On Apartheid Planning

Howayda Al-Harithy, Mona Fawaz, Ahmad Gharbieh, Mona Harb - 27.05.2021
Launching Beirut Urban Lab's Arabic website on the heels of the Nakba anniversary and the latest Israeli military aggression on Gaza

In line with our commitment to produce informed scholarship on urbanization and advocate socially-just and viable urban policies, we launch the Beirut Urban Lab’s Arabic website on the heels of the anniversary of the Nakba, the 73rd commemoration of the massacres that marked the establishment of the State of Israel, while Palestinians continue to count their dead and while the residents of Gaza, sieged for the past 13 years, discover the daunting destruction after 11 days of relentless military aggression.

Israeli aggression is structural and continual. It is planned. We did not need the highly mediatized, explicitly militarized, and particularly deadly manifestation of settler colonialism last week to be reminded of the just cause of the Palestinian liberation movement. Daily practices of aggressions against Palestinians never stopped: forced expulsions, destruction of homes, detentions, and storming of houses, all accompanied by the long-term military planning that continues to segregate, discriminate, and effectuate systemic extermination are a daily reality, despite their blatant violation of international law.

As urbanists, designers and planners, we are deeply conscious of the complicity of our professions with the settler colonial project. Historically, illustrious names and critical design traditions (e.g., the Garden City, green belts) were tightly involved in the appropriation of Palestinian cities and the dispossession of their dwellers. To date, planning principles continue to dodge questions of right and entitlement, providing a veneer of technicity to the settler colonial project.1 It is also planners and architects who deploy the tools of planning and urban regulations to criminalize the right to home for Palestinians, including in Sheikh Jarrah, in Jerusalem, where only yesterday, so-called compliance engineers were again harassing families who can never dream to obtain permits.
Scholars have shown how colonial powers use cartography, urban planning regulations and land policies as tools for controlling and dominating people and natural resources, resulting in segregation and enclaving of controlled communities2, but never with the intensity that we see in Occupied Palestine. Over the past 73 years, the Israeli State Apparatus has manufactured laws that amount to nothing less than apartheid.3 These laws have granted Jewish Israeli citizens  a superior status as compared to Palestinians when it comes to civil rights, residency rights, access to land, and freedom to move and build. Spatially, the Zionist project in Palestine has consisted of what Israeli urbanist Oren Yiftachel has called the systematic Judaization of the land, at the expense of its native populations. The project has implied a forcible transfer of Palestinians to make way for the building of illegal Israeli settlements. It has also prohibited millions of Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes, only to confiscate their homes and lands on the grounds of their (forced) absence. 

Land policy and zoning regulations are integral elements of the Zionist colonial project. Land regulations build legal fictions, such as the “absentee law”, to justify the appropriation of Palestinian land and seizure as Israeli state land. They have led to systematic land confiscation and dispossession. In addition, zoning regulations deliberately restrict Palestinian rural and urban development, while enabling Israeli colonial expansion.4 Consequently, numerous Palestinian towns and villages are confined by so-called security zones, nature reserves, national parks, and infrastructural corridors that restrict people’s movements. For example, around 150,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have been physically separated from the city by a 700km concrete wall, which Israel started building in 2002.5 Such policies left the densely populated towns and villages with little room to expand and promoted the occupation of the area built on the ruins of Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948.6 

History tells us that people resist colonial planning and Palestine is no exception. The impact of apartheid planning and policies that have evolved over the years under the military occupation of Israel may have planted its own seeds of destruction. The hostile environments of borders, walls, gates and security checkpoints have turned into terrains of confrontation, protest and reclamation. The deeper the segregation and the fragmentation, the greater the frontiers of the confrontation. Thus, in the past two weeks, we witnessed mobilizations and united protests throughout Occupied Palestine within each of these inscribed borders from the green line, to the entry of Umm AlFahm, to the dividing line in Jerusalem, to the separation wall, threshold of sanctuaries, checkpoints and segregated roads. 

The state-sanctioned terrorism of the Israeli war machine against Palestinians is losing its legitimacy as its blatant violations of human rights become more apparent by the day. In the past weeks, thousands of protestors have taken to the streets around the world, mobilizing to denounce Israeli settler-colonialism. They are joined by a recent statement by planners and architects who have expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian cause. There is no doubt that peace can only be achieved with the resolution of military colonial planning, and, for that to happen, planners and architects need to be critically involved in recovering the progressive potentials of their profession and its commitments to inclusion and social justice. For the Beirut Urban Lab, this remains the core element of our research agenda and advocacy.

See, for example, Yiftachel, O. 2000. "Social Control, Urban Planning and Ethno-Class Relations: Mizrahi Jews in Israel’s ‘Development Towns’." International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol. 24(2): 418-438. Also, Weizman, E. 2007. "Hollow-Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation". London: Verso.

Wright, G. 1991. "The Politics of Design in French Colonial Urbanism". Chicago, IL, USA: University of Chicago Press.

Farsakh, L. 2005. "Independence, Cantons, or Bantustans: Whither the Palestinian State?"  The Middle East Journal, Volume 59, Number 2, Spring 2005, pp. 230-245, and, more recently, "A Threshold Crossed". Human Rights Watch, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution

See Weizman, E. op. cit. 

"A Threshold Crossed". Human Rights Watch, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution

Makdisi, S. 2008. "Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation". W. W. Norton & Company.