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This study is part of a master thesis in architecture which investigates on mobile and portable housing units. With a literature survey, interviews and a material culture analysis it focuses on the difference between the declared design intention described in current architectural literature on mobile and portable houses and the political and social practice of them in the contested territories of today’s West Bank.

The Western literature on mobile and portable buildings in architecture is largely structure-focused, technological and positivist. Prefabricated, portable and mobile housing units are celebrated and romanticized as prototypes that are relocatable, portable, adaptable and reusable according to the user’s will. (1 ) In particular, small-scale, portable buildings are manufactured off-site and delivered as complete dwelling units. Intentionally, these are not fabricated as part of a community planning or housing program. Instead, the portable building is a self-contained unit that arrives alone, stays passively, and leaves soon. It is only a timely-limited, temporary phenomenon for a specific place. Accordingly, the inhabitant becomes the ‘modern global nomad,’ ‘home all over the globe,’ who remains only temporary at a new physical location because the portable house is self-sustained and therefore focused on itself. It is viable in any location without influencing and being influenced by the immediate context, hence reflecting spatial and individual independence and freedom. The spatial and cultural contexts are considered passive with no impact from the mobile house onto the environment or its user’s activities that take place in it.

However, by concentrating on economy and speed of production and delivery, modern fabrication methods, structural design and the individual’s comfort, the discourse on mobile and portable houses overlooks the social and spatial context, the impact on their inhabitants and their use as a mass produced housing option. Furthermore, as an object, producible in large quantities and deployable quickly at various locations, mobile and portable houses can have a territorial meaning for particular regions.

The mobile houses in the Israeli settlement development in the West Bank confirm this different story. Mobile and portable buildings are a common phenomenon in the West Bank and in parts of Israel as they can be found in various locations. Yet they are extensively used for the Israeli settlements in the West Bank since the Six-Day-War in 1967. Many reports on them commissioned by the ‘United Nations,’ the ‘Foundation for Middle Eastern Peace,’ the ‘Applied Research Institute Jerusalem,’ ‘B’Tselem’ or ‘PeaceNow’ observe the implementation of ‘caravans,’ ‘trailers,’ ‘mobile homes,’ ‘mobile houses’ or ‘shipping containers’ when a new settlement is being established in the so-called ‘illegal settlement outposts.’ Yet, remaining for several years or decades in the same or in neighboring settlements the mobile and portable houses constitute a considerable component beside the ‘permanent’ buildings. Thus, they are a serious housing option and a common pattern in almost all settlements in the West Bank, constituting an essential and vital part of the settlement establishment process. (2)

Since 1967, the West Bank changed, transformed and evolved accommodating many overlying definitions and territorial apprehension claimed and used exclusively by either the Israelis or the Palestinians in their quest for the West Bank. These include Israeli settlements (cooperative settlements [kibbutz, moshavs], community settlements, urban settlements, rural settlements, neighborhoods and outposts), Israeli military bases, Israeli natural reserves, Israeli by-pass roads, Israeli industrial parks, Israeli natural resource extraction areas, Palestinian villages and cities, Palestinian refugee camps, Palestinian agricultural lands, Palestinian roads and Palestinian natural resource extraction. All these small, fragmented spaces within the West Bank are representations of temporary places which are in fact part of something more communal, permanent and legal than simple temporary solutions within undecided legal status. However, both the Israeli and the Palestinian system claim the same territory and landscape (See above map). In this state of prolonged negotiations, indefiniteness and constant change while under Israeli military control, mobile houses, as the seeds for new frontiers and the seeds for future settlements, seem to be critical in the overall political course.
In the following three current settlements of varying status, size, location and age are presented in the attempt to explain the role of portable and mobile houses in the West Bank. The three settlements are the ‘outpost’ on Hill 468 (Altitude 468) close to Nofei Perat (Nofe Prat), a ‘neighborhood’ Mitzpeh Danny (Mitzpe Dani) close to Maale Mikhmash (Ma’ale Michmas), and a ‘community-settlement’ Kefar Adummim (Kfar Edumim). Although, other areas in the West Bank such as around Eli/ Shilo or Ariel seem to be more controversial and dynamic in regards to the role of the ‘caravans’ as they occur much more in outpost activities, clashes with Israeli government officials, closeness to Palestinian villages, this study focuses on three settlements East of Jerusalem. The reason is that mobile houses occur here also in large numbers despite the fact that as part of the so-called ‘Greater Jerusalem’ area, this area is largely perceived as an area which will not be given away to the Palestinian Authority and has less Palestinian villages in its proximity.

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