Architects threaten to boycott Israel over 'apartheid' barrier

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The Independent Online

A group including some of Britain's most prominent architects is considering calling for an economic boycott of Israel's construction industry in protest at the building of Israeli settlements and the separation barrier in the Occupied Territories.

Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, whose members include Richard Rogers and the architectural critic Charles Jenckes, met for the first time last week in secret at the London headquarters of Lord Rogers' practice. He introduced the meeting, and the 60 attendees went on to condemn the illegal annexation of Palestinian land and the construction of the vast fence and concrete separation barrier running through the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The group said that architects, planners and engineers working on Israeli projects in the occupied territories were "complicit in social, political and economic oppression", and "in violation of their professional code of ethics".

It said that: "Planning, architecture and other construction disciplines are being used to promote an apartheid system of environmental control."

The meeting discussed a boycott of Israel - targeting Israeli-made construction materials and Israeli architects and construction companies - as well as possibly calling for the expulsion of Israeli architects from the International Union of Architects.

A spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy said: "Whoever supports a just solution should refrain from any manner of boycott. It just puts more obstacles in the way of reconciliation in our region.

"If these people care about the Palestinian cause they should help to build bridges not destroy."

Israeli architects denounced the initiative. Ofer Kolker, a leading, London-trained Israeli architect, said it would target a whole group, whether or not individuals were involved in the occupied territories.

"What will they boycott?" Mr Kolker asked. "British architects have never cooperated with their Israeli colleagues. British architects have always had a preference for the Arabs."

There have been several attempts to organise boycotts of Israel, from the virtually defunct Arab League boycott to the attempts to organise an academic boycott at the height of the Intifada. Amnesty International has campaigned against the Irish cement company CRH, which it claims held a large shareholding in a company supplying cement to build the separation barrier.

Earlier this week, the Church of England's general synod voted to divest church funds from companies profiting from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. The main target of the plan will be Caterpillar, whose diggers have been used to demolish Palestinian homes. Caterpillar says the US military sold them to Israel, but the church which sell its £2.5m of shares anyway.

Any boycott would aim to embarrass Israel into halting the building of the barrier and settlements, and the "unrestrained destruction" in historic West Bank cities.

Members said that final tactics were not yet decided but they stressed that all options up to an industry-wide boycott were open.

Eyal Weizman, the Israeli director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmith's College in London, urged action. "A boycott would be totally legitimate," he said. "The wall and the settlements have been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice and we should boycott any company which does business, any architects that participate - anyone facilitating these human rights violations and war crimes."

Charles Jenckes told The Independent: "There reaches a certain point where an architect can't sit on the fence. Not to stand up to it would be to be complicit."

He said the separation barrier built by Israel was "a contorted, crazy, mad, divisive, drunken thing".

"In 10 years' time its builders will see it as a great folly," he said. "Architecturally it is madness. I understand fully that security is the problem for Israel and they have the right to protect themselves. But this is not the solution.

"It is an extremist measure which forments extremism, by incarcerating and intimidating Palestinians." He called for architects to gradually increase pressure on Israeli. George Ferguson, former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, who was not at the meeting, said: "It is right that architects should not play a part in building communities and structures that drive people apart."

The biologist Steven Rose, who led the British academic boycott of Israel from 2002, said: "Architecture and planning are an integral part of the racist apartheid state."

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