NEW.WRITING: on Eyal Weizman's "The Politics of Verticality" -- The role of the Israeli architecture in the Middle East conflict

BY: Ana L. Valdés


click here for Spanish language version

In 1930, Jerusalem was crowded with pious pilgrims from all faiths and countries. Dr. Heinz Herman, a psychiatrist, discovered among his patients an exaggerate sensibility for matters concerning religion and faith. He treated people who believed they were reincarnations of the Messiah or were convinced that John the Baptist or Mary of Magdala had chosen their bodies to live again and preach the return of Jesus. He called the sickness Jerusalem Syndrome. The symptoms of the sickness were an intense need to wash and to wear white clothes. Many of them had arrived with their families or groups who left them. They saw visions and heard voices that commanded them to prepare the path for the coming of the Messiah; they had conversations with Holy Mary and with the Holy Ghost. Nobody can be indifferent to Jerusalem. Today, the holy city, holy for the three monotheistic religions of the world, is a split city, going towards an uncertain future. Both Palestinian and Israeli claim the city as their capital.

In 2002, the Israeli architects Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman won an architectural competition organized by the IAUA (the Israel Association of United Architects) and were chosen to produce an exhibition of Israeli architecture at its congress in Berlin. Their proposal was aimed to discuss the role of the Israeli architecture in the Middle East conflict. But the proposal was disliked by the IAUA and the exhibition was cancelled under the pretext of a low budget. 5,000 copies of the printed catalogue were destroyed. How could such an issue be so polemical? Eyal Weizman’s thesis is called "The Politics of Verticality." There he develops the idea that the Israeli architecture plays an important role in the conflict that started in 1949, when the state was founded.

In the mythology of the state of Israel, the kibbutz plays a central part. It was there where the Jewish socialists created a country in the middle of nowhere--"a people without a land to a land without people," as Golda Meir said. But this was not true; 600,000 Palestinians had lived there for several thousands of years. They were farmers who had built villages and cities. Jericho to Gaza Palestinians lived in this region. Weizman sees Israel as an expression of the Modernity. They consider themselves to be a European outpost against the wilderness. Islam represents the Middle Ages and they must vanish to give place to shiny cities and broad highways. It was the dream of Marinetti and Futurists, a place where velocity and space enable its people to reach happiness.

In the outlined Palestinian state, which was discussed in Camp David, Oslo and Taba, the Israeli kept control over the water and the sky. The concept of sovereignty where a state exercises jurisdiction over its land, and the minerals and waters below the surface, is abolished by the Israeli, who demand future control over the Palestinian state’s water resources and the sky.

With the help of a sophisticated matrix of roads, bridges, walls, fences, and highways, the Israeli are constructing a system through which the Palestinians are becoming enclosed in isolated strips of land without any communication with others. Palestinians and Israelis are both pressed into ghettos where high-tech fences protect the Jewish settlers and checkpoints and soldiers stop the freedom of movement for the Palestinians.

In the little village of Qualqilya, on the West Bank, where 50,000 people live, there is only one open gate to enter and exit the city. The gate is controlled by Israeli soldiers and more than 65 percent of the arable land is now outside the wall. Qualqilya has been totally enclosed by the fence, which the Israeli call the "security fence" and the Palestinians call the "apartheid wall."

Weizman gives a colorful description of how Israel changed their architectural style after the 1967 war. The model of the city of Tel Aviv, built with the German school Bauhaus as inspiration and myth, was abandoned; Jerusalem, with its oriental maze, became the prototype. The Great Jerusalem became the dream of archaeologists, urbanites, and architects. The holy city--where churches, graveyards, and walls melt in an organic and labyrinthian architecture--should suddenly be the center of the administration and give shelter and housing to hundreds of thousands of new immigrants.

The Temple Mount, where the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rocks are situated, also cover the ruins of the Third Jewish Temple, destroyed nearly two thousands years ago. To build the Fourth Temple is the goal for both the Jewish and Christian fundamentalists. Only when the Fourth Temple is built can the Messiah come back to mankind.

Besides the religious and eschatological explanations, the architectural struggle is fought on several levels. As the American-Jewish anthropologist Jeff Halper writes in an essay, the water pipes and the sewage running through the West Bank and Gaza are also part of a meticulous "matrix of control." To control the water sources and the facilities’ irrigation is a way to suffocate a country and to prevent it from developing. For thousands of years, Palestine has been an agricultural country where the olive trees have been the source for the families’ wealth. Suddenly, Israel has become a country with thousands of greenhouses, producing tomatoes and cucumbers; oranges and avocados are exported while Palestine’s water resources are drained. The opposition against this has been called the "Water Intifada." In Gaza, the population is obliged to buy bottled water, since the regular water contains too much sea water to be drinkable.

Eyal Weizman’s essay is objective and gives us clues to understand the long-term strategy used by cartographers and city planners, using the settlements and borders to delay the construction of a Palestinian state. The bulldozers are as important as the weapons in the West Bank and Gaza. Their goal is to establish the Israeli domination over the region forever.

The settlements are often placed on top of the mountains, a significant detail in the historical struggle for the place. At the beginning of biblical time, when the Jews formed a nation, they lived up in the mountains, in Samaria and Judea. Their God promised them the land, the valleys where sedentary people as the Canaanites cultivated the land and lived in villages and cities. The nomadic Jews fought bitter struggles and won, becoming farmers themselves afterward.

The mountains remain the mythological place from where the people originated. Now the settlers emphasise the same feeling. The Jewish settlers control the valleys where the Arabic villages built a web of complex structure. The settlements are panoptical, with the same precision Bentham described as the advantages of panoptic-um, where soldiers and watchers can exercise nearly total control over the villages. Despite the talks of disengaging, the colonising project grows all the time.

An architecture aimed at constructing lines and fences, bridges and roads deliberately hindering contact between two populations is an aberration. Urbanist Paul Virilio, who wrote an essay about the bunkers in Normandy, the remains of the once-proud Line Maginot, pointed out that the fortresses and the faith in the impenetrable defences were one of the reasons France lost the war against Germany. The dream of a Great Jerusalem and of the Great Israel, Eretz Israel, are still dominating the discourse in the Middle East.



Eyal Weizman's essay, "Politics of Verticality," can be read at www.opendemocracy.net

interview made by the visual artists Cecilia Parsberg and Erik Pauser can be found at http://this.is/TheWall

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