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The current conflict occurring in the State of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is representative of a trend which is becoming common in the modern political era: the walling off of the ‘first world’ from the ‘third world’; ‘civilization’ from ‘wilderness’. Examples of this include (but not limited to) the US-Mexico border, the 38th Parallel between North and South Korea, the economic remnants of the Iron Curtain, the subdivision of the Balkans, and the division and nationalization of the Indian Subcontinent. These border zones reflect cultural, political, and economic differences. Recently, however, through infrastructural definition and physical manifestation, many of these borders have become architecturalized through built walls. The intent of this thesis is to investigate what is the critical and projective role of architecture as a mediating zone across an economic, political, and conflictual divide, beyond the wall.
Israel represents a unique and volatile manifestation of this question. Since its formation, the borders of Israel have been in a near-constant state of flux. Conflicts have expanded the borders considerably from those drawn at the original 1948 declaration. The current status of the border, since the 1967 War, consists of a number of systems working together. A zone of land, sitting on the Palestinian side, is what defines the border between what is the State of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The primary piece of this Seam Zone is an 8-meter high concrete barrier, the West Bank Barrier Wall. A campaign of control and occupation conducted by the Israelis through the use of illegal settlements, military occupation, and checkpoints throughout the Palestinian Territories has effectively brought 82% of land in the West Bank under the direct control of Israel, of which up to 10% is located behind the Barrier Wall, in the Seam Zone. In a way the barrier is not altogether unnecessary: there is a benefit to a defined border and suicide attacks within Israel have decreased since the construction of the wall in 2004.
What the actualization of the wall creates, however, is an attitude of erasure, separation and control. The wall implies an end, the end of ‘civilization,’ and what lies beyond is the wilderness of unknown. The wall is by its nature a non-place within the landscape and this adds no benefit to the continued evolution of the conflict/ peace-process. Michel Foucault says that “buildings do not have an inherent politics, but act as a form for political aims to be applied to.”1 What is needed is a facilitator to create place and path across this divide, to create an engagement across the seam. This engagement would thereby evolve with the evolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself. The design would be a ‘third place’, a new space where neither side has true control or power, a neutralizer. This new space would work into the understanding of strangeness and otherness of the philosopher Richard Kearney2, at once neutralizing and stressing the roles of host and guest, known versus unknown.
How can a conflict evolve and improve without an open and equal dialogue and understanding? Architecture can serve as the grounds for either conflict or reconciliation, but does not define the political nature of this interaction itself.