Military Operations as Urban Planning
According to Israeli architect Eyal Weizman, cities have always reflected the dominant military techniques of their times. With the demise of the linear warfare between nation states and the advent of non-linear wars waged against internal ‘terrorists’, cities have become our primary ‘battle spaces’. Here, Phillip Misselwitz talks to Weizman about the (mis)uses of the urban fabric by the military, and the premeditative assimilation of planning into the choreography of war.
As ‘urbicide’ and ‘designed destruction’ become default global strategies in which the city is turned against its inhabitants, architects and planners face a minefield of new ethical dilemmas. Eyal Weizman is co-author of A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture, Verso 2003, with Rafi Segal. See Kate Rich’s review of Weizman’s contribution to the show Territories, Kunstwerke, Berlin, in next week’s Webexclusive
PM: Since the September 11th attacks, the Western world is in the grip of the proclaimed ‘War on Terrorism’. It is now clear that the days of the Clausewitzian definition of warfare as a symmetrical engagement between state armies in the open field are over. War has entered the city again – the sphere of the everyday, the private realm of the house, sacred to Western societies. We find ourselves nervous when we use public transport systems or mingle in crowds, due to frequent bomb scares. Our parliaments are debating whether to grant powers to our armies to maintain internal security, powers that were previously held by the police, while violent clashes with the anti-globalisation movement take place on main public squares and shopping streets. Do we need a new definition of warfare in relationship to our cities?
EW: Cities were always exposed to war and organised according to the logic of defense. Each period’s urban form related to the available technologies of destruction. Changes in the technologies of warfare during the last decade radically changed the relation between war and the city.
Having said that, some of the roots of what is now widely discussed as ‘urban warfare’ can be traced to the 19th century. At that time, European powers were fighting insurgencies and rebellions within urban and rural areas at the fringes of their colonial empires while protecting their exploding capital cities against homegrown rebellions and revolutions nourished by class struggles. The battleground shifted from the open fields to the city walls and further positioned itself within the heart of the city, as a fight for the city itself. If historical siege warfare ended when the envelope of the city was broken and entered, urban warfare started at the point of entering the city. It is worth examining how the city grew to be perceived from military and security perspectives. This perspective might help explain some of the radical transformations that occurred and are still occurring within the fabric of contemporary cities, from New York, Ramallah to Kabul.
Cities are security nightmares. The military forces feel threatened by the huge increase of big cities and their ineptness at dealing with them. It is the very nature of urban areas and their tendencies to density, congestion, diversities, heterogeneity, and formal diversity that makes them hard to invade and conquer. The military tends to deal with the problem of taking over a city in a way similar to the way a planner deals with issues of development. Both look for ways to control an area by manipulating its infrastructure, reshaping and replacing the built fabric, or attempting to manage the local population’s various cultural sensitivities.
PM: Can you give a historical example that illustrates the shift of warfare into the cities?
EW: The Israeli architect and writer Sharon Rotbard lectured about the French 1840s invasion of Algiers by Marshall Thomas Robert Bugeaud. In a typically colonial attitude of zero tolerance and total disregard for the complexity of the historical structure, Bugeaud set out to break popular support for the resistance leader Abdel Kader by attacking the fabric of cities, towns, and villages. His actions were so extreme and brutal that they managed to raise parliamentary criticism in 19th century Paris. Bugeaud, commanding more than one hundred thousand troops, had taken seven years to subdue Abdel Kader’s ten-thousand man army. He finally regained control over Algiers’ dense kasbahs by destroying entire neighbourhoods in reprisals for guerrilla attacks, sometimes breaking centres of resistance by reshaping cities, widening roads for military movements. These were some of the first demolitions used as military planning: Kader’s resistance was broken, but the European project in Africa sought to further civilise the local population by replacing their primitive habitat in accordance with the rules of modern design.
But the relationship between Algiers and Paris was far more symbiotic. Algiers became a laboratory for another war. The ardent Royalist Bugeaud personified the anti-urban attitudes of the French restoration. Opposed to the industrial revolution, which he thought was physically and morally toxic, he believed that he could reverse the trend of migration to cities by making land cultivation more efficient. It is not surprising that the person who first carried out the destruction of cities was a strong advocate of rural life. The re-emerging aristocratic and bourgeois elite feared, above all, the densely populated, desperately poor, and rapidly growing capital of Paris. As mass migration from rural France led to the dramatic overcrowding of cities’ outer districts, new strategies to maintain stability and state control had to be developed.
Rotbard tells how, with his experience of Algiers, Bugeaud returned to Paris in 1847 and published the treatise La Guerre des Rues et des Maison, which is described as the first manual for the preparation and conduct of urban warfare. As a preventive measure against civil unrest in Paris, Bugeaud proposed a radical reorganisation of the city. Much like in Algiers, he said, new routes for military manoeuvres should be cut through the city and military regiments positioned within it. Bugeaud understood that there is a direct relationship between the organisation of the terrain and the ability to control it militarily and that this logic, when extended into the urban area, means that military thinking has to guide urban design. If strategic urban design previously focused on strengthening the city’s peripheral walls and fortifications to keep out the enemy, here, since the enemy was already inside the city, the city had to be controlled from within. It is the city fabric itself, its streets and houses, that were to be adapted accordingly.
PM: The anti-urban experiments of the French Royal Army seem to coincide with the emergence of modern town planning. The idea of the Romantic Gesamtkunstwerk is embodied in the great beautification projects of Peter Joseph Lenné and Frederick Law Olmsted’s planned extension of New York. Both were attempts to fuse urban and rural landscapes, to control and tame the emerging megalopolises through design. As with the experimental city models developed by the English utopian modernist Robert Owen, they seem to reveal a deep-rooted suspicion of the density and chaos of the emerging industrial metropolis. Are there any links between military experiment and modernist design projects in the 19 th century?
EW: Modernisation and the hygienic project are tightly linked. The hygienic obsession of the 19 th century became operative at the level of urban design. Both conservative and progressive elites considered the city a congested, filthy, and decadent and, above all, a dangerous place. The modernisation of cities was carried out by inserting infrastructure and public services. The modern city relied on the growing fragmentation and classification of space, carried out under the pretext of hygiene and social reform. Urban population was dispersed via the underground and railway systems into new towns whose contemporary descendants are today’s suburbs and gated communities. But on the other hand, urban regeneration served the interests of the government, helping to turn the city into a governable and controllable apparatus, allowing for quick military deployment into the heart of potentially troubled areas. Napoleon III’s bureaucratic government machine conceived Paris’ serpentine medieval fabric as a place that had to be subdued, tamed, and civilised. In his lecture, Sharon Rotbard further claimed that Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the spirit behind the great modernisation project of Paris in the early 1870s, was one of Marshall Bugeaud’s readers. Thus it seems that the experiment of Algiers led, ironically, to one of the most influential and admired urban projects of the modern era. Haussmann created wide boulevards down which the cavalry could charge against rioting crowds and artillery would have a straight lines of fire to break barricades, while levelling many labyrinthine slums. Military control was exercised on the drawing board, according to the rules of design, fashion, and speculative interests. In the 19th century, one can perhaps still differentiate between the different kinds of destruction: while urban warfare is tested at the periphery of Western civilisation, the modernisation policies in the city centres employ the same tools, but camouflage themselves with different rhetoric. The tandem of modernisation and urban destruction is carried into the 20th century in many corners of the colonial world. In Palestine ‘Operation Anchor’, a ‘designed’ destruction of Old Jaffa, was carried out by the mandatory British forces in 1936 – a time later known as the first Arab rebellion – perhaps the first Intifada. British forces and Jewish civilians suffered casualties from stone throwers and snipers protected by Jaffa’s winding roads and dense urban fabric. In response, the British government decided to cut a large anchor-shaped ‘boulevard’ through the old city, destroying between 300 and 700 homes. This boulevard is still apparent today – it is where most of old Jaffa’s cafes and restaurants are located, but at the time it allowed deep patrols into the very heart of the city and put an end to resistance with a combination of design and military force. When serious concerns were voiced in the British parliament about these actions, the destruction was defended as urgent measures of regeneration and public hygiene in an area lacking basic services. Indeed soon after the destruction, infrastructure began to be built under the path of the ruins.
> Jaffa – before and after ‘Operation Anchor’, RAF aerial shots, 1936 ---------------------------------------------------------------PM: The reprisal tactics of colonial armies seem to be based on the instrument of the plan, revealing a two-dimensional understanding of the city as a functional diagram that can be manipulated and controlled at will. This imposition of Western thinking seems to demonstrate an inability to register the complexity of urban structures. Were the strategies of Algiers and Jaffa really effective in the long run?------------------------------------------------------------------------------EW: During the colonial wars, Western powers’ understanding of colonial cities was very rudimentary. All complexities were flattened out, intellectually and physically. Attempts to ‘understand’ local cultures were distorted by a Romantic vision of the Mediterranean kasbah – a place that can be considered aesthetically fascinating, but that remains suspect, deceptive, treacherous, and violent. It was the double-edged fear and fascination that quickly led to a desire to flatten it with rationalisation. Knowledge and power are closely linked, and colonial knowledge was largely reproduced on maps. Cities were measured, mapped, and charted. Obviously, Western cartography could capture Mediterranean urban life only with crude simplification. The military endeavoured to stamp out the differences between the reality of urban life and the charted information. The desire to make the terrain resemble the map is typical of military ambitions. Representation of the city and military action became inextricably linked. The evolution of modern surveillance technology also mirrors this two-dimensional perception of the city. At the beginning of the 20th century, aerial photography – first with air balloons, later with aeroplanes – became one of the most important tools available to the military. This was due to its ability to produce ‘ready made maps’ that register fast changes and sometimes even movements across the territory. Yet, in urban combat, extending the field of battle into the third, aerial dimension was of limited use. Cities have a syntax that is not apparent from above. The defending party, whose city is its home, knows how to use this principle to the full and moves through secret routes and passageways, roof connections, and undergrounds. Colonial armies found themselves exposed to situations that are not dissimilar to contemporary ‘asymmetrical warfare’. One contemporary military analyst went so far as to describe the developing city as ‘the postmodern equivalent of jungles and mountains – citadels of the dispossessed and irreconcilable’.
PM: Did the techniques of urban destruction during World War II have a similar effect on the radical reorganisation of cities in post-war urban planning, as could be seen in the relationship between Bugeaud’s Algiers and Haussmann’s Paris? Can an understanding of military strategic thinking offer a new perspective on the post-war rejection of urban density?
EW: During World War II, for the first time, cities became targets of a systematic airborne campaign of destruction. Later, the phobia of nuclear destruction became engrained in post-war public consciousness and became one of the most influential features of post-war planning. Military strategic thinking tried to counter the tendency to dense urban centres and instead encouraged systematic suburbanisation and regionalisation. In Europe, this phenomenon is apparent almost everywhere and is well illustrated by the construction of a ring of new towns around London in the 1950s and by the planning of post-war Hanover. Further down the design scale, the design of particular building types – like Le Corbusier’s safe skyscraper for late variations of the Ville Radieuse – included measures against bombing and chemical attacks. On the other side of the Atlantic, the American suburb owes its existence as much to the fear of nuclear war as to the presence of the freeway. This was a preconceived and pre-planned scientific experiment in population dispersal, which relied on the mobilisation of huge public funds (or massive subsidies to corporations) investing in new infrastructure. There was, as well, an unprecedented reliance on wartime engineering practices and technologies, which generated yet another breed of American utopias.
Just like the urban destruction programs of the previous century, the radical reorganisation of post-war cities was justified with the middle-class values of hygiene and regeneration. Two decades later, some American city centres underwent extreme processes of degeneration. In 1967, Detroit was taken over by inner city riots, with pitched gun battles between the black communities and the National Guard – and Detroit was not the only such city.
PM: But this anti-urban logic did not stop global urbanisation in the second half of the 20th century. Hasn’t the model of the city proven more durable than ever before?
EW: From a global perspective, it is true that urbanisation processes have not halted at all. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities. Today, cities are the exclusive nucleus of political, economic, and cultural power. The world has become a matrix of nodal points with cities as the centres of its nervous system. But it is precisely the concentration of technologies, infrastructure, and capital that makes cities ever more vulnerable to attack by both foreign militaries and terrorist organisations. Seizing control of cities is now perceived as the only effective way to control a state. Control of territory has ceased to be the primary objective of warfare. NATO’s campaign of ‘bombing for peace’ in Serbia in 1999 demonstrated that attacking symbolic buildings within cities became an effective and acceptable tool to exercise considerable psychological pressure on both the regime and the civilian population. All parties clearly realised which buildings are located in ‘target banks’ – as the air force calls them – that as a result these buildings were deserted long before the first bomb drops. This is true for Belgrade’s empty ministries, the Palestinian authority installations in the West Bank, and palaces of Baghdad. In the whole Kosovo campaign, very few Serbian tanks were actually destroyed from the air.
The effect sought in bombing campaigns is purely psychological and as such it looks for symbols rather than for military effects. Realising that cities will be the primary sites of warfare, militaries around the world have become acutely aware of their failure to develop suitable doctrines and technologies. The existing military arsenal of weapons is better suited for ‘classical’ armoured warfare on the great Russian plains than to urban combat. The trauma of house-to-house battles in World War II, as waged between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army over Stalingrad, led to an acceptable military doctrine which avoided urban warfare at all costs. The 1991 Gulf War was perhaps the last of the purely territorial wars. In the most recent war, Saddam positioned most of his forces around and within the major cities, with particular units even planted in hospitals or housing blocks and dressed in civilian clothes. In many ways, the drive to Baghdad was just a logistical deployment for a war that started at the city gates and was won as much through psychological manipulations as through the precise air campaign that preceded it.
PM: Cities have radically changed over the last 50 years. The spatial and technological complexity of the vast 21st-century megalopolises bears little resemblance to the compact colonial cities of the 19th and early 20th centuries. What impact does the contemporary city have on military operations today?
EW: The contemporary city has developed complexity, especially along the vertical axis. Its infrastructure – sewage systems, electric telecommunications, water mains, and underground transport system – is buried in the subsurface. Supersurfaces of very high roofscapes have emerged, while the air between and above them is cluttered with complex electromagnetic fields. Besides growing vertically, cities now sprawl horizontally across vast territorial regions. Within this type of environment, high-tech military equipment is easily incapacitated. Buildings mask targets or create urban canyons, which diminish the capabilities of the airforce. It is hard to see into the urban battle space; it is very difficult to communicate in it, because radio waves are often disturbed. It is hard to use precision weapons in it because it is difficult to obtain accurate GPS satellite locations. And it is becoming more and more difficult (but not impossible) for the military to shoot indiscriminately into the city. For all these reasons, cities continue to reduce the advantages of the technologically superior force.
PM: A main influence on contemporary warfare seem to be the constraints imposed on military operations by the world media and the accepted standards of warfare in international law. How does the military respond to these political and ethical constraints?
EW: International media reports on the atrocities committed by Western forces have great effect on public opinion. But often enough, the media tends to collaborate with the military. Focusing on psychological warfare and public relations as a key element in urban warfare, the military has a clear interest in promoting maximum cooperation from the media and often uses it to disseminate information or disinformation and to maintain political support at home. In Iraq, we saw a lot of reporters attached to military units, essentially doing what military propaganda did generations before. It is revealing that the US military calls these methods a ‘strategy of reprogramming mass consciousness’.
Moreover, the existence of international courts, an extensive network of NGOs, the development of cheap recording equipment, and the availability of satellite communication greatly limit military operational methods. The military term ‘strategic corporal’ characterises the huge ramifications of the actions of the individual soldier.
Another component in the psychological environment of warfare is international law. Since World War II, we have seen the rise of international institutions and the elaboration of the laws of war. The inauguration of the ICC (International Criminal Court) in the Hague this March made it possible to examine and prosecute individuals for war crimes, but the court’s jurisdiction extends only to member states – and still needs to prove its effectiveness. Since military planners are acutely aware that the methods required for urban warfare will make soldiers potentially liable to prosecution for war crimes, American and Israeli governments cancelled their memberships in the ICC. Besides fearing prosecution, the military wants to pre-empt possible restrictions to military freedom of actions. These reassurances, provided to the American and Israeli armed forces, indicate that they may be considering in advance some of what are internationally defined as war crimes. The effectiveness of international courts has to be proven. I think that as long as the world armies serve nations and are not under the authority of a single world government, the ‘rule of law’ between these nations is impossible. Some ‘war criminals’ may be taken to court while others not. The question of who will face trial will be dictated by power politics. But in the end, the mere knowledge that the ICC exists might help deter war crimes.
PM: How does the army deal with an ever more complex reality?
EW: Military academies across the world show great interest in urban studies, in gaining more understanding of the ways cities work. Simon Marvin, Professor of Planning at the British University of Salford, has shown how armies set up many new urban research programs and allocate huge budgets for the study of cities. Suddenly, architects and planners are in high demand as a valuable source of knowledge.
I have actually witnessed some of the conferences set up for this purpose. These are surreal events where military personnel, arms dealers, and academics from different corners of the globe exchange views on urban military operations and essential equipment – over dinner. I was amazed that my attendance as an architect did not raise any eyebrows. When asked, I explained my presence in terms of a research project, and my conversation partners – instead of being more cautious – were very curious to hear more about the relationship between my work on human rights, planning and architecture. This embrace made me feel uncomfortable.
Unlike in earlier periods, the city is no longer studied only in terms of its formal and material dimension, but also as a techno-social apparatus – a complex ‘system of systems’. This is an approach that understands the city in terms of a relationship between software and hardware, between performed and built culture. ‘Cultural intelligence’ tries to read the social fabric of a city and the way it relates to the built fabric, as well as the logic of social groupings, local politics, and local rivalries, in order to take full advantage of them. The city can be understood as a composite of three parts, the ‘urban triad’: the physical structure which includes buildings and roads; the urban infrastructure; and the population itself.
> Bethlehem, Spring 2002. Bulldozer making road block, purposely cutting civic infrastructure.
All layers are considered equally available for military manipulation. Obtaining strategic control of key infrastructure systems such as roads, power supplies, water, and communication networks can be more effective than controlling an urban space by conventional means. By temporarily shutting down electricity and telephone connections in particular parts of a city, the military can paralyse the enemy. The infrastructure available for military manipulations also includes a series of mechanisms that allow capital to flow, credit to be granted, and investment to be channelled – and these institutions, as September 11th clearly showed, are prime targets for manipulation.
The military methods of dealing with a city are thus similar to those of a planner. If in the last century military planning dealt with the organisation of the city and its physical fabric, today’s planning is more complex; military personnel seek to learn how the cities work so that they may control them by manipulating their various components.
PM: What case studies are available?
EW: Information is retrieved from the study and analysis of historical and contemporary precedents: Chechnya, Belgrade, and Mogadishu have been discussed at length in military magazines and websites. But perhaps the most important precedent was set with the Israeli incursion into the refugee camps of the West Bank in April 2002. In view of the expected invasion of Baghdad, Jenin not only supplied a valuable source of information, but was also considered a live model for this emerging type of urban warfare. While governments and human rights organisations strongly condemned the acts of the Israeli army, militaries were eager for every piece of information provided by Israeli generals, through open and classified channels. The American army, a long-time ally of the Israeli army, actually dispatched officers on the ground. I have testimonies from several sources claiming that American military personnel were in Jenin at the time of the battle. Dressed in IDF uniform and walking without weapons, they were observers examining military tactics and methods of combat in the dense fabric of the Arab town.
PM: What happened in Jenin that was of such interest to the Western military?
EW: I spoke to an Israeli reserve soldier shortly after the battle of Jenin. I was interested in the relationship between planning – not physical planning, but the attempt to foresee scenarios and act accordingly – and urban warfare. What he said was not surprising in its essence, but in its intensity. He spoke of his perception of total chaos, where all the plans and preparations became irrelevant, the battle completely unexpected, dense, full of contradictions, with characters changing their role from woman to man, from civilian to combatant, from friend to foe. Chance played a more important role than the ability to calculate and predict. It has become impossible to draw up scenarios, plan next steps, or draw up single-track plans to follow through. This really shows that, as far as the military is concerned, urban warfare is the ultimate post-modern warfare: the belief in a logically structured, single-tracked and pre-planned approach is lost in the complexity and ambiguity of the urban reality. The officer’s disorientation mirrors that of Western armies when facing the complexities of the city in urban combat. In Jenin, a few dozen Palestinian fighters managed to hold back a whole army division as long as fighting took place between the homes and streets. The Israelis only ‘won’ the battle when bulldozers collapsed the city on its defenders. The complexities of urban warfare were finally erased in the last days of the battle, when the centre of the refugee camp, an area about 300 meters square, was flattened. 350 buildings, mostly homes, were destroyed or severely damaged, and about 4,000 people were left homeless.
PM: Were these acts of demolition a form of ‘design by destruction’?
EW: Yes. American and Israeli military jargon calls these acts ‘reshaping the battle space’, organising the city in a way that serves the attacking force. In a recent conference in Manchester organised by Simon Marvin and Steve Graham, the American General Keith Dickson defined campaigns of planned destruction as the ‘re-orientation of the built fabric to create conditions favourable for operational movement and manoeuvre’. It looks as if the military jargon is accustoming itself to a cleaner, publicly defendable language in which technical terminology is used to dress up the actions which include the levelling buildings to improve transportation, and the destruction of infrastructure to deny water, electricity, and other systems to the defenders. Considering physical design, in Jenin the IDF used armoured bulldozers to break paths through narrow and winding alleys to enable military vehicles to penetrate deep into the camp’s interior. It is clear that the destruction has its own inherently military-design logic – rather than an approach which simply seeks total destruction. The aerial photographs taken after battles and published in various places allow for a close inspection of the form of destruction. Complementing the counting of homes and the size of the area that was destroyed, another type of inspection is needed. The investigation of the formal aspects of the destruction reveals the design logic and the military intentions of controlling the camp by means of the radical and brutal reorganisation of its urban form. This is a matter that architects and planners can realise and judge.
The logic of designed destruction and the reorganisation of the built fabric’s own urban syntax is pursued as well on a smaller architectural scale. IDF Lt. General Eyal Weiss (who was later killed when a wall collapsed and buried him) developed a routine of moving through walls by cutting routes through the buildings. This technique was initially tested by the undercover ‘Arabist’ unit Duvdevan [Cherry]. During operations, the soldiers of this unit never entered a house through the door but rather through an opening blasted in one of its walls.
> Route cut through a Jenin housing area. The road will allow tanks to enter the city easier.
Realising that about 70-80 percent of the military casualties occurred outside buildings, Israeli infantry adopted this technique and started moving through the refugee camps by tunnelling their way through the urban fabric, like worms in apples. Soldiers travelled through walls, from one home to the next, cutting openings with hammers or explosives. This type of movement ignores the existing urban syntax of streets or internal stairs, replacing it with another circulation system. The paths of these cuts were not pre-planned, but determined in response to necessities, problems, and opportunities. Soldiers progressed mainly through the second-floor level because the entire ground floor was booby-trapped. The technique has a long tradition that appropriated the ability of defenders to navigate the dense city in this manner, through alternative routes, secret passages, and trap doors. In Jenin, both soldiers and the Palestinian defenders moved through tunnels cut through solid city fabric, often crossing each other’s route at a few meters’ distance. Some buildings were like layered cakes with Israeli soldiers both above and below a floor where Palestinians were trapped. The architecture of the camp was perceived like a solid through which ‘free’ paths were carved out. A Palestinian family might have sat in the living room when a group of soldiers appeared through the wall.
PM: If advanced strategic planning is no longer relevant, how does one manage and coordinate the campaign of urban warfare?
EW: Complex ways of mapping which communicate the position of each combat unit and minimize collisions and friendly-fire casualties are now a standard part of Western military equipment. Each unit worked with the same aerial map, on which all building roofs were numbered. Central command could thus receive a group’s position within the built fabric in terms of the X, Y (position), and Z (floor) coordinates. Rapidly updated information was achieved using helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs], or unmanned balloons positioned above the battle field, day and night. They delivered constant live updates on the rapidly developing situation on the ground and the transformed urban fabric. At night, the whole camp was so strongly lit from above that diurnal rhythms were confused. The ten-day battle turned into one long day. The military is increasingly adopting partisan and guerrilla tactics in regular military strategic thinking. Sometimes, strange zoological metaphors find their ways into military jargon: after the worms came the bees. A current military way of describing operations relates to ‘swarming’; instead of the old-school military column, soldiers move as a swarm – without any apparent direction or logic being made apparent to the enemy – through alleys, cracks, walls, and then pull out. The idea of ‘swarming’ seeks to activate a large number of small forces. In this way, defenders find it hard to predict the attacker’s next move. This is a part of the military’s non-linear warfare – a method, which adapts itself to the chaos and unpredictability of the city.
> A diagram from the joint operation, MOUT (Military Operation in Urban Terrain)
PM: Has military strategic thinking surrendered to the complexity and unpredictability of the city? While force has been used to change the form of the colonial cities of Algiers or Jaffa to sustain control, is it now military tactics that are being changed by the city?
EW:I do not think we can talk in terms of surrender to complexity, but in terms of different ways of dealing with this complexity. In a sense, we should no longer speak of war in the city, but of war of the city, by the city. The city has become no longer the locus, but the apparatus of warfare.
PM: In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, urban and architectural form have become instruments in the military occupation. This is possible due to Israeli authority over planning and construction. The campaign against the refugee camps is at the heart of this battle. Is it just military resistance that needs to be broken, or are there other more symbolic factors that give this battle such intensity?
EW: Steve Graham, Professor of Urban Technology at the University of Newcastle talks about the notion of ‘urbicide’ – the erasure or denial of the city. He claims that the main objective behind the destruction of Palestinian cities was to deny the Palestinians access to an urban modernity, and that the deliberate destruction of the central district of the Jenin camp was curried out with the preconceived ideological background of Israeli fear of the refugee camps. Israel sees the control of the West Bank’s fast-expanding, complex, and interconnected refugee camps as an attempt to secure Israel’s control over Palestinian urban culture. Israeli military planning prohibits the expansion of the camps by tight zoning laws, while their internal fabric is regulated by periodic attacks. It is important to understand the symbolic quality of the camps in the eyes of the Palestinians. For Palestinians, it is important that the temporary ‘camp’ should never be allowed to become a permanent city, in all the mundane normality that it implies. The refugee camps are the spaces of exception, extraterritorial enclaves outside normal reach and, beyond the rule of the law. The camp’s inhabitants do not pay taxes or follow planning regulations. The camps are also the footholds of Palestinian urban memory. Their very layout sometime includes quarters referring to Haifa and Jaffa – places the refugees were evicted from – at times recreating geography by memory. All these factors reinforce the camp’s emergency-governed, placeless temporality, which allow for it to lie above the law. But this temporality is only an illusion, nourished by the urge for the return. The camps have in effect been temporary for the past 50 years. In a cruel reversal, it was at the moment of a second confrontation with the Israeli army that the camp’s inhabitants finally accepted it as a permanent city.
The censored film Jenin Jenin, by Muhamad Bacri, describes the aftermath of the battle from the Palestinian perspective. The feeling is that when the threat of destruction and dispossession arose for a second time (the first being their eviction from their pre-1948 villages), the camp was finally accepted and embraced as a city. The home is that which is lost.
While restricting Palestinian urban development in general, Israelis also have a fundamental interest in transforming the temporary camp into a permanent city, because this is perceived as reducing the threat that the refugees will return to their homes within Israel proper. In the 1970s and 1980s, the IDF tried to achieve this goal by constructing permanent homes for the Palestinians in and around the camp. It is a bitter irony that large-scale construction did not turn the camp into a city; destruction has.
PM: You have already mentioned how military strategists have used the skills of architects and planners to facilitate a ‘design by destruction’. If architects as experts of urban issues become willing informants and collaborators for the military – indirectly and directly – this action seems to touch upon fundamental ethical issues.
EW: Architects and planners are and have always been service providers working for all sides. Some architects engage with urban warfare to develop and elaborate tools for the military, others to understand, expose, and oppose their methods. I think that this new military ‘science’ and these methods must be looked at and studied very carefully. NGOs and humanitarian organisations must understand that war crimes have clear spatial dimensions and that there is therefore a role for the professionals of space – architects and planners – in their analysis. For example: until recently, the destruction of urban warfare was reported and analysed as a purely statistical issue, relating to numbers of destroyed homes, the extent of economic damage, etc. Current human rights research has tended to divert attention away from space and urban form. People argue whether the destruction of Jenin amounts to a war crime because of the number of homes destroyed. But besides a quantification of destruction, we can see a much more serious phenomenon in which the urbicide of Jenin was an attempt to subjugate a population on the basis of redesigning its habitat, on the basis of denying it the advantages of urban life. To rightly report and understand it, we need to examine how the design aspect of the destruction functioned to achieve this. When human rights organizations go to Jenin and count destroyed houses, they ignore a component essential to understanding what kind of crime the IDF committed. ‘Human Rights Watch’ dispelled the rumours of a massacre that were associated with the battle of Jenin, by showing that casualties were much lower than initially expected. This report reduced criticism of the Israeli government, but the story of the crime of urbicide was only later told by someone like Steve Graham. Architects and planners have the responsibility to use their ability to help make people understand the repercussions involved in formal aspects of warfare – and the crimes of an attack on urbanity. The large bulldozers employed by the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza to destroy homes were the most effective strategic urban weapon. Each one of these mammoths is manned by a crew of three, including an engineering officer – usually a civil engineer or an architect on reserve duty. The reason is that they best know how to topple a building, to which side the debris must fall, etc. This is similar to a medical doctor’s engagement in torture. Architecture has no equivalent of the Hippocratic oath, but if we accept urbicide and destruction as war crimes, architects may in principle end up in jail.
PM: The situation in the occupied territories of the West Bank is an extreme clash between First and Third World cultures and economies. Why do military strategists pay such attention to this peripheral frontier, so infinitely complex and specific?
EW: In many ways, the West Bank is nothing but an extreme model of a territorial and urban conflict that can take place in other places. Globalisation takes the periphery straight into the centre, the frontier between First and Third Worlds starts running through the middle of world cities. The historical relationship between Paris and Algiers finds its analogy in the relationship between Baghdad and NYC. Internal security forces and the police borrow army knowledge. The difference between the terms ‘urban warfare’ and ‘riot-control’ are geographical rather then methodological – a matter of centre and periphery. In both cases, the powerful authority attacks urbanity itself, not only its physicality, but the diversities and heterogeneity of urban life. Western states are in equal fear of losing control. Popular, carefully nurtured fears relate to terrorism and the threat of immigration as the new enemy from within. They lead to the protection of the centre and attempt to preserve it from flux and change. Generally speaking, cities are apparatuses of social organisation and control. The technologies of control take on complex physical and electronic form. A lot of attention has already been paid to how optical or electronic means dematerialise surveillance technologies. But the fabric of the city – its bricks and mortar – changes in accordance with that. And it is the physical fabric of cities that ultimately interests me. Cities are organised by the fear of, and preparation for, violence. Just consider how world leaders today meet either outside cities or, as was the case with the 2002 NATO meeting in Prague, the city is shut down in an act explicitly designed to prevent protest and violence.
PM: Since September 11 the Western powers seem not only to have waged new military campaigns on the periphery. At home, public fear and disorientation is exploited to justify the build-up of gigantic apparatuses of control whose databases will begin to invade and control our daily lives. We can observe how the ‘war on terror’ is used to justify the build-up of surveillance of US citizens to a level never before experienced. We have heard that soon, intelligence will be gathered on what Americans read and watch and on whom they communicate with. These measures seem to be part of far-reaching preparatory or pre-emptive strategies. What influence will this development have on the shape of our cities in the future? What importance will be assigned to notions of borders and frontiers? What is the connection between the changing nature of warfare and political changes on a larger scale?
EW: In the Western world, an understanding of borders as lines has given way to a new understanding of frontiers as a series of disconnected and estranged points across a surface. The contemporary city is exploding spatially, but in essence is fractalised into a collection of interlocking, internally homogeneous, and externally alienating synthetic environments. The separation between the affluent, established populations from the poorer immigrant populations can no longer be understood as a continuous line across the map. Internal city borders will be further reinforced, forming local enclaves scattered across the city and its suburbs. Point-based security systems fractalise borders and turn them from a defined object into a condition of heightened security whose presence is manifested in electronic or physical barriers at entry points to office buildings, shopping malls, or transport infrastructure – from midtown to suburbia. On a larger scale, as the open terrain loses its strategic, demographic, and economic importance, international borders are becoming increasingly irrelevant, because even the entry point into cities is no longer via the periphery of a nation-state border, but through airports. As for the last part of your question, I can only speculate about a connection between the heightened state of fear, the organisation of violence, and developments of a new political order. The nature of warfare has always affected the organisation of politics and power. In this case, I think that the relationship between city and sovereign territorial states will radically change. While states define themselves by means of internationally recognised borders, urban warfare will render this physical border redundant. When the line of the border and the surface of the state ceases to matter strategically, the political order will cease to be line-based – i.e., dependent on a homogeneous state territory – and become increasingly point-based, dependent on a networked system of cities. This is obviously going to help in accelerating the erasures in the economic viability and spatial coherence of the state. The city model already dominates the global markets. With the influence of urban violence and warfare, we might find ourselves back with the political system of the city-state.
This interview was first published in German in Arch+, April 2003; it is also featured in the Kunst Werke catalogue for 'Territories' (KW & Walther Köning Publishing, Berlin 2003) and is forthcoming in the Autumn edition of TANK as a synopsis only.