Factual errors behind the anti-Israel vote by Royal Institute of British Architects

CiF Watch recently posted about a motion passed by the Royal Institute of British Architects calling on the International Union of Architects (UIA) “to suspend the Israeli Association of United Architects’ (IAUA) membership until it acts to resist projects on illegally-occupied land and observes international law and accords”.

The decision was based partly on a presentation given to the group by an anti-Israel activist (and Guardian contributor) named Abe Hayeem.

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Here is a response to some of the glaring factual errors which led to the RIBA anti-Israel vote.

1. RIBA claimed that their vote was based partly on Union of International Architects (UIA) Resolution 13 which states that Israeli projects in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) were ‘illegal’, as well as the Resolution’s claim  that “The UIA Council condemns all action contravening the fourth Geneva Convention”.  

First, the claim that “Israeli projects in the West Bank are “illegal” – despite what the UK media claims – represents a highly disputed legal contention.  Additionally, almost all Israeli settlements are in ‘Area C’ of the West Bank, and is under full Israeli military and administrative control per the Oslo II Accord (1995) – an agreement, signed by the Palestinians, which contains no prohibition against settlement construction.

Also, Israel has not contravened the Geneva Convention.  Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention states

“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

No court of law has ever found Israel to be in breach of this Article. The Article was written after WW2, when German and Russia forcibly transferred populations. Israel has not forced anyone to move into the West Bank, nor has it displaced local populations. In fact, the Palestinian population within the territories has increased dramatically

The International court of Justice did find in 2004 that Israel was in breach of the Geneva Convention, but this was in an advisory opinion which is not legally binding.

2. Abe Hayeem’s presentation to the RIBA Council included a characterization of the Prawer Plan for resettlement of the Israeli Bedouin as “ethnic cleansing”.

However, the plan does not even remotely resemble “ethnic cleansing”. It is a plan to give the Bedouin citizens of Israel more services and to reduce the economic and social gaps between the Bedouin and the rest of Israeli society. Many Bedouin supported the Plan (which has been shelved) under which a minority, some 20,000 to 30,000 Bedouin, would have been relocated (a few kilometers from their current place of residence) to recognised Bedouin towns, in order to be connected to Israel’s utility networks and have better access to state services.  Further, most Bedouin would have their current land legalized.  The plan also stipulated that those forced to move would receive financial compensation as well as new plots of land.

3. Hayeem also told the RIBA Council the following:

“Palestinian land has become so fragmented that a viable Palestinian State has been rendered impossible. The map of Palestine, for the indigenous Palestinians, has shrunk from being 97% of the land in 1917 to 44% in 1947 to 22% in 1967.”

First, the “map” he’s referring to has been exposed as a lie.

Further, it is not true that a “viable Palestinian state has become impossible”. Under the final status negotiations, Israel accepts that some settlements will need to be evacuated in the event of a peace agreement. And Hayeem’s figures (97% to 22%) ignore the impact of the immigration of Jews to Palestine in 1917-1947 as well as the 1948 War of Independence which was started by the Arabs but in which the new State of Israel successfully defended itself. In 1917 Israel did not exist! – hence the 97% figure.

4. Hayeem’s presentation to the RIBA Council accused Israel of pursuing “apartheid policies”.

This is an egregious falsehood, as you can see by a thorough refutation of the smear published by BICOM.  (See also Jonathan Hoffman’s critique of Ben White’s book.)

Finally, it’s worth noting that in April 2000 Nelson Mandela came to London and spoke to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He spoke of the need for Israel to leave the lands taken in 1967 but not unless there was first recognition of the Jewish State by the Arab States:

I added a second position, that Israel cannot be expected to withdraw from the Arab territories which she legitimately conquered when the Arab States wanted to whip her out of the map of the world.”

No mention of ‘apartheid’ in Israel – from a man who spent 27 years as a prisoner of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

(Editor’s Note: To assist those in the UK who oppose the boycott, please sign this petition, and consider contacting the president of the Union of International Architects (UIA), Prof. Albert Dubler, and ask that the group reject RIBA’s endorsement of a policy of racist exclusion targeting Israelis.)

uia@uia-architectes.org (UIA email)

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