Palestine. Perhaps nowhere else on earth has the philosophy of space been so consistently conceived as a weapon.
The sophistication of the manipulation of space for military and political purposes in the West Bank and Gaza has made the Berlin Wall and the DMZ look dumb by comparison, and the East/West Belfast sectarian divide seem distinctly amateur. Israel has pursued a policy of redefining its own spatial limitations by ‘walking through walls’ at the same time as constraining the movement of others by establishing new spatial limits ‘seam-line obstacles’ and ‘depth barriers’, contesting both below and above in what architect Eyal Weizman has called a ‘Hollow Land’.
In the early Twentieth Century, Scottish urbanist Patrick Geddes conceived elegant plans for Tel Aviv and Haifa, a “neotechnic order, characterised by electricity, hygiene, and art, by efficient and beautiful town planning” (Cities in Evolution 1915, London: Williams & Norgate, 154). Urban planning in Palestine and Israel has come a long way since then, and it hasn’t all been forwards.
The first vision of the future came from a student project designed to conceptualise the physical and architectural implications of the 1993 Oslo Accord. In The Continuous Enclave: Strategies for Bypass Urbanism, Viktor Ramos tried to answer the question: what would it look like if they actually built a political settlement that only exists on paper? The result is a nightmarish vision of a clearly impossible, but all too realistic future, in which giant cantilevered flyover structures, hybrid living and transport corridors, loom over the landscape and plummet beneath it, supposedly connecting otherwise isolated enclaves in the West Bank. The project follows the Oslo Accord’s logic of segregation to its hideous conclusion, well beyond the Jerusalem to Hebron bridge-and-tunnel-link, and then makes it look shiny and sleek. You could definitely play a ‘first person shooter’ game in its beautifully rendered übertech landscapes. Of course, it’s entirely ironic, but it’s hard not to think that a dystopian vision, once depicted, stands more not less chance of actually being built. Consider the Ministry of Truth building in Pyongyang, directly and un-ironically inspired by George Orwell. Although ‘Bypass urbanism’ appears infeasible, it clearly owes a debt to the all-too-real dystopian architectural reportage of Eyal Weizman’s The Politics of Verticality.
In Part 2 I’ll look at a much more hopeful plan for Palestinian urban renewal.