occupation. It was built as a military base by the British
Mandatory army during the Arab revolt (referred to by
some as the very first intifadah). After 1948 it has become
a military base of the Jordan Legion. After 1967 it has become
an Israeli military base.
It would be possible to imagine this base used
by a revolutionary Palestinian army, but Palestinian military
tactics are more stealthy and covert and have no
need for the static high-point bases of yesterday’s wars.
During the Oslo era an agreement was signed
between the municipality of Beit Sahour and the central
government under Arafat, guarantying that in case of a
possible Israeli evacuation the base would not be used by
the Palestinian police and be handed over to the management
of the municipality as a public space. Upon gaining
control of the site a municipal masterplan designated a
set of public functions, a neighborhood with a hospital and
an amusement park. A play area for children, a restaurant
and an open garden for events have already been constructed
on the slopes of the hill.
The most contentious part of the site is its summit.
There, several concrete buildings formed the heart of
the former camp. Surrounded by a giant earth mound running
the top rim of the hill these building seem to inhabit
the crater of a volcano.
Although the summit is evacuated, it is still kept under
the [remote] control of the Israeli military. Providing the
most strategic views in the entire area, the military did not
accept it occupied by Palestinian eyes.
Revolving Door Occupations
Since its evacuation the summit and the buildings that
inhabit it were at the centre of various political vortex and
contentious confrontations between Jewish settlers, the
Israeli military and Palestinian organizations and in which
our office has been directly engaged. In may 2008, protesting
against Bush visit to Israel and in anticipation of some
‘government concessions’ settler groups sought to use
the emptied buildings of the military base as the nucleus
for a new settlement/outpost. The topographical location
of the base on the summit and its existing fortification
would easily lend themselves, they thought, to their regimented
and securitised way of life. The military declared
the site “closed military zone” but nearly every week settlers
come back to occupy the base, hold picnics, heritage
tours and Torah lessons there and raise the Israeli flag.
Israeli soldiers are present to ‘protect’ the settlers.
Palestinian and international activists including members of
our office also occupy the site and confront the settlers. A set
of competing graffiti written by one side and then obliterated
by the other testifies for a ‘revolving door’ occupancy. Our
proposal for the reuse of this site becomes also an intervention
into the contentious political struggle for this hilltop.
UNGROUNDING: Urbanism of the first 10 centimeters
Could controlled material decay become a process of place
making? How destruction could become a design process
that may lead to new uses?
In the case of ungrounding it is clear that the
destruction of the surface –through actively uprooting its
elements and also through accelerating the decay of other
surface elements– would create the ground from which
new life could emerge.
In the base of Oush Grab we have employed the
first stages of our architectural proposal as forms of destruction.
Because of its ‘revolving door occupation’ in which the
danger of the place’s appropriation by settlers always exist,
it is important to first render the building less amenable to be
used, before allowing for new functions to inhabit them.
As a first stage of design we propose to perforate
the buildings of the military base by drilling holes into
their walls. When the building is finally appropriated these
would render walls into screens.
Another way of intervention within the base
is to transform its landscape. The earth rampart raised
around the buildings has been constantly shifting due to
Palestinian contractors using the site as a dump for their
unwanted rubble and to other contractors taking some of
the earth from the rampart as material for construction.
Our intervention seeks to use the shifting nature of the
rampart to reorganize the relationship between the buildings
and the landscape. We will partially bury the buildings
in the rubble of their own fortifications.
The molecular level of the occupation is the
single-family house on a small plot of land. Investigating
ways to transform this repetitive semi-generic structure
may open up ways to transform the entire geography of
occupation. What are its limits of transformability?
Can a single-family home become the nucleus
of a new type of public institutions? Which structural
parts should be retained and what are the possible ways
of connecting together groups of houses?
The problem is also how to transform a series
of small-scale single-family houses into unified clusters
of communal space, to accommodate larger functions like
halls and classrooms, laboratories for a research institute,
clinics and offices.
The problem of unhoming is not only a technical question of
transformations.. A lingering question throughout the project
was is how to inhabit the home of one’s enemy. Within
the multiple cultures that inhabited Palestine throughout
the decades, rarely has one ever been the “first” or “original”
occupier; but rather one is always a subsequent. To inhabit
the land is always to inhabit it in relation either to one’s present-
day enemies or to an imagined or real ancient civilization.
This is a condition that turns the habitation of old cities,
archaeological sites, battlegrounds, and destroyed villages
into culturally complex acts of co- or trans-habitation.
For example –we believe that any act of de-colonization
must include interventions in the field of vision.
The settlements are organized as optical devices on suburban
scale. Their pattern of streets as concentric rings
around the hilltop, the placement of each house, the space
between the houses and the organization of windows and
rooms follow design principles that seek to maximize the
power of vision with both national-aesthetic and nationalstrategic
aims in mind. The pastoral view out of home
windows reinforces a sense of national belonging when it
reads traces of Palestinian daily lives –olive groves, stone
terraces, livestock– as signifiers of an ancient holy landscape.
The paradox of vision is that although what composes
the panorama are traces of Palestinian daily lives, the
settlers wish to have these inhabitants disappear.
The view is also national-strategic in overseeing
tactical roadways and surveying the Palestinian cities
and refugee camps. The visual affect of the settlements
on Palestinians is in generating a constant sense of being
seen. From Palestinian cities one can hardly avoid seeing
a settlement, and one is most often seen by one.
Because the organization of homes is directed
towards the surrounding view, the main door into each settlement
home is approached from the inner areas of the settlement.
Entering the home one moves into the living areas
and the main window which opens onto the landscape. But
what happens if the people that should now be arriving at these
houses are those otherwise “composing of the view”, if the
new user would now approach the house from the view?
Our response is a small-scale intervention. We
propose to change the direction of the front door to face,
not the inner areas of the settlement but the Palestinian
cities. Changing the direction from which one enters the
house, also alters the spatial syntax of its interior. This
small-scale intervention is ‘cinematic’ in the sense that it
is an intervention in the framing of the conditions of vision
and in directing ways of seeing. It reorganizes the field of
the visible, a perspective folded onto itself.
In the course of our analysis, we made use of both documentary
and narrative sources to identify some of the landowners
within the areas of the colonies.
Jabel Tawil/P’sagot is at the gravitational centre
of various orbits of extra-territoriality: displaced communities,
individuals, migrations and family connections.
Our investigation traced some of the Palestinian landowners
to the US, Australia, Kuwait, Saudi-Arabia, Iraq and of
course in Palestine closer at hand, sometimes fenced off a
few meters away from their lands. Their private and family
histories are the intertwined histories of Palestine and its
displaced communities, forced out by the occupation and
by economic and professional opportunities overseas.
About half of the area occupied by the Psagot colony
belongs to private owners with the other half registered
as belonging to one of various kinds of collective lands.3
The fate of private lands should be decided by
their owners, it is within the communal lands that we propose
various types of collective uses.
We discovered a map dating 1954 which shows
the original parcellation of land on Jabel Tawil. We superimposed
the 1954 plan onto the plan of the colony. The
Palestinian demarcation lines cut arbitrary paths through
the suburban fabric of the settlements, sometimes literally
through the structures themselves, creating a new relationship
between the houses and their parcels, internal
and external spaces and between public and private spaces.
Some of these odd lots are public lands. This archipelago
of public lots forms the basis of our proposals
The Public, the Communal, and the Non-Governmental
Public spaces and public institutions are generally managed
by state and/or local authorities and are thus an
important means by which the act of government articulates
itself. In Palestine, the long period of “statelessness”
under colonialism has shifted the manner by which public
space and the public in general functions.
Until the beginning of the 1990s, Palestinian
cities where directly managed by the Israeli Military.
Through the “civil administration” the military controlled
planning and development permission and thus the central
activities of the different municipalities. During this
period the Palestinian cities where transformed into dormitory
towns with very little public space. Furthermore,
the ‘civil administration’ actively inhibited pubic institutions
from developing. Private clubs, cinemas, schools and
universities were put under close scrutiny or forcibly shut.
The military required any association of more than three
persons to have a permit. But difficulty in establishing
and maintaining public institutions persisted even after
the Oslo accord of 1993. The main reasons that impeded
the creation of open public space in the Palestinian cities
were the borders set up for Palestinian ‘self administered
areas’. These borders where drawn tightly around the
build up area of the Palestinian cities and villages leaving
out little potential land for new construction.
The structure of land ownership within Palestinian
cities meant that very little land was not privately
owned, andmunicipalities have had a dire access to lands.
Most open spaces and new institutions were created by
the many international organizations and NGOs.
The role that NGOs play in Palestinian society
must be explained: Palestinian civil society was greatly
strengthened during the Intifada of 1987-1992. Local leaders
organized resistance and a set of alternative services
like schooling and medicine, to those shut off by the
Israeli army. When the Palestinian Authority was established
in 1993 there was a clash between two systems of
government. The Palestinian Authority, whose leaders
have largely come from abroad, attempted to centralize
and regulate the network of self-governing institutions
that developed throughout the intifada.
The network of institutions locally formed during
the first intifada was transformed into the infrastructural
framework of contemporary NGO structure in Palestine.
The local leaders of the first Intifada largely preferred to
become directors of NGOs than ‘officials’ in the Authority.
Most former leaders of the leftist ‘Popular Front’ are now
directing leading NGOs. (A good example is Mustafa Barghouthi
and his healthcare network).
The West Bank has since been governed in parallel
by the Palestinian Authority and by a series of local
and international NGOs, both under the umbrella of ultimate
Israeli sovereignty. In many cases Palestinian NGOcracy
(as the phenomenon came to be known) provided a better
quality services –medical, educational, planning– and the
services NGOs provide are often better funded than those
of the Palestinian Authority, which was always less than a
government in less than a state.
NGOcracy has its dangers of course. Most NGOs,
much like the Palestinian Authority, are internationally
funded, and although donors are operating ‘in support of
Palestinians’ they are in fact not accountable to the people
of Palestine and often pursue the cultural and political
agendas of the donor states. Philanthropy has thus become
one of the main vehicles for western countries to intervene
within the politics and culture of Palestine.
Baring these dangers in mind, the network of
NGOs seems to us an important vehicle in developing new
types of Palestinian public, social and communal spaces,
and some NGOs might be the first to occupy the evacuated
and transformed spaces.
We have started by setting up a series of meeting
with local NGO –the Palestine Wildlife Society, Women
Shelter, Save the Children, Alternative Tourism Group, Alternative
Information Centre amongst others– and developed
with them conceptions regarding the various ways
in which particular sites within the colonies and military
bases could be designed.
We have noticed that the archives of these
NGOs are also the ‘living archives’ of Palestine. A combined
archive of the hundreds of local NGOs, or access thereof,
would provide information about the environment, welfare,
human rights and politics throughout Palestine, and
thus offers a diffused and multi-perspectival alternative
to state centered information centers.
Throughout our work we have started to realize that the
project may form a possible laboratory for architectural
actions whose reach may go beyond the local specificity of
our environment, it may also form a beginning of a model
to think through the future of the suburban settlements,
many of those in dire crisis, in other places worldwide. The
ritual destruction, reuse, ‘redivivus’, or ‘détournement’ of
the single-family house may suggest a possible repertoire
of action for the larger transformation of other types of secluded
suburban spaces at large.
1. We suggest to revisit to the term of “decolonization” in order to maintaining
distance from the current political terms of a “solution” to the
Palestinian conflict and its respective borders. The one-, two-, and now
three-state solutions seem equally entrap in a “top-down” perspective,
each with its own self-referential logic. Decolonization implies the dismantling
of the existing dominant structure—financial, military, and
legal—conceived for the benefit of a single national-ethnic group, and
engaging a struggle for justice and equality. Decolonization does not
necessarily imply the forced transfer of populations. Under the term
decolonization, for example, Jewish communities could go and live in
the Palestinian areas.
2. Although our proposals are based essentially on the third approach,
we consider the possibility in some cases of also using the other two
at the same time. Demolition, for example, will be necessary in cases
in which colonies or military camps are constructed in particularly
valuable landscape aries, just as simple reuse as residences could be
proposed in areas where demand for housing is particularly urgent
and in which colonial architecture is constructed on lands belonging to
private Palestinians. In these cases, only the owners can decide on the
future reuse of these structures.
3. sThe differences between the various categories of collective land
ownership were erased by the regime of occupation, which considered
all these lands as “public lands” and thus as the property of the
sovereign. As sovereign in these areas Israel used these “public lands”
to construct upon most its settlements.
This article is a reflection on the project Decolonizing
Architecture directed by Hilal, Petti and Weizman and
concerned with the potential future transformation of Israeli
Colonies and Military Bases. The project is sponsored
and produced by Eloisa Haudenschild and Steve Fagin,
partners in spareParts, a division of the haudenschild-
The project will be displayed at the BOZAR Palace in Brussels
from October 30th 2007 to January 4 2008. The
exhibition is curated by Lieven De Cauter and coordinated
by Iwan Strauven. Participating architects: Senan AbdelKader,
Nasser Abourahme, Nora Akawi, Yazid Anani, Saleh
Hijazi, Rana Shakaa, Omar Yusuf.
Landscape design in collaboration with: Situ Studio, NYC
Artists and Architects in residence: Ursula Bieman, Vincezo
Castella, Bianca Elzenbaumer, Marco Ferrari, Fabio
Franz, Anne Gough, Zakiya Hanafi, Jake Himmel, Armin
Linke, Jesse Long, Francesco Mattuzzi, Michele Marchetti,
Allegra Martin, Barbara Modolo, Pietro Onofri, Armina Pilav,
Giovanni Piovene, Salvatore Porcaro, Francesca Recchia,
Lorenzo Romito, Roberto Sartor, Rianne Van Doeveren.
Academic collaboration: International Art Academy Palestine,
Goldsmiths Centre for Research Architecture.
Committee: Giorgio Agamben, Stefano Boeri, Lieven De
Cauter, Teddy Cruz, Jad Isaac, Laura Kurgan, Thomas
Keenen, Andrew Ross, Salim Tamari.