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(DV) Hamilton: The Apartheid Wall







The Apartheid Wall: Is it Architecture or…? 
by Mina Hamilton
January 9, 2006

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In early January, the New York Time's architectural critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff, labeled the Apartheid Wall in Palestine/Israel as "on a fundamental level… a piece of architecture."   

"A Line in the Sand" (1) appeared in the Time's Arts & Leisure section.  A photo evidently taken at dusk occupied the whole upper half of the Arts page. The immense black concrete slabs of the Wall marched into the distance. Most of the photo was sky. A gorgeous sky. There were billowing clouds, tinted with enough subtle aquamarine, pink and yellow to suggest a delicate 18th century Tiepolo fresco. 

The photo was the article. It delivered the message: this is pretty, this is arty. Doubtless many readers did not move beyond the picture. If they did, the romantic tone was emphasized in the first few sentences.  An example of the dreamy, seductive language: "at dusk, its [the Wall's] future path is outlined by a necklace of lights."    

The assertion that the Apartheid Wall is architecture is as absurd -- and dangerous -- as saying a guillotine is beautiful.   

Architecture is essentially about creating space and as Webster's Dictionary says, "usually habitable space." One might add architecture is also about creating inspiring or beautiful space. Space that is, in some way, an affirmation of life. 

Whether it's Chartres Cathedral's elegant nave, Frank Gehry's wild curves of steel in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, or the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC, architectural structures are spaces where the mind soars, where the viewer expands his mental or emotional horizons. It's where people, not only engage in the domestic, day-by-day functions of life, but where they are inspired. Inspired, among other things, to worship, dance, sing, or remember the dead. Inspired to leave behind, to transcend habitual modes of thinking.  

The Apartheid Wall is essentially a weapon. It's a tool of violence and military expansion.   

The Apartheid Wall instead of creating space, destroys space -- both the space of land and, perhaps more importantly, of the imagination. 

Along its projected 450-mile trajectory, the Wall is wreaking massive changes in the Palestinian and Israeli landscape. With 500 bulldozers at any one time grinding up rocks, uprooting trees and demolishing homes it is radically altering both rural and urban areas.   

Although described by Israel as strictly a "security fence," Palestinians, moderate Israelis, the International Court of Justice and many independent observers understand that it's construction deep within the West Bank involves a massive land grab.   

The Wall annexes much Palestine territory -- going way beyond the contested Green Line of the post-1967 War. Estimates on how much new land in the West Bank the Wall seizes vary.  One source says 47%. (2)  

In addition, the Wall's towering concrete bastions of 30 feet, its 360-foot-wide scar of no-man's land, its high-tech cameras and search lights, shoot-to-kill robots, ditches and trenches are chewing through centuries-old olive orchards. It gouges up precious wells, destroys aquifers, severs villages.   

The Wall not only destroys villages, livelihoods, homes and farms, it destroys the space of possibility; it wrecks the potential for change.   

Wiped out are the careful, complicated, and patient acts of listening, understanding, negotiation, and compromise all of which are necessary for the creation of a viable solution for Israel and Palestine. It divides the world into black and white. It concretizes aggression and invites mayhem.  

Tragically, the Apartheid Wall will invariably decrease security in Israel and all over the world. In London, in Jerusalem, in Paris, in New York, in the Gaza Strip, in Washington, DC, in Munich, in Jakarta, in Peshawar, in Bali, in Rome, in Baghdad -- in short, everywhere.  

As sure as the rising of the sun or the setting of the moon, the Apartheid Wall already cuts sharply into the hearts of all those Palestinians, Israelis and other beings on the planet who wish for a peaceful settlement between the two nations.  Its impact will be particularly sorrowful and blistering for the world's 1.2 billion Muslims.  A tiny, but potent, percentage of these Muslims will strap explosives to their chests and step onto buses, sit down in restaurants, and stride into hotel lobbies.  The Wall alone will not inspire these bloody acts, but its existence will be one more critical factor in the breeding of fanatics. 

The Wall knows not of space, inspiration or ideas. It knows not of beauty or transcendence. Its only message is death.   

The Apartheid Wall may not by any stretch of the imagination be described as architecture.   

Mina Hamilton is a writer based in New York City. She can be reached at minaham@aol.com


(1) Ouroussoff, Nicolai, "A Line in the Sand," New York Times, January 1, 2006. Section 2, page 1. 

(2) Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, "The New Israeli 'Disengagement Plan' Map," February 27, 2005.

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