On Reconstruction of Memory: The Politics of Restoration by Micha de Haas

On Sunday 14 May in the Balie in Amsterdam held a conference about the master plan for the village of Lifta, near Jerusalem. The title of the conference was Reconstruction of Memory. Micha de Haas reports.

“This house has a friend of my mother lived, she had the most beautiful flower boxes hanging under the window of her beautiful home. As children we often secretly tried to pluck the flowers … but she had always been by and say, ‘if you these bags to carry me upstairs, I’ll let you pick some flowers. ” Once upstairs she explained to us that in this heat plucked the flowers will soon wither, and we went home empty-handed. “

On the screen we see what is left of the beautiful house from the memories of the speaker: a wall, two empty windows – a ruin. The speaker called Yacoub Odeh, and the house in Lifta, a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem which Yacoub as an eight year old boy had to flee during the Palestinian Nakba (the disaster, as the Palestinians the Israeli War of Independence of 1948 call). The meeting, organized by FAST (Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory) is about the destruction of the collective memory regarding the Nakba , as a case study with the village Lifta and the current Israeli Masterplan before.

The city as a bearer of the collective memory

According to the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs ( Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire , 1952) and in his footsteps Aldo Rossi, buildings and monuments are the carriers of the collective memory of a community. The destruction of buildings and monuments in wartime is often seen as an attack on the collective memory and as to the identity of the opponent. The images of the destruction of the bridge in Mostar, the blown-Budha statues in Afghanistan, or the collapsed World Trade Center towers in New York at us many emotions, often even more than images of people murdered. Building a church in the middle of the Al Amhabra mosque, or the cultivation of the Byzantine church Hagia Sophia into a mosque means much more than effective reuse … it is a message of the conqueror to the loser.

The day is initiated by the Israeli architect Malkit Shoshan, initiator of the meeting and director of the NGO FAST. It is now well known that the realization of the state of Israel while the destruction of Arab life in hundreds of villages meant. The Zionist slogan “a land without people for a people without a land” was an illusion, a denial of the truth, or according to some, even a lie. The refugee camps in the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon testify to this. What has not been so well known is the fate of these physical villages. What happened to the houses, the streets, the schools and squares?

What’s in a name?

The first speaker is Eitan Bronstein, an Israeli intellectual and director of Zochrot.This organization, the name means “we remember” in Hebrew, is to the Israeli public aware of the existence of the Nakba. Organizes one walks through Jewish-Israeli towns and villages in the place of abandoned Arab settlements have been built. In a busy street they hang next to the current street sign, a sign that the old Arab street name. This simple action calls extreme reactions in people on the street. The board is removed in no time. The acceptance of the occurrence of theNakba and the Arab past of their own city, explains Bronstein from means for many Israelis questioning of one’s own existence (whether of the State of Israel as the person himself). Justice – although barely mentioned – is perhaps the most important shade theme of this meeting. In the audience, there is also a delegation from London – Members of British Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, a group of architects (including Sir Richard Rogers and Charles Jencks) that opposes the strategic use of architecture and town planning by the Israeli government in its fight against the Palestinians.


Restoration and justice

Against these plans is FAST revolt. The conference in the Balie could launch can do to create an alternative plan. The houses in Lifta should be protected by UNESCO as monuments of the ordinary environment as for the proclamation of the state of Israel existed. But Lifta should be a monument to the Nakba? Restored?Renovated? Shmuel Groag, an Israeli architect and member of Bimkom (in Hebrew literally ‘instead of’) an action group of architects for preservation of human rights in the field of planning and architecture, does not think so.According to him, the danger here around the corner that the success of the project memory the image of the Arab occupation of Lifta will confirm as part of the past. Lived there in 1948, several thousand people in Lifta. Three generations later there (says Odeh) more than thirty thousand Lifta-ers. What do they have to reclaim them, now almost sixty years ago, abandoned village? They simply want their property back. About architectural challenge: it would be a special challenge to thirty thousand villagers returning to house within the current highly urban context of their small Lifta.

Renovation and restoration projects represent a temporal and spatial snapshot of a particular building or area, and the choice of the moment is not always (read: usually) motivated by ethical considerations. Berlin is cultural heritage of the GDR – the Palast der Republik – the Berliner Schloss demolished and rebuilt.Amsterdam is just a special seventeenth-century staircase in the Palace on the Dam demolished (how come that way ArchiNed here no attention to this?!) To make room for an extra lift for the reception of the queen. Imagine that an action group would be established to the abuses created by Baron Haussmann to recover and Paris before the grand boulevard rebuild. Restoration does not necessarily justice.

The American architectural historian Andrew Herscher examines many years the architecture of political violence in the former Yugoslavia. His analysis of the relationship between violence, architecture and memory is averse sentiments and therefore extremely powerful. War Violence against buildings is often used to describe a painful message to the losers to bring their collective memory or damaging, just as often, however, is precisely the collective memory used to justify violence. After the war and the destruction of significant buildings crack the renovation and restoration violence separately. They are completely according Herscher ideological terms. In Pristina, he says, there is more damage done by the reconstruction process than by war. Political and economic interests determine where and how would be restored. Striking is the quote that Herscher his closing argument clear: ‘An Object That has leg destroyed is not replaceable, it Disappears forever. Devastation is never Solely material, it has multiple aspects, multiple meanings, but it is always final. We shall build new libraries; publish new books, announce the optimists, Accustomed to a regular rhythm of destruction and rebuilding. But the idea of reconstruction contains the notion of future destruction. “ (Dubravka Ugresic, The Culture of Lies, 1996).


The content of the conference was very interesting and valuable, but the titleReconstruction of Memory appears in many ways problematic. In psychology it is generally accepted that the reconstruction of a reminder not simply as what may be considered. She is often colored or even manipulated by external factors. Thus, the reconstruction of a collective memory is almost a contradiction in terms because the reconstruction process itself would be part of the collective memory.The Palestinian collective memory is also very vital, witness the story of Yacoub Odeh. Finally, it is clear that architectural and structural work such as renovation, restoration or reconstruction not simply acknowledging wrongdoing and does not necessarily lead to a kind of ‘spatial justice’. All speakers were agreed that the only way to achieve justice for Lifta, a legal way (the right of return) and not an architectural.

What is – with this conclusion in mind – the answer to the question that Malkit Shoshan at the beginning of the conference stated: “how can the professional community (architects and planners) the political and ideological abuse of (architectural) heritage accountable call? ” The answer can be found in the CVs of the participants in the conference. They are all motivated and talented professionals who – within a variety of organizational forms – working for a better and fairer situation in their own environment and in their own field. At the word ‘commitment’ sticks in their eyes, no cynicism. It is a fundamental part of their professional vision. The solution to political and national conflicts can not be found within the discipline of architecture, but projects like that of Lifta, facilitating the development of a state of mind that a possible solution could generate and gain acceptance.

The context of a ruin

Following the presentation of Bronstein says Zvi Efrat, the head of the architecture department of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, on the image of the ruins in Israeli culture. Zionism, says Efrat, is the driving force behind the grand architectural project of the modern movement. According to the design of state architect Arieh Sharon (not to be confused with Ariel Sharon), the country was systematically packed with innovative building and settlement types.A proof of the feasibility of the ideal of Zionism, but also the ideal of modernism.On the historical photos that Efrat shows white buildings on a hill in the background: an abandoned Arab village …

The inhabitants of Israel after 1948 lived next to the ruins of the abandoned Arab villages. The ruin – with romantic and sentimental connotations – was both a natural part of the Israeli landscape, but then she was stripped of its real substantive meaning. The ruins were sec, and not the ruins of destroyed Arab villages. In the local architecture, the ruins properly, sometimes a curious postmodern fashion, embraced. The award-winning design by architect Al Mansfeld for the Israel Museum in Jerusalem refers directly to the structure of an Arab village and since the eighties of the last century, there is an inflation of oriental curves in the Israeli housing architecture perceptible.

And habitable Arab houses? Often they were concerned by leftist Jewish-Israeli intellectuals and artists. Attracted by the romantic image of the East (think Edward Said’s Orientalism! ) they took up residence in the abandoned houses, without really reflect on the fate of their original builders and residents.

Such was the case some of the houses of Lifta. The majority is still empty. For nearly twenty years ago is an urban plan for the area. As it often goes with master plans, it is only recently, after numerous adjustments, determined by the council.It is now part of an ambitious design (including a bridge of Calatrava) for the entrance of Jerusalem. The plan includes exclusive homes for wealthy Americans who pied a terre in Jerusalem want. Some of the old buildings will be renovated and there is a museum of old farm machinery. The machines are from Arab villages in the museum but the machines will be presented in a context of Biblical stories, and not in relation to their actual history.

Link to the essay in Archined

Link to the project page


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