Israel: The architecture of violence
Eyal Weizman explains architecture’s key role in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the evolution of urban warfare.
Filmmaker: Ana Naomi de Sousa
On a journey across the settlements and roads of the West Bank and along the Separation Wall, Israeli architect Eyal Weizman demonstrates how architecture is central to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
“Architecture and the built environment is a kind of a slow violence. The occupation is an environment that was conceived to strangulate Palestinian communities, villages and towns, to create an environment that would be unliveable for the people there,” says Weizman.
Local Israelis and Palestinians explain how it feels to live in a landscape where everything, from walls and roads, terraces and sewage, to settlements and surveillance are designed to ensure the separation of the two peoples, while simultaneously maintaining control.
Eyal’s work on the architecture of occupation has led him to understand the discipline’s role in modern urban warfare. Visiting Nablus and Jenin, he explains how the Israeli army pioneered a new kind of modern urban warfare through its deep understanding of architecture.
But Weizman has found a way for architecture to resist. His latest project, Forensic Architecture, is way of turning a building’s military wounds into evidence to be used against the state for the investigation of war crimes, with the aid of innovative architectural and visual technologies.
By Ana de Sousa
“Houses are murdered just as their inhabitants are killed and the memories of things are slaughtered, wood, stones, glass, iron, mortar – scattered like human limbs. And cotton silk, linen, notebooks, books – all torn apart like the unspoken words of people who did not have the time to say them.”
Extract taken from The House Murdered by Mahmoud Darwish
A photograph taken in Gaza during the latest Israeli offensive: a girl, dressed in green, picks her way through the ruins of a building, rescuing books. Thousands of buildings in Gaza have succumbed in recent weeks. Bombed, shelled, and struck by missiles – many of them with civilians inside. This is just one of them.
Until recently I would look at images of these ruins and see nothing more than potent monuments of destruction. Traces of lives eliminated or chased away. But they are more than that. Making The Architecture of Violence with the architect Eyal Weizman has shifted my gaze, taught me to look at buildings and ruins as objects that bear witness to events and that can speak to us – we just need to know what questions to ask them.
From the moment we started developing this series, the idea behind Rebel Architecture was to look beyond so-called starchitecture – beyond the architectural ostentation of technological feats, and towards a more socially aware, though still creative architecture serving the people on the ground. But it was also to use architecture as a way of exploring different environmental, social and political realities around the world. While many of the documentaries in our series have looked at how architecture – the design and construction of physical structures – is being used by architects to respond to rapid urbanisation, pollution, limited resources or natural disasters, The Architecture of Violence is a different kind of film.
When I came across the work of Eyal Weizman, I realised that there was a completely different way of using architecture and of being an architect. Weizman’s work lies at the intersection of architecture with politics, violence, conflict and human rights. As an Israeli architect opposed to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he fell foul of the Israeli architectural establishment early in his career, and was forced to explore alternatives to “building buildings”. Our film looks at how architecture can be used to interpret, protest and resist, in Weizman’s case, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Like the girl in the photograph, Gazans will salvage what they can and eventually rebuild their lives, their houses and their infrastructure. Again. Already, the ruins on the ground seem to offer a powerful narrative to challenge Israel’s occupation and its tactics of war.
D.O.P: Woody James
Field producers: Ghassan Khader and Yuval Ben Yehuda
Additional footage with kind permission from: After Jenin (Trident); The Lab (Gum Films); The Freedom Theatre