of UKTI has taken architects to Israel and Palestine. The organisation said there were ‘a number of large opportunities, including major new cities’ in the area.

Malcolm Cohen, the trade adviser leading the mission, said: ‘The basis of the trip is an opportunity for architects to identify potential commercial opportunities to get involved in the market. We are taking them to Israel and the Palestinian West Bank, letting them understand the dynamics of the market, the opportunities in the region and the relevant contacts.’

But Cohen said the UKTI mission was not political. He said: ‘We are very aware of the political backdrop of the context but the mission is about commercial opportunities. It is not political.’

He added: ‘We take companies to markets where we hope to assist them in obtaining work. What we are looking at is a market where we saw potential and architects wouldn’t find it easy to go alone.’

However former RIBA President Brady said what was needed instead was a ‘humanitarian visit dedicated to witnessing the destruction caused by the 51-day war on Gaza in addition to visiting the occupied territories and getting an insight on the settlements’.

She added: ‘It seems very insensitive and out of kilter with world opinion to be seeking work there at this time. People need to seek an understanding of the situation on the ground there and I’m not so sure this trip as advertised shows this.’

Meanwhile London-based architect Debbie Flevotomou cautioned architects over the risk involved in doing work in politically unstable countries.

She said: ‘Doing work in countries with unstable political situations is very risky. The projects are larger and the budgets are huge, but the work may stop at any time.’

Flevotomou added: ‘The trip will give an opportunity for architects to visit the place, but not necessarily find them any potential projects.

‘It will be better for architects to look at the humanitarian issues in countries with political problems, rather than business.’

Further comments

Charles Jencks, landscape architect

‘That there are great commercial opportunities divorced from politics is rare in most cases; but today in Israel and Palestine it is impossible. Architects, if they go, should examine the facts on the ground and which way they are growing.’

John Robertson, director, John Robertson Architects

‘It is always very difficult to ignore the humanitarian issues when considering business in Israel and Palestine; however the region requires investment and engagement if the cycle of violence is to be overcome. On balance therefore it’s is a good thing that the UKTI is arranging missions like this to promote the talents of UK architects. Rebuilding and reconstruction with the involvement of talented UK firms must be a positive-provided the designs we export contribute to the rich and historic context of the region.’

Owen Luder, past-RIBA president

‘When I was one of the first British architects to start prospecting for work abroad in 1975 as the economy had nosedived and construction work load had collapsed here, there were a number of boxes I had to tick before I considered going to any area or country.

  1. Do you have the skills, expertise and track record that would be of serious interest?
  2. Could you afford the upfront costs involved in getting fee earning work before any fees came in?
  3. Would you get paid and if so could you get your money out?
  4. What were the political risks in the area or country involved? Was the ruling regime stable? (I pulled out of Iran as I sensed it was not)
  5. Were you safe. What were the personal risks? A judgement as to whether the risk was manageable and whether the potential return was worth it.
  6. Were there any ethical issues. Political ideology and/or culture. (I could have designed high security prisons in Iran – but did not take up the offer. I pulled out of Nigeria because I did not like the culture  of corruption and the lawlessness).

‘I suspect any architect thinking of taking up the UKTI offer should see how many of these boxes he/she could tick positively before agreeing to join this marketing exercise and then decide whether the get involved.

‘While I would have no problems with questions 1 and 2 the rest would be problematical with going to this part of the Middle East (or any part at present).

‘If you were able to tick all the boxes – what about box 6 - the ethical issues?

‘I guess these considerations apply today.

‘That is a personal decision but I wouldn’t go.’

 

  • 10 Comments

Readers' comments (10)

  • Is the hidden agenda to implicate UK architects in the design of illegal settlements, and by giving them a slice of the action, buy off and stifle all criticism of the AIA? The Ad reads " there are exciting opportunities for architects, especially those with specialist expertise, to work collaboratively with local partners.'
    How many of these "local partners" will be Palestinians? Visions of vultures circling spring to mind.

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  • Owen Luder and others who share his opinion should, perhaps, acquaint themselves a bit more with the facts 'on the ground', Israel is the only free democracy in the Middle East; ALL minorities, Arabs, Jews, Druze, Christians and others have a vote as well as free speech. There is a huge amount of cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank to the benefit of all concerned.

    Israel is also the ONLY country in the Middle East where all faiths have full freedom of worship (except Jews on the Temple Mount which they have willingly ceded to the Muslims) and where Christians are not persecuted -- and where the Christian population is actually growing.

    Those going on the trip will usefully see for themselves and I hope benefit their practices and the UK economy from the business opportunities that exist -- and which in construction particularly, benefit both Israel and Palestine.

    (PS Both sons of the Druze policeman murdered this week have volunteered to join the Israeli police force.)

    Daniel Rosenfelder

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  • Architects in the UK should examine their consciences and the intentions of any invitations that could link their presence with any wrongdoing, such as illegal settlements.

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  • This visit is more than "insensitive" It is grotesque. There are thousands of piles of rubble which used to be homes in Gaza where Israel is frustrating the delivery of reconstruction materials; refusing to participate in the post conflict investigation by the UN; declaring homes "illegal" and demolishing homes in east Jerusalem (the owners have to pay for the pleasure); vindictively refusing development permits to all but Israeli jews; making rights to remain an oppressive bureaucratic instrument for only Palestinian families. The list goes on. Is this really a suitable environment for a trade mission? Architects need to wake up and take responsibility for their actions. Keep away and press for change.

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  • I also want to clarify that I have the highest regard for UKTI having working with them for many years in many countries. They are a GREAT partner for RIBA and open many doors for architects. It is the timing of their proposed trip that I was critical of when it was pointed out to me by AJ as I was unaware of it.
    As chair of Women in Architecture I led a very successful mission with the British Council NENA programme for the Women@Work to Palestine 7 years ago and RIBA later signed and MOU in 2010 with their Engineers and Architects association to continue to work together and share good practice and experience.
    It was on that trip that our group could see at first hand the plight of our colleagues there and with that insight we want to continue to help our professional colleagues when there is a call for help and a call for justice for architectural practice and ethical standards.
    It is working with groups like this that we can get a better understanding of the humanitarian situation and learn how to act accordingly in a professional way.

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  • While the UKTI may be doing good work in missions to many countries -it is not only the timing of this visit, which , as John van Royen says is grotesque, but the principle of this visit that is misguided.

    Seeing Tel Aviv, a thriving modern city as a business opportunity, when it already has its own high-tech industry, and a profusion of Israeli architects -many educated in the US and UK -is like visiting South Africa at the height of the apartheid days, eager to participate in its wealth, while the black population struggled for its freedom.

    Israel 's violence against the Palestinians has reached an unprecedented level, with the acceleration of dispossession of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, and repeated murderous assaults and urbicide in Gaza, still under an intensified blockade, in what is a high-security prison. Regular assaults and brutal repression and separation, with the ravaging of civil, political and economic rights, and the blatant acquisition of any land or estate that Israel wants by force epitomises the ongoing regime of oppression and occupation that can only be ended by adherence to international law, pressure and sanctions.

    Going on jaunts for business opportunities, as if we are all good friends together, is like fiddling while Rome burns. It is just not on -and sends the wrong message to Israel, and Israel's architects' association who are participating and giving physical form to the dispossession and subjugation of a whole people.

    This has all been profusely documented in the media, and condemned, and then turned upside down as if nothing has happened, because Israel is singled out for favoured nation status, especially by the US and UK, no matter what it does. This only add fuel to a Middle East already in utter turmoil.

    Daniel Rosenfelder's rosy picture of Israel as "the only free democracy in the Middle East", while possessing some trappings of democracy, has at its basis, an entrenched and legislated pattern of discrimination in housing, planning, land ownership and development, and some insidious racist laws governing citizenship and full civil rights. Israel's new "Nation State Bill" about to pass in the Knesset will codify that only Jews will have the right to national self-determination in Israel, which the bill defines as both a Jewish and democratic state and is liable to exacerbate conflicts within Israeli society.

    The RIBA took what could be a historic decision at Council which was meant to be implemented at the UIA General Assmbly -but deliberately fudged.Now it is in the process of organising delegations and visits like this UKTI one, defeating the whole intention of the 19 March Resolution. The IAUA should be shunned not engaged with - so the message that there is a price to pay, rather than being rewarded for professional misconduct embedded in its practice - is driven home.

    This visit and any others planned should be cancelled, and if not, architects here should uphold professional ethics and not participate in such an insult to the campaign for freedom and self-determination of the beleaguered Palestinians.

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  • In case any architects thinking of signing up for this trip are unsure of the status of Jericho, here is some information:-
    The city is in an enclave of the Jordan Valley that is in Area A of the West Bank, while the surrounding area is designated as being in Area C under full Israeli military control. Four roadblocks encircle the enclave, restricting Jericho's Palestinian population's movement through the West Bank.

    In response to the 2001 Second Intifada and suicide bombings, Jericho was re-occupied by Israeli troops. A 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) deep trench was built around a large part of the city to control Palestinian traffic to and from Jericho.

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  • I would like to congratulate the UKTI for promoting British architecture and helping us to get work abroad.
    I am glad that they are being open minded and have not given in to the recent bully / hate campaign lead by RIBA.
    It appears that the UKTI is doing the job that should be RIBA’s purpose and at least they are engaging with both sides to create work that benefits both sides. i.e. does not create further divisions.

    The 51 day war was actually a 55 day war since the Hamas (which is viewed as a terror group by the UK and other countries) had been firing a barrage of missiles into Israel days before the war started. So, Israel decided to take action like any country would do to defend its citizens (a small detail that was omitted from every British news channel and by the above article).
    The blockade in Gaza started because of constant hostility towards Israel. This blockade was also imposed by Egypt however, this was not mentioned by the leaders of the Hate Campaign.
    The fact is that this is a complex situation with a long history and it is irresponsible and damaging to think that Israel is the only guilty partner here.

    I wish that RIBA will put the same amount of energy to promote change within our outdated and dysfunction planning system in the UK.

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  • Free the occupied territories - tear down the wall.

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  • Lior Broch -the bullying /hate campaign is the one carried out by the pro-Israel lobby in trying to divert the RIBA from carrying out its professional and ethical decisions of Council and trying to subvert its democratic will. The UKTI mission involves a disgraceful attempt to promote work for British architects on new cities in Israel' s Galilee and the occupied West Bank that involve Judaisation of Palestinan areas in the Galilee and Negev and mass displacement or obstruction of Palestinians from their villages.

    Contrary to your warped version of the Gaza onslaught by Israel, it was Israel that broke the ceasefire, killed many Palestinians, arresting hundreds in the West Bank that led to the justified resistance by Hamas acting in self defence against a crippling seven year illegal blockade imposed by the Israelis.
    The UN has called Israel's deliberate attack on civilians in the GazaStrip 'gross violations of international law'.
    Israel has since imposed an even tighter siege on Gaza and a horrendous man-made humanitarian emergency -making it impossible for any reconstruction to happen.
    It is these sorts of crimes that should make the UKTI and the RIBA shun these sorts of missions, and press for the Council's resolution to suspend the Israeli architects' association, which has never censured their members' participation in illegal criminal projects, or expressed any condemnation of the Gaza urbicide or ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to build Israeli projects on their stolen land.

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