Four years ago, Polish photographer Alicja Dobrucka traveled to the West Bank to attend a fine arts workshop, but her plans took an unexpected change of course. In late November 2012, there was more than a week of bombings across the Israeli-Palestinian border that eventually lead to a ceasefire. The gallery canceled the workshop–so instead, Dobrucka decided to tour the West Bank with a fellow artist.
During her monthlong travels, Dobrucka came across the Israeli-occupied village of Susya, an area in southern West Bank that has been razed by Israel four times–once in 1991 and 1997 and twice in 2001. Wary of future demolition, the residents of the village disguised their houses as tents by draping them with tarpaulins. It’s an act of peaceful resistance to the destruction and forced migration that many Palestinian villages in Israeli-occupied territory have endured.
While masking their houses as tents doesn’t give Susya citizens definite protection, it is a strategy for staying safe. “The idea is to seem invisible and unnoticed,” says Dobrucka. “They want to stay in place but they don’t want to actively fight, so they take this route of being slightly unnoticed. Masking their architecture to look temporary is the path of least resistance.”
Dobrucka photographed the permanent homes dressed up as temporary structures for her series Houses (31°23′30.67″N 35°6′44.45″E). Caught in the middle of a conflict zone where fates are uncertain and lifestyles constantly in flux, the homes are expertly camouflaged. Some of the dwellings in Dobrucka’s photographs look like battered circus tents pitched over unseen homes. In others, permanent structures are wrapped with tarps and rope like a particularly delicate package. On one, the words “No For Demolition” are scrawled across the tent, presumably feigning an authorized order.
Throughout the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, architecture has been used as a way to impose a state of control and oppression. Most Israeli settlements are fortified by walls and perched on West Bank hilltops for easy surveillance, as the architect Eyal Weizman has pointed out before. In Hebron, a city also located in southern West Bank, Dobrucka saw apartment buildings where Palestinians occupy the lower levels while Israeli settlers live directly above them–a literal “upstairs/downstairs” divide. The city built grates between the levels to prevent Israelis from pummeling the Palestinians with rocks when they leave their homes.
But as Dobrucka’s images show, the people of Susya have co-opted architecture as their own tool–in effect subverting the role of the built environment in their occupation.