Death and "De-Planning" in Gaza

Michael Dudley's picture
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Like all of us I have been watching the carnage in Gaza with concern and growing despair. And like many people, I have struggled with how best to understand this conflict, fraught as it is with historic hatreds, accusations and counter-accusations. If it is at all possible I would like to attempt a pragmatic view, starting with the recognition that the historic conflict over Palestine concerning land ownership, use and associated rights may be seen as falling within the spectrum of issues related to land use planning.

Through this lens, Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories may be seen as being exercised through acts of land use planning, i.e., settlements, housing, the construction – and often destruction – of infrastructure and controlling freedom of movement. Denying Palestinians access to land, to housing, to farming and to employment is carried out by expulsions, demolitions, the tearing up of groves and of course the construction of the massive and highly controversial "security barrier" along and through the West Bank.

Finally, all of this is backed up by military might and, as we now see in Gaza, the willingness to engage in violence out of all proportion to any stated justifications. At this writing, almost 1,000 Palestinians have been killed, over 4,000 are injured and much of Gaza lies in ruins. Also in ruins is Israel's moral standing in the eyes of much of the world: Tens of thousands of people have been protesting Israel's actions, and there are calls for a boycott of Israel – to "disinvest" in that country just as was the case for South Africa in the 1980s (however, the ability of U.S. firms to participate in anti-Israeli boycotts is constrained by U.S. law).

Many readers of this site may object to the above. But I would encourage such readers to again consider our planning perspective: On the APA site, for example, planning is seen as a profession that  

"works to improve the welfare of people and their communities by creating more convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive places for present and future generations. Good planning helps create communities that offer better choices for where and how people live. Planning helps community members envision the direction their community grow and will help them find the right balance of new development and essential services, protection of the environment, and innovative change."

If we as planners are indeed concerned about "the welfare of people," about equity, about giving people "choices for where and how" they live, about the provision of "essential services," and about helping communities envision their own futures, then what Israel has been doing to Gaza for the past several years should appall us, for it has been systematically attacking Gazans' every means for fulfilling these goals. Gaza has, in fact become an "urban prison", as Tom Angotti wrote in the spring 2008 issue of Progressive Planning:

"All roads and commerce in and out of Gaza are blocked by the Israeli military. Israel's economic blockade has resulted in an unemployment rate of 40%, while 80% of the population relies on food aid Israeli warplanes destroyed Gaza's main power plant and sewage treatment plant, creating a critical public health crisis. Many of Israel's European allies have denounced the Israeli siege and economic blockade as disproportionate responses to the threats against Israel's security. The Israeli human rights group B'tselem states that over four years 13 Israelis were killed by rockets while in only the last two years over 1,000 Palestinians died, almost half of them civilians Many groups consider this to be collective punishment or ethnic cleansing in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel's vindictive policy against the civilian population is summed up in a wry statement by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: ‘We will not allow them to lead a pleasant life."'

It would appear that Israel is doing all it can to "un-plan" or "de-plan" Gaza – to make it unviable, inhospitable and uninhabitable. Yet, despite the deliberate creation of these terrible conditions, Angotti notes, "Planners in the U.S., even many who opposed the uprooting of viable communities by the federal urban renewal program in the 1960s, have failed to raise their voices against the use of U.S. aid to support these policies."

This silence continues: I note that the websites of American Planning Association and the Canadian Institute of Planners make no mention of the conflict or take a position on it. I hope such will be forthcoming.

But as Tom Angotti urges, one way to become involved is to support the work of the Jerusalem-based Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) which works to address the conflict there by making explicit the connections between land use and Israel's military control of Palestine

"[ICAHD] connect[s] the dots to show how the Israeli government's ongoing policies of Palestinian home demolitions, relentless development of large settlements, and building of the ‘Separation Barrier' deep into the West Bank are a persistent barrier to the just and lasting peace we seek. We disclose how the uncritical political support of the U.S., underwritten and financed with U.S. taxpayer money, sustains the Israeli Occupation's devastating impact on Palestinians, its violations of basic human rights, and how these pose a grave threat to the short and long-term security of Israelis."

As planners – hell, as human beings – I believe we need to apply in principle to both the Israelis and Palestinians alike the goals we hold for our own communities. This must start with acknowledging that criticizing the actions of Israel's government does not mean denying Israel's legitimacy or its need for security, and much less sympathizing with militant groups like Hamas or their tactics. 

But a just resolution to this crisis will not be possible while Israel continues to violate international law, engages in shockingly disproportionate violence, and steadfastly opposes the natural aspirations of the Palestinian people to access, use, farm, develop and live on lands they can call their own.

Michael Dudley is the Indigenous and Urban Services Librarian at the University of Winnipeg.



Michael Lewyn's picture

I was tempted to blast away...

with an aggressive rebuttal, but decided instead to just quote Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of Britian:

We are gathered today, not in triumph but in tears.

Nothing that has happened in Gaza needed to happen.

All it took to avoid all the suffering

was for Hamas to end firing rockets on innocent Israeli civilians.

That's all.

And let a voice go out today from here in Trafalgar Square,

And from other gatherings today in Manchester, Paris and Washington -

as it has gone out from Israel since the day it was born, 60 years ago:

We want peace

Israel wants peace.

We who love Israel want peace.

No to terror -- yes to peace

Let there be an end to bloodshed and hate.

Let there be peace.

We say to those who criticise Israel:

You want Palestinian children to grow up with hope.

So do we

You want Palestinians to be able to live in dignity.

So do we

You want Palestinian parents to have work, income, and a life for their families.

So do we

When a great British Zionist, the late Dr David Baum,

President of the Royal College of Paediatrics,

a man who lived in Bristol but asked to be buried, as he was, in Israel, in Rosh Pinah, sought to give expression to his hopes for Israel,

he created a state-of-the-art child care facility.

Where? In Gaza.

He died on a sponsored cycle ride raising money

for paediatric facilities in Gaza.

When one of the finest young men of our community, Yoni Jesner, was killed in a suicide attack on Tel Aviv bus, his family donated his organs to save life, one of whom was a seven-year-old Palestinian girl

Yasmin Abu Ramila

who had been waiting two years for a transplant.

We care about the Palestinian future.

We care for Palestinian children.

We care about life.

And that is why we say to Hamas, who for years, day after day, have been endangering the lives of innocent people:

Stop killing the Palestinian future.

In 2005 Israel withdrew from Gaza.

It said to the people of Gaza: the land is yours.

The factories, the farms, the buildings our people built are yours.

The aid you seek in building an economy is yours.

That is when terror should have stopped.

Instead that is when the current wave of terror began.

The living nightmare for the people of Sderot and Ashdod and Ashkelon.

A ceaseless rain of rockets injuring and killing young and old,

the vulnerable, the innocent, who wanted nothing except peace.

There are young children in Sderot who have only known a life of living in bomb shelters.

Who can live like that?

When Jews built the land and state of Israel

The land where our ancestors lived for 4000 years,

They didn't want to fight with their neighbours.

They didn't want to spend a lifetime fighting war and fearing terror.

All they wanted to do was live.

And so we ask Hamas, and Hizbollah, and the countries that give them aid and arms,

Why do you want Israel to die?

Stop wanting Israel to die.

Start wanting your children to live.

There is one question that cries out for an answer.

Why, Hamas, do you hold in such contempt not just Israeli lives but Palestinian lives.

Why do you fire rockets from schools, store arms in hospitals, surround yourself with human shields?

Why have you consistently acted so as to maximise the death of innocent Palestinians?

In the words of Colonel Richard Kemp, reported in today's Sunday Times:

Senior military adviser to the British cabinet,

'Hamas deploys suicide attackers including women and children,

And rigs up schools and houses with booby trap explosives.

Virtually every aspect of its operations is illegal under international humanitarian law.

The Palestinian future will begin

The minute Hamas stops firing rockets on innocent Israelis.

The minute they try to stop killing the people whom they see as enemies but who want to live as friends.

The minute they stop endangering the Palestinian people by pursuing a policy that is blighting the Palestinian future.

Just say three words:

Yes to peace.

And a day will come when Israelis and Palestinians

Jews Muslims and Christians

The people of Sderot and the people of Gaza

Will live together in peace

No longer fighting one another

But helping one another to live in freedom and dignity.

That day will come.

It could be a hundred years away

Or it could be today.

It's up to Hamas and the countries that give it arms.

And for the sake of Palestinian children, and Israeli children,

Let it be today.

But in the meanwhile we say,

Beloved G-d

The G-d we worship

The G-d of life who told us to sanctify life

Al Rahman, the G-d of compassion

The G-d of Avraham, Ibrahim, father of our several faiths

Show us the way to live your way.

The way of Salaam,

The way of Shalom.
The way of Peace.

Michael Dudley's picture

Let There be Peace...

Michael --
Thank you -- that is indeed a powerful speech, with some beautiful sentiment. However Rabbi Sacks -- like many commentators -- keep restricting the focus to Hamas rocket fire, without making mention of the strangling of Gaza through more than two years of a punishing blockade that has also been condemned as a violation of international law. This horror did not start with the indiscriminate targeting of Israel's cities but has been growing for a long time.

What is important now is not who is right or wrong, or where those wrongs began, but what the outcome of this bloodshed is going to be. With every dead Palestinian civilian, Israel is gaining new enemies and facing growing international outrage. Most analysts also agree that Hamas' power will only grow -- not in spite of the ferocity of the attack but because of it. As Uri Avnery wrote this past week in his op-ed, "Israel Is Losing This War,"

"Not only is Israel unable to win the war, Hamas cannot lose it. Even if the Israeli army were to succeed in killing every Hamas fighter to the last man, even then Hamas would win. The Hamas fighters would be seen as the paragons of the Arab nation, the heroes of the Palestinian people, models for emulation by every youngster in the Arab world."


In other words, Israel is acting against its own interests, against its own long-term security.

Michael Dudley

What the outcome will be

The situation is much more complicated than that. And your assertion that Israel is willing to engage in violence "out of all proportion to any stated justification" misrepresents the complexities. While Israel has built bomb shelters and warning systems to protect its population from random rockets fired at civilians, Hamas deliberately uses civilians as shields. This is why, since you're counting, damage is "disproportionate". Firing rockets to try to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible is collective punishment. Placing civilians on the roofs of military buildings when Israel announces its intention to destroy them is martrying your own population to play to the media.

If Hamas had used its financing and influence to build a "habitable and hospitable" urban infrastructure instead of rockets and tunnels to hide its fighters under civilians, we could have moved towards peaceful coexistance instead of war. Americans, including myself, would support that and contribute to it. And although Israel is not succesful at conveying this to the west (at least not to you), perhaps the Palestinians will now choose peace. I agree with you that planners have a role in developing an understanding and a vision of a better place, and how to get there.

Tim Halbur's picture
Blogger / Alum

Planning Palestine

Bravely and clearly presented, Michael.

In case you missed it, I posted a story back in December about a firm that was hired to create a new master plan for Palestine, with some interesting results:

Ummm, no.

The writer vastly overreaches in his attempt to cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a land use planning problem. Moreover, notwithstanding his call for a pragmatic approach, he betrays his extreme ideological bias throughout. Any attempt to address the conflict in such heavily one-sided terms will ultimately prove to be both unhelpful and irrelevant.

Planning Must Come First


Horrible suffering has been meted out to Gazans and a proper approach to planning could have avoided it.

Planning in today's world comes in after the fact, pale, apologetic, feeble. But as in most things, we should plan before we act.

What is the state of planning in Gaza/Palestine? And what is it in Israel? Instead of fighting on the old premises that get nowhere, Israelis and Palestinians should discuss their respective views of land-use planning.

I view what is happening to the world's ice caps as only one catastrophic symptom of global warming. This is a hellishly serious issue that planning must address. Yet, planning is asleep or contemplating its navel or something.

Based on the urgency of climate change, a global survey is needed of plans or lack of plans as they relate to every square inch of the planet, how they relate or don't relate to each other, and how a global movement to develop integrated global land-use planning (based on negotiating between local plans) can be effected.

But we can begin in a small way. Let's have a survey of land-use plans for Israeli and Palestinian territories and see what these plans prescribe. How they (most likely) are not related to each other, when they do in fact exist.

A US-based movement to attack global warming through planning for sustainability should be applied to the Middle East as soon as possible.

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