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‘Open Gaza’ Seeks to Reconnect Gaza Through Architecture and Imagination

/ 05 Mar 2021

‘Open Gaza’ Seeks to Reconnect Gaza Through Architecture and Imagination

The phrase “Open Gaza” conjures multiple meanings. As the title of a book newly published by Terreform and AUC Press, it suggests accessibility, receptivity, and a future Gaza without blockades. But it’s also a call to action. The final sentence of the book’s introduction, written by co-editors Deen Sharp and the late Michael Sorkin, is the exclamatory, “Open Gaza!”

The Open Gaza project, which stretches beyond the book, was launched by the nonprofit Terreform six and a half years ago, intended as a departure from most academic and policy projects around Gaza.

As Tareq Baconi said during a February 22 webinar that marked the book’s launch, work on Gaza is often “hemmed in by the despair.” This book recognizes and acknowledges Gaza’s cruel isolation, but also interweaves the beautiful, the aspirational, and the fantastic.

The book brings together twenty-one essays by scholars and practitioners around the world, as well as blueprints, lists, and speculative art. The authors come from a variety of disciplines: architecture and planning, the social sciences, environmentalism, and critical theory.

The book launch, hosted by co-editor Deen Sharp, was the start of a series of Open Gaza events taking place online. It featured three of the book’s contributors: Baconi, an author and analyst with the International Crisis Group; Fadi Shayya, an architect and scholar at the University of Manchester; and Helga Tawil-Souri, a filmmaker and scholar at New York University.

All three contributors emphasized that, while the book’s focus is Gaza, it does not look at Gaza in isolation. The collection, they said, also walks a line between recognizing Gaza’s grim realities while not taking them as immutable.

A Specific Kind of Hope

The idea for the Open Gaza project came amidst the 2014 Gaza War, during which hundreds of thousands of Gazans were internally displaced, tens of thousands of homes were damaged, and more than 2,000 Gazans were killed, including 551 children. (See a related article, “For Gaza’s Besieged Universities, Reform Is Low on the Agenda.”)

Yet Sorkin and Sharp did not want the project to be “a compendium of disaster and despair,” as Sharp said during the book’s launch.

To that end, Open Gaza’s subtitle is “Architectures of Hope.” This suggests not a fuzzy optimism about the future, but rather an attempt to thoughtfully design new hope.

“The cover of this book articulates our intent, to both illuminate the Israeli siege and thwart its imposed logic.”

Sharp and Sorkin   In their introduction,

“The cover of this book articulates our intent,” Sharp and Sorkin wrote in their introduction, “to both illuminate the Israeli siege and thwart its imposed logic.” The image shows a member of a parkour group in Gaza doing a backward flip with the sea in the background—another place where Gazans’ contact with the outside world is cut off.

Contributors to Open Gaza detail moments of everyday beauty, such as parkour, an urban sport developed from obstacle-course training. But they have also come up with creative solutions to the area’s challenges. The chapter “Solar Dome,” by Chris Mackey and Rafi Segal, includes a blueprint for a solar-powered Gaza; “Redrawing Gaza,” by Alberto Foyo and Postopia, suggests a new plan for the area’s architecture and agriculture; Helga Tawil-Souri’s “Internet Pigeon Network” proposes a new, environmentally friendly communications network.

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“It sounds a bit nuts,” Tawil-Souri said at the February 22 webinar. “But I did come up with this large-scale network for the entire Gaza Strip … that is as free as possible from forms of Israeli surveillance.”

She said the question of Gaza’s Internet network also raises a number of philosophical questions: “Can one be connected and not dependent? Can you be part of a network and still have sovereignty? And what does that look like?”

Contributors to Open Gaza spoke at a webinar to launch the book in February. Clockwise from top left are: Deen Sharp, co-editor of the book and the event’s host; Tareq Baconi, an analyst with the International Crisis Group; Fadi Shayya, an architect and scholar at the University of Manchester; and Helga Tawil-Souri, a filmmaker and scholar at New York University (Photo: M. Lynx Qualey).
Contributors to Open Gaza spoke at a webinar to launch the book in February. Clockwise from top left are: Deen Sharp, co-editor of the book and the event’s host; Tareq Baconi, an analyst with the International Crisis Group; Fadi Shayya, an architect and scholar at the University of Manchester; and Helga Tawil-Souri, a filmmaker and scholar at New York University (Photo: M. Lynx Qualey).

Tawil-Souri said the process of writing her chapter led her to other questions: How do you take control when systems have become so complicated? How do you reclaim these operations? Although Gaza might not really institute a pigeon network in place of its Israeli-controlled Internet, the questions raised in Tawil-Souri’s chapter are important not only in Gaza, but to occupied populations around the world.

Indeed, panelists suggested that a shared search for solutions is one thing that keeps Gaza connected to the wider world.

Practical and Emotional Connections

Open Gaza contributor Hadeel Assali was originally scheduled to speak on the February 22 panel. Unfortunately, Assali could not attend, as she was in Texas, where a winter storm has shut many residents off from power and water. Assali’s chapter, “Hyperpresent Absence: Suggested Methods,” lays out resources and practical ways that people can connect with in Gaza.

Baconi’s chapter also discusses a form of connection with Gaza that is widely accessible. He came to his topic, he said, after observing that even though Gaza was “increasingly isolated and contained in every possible way,” there was also a “counter-trend that was happening”: other people’s connections with Gazan stories.

“I started reflecting on the emotional connection,” Baconi said. “Gaza can be severed in every way possible, but it can’t be severed emotionally. The inner thoughts that people have about Gaza can’t be surveilled … at least not yet.”

Baconi acknowledged that this emotional frontier is also under threat. Yet, he said, “It’s the most powerful part of how Gaza is still connected to the rest of the world.”

Feasible Ideas, Not Just Critiques

one of the book’s key contributions to the scholarly world is that, while it recognizes limitations on the ground, it also moves “beyond just simply offering a critique of them.”

Helga Tawil-Souri   A media scholar and documentary filmmaker

Tawil-Souri, a media scholar and documentary filmmaker, said that one of the book’s key contributions to the scholarly world is that, while it recognizes limitations on the ground, it also moves “beyond just simply offering a critique of them.”

Baconi, who works in the policy world, said that policymakers often complain that solutions that come from academia are “totally infeasible, ivory tower.” But he said the ways in which Open Gaza brings together academics, practitioners, and people on the ground to create possible solutions means “policymakers might be more able to hear and integrate” these ideas.

The project is also important, Shayya said, simply because it brings together contributors from so many different disciplines. While he cautioned that the fruits of the book need “to be seen over a longer period of time, rather than expecting immediate solutions,” he was hopeful that it could lead to raising awareness, which could in turn lead to greater engagement, and from there to more possible connections.

Shayya, along with the nonprofit Visualizing Palestine, wrote the chapter “Re-Ecologizing Gaza.” The occupation, he said, “de-ecologizes” Gaza by cutting natural flows over land, sea, and air. Ultimately, he said, the Open Gaza project is “not about developing Gaza on its own,” nor about seeking justice only for Gaza, but about “reconnecting it to the environment all around.”

The next Open Gaza event is scheduled for March 18. At it, Sharp and Salem Al Qudwa will discuss affordable housing schemes in Gaza and Al Qudwa’s chapter, “Architecture of the Everyday.”




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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام