My latest contribution to BD’s online content can be found here…
Tarzan and Arab are two Gazan artists recently interviewed by The Guardian…the interview can be found here
I find their take on their own (Palestinian) situation very enlightened, especially given the occasionally bigoted accounts I have heard in my own conversations…
So I have just returned to Jerusalem from a week-long jaunt to the north of Israel. I passed through Haifa, Akko, Nazareth, the Golan Heights and Tiberias on my way, learning that even heading to where Israeli’s go to seek some rest and relaxation, you are never far from tension…
First stop Haifa. Having fought my way out of bed early in the morning to get to Tel Aviv in time to meet the Falafel Bus (a backpacker bus pass I’d purchased to meet people whilst travelling solo), I was taken by the driver Ishay to Caeserea. The ruins here sit in front of the backdrop of one of Israel’s power stations, making for an interesting beachscape, if a somewhat frustratingly tourist-orientated heritage site.
Ishay is from Giloh, an Israeli settlement near Bethlehem in the West Bank. I have my own views on this, but wanted dearly to hear his. He couldn’t, or wouldn’t speak much English to me. I was also the only one on the bus that day (and later, it turned out, for the whole of my intended trip). Arriving in Haifa, brooding with angry disappointment at having had my money taken from me in return for an underwhelming and expensive ‘experience’, I decided to cancel my further travel on the Falafel Bus, preferring instead to return to my usual mode of travel via public transport and backpacker hostels.
In Haifa, I was lucky enough to be meeting up with Sarah’s family, and had been invited for the traditional Friday night Shabbat dinner. Having waited in the Ba’Hai Gardens overlooking the port city (please google these for another interesting religion claiming part of the Holy Land), I was whisked away by Sarah’s parents to the beach for a much needed dip in the Mediterranean. Here’s today’s video…
I didn’t end up meeting Itay, as I mention in the video. Instead, I ended up accepting Sarah’s family’s generous offer of a second night in the gynecology clinic, and then moving on to the northerly Arab town of Akko, taking advantage of my freedom from the Falafel Bus itinerary…here’s another video…
Efraim, Sarah’s uncle, is a doctor, and her cousins are students…both social groups are affected by the extraordinarily high cost of living in Israel, alongside other causes such as debates surrounding how bets to deliver things such as healthcare and education. I was invited to join them in attending a rally, similar to many that are happening across Israel at this time, calling for the govenrnment to address concerns about ‘social justice’…
On the next day, as I headed to Akko, I decided to try and learn something about the British Mandate period of occupation on the Holy Land…’Haifa’s Museum of Clandestine Immigration’ had some interesting material on Jewish ‘terrorism’ between 1945 and 1948, when the Yishuv (the term used in Hebrew referring to the body of Jewish residents in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel) was fighting to establish Israel as a state…
I was thoughtful as I reached Akko……which lasted until El Classico kicked off (Real Madrid vs Barcelona). Spanish football is really popular here, especially Barca. Arabs feel affinity with the Catalan cause, and its not uncommon to find bus drivers adorning the interiors of their vehicles with flags and portraits of their favorite players. Here’ a taste of Akko, Nargileh and all, which I share with Anya, who turns out to have worked for (and been equally frustrated with) the IPCC…
The next day I went on a trip with Walid, the slightly unhinged owner of the hostel i was staying in in Akko, to the Golan Heights, a contested piece of ground in northern Israel, where many Israeli’s vacation in the summer months. We drive along the borders with Lebanon and Syria, and visited the holy town of Tsfat, previously mixed, but now almost entirely Jewish. The old mosque is an art gallery…
Anyway, I’ll continue with some stuff from my trip to the North when I next can, for now, Im off out in Jerusalem…
Its a mixed bag as we walk back from the bus stop after the final crit…I have the tang of tear gas in my eyes as it wafts on the breeze from an incident just outside the Old City, and the usual euphoric weariness that accompanies the passing of hours post-crit…
But it seemed to go OK. We gave a good account of ourselves, mostly through Marcelo, with whom I’ve been working this past week. From an urban planners point of view on ‘urban management’, we presented an analysis of existing land legal structure (i.e. ownership), and ‘urban tools’ for development, which included methods such as ‘saleable development rights’ for empowering individual landowners to negotiate with developers and the municipality. For me, its been an interesting exercise in meta-design – we didnt actually design anything beyond a road layout – and one that I hope will inform the way any masterplan is carried out on the ground. Ive always believed that designers dont pay enough attention to the way these things actually affect the built reality of places, and so despite the frustration, I’m glad we took the time to try to communicate some of it.
However, our ‘presentation’ was pushed to the periphery of proceedings this evening, scheduled for the final half hour before sundown – and therefore, before the breaking of today’s Ramadan fast. Considering the fact that the majority of our jury was muslim, and that designers don’t know how to keep to time, it was no surprise that we began late, and that we were cut off by the canon from the old city signalling time to eat…our audience evaporated as the traditional feast was brought out, and despite some attempts to resume later, we suffered from a greatly diminished attendance.
The ‘cool group’ – having this evening acquired the moniker “new romantics” – faced tough criticism from the predominantly planning-savvy jury, and their work seemed to be misunderstood. I thought it had some real value myself – and my problem with these people has always been the exclusivity of their operations within the wider design team rather than anything based on their design methodology. The videos will certainly make some interesting watching when I upload them…
The ‘hardcore urbanists’ faced similar problems of communication, with a number of local architects and planners on the jury expressing their opinion that whilst the project was an ‘interesting research’, it simply “will not work here in this context”. “This is not the netherlands”, said one jury member.
The general feeling – although I put a lot of it down to politeness – was that IPCC are pleased with the output of the study, its diversity of focus particularly, but disappointed that we couldn’t bring it together under one body of work. I’ve said this all along, and so it is with some satisfaction that I hear my thoughts echoed – although ultimately with frustration and disappointment. They seem to expect us to work at this this week…but my sentiment – as I suspect is shared by the majority here – is that IPCC have another thing coming.
Just off out, either to a bar in West Jerusalem, or for some beers on my rooftop, and then tomorrow to Masada and the Dead Sea…looking forward to it very very much!
Following the roar of the canon, a deathly silence falls over the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem as the fast is broken on the second day of Ramadan. The usually bustling area of Damascus Gate is for the most part empty, whilst those that are here have mouths full from picnic feasts in the streets and on shop counters. If you hang around long enough, you’ll be invited to join them in their grateful celebration. After an hour or so, children take to the streets and firecrackers echo around the buildings of the Old City; the furore of daily life returns and will last until the Ramadan canon roars again at 4am, this time to signal the beginning of the next day’s fast. Many Muslims here simply translate their day to night in order to cope with Jerusalem’s oppressive heat and the religious duty not to partake of food or water during daylight hours.
The Palestinian Sanduqa family is by tradition responsible for firing the Ramadan cannon from the cemetery on Salah-Al-Din Street since the tradition began during Ottoman rule in the early 20th century. Recently, an Israeli mayor of Jerusalem allowed the recommencement of the firing, some say in an attempt to assuage the political heat resulting from the continuation of Municipality-ordered demolition of Palestinian homes in areas such as Silwan, near to the Old City, and Sheikh Jarrah. Personally, the explosion at 4am this morning to signal the beginning of the first day’s fast had me reaching for my mobile and its speed-dial to the British Consulate, such was my proximity to the canons home here in East Jerusalem…
Another dull day at the office…I’m just waiting for the end on Sunday. But I did post a parcel home with some bottle of Taybeh and some Somak spices in…
In the meantime, for those of you wondering about the history of Jerusalem as a contested city, liberal Israeli organisation B’Tselem has a useful page here.
So this weekend has been a bit of a mishmash…I’d originally intended to travel to Sebastiya, near Nablus, and then on to Jenin and back to Ramallah for a party at the Taybeh Brewery (West Bank Christian Palestinians…)…but none of that happened due to various divergencies of planning, so I took the opportunity to chill at the new flat, and make some excursions closer to home.
Saturday saw me venture to the Museum On The Seam here in Jerusalem. Straddeling the Green Line (border between Israel and Jordan before the 1967 war), the bombed out former Arab villa now serves as a major Israeli contemporary art institution, exhibiting work that deals with reality of the socio-political situation here in this part of the Middle East. My personal opinion was that there was a lot of wank, but also some interesting pieces, particularly those that looked beyond the immediate situation and related to the wider world as well as to the particulars or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
After taking some time to relax, and think about where I want to travel after this workshop is over, I headed to Jericho with Marcelo. This 10,000 year old city is proported to be the worlds oldest continually inhabited city, although the ‘ruins’ leave a lot to be desired – the city has been sacked and rebuilt so many times that very little remains of the original fabric. None the less, it still made an interesting change from Jersualem, not least because of the heat! Jericho was about ten degrees hotter that Jerusalem, sitting at about 44centigrade today. It was also incredibly dry – at one point I thought the hot desert wind blowing in as we waited for our Service Taxi back to Jerusalem was causing a skin to form on my eyeballs….
We approached Jericho via Al’Eizariya, home to an Al-Quds (Arabic for ‘The Holy’, the name given to Jerusalem by Palestinians) University campus and site of recent contentious house demolitions by Israel. Al’Eizariya is also holds a strange legal status, being one of the suburbs of Jerusalem as an Occupied City. The Israeli Occupation has confiscated large amounts of land, for both a settlement and for the construction of bizarrely planned route of the Separation Barrier, which has created an enclave around the suburb, to which Israel controls routes in and out despite it being technically in the West Bank and under Palestinian Authority control. The activism of the university students manifests itself on any vertical surface available, whilst homes look cautiously over the Wall into the West Bank, fearful of demolition teams issuing from the city behind…
It doesn’t cost much to get to Jericho…about £4, but you certainly get your money’s worth if to equate it to altitude traveled…Jericho, near the Dead Sea, is one of the lowest points on Earth. Indeed we passed a layby on the highway claiming to be exactly equitable to to neighbouring Mediterranean, less than 100 miles away.
After the underwhelming Old City ruins at Tal-Es-Sultan, we headed to the Monastery of the Quarantil, on the Mount Of Temptation – built to mark the spot where Jesus is said to have fasted for 40days and 40nights before resisting temptation by the Devil. The stunning cable car ride was only topped by the Monastery itself, perched on the cliff face 200 or 300m up.
After sheltering from the heat – which had become almost unbearable by this time – we headed back into town and gorged ourselves on barbequed meats, pitta and hummus in a friendly Jericho restaurant before finding ourselves a Service Taxi back to Jerusalem. It was at this point- with the scorching desert breeze cooking my eyeballs – that I was reminded of the sporadic way public transport works in this country. Service’s don’t leave until they are full and we were waiting what seemed like an age, attempting conversation on broken english and pidgin arabic, before we were finally allowed to set off…
Back, and after a refreshing shower, I felt like exploring Jerusalem on foot as the sun set. I’ve been reading Amos Oz’s ‘In The Land Of Israel’, which I bought from a Palestinian book shop in Bethlehem. Its opening paragraph reads like this:
In the Geulah quarter of Jerusalem, on Rabbi Meier Street, imprinted on one of tehmetal sewer covers is the English inscription “City of Westminster” – a reminder of the British Mandate in Palestine, The grocery store that was here forty years ago is still here. A new man sits there and studies Scriptures. It is after the High Holy Days: in Geulah, in Achvah, in Kerem Avraham, and in Mekor Baruch, the tatters of the flimsy booths built for the Feat of Tabernacles are still visible in the yards. Thei rgreenery has faded and turned grey. There is a chill in the air. From porch to proch, teh entire width of the alleyways, stretch laundry lines with white and coloured clothes: these are the eternal morning blossoms of teh neighbourhood in which I grew up. The Kings of Israel Street, which was once Heulah Street, throbs with pious Jews in black garb, bearded, bespectacled, chattering in Yiddish, tumultuous, in a hurry, scented with the heavy aroma of Eastern Eurpoean Ashkenazi cooking. An ultraorthodox woman, young, very pretty, pushes a twon-baby carriage full of plastic net shopping bags with bread, vegetables, canned goods, fish wrapped in newspaper, bottles of wine, cooking oil, soft drinks. Her hair is modestly covered but her fingers are richly adorned with rings. She stops to chat with another woman in one of teh courtyards in a mixture of Yiddish, Hebrew and English…a Brooklyn accent in a figure from Lodz or Krakow
Oz was writing in 1993, and whilst I was disappointed to find Rabbi Meier Street now devoid of a sewer-related connection to my own heritage, I found the rest of the neighborhood pretty much as Oz described – a leafy, friendly-sounding (and gridded, I have to say, with regard to recent events on the Studio) neighbourhood, echoing with the sounds of families nearing the end of Shabbat (its Saturday today, and this highly Jewish are is pretty much shut down as families celebrate and spend time with each other): young couples walk dogs or push prams, whilst older parents use the use the cool of the evening to exercise their offspring after a day of family torture. Adolescent young men and pretty girls take to the streets, heading for the post-Shabbat get-together at freinds’ houses or down-town bars. Occasionally, a Yeshiva school can be seen, copies of the Torah strewn before the more studious. Until now, I have not felt empathy like this for a people, using the chance they have been granted to live the life they want to lead, free from oppression and persecution that has haunted the Jews for thousands of years. I’d like to know, however, how aware these happy families are, in their safe, green neighbourhood, of the things we have seen on the other side of the city and Separation Barrier. The video below is of my wanderings…
With my wanderings complete, I sit weary at my laptop, hoping to get all this down before it escapes my memory, and looking towards the closing weeks of the studio with something resembling apathy…with any luck, something exciting will happen.
Ive moved out of the hotel and into a new flat in the Old City of Jerusalem! Which makes me an official Jerusalemite…
I’m right near the Damascus Gate, in a muslim neighbourhood that is one of the busiest bits of the old city. The same building is home to Rob, Marcelo, Dorota and Juana from the workshop, so we have almost a satellite studio from the house in Ras Al Amoud. This place is a world away from the hotel – so much more interesting and lively, and best of all, homely. I was beginning to feel pretty claustrophobic cooped up as a perpetual visitor, and so its great to actually have some living space and feel part of the city.
Yesterday’s post about the work in the studio can be found here, in which I talked about going to the football….well it turned out to be a pretty exciting game! Palestine drew 2-2 with Thailand, after having held the lead twice, including scoring the first goal inside 7minutes. The atmosphere was pretty exciting, this being only Palestine’s second competitive match on home soil since FIFA became one of the first international organisations to recognize them as a nation…
What was particularly striking was the mix of people in the crowd. We met whole youth teams that had traveled from places like Hebron and Nablus, and groups of women, one of 9 sisters, who turned out in identical dress to support their national team. All ages, of both sexes, mixed in the stands.
A couple of videos below should give a feel of during and after the game, which took place in Palestine’s national stadium, jammed right up against the separation barrier in Al Ram, south of Ramallah and – if the wall came down – around 10minutes drive from Jerusalem.
So this morning is a lazy day…its so nice to have somewhere to chill out after a month of heat and dust and politics – both on the scale of nations and of individuals. This afternoon I think I might head to Sebastiya, near Nablus, and on to the Taybeh Brewery – the only brewery in the West Bank. I may then head to Jenin tomorrow…
One conclusion from this workshop / studio would be that working well in a flat / non-hierarchical team is a very challenging skill to develop, and it would seem that the students here have coped better – possibly because it is not all that dissimilar to academic studios, all-be0it without the guidance of a tutor or unit-master.
So this week we have been priviledge to have the attention of Omar Yousef, the ‘studio-master’ weve been lacking – for various reasons, prior commitments and a lack of effective organisation at IPCC being perhaps an oversimplification. We first met Omar on Sunday, at the ‘Designing Civic Encounter’ conference in Ramallah, where we learned that he was originally to have had a much more involved role with us at the Jerusalem Urban Resilience Design Studio. After hearing of both our diverse interests and dischordant operation, he agreed to come in the following day to look at our work.
Yousef has quite a reputation here, and has proved himself to be a wonderful facilitator of discussion amongst our diverse group. If there is any skill to emulate, I would choose his ability to value and challenge in equal measure, allowing us to see connections and voice opinions that politeness and design ‘religion’ might otherwise not allow.
After a second day of activities in and around Ramallah (see Ramallah and City Building), Yousef agreed to return to the studio on Wednesday, giving us time to run an intense, informal ‘charette’ to get as many of our ideas out for discussion before he had to leave the country on Thursday.
Different groups broke out to work on specific ideas, whilst the two main groups continued with the ‘sense-making’ and ‘gridded’ approaches. Omar promises to turn up at 3pm to lead the crit. Below is my own twitter-like account of my day:
9am: Get the text to pick up water on my way to the office…
10am: Got to the office…
I’m working with Rob, landscape architecture masters student from Toronto, to work towards an environmentally-led first iteration of a plan for the crit later….looking forward to flexing my design muscles for the first time I this studio…
11:13 Started working; good progress in terms of making our values drawn an explicit, but soom ran into problems of working in this space…people want to know what your doing, want to take issue with it as soon as you’ve put pen to paper…so we changed rooms. And then were kicked out by the ‘cool’ group who wanted a meeting behind closed doors. Our methodology is to try and collect all the ideas, obervations made across the studio as the basis for own design work…
11:51 more people drifting in later and wanting to know what were doing…It seems that if you look like you know what you’re doing, people move towards you; whilst this is essentially a compliment, if it is unstructured it can lead to ‘treacle-isation’….a serious drop in productivity.
13:46 As 3pm approached, we have to start to make decisions about what to pin up; and what drawings to finish. We’ve not actually positioned anything on the site yet, and my stomach is rumbling! However, I have diagrammed some concepts; such as a temporary urbanist move against the Separation Barrier, and our ‘tree-like’ grid concept for claiming territory using the road layout.
14:24 I guess a key observation about management of people is that sometimes they just need to be left to do what they want to do, even if that is not necessarily the most efficient method to meet the deadline….
14:47 13 minutes to go and the pizza arrives….doubt we’ll get that extra sketch up.
15:47 Omar turns up for our 3pm deadline…
16:07 “are we ready…?”
17:54 ‘Cool group’ done….I’ll write about this later, as I made some notes….
19:22 Daniela and Marcelo just presented…a really good framework for our wider study and output of the studio. Hoping to work with them from now on, as they are working with really interesting issue of urbanising informality, and again, will write up more from my notes…
20:47 We finish….a good discussion, some good conclusions and a clearer idea of a final project outcomes. It remains to be seen if we can pull everything together without Omar hear to marshall us as a studio….I’m off home.
In the discussion alluded to, some key observations / realisations and conclusions were drawn, as we worked long into the evening. I’ve since turned in the following morning as participated in a discusison about how best to move forward.
So I’m working on ‘grids’.
I don’t want to be, but Ive decided that maybe I can put my own interests and beliefs about appropriate development’ aside and work professionally towards a common goal, in the name of producing a project, in the time we have left.
I guess it boils down to the question of what is appropriate for us – as a team of international professionals and students, here for a short, finite period of time – to leave as a product. Whereas I am convinced that development of this kind should actually be pursued by a more sustained engagement over a long period of time (perhaps decades), building capacity in key local stakeholders (NGOs, civil society organisations, landowners, the local authority, etc.) to communicate and work together to achieve development of their own neighbourhood (like Teddy Cruz’s ‘architect as inter-locator’ concept – see here) we simply do not have that option here, beyond ‘recommending it’ in our opinion as specialists. Those stakeholders are definitely there – as demonstrated by the ‘sense-making’ of the ‘cool group’ – but they should be engaged responsibly.
So whilst the ‘cool group’ maintain that their engagement has at the very least started some conversations, and built awareness amongst stakeholders of other stakeholders’ motives, resources, aspirations and capacities – through the power of stories and narrative – I remain doubtful of whether the ‘Plan’ they leave can ever be (or is even meant to be) executed on the ground.
So perhaps our involvement with this studio is more about building capacity. A capacity to think, and conceive of things not previously considered, be that formal arrangements and typologies, frameworks for situating work legally and socially, or methodologies for engagement and co-design of development. Weapons in the arsenal of Palestinian advocacy organisations such as the IPCC.
So why a grid? And how does a grid – or the proposal of a grid, whether as purely a ‘project’ or as final built form – facilitate ‘urban resilience’ in a new Palestinian neighbourhood?
One argument for the grid is that the ‘gridded city’ is not a typology seen in Palestinian urbanism. Development here tends to be categorised by one of two things; either by informal, incremental development, often illegal, that by virtue of its address of the most pressing needs often results in poorly designed spaces, particular public spaces, on the scale of a neighbourhood or city; or by top-down super-development, as seen at both Rawabi (please see Ramallah and City building) and Israeli settlement-building, where the developers are not trusted – either because they often utilise the controversial mechanisms of ‘reparcelisation’ and ‘compensation’ that take land away from traditional family ownership, or in the case of the latter simply confiscate land for an occupying power.
The argument is that neither of the predominant models of development in Palestinian urbanism produce vital and enjoyable neighbourhoods, with well-designed public-realm, good quality and affordable housing, and a politically resilient and economically prosperous civil society. Proposing the ‘grid’, which proposes ‘connectivity’ in opposition to the easy control of the serpentine settlement-type developments, and designed formality is opposition to ad-hoc self-construction, is therefore simply about giving the IPCC another way to think about urbanism on the hilly terrain that categorises the area.
So this is what I am working on now. Building this ‘tool’ into the evolving armoury of the IPCC, which will include work done by other factions of the studio that I personally find more interesting, and believable.
After writing this, I’m off to arrange a group activity, a trip to Palestine’s second ever competitive football match on home soil, at the Faisal Al Husseini International Stadium in Al Ram. The game – against Thailand – is the second leg of a qualifying campaign for the London 2012 Olympic Games, in which the home side are 1-0 down on aggregate….it promises to be fantastic experience, and I’ll write at some point over the weekend.
Ramallah and City Building…
Today we took part in a series of lectures and tours about Palestinian city building, past and present. Travelling to Ramallah, the capital of any future Palestinian state, and principal city of the West Bank, we were able to talk freely about projects and ideas that would be harder to talk about in Israel, or the contested territory of Jerusalem.
In an interesting lecture from Birzeit University professor Saleen Tamari, we learned of the concept of modernity in contemporary Palestine, and its roots in both the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate period that followed the First World War from 1918.
It is often this period that we in the west forget, but it is the period during which the territory of Palestine was administered as a British Mandate (1918-1948) that has left the region with the seeds of what it resembles today; things such as a system of land registry, a modern legal system, secular schooling, and revolutionary technology such as the telegraph and railway. Although these things were all introduced under Ottoman rule (from its center in modern day Istanbul), they were established and entrenched under British administration.
Essentially, the change from Ottoman province to British mandate brought a change in the concept of citizenship for Palestinians. Whereas under an Ottoman administration, Palestine was considered as a periphery, tasked with supporting the central region, under the British, Jerusalem particularly was reconceptualised as a ‘Holy City’. Citizens’ IDs began to carry information about their religion or ‘confession’ (Muslim, Jew, Christian…), which under the Ottomans had been abolished. Spatially, this translated into ‘Quarters’, which replaced the mahallas (neighbourhoods) of Ottoman rule. Simply put, the citizens of Palestine were asked to choose an identity and ethnicity based primarily upon belief, which Tamari considered a retrogressive development from the Ottoman concept of citizenship, which allowed free mixing of cultures in their service of the empire.
The codification of land-use and spatial planning became entrenched in Palestine under British administration, in the name of modernity; becoming ‘modern’ as a good colony should. Many argue that it contributes hugely to the division felt in the region today, and allowed proponents of Zionism to claim space in Palestine for the new state of Israel; new ‘Quarters’, designated as different from others.
After Tamari’s lecture, we were introduced to a small project for a desert eco-house in the severally arid and earthquake-prone region of Jericho. Much of this talk indicated that eco-design, and its basic underlying principals, are a new field in Palestine; concern, especially recently has been with other things, and like most things here, is impossible to consider in isolation from politics. When you talk of conserving resources, a Palestinian may well ask you, “for whom?” – Occupying forces often claim resources, and preserving them may well perpetuate their presence here, and on this level it is easier to understand any resistance to ‘sustaining’ the current status quo.
After these lectures, we were taken to see two developments that both aim to address the problems outlined in the introductory talks. Firstly, we visited the ‘neighbourhood’ of Rehan, connected to Ramallah if it were not for an Israeli road running through the West Bank and connecting two illegal Settlements. The existence of this road claims a further swathe of Palestine for Israel, and is the biggest barrier to development of the West Bank’s principal city. At Rehan, we saw promising ideas, quietly proceeding, all-be-it at the precarious mercy of an occupying state.
By contrast, at Rawabi, we were met with the staccato fire of the PR-machine gun; this billion-dollar development is an exercise in city building. From scratch. A world away from the complexity we are faced with in our own project, the Rawabi project aims to create the first city completely planned as a Palestinian city.
By building an entirely new city, Rawabi aims for geographic contiguity of Palestinian urban fabric, rather than the transportational contiguity that Israel might prefer – the latter can be conveniently shut down by an inconvenient checkpoint, or destruction of a road. Simply put, Israel permits Palestinian development that makes its citizens easier to control.
To counter this, the Rawabi project is led by a Palestinian developer (Amir) working towards primarily political aims, with considerable support from US grants (for particular things, likely to be related to US agendas) and a Qattari firm, who happen to also own one third of Morocco’s coastline and to have recently acquired Harrods. Amir stated that the projects backers have given the money for the development, which currently stands at close to $1billion, up front and in useful liquid assets (cash).
Whatever your opinion on ‘city building’, and the capacity for that approach to generate the genuinely sustainable social fabric that underpins good urban conditions, it is also impossible not to acknowledge the ambition of such a project a state, and collection of individuals that have experienced such oppression of their aspiration and culture. You can feel the hunger for this project, as a symbol of what might be possible for an imminent Palestinian state. The developers behind rawabi talk a lot about ‘capacity building’; a concept that acknowledges a deficiency in the indigenous skill-base to pursue good design and construction. Therefore, a large part of Rawabi’s political rationale is to enable indigenous businesses to become capable of working on such a large-scale project, through strategic investment in those businesses. Amir puts it a lot better than me…
Either way, this is the closest I have come to the crazy world of middle-eastern development psychology; the ‘blue-sky’ thinking behind the gems in the desert that have populated our newsreels in recent years. Rawabi is on such a scale! They are quarrying, processing and crushing their own stone; they have $6million of steel stockpiled in case Israel close the border to the West Bank, enough to put up the skeletons of a considerable amount of the project and tide the development over until any political situation diffuses itself; they have their own fabrication laboratories to test everything for foundation design to steelwork; and the construction site itself, although Rawabi is only at the point of carving out roads, is itself a small city of workers camped out in the hilly, arid scrub of the West Bank. And it has a facebook group.
Rawabi’s argument is that by doing a whole city like this, Palestine will become introduced to things that we in the west are beginning to take for granted, from water harvesting and recycling, to waste processing and bicycle lanes. A new city at Rawabi is intended to form the foundations for the new Palestinian State.
It remains to be seen what we as a group take from these visits as we move into the final two weeks of the Jerusalem project, and especially as we begin to make real propositions for spatial and development strategies.
I skipped off work on the last day of last week (the weekend is Friday / Saturday here, incorporating both the Muslim and Jewish holy days), and headed to Hebron, a small city in the southern part of the West Bank, initially to join two of the ‘cool group’, again at a conference. However, by the time I had headed into the office, become frustrated, left, caught the bus and arrived in Hebron, they had already departed, and I was left with a day to myself.
Having no plan, I wandered towards the Old City, hoping to explore the Souk and talk to some people….Hebron has a particularly vivid history in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and strikingly is the only major urban centre where Jewish settlers reside right in the city centre, on top of and within Palestinian residences. Unsurprisingly, this makes it one of the most likely places for clashes to erupt. Whilst the Wikipedia entry for the city is worth a look to understand this particular context, especially the importance of the city for Palestinians, economically, historically and socially, the neatest summary might perhaps be expressed as this:
Hebron is undoubtedly an occupied city. Israeli organization B’Tselem states that there have been “grave violations” of Palestinian human rights in Hebron because of the “presence of the settlers within the city. It is divided into two parts – H1, which contains around 120,000 Palestinians, and In H2, where more than 500 Jewish settlers live among 30,000 Palestinians, the Palestinian populations’ movements are heavily restricted which Israel argues is due to terrorist attacks. For instance, the Palestinians are not allowed to use the Shuhada Street, the principal thoroughfare, which was renovated thanks to fundings by the United States. Estimates put the number of troops – to protect these settlers – at between 2000 and 4000. As a result of these restrictions, about half the shops in H2 have gone out of business since 1994, in spite of UN efforts to pay shopkeepers to stay in business. Palestinians cannot approach near where the settlers live without special permits from the Israeli Defense Force.
In these photos, you can see the Jewish settlement (the newer building) on top of the Palestinian building. Note that the lower stories are empty; their doors have been welded shut by Israeli soldiers.
This image also shows the particular way that settlement is carried out in Hebron; the newer looking extensions are all Israeli additions on confiscated buildings. Settlers, aware of the risks they face in such blatant transgression, employ private armed security.
The Settlers in the sky routinely throw their rubbish onto the Palestinian society below, to which the Palestinians have raised metal guards in protection. Sometimes, the situation escalates, with sewage, stones and even Molotov cocktails being thrown down to the streets amidst market trading.
The image above shows the guarded concrete barrier that forms part of the distinction between H1 and H2. My photography is monitored by a bored soldier. Indeed, the soldiers don’t want you taking photos of their base, which sits in the heart of the neighbourhood. “It OK to photograph me”, he says, “but don’t look at the base”. The base sits next to the white cylinders under my prop’s straw hat, and is visible from the ground within the Israeli controlled part of town.
Palestine has some recognisable features of a different country…like its own phone network.
The Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) are ‘getting in the way’ in Hebron – I’ll add videos that elaborate, but they feel their role, as Christians, in the midst of a conflict is to help those oppressed by it. They puruse an agenda of observation and Palestinian community advocacy within Hebron; Paulette was giving a tour when I stumbled across her group, and kindly allowed me to join. This proved an invaluable grounding in the city…
(437) Sahid showed me to his roof, right on the division between occupied buildings and those the Palestinian market traders are still allowed to use. Particularly he showed me the bullet-holes in his water-tank, the victim of further Israeli pressure on Palestinians to move well away from the settlements (571).
The Ibrahimi mosque is the second-most important site for Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land, and is partitioned to accommodate both, with separate check points for each, and an armed guard to keep the peace. I made this illuminating video as I passed back out of the Jewish side of the mosque – as a tourist, I was in a unique position, being able to pass between the separate areas.
What is astonishing is the age of these soldiers. Many are younger than me; hello-kitty watched and M16s make for an unsettling combination in an area so prone to outbreaks of violence…
Checkpoints are arbitrarily enforced; these young arab men were made to remove everything from their pockets, whilst I was beconed freely through the metal detector without having to remove even my bag. (VIDEO…coming soon). You are never far from the military….
But the soldiers here want to talk to me as much as the Palestinians do. I get the impression that in this apparent international backwater, people are keen to tell you their story. They are aware of the press they get in the world beyond; the Palestinians desperate to illustrate their oppression, and the soldiers sometimes critical of their own involvement….Hebron has certainly been an interesting chance to talk to both sides.
But while one child plays with a soldier on duty, another told me that the same soldier hit him.
The terminology in the Israeli-controlled parts of town is different…and characterizes the selective reading of history of which both sides are guilty.
Israel’s selective application of planning procedures is eident here; this was fenced off as an ‘archeological site’, until a settlement was deemed necessary…
The border between H1 and H2 is economically dead, due to Israeli restrictions on movement ‘for safety resaons’. And watchtowers sits on the tops of every neighbouring hill . Even ‘tourist sites’ are not immune; the tombs of Jesse and Ruth, mortal visitors to the garden of Eden, site quarantined by the uncompromising architecture of a settlement atop one of the neighbouring hills. The entrance is through an Israeli military camp (VIDEO…coming soon).
I got talking to Abed, who sold me some things and dressed my in a Kafir whilst telling me Hebron’s stories over many cups of Arabic coffee. He showed me the old Souk, from which traders were ejected after Israeli’s settled on its upper stories; a school at the end of this street was closed, only to be replaced by an Israeli one, whilst the Souk itself is now a rubbish dump for the settlement.
There was a festival on – celebrating the 15th anniversary of international aid for the the rehabilitation of Hebron’s Old City…a touching celebration of thanks, featuring transformation of public space into an outdoor photogallery, showing the results of a competition for a defining image of rehabilitation, and an eclectic brass-band playing to hundreds gathered in the audience.
Returned to Damascus Gate, (VIDEO…coming soon) the logistical hub of the old city, and met up with Dorota for a dinner of vegetables and chicken, before heading out to a Ziggy Marley concert…interestingly near Mt Zion.
I’ll update this post with videos as soon as I can find a good enough connection. But I’ll post to say that I have.