The 2023 Israel-Hamas war is part of an ongoing complex situation in the heart of the Middle East with origins dating back to the mid-20th century. Key points of tension regarding borders, settlements, and authority regarding the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem contribute to continuous territorial disagreements that involve cycles of hostilities, intermittent periods of violence, and ongoing efforts towards ceasefires and negotiations.
The current escalated Israel-Hamas war began in October 2023. The war is primarily located in Gaza and the West Bank, with its impact extending into Syria and Lebanon, further complicating the already complex and long-standing battle. Various international mediators and peacekeepers from the UN, USA and regional powers assist with negotiations and agreement efforts. In contrast, other international organisations and NGOs provide aid and support to the affected populations through the challenges and threats of attacks on aid centres.
With an international and impartial perspective, the architectural environments affected by the complicated Israel-Hamas war will be explored to understand how conflicts and wars shape architecture. An informative, unbiased view will be used to discuss architectural sites, with a responsibility to recognise their cultural and historical significance, ensuring fairness and equality, regardless of their affiliations in the war.
Understanding how the Israel-Hamas war affects the architectural environment is important, as it embodies the cultural and historical characteristics of the region. The built environment bears the scars and innovations of this continuing struggle. Providing a unique perspective on how conflict shapes architecture offers insights into the humanitarian and cultural consequences of the Israel-Hamas war.
Cultural Impact of the Israel-Hamas War on the Architectural Environment
With the location of the Israel-Hamas war near the origin points of the world’s three largest religions, the region is rich in sites of historical significance. As the war continues across this region, the impact on the architectural sites will vary according to intensity and duration, stray arms, military operations, or deliberate targeting of strategic locations, which can harm these sites. As these sites represent the architectural heritage of the region and the cultural and historical memory of its people, their preservation and protection are necessary during and after the war.
Damage to Cultural Heritage
The Israel-Hamas war has already damaged and destroyed numerous architectural and historical sites. In Gaza City, the Al Ahli Hospital, one of the oldest operating hospitals, founded in 1882, was hit in an air strike and an explosion, killing hundreds of innocent people. A few days later, the oldest active church in Gaza, the Church of Saint Porphyrius, was hit in another airstrike. The church complex, built in 425 AD, surrounded by crusader-era walls, was sheltering hundreds of civilians taking refuge from the war.
Additionally, the war has reverberated through Jerusalem, affecting historical and religious sites. The West Bank’s architectural environment has also been affected. Raids are targeted at Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Nablus, and Ramallah refugee camps and residential areas.
With the region encompassing many religious sites of great significance to various faiths, damaging these sites could have profound religious and cultural implications long after the war, impacting interfaith relations.
Cultural Artefacts, Documentation, and Identity
The Israel-Hamas war’s deliberate destruction of architectural landmarks, museums and cultural institutions threatens the loss of historical identity, building techniques, design principles, and architectural styles that will have a lasting influence on a region’s cultural heritage.
The invaluable artefacts, records and documentation related to these historical sites and heritage are crucial for understanding and preserving the architectural and historical heritage of the region. The Israel-Hamas war increases the risk of theft and destruction of the historical narrative’s valuable, unique cultural artefacts, including sculptures, paintings, manuscripts, and archaeological finds.
Protecting and conserving these elements of the cultural identity of the local populations of the region is fundamental for maintaining the cultural identity of the region’s communities and its cultural memory and heritage.
Humanitarian Consequences for the Architectural Environment
The Israel-Hamas war has devastated civilian infrastructure, destroying buildings, infrastructure, and public spaces.
Local populations have been displaced, with residential areas particularly hard-hit, damaging or reducing homes to rubble, leading to a housing crisis. Healthcare facilities have been disrupted, challenging access to medical care, while damage to industrial facilities poses environmental concerns. Additionally, educational institutions and media and communication infrastructure have deteriorated, affecting the flow of information. Historical sites will experience neglect, looting, or deterioration of these sites due to the absence of caretakers being displaced.
The humanitarian consequences for the architectural environment are extreme, extending beyond mere structural worries. The Israel-Hamas war has destroyed and damaged architectural environments, forcing local communities to evacuate and creating the need for essential humanitarian services. Losing these architectural elements and environments with sentimental, cultural, and historical significance can psychologically and emotionally impact the affected residents.
Temporary Architectural Solutions in the Israel-Hamas War
In response to the crisis in the Israel-Hamas war, various temporary architectural solutions have emerged.
Field hospitals and temporary medical infrastructure are crucial for addressing the healthcare crisis in active war regions. Often mobile and modular, field hospitals are set up near conflict zones to rapidly provide medical care to the injured, especially in areas with high casualties. Sanitation, infection control, and logistics are accounted for while ensuring operating rooms, wards, and triage areas are laid out efficiently.
During the Israel-Hamas war, displaced populations require immediate shelter. Short-term emergency shelters providing basic protection from the elements can include repurposed structures like schools or community centres, prefabricated housing, or tents. Emergency shelters are simple and functional, focusing on rapid assembly and incorporating cost-effective and durable materials.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps
IDP camps are set up to accommodate people who involuntarily leave their homes but remain within their own country.
These camps involve planning for larger populations requiring more sustainable infrastructure than emergency shelters. Layout, access, and long-term usage are considered when designing temporary housing, sanitation facilities, water supply, and access to healthcare for IDP camps.
Refugee camps have emerged as a response to the substantial displacement caused by the Israel-Hamas war. While refugee camps are like IDP camps, they are established for those crossing international borders and seeking asylum in another country. They provide a temporary home for refugees.
These temporary settlements face architectural challenges of providing shelter and basic services to a displaced population, often in difficult conditions. The architectural environment within these camps plays a crucial role in the living conditions and well-being of the displaced. Compliance with international standards is necessary and often involves collaboration with various aid organisations. Architects should focus on providing adequate shelter, food distribution, education, and medical facilities.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have camps and bases throughout Israel, including the Gaza Strip. These camps serve as operational bases, established for the housing, training, and logistical support of armed forces during conflicts. These military camps require security and strategic planning of barracks, command centres, storage facilities, and infrastructure like roads and utilities to support military operations.
In contrast, as a non-state actor, Hamas does not have traditional military camps like a national army. Instead, they have a network of tunnels, buildings, and hidden facilities for military and civilian purposes throughout the Gaza Strip.
Architectural Environment Protection Initiatives
Local and international organisations, including UNESCO, ICOMOS, and humanitarian groups, may apply architectural environment protection initiatives during the Israel-Hamas war. These measures can include critical funding, expertise, and on-the-ground support for preservation initiatives such as covering artefacts to protect them, reinforcing structural elements to withstand potential damage, and securing sites against looting and vandalism, even in the face of ongoing hostilities. Their involvement is indispensable in moderating the possible damage caused by the Israel-Hamas war. International support will be crucial for restoration and rebuilding efforts post-Israel-Hamas war.
Israel-Hamas war-related security measures, such as curfews, checkpoints, and closed borders, significantly limit access to historical sites. Researchers, historians, and archaeologists find their fieldwork hampered by these restrictions, making it challenging to document and study these sites.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
Preserving cultural heritage has become an architectural and historical concern and a legal and ethical necessity during this Israel-Hamas war. The war is disrupting academic and research activities related to architectural and historical sites due to safety concerns, forcing scholars and researchers to pause ongoing projects and fieldwork.
Documentation and Digital Preservation
The loss of irreplaceable structures is highly probable; therefore, an urgency to document and assess the extent of the damage plays an important role in future preservation and rebuilding efforts. 3D scanning, photogrammetry, and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) mapping can create highly detailed records. Documenting, recording and digitally preserving these sites helps keep the landmarks alive by safeguarding the cultural heritage digitally while also allowing the sharing of cultural knowledge globally.
Many historical sites in the region hold UNESCO World Heritage status. Palestine has four sites on the World Heritage List, all in the West Bank territory. Palestine also has 13 sites on the World Heritage List tentative list. Israel has nine sites, all of which are cultural, on the World Heritage List and 18 sites of natural and mixed heritage on the tentative list.
UNESCO World Heritage sites in the region may face the risk of removal from the prestigious list or inclusion on the list of World Heritage in Danger due to damage during the Israel-Hamas war. The implications reach beyond a loss of international recognition; it also affects funding opportunities for preservation and underscores the urgency of safeguarding these sites.
As the Israel-Hamas War of 2023 unfolds with far-reaching architectural impacts in the affected regions, leaving a trail of destruction and challenges, the ongoing challenges and future possibilities remain uncertain. The importance of architectural preservation and rebuilding efforts cannot be overstated for these war-torn regions.
There is a necessity for international support and cooperation to protect and restore the architectural environment to ensure that the legacy of these regions endures for generations to come.
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- Map showing areas of the Israel-Hamas 202 war.
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