The present paper is concerned with architecture as a venue of colonial power. We will examine scholarly literature which explicates how architecture facilitates or disrupts colonial rule by expanding or limiting one’s possible actions. Thematically and chronologically, we will concentrate on the Zionist colonization of Palestine, which we will divided into two distinct phases: in the first phase, taking place between the 1880s and 1948, the Zionist colonial campaign was conducted by a network of non-statist organizations purchasing land from local landowners; from 1917 it was carried on under the auspices of the British Empire, which was given a mandate to manage Palestine by the League of Nations. Thus, Palestine was both imperialized and colonized: it was incorporated into the British Empire, but the settlers colonizing it were not Britons but East European Jews. The Colonization of Palestine culminated with the 1948 war which erupted after the British withdrew from the country, and which ended with a sweeping Zionist victory. The State of Israel was established, covering most of Mandatory Palestine’s territory, including regions allocated by the UN to a Palestinian state that never came to be. During the war, some 700,000 Palestinian refugees fled or were driven out of the country, most of them settling in the Jordan-controlled West Bank and the Egypt-controlled Gaza Strip.
The second phase begins with the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the 1967 war, and has yet to have ended. This time around the Zionist colonization of the West Bank and the Gaza strip was a state-driven affair: to this date the State of Israel has settled about 500,000 people in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The land on which more than 200 settlements were built was expropriated from its Palestinian inhabitants. More land was expropriated to accommodate a complex skein of roads and military zones used to protect the settlers from Palestinian violence.
The present paper is divided into two parts which tackle the the two phases described above. The first part begins, chronologically, in 1909 with the establishment of Tel-Aviv, the “First Hebrew City”. It is concerned with the way the architecture of Tel-Aviv was used to construct a mythical narrative about the Zionist reclamation and modernisation of Palestine. Discussing the work of Sharon Rotbard, Mark LeVine and other scholars who have studied the history of Tel-Aviv and the adjacent mixed city of Jaffa, I will show that the erasure of the Palestinians and of Palestinian architecture was an integral part of that narrative.
The second part deals with the Israeli military rule in the Occupied Territories (OT) since 1967. Using both James Scott’s insight about legibility as a governmental technique and Franz Kafka’s insight about randomness and uncertainty as a governmental technique, I will discuss recent works that analyse Israeli actions in the OT as aimed at increasing the state’s ability to see its subjects, and the subjects’ inability to see and comprehend the state. We will examine the way Israel uses destruction to “legibilize” the Palestinian urban space, and how the checkpoints which carve up the OT are used to disorient and incapacitate the Palestinians.