Israeli Appropriation of the Palestinian Vernacular and Israel’s Construction of Identity through Habitat67
by Christina Tadros·
Israeli Appropriation of the Palestinian Vernacular and Israel’s Construction of Identity through Habitat67 
The mission of Israelizing Jerusalem since Israel’s establishment in 1948 has transformed into an ideological process that transcended its geographical location. It has been shown in architectural projects not only inside Jerusalem but also abroad. This paper will examine how Habitat 67 — an architectural structure and social housing project, one of the major symbols of Expo 67 held in Montreal — by Moshe Safdie, appropriates the Palestinian vernacular. Born a Palestinian, Safdie has been part of Sabra architects: the first generation and ‘natives’ of the new Israeli state, who campaigned for “progress and development” in Arab villages to create a national homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. Moreover, Montreal’s Expo 67 was a point of exchange for architectural knowledge: Habitat67’s ‘new’, ‘modern’, ‘Israeli’ typology was brought to the forefront of architectural discourse, despite the structure being an appropriation of native Arab/Levantine typology. The Palestinian vernacular exported abroad has now been deemed as Israeli: a complete dismissal of the structure's roots and origins. This paper will explore the role Habitat67 plays in concealing Palestinian-ness, erasure of Palestinian culture, and how its placement outside the Arab world is socially, culturally, and politically strategic, and functions as Israeli “soft power”: exporting Israeli ideals abroad gains global recognition and legitimacy, evident in Safdie’s writings, sociological and political accounts, and architectural reviews. Israeli architects attempt to devise a desired ‘Israeli’ architectural type. Ironically, its vernacular precedent is Palestinian.
Al Nakbah, literally translated to ‘the catastrophe’, is the 1948 Palestinian exodus caused by the invasion of Zionist militant groups.  The Nakbah resulted in the expulsion of over 800,000 Palestinians from their homeland, with over seven million still living in exile with no right to return to this day.  The Zionist ideology and the settler-colonial scheme has been brewing in Europe since the late 19th century, believing the Jews were “a people without a country” (Figure 1).  The 1917 Balfour Deceleration ratified whilst under the British Mandate declared Palestine to be “a national home for the Jewish people” due to the minority Jewish population in Palestine.  The declaration did not entail the expulsion of the native Arab population, however, Zionists believed Palestine to be “a land without a people for a people without a land,” which has been used to justify European migration into Palestine. This enforces and engrains a false belief in Zionists and its global supporters that Palestine was a tabula rasa, and is in turn a safe heaven and national homeland for Jews worldwide. Thus, existing Arab architecture in Palestine morphed into ‘an architecture without a people for a people without architecture.’
The mission of Israelizing Jerusalem since Israel’s establishment in 1948 has transformed into an ideological process that transcended its geographical location. It has been shown in architectural projects not only inside Jerusalem but also abroad. Habitat 67 by Moshe Safdie, one of the major symbols of Expo 67 held in Montreal, is an architectural structure and social housing project that appropriates the Palestinian vernacular (Figure 2). Through the assessment of Habitat67 and its context, one is able to uncover how Israeli architects conceal ‘Palestinian-ness’, play a role in settler colonialism and erasure of Palestinian culture through appropriation, and export their ideals abroad in order to entrench their historic past into common architectural discourses.
Israelizing Palestinian architecture
Architecture has the role of “codifying and reproducing social identities,” as it is both a culture, social, and political enterprise. Thus, collective national identities can be both produced and sustained through architecture. Judziation of the Mandate of Palestine was necessary during Israel’s establishment in order to create an Israeli typology for identity-making; there were two modi operandi adopted by Zionists.  The first modus operandi was the top-down approach, which was carried out by European Zionists who viewed themselves to be the “salvagers of a territorial tabula rasa.” It was adopted by Zionist elites who produced a landscape of how they envisioned their future nation-state to be, with aims of ‘salvaging’ their imagined tabula rasa: architects such as Arieh Sharon (1900-1984) was one of the many Zionist pioneers. A polish architect who studied architecture in Dessau under Walter Gropius was granted Israeli citizenship after its establishment in 1948 and implemented his learned ‘Bauhaus vernacular’ to build his structures (Figure 3).   During this time, Ashkenazi Jews sought asylum and refuge in Palestine due to the rise of antisemitism in Europe: they adopted this vernacular. Modernism has now become part of the architectural fabric of the Jewish community. 
The second modus operandi was bottom-up: Sabra architects — who came to be the first ‘native’ Israeli group of architects — look at the local Palestinian/Arab vernacular and use that typology to develop their own, with Safdie being one of them.  Sabra architects not only focused on creating a ‘national home’, yet also focused on housing solutions for Jewish immigration from Europe to Palestine. Sabra architects argued ‘international architecture’ (i.e. Bauhaus movement) “left no room for culture,” and thus looked for Arab ‘native-ness’ in the territory.  Safdie (born in Palestine in 1938 yet identifies as Israeli) plays an active role in the cultural-political process of architectural production, in order to form and enforce the constructed notion of a ‘historic’ — despite very modern— Israeli homeland, aiming to install a sense of belonging.   In Safdie’s Beyond Habitat (1973), he traces the inspiration of Habitat67 to be the ‘deserted’ Palestinian village of Lifta (Figure 2). Lifta is the last Palestinian Arab village standing since Israel chased out its inhabitant in 1948 to establish its own state. Safdie describes Lifta as “ …a deserted Arab village [that] hugs the hill, small and larger cubes made of the stone of the mountain: domes, arches, vaults, the mosque’s tower, shaded passages, all in harmony with the landscape and the sun” (Figure 4) . 
At the outset, it is necessary to note Jewish settlers who migrated to Palestine in the early 20th century espoused an exotic and romantic narrative of the locals (Palestinians), “imagining them as descending from the biblical ancestors”. In this sense, one is able to understand the roots of Jewish romanticism towards Palestinians. However, romanticizing, and then appropriating, the Palestinian vernacular was (and still is) necessary to produce an Israeli typology, which in turn creates a sense of identity, a sense of belonging, and a national homeland.  If the Palestinian vernacular is not appropriated, the colonial-Israeli settlements and areas will be displayed as ‘new’, ‘modern’, and ‘westernized’, making them inauthentic. To place this in perspective, if this framework is used while viewing the city of Jerusalem (both the capital of Israel and Palestine), one is easily able to distinguish between the structures of the inauthentic Israeli-Yerusalem, and the authentic ‘historical’, and ‘spiritual’ Palestinian-Quds, hence Israeli appropriation of the Palestinian vernacular (Figure 5).  Moreover, in order for Israel to complete its settler colonial scheme, it attempts to expand Israeli-Jerusalem into Palestinian-Jerusalem through illegal settlements: the archiccture of these settlements are similar to the traditional Palestinian village (Lifta), Habitat67, and current East Jerusalem Palestinian archiccture (Figure 6).
Lifta: the Arab village
The village of Lifta holds the same architectural vernacular as any other Arab village under the Ottoman empire would.  Its architecture was considered modern, and revolved around plantation and cultivation of the land.  The structure of the village follows the natural topography of the land, and has been developed and expanded organically and gradually: the larger the family or tribe grew, the more buildings were erected (Figure 7).  This eventually formed a defensive block-like structure, used for protection: the interior public space which was created as a result of the placement of the homes would be used as a courtyard for the use of the dwellers. The homes are modular, constructed using the local material of stone, and had flat roofs for multi-purpose use (Figure 7). 
Safdie encompassed two building typologies to create his social housing project of Habitat67: suburban garden homes and high-rise apartment buildings. It contains 158 apartments, made up of 354 “prefabricated reinforced concrete modules stacked twelves stories high in a stepped-up pattern” (Figure 8).  The structure is interpreted as Brutalist architecture, a “Mediterranean-inspired” project, and an “embodiment of humanist architecture.” Throughout his publication, Safdie focused on a “three-dimensional modular building system” which is standardized; he insisted on standardization and prefabrication as it allowed the hosing project “to achieve the goals of growth and flexibility,” as three clusters of boxes were stacked onto each other vertically (Figure 9). 
Both of these structures are made created with the intent of expansion. In the case of Lifta, the homes are not stacked yet appear to be stacked when looking from afar. This is because the individual homes in Lifta follow the natural topography of the land, which might make it seem the dwellings are stacked together. The architecture, structure, and placement of the homes in the village is also based on Palestinian culture of cultivation and plantation of olives and almonds under the Ottoman era. However, in the case of Habita67, Safdie can only create this exterior facade by intentionally stacking the prefabricate homes over one another; the ground at Expo67 is flat. There is also no need for the cultivation, or plantation of olives trees and almonds. Lifta’s defensive block-like exterior is created organically; Safdie has to construct it. Moreover, the use of concrete in Safide’s structure is visually similar to the natural stone used to create Palestinian villages. It seems Habitat67 is a modern ‘Bauhaus’ reproduction of Lifta. Safdie’s use of the native vernacular Palestinian landscape is now produced in Montreal, deemed to be an iconic structure designed and created by an Israeli, despite its roots being Palestinian.
Israeli soft power
The significance of placing Habitat67, a structure designed and created by an Israeli architect outside the Middle East is both culturally and politically strategic: it functions as Israeli ‘soft power’. The concept of ‘soft power’ (introduced by political scientist Joseph Nye during the Cold War), contrasts to the hard power of “ordering others to do what it wants.” Instead, soft power of a state is executed through “cultural attraction, ideology, and integration institutions.”  In this sense, Habiat67 is considered as a cultural attraction that pays tribute to an Israeli type of architecture, completely dismissive of the precedent Palestinian vernacular. In an interview conducted by Dezeen Magazine, Safdie claims “Habitat was important at its time and resonated with the public because it proposed in realized form an alternative to the typology of the conventional apartment house.”However, Safdie fails to mention why it proposes an alternative method.
Why does the “experimental modular housing” look so different from other social-housing projects? It is because this architectural architecture is based on native Palestinian villages, and is imported by an Israeli into Canada. Palestinian architecture (corresponding to identity) is being appropriated, hijacked, and erased, despite ‘Israeli architecture’ being based on a Palestinian habitat. The assessment of Habitat 67 in the common dialogue has no mention of its Palestinian precedent. Instead, it is assessed through the lens of ‘Metabolism’ (see Nakagin Capsule Tower), and/or Brutalism.
The failures of the projects are also attributed to the project being too costly to produce, and that other social housing models already exists in North America. There is no scholarly work presented which, perhaps, attributes its failure to the fact that the aesthetic and typology is imported from the Levantine East which was organically curated to suit indigenous Arab Palestinian villages and towns. However, Habitat 67 is successful in its recognition: it is now seen as some type of artwork, rather than an idea for mass-produced housing (similar to a piece of art that has been stolen during colonial rule, it is now placed in a museum, only to look and observe, but not to use). It is successful as a cultural enterprise rather than a housing solution: and this is soft power. Being placed in Expo 67, a point of exchange for architectural knowledge, Habitat67 is recognized by the West as a structure built by an Israeli although it is a reproduction of an appropriated Arab village. The structures placement in Montreal attempts to secure the notion of a strong ‘Israeli past’ that is non-existent. “Where the old ways are alive, traditions need be neither revived nor invented.” However, Habitat67 had to be invented: by faking a historic past through architecture, the notion of the native national ‘Israeli’ homeland is produced. 
Through a sociological lens, one can deduce how this is this historical monument is an ‘invented’ tradition, which in turn becomes a nod to Israeli heritage. Israeli ‘historic’ “continuity had to be invented,” by “creating an ancient past beyond effective historical continuity” either through semi-fiction “or by forgery.”This is what creates a nation-state, a sense of belonging, and historic legitimacy to the land. Habitat 67 is now an Israeli cultural fact: a popular monument in the Eurocentric architectural discourse with no ode to Palestinian heritage.
With or without intent, Habitat 67 is a monumental structure built by Safdie that plays a prominent role in the erasure of Palestinian culture. His romantic writings which are popular in the Zionist rhetoric regarding Palestinian villages allude to the clear appropriation of the Palestinian vernacular. However, this is only justified by creating the Palestinian ‘other,’ whose land must be ‘salvaged’. Yet this was contradictory; Israelis malign and disparage Palestinian culture, yet admire and look closely for an alternative ‘Zionist’ modernism through the Palestinian vernacular. Israeli nation-building and its intent of creating a sense of belonging is shown through Israeli architects as they reproduce the native Palestinian and vernacular landscape as their own, and justify national claims as an Israeli ‘tradition’ — therefore culture — has been invented. The Eurocentric discourse classifies this work to be a Brutalist structure. However, is Safdie’s work Brutalist? Or just Arab, yet deemed to be Brutalist, as Palestinian/ Levantine architecture, structures, vernacular, and typologies are completely disregarded and maligned in modern-Eurocentric architectural studies to strength Israel’s historical, and so, legitimate past? I propose the latter.Bibliography
Safdie, Moshe. Beyond Habitat (Montreal: Tundra Books, Collins Publishers, 1973).
Frearson, Amy. “Brutalist buildings: Habitat 67, Montreal by Moshe Safdie.” Dezeen. 11 September 2014. https://www.dezeen.com/2014/09/11/brutalist-buildings-habitat-67- montreal-moshe-safdie/
Sharon, Aryeh. Kibbutz + Bauhaus : an Architect’s Way in a New Land. (Stuttgart: Kramer Verlag, 1976).
Levene, David. Photograph of Silwan, East Jerusalem, 2018, The Guardian, Jerusalem, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/08/trump-palestinian-aid-cut-east-jerusalemhospitals
Safdie Architects, “Habitat ’67.” Safdie Architects. Accessed March 11, 2022. https://www.safdiearchitects.com/projects/habitat-67
Allweil, Yael. "Plantation: Modern-vernacular housing and settlement in Ottoman Palestine, 1858-1918." ABE Journal. Architecture beyond Europe 9-10 (2016).
Egoz, Shelley. “Deconstructing the Hegemony of Nationalist Narratives through Landscape Architecture.” Landscape Research 33, no. 1 (2008): 29–50. https://doi.org/10.1080/01426390701773789.
Eugene, Rogan. “The Palestine Disaster and Its Consequences” in The Arabs. (New York: Basic Book, 2012).
Hobsbawm, Eric, and Terence Ranger, eds. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Jones, Paul. The sociology of architecture: Constructing identities. Liverpool University Press, 2011.
Legault, Réjean. “The Making of Habitat 67: A Tense Pas de Deux between Moshe Safdie and August Komendant.” Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada / Le Journal de la Société pour l'étude de l'architecture au Canada 46, no 1 (2021) : 30–50. https://doi.org/10.7202/1082359ar
Mashiah, Avi. “Lifta: A Preliminary Urban Survey.” Projects - presevation, July 2008. https://www.iaa-conservation.org.il/Projects_Item_eng.asp?subject_id=6&site_id=3&id=114.
Muir, Diana. "A Land without a People for a People without a Land." Middle East Quarterly (2008).
Nitzan-Shiftan, Alona. "Contested Zionism-Alternative Modernism: Erich Mendelsohn and the Tel Aviv Chug in Mandate Palestine." Architectural History 39 (1996): 147-180.
Nitzan-Shiftan, Alona. “Planners and Plans” in Israelizing Jerusalem: The Encounter Between Architectural and National Ideologies 1967-1977. (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2002)
Nitzan-Shiftan, Alona. “Sabra Architects” in Israelizing Jerusalem: The Encounter Between Architectural and National Ideologies 1967-1977. (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2002)
Nitzan-Shiftan, Alona. “The Israeli ‘Place’ in East Jerusalem: How Israeli architects appropriated the Palestinian aesthetic after the ’67 War.” Jerusalem Quarterly 27 (2006): 15-27.
Nye, Joseph. "Soft Power. Foreign Policy, No. 80, Twentieth Anniversary." (1990): 153-171.
Figure 1. November 1948. Arab refugees on the Lebanon Road after fleeing their homes in the Galilee during fighting between Israeli and Arab forces. Photograph. The Associated Press, Galilee. A photograph from the Nakba: Palestinians being expelled from their homeland due to Zionist violence. 430,000 Palestinian have been internally displaced, with some now being part of the West Bank and Gaza (Palestine terrorizes), and some naturalized citizens within Israel, known as Arab-Israelis (Palestinians). This image is evidence that proves the Zionist slogan false: Palestine was not ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’.
Figure 2. Rosenkrantz, Jessica. 2009, Habitat '67, Montreal, Canada. Photograph. Montreal. From the opposite side of the lake, Habitat67’s modular housing blocks evidently for a large a large façade. Safdie adopts methods of standardization for his prefabricated homes, where the resulting façade becomes very similar to the Palestinian/Arab Levantine ‘city scape’, present in both East Jerusalem and Amman.
Figure 3. Zeev Rechter, 1933. Engle House, Tel Aviv. Photograph. Arch Daily. The Engel House was constructed by the Ukranian-Zionist Bauhaus architectural pioneer, Zeev Rechter (1899-1960). He migrated to Palestine in 1920, where Engle House is in Tel Aviv became known as one of his best-known Modernist works in Israel.
Figure 4. Schalit, Ariel. 2017, Abandoned Buildings in Lifta, on the western edge of Jerusalem. Photograph. The Associated Press, Jerusalem. Lifta village is the last standing ‘Arab’ village. Safdie never uses the word ‘Palestine’ or ‘Palestinian’ village to describe this: complete erasure of the Palestinian identity. The modular homes are built based on the typology of the land, and assorted in a proper manner for cultivation and plantation. This image poses a resemblance between the Arab/Palestine architecture typology and vernacular that has been appropriated and romanticized by sabra architects, specifically Safdie in Habitat67.
Figure 5. Levene, David. Photograph of Silwan, East Jerusalem, 2018, The Guardian, Jerusalem. The village of Silwan is currently under occupation and its residents face expulsion by the Israeli Occupation Forces. There is a vivid parallel between Habitat 67 and authentic Palestinian architecture present in Palestinian Jerusalem. Silwan’s architecture emerged organically; it was not imposed nor forced by any specific architect. This photograph is evidence that ‘Israeli architecture’ is a reproduction, and the appropriation of an Arab (then) village -- now city, to secure the notion of a strong ‘Israeli past’ that is non-existent.
Figure 6. Al-Shaer, Musa. 2008, Backdropped by the Jewish settlement of Har Homa in east Jerusalem, a Palestinian flag flutters in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on June 2, 2008. Photograph. Getty Images, Jerusalem. The illegal Israeli settlement located in East Jerusalem uses Palestinian architecture and typologies to create a ‘native Israel. This is the crux of settler colonialism: stealing culture and claiming it as theirs t have a false ‘historic’ claim to the land.
Figure 7. Egoz, Shelley. The remnants of Lifta’s agricultural landscape. Photograph. Landscape Research, Jerusalem. The homes of Lifta are built following the natural topography of Palestinian land; it comes in layers, or steps. When homes are built on this land, it creates the illusion of them being stacked from afar: this produces the city scape that Safdie embodies in Habitat67, as seen from a front elevation view. Although this is the organic, traditional Palestinian fabric and nature of the city scape, it is exported into Canada and deemed to be a an Israeli model: a new architectural phenomena.
Figure 8. Top view Photograph of Habitat67, Safdie Architects, Canadian Architects Collection, McGill University. Safdie is able to achieve the desired architectural vision by stacking the homes, making it seem as if the buildings are in ‘layers’, built on a hill, following ‘natural topography’. However, the land at Expo67 is completely flat.
Figure 9. Habitat 67 Drawings, Safdie Architects, Canadian Architects Collection, McGill University. The homes are prefabricated and are easily stacked on top of one another due to their standardization. The attempt to stack the homes is curated to form a façade similar to a city scape in East Jerusalem.
 Ameen Ahmed is master’s student and teacher’s assistant at the University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture; he has greatly helped me in formulating my thesis, analysis, research study.
 Zionist militant groups such as Irgun and Haganah are considered as terrorist organizations in the Arab narrative. Haganah then transformed into the core Israeli defense/military group.
 Eugene, Rogan. “The Palestine Disaster and Its Consequences” in The Arabs. New York: Basic Book, 2012.
 Diana Muir, “A Land without a People for a People without a Land” Middle East Quarterly, 2008.
 Rogan, The Arabs. 2012.
 Paul Jones, The Sociology of Architecture: Constructing Identities (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press 2011), 3.
 Alona, Nitzan-Shiftan. “The Israeli ‘Place’ in East Jerusalem: How Israeli architects appropriated the Palestinian aesthetic after the ’67 War.” Jerusalem Quarterly 27 (2006): 15-27.
 Alona, Nitzan-Shiftan. "Contested Zionism-Alternative Modernism: Erich Mendelsohn and the Tel Aviv Chug in Mandate Palestine." In Architectural History 39 (1996): 147-180.
 Sharon became the first head architect of Israel after its establishment in 1948.
 The Bauhaus vernacular had now become politicized and became “a visual emblem of ‘the modest’ Zionist spirit’ which produced it”. (see Nitzan-Shiftan, Contested Zionism, 1996). Also, “This expression of modernism that is largely interpreted today as a symbol of the purity, integrity, and the progressiveness that stood at the core of the Zionist project itself, was distinctive from modernist architecture of other countries in the world” (see The “Designed” Israeli Interior, 1960–1977: Shaping Identity Daniella Ohad Smith Ph.D.)
 Aryeh, Sharon. Kibbutz + Bauhaus : an Architect’s Way in a New Land. (Stuttgart: Kramer Verlag, 1976).
 The chosen name ‘sabra’ is ironic. The name comes from the Arabic word ‘sabra’, meaning cactus fruit. They claim they chose this name as the sabra architectural movement embodies ‘similar attributes’: it is thorny and tough on the outside, yet sensitive and sweet on the inside.
 Nitzan-Shiftan. “The Israeli ‘Place’ in East Jerusalem: How Israeli architects appropriated the Palestinian aesthetic after the ’67 War. (2006): 25.
 Ibid., 17.
 Eric Hobsbawm, The Invention of Tradition. (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 1-4.
 Moshe Safdie, Beyond Habitat (Montreal: Tundra Books, Collins Publishers, 1973) 216.
 Shelley, Egoz.. “Deconstructing the Hegemony of Nationalist Narratives through Landscape Architecture.” Landscape Research 33, no. 1 (2008): 29–50. https://doi.org/10.1080/01426390701773789.
 Hobsbawm, 1-7.
 Jerusalem is split in half, half for israel and half for jerusalem. so in order to ‘organically'
 Yael, Allweil. "Plantation: Modern-vernacular housing and settlement in Ottoman Palestine, 1858-1918." ABE Journal. Architecture beyond Europe 9-10 (2016), 20.
 Ibid., 1.
 Ibid. 13.
 Avi Mashiah, “Lifta: A Preliminary Urban Survey,” Projects - presevation, July 2008, https://www.iaa-conservation.org.il/Projects_Item_eng.asp?subject_id=6&site_id=3&id=114.
 Réjean, Legault. “The Making of Habitat 67: A Tense Pas de Deux between Moshe Safdie and August Komendant.” Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada / Le Journal de la Société pour l'étude de l'architecture au Canada 46, no 1 (2021) : 30–50. https://doi.org/10.7202/1082359ar, 30.
 Legault. “The Making of Habitat 67: A Tense Pas de Deux between Moshe Safdie and August Komendant.” Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada / Le Journal de la Société pour l'étude de l'architecture au Canada 46, no 1 (2021) : 30–50, 30.
 Ibid., 31.
 Joseph, Nye. "Soft Power. Foreign Policy, No. 80, Twentieth Anniversary." (1990): 153-171, 166.
 Nye, 167.
 Amy, Frearson. "Brutalist buildings: Habitat 67, Montreal by Moshe Safdie.” Dezeen. 11 September 2014. https://www.dezeen.com/2014/09/11/brutalist-buildings-habitat-67- montreal-moshe-safdie/
 Legault, 30.
 Hobsbawm, 8.
 Ibid., 7.