jeudi 26 août 2010

# Urbicide

picture: Gaza after the 2008 Israeli Siege. Getty Images

Here is a small text I recently wrote about the notion of urbicide. It includes a digest of Eyal Weizman's lecture about Forrensic Architecture I had the chance to attend both in New York and in Bethlehem.

Despite of the fact that this strategy has been always occurring in history, the notion of urbicide has been invented by the former Mayor of Belgrade, Bogdan Bogdanovic after the wars of Yugoslavia between 1992 and 1996. One could define it as the act of destroying buildings and cities that do not constitute any military targets. Urbicide is rather an act that is supposed to affect the very life of the population in such a way that war cannot be ignored by anybody.

This technique is being used in symmetrical wars like the Second World War and the Blitz in England on the one hand and the systematic bombing of German cities by the allies on the other hand. However, urbicide is also fully present in asymmetrical wars with the case of guerilla AND governmental terrorism. The most famous example in the Western World is of course the terrorist attacks against New York’s World Trade Center in 2001 for its sudden and unexpected violence that was both perceived literally and symbolically; however, governmental armies also use this strategy to actively oppress a given population. That was thus the case of the Serbian army over the Bosnian population during the same wars evoked above, and that also constitutes the daily life of the Palestinian population who has to suffer from the Israel Defense Forces’ domination.
One should not forget that buildings and cities are the most tangible element of a civilization since even the written heritage that composes a nation’s archive necessities an architectural container. It thus happened that a civilization fully disappeared from History after having suffered from a combined genocide and urbicide.

In fact, urbicide has been pretty much developed as long as war exists. However, one can probably affirm that its surgical application and its insertion within a global warfare strategy of a highly sophisticated army are merely recent. Its implementation by the Israeli Defense Forces, for example, is very illustrative. We already saw in the last chapter how the Israeli soldiers were sometimes destroying Palestinian homes in order to re-compose the battle field, but there are plenty of other applications of urbicide in this context. The way Arab’s villages in Israel have been fully destroyed after 1949 is highly symptomatic of this refusal from the Israeli authorities to deny the Palestinian existence in the past, in the present and of course in the future. Nevertheless, this last example remains absolutely legal from Israel who is free to develop its own land as it wishes. On the contrary, the systematic destruction of civilian Palestinian buildings and homes in the Gaza strip can be absolutely considered as a war crime according to the International Law of conflicts.
In that matter, Eyal Weizman observes the birth of a new legal discipline which places buildings as the main object of the judicial investigation. Weizman is then interested in the notion of “forensic architecture” that see war and building experts intervening in order to attempt to determine the technical means of destruction of architecture by external agents. In this regard, he focuses his study on the person of Marc Garlasco.
Garlasco was one of the Pentagon experts in “attacks design” and during the beginning of the second Gulf War in 2003, he was named “Chief of High Value Targeting”. His task consisted in the organization –Weizman uses the word ‘design’ in order to accentuate the architectural aspect of the job- of various attacks of buildings in order to assassinate several members of the Hussein administration or family. The fact that Garlasco was allowed to include the death of up to twenty nine civilians in each attacks is illustrative of the way Western armies are dealing with both military pragmatism and political communication. Just as much as there are processes and software of positive design of architecture, it also exists some for the accomplishment of a negative architecture; an architecture that has been transformed by the mean of destruction. The study of this transformation is far more objective than the chaotic aspect of such an architecture could let suppose. That is how, from his job in the Pentagon, Garlasco ended up working for the organization Human Rights Watch as an expert of what Weizman now calls forensic architecture. Before being fired by this same organization for the collection he owned of military Nazi objects, Garlasco studied the evidences of the 2008 Gaza siege. His conclusions proving that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by the Israeli Army during this operation, were then confirmed by the United Nations’ representative, Richard Goldstone in his report.

Urbicide had thus become a scientific surgical military operation on architecture that allow to either simply kills a civilian population by the mean of architecture, or practically and symbolically destroys the organizational and cultural aspects of the city in a biopolitical attack on a population.

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