Monday, October 4, 2010

I'll Huff and I'll Puff and I'll Blow Your House Down!

Architects against Israeli occupation | Abe Hayeem | Comment is free

Abe Hayeem, an Iraqi Jewish architect based in London whose design career seems entirely devoted to spreading the news that Israel should be boycotted not just by butchers and bakers and candlestick makers but also by architects. It seems that every profession now has its anti-Israel department. Which is pretty clever if you think about it. Cos if you can't get people at home, you can always get them at the office. Simple. But also, if you get every Israel-hater to sign up using his/her multiple identities as an individual, as a professional, union member, member of a religion as well as member of a church/synagogue, alumni association, etc., it would look as if the anti-Israel universe is gigantic!

In his article in The Guardian, Hayeem -- who is the Guardian go-to Israel-boycotter architect, claims grandiosly that, "Architecture and planning are instruments of the occupation, and constitute part of a continuing war against a whole people, whether as a minority within Israel's green line, or in the occupied territories. Since this involves dispossession, discrimination and acquisition of land and homes by force, against the Geneva conventions, it can be classified as participation in war crimes.

"Despite all the evidence of illegality under international law and breaches of human rights in the land grabs, house demolitions and evictions, Israeli architects and planners continue their activities. They cannot claim that they do not know: there have been plenty of calls for them to stop.

“The International Union of Architects (UIA) has already taken note that Israeli architecture and planning in the West Bank is contrary to its professional ethics and codes of conduct.”

So, I checked out some of the permanent member countries in the UIA: Turkey, Afghanistan, both Congos, Iran, Kuwait, Serbia, Sudan, Syria. Israel was 'readmitted' in July, 2010 presumably because it humbled itself sufficiently to be let in. But one does wonder who are the angelic architects of the above named countries and what altruistic works have they participated in?

Where else in the world are architects asked to participate outside their sphere of competence? Where in the world do architects put down their tools of the trade and say, "No, we're not going to participate in this urban renewal scheme that kicks out the poor. No, we're not going to design houses that only .000001% of our population can afford. No, we refuse to participate in anymore rehabs that contribute to gentrification, and no, we refuse to design 140 story buildings in places like Kuwait that employ foreign laborers who are treated like slaves."

A wonderful 2006 critique by David Rieff of a book edited by Michael Sorkin, another anti-Zionist Jew, addresses some of these hypocrisies. As a book in the architects-against-Israel genre, Against the Wall: Israel’s Barrier to Peace includes many contributions that borrow language from post-modern theory, but this does not obfuscate the serious handicaps of their positions. 

From Rieff: "Emblematically, Against the Wall features a blurb from Noam Chomsky, who praises the book for “placing [the wall] in the context of the global programs to separate wealth and privilege from those outside the innumerable walls that are being erected—some physical, some virtual, all intended to be impermeable, except at the will of the powerful.

“The political and moral simplicity of this view is combined in the book with an extraordinary degree of theoretical abstraction. Sorkin and his colleagues appear to believe that their qualifications as urbanists and architects give them an especially acute way of explicating the wall. But in fact it is politics, not architecture and design, that lies at the heart of their arguments. That’s fine—they’re more than entitled to their views. What they are not entitled to do is to claim, as Sorkin does, that there is a “special connection” between architects and urbanists to the issue of the wall because “the language of the conflict is often that of planning.” Unfortunately, expertise is not insight. The fact that you may be qualified as a geographer emphatically does not qualify you as a political analyst. You may be good at both, but if you are, it will be fortuitous: they’re clearly separate talents."

Further, he asks,"Why does Israel’s separation wall arouse such passion when, say, the war in Congo, which has killed more people in the past decade than there are people in the West Bank, provokes almost no outrage in the West—and certainly does not impel distinguished professors to put together collections that publishers like the New Press agree to publish in elegant postmodern formats? Caveat emptor."

I am currently working on a post that goes into further detail about architects’ involvement in the anti-Israel campaign, especially regarding plans for when the refugees return to their original homes. Should be ready sometime soon.

For more background here's a post in CIFWatch about the oft-published Abe Hayeem on Tel Aviv's White City:

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