Political impacts on the built environment : colonisation and development of place identity : the case of the rural West Bank (Palestine)
Throughout history a sense of identity has been considered an essential human need in the search for significant existence. Each environment contains distinctive physical objects of historical, cultural, religious, social and economic significance, which give each place its uniqueness. Personal or group identity is expressed in part, therefore, through the identity of the built environment. This study attempts to understand and interpret the expression of identity in the built environment in a country under colonial rule through an examination of the Palestinian villages in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. The main aim of the study is to identify the physical features that represent the Palestinian identity and the changes that have taken place in the built environment in the present century. In order to understand the complexity of the issue, the study examines the factors which have influenced the development of the built environment. Special attention has been given to the impact of the Israeli occupation. The research approach has been both qualitative and quantitative, and ranges from the general to the specific, and from macro-level to micro-level. The methods used to collect information include: personal observations, semi-structured interviews, repertory grid technique, experiments with students and examination of proverbs, folk songs, poetry and art. For in-depth investigation, a case study village was chosen, namely Arraba in the northern part of the West Bank. The study starts by comparing the traditional and the contemporary quarters and identifies the features that represent the identity of the Palestinian village. Then, it examines the development of the village house from the traditional to the contemporary. The study reveals that the traditional house has a clear identity, while the identity of the contemporary house is ambiguous. In addition, this research uses the repertory grid technique to identify the features of the exterior of the house and of the interior of the guest room that reflect the Palestinian identity. Findings reveal that people perceive certain constructs as Palestinian according to their meanings, characteristics and the surrounding context. The study concludes by noting the emerging awareness among Palestinians of identity in contemporary house-building practice in the West Bank, because of a threatened loss of identity as a result of the dramatic changes that are occuring in the built environment. It also provides feedback about the existing identity of the region in order to translate the insights gained into practical solutions.