THE RED CASTLE AND THE LAWLESS LINE: A LEGAL-ARCHITECTURAL FABLE OF EXTRATERRITORIAL TRANSFORMATION
With areas designated A, B and C already claimed by different forms of cooperating governments that rule the West Bank, we see in the thickness of the Oslo line an extraterritorial territory, perhaps “all that remain” from Palestine, a thin but powerful space for potential political transformations. Political spaces in Palestine are not defined by its legal zones, but operate through legal voids.
Thanks to ArtTerritories’ initiative, which we see as a platform for self-criticism as well as a place for investigating new strategies in both critical and propositional terms. At previous panels, we heard various political visions and critical analyses of the condition here in Palestine. What we are trying to do is not to forget our context within which we operate every day, but to create spaces that will at least give us the freedom to think about some political alternatives.
What I thought of sharing today is a brief presentation of a project we did in Battir, which is a small village between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Every night, my daughters–two and four years old–ask me for a new tale, and one night, I started to tell them the project as a story. It went like this:
In 1993, a series of secret talks held in Oslo between Israeli and Palestinian representatives inaugurated what was later referred to as the Oslo Process. As is well known, this process defined three types of territories within the West Bank: Area A under Palestinian control, Area B under Israeli military control and Palestinian civilian control, and Area C under full Israeli control. When the process collapsed and the temporary organization of the Occupied Territories solidified into a permanent splintered geography of multiple prohibitions, a fourth place was suddenly discovered.
Existing in between all others, this space was as wide as the line separating them. Less than a millimeter thick when drawn on the scale of 1:20,000, it measured more than 5 meters in real space. Here, we might reiterate an old question, who owns the thickness of the line? With Areas A, B and C already claimed by different forms of cooperating governments that rule the West Bank, we see in the thickness of the line an extraterritorial territory, perhaps all that remains from Palestine, a thin but powerful space for potential political transformations.
At the end of 2009, the village of Battir acquired for the first time a legal and political meaning. Regavim, one of several organizations of Jewish settlers who began to invert the human rights discourse of the pro-Palestinian left to campaigns for the human rights of settlers, documented a violation and filed a petition against a Palestinian house known as the Red Castle. They claimed that a part of the Red Castle transgressed into Area C, and in the petition submitted to the Israeli high court, they demanded the demolition of the house, or at least the parts located in that territory. If there is a settlement freeze to be enforced in Area C, the settlers postulated that it should democratically be equally enforced with the Palestinians.
However, the Red Castle was not an ordinary house. It was nothing less than a castle in neoclassical style, carved in beautiful limestone and owned by an eccentric US millionaire, originally from Battir. Its prominence across the landscape made it a clear target for the settlers.The petition generated a proliferation of new maps, each arguing a different location of the line, which suddenly gained an elastic dimension and began to move. The legal team hired by the owner of the house surprisingly located the line in the middle of the house, dividing it into three parts: one part in Area B, another in Area C and the last one inside the line. In this instance, geopolitics acquired an architectural dimension. When zoomed in on the line, the area defined a wide strip that occupied much of the interior of the house, stretching between the bathrooms, across the stairway to the living rooms.
Battir is only one of the 142 atolls produced by the Oslo Accords. Every Palestinian city and village is surrounded by this unlegislated, or should I say, anarchic spatial ring. The idea behind our research, in collaboration with the legendary anthropologist Nichola Perugini and the equally legendary architect Samir Harb, was to put the Law on trial.
In July 2010, we hired a lawyer and asked him to represent the line in Israeli court, treating it as an autonomous space, as a subject. At the beginning he laughed, but finally he said, “Actually, I’m dealing every day with legal cases against the construction of the wall. All I can do is push the line more here and more there. But I can never challenge the very existence of the line itself.”
The nature of political space in Palestine today is not defined by political agreements, but operates through legal voids right in the middle of impossible lines of separations. In investigating the fallout of geopolitical lines onto the domestic space of a house, a mosque or a football stadium, the aim is to unveil the colonial regime over Palestine. It is through the extraterritorial dimension of this legal void that we seek to open up small tears in the territorial system, and dare to propose the tearing apart of the entire system of divisions.
This text is an edited transcript of Alessandro Petti’s presentation “The Red Castle and the Lawless Line: A Legal-Architectural Fable of Extraterritorial Transformation”, for Designing Civic Encounter Symposium, July 22, 2011.
Alessandro Petti (DAAR, Beit Sahour) is an Architect and Researcher based in Beit Sahour, Palestine. He co-curated different research projects on emerging urban social and spatial regimes such as Ramallah Syndrome, Borderdevices (2002-2007), Uncertain States of Europe (2001-2003) and Stateless Nation (2002-2007). He is a founding member of Decolonizing Architecture, a research project working on the re-use, re-inhabitation and subversion of colonial structures. He exhibited in various international biennales and museums and published worldwide. He teaches at Honors College Al- Quds University.