Too many good intentions?

On 6 February in Amsterdam the results of the competition One Land Two Systems were announced and a discussion about the relation between planning and human rights in Israël. Urit Luden about the competition, organisation and the pitfalls.

The Israeli playwright, Hanoch Levin, made a Tourist in arrive at the National Library, which is nothing but a matchbox hanging on a string. The Tourist refuses to believe it. The Taxi Driver gets angry. The Guide admits that it is indeed a matchbox. ‘Not a very big library ‘ says the Tourist. ‘Not big and not small – exactly the size we need ‘ is the replay.  When the Tourist insists to know how they manage to get the librarians and the books inside, the Driver gets angry and says: ‘Don’t you see – it’s a match box! Have you lived here? Built hereYou know what???’, the Driver takes the box, puts it in his pocket, ‘No national library! Finished!!’

We tell ourselves stories, and although the total absurdity of it is absolutely clear to us, we won’t give it up. Would a stranger get it?

FAST (The Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory) announced a competition for a small project for 40-50 families – could be inhabited in two buildings in  a city. The organizers put on its narrow shoulders the problematic of the whole Israeli planning policy or better said – the politics of planning, to be criticized and condemned. They show the absurdities of the Israeli story and try to tell the Israeli-Palestinian narrative that has not been heard. They wish to correct human rights violations, and not only those against Palestinians but also the violations of Roma rights in Europe and the Mapuche in South America as well!!!

Ein Hud is, until 2004, an unrecognized village (no services, no electricity, school at 9 km distance and less and less land to live off) in the Carmel Mount in Israel.

In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War many villages were destroyed, 600000 Arabs out of a population of 1.5 million people (Jews and Arabs) became refugees. About 160.000 Arabs remained in Israel. Some stayed in the cities, others fled their villages and settled new places. They became Israeli citizens but Israel did not recognize their new villages and their rights to the land they live on. The government confiscated their original land. Today there are about 45 unrecognized villages. Israel justifies it in providing urban solutions, which are easier to service, could inhabit more people, reduce costs of development and infrastructure etc, but it does not answer the needs, nor the wishes.

The Israeli planning is centralized and controlled by the government. It expresses the narrow and ideological interests of the Jewish sector and by this many times discriminative against the Israeli Arab population. There is a whole history to this and some of the reasons could even be considered explainable, but nevertheless the result is the same.

How on earth is this possible you want to know? The anti terror policy of the Dutch government can make it clear as it has much of the same logic. Without saying, more than million citizens are pointed out, the ones wearing dresses and have beards (and are not Scottish) in particular, as terrorists in potential. The terminology is of Defense, Security and a justified War against the threat of Terror, while chanting how tolerant Dutch are. On the front-page one day, and the next took prince Charles the headlines over.  How easy!!

The FAST project is beautifully organized. The number of prominent and busy people from different disciplines that agreed to take part in it, (as the nine sponsors, and more then 70 participants), show that it has an honorable cause.

F.A.S.T raises very important issues, but makes some confusing choices in dealing with them, or maybe the problem is that it enhances some too many good intentions?

Like the insistence to combine the injustice done to Ein Hud with those in the occupied territories. Both outraging, but the people of Ein Hud (unlike the inhabitance of the territories) are Israeli citizens. The ongoing abuse of their rights should be stopped with no connection to the solution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Another bad service to the project is its name: ‘foundation to achieving seamless territory’. ‘Seam-zone’ is a term in the Israeli military jargon, which means line of separation (between Israel and which is not). Seamless is an underwear terminology for ‘not to be shown or felt’ and this Ein Hud suffers already. For the last 50+ years not noticed, and not heard. Denial, indifference and ignorance are worst then any built dividing seam FAST wishes to remove. A gentle, well-crafted seam is much needed for respecting their rights.

Also the statement ‘We (Architects) find ourselves as major players or master puppets of political planning in this territorial conflict’ is puzzling when at the same time FAST wants to take no part in political arguments. This seems to undermine its own aims. And then there is the perplexing assumption that architects by the mere choice of their profession are on higher moral grounds.

FAST though operating in Holland is a part of an Israeli phenomenon. A new generation of architects that wants to expose the mechanisms of power, the politics that operates behind the planners, and their motives. A generation of architects that don’t ‘buy’ any more the stories of national interest that can be made on the cost of others. The discussion enjoys the participation of professionals from other disciplines as well. It is a small – but hopefully growing group. Inviting them to talk on the international arena might strengthen its effect.

The winner had to give Ein Hud a solution for the village, to show the Israeli higher court that there are other, better ways for planning then the proposed plan by the government.

The jury found no first prize winners, only honorable mentions, they will be invited to the site for a workshop to develop their ideas. The jury felt that the participants did not understand the power forces as the historical and cultural aspects of it. The project that got praised by all jury members suggesting a didactic Dadaistic exhibition to be shown at the original site of the village is maybe the only answer for a surrealistic situation.