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UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


Tel Aviv conference plans for Palestinian return


(MaanImages/Ali Mawassi)

By Alex Shams         6 October 2013         Maan News

TEL AVIV (Ma'an) -- There are few topics that scare the Israeli public more than the potential realization of the Palestinian Right of Return. Israel’s New Historians increasingly acknowledge that Israel’s creation in 1948 was a direct result of a planned ethnic cleansing that led to the displacement of 800,000 Palestinians from 530 villages. 

And yet there continues to be a wide-reaching, unspoken consensus across Israeli society that the return of the displaced indigenous Palestinian inhabitants of what became Israel and their descendants, today numbering around 4.5 million around the world, is not up for discussion.

As prominent Israeli columnist Gideon Levy asserted last Sunday in Tel Aviv, "Organizing a conference on the Right of Return is considered to be illegitimate by most Israelis. But we shouldn’t be afraid of that ... Let me remind all of us that we had demons in our past just as scary that evaporated over the years … Now that we have gotten rid of earlier demons, we’re left with this demon that no one deals with: the Right of Return."

It is precisely for this reason that the conference organized by Israeli organization Zochrot Sept. 29-30 at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv was so ground-breaking. Entitled, “From Truth to Redress: Realizing the Return of the Palestinian Refugees,” it was one of the largest conferences to take place to date inside of Israel addressing the Palestinian Right of Return.

The conference aimed not merely to insist upon the legitimacy of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, but also to examine in practice how such a return would take place. Because of Israel’s refusal to accept this right, a great deal of Palestinian discourse until recently has focused exclusively on insisting upon the legitimacy and necessity of return. 

But if we accept the right as legitimate, a whole other host of questions emerge: Where will the refugees live? What kind of state will emerge? How will Palestinian society-in-exile re-emerge within the homeland? And finally, how will Jewish Israeli society come to terms with their new position in a state where they do not have a position of ethnic supremacy? 

The conference builds on increasing momentum within Israel’s borders by Palestinian activists actively materializing the Right of Return. Israel is home to tens of thousands of Palestinians who were displaced from their villages in 1948 but remained inside the new state’s borders. Many of these communities ended up as refugees only mere miles from their original villages but were forbidden to return by the State of Israel.

In summer 2012, young Palestinian refugees originally from Iqrit returned to their mostly destroyed village and set up permanent residence. In response, Palestinians within Israel from other villages have also begun returning to their villages. Despite intense pressure from the Israeli state they have remained steadfast and present, refusing to be displaced from their ancestral lands yet again. 

As Khulood Badawi, a Palestinian activist inside Israel, argued, “We need to take the model of Iqrit to other areas. We need to raise awareness by saying that we cannot just talk about the global Right of Return if we are not implementing Right of Return within Israel, while there are still displaced Palestinians here within Israel.” 

Badawi stressed that the displaced Palestinians within Israel must use the advantages at their disposal, primarily citizenship rights and the ability to return to their displaced villages, to lead the way by showing Israelis, Palestinians, and the whole world that in fact return is possible. As she argued, “We cannot realize the global Right of Return without achieving the Right of Return of those displaced Palestinians within Israel.”


Zochrot director Liat Rosenberg told attendees that, “Return is a long and ongoing multifaceted process that includes not only physical return of refugees, but also the establishment of an actual society. It begins long before they come, and it will continue long after.” The conference thus addressed not only how return would take place, but also how Jewish Israeli society would come to accept it. 

Zochrot has long been actively committed to challenging the collective, willed amnesia of many Jewish Israelis toward 1948. As conference organizers prominently reminded the audience throughout, the Eretz Israel Museum where the conference took place sits atop the destroyed Palestinian village of Sheikh Muwannis, official recognition for which Zochrot continues to fight. At the same time, as various panelists noted, Israeli Jewish society needs to understand that Palestinian return and decolonization does not entail Jewish ethnic cleansing.

The conference challenged both Israelis and Palestinians to rethink their ideas of return, offering complex visions of possibilities rarely discussed or even imagined. As some speakers noted, “return” means something different for every Palestinian refugee. While some may actually desire to return to their physical homes, others desire the ability to live anywhere in their homeland free from Israeli discrimination. Others crave merely the recognition of the historical crimes committed against them. 

Palestinian architect and activist Shadi Habib Allah stressed that many Palestinians do want to return to their villages, and planning the geography of that return is of the utmost necessity. He presented architectural plans for the village center of al Lajun, offering a physical vision of return that “honored emotions,” as he explained through its innovative use of traditional Palestinian village design and notions of communal living. At the same time, the village offered a modern vision that would not insist upon a return to the path but hinted instead at a brighter future.

There are as many ideas of return as there are Palestinian refugees, a flexibility conference attendees frequently acknowledged. The decolonization of Israeli space through imagining Palestinian return means not returning to what was, but instead building a shared geographic future. And while the Israeli taboo on discussing the Palestinian Right of Return may not have been definitively shattered in these two days, that the conference even took place is a hopeful sign for the future.

As Israeli journalist Gideon Levy reminded the audience, "Treating (return) as something that should not be mentioned only exacerbates the problem … the only way to deal with it is first and foremost to talk about it."







From Truth to Redress: Realizing the Return of Palestinian Refugees
September 29-30, 2013
The conference is over and it was a huge success! It took place as planned, despite attempts to prevent it, at the Rothschild Auditorium on the campus of the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, which was built on the lands of the Palestinian village of Al-Shaykh Muwannis. Some 400 people attended the two-day conference. It was broadcast live on the Internet and viewed by some 750 people from all around the world. Tens of thousands of people were exposed to posts uploaded during the conference on Facebook and Twitter. Over 25 volunteers helped with administrating and documenting the conference. Speaking in English, Hebrew and Arabic, 35 presenters - academics and activists from Palestine/Israel, as well as Canada, the US, the UK, Serbia Poland - presented their various concepts and ideas for realizing the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland and its spatial implications. 
Over the coming weeks, Zochrot will publish all the lectures, visual and textual materials presented in the conference. Videos will be uploaded starting this week, and an electronic booklet with ten texts by conference speakers will be published in mid-November. 
Click here to view some conference photos
In the meantime, you are welcome to view three visions of return which were presented in the conference and moved the audience: Planning the Future Village of al-Lajjun, Future Return to Mi'ar, and ActualReturn to Iqrit. These visions were conceived by groups of Palestinian youth living in Israel, who participated over the past year in a joint project for Zochrot, Baladna: Association for Arab Youth, Arab Association for Human Rights and the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced. 
Palestinian author Salman Natur who mediated one of the conference panels wrote the following on his Facebook page: 
"I have just returned from Tel Aviv, where I took part in a conference organized by Zochrot, an NGO which acts to promote awareness of the Nakba and disseminate information about it and about crimes against the Palestinian people in general among the Jewish public. The concepts that echoed in the auditorium were Nakba, Awda (Return), memory, displaced villages, refugees, one democratic state from the river to the sea, acknowledgement and reconciliation. About 200 people, mostly Jews, filled the auditorium. The panel I mediated included seven speakers from the US, UK, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, in addition to a video lecture by Dr. Salman Abu-Sitta who wrapped up the entire story by stating: "I was kicked out of my home, and I want to return to it". This conference is a turning point in the attempt to transform Israeli consciousness. Something's noteworthy is happening here. I recommend following up on the conference's outputs. What has been said there is priceless. In fact, I recommend all Zochrot publications. The idea of a single democratic state is increasingly taking hold in the minds of many who are honestly seeking a just peace. The one-state solution as outlined by researchers and academics who spoke in the conference sounds more realistic than the two-state solution."
The conference is also receiving ongoing attention in the media.Recent articles include: 
Gideon Levy&Alex Levak, Haaretz 
Esther Zandberg, Haaretz, on the al-Lajjun Project
The Times of Israel
Ma'an News
Tom Pessah wrote on 972 about the conference.

مؤتمر "من الحقيقة إلى التصحيح: عودة اللاجئين الفلسطينيين"





Saving Lifta

Between 19th - 26th October 2008, FAST engaged in various appointments with figureheads and organizations in the Palestine/Israel region to initiate the next phase of Saving Lifta project-campaign.

The discussions held included a meeting with figureheads of the Lifta Committee (Hassan A.Shalbak, Ali Hamoudeh, Rabie H. Rabie, Abed Abu-Liel, Husni Salah) and their representative Yacoub Odeh in Ramallah; a meeting with Eitan Bronstein, Director of Zochrot (Remembering) in Tel Aviv; as well as various meetings in Jerusalem - including a trip to Lifta - with 2nd & 3rd generation Lifta activists (Anan Odeh - Human Rights Lawyer, Sihan Rashid, Lena Meari - Anthropologist, Thair Odeh, and Zacharia Odeh - Executive Director of the Civic Coalition for Jerusalem.)

FAST addressed to the Lifta Committee a history of the work undertaken so far in the project-campaign. We discussed the conference that we held on Lifta in Amsterdam 2006, and the international campaigning, such as the proposal of a project to UNESCO World Heritage as well as the application on the World Monument Fund's list for 100 most endangered places. And concluded with our appraisal on Lifta's significance and how she inspired FAST to set about an initiative for regional activism.

FAST agendas not only serve to expose violations in architecture and planning, our aim is to create architectural responses that empower marginalised, segregated and displaced groups, communities and people. To show what has the potential to be possible, whilst considering the human component as the most fundamental criteria.
In Lifta's case, to set about a campaign against the Approved Redevelopment Plan(s) that erase all memory of Lifta, FAST are leading a project to advocate the recognition of Lifta through the creation of alternative plans and an alternative master-plan.

Lifta should be reserved as a special place of conscience, for truth and justice, regarding issues at the very heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She is a place that bears testimony to the memory of the national catastrophe of the Palestinian people - al Nakba. And a place that can serve as a potential testing-ground for General Assembly Resolution 194; Israel’s obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law to allow and facilitate the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes. If Lifta was attentively planned, in re-instatement of her recognition and her possibilities as a place, she could play a significant role in the event of a concilatory process and changes needed for peace.

The Saving Lifta project-campaign aim is towards a common vision, for a 'space of reconciliation', using alternative plans and a master-plan that can be articulated and lobbied using both Palestinian & Israeli civil society. The objective is to create regional movement, action and a voice that can monoeuvre the campaign to effect and reposition the Jerusalem Municipality Authority's tops-down prospects on Lifta; anticipating that the project-campaign will be lobbied through the Israeli judicial administration and not under-estimating the possibilty of lobbying as far as the Knesset Parliament.

The next step will see FAST setting out a detailed brief proposing the agendas of the project. The brief will be issued at the beginning of January 2009 (and will also form the format of the forthcoming website - to potential participants of the project. Between now and January, working with our partners Yacoub Odeh - a Lifta refugee and Eitan Bronstein - Zochrot, with support from our team of regional Lifta activists, we will reach out to regional organizations, education/research faculties and potential sponsors that can play a key role in this project through their participation (such as building conservationists, legal advocates in environment & planning, civil building and peace activists, and local architecture schools.)

In a period of a week in February 2009 a series of meetings will be arranged to be held in Jerusalem and the region. FAST will present the project agendas and invite potential regional participants to discuss the proposition in context to creative opportunities and their own agendas. We hope (in that week) to resolve forming a two year plan (2009 and throughout 2010) involving a dynamic coalition of participants and supporters, reaching across the divides between Israeli and Palestinian, and making Saving Lifta an eventful yet decisive example of an effort that transcends expectations of the possible.

Please lookout for the project-campaign website - in January.

Please feel welcome to join our new Facebook Group - Saving Lifta - for the project-campaign; also allowing you to recieve instant announcements on news & events. To find the group, click on 'Group' from your Facebook Account home page (if you don't have an account its simple to create one from, then type - Saving Lifta - in the Group Search and hopefully Saving Lifta group will appear.

Anil Korotane, FAST



Practices, Strategies, and Visions" at the Zionist Organization of American House in Tel Aviv.

22-24 July 2008

att697cb.gifThe large attendance at the conference – about 300 people – surprised even the organizers since the conference was not publicized in any major media outlets. On the morning of the conference certain influential American Zionists put strong pressure on the ZOA House to cancel the conference. The size of the audience proved that there are more people in this country who are interested in thinking about the return of Palestinian refugees and who understand that without their return the conflict will never end than is generally perceived.

At the conference Israelis and Palestinians presented new ideas for the return of the refugees and for understanding the meaning of such a return for life in this country. Here is a link to Eitan Bronstein's opening remarks and a link to the text "Preliminary Ideas on the Return of Refugees" presented by Norma Musih.

Here is a report of the Conference:

Tel Aviv conference organizes around the right of return
Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada, 14 July 2008

All of the conference texts will be posted on the website soon.
Zochrot will continue to develop ideas for the possible return of Palestinian refugees and invites the public to take part in this process.

On Sunday, June 22, 2008, the art exhibit "Architecture of Destruction, Fear, and Subordination" opened at the Art Gallery at Zochrot, curated by Ariella Azoulay. About 100 people attended the exhibit opening.

Sedek 3, on the topic of the return of the refugees, is now in print and can be purchased at Zochrot (50 NIS). It will also soon be available for purchase through the website of Pardes Publishers

Also in print is the book by Noga Kadman, "On the Sides of the Road, on the Margins of Consciousness," (Hebrew) on the marginalization of the Palestinian villages destroyed in the Nakba from Israeli discourse. It can be purchased at Zochrot (70 NIS) (link to more info on the book on the website).

On Wednesday, June 24, 2008, there was a half-day tour to al-Shaykh Muwannis (northern Tel Aviv) led by Majdulin Beidas, a refugee from the village. Twenty-five people took park. At the end of the tour we visited the cemetery of the village, near the grounds of the General Security Services. The tour had been coordinated in advance with the police, including a joint visit to the cemetery, but despite this the GSS security guards stopped the tour and demanded that participants leave the area. Link to Benny Ziffer's blog (Hebrew)


LIFTA CONFERENCE – at “de Balie” AMSTERDAM – May 14 2006

APJP members participated in this conference held by the “Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory” (FAST) is to raise as much awareness as possible, first to the Nakba (1948) and second to its continuation (2006).

The remains/ heritage of Lifta, a ruined Palestinian village are going to be destroyed soon, because of the implementation of a new Israeli masterplan on top of the village.

All the area will be transformed itself into yet another Jewish neighbourhood (with a biblical narrative), as we’ve already seen happening in other places around the country.

In order to freeze the masterplan and in order to show that the Nakba and the destruction of the Palestinian rich cultural heritage is still going on, we are organizing the event at the Balie.

Renovation projects can be as symbolic as the destruction that necessitates them.

Construction can be used to reinforce a violent sundering of the built environment and to weave the fabric of a former life back together. (Robert Bevan – The Destruction of Memory)

The FAST conference will form an inquiry into the ways renovation projects are being appropriated by official institutions in order to promote ideological and political agendas.

Some torn threads of antiquity include the destruction of Muslim history, and of religious monuments and buildings in Bosnia ; to the reconstruction of the Jewish past and memory in post-war Europe ; to the destruction and distortion of Palestinian past after the creation of the State of Israel.

A poignant example of this eradication of local memory is the village of Lifta , which lies just outside Jerusalem ; the community has been abandoned since the Israeli army drove out the last of its Palestinian inhabitants in 1948. Today Lifta is more or less a ghost town. While the former villagers live mainly in East Jerusalem and Ramallah. Now, however, a renovation project aims to turn Lifta into an expensive and exclusive Jewish residential area – erasing its history in the process.

Is the transformation process of buildings and physical structures, from people living environments, into cultural symbol and national threats can be reversible?

During the conference the case of Lifta will be presented, analyzed and put into the perspective of other international planning and architecture projects.


Malkit Shoshan, an Israeli architect, the director of FAST, the Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory .

Eitan Bronstein, The director of Zochrot, investigating the Israeli landscape in relation to the destruction of Palestinian villages.

Shmulik Groag, Architect and Planner-Msc student in LSE Dealing with Conservation and memory regarding the lost Palestinian built heritage in Israel .

Zvi Efrat, the dean of the architecture faculty at Bezalel academy, Jerusalem

Khaldun Bshara, Palestinian architect, representative of Riwak, a center for planning and renovation in Ramallah.

Jakoub Odeh, a refugee from Lifta

Ciraj Rassool, Trustee of the District 6 Museum, Cape Town

Moderator: Lucas Verweij, the dean of the academy for architecture and urban design in Rotterdam .


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