Israel’s Settler-Colonial Urbanism: East Talpiot, Palestine

by Christina Tadros

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 traces its roots to the Balfour Declaration passed in 1917 under the British Mandate of Palestine, allowing Palestine to be a homeland for the Jews.1 Although the ratified declaration did not entail the displacement of the Palestinian population in Palestine, the Zionist scheme brewing in Europe had other intentions in mind. They deemed Palestine to be “a land without a people for a people without a land,” considering it to be a tabula rasa.2 Since its establishment, architecture has been used as a tool for settler colonialism, apartheid, segregation, and occupation of Palestinians on their land. After the 1967 Six-Day War that defined modern Israeli and Palestinian territory, however (and more specifically), one is able to delineate how these notions (which are at the heart settler colonialism), set the stage for an architectural framework that has been adopted for Israel’s urban plan and development strategy since its establishment in 1948 until today. This is seen through Israel’s settler-colonial urban plan strategy of installing illegal Israeli settlements established on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Settler colonialism is used to design new Israeli cities on Palestinian land, with the intent to occupying the entirety of Palestine. Israeli settlements sprawl past the official 1967 Israeli boundaries, and expand Western Jerusalem into Eastern Jerusalem despite the Eastern part being under Palestinian in order to fulfil their colonial mission of making Jerusalem whole and ‘united’ (see Figure 1). This mission is carried out by establishing Israeli communities into Eastern, Palestinian Jerusalem (located in the West Bank). The establishment of gated communities in the West Bank occurs through third-sector organizations — such as Bimkom; illegal settlements are now privatized gated communities in the West Bank (i.e. Area C under Israeli occupation). Third sector organizations that profit from illegal settlements are a manifestation of Israeli neoliberalism. Moreover, the installation of Ring settlements and settlement projects, which creating semi-private spaces for Jews only (including neighbourhoods, green spaces, and 

parks) is part of the segregation process. The process of zoning Palestinian neighbourhoods which took place took place under the Oslo Accords, slowly transforms Palestinian land into Israeli territory by Israeli expansion of streets and suburban areas. Furthermore, The apartheid wall, known as the ‘Green-Line,’ includes a plethora of checkpoints that prohibits Palestinian access to the same streets, neighbourhoods, and cities as Israelis living both in the Occupied Territories and in new Israel. Freedom of movement is hindered by a multitude of elements: emplaced Israeli checkpoints on Palestinian land; street building of tunnels; and street building of bridges, all on exclusively Palestinian territory. This goal is to segment and isolate Palestinian land and restrict movement.

The European Zionist ideology and intent of creating an exclusively Jewish homeland on Arab soil was successful when armed groups completed the exodus of 800,000 Palestines in 1948. A multitude of key political events has played out which altered (and continues to alter) the demographic and urban nature of the land. Israel’s main goal since its established borders in Palestine in 1967 has been the expansion of Israeli jurisdiction in the occupied Palestinian territories, specifically in the West Bank (see Figure 2). Israel’s scheme is executed through settler-colonialism: establishing illegal suburbs on East Jerusalem (Palestinian territory) to ‘unite’ Jerusalem under full Israeli control. Settler colonialism is carried out through armed sprawl on hills, road segregation, and social exclusivity of Palestinians on their own land.3

Israeli architects and urban planners have been commissioned to design the expansion of Israel onto Palestinian territory into the West Bank since 1967. Israel’s ‘Ring Settlements’ have been built in eastern, northern, and southern parts of East Jerusalem after it was illegally captured following the 1967 Six Day War.4 The aim of these settlements is “to ensure that all of Jerusalem remains forever a part of Israel,” and serve as satellites to central Jerusalem, which Israel deems as part of their capital although illegal under international law (see Figure 3).5 There are a total of eight 

suburban areas in Eastern Jerusalem, one which includes Eastern Talpiot established in 1973 (see Figure 4).6 These settlements are developments of gated communities which conform to the trend of privatization of space which represents a phase of residential segregation, and Jewish colonisation.7 This new mode of segregation can be decoded to promote privatization of public space, economic apartheid through exclusion, and gentrification by Israeli architects and urban planners.8

The settler colonialism scheme in Israel’s neo-liberal cities is the set ups of gated communities by third sector organizations.9 The preferred requirement of Israel’s suburban settlements is for it to be on a hilltop.10 The neighbourhood of East Talpiot has received its name due to its topographical structure. The word ‘tal’ in Arabic translates to a hill or a mountain; the city’s name ‘Talpiot’ is due to it being on a hill. The neighbourhood has been strategically chosen by Israeli developers and urban planners as by placing Jewish settlements on hilltops, Jewish inhabitants are easily able to overlook and survey Palestinians living in the West Bank territory below them (see Figure 5).11 Surveying Palestinians is not only done through residential homes but also parks: the entrance to Jewish-only public spaces are placed on hills to overlook the Arab towns and villages below (see Figure 6). These gated communities/ suburban settlements place exclusion as the foundation for they development to carry out social exclusivity.12

Scholarly work has been produced exploring illegal Israeli housing projects on Palestinian land. Rosen and Razin argue that gated communities and settlements are feature in the landscape of a neoliberal city as there is a significant decline of public housing and space and has now become privatized landscapes through third-sector organizations.13 However, addressing settlements to be an element of neoliberalism and privatization by characterizing it as ‘gated communities’ (rather than illegal Jewish settlements) is in itself an issue as it diminishes the reality of the situation: Israeli apartheid is practiced by both the public and the private sector. Jadallah argues that these settlements have 

been a form of urban and demographic spatial intervention which has transformed Jerusalem to suit the Zionist scheme of entrenching a Jewish identity although unnatural and only achieved through annexation and occupation.14 The building of Jewish suburban settlements functions “as a mechanism [for] dispossession and surveillance” of Palestinians on their land.15

Although Rosen and Razin 2009 journal falls short on discussing blatant apartheid, their 2008 journal demonstrates how Israeli settlements are placed for a political ideology and are used to characterize class with the intent of social hegemony and social segregation though spatial urbanism. They argue segregate neighbourhoods including streets, sidewalks, and local parks have restricted access from the general Palestinian public. “The key motivation for the development of community settlements was in most cases geopolitical these settlements have played a major part in a strategy to increase Jewish presence and territorial control over areas in the West Bank,” (see Figure 7). 16 These are all mechanisms used in Israel’s Ring Settlement of East Talpiot in Eastern Jerusalem.

There has been no direct scholarly assessment of the specific East Talpiot Ring settlement, however, previous scholars compose their conclusions based on a wider scope of neoliberalism, gated communities, and settler colonialism yet lack a focused case study. I assess this is not a shortcoming by scholars. This is rather due to ‘settler-colonialism’ being a key element in the creation of the state as a whole, which is why scholarly work may be rather broad.

One is able to further understand the urban plans of Jewish settlements like East Talpiot through the analysis proposed by Eyal Weizman. Although not specifically focused on the East Talpiot Ring settlement, Weizman is a British-Israeli architect who yields a close focus on the ways in which architecture and urban planning is used as a whole for Israel’s settler colonial project (see Figure 10). Unlike previous scholars who place significance on how Israeli architecture contributes to apartheid, Weizman focus on what Israel does to carry out apartheid and occupation 

through urban planning and architecture.

He calls upon Ariel Sharon, the minister of Agriculture and Head of the Government Settlement committee. He notes key that settlements in the West Bank are organized “for the overall defence system, … penetration, encirclements, envelopment, surveillance, control, and supply line migrated, from the military to the civilian sphere.” 17 The author highlighted Sharons mission of “space making”: the Israeli plan was to occupy hills and he looked “for high, important terrain and vital road junctions” for his settlements (see Figure 8). However, Weizman refrains from mentioning who caried out these settlements. As scholars had noted in their critiques, due to neoliberalism (as they claimed) Sharon’s master-plan was not only carried out by a single governance: colonialism was practiced and emerged through a series of third sector organizations. The author commences to indicate how a settlement is chosen: topographical surveys are taken to determine a hilltop that is 500 meters above sea level (see Figure 9). However this is not the case for each settlement; rather, the intention of setting up settlements on a hilltop, is for settlers to be able to see the Palestinian villages below; a war tactic - they act as a natural border. The battle for the hilltops was approached through a military lens, rather than merely architectural.

Moreover, the use of roads is barley touched upon by previous scholars. However, Weizman briefly touches upon the construction of the ‘Jerusalem eastern ring road’ (see Figure 10); highways and roads that are constructed to perpetrate apartheid by linking settlements in the West Bank which intend to isolate Palestinian neighbourhoods.18 Through highways, Palestinian neighbourhoods now become an isolated island: economically, geographically, and agriculturally. Highways are “split down its centre by a high concrete wall, dividing it into separate Israeli and Palestinian lanes” (see Figure 11).19 All of these architectural elements are implanted in Isaels urban plan of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, specially East Talpiot in Eastern Jerusalem (see Figure 7).