A Physical Barrier to Peace
Territorial Fragmentation in the Middle East
In early 2010, Israel announced plans to expand its building programme in East Jerusalem. The ensuing diplomatic crisis between Israel and its traditional ally, the United States, drew attention to the tensions surrounding Israel’s use of physical structures as a political tool. The creation of Palestinian enclaves, both within East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank, through the construction of a ‘separation wall’ and the widespread disruption of transport routes has spatially fragmented the Occupied Territories. Affecting prospects for long-term peace in the region, the isolation of communities has had serious repercussions for both public sentiment and the economic situation in the region.
Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War precipitated its seizure of a number of territories including the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan. At this time, a large number of Palestinians were relocated to the West Bank and Gaza Strip where they remain today.
The 1949 UN mandated ‘Green Line’, proposed following the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, splits Jerusalem in two, designating East Jerusalem to be part of the Palestinian West Bank. The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state comprising both the West Bank and the Gaza strip. The Israelis however dispute this division, declaring a united Jerusalem to be their rightful capital and currently occupy the city.
Although widely seen as illegal under international law, civilian Israeli communities have relocated to the West Bank over the past 50 years forming large settlements – today over 450,000 Israeli settlers live within the Occupied Territories including East Jerusalem. In 2002, a security fence or ‘separation wall’ was erected by Israel between East Jerusalem and the West Bank as a defensive measure against a perceived terrorist threat. This barrier runs close to the Green Line of 1949 yet separates East Jerusalem from the West Bank, deviating to surround and ‘protect’ Israeli settlements in the vicinity. This attempt to enclose and defend Israeli settlers has resulted in the creation of high-density Palestinian enclaves which, when coupled with Israeli measures to curtail movement of Palestinians within the West Bank, result in a territorial fragmentation of the region as a whole.
Such a fragmentation of
the West Bank may have
implications for peace
Israeli expansion into the West Bank is contentious and a barrier to peace on several levels. The creation of enclaves, within an already highly segregated environment, has generated anger amongst Palestinians and increased tensions in the region. While impacting heavily on social and economic conditions, such a fragmentation of the West Bank may have long-term political implications for peace; the physical presence of Israeli settlers within the Occupied Territories will inevitably complicate negotiations of a two-state solution.
“Although it never had recognized borders, the State of Israel never seized to search for them in order to define itself geographically and socially.”
Sharon Rotbard, Israeli architect, 2008
Divide and Conquer
At a length of over 724 km, the barrier has been described as a ‘frontier’: its elastic and fragmented nature being the antithesis of the generally static and stable interpretation of a border. The ‘temporary’ nature of the wall allows expansion eastwards of Jerusalem; as the frontier pushes further into the West Bank, entire Palestinian villages have become walled enclaves, surrounded by newly acquired Israeli territory.
A much larger closure system spans the West Bank. This includes the closure or obstruction of many roads, and the presence of ‘roaming’ checkpoints that serve to effectively divide the West Bank into disconnected sub-regions or larger enclaves distributed throughout the Occupied Territories.
Cut off from the surrounding hinterland and appearing on a map like an archipelago of islands, these enclaves have isolated Palestinian communities across the West Bank, with an estimated 125,000 people affected. This spatial segregation has had a devastating impact on both everyday life and the region’s economy.
“Palestinian life is scattered, discontinuous, marked by the artificial and imposed arrangements of interrupted or confined space.”
Edward Said, author, 1986
Wall and Tower
Architecture and politics in Israel have been inextricably linked for generations. Eretz-Israeli architecture, originating in the early 20th Century, was characterised by a Western style distinct from the pre-existing Palestinian design. Concerted efforts by the Israelis to inhabit physically distinct and separate spaces from the Palestinian people, from the time of the first aggressive building programmes in the 1930s, has contributed to a fractured and disjoint society today.
“[The Israeli] approach establishes architecture, just like the tank, the gun and the bulldozer, as a weapon with which human rights could be and are violated. The mundane elements of planning and architecture are placed there in order to disturb and dominate.”
Eyal Weizman, Tel Aviv architect, 2002
The current barrier in Jerusalem, although repeatedly referred to as ‘temporary’ by the Israeli government, is an elaborate construction. An imposing and frightening structure, it includes strips of sand smoothed to detect footprints and a stack of barbed wire six coils high. Concrete or ‘gunfire protection’ walls predominate with observation posts such as cameras and watchtowers installed periodically along its length. Obstructive, the wall bisects many roads including the highway from Jerusalem to Ramallah. Once busy thoroughfares have become nothing more than rural trails.
The developments allow settlers
to enjoy spectacular views
while ensuring maximum
surveillance of the enclaves
Israeli settlements of the 1930s were characterised by a ‘Wall and Tower’ approach. Constructed within a day, these small compounds were surrounded by wooden walls and included a surveillance tower. Today, this same strategy takes the form of hilltop development – yet in reverse; the Israelis look in.
“There is a paradox in this beauty in that what is considered by the settlers to be a pastoral, romantic panorama is actually the traces of the daily lives and cultivation of the Palestinians, and the settlers both enjoy that view but simultaneously supervise it ...”
Eyal Weizman, Tel Aviv architect, 2002
While little to no high-rise development is permitted within the Palestinian enclaves: the areas surrounding them are quickly built up to tower above, overshadowing and dominating them. The developments allow settlers to enjoy spectacular views while ensuring maximum surveillance of the enclaves.
Density without Urbanity
Although Palestinian farmland is easily assimilated into Israeli territory, villages are a more difficult proposition; they become enclosed and often fully surrounded by high walls. Within the enclaves, a studied lack of Israeli involvement pervades. The high-rise apartment blocks and western style villas of East Jerusalem contrast with a lack of developed infrastructure and planned space within these enclosures.
“We hang a swing inside the house. Ten years ago people had open courtyards; now there’s no room.”
Fuad Jalalah, Palestinian resident of Sur Bahir, 2006
The population of the enclaves has more than doubled in the last decade due to Israeli settlement in surrounding areas. These zones have an urban density while still maintaining a rural scale and infrastructure. Tight planning restrictions ensure that this ‘density without urbanity’ has led to low-rise, overcrowded settlements fuelling discontent amongst residents.
Over 94% of planning applications were refused in 2009. Temporary dwellings are hastily constructed and are removed almost immediately by the Israeli authorities, Yehotal Shapira explains; “…illegally built homes are regularly demolished by the municipality. Heaps of rubble from demolished homes scar the neighbourhood, a viable reminder of the choked space”.
These planning policies have a much deeper psychological role, Weizman argues: the enclaves have become ‘states of exception’ which due to their temporary nature, lie outside normal jurisdiction. This indeterminate state means that construction permits are impossible to obtain, therefore, the majority of Palestinians are forced to build illegally, becoming criminals under Israeli law.
Spatial tension is felt on both sides of the divide; a resident within a Jewish settlement describes his fear and isolation;
“Here everyone is locked in his own house ... there are isolated houses, organized in straight lines ... I hate to get out, whenever I leave the house I have a war, I have a war.”
Haim Yacobi, architect, 2007
Enclosed and Isolated
The fragmentation of territory into homogenous zones has further aggravated the social isolation of the Palestinian and Israeli communities, fuelling conflict. Adjoining and interconnected, yet divided and isolated, the proximity of these separated communities has exacerbated tension and resulted in a breakdown in communication and trust. The impenetrable physicality of the wall and surveillance techniques of both the concrete towers and high rise Israeli settlements has led to suspicion and fear on both sides.
“The split, torn and broken up place creates split and broken up thoughts.”
Raif Zreik, lawyer, 2007
The wall and closure systems isolate both communities. Any reconciliation between these fractured groups, and thus prospects for peace, will be inhibited until such spatial fragmentation is broken down.
“They were our neighbours. We didn’t think any of them would one day say that we were their enemies. We got along before the politics made us enemies. It isn’t the people. It is the politics.”
Samir, Palestinian resident in Nazareth, 2007
Iseult O’Clery is a final year student of architecture at University College Dublin. She is interested in exploring the relationships between design, construction and society.