Opinion |

Israeli Architects Need to Stop Burying Their Heads in the Sand

Graduates of an Israeli university in the West Bank say they were never spoken to about politics during their studies – it shows

Esther Zandberg
Esther Zandberg
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Ariel University, in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
Ariel University, in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Esther Zandberg
Esther Zandberg

A week and a half ago, at the height of the storm over a proposed ethics code for the country’s professors, Ariel University in the West Bank held an event called “Planning Session in the Vise of Geopolitics – Environmental Planning in Judea and Samaria.” It was held as part of a conference on Judea and Samaria research studies (using the biblical term for the West Bank).

The event was held in cooperation with various other bodies, including Ariel University’s architecture school, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Kfar Etzion field school. The invitation explained that environmental planning focuses on reducing harm to the environment.

It went on to state: “In Judea and Samaria, due to its security and geopolitical complexity, this planning aspect has been pushed to the sidelines, and the environment and everyone living in it have been paying a heavy price for that.”

Should we laugh or cry at this? Look who’s talking about “planning aspects,” about harm to the environment, about the heavy price being paid by “everyone living in it” (under an occupation that has already lasted 50 years).

Among all the sins and injustices of the occupation, if we are to focus for just a moment on “planning aspects,” then the city of Ariel has been causing harm to the environment and the people living in it by virtue of its very existence and how it was planned – as reflected in reports by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and other sources.

The settlement of Ariel was planned and built in violation of every planning aspect, and no conference can normalize that reality.

Its location as an isolated enclave deep within the West Bank, and its placement as a long, narrow wedge between the Palestinian communities around it, leaves no doubt that the real intent behind its creation was to place limitations on the Palestinian population and to prevent territorial contiguity among these communities.

The existence of an academic institution in Ariel contravenes not only any code of ethics, but also ethics itself. So it doesn’t matter if the faculty that teaches there speaks or does not speak about subjects that are “controversial” – which a proposed university ethics code would bar – or whether or not they express political positions on the right or the left. It will never be ethical.

The existence of Ariel’s school of architecture – a profession that deals directly with the use of space – only adds insult to injury.

In a conversation with graduates of that school about a decade ago, they recounted that throughout their studies they were never spoken to about politics. With an education like that, it’s no wonder that, now they are older and experienced, these architects continue to look the other way, completely separating planning from politics and denying the political implications of their profession.

There is room for an ethics code (in the moral sense) between planning and ethics, which would require the Israeli government to act forthwith to carry out a plan to expand the West Bank Palestinian city of Qalqilyah. It would not be political spin, in order to flaunt it for unreasonable purposes. Instead, it would enable the residents of the Arab city – a city that, in a show of panic, Education Minister Naftali Bennett labeled a “metropolitan area,” where even after the planned expansion only about 80,000 resident would live – to have fairer and more humane lives. At least that.

Even in the immoral context of the occupation, it would only be fit and proper for the architectural community in Israel to draft its own ethics code, through which it would publicly declare its support for the construction plan for Qalqilyah as published – even if, heaven forbid, it would be deemed “controversial.” And we have not said anything daring here.

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