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© 2009-2019 by ISPA

The NRA Project in East Jerusalem by Yehotal Shapira

The suggested paper focuses on the Jewish messianic architecture of the national-religious associations (NRAs) in East Jerusalem, which constitutes a ‘Judaisation’ project, an attempt since the 1970s to ‘de-Arabise’ East Jerusalem (Masalha, 2014: 141; Zecharia,1994; Salai, 1992). The declared aim of the settlers is to generate physical facts on the ground in order to maintain a Jewish presence that will forestall any future division of the city as an outcome of a permanent political agreement. This project is manifested through informal architecture (an act which is called “house redemption”) by means of the purchase and repopulation by Jewish families of houses and living spaces that were inhabited by Palestinian families (some of which were also inhabited by Jews from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century and abandoned due to conflicts). The NRA project has also taken the form of the establishment of parks (City of David archaeological park in 1996) and public compounds designed by prominent Israeli architects who are typically involved in prominent national projects. These are public architectural projects of the most important and large scale that are being built today in Jerusalem, some of which were transferred to the management of state institutions.


Concerning the construction in East Jerusalem, negotiations are conducted within a conflict that is not only between religions, with the Palestinians or international public opinions and law, but rather a conflict within Israeli society over its identity, values and the foundation on which the state is based. Considering the contemporary context, the proposed article suggests focusing on questions of how basic values of the state undergo a fundamental change, and whether and how architecture and the built environment play a role in this process. In other words, this means whether and how such deceive messianic ideology is manifested. The article suggests that, in order to understand architectural involvement in contemporary politics, it is necessary to develop interdisciplinary methodologies and methods of thought that enable us to consider questions regarding building’s service to political ideologies in socio-political contexts which go through a fundamental change in the basis of democratic politics as we know them.


The NRA project is analyzed using a non-structural approach, developed as a mutation of François Laruelle’s non-philosophy (2013), to illuminate how architectural elements are manifested as an intelligible complex mechanism to legitimize and service NRA political ideologies. Laruelle offers the notion of ‘radical immanence’, claiming that ‘legislating for themselves independently of philosophical authority [disciplines such as science, arts, architecture] cannot but rise up against such a self-assured philosophy’ ([1995] 2012: 40). Through the non-structural approach, I offer to examine how architecture is created beyond discipline [philosophical or architectural] categorization. It does not degrade or erase architecture in the sense of an autonomous practice (Aureli, 2008); rather, it enables an examination of architectural reality in the built environment as it is created. It enables us to focus on the significance of the affiliations between different creators and different modes of the creation of architecture. Its aim is to develop methodologies which decipher the contemporary involvement of architecture in politics in order to enable architects to analyze and to reach informed decisions on how to intervene in a site.


In East Jerusalem, the NRAs utilize architectural expertise, informal guerrilla-like architecture and spatial construction acts in order to retain control of territory. This unique decisiveness of NRA architecture combines ‘Architecture’ (with a capital A) – professional architecture – with ‘architecture’ (lowercase a) – vernacular and informal architecture – as a method of manifesting the NRAs’ presence through the creation of social legitimacy, while obscuring their messianic labels.


Moreover, the Judaisation of East Jerusalem involves the use of a wide variety of means, some of which relate to certain aspects of guerrilla tactics (Kollek, 1994: 78), and political architecture without architects, such as occupancy, renovation, reorganization of space, opening/closing of areas of given space, forceful expulsion of the former residents from their homes, while others belong to architecture created through established professional hi-tech innovative practice. The participation of the work of these architects lends legitimacy and a normative appearance to this project, as well as a semblance of the embodiment of Israeli, Zionist and nationalistic elements aimed at placing the project within a seeming consensus and beyond political controversy (Hasson, 2015q; Rapaport, 2005; 2009). The non-structural approach illuminates the dual contradictory model’s use of various different architecture which enables us to understand the mechanism of maintaining a particular ideological belief system and to decipher its decisive mechanism. However, this dual contradictory model’s real danger lies in the threat to the ability to assess what is meant by the rule of law and the moral respect of minorities in a democratic state.

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