We are writing to express our dismay and concern that the Venice Biennale has agreed to host the Israeli contribution to the exhibition on the Architecture of Commemoration. The whole contribution, funded by the Israeli Government, totally excludes the Palestinians who are the target and real victims of the seemingly unending series of wars being memorialised, and awards Israel the sole position of victim and victor. The contributor Dan Daor says that the message of memorial structures is that “there are no heroes - all there is, is the eternity of Israel, all of the country is on the front, and all of us are victims.”
There are no memorials in Israel to the Naqba, the Palestinian tragedy of displacement and dispossession, where the intention of transfer and exclusion led to the destruction and elimination of 580 Palestinian villages towns and cities. Even today, this dispossession and humiliation goes on in Gaza and the West Bank, with the destruction of their heritage in the historic cities of Jerusalem, Nablus, Hebron, Bethlehem and Jericho. This is particularly ironic when the subject of the Biennale is the celebration of cities.
The architectural critic for Haaretz, Esther Zandberg has described this exhibition as “an extreme example of architectural symbolism and manipulation, in which the profession is called upon to shape consciousness to specific needs. At times, architecture even exploits the viewers’ lack of defence, leading him or her, through its unique devices to the seemingly essential conclusion that was outlined in advance.”
Thus the eminent Israeli architects represented here are being used as tools of Israeli propaganda, and consequently would be deemed to be complicit in the agenda of excluding the Palestinian narrative. Significantly, the Israeli organisation ‘Zochrot’ which deals with remembering the Naqba has been omitted from this exhibition.
In the words of the Israeli curator Tula Amir: “Justification of Israel’s wars provides legitimisation of the blood that has been spilled and is liable to be spilled in the future, of the continued unreserved co-operation between the military and security establishment and the citizens of the country, and of the undisputed consensus according to which struggle is the instrument of survival of our existence in Israel.”
But it has been evident that the wars and tragedies engulfing Palestine/Israel since 1948 have been due to Israel’s intransigence and refusal to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
We request that the Biennale Committee consider withdrawing the Israeli entry as being provocative and counterproductive to the aims of the Biennale, and particularly distasteful in the context of the aftermath of an ugly and unnecessary war in neighbouring Lebanon, and a continuing one-sided war in Gaza.
Whatever you do about the Israeli participation, we would like the organisers to consider asking for a Palestinian contribution, highlighting the historic and ongoing displacement of the Palestinian people.
Ted Cullinan, Charles Jencks, Louis Hellman, Ian Martin, Jake Brown, Abe Hayeem, Antoine Raffoul, Haifa Hammami, Eitan Bronstein (Zochrot) Mike Macrae, Neil Lambert, Steve Fox, John Waller, Michael Safier, Phil Gusack Malkit Shoshan (FAST), Martin O’Shea, Dr. Jim Berrow, John Murray, Paul Barham