Technion’s Yael Alweil explains the role of housing in nation-state building
Prof. Yael Alweil presented her research on the history of housing in Israel-Palestine to explain housing’s role in nation-state making.
At a lecture about Israel’s housing policies and architectural patterns on Thursday, April 20 in the Carl and Ruth Admissions Center, Prof. Yael Alweil spoke as a part of the Richard Saivetz ’69 Memorial Architecture lecture series. Alweil is an associate professor in the faculty of Architecture and Town Planning at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. Her lecture, “Homeland Reconsidered: A History of Israel as a Housing Regime,” was about how housing has been Zionism’s key strategy for nation-state building, sovereignty, and expanding beyond borders.
Alweil defined housing as: an act, policy, value, typology, real estate community, space, and settlement form. In her research, she focuses on how housing creates towns, communities, and cities from an architectural standpoint. To explain the evolution of housing styles, Alweil showed outlines of various architectural layouts, including maps of Jaffa in 1858 that feature large buildings to fit extended families. Alweil also mentioned the 1925 Geddes Plan for Tel Aviv, which featured a housing-based city with water access. Alweil’s research on the growth of housing demonstrates one constant: Housing construction remains essential for settlement building and nation state building.
In regards to architectural style in the 1860s, an increase in plantation-style individual housing indicated modernization in the Ottoman Empire, which included the territory of Palestine at the time. Zionist settlers built Kibbutzim with various scattered buildings, which indicated the modernization of the land of Palestine as well. Prior to the United Nations partition decision of late 1947 and the subsequent creation of the state of Israel in 1948, Arabs and Jews lived alongside each other in the area of Palestine. Alweil’s research focuses on architecture in Palestine as well as modern day Israel in order to fully explain the story of housing in conjunction with nation state building. Alweil wrote in her research paper, “Plantation: Modern Vernacular Housing and Settlement in Ottoman Palestine,” that plantations were “replacing older land-based identities with a modern model of for-profit production.” Throughout her research, Alweil found that the history of housing is a joint Israeli-Palestinian one, which is a far cry from the modern separation between the two societies.
Alweil described housing as an “object of agonism,” meaning that the capacity to house oneself shapes Israeli political society. Social groups are conflicted over housing because of architectural space in Israel-Palestine today. In the settlement of Palestine in the 1920s, socialist Zionist groups formed tent settlements that later became Kibbutzim. Tents symbolized Zionists’ right to live in the land regarding as well as Palestinians’ right and still claim Palestinian and Israeli identity and rights. As Alweil said in her lecture, housing is an “agonistic conflict which brings them together because it divides them.”
Since the 1920s, tents have become symbols of protest against the Israeli government’s expensive housing policies. In 2011 especially, Israelis took to the streets and set up tents to protest expensive housing prices. According to a National Public Radio article published in 2011, the rising housing prices were not keeping pace with average wages. Alweil’s research focused on how architecture of housing created settlement patterns that led to the creation of Israel and are still leading to settlements in the West Bank.
During the Q&A, Alweil said that the growth in apartment structures has also increased housing prices. The more expensive Israeli housing prices become, the more financially exclusive it becomes. Not to mention high housing prices impact minority populations within Israel. Alweil said that living in the homeland and housing plans in the West Bank cause tensions reflected in modern housing protests. For instance, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new, right-leaning government has advanced more settlement projects beyond the green line. Alweil said that the Israeli housing ministry’s policies regarding evictions and housing approvals in the West Bank and East Jerusalem cause political tensions.
On a domestic level, Alweil said that expensive housing deteriorates individual political power because minorities are not able to afford it. She expanded upon Israelis’ uproar over it by comparing the architecture of General Yoav Galant’s villa to that of Knesset member Benny Gantz. Galant’s villa is much larger and more extravagant than Gantz’s, which is a portrayal of his position as a general in the Israeli Defense Forces. Gantz’s home speaks to his image as a common citizen as opposed to Galant’s larger one. In general, high housing prices are indicative of Israel’s wealth disparity issues, which Alweil explores throughout her architectural research.
Professor Alweil’s lecture about the history of housing in Israel-Palestine contextualizes modern housing controversies in Israel and the West Bank. Alweil’s research focuses on housing’s importance to communities and socioeconomic groups in Israel-Palestine.