Desmond Tutu calls for suspension of Israel
from international architecture body

| 28 comments

Desmond Tutu portrait

News: social rights activist and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has used his closing message at the International World Union of Architects Congress to call for the suspension of the Israeli architects association.

In a message delivered at the 25th meeting of the International Union of Architects (UIA) today in South Africa, Tutu said he believed a suspension of the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) would be an "appropriate" message of support for justice in both Israel and Palestine.

"As you have gathered in Durban this week, the world news has been dominated by the carnage in Gaza," said Tutu. "I have condemned those Palestinians responsible for firing rockets at Israel, for violence is not the solution to human crises. The disproportionality of Israel's response, however, has been utterly horrendous."

"I believe it would be appropriate for the UIA to send a clear message of support for justice in Palestine and Israel by suspending the Israeli Architect's Association from the world body," said Tutu.



Tutu said that architects, as part of "civil society", had to step into a void created by politicians and diplomats, in order to persuade Israel to find a peaceful solution that is acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians.

He also called on Israeli architects to "actively disassociate" themselves from the design and construction of "infrastructure related to perpetuating injustice, including the separation wall, the security terminals and checkpoints, and the settlements built on occupied Palestinian land."

Tutu, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his work in Africa during apartheid, was named patron of the 25th triennial meeting of the international architecture body earlier this year.

His comments come in the wake of a row triggered by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) over whether to consider the suspension of its Israeli equivalent from architecture's international governing body.

Libeskind and Meier attack UK architects over Israel boycott
This image: Israeli settlement construction courtesy of Shutterstock. Main image: portrait of Desmond Tutu by Dale Frost

The debate began in March, before the latest round of hostilities in Gaza, when the RIBA's council voted to request the suspension of the IAUI from the UIA, on the grounds that members were complicit in construction of controversial settlements on "illegally-occupied land".

A number of leading architects – including Daniel Libeskind and Richard Meier – expressed outrage over the vote.

IAUA president Baruch Baruch told The Jerusalem Post that the RIBA was being hypocritical in focusing on Israel while many of its own members worked in countries with no rights for women.

British architecture website Bdonline reported that the vote had cost the RIBA over £100,000 in lost income from venue bookings and donations.

According to UIA president Albert Dubler, the RIBA also missed the deadline for formal motion submissions for the UIA congress, meaning the motion was not on the agenda for the meeting.

Other speakers at the congress, which is held every three years in different locations, included Architecture for Humanity founder Cameron Sinclair and the Pritzker Prize-winning Chinese architect Wang Shu.

Read Demond Tutu's full closing message to the XXV International Union of Architects World Congress in Durban:


It has been my honour to serve as patron of the 25th World Congress of the International Union of Architects.

As you have gathered in Durban this week, the world news has been dominated by the carnage in Gaza. I have condemned those Palestinians responsible for firing rockets at Israel, for violence is not the solution to human crises. The disproportionality of Israel's response, however, has been utterly horrendous. Hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, among the more than 1800 dead, and much of Gaza's infrastructure – it's roads, public facilities and buildings – laid to waste. All in the name of preserving a fundamentally divisive and undignified status quo founded on the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

Those who are opposed to violence have, over the years, developed an arsenal of peaceful tools aimed at isolating and negatively impacting on the economies of rogue states. As members of civil society, with the help of our friends abroad, we deployed these tools - boycotts, divestment and sanctions – to great effect against the apartheid state in South Africa.

The world's political and diplomatic leaders have floundered for decades in their efforts to develop a workable recipe for the people of Palestine and Israel to live in peace. It is time for civil society to step into the void, to persuade the people and leaders of Israel that it is in humanity's best interests to enter into dialogue aimed at negotiating a peaceful and sustainable solution for the crisis in the Holy Land – a solution that is acceptable to both Palestinians and Israelis.

I believe it would be appropriate for the UIA to send a clear message of support for justice in Palestine and Israel by suspending the Israeli Architect's Association from the world body.

I appeal to Israeli sisters and brothers present at the conference to actively disassociate themselves and their profession from the design and construction of any further infrastructure related to perpetuating injustice, including the separation wall, the security terminals and checkpoints, and the settlements built on occupied Palestinian land.

I implore you to take this message home: Please turn the tide against violence and hatred by joining the non-violent movement for justice for all people of the region.

God bless you.

  • Guest

    As if it wasn’t bad enough that the RIBA boycotted Israeli architects. Bandwagon jumpers, all.

    • Bella Center

      This was accomplished at the instigation of RIBA’s compulsive Israel-basher ex-president, Angela Brady.

      • Guest

        Seems there’s been a bit of a volte-face under Stephen Hodder. There needed to be.

        • https://twitter.com/mick_scott Mick Scott

          It was not under Stephen Hodder’s mandate to do such a thing. He was supposed to enforce the decisions of the RIBA Council. He did not, and his presidency should have been ended before its natural death.

  • Colonel Pancake

    Spare us.

  • urbis

    Populist.

  • Dani

    “I have condemned those Palestinians responsible for firing rockets at Israel, for violence is not the solution to human crises.

    Oh really, he condemned them?! Thank you, thank you so much mister hippie. Now we can peacefully chat with those primitive Islamist subhumans.

    This is explains it all: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxuwXczWQC0

    • Derek_V

      Subhumans? Like the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto eh? Speaking of smug.

  • Felix Tannenbaum

    As if Palestinian children had anything to do with Hamas rocket attacks.

    • Dave Cee

      This comment relies on nothing more than emotion to make it valid. Of course Palestinian children are free of blame! Is the implication here that Israeli children are born evil and oppressors? Please compare apples with apples.

  • Aaron

    The point of boycotts is to apply pressure, not punish. The international community has just decided to do it Russia over their incursions in the Ukraine. Everyone boycotted South Africa during apartheid. Israel has also happily imposed a blanket boycott on all imports and exports in and out of Gaza since 2006 (including food, aid, medical supplies) reducing it to poverty and pushing infant mortality through the roof. If the odd Israeli architect has to suffer the indignity of not being able to attend an awards ceremony in the UK, well I think that’s a price worth paying for maybe getting some movement on Israel’s occupation and human rights abuses.

    By the way 95% of Israeli’s support the IDFs actions in Gaza (http://tiny.cc/wyw8jx). I assume all of Israel’s architects don’t fall into the remaining 5%.

    • Dave Cee

      The link you provided doesn’t appear to work, would you mind reposting it? I know this comment comes 2 days after you posted yours so much has changed, but Russia is now placing a ban on all European (and most western) trade for food for 1 year. According to political analysts, this was done as a punishment in retaliation to their (western powers et al) boycott on Russia.

  • Que

    Exactly. If RIBA or Mr Tutu really cared about it, they would be writing to MPs and the UN who can actually do something about this instead of populist soundbites about a situation they probably know little about.

    • Mick Scott

      Desmond Tutu has been a long standing supporter of the inalienable rights of the Palestinians. He has done a tad more than just email the UN! The RIBA under the current ‘leadership’ of Stephen Hodder have purposefully dropped the ball on this issue despite receiving a clear mandate from the RIBA Council on the 14th of March. We should be asking them why this has happened.

  • cho cho

    Tutu calls for a boycott at a conference where the other speakers are an American and a Chinese. Brutal subjugators of Native Americans and Tibetans. Oh the irony. I guess that was before the internet so it never happened.

  • What do you think?

    Should greater proportionality of force come with greater protections?

    So, with great power comes great responsibility.

    • Dave Cee

      I completely agree that Israels response as of late has been extremely heavy-handed. However, what is it you propose they should do instead of fight back? I’m not trying to be flippant/argumentative here, but facts are facts. Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. They say so on their website. With regard to the state of Israel; whether or not you feel they got their land legitimately post WW2 is irrelevant at this stage. It’s 60 years later and the 3rd generation of Israelis exist, and they are not guilty of the Oslo accords decision to make their country in its current location. If you think they should all pack their bags and move, then where to? Israel must make concessions, of course! But that remains completely irrelevant until such a time as Hamas realizes a 2-state solution is inevitable.

      • Kejoy

        Mr Tutu never let facts get in the way of his support of terrorists.

  • Mick Scott

    Since when did standing up for human rights become so unpopular?

    Without exception all of the criticism listed below (and throughout this whole debate) has been of a hysterical nature, based on tiresome rhetoric, devoid of context, empirically vacuous and diversionist.

    This motion supports peace. It is in the tradition of the Israeli-Palestinian signed Oslo II agreement which states that “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the Permanent Status negotiations.”

    These actions ‘merely’ aim to uphold multiple articles enshrined in international humanitarian law by sanctioning Israeli architects for their widespread involvement in the occupation of Palestine, which ultimately aims to change (and is changing) this status.

    This motion has nothing to do with anti-semitism, left wing intelligentsia bias or personal motives. In fact, it has arguably nothing to do with the boycott movement.

    It’s not so difficult to understand. Try.

  • http://be.net/bassel Bassel

    “I appeal to Israeli sisters and brothers present at the conference to actively disassociate themselves and their profession from the design and construction of any further infrastructure related to perpetuating injustice, including the separation wall, the security terminals and checkpoints, and the settlements built on occupied Palestinian land.”

    There is little hope that the same architects who performed such draconian measurements would make such a rebuttal – disassociation from the physical manifestation of the Israeli state’s creed.

    Israelis needs to first realise they can’t keep up their ways. A firmer international action against Israel is needed.

  • Milo

    This is just plain ridiculous – yes sanctions are designed to apply pressure to groups internally so they pass the pressure onto their leaders, but this is utterly useless. Is he expecting architects to take to the streets with their scale rulers and demand change?

    He condemns Hamas, but doesn’t call for equal measures (albeit I doubt there is a Institute of Palestinian Architects for this scenario) singling out Israel for this self righteous and sanctimonious ban.

    Also coming from a man who called for a race based tax system in South Africa I find anything he says to be laughable and malicious.

  • https://twitter.com/mick_scott Mick Scott

    You are also free to begin this process.

  • https://twitter.com/mick_scott Mick Scott

    Yeah, takes a bit more than that I am afraid. Simply requesting others to do something for you doesn’t actually relieve your conscience or relinquish your involvement. Activism takes time and commitment. Many of us have worked on this particular issue for years. There are many avenues, actions and actors which need attention if you are to make any headway in your area of interest. I wish you well with it.

  • papou

    Dave Cee,

    The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “If one of you sees something wrong, let him change it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue; if he cannot, then with his heart and this is the weakest faith.”

  • SCS

    Actually, when the Israelis left Gaza in 2005, they also left behind ca. 3000 greenhouses – an entire industry for the Palestinians to use. What happened? The Palestinians destroyed every one of them. Interesting to bear in mind when listening to Tutu’s black/white narrative of the conflict.

  • Raphael

    Many thanks to Mr. Tutu (and thanks Dezeen for printing the full statement). It is sad to see how controversial his position is — that architects should refrain from building projects for an occupying power on occupied territory and other obstacles to peace. Older architects may remember protests against SOM for designing segregated housing in apartheid-era South Africa… in the light of history, who now took the right course: the protestors, or the big designers?

    I appreciate the concern for Native Americans and Tibetans (and AIA New York’s concern for abuses in North Korea), but I have to say that significant differences in those situations aside (and they are significant) it is no defence of Israeli actions to point out other odious actions elsewhere.

  • Kejoy

    Did he ever have any?