Board & Mission Statement
Why IAM?
About Us
Articles by IAM Associates
Ben-Gurion University
Hebrew University
University of Haifa
Tel Aviv University
Other Institutions
Boycott Calls Against Israel
Israelis in Non-Israeli Universities
Anti-Israel Petitions Supported by Israeli Academics
General Articles
Anti-Israel Conferences
Anti-Israel Academic Resolutions
Lectures Interrupted
Activists Profiles
Readers Forum
On the Brighter Side
How can I complain?
Contact Us / Subscribe
Other Institutions
(Technion & Bezalel College) Architecture Lecturer Eyal Weizman denounces Israel as colonialist oppressor

Posted By info@re-public On 27th September 2007

 Architect Eyal Weizman discusses his new book, [1] Hollow Land - an
exploration of the political space created by Israel’s occupation as a laboratory of advanced capitalist colonialism in which the actions of the Israeli military, humanitarian workers, settlers, and different groups of the colonised themselves are intertwined, forming intense relationships. 


Konstantin Kastrissianakis: In your recently published book, [2] Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation you provide a multilayered understanding of what the spatial dimensions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are. Architecture and planning are revealed as strategic tools in the conflict, could you elaborate as to how this is so?

Eyal Weizman: The book is looking at the various means of spatial
dispossession and control that Israel has built in the West Bank and Gaza. It attempts to read them not only as an index of government top-down planning, but, instead, to see the ways in which they are reflecting conflicts and contradictions and how they mirror the play of various independent or semi independent organizations, whose actions are ‘architectural’ in as much as they have solidified into form. What this book tries to go against, in a historiographic manner, is the idea that there is a one to one relationship between state ideology and facts on the ground. Until now, most of the research on Israel-Palestine has looked at built realities as the output of the intentions of a chief political or military designer. That the relation of space and power is that organized centralised power determines spatial organization. In fact, the relation between space and politics is never like that; it is in fact responding to many and diffused forces and influence, space is the product of
conflicting interests. Even if we are speaking from within the hegemonic Israeli discourse, it has many fissures within it. Even the practices of the Israeli occupation of Palestine embody more contradictions than coherence. This is of course no excuse to the brutal occupation and the ongoing violation of Palestinian legal rights, but I think hat if we are more nuanced in understanding politics we could as well find better ways to manage and deal with conflicts.

The consequence of all this – and this is outlined very clearly in the book – is the existence of systems of dispossession, and violations of human rights and international law. The idea behind the book is to ask how do you take a built reality, like a settlement, a checkpoint, a road, the wall, and treat those not as embodiments of state ideology but as diagrams of the very complex political force fields around them. Built forms are a result of the mediation among the interests and demands of humanitarians, the intentions of the Israeli military –and the books makes distinctions between various sectors within the military itself, the influence of international organisations, the various wills of Palestinian
organizations themselves –and their internal conflicts play as well a major role in shaping space. This approach is based on a more ecological understanding of the spaces of conflict. In an ecology of conflict state-bound and non-state bound actors are operating in a condition of relationality and feedback. In fact, the West Bank is this kind of laboratory, where all these actors are linked in a relation of
conflict/cooperation and through various other forms of association in a very intense and accelerated manner. You need to see the realities of the occupation in the West Bank as a field of forces which is extremely diffused, operating through the transformation of the built environment. This will allow you to see the Wall for example not only as the obvious material manifestation of state ideology but as a diagram of all forces that act and change its path as it is built. In many cases Palestinian and Israeli organizations were successful in changing the path of the wall. – moving it closer to the international border. The problem, however, always was that by interfering in the design of the wall they pretty much accepted it as a fact. There is always a paradox of lesser evil involved in decisions to act.

K.K.: In the end, however, something is built, something perennial materialises.

E.W.: Even what is built there is not simply an embodiment of power politics. If you look in a more nuanced way the contour of the settlement, I would argue that its form is an index of these conflicting forces. The form itself grafts various aspects of Israeli and Palestinian
micro-politics. An analysis that just sticks to the obvious - almost metaphysical- notion of evil intentions would miss another level of understanding, re: the way in which the form of architecture can graph the working of various groups within Israeli society, the working of NGOs, the working of Palestinian resistance, the ways in which humanitarians and international groups are working spatially within this environment. That is why I insist on the concept of the flexibility of architectural forms – it does not mean that the elements of the wall are in and of themselves soft or pliable but that the wall is the key to understanding the
relationship between forces and form.

The wall might seem as the clearest manifestation of power politics, state ideology and human right violations, but its root grafts and surrenders to other forces as well. Not registering that would be to misunderstand the ecology of the conflict. Ecology is a good analytical category, because it includes a relationship between various kinds of organisations and their interests, it shows that there are co-dependencies, co-evolutions.

K.K.: You explain in your book that the wall reveals like a seismograph the forces that shape that ecology. As a built form does it actually serve its intended purpose?

E.W.: It is effective on a very mechanical level; it is making Palestinian life in the area very miserable. It makes it very difficult for
Palestinians to move. Considering, however, the economy of belligerency, if you want to deliver explosives from the West Bank or Gaza to the 1948 part of Palestine you could still do it over the ground or under the ground, as it has been recently demonstrated in Gaza. The wall can never be hermetic. It is just one of a series of technologies of control that Israel has placed throughout the West Bank and throughout Israeli space. [3] Adi Ophir called it “the monster’s tail” - I think it is a good definition.

K.K.: It seems to me that the wall in itself might be an embodiment of what Giorgio Agamben calls [4] the ‘state of exception’.

E.W.: In fact, my analysis could be read as rather critical of Agamben and more in line with Foucauldian thinking. Agamben sees things in purely antagonistic terms: the normal state of affairs versus the state of exception, inside/outside [5] sovereign/homo sacer. Under the term ‘state of exception’ the occupied, the victim is incarcerated in a camp and has no agency at all. She is a pure body without rights or ability to act and shape her life.

My analysis refuses both the all powerful sovereign and the powerless victim. I could show that within the supposedly unified Israeli sovereign system there are all sorts of internal conflicts, inefficiencies,
incapacities and failures. Palestinian agency is also a real factor in this conflict. Palestinians through politics or armed struggle have as well shaped the realities of the conflict and their resistance has been powerful and effective at times. Calling the wall, or the occupied territories a state or a zone of exception threatens to become more of a barrier than a tool of analysis, because it simplifies the situation rather than opening it up. Israel, after all, has been in a state of exception since its inception. Every kind of significant policy towards the Palestinians has been argued on the basis of the state of exception. For Agamben, the state of exception has become the norm. In this respect, it is a redundant category. If We are already within the state of
exception, the entire politics of the area take place within this state to the degree that exception does not help us understand what is actually going on. Our current emergency does not occlude politics and agency.

K.K.: Critical theory and post-structural language are shown in your book to be used by the Israeli military in its tactics of combat. What do you think this says about critical theory?

E.W.: When you are in conflict, you grab every tool that you can. Israel has been using everything. They have been using roads. What does this then say about roads? Everything can become a tool in the context of conflict. The intention of the book is not simply to blame critical theory. It could be abused as everything else. What you see is the operative level of critical and postmodern theory, which have been in turn been influenced by military tactics.

There is no great divide between critical theory and military thinking. Deleuze and Guattari – themselves fluent in military theory – (similarly Guy Debord) –[6] had already warned that the state apparatus might use the war machine. [7] Toni Negri argues, for example, that the global
capitalist economy is moving very close to his ideal of communism. Far from being simply “subversive,” these theories are saturated in the operational mode of today’s capitalism - the whole infrastructure is already there, but the world needs to change its thinking about itself. Negri says that the empire and the multitude are co-dependent categories.

K.K.: We see a dynamic where subversive movements are subverted, where the use of subversion is taken over by the state.

E.W.: For me, what is more interesting is to see how we can subvert the entire apparatus of occupation. To make a detournement to it, and to use all the stuff that Israel has built in the West Bank as agents for another form of life. They are facts, they are there. What you do with these settlements once they are evacuated? How do you turn them into places of habitat for Palestinians? How do you turn this environment on its head? How could we revolutionize an order whose very principle is constant self-revolutionizing?

K.K.: How do you do it?

E.W.: Well, this is what I am currently trying to do with Palestinian architects. We are trying to turn these settlements from sites of
exclusion to sites of Palestinian public institutions, non-state
institutions, and so on. It is a utopian plan. Why destroy these spaces, when you can turn them on their heads, when you can turn their surfaces around?

K.K.: In Gaza, these spaces have already been destroyed…

E.W.: Yes. I thought it was a great crime to have destroyed these
settlements. Though they are hated by Palestinians, they were built by Palestinians. It is exactly this sort of tension between the spaces of liberation and the spaces of oppression that needs to materialise.

We don’t need more destruction of very serviceable buildings. But, what does it mean to inhabit the house of your enemy? What does it mean to actually live there? We did not suggest that people would actually live there; this would reproduce the power hierarchies in space and would fall into the postcolonial traps of the colonised becoming the colonizer. There are other ways to subvert the previous power structures that permeate these settlements and transform them into news forms of institutions.

What does it mean to create institutions that specialise their functions in the suburbs? How can a hospital exist in a suburb? What has to change, what has to remain? This process would need to invent new forms of the public. It is important, to creatively think about how these places can be transformed.

K.K.: To come back to your book, you mention there the ‘humanitarian paradox’, which implies that even with the best of intentions humanitarian intervention may do more to perpetuate the problem rather than help in its solution.

E.W.: This is why I call it the humanitarian paradox, rather than the humanitarian crime or the humanitarian problem. It is always a paradox: you do both good and bad. You may do good on a local level, but bad in the context of the larger political agenda. And one needs to learn to operate within this paradox, rather than surrender to it. There is no point trying to push the pendulum to one side or another.

If you participate to improve the life of an individual, of a community, of a city, and so on you should do it. Sometimes, even if this makes you complicit with other forces, but you should learn to operate both within and outside the system.

What I want to see is critical practices. I don’t want to criticise activists saying they are just as bad as the military. This is not my intention. My intention in pointing out the problem is to prevent mistakes from being repeated and to find ways to better gear local action to larger political issues. How can you operate both as an activist and a witness? How can you operate both as an activist and an information centre? How can you put pressure from the outside while being inside? These questions open up new possibilities for action rather than closing them.

K.K.: It’s a very difficult position to adopt for an architect…

E.W.: But, this is our most important task. Just opting for the lesser evil is total complicity.

K.K.: This does not only apply to conflict situations, to Israel…

E.W.: Of course. A critical practice would aim through its intervention to challenge the entire system, destabilise the way it thinks of itself, destabilise the way the world thinks about it. That is why I do not accept that there is no outside. You can think from within and outside the system simultaneously.

K.K.: That is why an organisation like [8] MSF gives you inspiration?

E.W.: They made horrible blunders, especially in Rwanda. They realised that by giving aid they created refugee camps that were later attacked. So, in fact, they were responsible for facilitating the genocide. They have acknowledged and learned from it. To argue that because of this there should be no humanitarianism is wrong. Could you accept that? I see any humanitarian action as cooperation with people who perceive themselves or are perceived as persecuted. It has to be done by acknowledging the paradoxes and the dangers of humanitarian assistance.

If you look at the role of the Red Cross during the Second World War it shows a complete complicity. They refused to report on the existence of the extermination camps as not to endanger their work under an oath of neutrality. But, then again was it better to have the Red Cross or not? I would say that in the context of WWII they did more damage than good. However, this remains an open question. As Agamben again says,
humanitarians are always already complicit with the forces of biopolitics. Yes, they could be. But, can we find a way out of it?

Engagement is always contingent; it is a kind of an analogue relation, geographically and conceptually.

K.K.: We keep on coming back to Agamben’s theory. It seems that it is difficult to push it aside, although you were against the idea of
connecting the wall with the state of exception.

E.W.: The wall does not separate two sides, Israel and Palestine, but Palestinians from Palestinians. It slices through the heart of a geography where Jewish and Palestinian spaces were previously overlapping. The conflict cannot be seen through the prism of traditional colonial
analysis. In this sense, the occupation is a laboratory of advanced capitalist colonialism in which the military, humanitarian workers, settlers, and different groups of the colonised themselves are sharing the same plain and their actions are intertwined, forming intense

Another useful way of understanding the geographical outcome of all of this is as an “archipelago of exceptions”. It is the idea whereby a geographical order is no longer exclusively based upon the model of the homogenous nation-state and continuous borders, but a spatial order fragmented into a multiplicity of extraterritorial zones. These zones could be zones of legal exception’ where sovereignty is in question. Contemporary extraterritorial spaces are embodied today by humanitarian zones, refugee and internment camps, manufacturing enclaves, military bases and some gated communities of nationals abroad.

Contemporary political space has now grown to resemble similar territorial patchwork of introvert enclaves. It is an incessant sea, poked by
multiplying archipelagos of externally alienated and internally homogenous enclaves – outside the control of the territories surrounding them. Various other zones – zones of political piracy, zones of crisis, zones of barbaric violence, zones of “humanitarian catastrophes,” zones of full citizenship, no citizenship or “weak citizenship” are located side by side, each within the other, simultaneously and in unprecedented
proximities. The dynamic morphology of contemporary frontier-territories is an evolving image of transformation; borders ebb and flow, creep along, stealthily surround buildings, roads, transport hubs, villages and cities. The scar tissue of the splintering multitude of contemporary digital or physical “separations” is fragmented across multiple sites: local or regional fortification, embassies, residential enclaves, military camps, off-shore production zones, mineral extraction sites, airports as well as the shadow zones of the dispossessed, in ad-hoc detention centers, occupied by refugees, ‘illegal’ immigrants, asylum seekers and other undesirable “suspects.”



Article printed from Re-public : re-imagining democracy - english version: http://www.re-public.gr/en

URL to article: http://www.re-public.gr/en/?p=194

URLs in this post:
[1] Hollow Land:
http://www.versobooks.com/books/tuvwxyz/w-titles/weizman_e_hollow_land.shtml [2] Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation:
http://www.versobooks.com/books/tuvwxyz/w-titles/weizman_e_hollow_land.shtml [3] Adi Ophir: http://www.tau.ac.il/humanities/cohn/staff/adi-ophir.htm [4] the ‘state of exception’:
[5] sovereign/homo sacer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_sacer
[6] had already warned: http://www.semiotexte.com/books/nomadology.html [7] Toni Negri argues: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/HAREMI.html [8] MSF: http://www.msf.org/



Back to "Other Institutions"Send Response
Top Page
    Developed by Sitebank & Powered by Blueweb Internet Services
    Visitors: 256971794Send to FriendAdd To FavoritesMake It HomepagePrint version