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Maybe a Boycott Afterall

by Esther Zandberg

Monday 27 February 2006

Sunday 26 February 2006 08:20

26 February 2006

A manifesto issued recently by the British organization, Architects and
Planners for Justice in Palestine, calls for a boycott on construction
companies in Israel that are involved in building the separation fence
and settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. As far as the
organization is concerned, professionals in the fields of planning and
architecture in Israel who are involved in such construction are also
“partners in social, political and economic oppression, which violates
the professional ethics acceptable to all.”

The organization has yet to take any concrete steps, and has only set
itself a number of general goals designed to increase awareness that
will help bring about an end to the occupation.


A boycott is certainly an extreme measure. The natural instinct is to
point out its sweeping ramifications and lack of fairness. However, the
threat of a boycott by an international forum of experts is an
opportunity for some soul-searching.

Three years ago, the mirror went up for the first time in the face of
the architectural community at the Civil Occupation exhibition, which
was supposed to represent the Israel Architects Association at a
professional conference in Berlin. The exhibit concerned planning
patterns vis-a-vis the settling of the country over the generations, and
particularly in the settlements, as servants of a policy of
discrimination and human rights violations, xenophobic isolationism and

The association canceled the exhibit and shelved the hundreds of copies
of catalogs printed to accompany the show. Thus, the full map of
settlements and the specific zoning maps of dozens of settlements were
hidden from sight, images that would have made tangible the fact that
the purpose of the settlements was not only to settle Jews but to
disrupt the lives of Palestinians.

Two years later, the organization convened a conference called
Archepolitics, in what appeared to be a desire to perform an act of
contrition. There were sharp comments made reflecting a reversal in the
organization’s positions. One of the spokesmen, an architect from
Germany, delivered a chilling lecture about the participation of German
architects in the flourishing construction industry under the Nazi
regime. Another guest called for architects to stop hiding behind the
professional ethos, to take a moral stand and be ready to pay a price
for it.

But the reversal did not really come. Many architects continue to make
clear that they “do not plan in the territories,” but at the same time
refuse to give expression to their political views. Even now, senior
architects, some defining themselves as leftists, don’t pit their
prestige and influence to the test by coming out against the demolition
of Palestinian and Bedouin houses, the vandalization and uprooting of
olive trees, or the construction of the separation fence, which is
tearing up the landscape, the landscape where the architects work.

The planning patterns that developed and evolved in the territories
infiltrated the Green Line and are now replicating those islands of
inequality in “community” settlements, closed neighborhoods, isolated
farms, separation fences that cannot be excused with a security
argument. The architecture has become more brutal, more fortress-like,
and inconsiderate of the surroundings. The architectural community is
now reaping what it sowed in the international arena. The architect’s
association has not managed to silence the messages that came out of the
exhibit and its catalog. They were disseminated throughout the world
privately, causing a stir. The initiative to form the British Architects
and Planners for Justice in Palestine was largely the result of the
spreading of that message and catalog.

In Israel, business goes on as usual. In response to the calls for a
boycott, internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie was furious at
the British group and challenged the “horrifying” timing of their call.
The chairman of the Israeli Architects Association, Yitzhak Lear, was
for his part “surprised by the extremist step.”

Thus, the call for a boycott might not be too extreme a measure. The
British organization has already made contact with non-governmental
organizations operating for the sake of justice and equality in planning
both in and outside of Israel. Their activities could have a positive
reverberating effect on all sides.