By draftworks* architects
You can be a citizen or you can be stateless, but it is difficult to imagine being a border (1)
My name is Rajiya. My father is Muhammad, like the great Prophet, and my mother is Michal, like the legendary daughter of Saul, the ancient King of Israel. It is odd; it would have seemed odd ten years ago, to think of a Muhammad and a Michal, married. It would once have been odd as well to think of a Rajiya, a ‘hopefull’ (2) living in this world, a world that for the last forty years has suffered war, conflict and tragedy, as most people believe, the joys of careless life sunken into oblivion. My homeland has been an island in this archipelago of conflict.
The year is 2050 and I am 18 years old. I am among the few that have survived the conflict and among the even fewer to have been born after the Act of Segregation. (3) For as long as I can remember, I have only known war. My homeland was once known as the Space of Confinement; for me though, and for all of us who have lived all our lives here, this has always been the space in between two enemies, a space dividing two states, an alternative to that war. I suppose, and this is what I have heard, that for a lot of people in many countries we did not, until recently, exist at all. For the people that lead the conflict during the Age of Confinement, we were nothing more than rats. Rats living in the gap left by their conflict, a space empty of any interest for the two sides beyond its function as a buffer zone for the conflict. For us though, and for a lot of Israelis and Palestinians, this space was a way of moving goods and people, a means of communication with families and friends. In a peculiar way, as a transition zone between two distinct sides, it meant hope.
This New Year’s Eve, we will celebrate our new citizenship. It is already the third year after the Declaration of Independence and for the first time I will formally be a citizen of the ‘Third State’ (4) of Zidonia.
Yes, we are now formally a state, one that was formed out of conflict. With no borders to define a territory, our homeland is itself a border. Does this sound strange to you?
We are used to living on a border; we are used to being a border.
It has taken a lot of time and effort for the International Community to understand our peculiar kind of citizenship, our incredible kind of state. A state that is not sovereign over its people or its land, as the states of our Palestinian and Israeli neighbours are. Our state exists in the equilibrium created by the convergence of differences and is fostered by the accumulation of these differences. If the singularities defined by our border zone were to merge into a homogeneous entity, our homeland would cease to exist.
The history of these last forty years remains to be written. The historian who will undertake this task, who will write the Story of the New Zidonians, will have to show the world how this state was born out of the ruins left behind by division, war and destruction. Until now, the only knowledge we have had has come from the memories of our elders. From their stories, we heard how everything started some forty years ago. For the last couple of years, I have tried to collect as many of these stories I could. This is what I got when I put them together:
I was still waiting to be born in 2010, when people concluded that everything had already been said and done about the old Israeli-Palestine conflict. Every summit had been held, every negotiator had played his part and every threat had been uttered. A solution to the conflict was far from evident and the people were unwilling to compromise. Fanaticism was increasing on both sides. The idea of the Green Line was then dug out, an idea born after the 1967 warbetween Israel and Jordan. The land would be divided and two distinct, segregated, sovereign states would be created. Israel and Palestine. Every attempt to come to a mutually agreed upon solution would be abandoned and the two states would then be free to turn their backs on a common future. The idea of one state, inhabiting until then the fantasies of progressive Palestinians and Israelis, with two communities coexisting in one entity, was finally abandoned. The construction of a border commenced along the Green Line.
In 2011 a lot of the effort and resources of Israel and Palestine were put into the construction of that border. During this period of history, the activity of building the border, which engaged most of the effort, labour and interest of the two sides, really acted as a mode of coexistence and interaction between the two enemies. One would say that it initiated even a mode of unconscious cooperation. An essential mode of cooperation since there had to be a lot of effort invested in meetings, talks, arguments over the design and execution of the operation. A mutual agreement to ignore the existence of the other in the building of a dividing wall was really the first opportunity for the two enemies to work together towards the accomplishment of a task: the building of the dividing wall. At times during this period, this engagement in the task even reached the status of enthusiasm towards a common purpose.
The outline of the Green Zone, though, was not easyto define clearly. And the design of the border challenged and endangered the construction of the wall on a number of occasions. Differences in the interpretation of the outline by the two sides and the fact that a lot of fragments of one community existed within the hostile land of the other in the end made that effort unbearable once again.
Over the next five years, a lot of different ways of constructing the border were tested: bars in parallel or crossing, walls along the dividing line or crossing it, fences surrounding fragments of land or land surrounding the fences. Impenetrable or porous borders, transparent or opaque screens, projected along the dividing line the actual confusion of the border-makers.
In the meantime the two states, living separately, started to develop independently and to experience the construction of their own lives in the absence of each other. Only marginal coexistence in the process of building the border justified interaction or shared interest between the two. From time to time a new politician in office or an enthusiastic mayor would spark the interest of the two sides in restarting the building work once more, only to lead to a new argument.
By the year 2017 the conflict between the two sides resulted in the building of two distinct borders as parallel lines of separation. This idea and the way it was executed in total confusion and with a lack of communication between the two sides, along with the leftovers of the six previous years of work, resulted in a very complicated structure that was hard to understand as a clear dividing line. Much more than a simple line, in its complexity this entity seemed to bear new possible dimensions, to hold latent spaces of as yet unknown size.
In the meantime, the new ‘lines’ created a quite wide area, a stripe enclosed between two borders. The Green Line became a zone of transition, allowing an illegal movement of people, goods and services between the two sides. A black market developed in this zone that created its own rules and spatial characteristics. The people who inhabited this peculiar space lived peculiar lives in a peculiar kind of social structure. We were a varied crowd, consisting of those people — Palestinians and Israelis — that were engaged in the construction of the two-sided building of the border, and their families. Clandestine people, people who couldn’t find a place to fit in either of the sovereign states, also joined them.
In school we learned that this kind of people, those who inhabited our community and found a friendly environment there from the beginning, were once called emigrants and — how odd! — they usually wanted to cross a border and move from one side to the other looking for a better life. The emigrants that I knew, though, didn’t want to cross the border, but rather to inhabit it. In neither of the two sides would they have managed to find a better life.
Then, in the year 2022, the time came when the two existing sides felt that illegal transitions through the the no-man’s land that had by then become known as the Green Zone were a threat to their legal economy. The actual threat, however, was to their distinct, separate identities.
They both turned their backs on the Green Zone, interrupted every activity in or around it and — in their last act of cooperation — they both signed the agreement of the Act of Segregation. The Zone would be confined violently, cutting any flow through its territory and disregarding any people that inhabited it or happened to be inside during the implementation of the new rule.
In the morning of the 23rd of September of the year 2022, at 3.00 am when the Act was officially passed, anyone that insisted in staying in the Zone, either by choice, or because they had no alternative, was trapped in it.
My parents were among the people trapped within that day. They met and fell in love in what people describe as a trap. Children were born; I was born, in that trap. They say that I have not really known what the elders describe as freedom. They probably mean moving freely in a Free State, going wherever you want and doing whatever you please. I wonder though, whether what they used to know was really freedom? Could that be the old men’s nostalgia for their youth? Because I think that moving in a land bound by the borders of an intolerant State and doing things permitted by Laws that favour hate can’t be in fact so liberating. It is rather like an animal living in a cage. To me that sounds like a trap.
It was this peculiar feeling of potentiality and the need to multiply possibilities in this limited environment of destruction that lead my people to take advantage of it. They started to use fragments and pieces of the wall to make homes and spaces for hanging out; they started to dig underground halls, passages to communicate and structures to hover upon. They started to create communities.
Sometimes spaces were totally emptied and other times they were stuffed with objects.
Everything was reversible and everything was temporary. As our lives were temporary and reversible. A public space, for example, one day would be a place for people to meet and talk, while the very next day it could be flooded and become a water deposit. Sometimes a favourite space would be left and taken over by nature; people wouldn’t mind because they didn’t own anything. And time didn’t matter; no one could actually predict what their needs would be the very next day. What was missing from our use of space was what the elders call “function.” As there were no churches, hospitals, schools or parliaments, everything could be used as churches, hospitals, schools or parliaments, changing from one day to the next.
Sometimes a public space would lay over a cluster of houses. However, it was impossible to tell which parts were public and which private. A public market could sometimes be so intimate that it felt like it could almost be the kitchen of a house. There were places for people to join other people and places where people could be alone. However, and in every case, communication never ceased: it was the scale of communication that mattered. The elders say that all these spaces reminded them of the endless hot summer evenings of their childhoods. (Nostalgia again!)
It may seem very odd to you that I started by describing times of despair, war and tragedy and concluded my story with joy, play and freedom. I am not crazy though! I hear that people in other states pursue the second and try to avoid the first. For me, though, this is not the case. I can neither clearly pursue nor just avoid things (technically I am trapped!). So, I have learned to live with every difference and every crazy transformation of things in time and space.
And this is the tradition that our Space and Time Engineers try to accomplish in our new homeland, the New Zidonia: That all differences will coexist in time and space and that these differences will cultivate one another. They call it “entropy,” and I have known it since I was born. I can’t fully explain it, but I like it.
And I really don’t find it strange that people from our two neighbouring states and other places in the world have started to come to our homeland and stay here and enjoy this freedom that has not yet been written into history.
(1) André Green, La Folie Privée: psychanalyse des cas-limites. Paris: Gallimard, 1990: 107, cited in Étienne Balibar, “What is a Border?” in Politics and the Other Scene. Trans. Christine Jones, James Swenson and Chris Turner. London: Verso, 2002: 75.
(2) Rajiya means hopeful in Arabic.
(3) The Act of Segregation was signed in 2022 between Israel and Palestine to define the border between the two sovereign states and to close off the buffer zone and confine whoever lived within.
(4) Such a condominium would form a ‘third state’ defined as the territory of cooperation between Israel and Palestine. Michael Sorkin, ‘Introduction’ in Against the Wall. Edited by Michael Sorkin. New York: The New Press, 2005: xv The ‘Third State’ of Zidonia is a Wedge State, recognized in 2047 as an Independent State. Its population consists of 43 % Israelis and 41 % Palestinians. The remaining 16 % is of unidentified nationality, a mix of Muslims, Christians, Roms and other nomads.
draftworks* architects was founded in London in 2006 by Christiana Ioannou and Christos Papastergiou and is currently based in Nicosia and Athens. The team crafts, documents and communicates new ideas by text, drawings and model making, while sharing interests between public competitions, private commissions, exhibitions, design research and academic teaching. (www.draftworks.eu)