The first moment of access to the colonies and to the military bases is a possible moment of transgression whose consequences are unpredictable. Although in the Gaza Strip it was the Israelis who demolished most of the buildings, those buildings left intact were mostly destroyed by the Palestinians. The morning after the military left, Palestinians destroyed the space and carried out as many remnants of building materials they could use and carry. This destruction is a spontaneous architectural moment of re-appropriation and as such we believe that it should not be prevented or controlled. It is only after the indeterminate result of this moment of first encounter and within the possible rubble of its physical results that architectural construction may begin. This moment of first access questions the conception of architecture and urban planning. The acceptable precondition for planning is a situation of spatial and political certainty – a clear site demarcation, a schedule, a client and a budget. The erratic nature of Israeli control and the unpredictable military and political developments on the ground renders Palestine an environment of high uncertainty and indeterminacy. Planning in such conditions could not appeal to any tested professional methods.
Design by destruction
In the base of Oush Grab we have begun the first stages of our architectural proposal as forms of destruction. Because of its ‘revolving door occupation’ in which the danger of the place’s appropriation by settlers always exist, it is important to first render the building less amenable to be used before allowing for new functions to inhabit them. As a first stage of design we propose to perforate the buildings of the military base by drilling holes into their walls. When the building is finally appropriated these would render walls into screens.
Another way of intervening within the base is to transform its landscape. The earth rampart raised around the buildings has been constantly shifting due to Palestinian contractors using the site as a dump for their unwanted rubble and to other contractors taking some of the earth from the rampart as material for construction. Our intervention seeks to use the shifting nature of the rampart to reorganize the relationship between the buildings and the landscape. We will partially bury the buildings in the rubble of their own fortifications.
Birds migration. The paths of birds migrating from Siberia to Eastern Europe to southern Africa converge over Palestine. The flocks tend to land on preeminent hilltops such as Oush Grab. Every spring and fall thousands of migrating birds can be seen at the base. Palestine is known for its location between the three main continents, Africa, Asia and Europe. There are an estimated 520 species of birds and 2700 species of plants occurring in this area, hence it is considered a major and important grassroots for migratory birds like Storks, Pelicans and raptors (Such as Lesser Kestrel, Honey Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Eagle, and Egyptian Vulture) that use the Jordan Valley-Jericho and Jerusalem Mountains routes.
Revolving Door Occupations
Since its evacuation the summit and its buildings were at the centre of various contentious confrontations between Jewish settlers, the Israeli military and Palestinian organizations. Our office has been directly engaged in this. In May 2008, protesting against Bush’s visit to Israel and in anticipation of some ‘government concessions’ settler groups sought to use the emptied buildings of the military base as the nucleus for a new settlement-outpost. The topographical location of the base on the summit and its existing fortification would easily lend themselves, they thought, to their regimented and securitized way of life. The military declared the site a “closed military zone” but nearly every week settlers come back to occupy the base, hold picnics there, heritage tours, Torah lessons; and raise the Israeli flag. Israeli soldiers are present to ‘protect’ the settlers. Palestinian and international activists, including members of our office, also occupy the site and confront the settlers. A set of competing graffiti written by one side and then obliterated by the other testifies for a ‘revolving door’ occupancy. Our proposal for the reuse of this site also becomes an intervention in the political struggle for this hilltop.
NGOcracy: the Public, the Communal, and the Non-Governmental
Public spaces and public institutions are generally managed by state and/or local authorities and are thus an important means by which the act of government articulates itself. In Palestine, the long period of “statelessness” under colonialism has shifted the manner by which public space and the public in general functions.
Until the beginning of the 1990s, Palestinian cities were directly managed by the Israeli Military. Through the “civil administration” the military controlled planning and development permission and thus the central activities of the different municipalities. During this period the Palestinian cities where transformed into dormitory towns with very little public space. Furthermore, the ‘civil administration’ actively inhibited public institutions from developing. Private clubs, cinemas, schools and universities were put under close scrutiny or forcibly shut. The military required any association of more than three persons to have a permit.
Difficulty in establishing and maintaining public institutions persisted even after the Oslo Accord of 1993. The main reasons that impeded the creation of open public spaces in the Palestinian cities were the borders set up for Palestinian ‘self administered areas’. These borders where drawn tightly around the built up area of the Palestinian cities and villages leaving little potential land for new construction. The structure of land ownership within Palestinian cities meant that very little land was not privately owned, and municipalities have had difficultly accessing the lands. Most open spaces and new institutions were created by the many international organizations and NGOs.
The role that NGOs play in Palestinian society must be explained. Palestinian civil society was greatly strengthened during the Intifada of 1987-1992. Local leaders organized resistance and a set of alternative services like schooling and medicine, to those shut off by the Israeli army. When the Palestinian Authority was established in 1993 there was a clash between two systems of government. The Palestinian Authority, whose leaders had largely come from abroad, attempted to centralize and regulate the network of self-governing institutions that developed throughout the intifada. The network of institutions locally formed during the first intifada was transformed into the infrastructural framework of contemporary NGOs in Palestine. The local leaders of the first Intifada largely preferred to become directors of NGOs rather than ‘officials’ in the Authority. Most former leaders of the leftist ‘Popular Front’ are now directing leading NGOs. A good example is Mustafa Barghouthi and his healthcare network.
The West Bank has since been governed in parallel by the Palestinian Authority and by a series of local and international NGOs, both under the umbrella of ultimate Israeli sovereignty. In many cases Palestinian NGOcracy (as the phenomenon came to be known) provided better quality services – medical, educational, planning – than those of the Palestinian Authority, which was always ‘less than a government in less than a state’. NGOcracy has its dangers of course. Most NGOs, much like the Palestinian Authority, are internationally funded, and although donors are operating ‘in support of Palestinians’ they are in fact not accountable to the people of Palestine and often pursue the cultural and political agendas of the donor states.
Philanthropy has thus become one of the main vehicles for western countries to intervene within the politics and culture of Palestine. Baring these dangers in mind, the network of NGOs seems to us an important vehicle in developing new types of Palestinian public, social and communal spaces, and some NGOs might be the first to occupy the evacuated and transformed spaces. We have noticed that the archives of these NGOs are also the ‘living archives’ of Palestine. A combined archive of the hundreds of local NGOs, or access thereof, would provide information about the environment, welfare, human rights and politics throughout Palestine, and thus offers a diffused and multi-focal alternative to state centred information centers.