North Africa, West Asia

The vertical apartheid

Herewith, an edited version of the preface to Eyal Weizman's Hollow Land, published by Verso last month to mark the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Eyal Weizman
13 July 2017

Rafah, 2014. Composite image research: Forensic architecture 2015.

openDemocracy first showcased Weizman's research as ‘Politics of Verticality’ fifteen years ago. The wide reception of this text led to fresh thinking about colonisation and the system of Israel’s domination of Palestine as well as to new concepts in geography. In this text Weizman returns to examine these themes, noting how an evolving vertical system of domination has in the past 15 years hardened into a geographically unique structure that he calls Vertical Apartheid, one in which layers, both physical and juridical, create a laminated political system whose dismantling would require a new form of thinking. 

In the context of a recent, mildly critical interview about the political deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians, a former Israeli general, until recently the chief commander of the West Bank, claimed that the Israeli military had become ‘world champions in occupation’ and has managed to turn its control of millions of Palestinians into ‘an art form’, as if this two generation long degrading and lethal regime is some sort of a sport or managerial challenge.[1]

Such bragging is not necessarily an exaggeration. This text charts the way Israel’s system of control, which evolved in fits and starts throughout the occupation’s first four decades, has, during its fifth decade, hardened into an exceptionally efficient and brutal form of territorial apartheid, in which verticality is the operative principle.


The new edition of Hollow Land

Fiftieth anniversary

Indeed, on its fiftieth anniversary, the Israeli occupation seems to be in excellent form. Though the Gaza settlements have been removed, those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem prosper, and settler numbers have been growing at a rate of 15,000 people annually.[2] The domination of more than four million Palestinians has stopped being an economic burden and proven to be profitable. The people under occupation are a captive market (literally) for many surplus Israeli manufactured goods. Private industries, including international companies working in the Jewish settlements, prosper thanks to tax breaks, low rents, government subsidies, and a Palestinian labour force that is rendered cheap and flexible because it enjoys no civil or labour rights.[3] Israel’s international exports – many of them military and marketed as ‘road tested in action’ (on the Palestinians, that is) – are also steadily growing as more nations, including the United States and European states, adopt Israel-like xenophobic politics towards minorities, refugees, and migrants (especially Muslim ones).[4]

Within the Israeli political system there is currently no serious opposition to the settlement project. International diplomacy is largely inconsequential and there is no ‘peace process’ to threaten the settlements’ further expansion. Representatives of the settler movement hold power in all major governmental offices, running not only the occupation, but also the business of the state. International diplomacy is largely inconsequential and there is no ‘peace process’ to threaten the settlements’ further expansion.International diplomacy is largely inconsequential and there is no ‘peace process’ to threaten the settlements’ further expansion.

Dissent is confronted with paranoid fervor and righteous rage. Activists are vilified as traitors, spied upon, threatened, and arrested. State officials, and even the prime minister, now openly refer to human rights groups as ‘the third strategic threat ‘ (after Iran and Hizbullah,) treating them as foreign agents and spies, and the Israeli parliament has legislated laws to constrain their work. Civil society groups calling for boycott of and disinvestment from the Israeli economy and culture – one of the last peaceful means to challenge Israeli hegemony – are made illegal locally, foreign activists promoting it are no longer allowed into the country, and severely limited in some key countries such as Britain, France, Ireland, Germany, and the United States.[5]

Happy fiftieth birthday, indeed!

No small achievement 

The durability and expansion of Israel’s settler-colonial project in Palestine is no small achievement given the turns of recent history. In the fifteen years years since the Politics of Verticality was published the world was shaken by a series of transformative processes, none of which loosened Israel’s grip on power over the Palestinians. In 2008, a global financial crisis overwhelmed the world economy and devastated real estate markets worldwide. At the same time, in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem the number of houses and settlers has nearly doubled: there were 400,000 settlers there in 2007 and there are about 750,000 today.There were 400,000 settlers there when Hollow Land was first published and there are about 750,000 today.

This number includes the residents of 131 official, state-sanctioned settlements and the twelve Jewish neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem (this is how settlements there are referred to) as well as 97 smaller outposts in the West Bank and the thirteen Jewish outposts inside Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem.[6] While official settlements have expanded in terms of the extent of their built-up area and number of residents, the number of official settlements has not changed much. At the start of the Oslo process in the early 1990s there were already 120 settlements in place. It is the rogue outposts that have grown in numbers and expanded as their settlers torch fields and homes, harass and shoot Palestinians to take over their agricultural lands. The official settlements simply expand while relying on the military and the courts to do the same.


Milutin Labudovic for Peace Now. Another global process that Israel’s regime of domination has been immune to is the so-called Arab Spring. Starting in 2011, a series of popular revolts, particularly within the Maghreb and Middle East, toppled (or tried to) presidential regimes across the region, resulting in, not a series of popular democracies, but in bloody civil wars and foreign military interventions. While these states were engulfed with revolutionary fervour, resistance remained relatively subdued in the West Bank and Jerusalem (though, as I will later show, it was fierce in Gaza). Civil protests and desperate, increasingly personally motivated armed actions (often with knives), were put down brutally with the help of the Palestinian Authority.

Despite popular protests, the wall and other physical barriers have expanded. Hundreds of miles of fencing systems and prefabricated concrete elements have been erected on Palestinian lands to protect Jewish settlements. These barriers are the physical manifestation of what Israeli officials call the ‘segregation policy’, a policy that seeks to separate Jews from Palestinians everywhere across the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Separation, in space and by law, is the most fundamental component of Israel’s system of colonization.[7] Even when settlers, Palestinians, and soldiers are brought together in the same incident, at the very same place, each group is still bound by different laws. The applicable law for the settlers is the Israeli civil law, by which settlers enjoy full Israeli civil rights including the right to vote. The reality for Palestinians is a military dictatorship in which civil and human rights rarely apply.[8] In military courts, where Palestinians are tried, the conviction rates for alleged violence against settlers or occupation forces are 99.74 per cent.[9]

For soldiers the ratio is inversed. The mandate of the military legal system, inasmuch as it deals with Israeli military personnel, assigns criminal responsibility via the most narrow of frames and is oriented exclusively toward low-ranking soldiers: it investigates only harm caused by a breach of commands, never the legality of commands and the violence that underpins them. Less than one third of a single per cent of complaints brought against soldiers’ violence lead to charges. Less than one third of a single per cent of complaints brought against soldiers’ violence lead to charges.

This legal reality guarantees that violence is exercised with the full backing of the law. As a result, Israel’s politics of separation has, in the past decade, surpassed South African apartheid, not only in the extent and sophistication of its architectural manifestations, but also in its duration: the South African version collapsed under international pressure after forty-three years.

Techniques of domination updated

Israeli domination of Palestinians is not confined to the spaces occupied in 1967. In its early decades, Israel’s rule in the occupied territories used techniques of domination that were well-honed on those Palestinians who survived and remained in place during the expulsions of 1948. In recent decades, techniques of domination, land grab and separation, more intensely exercised in the 1967 occupied areas, inspired the further separation of Jews and Arabs within Israel itself. The occupation can thus not be thought of as an aberration of Israeli democracy, a ‘cancerous tumour’ that can be removed by dissecting more or less along the internationally recognized Green Line of 1949, as left-liberal apologists of Zionism propose. Rather, it is a local manifestation of Israel’s regime of domination and separation that extends, in different forms, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Examples of this policy within Israel are abundant. In recent decades the state sanctioned ‘battle for the Negev’ has radically escalated, with Israel repeatedly, violently, sending its demolition squads to destroy ramshackle homes and animal pens on lands that have been continuously inhabited by Bedouins for generations, and this to clear space for Jewish settlements and forests.[10]

The Bedouins are amongst the only Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons (those displaced within Israel) to enact, continuously, repeatedly, on the ground, their right of return, rebuilding again after every act of demolition.


Policemen on horses at a demolition that took place in Umm al-Hiran, 18th January 2017. Picture by Maya Avis. Some rights reserved.

The Bedouins are amongst the only Palestinian refugees to enact, continuously, their right of return, rebuilding again after every act of demolition.In Galilee, Jewish outposts are designed to break apart the continuity of Palestinian space and limit the growth of villages. Elsewhere, Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Lydda, Ramle, and Jaffa are split into enclaves by roadways and barriers. An important aspect of Israel’s overall domination of all the territorial fragments into which Palestine was shuttered is manifested in its control of population registration. Every Palestinian birth in Gaza, death in the West Bank, marriage in Jerusalem, or change of address in Galilee must be entered into Israel's Interior Ministry database in order to exist. No one can travel, work, open a bank account, or even emigrate without it.


An Israeli bulldozer destroying the village of Al Arakib, Oren Ziv, Activestills

The strangulation of Gaza

In the past decade, the focus of the armed struggle and the worst of Israel’s policy of domination has shifted to Gaza. This took place against the backdrop of a punishing siege, which severely escalated after Hamas took power there in 2007. The siege replaced one system of control with another. As long as they were inside Gaza, several blocks of Jewish settlements and a string of military bases exercised a traditional form of territorial control — they controlled the roadways and surveyed the cities. In 2005 the Sharon government removed the settlements and relocated the military bases beyond Gaza’s perimeter wall. Domination is now exercised from beyond the borders, from the sea and the air. Gunboats keep presence just off the coastline, shooting at fishermen that dare to venture more than a few hundred meters from the shore. The airforce controls things from above. Agreements with Egypt ensure Israel has some say over who can pass through Gaza’s border crossing in Rafah. Domination is now exercised from beyond the borders, from the sea and the air.Domination is now exercised from beyond the borders, from the sea and the air.

The siege is a giant and unparalleled exercise in population control. It seeks to isolate the strip from the external world and gradually increase the collective hardship by reducing the incoming flow of all life-sustaining provisions. Israeli intelligence agencies monitor the effects of the siege and claim to be able to calibrate the privation to a level that is hard enough for the civilian population to reject Hamas but one that does not to fall below some so-called ‘red lines’ that would ‘bring the strip to a humanitarian crisis’.[11] The supply of food, calculated in calories, was gradually reduced to the UN humanitarian minimum of 2100 calories per adult (less for women and children). The inflow of electricity, petrol, and concrete were also gradually turned down to levels that ground life to an almost complete standstill, devastating infrastructural systems, hospitals, the economy, and civil institutions.

Unemployment shot up to 43 per cent (highest in the world), 72 per cent of the population fell below the poverty line and the absolute majority of residents became dependent on international welfare, an important point of leverage when it is Israel that could decide to start and stop that welfare provision. Electricity was reduced so radically that residents have power for only a few hours a day, hospitals were incapacitated, there was not enough power to contain all sewage from flowing untreated. The shortage in basic medicines has become more severe, with people dying from easily preventable diseases and for lack of basic treatment. These deaths, unlike those from direct violence, are not statistically recorded. The United Nations has desperately repeated that a massive humanitarian crisis is already unfolding in Gaza and warned that if the current trend continues, the entire strip could become uninhabitable by 2020. The United Nations has desperately repeated that a massive humanitarian crisis is already unfolding in Gaza and warned that if the current trend continues, the entire strip could become uninhabitable by 2020.

Where does Israel want these two million Palestinians to go? The government does not feel it has to care. It claims that Gaza is ‘no longer occupied’ (the ‘no longer’ is strange because when the settlements were there, Israel never accepted it was an ‘occupation’) and thus its duties as an ‘occupying force’ under international law no longer apply (it never applied them anyway). Gaza is rather an ‘enemy entity’ – a designation that allows it to be attacked and starved as an enemy state but without the sovereign rights that come with statehood. This continues a double game in place since 1967. Israel uses the rights afforded to a military occupier, for example to build “temporary military installations” under international law, while ignoring its duties by claiming that the situation isn’t that of an occupation at all. The UN, however, has never accepted this self-serving and paradoxical designation of Gaza and still regards Israel to be occupying Gaza because it has control over all aspects of life there.

Its interference extends into minute details. Decisions otherwise exercised in municipal levels are still undertaken by Israel – for example, by deciding how much concrete and steel are to be allowed in and how much should be allocated for which construction or reconstruction project, the Israeli military officers at the border act as the ultimate planning officers, determining what will be built and where.

Despite the siege, Hamas has not surrendered. Its hold of the strip and its influence over Gazans has only been strengthened. It has resisted the siege with continuous armed action. Constant skirmishes have escalated into three devastating Israeli attacks in 2008–9, 2012 and 2014. Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of dense civilian neighbourhoods during these ‘wars’ has killed over 4,000 people, the overwhelming majority of them civilians. In addition, the constant bombardment has ruined most of the remaining infrastructure, destroyed or damaged close to 150,000 buildings, and driven half a million Gazans out of their homes – a number only slightly exceeding that of the Jewish population the state helped house in the West Bank and Jerusalem over the same period.[12] The built environment – and its destruction and construction – is, as I have already written in Hollow Land — more than just a backdrop of this conflict. Rather, it is the means by which domination takes shape.

BTS8 copy.jpg

Rafah 2014, image: Breaking the Silence

Stratigraphic separation

The policy of separation does not only divide Jews and Palestinians but also creates divisions between Palestinians. Physical barriers now cut apart the three main districts occupied in 1967 – Gaza, Jerusalem, and the West Bank – and separate them from the Palestinians in Israel. The Gaza siege is enacted through a perimeter barrier composed of a similar systems of roads, concrete walls and fencings to that of the more famous West Bank wall. It is built on the internationally recognized border of 1949, but extends inwards into a no-go area that extends up to 1500 metres from the border. Anyone entering this zone could be shot to kill.

The 708 kilometres of the West Bank wall cuts between villages and their fields, effectively annexing 10 per cent of the territory for the use of the settlements. It also cuts Jerusalem apart from the West Bank. The eastern part of Jerusalem has been physically annexed to Israel but its Palestinian population was granted only ‘permanent residency’ – an oxymoronic term because this residency can be revoked at any time, and Israeli authorities use any excuse to revoke it whenever possible. Divided from all the rest are the million and a half Palestinians who live within Israel, where they have Israeli citizenship but not equal rights. Completely barred from entering Palestine are the four and a half million Palestinians, mainly refugees but also migrants, living outside the country. In the West Bank, separation has grown increasingly complex.


Btselem and Eyal Weizman, Map of the West BankIn the West Bank, separation has grown increasingly complex. The Oslo Accords splintered the territory into areas A, B, and C, with areas A and B enjoying some degree of civilian administration, and area C (some 61 per cent of the total area, with about 200,000 to 300,000 Palestinians) remaining under the direct control the military’s ‘Civil Administration’, which forbids all Palestinian construction and development.

Not only has architecture been weaponized in this conflict, but the system itself can be said to have an architectural form. What is this architecture of control and how does it work?

‘The Politics of Verticality’ revisited

In the early 2000s when I started my research into the formation of this territorial system, I approached the challenge as every architect might approach an analysis of a complex building: I drew a cross section through it. An architectural cross section cuts through the visible layers of a building – facades, internal walls, floors – to expose the structures, systems, and infrastructure that run through them – columns, beams, air ducts, plumbing, electricity or information systems – as well as the relation between floors and rooms.

The section revealed the depth of Israel’s colonial project, because, like a building, the ‘architectural project’ of the occupation was arranged in layers. The Oslo Accords of the mid 1990s – which promised an incremental pathway to reconciliation but ended up providing the skeleton of the existing geographical system of domination and control – divided the territory into three principle political floors: the surface, landlocked pockets of which were handed over to Palestinian control; the subsoil, including water and mineral resources; and the airspace above Palestinian areas, which was left in Israeli hands, primarily those of its air force.


Ma’ale Edumim, Milutin Labudovic for Peace Now, 2002


A settlement arched over a Palestinian village: Eyal Weizman 2002But territorial stratifications get even more complicated. Israel’s primary legal apparatus for land grab: an Ottoman land code from the mid-nineteenth century conceived to encourage agricultural cultivation after a great series of droughts and famine across the empire, by promising farmers permanent tenure over any land they cultivated and threatening to taking land away if they don't.

A contemporary reading of the logic of this law helped the state take legal control over all uncultivated lands, which were located primarily on the barren hilltops leaving only the lower cultivated valleys in Palestinian hands. In these hilltops, also important for territorial control, Israel could now “legally” implant the settlement. This meant that the two national populations became intertwined and intermingled everywhere across the terrain.

This fragmentation into settlement hilltop islands over Palestinian valley enclaves necessitated a further degree of three-dimensional complexity: a mesh of separated roadways that could connect islands to islands and enclaves to enclaves. This completely divided the movements of Jews and Palestinians in three dimensions without the two ever crossing, or crossing only minimally.

A Jewish-only road network, the ‘apartheid roads’ started connecting the hilltop settlements with bridges that span over Palestinian fields and with tunnels that burrow underneath Palestinian towns. This type of infrastructure has in recent decades been greatly extended and currently comprises a full third of the total length of roadways in the West Bank.[13] In the last decade, as armed confrontations in the West Bank subsided, some military checkpoints were removed, allowing Palestinians freer movement between their villages and towns. But this movement was undertaken on a separate and tattered road network that, whenever crossing the Jewish network of highways, bows and bores underneath them. While the Jewish road network leads everywhere to Israel, the Palestinian road network is truncated on all sides by walls, checkpoints, and military zones.


Detail from Eyal Weizman’s map of settlements, the hilltops are marked in Blue, this is the area within which settlements can expand.

Every Palestinian town and village has thus been fully enveloped by Israeli space in three dimensions. If Palestinians want to drive out of their enclaves, they encounter a fence, a wall, or an Israeli checkpoint. If they want to dig a well they need Israeli permission to pierce into its subterranean volumes, or face sanctions if they don't. If they want to fly – a question that is largely theoretical given that they are not permitted an air force nor a national airline – they need Israel’s permission to enter into the airspace over their very roofs.

In Gaza, this three-dimensional partition organizes the frontlines of the armed struggle. Enclosed on the surface and unable to face the Israeli air force that continuously hovers above, Palestinian military efforts move in two directions along the vertical axis: they have retreated into the subsoil ,where there are underground command centers, cross-border tunnels, and rocket launching sites; and into the airspace through which these rockets travel.

If this system of volumetric separation were to be described in terms of a building, it would most closely resemble an airport with separate inbound and outbound corridors, splintering infrastructural ductworks, multiple passport control points, and security checks that direct some passengers on hustle-free paths through luxury shops to anywhere in the world, and others toward long queues, invasive security checks, and detention rooms that are sometimes separated from the luxury shops merely by a single floor or wall. Following this metaphor, Gaza would be the largest of the detention rooms. From it, those incarcerated might be able to see the people shopping on the other side, but are invisible to them (while being hyper visible to their security forces). The more these detainees try to resist or break out, the less provisions, water, and electricity these security people allow in.


The terminal/checkpoint system in which Palestinians flow is regulated through remotely controlled checkpoints, IDFPreviously, I have called this layered political structure ‘the politics of verticality’.[14] Throughout the last decade, this evolving and elastic territorial architecture has hardened into a permanent mechanism of separation and control. Verticality has become a form of apartheid. The word should in fact be synonymous with it.


Tunnel mouth under Mount Scopus. Eyal Weizman, 2003.

The political geology of Palestine

Other layers of separation could be revealed by extending the section line downward across different geological layers. A section through these layers exposes the political logic of Israeli apartheid in the same way that seismological cracks help geologists examine hidden layers of rock.

Recently, some scientists have proposed that our geological era should be referred to as the Anthropocene, a time in which humans have become the dominant force in shaping – destructively and dangerously so – the very material composition of the planet. It is not only that the natural layers of the earth – deposits, minerals, and rocks –should be regarded as proper geological strata, but that the geology of the earth might also include artificial strata such as structures and buried infrastructures, asphalt, toxins, concrete, and mechanical transportation systems, including tens of thousands of satellites that form a permanent layer of aluminium forever circling the planet. If the concept of the Anthropocene helps us think about geology politically, we might also reverse its proposition and think about politics geologically.

The political geology of Palestine starts in the deep subterranean aquifers, buried under layers of aggregate soil and rock. The partition and use of the waters of this interconnected set of underground lakes, most of it under the West Bank, reflects the extent of inequality exercised on the surface. The Oslo Accords allocated 80 per cent of this resource for the benefit of Israel. As a result, average water consumption in Israel is more than four times that of the West Bank and Gaza. In recent decades, over-extraction of groundwater from Gaza's sole aquifer led to its permanent salinization, destroying the strip’s single water source.[15]

Another geological stratum is archaeology. The buried remains of the land’s historical occupants should be the subject of impartial scientific study. But the settler colonial logic of the Zionist project uses archaeology to construct an alibi for Jewish “return” and the claim that its indigenous rights are more fundamental and prior to those of all others.

In 'The Politics of Verticality', I have outlined the way ideologically motivated archaeology across Palestine, aimed at the remains of biblical past, has discarded other archaeological strata (especially the long succession of Muslim periods from the seventh to the twentieth century) and organized the mode of occupation on the surface right above them. One excavation, which began in 2008, powerfully embodies this logic. It took place right under Silwan, a small Palestinian neighbourhood just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls. Promoted by settler associations and starting without proper permits, it searched for elements of ‘King David’s era’ Jerusalem by boring tunnels through a hillside beneath homes in the neighbourhood, without informing the residents or securing their consent and refusing to stop despite their explicit protests and several attempts to halt it in court.


Cracks in a house in Silwan caused by archaeological digging under the houses. Image: Gadi Dagon

The underground works, a haphazard collection of improvised tunnels fortified with tonnes of steel and concrete, were recently inaugurated by dignitaries including the city’s mayor, who ceremonially stated: ‘When you stand in the City of David, you see layer after layer of foreign conquest, but when you come to the bedrock, there you find the Jewish layer.’ His conflation of geology (bedrock) and archaeology (Iron Age ruins) – false for there being a millennia of earlier inhabitations in Jerusalem – was used to make a crude political point: ‘after other countries leaders visit here they will no longer have any doubts about who owns this city’.[16] But the excavation has also connected between the separate strata: cracks, originating inside the mountain, started moving up through geological and archaeological layers towards the surface, appearing and disappearing as they find their lines of least resistance, cutting through streets, homes, a school, and a mosque, some of which had to be abandoned. Digging for the ruins of ancient Jewish archaeology thus produced a layer of contemporary Palestinian ruin. Digging for the ruins of ancient Jewish archaeology thus produced a layer of contemporary Palestinian ruin.

Indeed, in many places beneath the pavement of Israeli towns and universities, under the fields of Zionist villages and hillside forests, there is a layer made of the rubble of Palestine destroyed in 1948. The destruction has not ceased and Palestinian rubble is still piling up. It is made of homes, bulldozed for being built without permits in places where no permits are ever given to Palestinians. It is made of the bombed out buildings and greenhouses of Gaza and the improvised structures of the Bedouin villages of the Jordan Valley and the Negev. There is rubble across Palestine and everywhere people can be seen picking through its fresh top layers, where their homes stood, searching for something to salvage.



Pyramid-type destruction cropped out of photographs by the Palestinian National Authority Ministry of Public Works and Housing, Gaza, 2009.

This layer of building rubble is directly related to the high tech strata of the airspace and the electromagnetic spectrum occupied by the airforce. Since this book was first published, this layer has undergone a profound transformation. Domination from the air, which was largely exercised by manned jets and helicopters on short designated missions, is now increasingly enforced by overlapping swarms of unmanned drones on long missions. Domination from the air, which was largely exercised by manned jets and helicopters on short designated missions, is now increasingly enforced by overlapping swarms of unmanned drones on long missions.

Hovering continuously over Palestinian towns and villages, they maintain a menacing, malevolent presence. The sound of their propellers’ engines is the continuous backdrop of Palestinian daily lives.[17] These aerial platforms have rotated the geography of colonization by 90 degrees: the ‘Orient’ is no longer beyond the horizon, but now directly underneath it. ‘Aerially enforced colonization’, based on the drones’ ability to maintain a perpetual ‘surveillance and strike’ capability, is an economically efficient alternative to the otherwise onerous and expensive tasks of colonial policing in the dense urban mazes of the Gaza strip. The availability of this form of control was central in convincing the Israeli leadership that territorial withdrawal from the strip could be possible without compromising Israel’s overall domination. Hunter algorithms, programmed to follow patterns of behaviour, are programmed to learn the art of suspicion and violence in the same way that school children across our region currently do.


Israeli Soldier learning how to operate the Skylark drone in the Negev desert.Cross sections through the layers of terrain reveal the politics of verticality to have an architecture composed of layers of radically different kinds – natural and artificial, material and immaterial, low and high tech – one equally composed of archaeology and drones. When something is said to have an ‘architecture’ it is tempting to imagine there is a single design team in charge, but the architecture of occupation was conceived at different periods by different people. That it has a layered structure laminated together into a unified and effective apparatus is because it was conceived under the ideology and practice of settler colonialism. The layering of democracy (for Israelis and Jews in the West Bank) and military dictatorship (in the areas between settlements) also makes this form of apartheid more resilient because it enables its apologists to deny its total nature and concentrates criticism on a different part of it every time. These different parts under criticism can then be compared to similar or equivalent practices in other places. Archaeology is politicised in other countries, drones are employ elsewhere, and other countries still divide their water unequally, etc. there is nothing inherently different, only that here these layers are woven into a complete system.

However, this layered arrangement is rarely grasped in its totality; each layer is presented as a haphazard, often merely functional solution to a separate problem. a patch over patch, implemented stage by stage. One layer makes sure hilltops are seized by the state for the construction of settlements; another, annexes land along the roadways that connect these settlements (for their security); another, restricts building (only in and around Palestinian villages and neighbourhoods) in the name of environmental regulations for clean air, green areas, and natural reserves, or because the military needs live fire training areas (always next to Palestinian places), or because there are archaeological sites under these Palestinian areas, or, most effectively, to restrict access to underground water. It is the perceived separation between these layers that makes the politics of vertical apartheid so effective and resilient, more so, an attractive model for other countries that seek a form of population control.


Even the so-called ‘peace plans’, which still seemed ‘in the cards’ (and the subject of hopes or fears) until several years ago, relied on the overall logic of the politics of vertical separation. Whether in the framework of the one, two, or three state solutions (the latter refers to Gaza and the West Bank as two separate states), every Israeli proposal for a ‘final status arrangement’ demands that Israel retain control of airspace, borders, and subsoil. Even some versions of the ‘single state solution’, now experiencing an improbable revival, not within the domain of the ‘radical left’ but in some mainstream right-wing and settler circles, relies on the deepening of the politics of verticality. In this form, it expresses itself as the confederation of two unequal national systems, each with its own parliament, layered within an overall sovereign, monetary, and spatial envelope dominated by Israel.[18]

Given the architecture of Israel’s settler colonialism, the decolonization of Palestine will require, not ever more ‘creative’ volumetric arrangements and complicated lines of three-dimensional partition, but rather, the fundamental ‘delamination’ of Israel’s vertical apartheid.

Political delamination would need to pry apart and flatten the inflated structure – the overlapping jurisdictions, separate legal systems, and modes of topographic and architectural separation – as well as acknowledge a common (not a singular or unified) history that includes the Nakba. The only ethical future is for 13 million people between Jordan and the sea to have citizenship, freedom to move and live wherever they want, historical recognition and modes of restitution. This could be achieved in the context of three, two or one state, certainly not one of an ongoing colonisation and occupation. 

A good place to start might be the equitable management of the fragile, finite, and common ecology and shared natural resources. The vulnerability of the politics of vertical apartheid lies in its totality and all encompassing logic, and we might be able to find ways to de-link the layers. All empires eventually collapse and few could grasp the internal or external causes that led to their demise even when the agents of their destruction were right around the corner or already at the threshold of perception. When agents of separation try to compartmentalise things vertically and horizontally, what is needed is the construction of collectivity between the people coming from the different zones into which Palestine has been fragmented, from the diaspora, from anti-apartheid Israeli activists, and with international solidarity.

While Israel, and indeed the world, treats Palestine as a laboratory for military and political control, activists in Palestine continuously innovate new modes of civil society resistance. When agents of separation try to compartmentalise things vertically and horizontally, what is needed is the construction of collectivity between the people coming from the different zones into which Palestine has been fragmented, from the diaspora, from anti-apartheid Israeli activists, and with international solidarity. But in a situation of structural violence and inequality, mere cohabitation can become counter-productive, as it tends to support the status quo.

Co-resistance – civil society actions that oppose and seek to terminate Israel’s regime of domination – is small but kicking, and it manifests itself in inclusive, unarmed struggle: civil and human rights work, solidarity campaigns, exposures, and demonstrations. The lines of solidarity that are formed there around these small but committed communities-of-practice are the nuclei around which a new politics could one day be constructed. From previous anti-colonial struggles we have already learned that the society that will replace the colonial present will be defined by the sort of anti-colonial struggle it conducted.

One of the most effective forms of civil action to have emerged in recent years is articulated in the call by Palestinian civil society for economic and cultural boycott of Israel. The BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment, and Sanctions) movement has already created widening circles of solidarity and is seen by the Israeli government, as noted above, as an existential threat to its economy, international standing, and ongoing domination.[19] That a movement calling for boycott is fundamental to engendering solidarity might seem a paradoxical proposition, but this form of activism should not be understood as one of negative agency, of blockage and separation. When it blocks non-democratic platforms, it opens (or should increasingly open) the possibility for new democratic ones to emerge, and it currently enjoys growing support from international Palestinian and Israeli activists. BDS activism also develops a global dimension because it must also oppose the western governments that offer unparalleled diplomatic, financial, and military support to Israel and try to criminalise this very act of civil solidarity and support.

Architecture also has a place in the struggle. Throughout the past decade, I have had the opportunity to participate in several initiatives that mobilise architecture as a means of civil co-resistance across the spectrum of actions that the disciple can offer, from analysis to proposition. One such attempt was undertaken with an architectural studio named Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency or DAAR, which I co-founded in Beit Sahour, Palestine together with my friends Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti. DAAR is affiliated with dozens of architects in Palestine and internationally and works on architectural propositions for the transformation and reuse of Israel’s colonial infrastructure – settlements and military bases – for aims other than what they were built for: primarily for collective functions and public institutions. It also works on pedagogical initiatives and architectural proposals in refugee camps and in the sites, often marked by no more than a few old stones, that refugees were displaced from.[20]


The Lawless Line, Battir, Decolonizing Architecture, DAAR (Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal and Eyal Weizman)Another project is Forensic Architecture. It mobilises architectural tools and techniques to engage with the production of evidence of state violence in Palestine (and increasingly world wide), and presents this evidence in political and judicial forums that include international courts and human rights and environmental reports.[21] Architectural investigations are urgent and essential given the role architecture plays in Israel’s regime of domination –  exposing the nature of the system in terms of both mapping the growth of Jewish settlements and demonstrating the ways in which Palestinian built up areas have increasingly become the target for destruction.

Out of all those born in this land, Jewish Israelis like me are those most privileged by the regime. Unlike most Palestinians, we are able to travel through Palestine and outside it and are afforded greater latitude of expression and access to information. Being Israeli in this space, we cannot avoid a degree of collusion, even when we confront the regime, even when we migrate away, as I did. Unable to escape our privileges, we can choose to use them against the regime that granted them to us with the ultimate aim to undo them. In any case, and in whatever form it might take, we engage in civil co-resistance not because we are certain of what might bring down this regime of domination, but because it is the only way to live here and there, in Palestine and the diaspora.



[1] Lahav Harkov, ‘Retired General Calling Israel “World Champion of Occupation” sparks outrage’, Jerusalem Post, 1 September. Gadi Shamni led the IDF’s Central Command from 2007 to 2009 and left the army in 2012.

[2] Peace Now, Settlement Watch Program,, accessed 3 March 2017.

[3] There are approximately 20 Israeli-administered industrial zones in the West Bank. Human Rights Watch, ‘Occupation, Inc.: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights’, 19 January 2016.

[4] Naomi Klein, ‘Laboratory for a Fortress World’, Nation, 14 June 2007

[5] Britain, the United States, France, and Germany acted in different ways against the boycott of Israel. Oliver Wright, ‘Israel Boycott Ban: Shunning Israeli Goods to Become Criminal Offence for Public Bodies and Student Unions’, Independent, 14 February 2016; Michael Wilner, ‘US Congress Passes Rare Law Targeting Boycotts of Israel’, Jerusalem Post, 24 June 2015; Benjamin Dodman, ‘France's Criminalisation of Israel Boycotts Sparks Free-Speech Debate’, France 24, 21 January 2016.

[6] Information about settlements and settler numbers is usually disaggregated according to the different administrative areas into which the occupation is divided, and differs slightly between different estimates. According to B’tselem, there are currently between 300,000 and 350,000 settlers in the occupied areas of East Jerusalem (up from 189,708 in 2007) and 406,302 in the rest of the West Bank (up from 276,500 in 2007). According to the State’s population registry, in 2005 the number of settlers in the West Bank (not including Jerusalem) was 254,000. During the last decade this number has grown by 167,000 or 66 percent. As of 2016 there were 422,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. In 2016 the Jewish population in the West Bank grew by 15,675 people or 3.9 percent, double the national population increase. The number of 750,000 is the sum of the average in B’tselem estimate for the occupied parts of Jerusalem and the State’s population registry numbers for the West Bank. The State’s population registry does not provide separate statistics for occupied Jerusalem because the area has been officially annexed to Israel, and its numbers refer to Jerusalem as a whole. In Gaza, since the evacuation of 2005 there, were no (and still aren’t any) settlers. In 1993, when the Oslo Accords were signed, there were approximately 110,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and 146,000 living in East Jerusalem. See: B’tselem, Statistics on Settlements and Settler Population,, updated 11 May 2015. The settlement numbers quoted above are from the Settlement Watch Program of Peace Now.

[7] Yael Berda, The Bureaucracy of the Occupation in the West Bank: The Permit Regime 2000–2006, Jerusalem: Van Leer Institute, 2012 (in Hebrew).

[8] Human Rights Watch, ‘Israel/West Bank: Separate and Unequal: Under Discriminatory Policies, Settlers Flourish, Palestinians Suffer’, 19 December 2010.

[9] B’tselem, ‘A Palestinian Charged in a Military Court is as Good as Convicted’, 21 June 2015; Noam Sheizaf, ‘Conviction Rate for Palestinians in Israel's Military Courts: 99.74%’ +972 magazine, 29 November 2011; B’tselem, ‘The Occupation's Fig Leaf: Israel's Military Law Enforcement System as a Whitewash Mechanism’, 25 May 2016; Gili Cohen, ‘Citing IDF Failure to Bring Soldiers to Justice, B'Tselem Stops Filing Complaints on Abuse of Palestinians’, Ha’aretz, 25 May 2016.

[10] Eyal Weizman and Fazal Sheikh, The Conflict Shoreline: Colonization as Climate Change in the Negev Desert, Göttingen: Steidle and Cabinet, 2015. Forensic Architecture’s investigation of a police killing in the illegalised Bedouin village of umm al-Hiran is here:

[11] Uri Blaue and Yotam Feldman, ‘Consent and Advice’ Ha’aretz, 29.01.2009

[12] United Nations, ‘Gaza in 2020: A Liveable Place?’, August 2012; UN figures can also be found here:

[13] Shaul Arieli, ‘The Two-state Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Remains Viable’, Ha’aretz, 31 December 2016.

[14] Eyal Weizman, ‘Introduction to The Politics of Verticality’, Open Democracy, 23 April 2002.

[15] B’tselem, ‘The Water Crisis’, 28 September 2016; United Nations, ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory Slides into Recession, Gaza Becoming Uninhabitable’, 1 September 2015. 

[16] Nir Hasson, ‘In a Tunnel Beneath Jerusalem, Israeli Culture Minister Gives Obama a Lesson in History’, Ha’aretz, 31 December 2016.

[17] Susan Schuppli, ‘Uneasy Listening’, in Forensic Architecture (ed.), FORENSIS: The Architecture of Public Truth, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014.

[18] Tamar Pileggi and Raphael Ahren, ‘Rivlin Proposes Israeli-Palestinian “Confederation”’, Times of Israel, 3 December 2015.

[19] See:; Benjamin Winthal, ‘Ban of Ireland Shuts Down Anti-Israel BDS Accounts’, Jerusalem Post, 3 October 2016. 

[20] Alessando Petti, Sandi Hilal and Eyal Weizman, Architecture After Revolution, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014. See also: Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal’s initiative, Campus in Camps (

[21] Eyal Weizman, Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability, New York: Zone, 2017. See also:

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