Bulldozers and Bombs:
The Latest Palestinian–Israeli
Conflict as Asymmetric Urbicide
Stephen Graham
School of Architecture...
Bulldozers and Bombs

643

as their blood, literally, seeped away. Those medical staff who got
through were, in some cases...
Figure 1: Aerial photograph of the destruction of the centre of the Jenin refugee camp caused by the battle and Israeli bu...
Bulldozers and Bombs

645

Only when the lack of infrastructure threatens to produce wider
externalities for Jewish popula...
646

Antipode

and his military leaders worry that Palestinian urbanisation and
demographic growth—largely unplanned and p...
Bulldozers and Bombs

647

roadside seems as much a part of the strategy in the ongoing war as
the tank. Never has such an...
648

Antipode

Arab settlements are virtually search-and-replace copies of Hitler’s
metaphorical depictions of Jewish ghet...
Bulldozers and Bombs

649

economically starved as terrified Israelis stay at home and shop on the
’net. And the national ...
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Graham, Stephen. "Bulldozers and bombs: the latest Palestinian–Israeli conflict as asymmetric urbicide." Antipode 34.4 (2002): 642-649.

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Graham, Stephen. "Bulldozers and bombs: the latest Palestinian–Israeli conflict as asymmetric urbicide." Antipode 34.4 (2002): 642-649.

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Graham, Stephen. "Bulldozers and bombs: the latest Palestinian–Israeli conflict as asymmetric urbicide." Antipode 34.4 (2002): 642-649.

  1. 1. Bulldozers and Bombs: The Latest Palestinian–Israeli Conflict as Asymmetric Urbicide Stephen Graham School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University, Newcastle, UK; s.d.n.graham@ncl.ac.uk Introduction: “Urbicide” by Bulldozer at Jenin The bulldozing of the centre of the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002 made a mockery of Ariel Sharon’s repeated claims over the previous month that Israel’s invasion of the occupied territories was aimed to destroy the “terrorist infrastructure” behind recent Palestinian suicide attacks. Sharon’s real purpose was to destroy the urban, civil and infrastructural foundations of the proto-Palestinian state. To invoke a term used by both Marshal Berman (on the collapse of the Bronx) and the architect Bogdan Bogdanovitch (on the deliberate cultural annihilation of Sarajevo and other Balkan cities), Sharon’s war was a strategy of “urbicide”. Its main purpose was to deny the Palestinian people their collective, individual and cultural rights to the city-based modernity long enjoyed by Israelis. Sharon’s was a deliberate strategy to compel Palestinians to indefinite poverty. The Israelis made dramatic efforts in the invasion to undermine the already slow modernisation of the cities that today house the vast majority of the Palestinian people. Water tanks were systematically ridden with bullets. Electronic communications were bombed and jammed. Roads were dug up and ruined. Electricity transformers were destroyed. Computers were smashed, their hard drives stolen. Any cultural or bureaucratic symbol of the proto-Palestinian state was ransacked. Houses were bulldozed—some with their occupants still inside. Financial damage to infrastructure from the first major offensive alone has been estimated by donors at US$361 million (Giacaman and Husseini 2002). In addition, hospitals were bombed and medical equipment looted and wrecked. During the attacks, ambulances were prevented from entering the war zones, condemning many to a slow, avoidable death © 2002 Editorial Board of Antipode. Published by Blackwell Publishers, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
  2. 2. Bulldozers and Bombs 643 as their blood, literally, seeped away. Those medical staff who got through were, in some cases, deliberately attacked, and at least five were killed. Numbers of civilian casualties, especially in Jenin, are difficult to estimate. At the time of this writing (17 June 2002), most reports estimated that at least 52 Palestinians were directly killed in Israel’s first Jenin attacks. At least 22 of these were civilians, including children and disabled people (Human Rights Watch 2002:4). In the Jenin operation, Israeli bulldozers levelled a 300-by-250-metre area, burying some civilians alive and leaving over 4,000 people homeless (Human Rights Watch 2002:4). The destruction is captured graphically in Figure 1. Reports tell of Israeli soldiers carefully marking houses for demolition with blue markers from detailed maps. It is clear that the objective was the deliberate and wholesale removal of the core of the Jenin refugee camp, long seen by Israeli military leaders as one of the main areas for producing and equipping suicide bombers. Since the demolitions, all attempts at rebuilding and removing unexploded ordinance have been blocked by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). As Jonathan Cook reported in the Guardian on 3 June 2002, “[K]eeping the heart of the camp in ruins will make Jenin more accessible next time the tanks rumble in”. Even since this was written, there have been many instances of such reinvasion. The Context: Broader Infrastructural Warfare The April invasion followed earlier efforts by Israel to destroy the developing infrastructure of the Palestinians—much of it financed, since the Oslo Accord, by aid from Europe and the United Nations. In January 2002, Josep Pique, president of the European Union Council of Ministers, complained that Israel had systematically bombed Gaza International Airport, Gaza Port and Palestinian TV and radio transmitters, which together had received around $20 million in EU support. Under the guise of “destroying sniper hiding places” the IDF have also destroyed many fields, olive groves, factories and greenhouses, adding to the economic effects of the bombings and tightening checkpoints. Such destruction has occurred against a broader context of systematic infrastructural and planning biases, which have prevented the modernisation of Palestinian settlements in Israel and the occupied territories over the decades since 1967. At the same time, Israel has poured billions of dollars into building over 400 new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. These have been equipped with lavish, dedicated highways and electricity, water and telephone links that literally bypass the Palestinian neighbourhoods around them. Such policies have been deliberately designed to fragment and undermine the contiguity and coherence of Palestinian territory.
  3. 3. Figure 1: Aerial photograph of the destruction of the centre of the Jenin refugee camp caused by the battle and Israeli bulldozers (used by permission from Public Relations Branch, Israeli Defence Forces) 644 Antipode
  4. 4. Bulldozers and Bombs 645 Only when the lack of infrastructure threatens to produce wider externalities for Jewish populations has the Israeli state invested systematically in modernising occupied Palestinian communities. On retiring, Teddy Kollek, Mayor of Jerusalem between 1967 and 1993, made a startling admission. “For Jewish Jerusalem I did something in the past 25 years”, he reflected. For East (Palestinian) Jerusalem? Nothing! Sidewalks? Nothing! Cultural institutions? Not one! Yes, we installed a sewerage system for them and improved the water supply. Do you know why? Do you think it was for their good, for their welfare? Forget it! There were some cases of cholera there, and the Jews were afraid that they would catch it! (Israel–Palestinian Peace-Building Program 2002) Urbicide by Bulldozer: Tracing the Origins The deliberate destruction of settlements by Israel in 2002 is not entirely new. Sharon, who is nicknamed the “Bulldozer”, has a long association with its use as a weapon of war and intimidation. In 1953, forces commanded by Sharon levelled homes in the West Bank village of Kibya, killing 69 Palestinians, in retaliation for the slaying of a Jewish woman and her two children. Sharon revealed the philosophy behind urbicide by bulldozer in an interview in Ha’aretz on 26 January 2001. When asked what he would do about persistent Palestinian shooting into the new Jewish settlements at Gilo, south of Jerusalem, he replied: “I would eliminate the first row of houses in Beit Jela”. And, if the shooting persisted? I would eliminate the second row of houses, and so on. I know the Arabs. They are not impressed by helicopters and missiles. For them there is nothing more important than their house. So, under me you will not see a child shot next to his father [as was the case with Mohamed Al-Dorra]. It is better to level the entire village with bulldozers, row after row. (Jansen 2001:2) The current war, however, marks a shift from occasional and sporadic demolitions to the systematic and planned destruction of carefully targeted settlements for political and military reasons. An Israeli chief of staff recently claimed that “[T]he D-9 [armoured] bulldozer [that is invariably used to do the destruction] is a strategic weapon here” (Harel 2000; see Stein 2002). The shift to deliberate urbicide by bulldozer is one result of a deepening antagonism amongst Israel’s right-wing military and political elites toward the natural demographic and urban growth of the Palestinian people. They see rapid and spontaneous Palestinian urbanisation and demographic growth, within both Israel and the occupied territories, as the Palestinian’s major long-term strategic “weapon” in shifting the demographic, geopolitical and military balance against Israel. Sharon
  5. 5. 646 Antipode and his military leaders worry that Palestinian urbanisation and demographic growth—largely unplanned and poorly serviced by infrastructure—is now undermining the viability of the Zionist state itself. Such growth overwhelms efforts by Israel to support the in-migration of Jews into both Israel itself and the new settlements (a balance further tipped by growing out-migration of Jews from Israel because of the increasing incidence of suicide bombs). The fast-growing, labyrinthine Palestinian cities of the West Bank and Gaza also challenge Israel’s military omnipotence. Such places help Palestinian fighters avoid surveillance, detection and capture—even when Apache helicopter gunships buzz overhead, occasionally killing alleged Palestinian fighters (with those unlucky enough to be in the vicinity succumbing as “collateral damage”). Places like the Jenin refugee camp are commonly dehumanised as “terrorist nests” in the right-wing Israeli media. As we saw with the death of 13 Israeli soldiers in Jenin on 9 April, as fighting terrain, such places dramatically negate the superiority of high-tech Israeli forces over low-tech Palestinian ones. They expose Israeli soldiers to the risks of snipers, ambushes, booby traps and homemade bombs. They also inhibit the traditional military tactics of invasion and occupation, because tanks—when they can get in at all— are very vulnerable to attack. Hence the shift to mass demolition as Israel’s preferred strategy of getting tanks into the centre of Jenin refugee camp—a place they could not otherwise enter. The demolitions were the brutal reaction on the part of Israeli politicians and military planners to the deaths of the Israeli soldiers. But they were also a response to the fact that many Palestinian fighters sought refuge within a built environment the very existence of which implicitly challenged Israel’s military omnipotence over the whole geopolitical space of “Greater Israel” (ie the land to the west of the Jordan River). These demolitions are the most extreme element of a broader strategy of destroying the landscape in the creation of Israeli and Jewish settlement and mobility spaces that are supposedly less vulnerable to Palestinian attack. “What is most striking in Palestine now is the violence wrought against the land, the terrain”, writes Christian Salmon (2002) of the Autodafe writers collective. This process is now intensifying with the construction, beginning in June 2002, of a massive 110-km fence along a large part of the 1967 “Green Line” on land forcibly taken from Palestinians. The fence will have a “buffer zone” of several kilometers on the western side to be forcibly bulldozed of Palestinian settlements, structures and vegetation. As Salmon (2002) continues, such policies mean that houses are destroyed, olive trees uprooted, orange groves land waste … to improve … visibility … The bulldozer one runs across at every
  6. 6. Bulldozers and Bombs 647 roadside seems as much a part of the strategy in the ongoing war as the tank. Never has such an inoffensive machine struck me as being more of a harbinger of silent violence. The brutality of war. Geography, it is said, determines war. In Palestine it is war that has achieved the upper hand over geography. From Urbicide to Genocide? Effi Eitam and Representations of Palestinians as a “Cancer” Within the (Greater) Israeli “Body-as-State” A key force behind Israel’s shift to a strategy of urbicide by bulldozer is Effi Eitam. A retired IDF brigadier, General Eitam commanded an army brigade during the invasion of southern Lebanon in the 1980s. He is now an ultra-right-wing leader of the Jewish settlers’ National Religious Party and was invited to join Sharon’s new ruling coalition on 10 April 2002 as Sharon brought in a group of hard-liners and marginalised more conciliatory figures such as Shimon Peres. Such has been Eitam’s meteoric political rise that many already rate him as a serious contender for future leader of Israel. Crucially, Eitam has also headed a group of senior Israeli generals who, in late 2001, developed the plan for the Israeli invasion of the occupied territories that was presented to Sharon on 31 January 2002. The plan, which Sharon seems to have loosely followed since, was directly aimed at smashing the political, infrastructural and urban foundations of the Palestinian State, partly, at least, to “encourage” Palestinians to leave the occupied territories. Eitam wants Arabs and Palestinians to leave Israel and the occupied territories, to be accommodated in a new, two-lobed “Palestinian” state in Jordan and the Sinai in Egypt. He spoke at a recent conference in Israel on the links between war and cities, attended by this author. Israel, he argued, faced a “Jihad of buildings”. The spontaneous construction of Palestinian housing and refugee camps within both Israel and the occupied territories was, he argued, a “cancerous tumour destroying the ordered host” of the Israeli state. It threatened, he said, to undermine Israel militarily and demographically. “Eventually”, he believed, “this could destroy the strongest army in the world”. The necessary response, to Eitam, was urbicide—to change the IDF’s tactics so that they challenge the very existence of Palestinian cities. Viewing Palestinian cities as “cancerous tumours” within the “ordered body” of (greater) Israel legitimises the bulldozing of avenues through people’s homes so that tanks can reassert Israeli military control and surveillance. It existentially denies Palestinians the right and space to exist—even in a miserable refugee camp with little or no infrastructure or services. Most astonishingly—and Eitam is fully aware of the charged irony here—the corporeal “body-as-state” metaphors of “cancers” and “ordered bodies” that Eitam regularly employs to describe
  7. 7. 648 Antipode Arab settlements are virtually search-and-replace copies of Hitler’s metaphorical depictions of Jewish ghettos in Mein Kampf. From countless examples in history, it is obvious that from such metaphors genocides can grow. The Jewish people should be the last to need lessons on how quickly this can happen. Worryingly, Eitam already hints at such quasigenocidal fantasies. His belief is that, in a context of war, Israeli military force and strategies of deliberate urbicide will make life so intolerable that Palestinians will “voluntarily” leave their homeland in Israel or the occupied territories for Jordan and Egypt. The aim, as suggested by Israeli minister for Labor Shaloumo Bin Azri in May 2001, is to “convert the life of Palestinians into hell” through the ongoing destruction of infrastructure, the building of fences and “buffer zones” and the strengthening of curfews and checkpoint controls (Arabic News 2001). This policy, euphemistically labelled “transfer”, is now a legitimate political idea in Israel. “Transfer” is “ethnic cleansing” by urbicide—not (yet?) a deliberate massacre, but a systematic programme of urban and infrastructural destruction, with heavy casualties along the way. On the need to remove the “cancer” of Israeli-Arab settlements from the “ordered” spaces within Israel, Eitam argued in Ha’aretz on 6 April 2002 that “in war we [ie Jewish Israelis] behave as in war. I can see that as a consequence of war few Arabs [Israeli citizens] will remain here [in Israel]. As a result of war many Palestinians may find themselves again as refugees, on the other side, the eastern side, of the Jordan river.” If such visions continue to influence Sharon’s fraying coalition and his military and territorial strategies, shifts from urbicide to genocide can genuinely not be discounted. This is something for US and EU leaders, who have taken few direct actions against Israel’s attacks, to consider immediately. Bombs Versus Bulldozers: Suicide Bombing as (Asymmetric) Urbicide What Israel’s strategy of deliberate urbicide totally fails to do—as the tragic litany of ongoing suicide bombs demonstrates—is to improve the security of Israelis in their own cities. For, in this war of (asymmetric) urbicide, Palestinians have their own weapon against the modern urban life of the Israelis that will not be stopped by anything but a just, two-state, geopolitical settlement with substantial international enforcement. Untraceable and unstoppable, bypassing fences, checkpoints and targeted assassinations alike, and driven by despair, vengeance and religious certitude, the suicide bomb continues to deny Israelis their modernity, their cities, their freedom. Hundreds of Israeli civilian have been killed by such bombs. Whole swathes of the economic hearts of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa are being
  8. 8. Bulldozers and Bombs 649 economically starved as terrified Israelis stay at home and shop on the ’net. And the national economy is on a major slide. Whilst they have no doubt killed many of the organisers of the suicide bomb campaign in recent West Bank offensives, it is already clear that Israel’s brutal current attacks will, tragically, only add to the queues of people, from both sides of the new fence, desperate enough to consider such extreme measures. References Arabic News (2001) Israeli official calls for striking Palestinian infrastructure. ArabicNews.Com 6 May. Available at http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/ 010605/2001060505/html (last accessed 10 April 2002) Cook J (2002) Time to clean up the battlefield of a dirty war. The Guardian 3 June:16 Giacaman R and Husseini A (2002) Life and health during the Israeli invasion of the West Bank: The town of Jenin. Indymedia Israel. Available at http://www. indymedia.org.il (last accessed 29 May 2002) Harel A (2000) This time, the chief of staff keeps his lips sealed. Ha’aretz 28 December:3 Human Rights Watch (2002) Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority territories. 14(3) Israel-Palestinian Peace-Building Program (2002) Jerusalem: Planning and development. Available at http://www.atsc.org/1spal/ jerusalem/jeruplans.htm (last accessed 4 March 2002) Jansen M (2001) The bulldozer baron. Al-Ahram Weekly On-Line 8–14 February. Available at http://www.ahram.org.eg/weekly (last accessed 15 May 2002) Salmon C (2002) Sabreen, or patience. Available on the Autodafe Web site at http://www.autodafe.org (last accessed 18 April 2002) Stein Y (2002) Policy of Destruction: House Demolitions and Destruction of Agricultural Land in the Gaza Strip. Report by B’Tseelem—The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. February. Available at http://www. btselem.org (last accessed 5 May 2002)

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