A UK-based group of design professionals has petitioned the organizers of an architecture exhibition in Venice to withdraw an Israeli entry, expressing "dismay and concern" that the prestigious event has agreed to host Israelis. In the petition, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine (APJP) called on the organizers of Biennale Architettura, which begins Sunday and runs until November 19, to withdraw Israel's entry. They said, "We request that the Biennale committee consider withdrawing the Israeli entry as being provocative and counterproductive to the aims of the Biennale, and particularly distasteful in the context of the aftermath of an ugly and unnecessary war in neighboring Lebanon, and a continuing one-sided war in Gaza."
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The Israeli entry, "Life Saver: Typology of Commemoration in Israel," depicts 15 structures established in the memory of those who died in Israel's wars and the Holocaust.
The APJP argues that the entry "totally excludes the Palestinians, who are the target and real victims of the seemingly unending series of wars being memorialized, and awards Israel the sole position of victim and victor."
The Anti-Defamation League praised world renowned architect Lord Richard Rogers for opposing the proposed ban of Israel.
Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director, said the British group's call for the ban, "was yet another attempt to hijack a cultural event in order to exclude one country and one country only: Israel, and conforms to a recurring pattern of unrepresentative activist groups trying to remove Israeli professionals from participation in the international academic, cultural and sporting arenas.
Rogers said, "I firmly believe that Israel has the right to memorialize their dead just as the Americans, and indeed the entire world, are memorializing the terribly tragic loss of lives at Ground Zero - the victims of 9/11."
The Israeli exhibitor, Dan Daor, said the message of memorial structures was that "there are no heroes - all there is, is the eternity of Israel. All of the country is on the front, and all of us are victims."
The petition also claims the Israeli exhibit serves "propaganda purposes" and ignores the Palestinian's role as "the primary victim of the conflict with Israel."
Israeli architect Tula Amir said, "Justification of Israel's wars provides legitimization of the blood that has been spilled and is liable to be spilled in the future."
Jewish-British architect Abe Hayeem, one of the main organizers of the petition, said, "It essentially justifies Israel's wars instead of criticizing them."
Amir responded by saying the issue was addressed in the description accompanying the exhibit.
The petition also states that there are no memorials in Israel to the Nakba, which it describes as "the Palestinian tragedy of displacement and dispossession, where the intention of transfer and exclusion led to the destruction and elimination of 580 Palestinian villages towns and cities."
It continues, "Even today, this dispossession and humiliation goes on in Gaza and the West Bank, with the destruction of their heritage in the historic cities of Jerusalem, Nablus, Hebron, Bethlehem and Jericho."
The group, which supports consumer action against companies involved in the construction of the security barrier and a cultural boycott of Israel, has appealed to Palestinians to submit an entry to the exhibition.
"Whatever you do about the Israeli participation, we would like the organizers to consider asking for a Palestinian contribution, highlighting the historic and ongoing displacement of the Palestinian people," they said.
APJP says that people involved in projects in areas they deem as Palestinian are "complicit in oppression."
Their mission statement says, "We hold all design and construction professionals involved in projects that appropriate land and natural resources from Palestinian territory to be complicit in social, political and economic oppression and to be in violation of their professional ethics."
Dan Leon, a London-based architect, has assembled a group of architects and planners who are alarmed by calls for cultural boycotts of Israel, which he sees as an extension of what has been attempted in academic circles.
He said, "What we want to do is counter what APJP are doing and use architecture to bring people together rather than exclude, and create dialogue rather than antagonism."
Leon, who is planning to attend the Biennale, has written to the organizers to request that they not heed the call to ban the Israeli exhibit.
In his letter he said, "Do they [APJP] not see the suffering on both sides, the Palestinians and the Israelis? Is their opinion so black and white that the Israelis are the oppressors? Can it not be seen in a historical context, understanding that Israel exists, after centuries of murder and hatred, to give the Jewish people self-determination.
The call for exclusion of the Israeli exhibit from this year's Biennale is wholly ridiculous. Perhaps the Israeli exhibit does focus on Israeli matters. Why shouldn't it?
"Perhaps instead of excluding people, why not include a Palestinian exhibit of the thoughts and works of Palestinian architects.
"One can only make peace by dialogue. To exclude and deny dialogue is the beginning of the end of hope. I urge you to retain the Israeli exhibit and in equal measure support a Palestinian exhibit," he said.
The Palestinian Society of Architects has also asked for the cancelation of the Israeli exhibit. In a letter to the organizers of Biennale they said that Israeli architects were "fully engaged in a system of oppression and control."