The Architecture of Israel’s Brutal Occupation & its “Matrix of Control”

There’s been some recent press highlighting Israel’s built environment and the apartheid system it imposes upon Palestinians. Jeff Halper, co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD), and author of “The Matrix of Control”, has been nominated by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker humanitarian service organization, for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. (1) The Matrix of Control is a framework in which Halper identifies Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; the framework created by strategic settlements, settler-only highways and the Separation Wall. (2) Also this week, the London Independent reports that a group including some of Britain’s most prominent architects is considering an economic boycott of Israel’s construction industry. (3) Like Halper, they protest the building of Israeli settlements and the separation barrier in the Occupied Territories. And yet one more piece of news, Electronic Intifada reports that the “Church of England’s most senior decision-making body, the General Synod, voted to disinvest from "companies profiting from the illegal occupation [of Palestine]". (4) Caterpillar manufactures D9 bulldozers used by the Israeli armed forces for house demolitions. All this indicates a vigorous and necessary opposition to Israel’s Apartheid built environment which is arguably today’s most prominent example of how architecture, city planning and geography can be used for oppression, occupation and colonization.


Halper likens (5) Israel’s Matrix of Control, which he has mapped in great detail (6), to that of the East Asian board game “Go”, “East Asians have a game called “Go”.  Unlike the Western game of chess, where two opponents try to “defeat” each other by taking off pieces, the aim of “Go” is completely different.  You “win” not by defeating but by immobilizing your opponent by controlling key points on the matrix.”  


As Halper outlines, Israel’s Matrix of Control has three layers:


1)      “[T]he actual physical control of key links and nodes that create the matrix of control,  settlements and their extended “master plans”; a massive system of highways and by-pass roads (including wide “sanitary” margins); army bases and industrial parks at key locations;  closed military areas;  “nature preserves”; control of aquifers and other natural resources;  internal checkpoints and control of all border crossings;  areas “A”, “B, “C”, “D”, “H-1”, “H-2”; Israeli-controlled holy places in key locations; and much more. These define the matrix of constricted Palestinian enclaves and effectively divide them from one another. They also give Israel control of key “nodes”.”


2)      “The second layer of the matrix is bureaucratic and “legal”, all the planning, permits and policies that entangle the Palestinian population in a tight web of restrictions. These include political zoning of land as “agricultural” in order to freeze the natural development of towns and villages; a politically motivated system of building permits, enforced by house demolitions, designed to confine the population to its constricted enclaves; land expropriations for (solely Israeli) “public purposes”; restrictions of planting and the wholesale destruction of Palestinian crops; licensing and inspection of Palestinian businesses; closure; restrictions on movement and travel; and more. Although Israel is careful to present its policies as “legal”, in fact they are not.  The failure to guarantee Palestinians the basic human rights provided by the Geneva Convention and other international covenants, upon which Israel has signed, is patently illegal. The extensive use of the Israeli court system, which invariably rules against Palestinians, as a means of controlling the local population makes a mockery of the link between law and justice. All these confine Palestinians to isolated cantons, control their movement and maintain Israeli hegemony.”


3)      “The third layer of the matrix involves the use of violence to maintain control over the matrix, the military occupation itself, including massive imprisonment and torture; the extensive use of collaborators to control the local population; pressures exerted on families to sell their lands; the undemocratic, arbitrary and violent rule of the Military Commander of the West Bank and the Civil Administration. What Israelis know of this system they justify in terms of “security”.”


No wonder that the Architects in the Independent say that "Planning, architecture and other construction disciplines are being used to promote an apartheid system of environmental control." And the architects, planners and engineers working on Israeli projects in the occupied territories were "complicit in social, political and economic oppression", and "in violation of their professional code of ethics".

When discussing a boycott of Israel, the architects spoke specifically of targeting “Israeli-made construction materials”, “Israeli architects and construction companies” – and also the possibility of calling for the expulsion of Israeli architects from the International Union of Architects. As the Independent reports, Eyal Weizman, the Israeli director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmith’s College in London, said "A boycott would be totally legitimate”…“The wall and the settlements have been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice and we should boycott any company which does business, any architects that participate – anyone facilitating these human rights violations and war crimes."

Well said…

Foot notes:

1) http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article4474.shtml

2) http://www.searchforjustice.org/articles/10.00.99.html

3) http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article344510.ece

4) http://electronicintifada.net/v2/printer4468.shtml

5) http://www.searchforjustice.org/articles/10.00.99.html

6) http://www.palestinecenter.org/cpap/maps/settle_matrix.html

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