Gerard Heumann

Connecting the dots

Judea and Samaria have been under Israel’s custody for 56 years during which time Israeli settlements, Arab villages and cities have become inextricably intertwined. Isn’t it time to think clearly and bring this critically important area to order?

The massive physical barrier built along the Green Line, whose alignment was set by statesman and generals and not by planning professionals, between Israel and Judea and Samaria, negates any chance for continuity – a primary planning principle. Were the connections made between Israel and the West Bank, many Israeli settlements such as Alfei Menashe on the western edge of the central West Bank would be just minutes away from the heart of the country – Netanya, Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.

As can be seen in maps of the Oslo Accords, some 144 Israeli settlements and cities with a population today of half a million and the Arab cities and villages, resemble an extremely complex and difficult puzzle. Some settlements, Beit El for example, are situated on biblical sites, others, out of security considerations, on hilltops.

Building permit approval in the West Bank has never been easy to say the least, the tiniest changes requiring the preparation of new documents. Architects and builders have had to deal with no fewer than five bureaucratic bodies. Aware of this gargantuan, uncoordinated and inept bureaucracy, committed and gifted architects have long ago decided on keeping their distance. The predictable consequences; exceedingly poor design characterized by severe over-repetition, copy-paste – photocopy building, spread out rather than compact with precious little thought for the future. Needless to say, the great majority of buildings built lack any aesthetic sensibility. Some settlements resemble army barracks more than anything else.

Recently approved for construction by the government are an additional 4,500 home units, slated mainly to expand existing settlements and house some 20,000 inhabitants. Building permit approval is to be simplified, the West Bank coming under Israeli law. But here our politicians are once again dealing mainly with what is already on the ground. When will we ever get to the core of the problem, bringing a semblance of order to this disarray, the result of innumerable isolated decisions taken over the years?

Proposed here is the preparation of a new strategic, staged, and comprehensive long – range development master plan, flexible enough to respond to events on the ground in real time with the necessary military check points. Land swaps can help make planning sense. In the plan’s final stages building and infrastructure would be tied to Israel proper. Given the complexity of the problem, high talent will clearly be required.

The standard excuse for the government’s inaction to date: awaiting a political agreement. But the West Bank’s proper planning and development is not a matter of Right or Left. Preserving the present situation, unplanned and undeveloped, incapacitates both sides of the conflict. “Managing” the conflict, lacking any strategic vision, shuts out any chance for the prosperity and success of both parties. The time has come to examine in depth comprehensive and long-term planning and development alternatives.

Gerard Heumann – Architect and Town Planner, Jerusalem

About the Author
Gerard Heumann is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.