The Monster’s tail1. Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir
From: Against the Wall: Israel’s Barrier to Peace. Editor: Michael Sorkin [The New Press, 2005]
Although Israel has insisted that the wall in no more than a temporary shield against terrorist attacks, its critics claim that is a major illegal geopolitical project that cut into Palestinian lands and that de facto annexes large parts of them, bringing unjustifiable devastation to the Palestinians living along its route and to their environment. Others argue that true role of the wall is to draw and ensure the future border between a larger Israel and shrunken Palestine. Both critics and defenders present the wall as a new strategy, whether in the fight against terrorism or in the project of colonization and domination of the West Bank. Both judge or justify the wall by the presumed intentions behind its construction and by its direct effects (which are so far mostly predicted but not actually measured) on its surroundings. In what follows we shall question these assumptions. We shall argue that the wall is one among several instruments used by the Israeli ruling apparatus in the Occupied Territories whose function must be understood in the context of a structural and historical analysis of the modus operandi of this apparatus. We shall propose here and outline of such an analysis as the basis on which the wall’s strategic significance will be examined. This immense project of construction and destruction, we shall argue, is part and effect –the most visible one, perhaps, but not the major one– of a phase of the occupation that is more than a decade old2, and which the second intifada has greatly intensified without altering its basic logic and structure.
The Economy of Violence
Since the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become ever more violent ant the violence has become ever more spectacular. Spectacular violence kills instantly, mostly innocent people, and spreads injuries and damage in concentric circles around the center of its eruption. Such eruptions take place on both sides when guns and bombs are used in a more or less indiscriminate manner against both civilians and combatants. Despite the many attempts to declare the violence of one side as justified and of the other as a barbarous expression of sheer cruelty, the very consistency and regularity of the series of spectacular scenes creates and impression of symmetry between the two parties and is easily captured rhetorically in such figures of speech as “cycle of violence” and “unending chain of revenge”. These are misleading metaphors, no doubt, but not because the justice of one side and the cruelty of the other can be established and demonstrated. The symmetrical reading of violence is misleading not only because it ignores the context of almost four decades of colonization and dispossession, but because it takes into account only spectacular violence and ignores the fact that this kind of violence is but one aspect and one component of an entire economy of violence. In order to understand this economy, it is necessary to analyze the functional and structural relations between different forms and occurrences of violence and the overall patterns of its distribution among the parties to the conflict. Only on this basis is it possible to grasp the systematic production of chronic disaster in the Occupied Territories, which has brought the Palestinian population “to the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe”3.
A short digression on the concept of violence is necessary at this point. Violence is usually associated with a more or less spectacular outburst of physical forces that tear apart bodies and objects. We call this kind of violence spectacular (even in cases when nobody watches, such as the case of robbery in a dark alley or a massacre in a desolated area, for there is always the occurrence of an event to be seen). But an action is violent even when the eruption of physical force is suspended and insinuation and deterrence take the place of material contact with the exposed body. We shall call this violence suspended (here there is hardly anything to be seen, even if the whole world watches). Violence is always exercised through the interplay between spectacular outburst and suspension, and its efficiency depends on maintaining a gap between these two poles.4
Political forms of society differ characteristically in the way this gap is structured and maintained. Differences between forms of governments and the structure of domination may be described in terms of patterns of suspension of violence and modes of deterrence, as well as the tendency to rely on recourse to spectacular violence. Modern liberal democracies, for example, are often presented as systems of power that strive to reduce spectacular violence, to replace it with suspended violence, and to make both as invisible as possible. In a liberal democracy, the transition from suspended to spectacular violence is supposed to take place only as a means of enforcing the law. When a government loses its legitimacy or fails to regain it, when a political rule is unilaterally enforced on those subjected to it and the memory of this enforcement is still fresh, suspended violence is not enough. But even in the most extreme situations, the two extreme forms of violence coexist and interact. If the outburst of force were to continue uninterrupted without any lull, the parties to the conflict would be destroyed in a struggle to the dead.5
Since the outbreak of the second intifada, Israeli domination of the Occupied Territories has been characteri-zed by an unstable balance between spectacular and suspended violence. A massive and extensive deployment of military forces has made possible a visible, intensified presence of suspended forces, intensified presence of suspended forces, shortened the time span required to let these forces loose, and rendered the moments of eruption more frequent, lethal, and destructive then ever before during the four decades of the occupation. Military forces are deployed everywhere, as in a state of war, but there is no war for war itself is being suspended. There are “only” numerous serial incursions, night raids, and targeted killings with their local “collateral damage”; suicide bombings; sporadic shootings; demolition of houses (as a way of punishment or a form of attack); and intended and circumstantial destruction of infrastructure, along with numerous cases of detention and incarceration. Despite the sharp increase in the number, length, and scope of violent, well-planned attacks and clashes, especially in the Gaza Strip (which no doubt has its own cumulative impact), the majority of the soldiers that have been stationed in the Occupied Territories in the last decades, including the years of the second intifada, have not been fighting anyone. Their violence has been kept confined to their guns, clubs, or tanks; it has been insinuated at the checkpoint gate or by the anonymous voice declaring curfew, and echoed in the rhythm of their marching or rolling patrols. This restraint in the use of force is precisely the way violence has most often been exercised. Anywhere this violence is present and may suddenly erupt –which means virtually everywhere, at any time– it constraints the Palestinians’ movements and impacts their actions. The suspended violence is effective without bursting out because it forbids, deters, and delays, complicates simple actions, undermines preferences, undercuts daily schedules, drives people crazy, and sometimes even kills. Its impact is often more, not less, disastrous than that of spectacular violence.
However, the more intense the presence of suspended violence, the more blurred the distinction between its suspension and outburst. Recently (November-December 2004) a new wave of the occasional “moral questioning” and “soul searching” has appeared in the Israeli press. Once again the press has become attentive to “the immoral behaviour” of Israeli soldiers in the territories and strives to describe the military operations there in accordance with certain moral rules that are supposed to regulate violence and legitimize it. Almost every week the press reveals some new incident in which suspended violence erupts and becomes spectacular and deadly in ways that have not been sanctioned by the rules. When talking about these supposedly exceptional and outrageous events, many tend to forget that it is the suspended violence involved in the very presence of Israeli troops in Palestinian territories that should be questioned, and that the rules allowing a transition from suspended to spectacular violence are subject to constant change. The presence of suspended violence and the change of rules that allows its eruption are governed by no rule. Too often suspended violence turns into spectacles of death and destruction in a “the unexpected is-always-to-be-expected” manner, while spectacles of violence congeal into the suspended, threatening presence of visible troops and invisible” special units”, “instigators”, and “terrorists”.
In fact, the Occupied Territories have become “a zone of indistinction”6 between these two forms of violence, in which the occupied body is constantly exposed to all sorts of dangers, forsaken and abandoned. The recent “moral outrage” at certain outbursts of violence may be interpreted as an attempt to maintain the important distinction between and the appearance of legitimacy of (and control over the transition from) one form of violence and another. This happens precisely at a time when the distinction between the two modes of violence and the controlled transition from one to the other, which are crucial for rationalizing the operation of the ruling apparatus, are threatened by new techniques of segregation and control of movement this same apparatus has recently implemented7.
But even now, after the recent array of reported “immoral incidents” and the sharp increase in the number and scope of armed clashes between Israeli troops and the Palestinians’ scattered militias, most of the time and almost everywhere in the territories, the force stored away in the various instruments of violence does not flare up. The threshold of spectacular violence is not easily crossed8. Most of the time, the occupied prefer to obey, turn back, stop warning, stand in line, undress, stand up before a camera, speak softly, or fall silent. Their resistance is neutralized without resort to spectacular violence. But this success of the ruling power is ephemeral. It must be generated again and again through the ever more intensified, threatening presence of suspended violence and by more frequent outbursts of spectacular violence, deployed in direct relation to the shrinking deterrent power of suspended violence. Deterrence shrinks not because less military might is involved –of that there is only more- but because the Palestinians have less and less to lose. It takes ever more awesome displays of power to achieve the same the submission of the Palestinians.
The presence of suspended violence is required and intensified due to the fact that the ruling apparatus in the territories lacks three main forms of domination that, in normal circumstances, enable the government to rely mainly on signs and symbols of suspended violence, reduce its visible presence, and avoid resort to spectacular violence. First, there is no law: the legal system in its entirely has been suspended, being replaced by a series of ever-changing ad hoc orders and regulations9. The arbitrary nature of the ruling power means that no rule is effective unless it is accompanied by the visible presence of suspended violence. The ruling apparatus requires the massive presence of suspended violence simply in order to announce and change the rules and use them to regulate the behavior of the occupied. The latter too need the same violent presence in order to learn about the rules and understand what is expected of them: how to go work, to school, which way to take in order to buy bread, or how to plant a bomb.
Second, the ruling apparatus operates almost no disciplinary sites, except for prisons and detention camps whose role is not to discipline, indoctrinate, or reform, but to exclude and intimidate power’s unwanted subjects. Third, as far as the Palestinian populates goes, no ideological apparatus functions either, whether through or independently of disciplinary practices. Of course, the Israeli ruling power in deeply invested in ideological production, but the consumers of this ideology are Israeli citizens.10 “The Palestinian uprising has virtually destroyed Israel’s capacity to employ ideological or disciplinary means for governing the Palestinian population. In fact, the ruling power is incapable of constructing and shaping Palestinian individuals as its own subjects. While the rule of law is suspended, and as he disciplinary and ideological apparatuses have ceased functioning, the Palestinians in the territories cannot simply become subjects of the Israeli sovereign, in clear contradistinction to the Palestinian citizens of Israel. The occupied Palestinian is not a subject, neither in the modern sense of this word nor even in its ancient Latin sense: unlike the modern subject, he is not recognized as a bearer of rights and a source of knowledge and action, but neither is he a subjectus, or someone who was clearly distinguished from the slave, who obeyed his master out of faith and of his own volition, and whose subjection was always part of a chain of subjection and authorization in which even the sovereign took part.11 The Palestinian under occupation is neither a subject nor a citizen. He is a noncitizen who is subjugated by the ruling power but who is not a subject of it; he obeys out of naked fear of authority, which is sheer aggression and arbitrariness to him. His political existence is reduced to the status of and object of power, as both power’s target as well as an object of power, as both power’s target as well as an object that stands in opposition to power, and obstacle in its way. From power’s point of view, he is an addressee of symbolic action only because he is conceived, first and foremost, as an address for violent action. Resistance may appear any time he dares to speak back to power, seizing the position of the addresser.
Indeed, without the mediation of law, ideology, and discipline, the ruling power must intensify the presence of suspended violence and resort to spectacular violence, always readily accessible. Instead of disciplining or educating its subjects, power injures their bodies and damages their property. Punishment is no longer related to law but to resistance –any kind of presence conceived to be addressing power in terms other than its own. And spectacular violence is no longer restricted to punishment and the preservation of law and order; it is mainly related to the preservation of the deterrent power of suspended violence itself. Resistance is an attempt to reclaim freedom and space in the midst of power’s efforts to control them, but it gives power an excuse to turn control into destruction and transform the place of resistance into a disaster zone. However, it is worth mentioning that in most of the violent events that involve destruction –of space, houses, roads, wells, other kinds of infrastructure, and everything that falls under what Amira Hass called “weapons of light construction” that have transformed the Palestinian living space– that destruction has been the outcome of a planned policy which is meant to damage or annihilate the material environment without touching human bodies directly.
When citizens are good subjects of their government, power is in fact internalized to a greater or lesser degree. Noncitizens, subjugated by an arbitrary power that suspends the law and acts with no mediation, have internalized nothing; from their point of view, power must always act out in the open and be present on the surface of the space it controls; it can be understood only as an external, visible, and threatening force, always in the midst of the interplay between disastrous outbursts of spectacular violence and the intensified presence of suspended violence. As noncitizens, the Palestinians also lack most of the legal means to negotiate with the ruling power over the way they are governed.12 If they do not want to resist openly or obey submissively, they can only try to evade power or deceive it, using all kinds of improvisations, simulations, and dissimulations in order to avoid looking suspicious. But they are always suspicious, at least as long as they maintain their ability to speak back to power. For the ruling power, their resistance is not only a matter of their actions but of their very presence and identity.
The Israeli government dismisses the possibility that the continuous exercise of violence of all kinds calls for violent resistance and creates more violence than it is supposed to prevent. After every terrorist attack, official Israeli spokespersons are quick to declare that prevention can never be absolute, and hence there is no choice but to exercise more violence in order to prevent that unpreventable violence. Journalists, politicians, and the average citizen thoughtlessly repeat these clichés. Violence is always presented as preventive. One always generates violence in order to prevent violence.13 Violence that prevents violence (VPV) assumes the existence of an inexhaustible source of violence that must not be allowed to materialize. Every Palestinian is, by his or her very presence, both a source of suspended violence and its addressee. But, in contradistinction to the visible, obtrusive presence of suspended violence of Israeli side, the Palestinian threat is mostly clandestine, and great efforts are required to expose it. It is therefore necessary to threaten, to restrict movement, and to control it, to intrude into places in order to monitor them and to monitor in order to intrude, to detain in order to investigate and to investigate in order to detain, to destroy cultivated land in order to uncover it and to uncover it in order to destroy it, to impose curfew, closure, and siege in order to restrict movement and to restrict movement in order to reinforce curfew and closure. Thus VPV is productive as well as destructive. It transforms space, establishes new constructions, invents new instruments and methods of control, and produces and distributes anxieties, threats, rumors, and innumerable risks. This violence has a totalizing character –without it we are told, everyone will be forsaken; to give it free rein, anyone may be forsaken, it is constantly at work, it should not cease for a moment, it will never go on vacation and it is here to stay. The entire Israeli-Palestinian space is dominated by its crazy logic.
Walter Benjamin proposed a useful distinction –useful for “normal” political conditions, at least– between lawmaking violence (in a revolution and a coup d’état, for example) and law-preserving violence (of a military force, when it is used as a means toward legal ends, for example).14 The suspended violence we are describing seems to be out joint with this distinction. It does not preserve the law of constitute a new law it does not even blur the distinction between these forms of violence. Benjamin deconstructs his own distinction when he argues that the polices, whose power is “formless” and whose presence is “nowhere-tangible, all pervasive, ghostly”, is both lawmaking and law-preserving, and in a famous work Derrida goes further in untying his text.15 But this inherent ambiguity of violence, which is always also constitutive when it preserves, and preserving when it constitutes, is precisely what cannot be ascribed to suspended violence. Whereas the violence of the police or the army about which Benjamin and Derrida speak is both constitutive and preservative, suspended violence is neither the former nor the latter.
In the Occupied Territories, suspended violence is being exercised when the law has been suspended in its entirety and no effort is made to establish an alternative system of law. Suspended violence in the territories preserves not the law but its very suspension, and it constitutes not a new law but a no-law situation, which it maintains and constantly re-creates. Note, however, that law has not been abolished altogether but merely suspended. This means that unlike the anarchy created by a civil war or in the midst of natural or man-made catastrophes, law is not completely negated; the complete negation of law is suspended as well. The intensified, ubiquitous presence of suspended violence suspends not only law but also the eruption of all-encompassing violence in the form of “total war” or the creation of a spectacular, large-scale catastrophe.
Israeli officials and most of the Israeli public represent and justify this type of violence in terms of “security” and the need to protect Israeli citizens from the Palestinian version of spectacular violence. From our point of view, the truly restraining impact of this VPV is not upon Palestinian terrorists but upon the Israeli war machine. This is a form of violence exercised by the Israeli military apparatus to restrain itself and prevent a full outburst, so far suspended, of the destructive forces accumulated and deployed throughout the territories. The fantasy of such catastrophic outbursts of violence is reproduced with almost any major clash. Military operations are often conceived and presented as miniatures of an exercises for an always larger scale operation yet to come or held in reserve. There can always be a more terrible onslaught on a Palestinian neighbourhood or refugee camp than the existing one. What lasts for a few days may last many months, more Palestinians may be detained, deported, and killed, more houses blown up, more cultivated land taken or “exposed”. There are always political and moral reasons to keep an operation in its present, “limited” scope, to postpone its next stage, to withdraw ahead of time, and yet to declare that “all the objectives have been archieved.” And while the difference between the phantasmic loosening of violent forces and the real one is flexible, and while the threshold of the intolerable is constantly moving, as people get quickly and alarmingly accustomed to kinds of violence they recently abhorred, the real catastrophe or large-scale disaster is always kept at a distance. Only the chronic, creeping disaster may be traced and tackled; the spectacular catastrophe should always be postponed. Israeli authority would let others –local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international observes and agencies– intervene, but cooperate with them to bring basic humanitarian relief only when the danger of catastrophe seems too imminent.
Suspended violence allows the ruling apparatus to function without law, discipline, and ideology, but also without war and catastrophe. The territories are on the threshold of law as much as they are on the verge of war and catastrophe, but they are not quite there. The eruption of war in the present circumstances, when the Israeli army faces scattered groups of terrorists and a few small and poorly equipped militias, would have led, in one way or another, to massive transfer or even mass killing of civilians. Since the territories are already occupied and the enemy has neither a government nor an army, the only goal of war could be reduce dramatically the number of noncitizens –nonsubjects subjugated to Israeli rule– and to completely destroy their existence as political beings. But the Palestinians have been neither annihilated nor assimilated, neither expelled in large numbers nor integrated. They are governed as temporary human beings who belong to the Israeli state by being excluded from it, cared for by being forsaken, new kinds of homini sacri in the sense Giorgio Agamben gives to this term.16 The suspended violence at the ruling apparatus suspends a final solution. Total war or catastrophe on the one hand and the rule of law on the other are two polar potentialities that structure the Israeli regime by the suspension of their presence and the presence of their suspension.
We believe that thinking about “the wall” must begin from this understanding. The wall is a seemingly perfect architectonic-geostrategic machine of suspended violence. As a means of security, this machine is supposed to reduce the number of successful terrorist attacks (and it is already presented by Israeli authorities as quite effective in this res-pect).17 It is said to reduce Palestinian spectacular violence but also to restrain, or at least reduce, the need for Israeli counterviolence. But precisely by being a useful mechanism of VPV, entirely integrated within the existing infrastructure of checkpoints, roadblocks, and bypass roads, the wall multiplies the presence of suspended violence and increases dramatically its destructive effects. It creates conditions of a chronic disaster for the Palestinians inhabitants of Palestine.
On the Verge of Catastrophe
The wall is meant to ensure the closure –practical, potential, and virtual– of the OPT and their complete separation from Israel “proper,” wherever its boundaries lie, and from the Jewish settlements within the Occupied Territories. What is new about it is not closure itself but the attempt to enforce and ensure it with no exception and the presumption that total closure is possible. Under martial law, as well as under police control in times of emergency, the closure of an area is declarative much before it becomes (if it ever becomes) architectonic. The delineation of the space as closed and of closure as a quality of a certain space are concepts that may –but do not necessarily needs to– rely upon material obstacles. Walls, fences, and ditches can help the erection of a closure, but they may also exist as obstacle on movement without pretending to create a system of total closure. How strong, long or deep these constructions should be depends on both the resistance to closure and the will to enforce it. The Wall is not a means to create closure but to ensure and sustain an already existing system of closures in face of a growing resistance to the geography of separation in local and international circles, on the one hand, and a growing will to enforce total separation without respect for any geopolitical lines, on the other hand.
This becomes clear when one considers the fact that the territories have long been sealed off, or at least capable of being closed off, from the rest of the world. The first complete closure of the Occupied Territories was declared during the war in Iraq in 1991. For more than six weeks the entire Palestinian space in the Occupied Territories was completely separated from the Jewish space within and outside of it. For their Palestinian inhabitants, the territories became an enclosed camp. What was at first an extreme, straightforward and not very sophisticated measure taken in an exceptional situation has long become a routine. Closure has been developed as a sophisticated, sui generi apparatus, a coordinated set of quasi-legal, architectonic, observatory, and military means to circumscribe space, isolate it, and control the location where and the degree to which it can be penetrated. This development took place mainly during the Oslo years, under the veil of the so-called peace process. The territories have become a puzzle of semi-isolated demarcated spaces, whose boundaries can be redrawn at any moment, according to the decision (whimsical or strategic, it does not matter) of local Israeli commanders. Each isolated space is connected to or disconnected from others by unpredictable military decrees that may turn within minutes or hours, each such demarcated space into an isolated camp. The second Intifada only accelerated and provided a pretext for the consolidation of this mechanism of domination which had already been largely in place before its outbreak; it also forced this mechanism to become more visible (we shall return to this point later).
But where precisely are “the territories”? The green line that supposedly separates Israel from the Palestinian land occupied by Israel in 1967 has long been erased; it functions only on the maps of Palestinians officials and Israeli leftists, designating the separation between Israeli and Jordanian forces declared by 1949 armistice accord, as well as the line that one day will hopefully separate the state Israel from a future Palestinian state. Along the green line and on both of its sides many villages and towns have been established, and together with older Israeli –both Jewish and Arab– villages and towns they form the so-called seam line, which has become a wide and long stretch of land. From the points of view of Israeli civilians, soldiers, settlers, and Palestinians alike, “the territories” begin on where the “seam line” ends –except that nobody has ever drawn a map of that end. It is a very flexible line that every day can be inscribed anew in the maps and on the ground according to “the needs of the hour.” Recently, the needs of the hour have meant a series of more or less local closures, more or less extensive sealing of Palestinian areas. “The Territories” actually designate –and this is the most prudent, if not most accurate definition– the area that may be sealed off without warning and without any due process, except for a decree issued by certain army generals. The “closureable” area does not have to be closed in its entirety or at once. In extreme circumstances (such as the wars in Iraq or major military operations) but also on certain marked days of the year (the High Holidays, Passover, and Independence Day), closure is a means for integration of the entire area. At other times closure is partial and local, and it becomes a means of division and separation.
The authority to declare an area “a closed military zone” is not restricted to the Palestinian Territories; it is given to the military on both sides of the green line as part of the legal fact that the state of emergency declared at the time of the British Mandate has not been abdicated by the Israeli lawgiver. Since the dismantling of the military regime imposed on Arab villages and town between 1948 and 1966, this measure has been used several times in areas where Israeli Arabs and Bedouins live but almost never in Jewish areas. And whereas since 1966, closure has become a really exceptional situation for Israeli citizens, it has since 1991 become the rule for its Palestinian noncitizens. The Palestinian “closureable area” is now represented, organized, articulated, and coordinated through at least three incommensurable maps used by the three groups that mainly inhabit and move in that area: Palestinians residents, Jewish settlers, and Israeli soldiers.18
Members of the three groups cannot coexist, let alone reside permanently in the same places. They can hardly move along the same roads, and when using the same roads they do it in a very different manner. For the soldiers, the entire space is permeable, no place is inaccessible,19 and no hideout is really out of sight, though penetration into some enclaves may be harder and more costly than to others. Closure and restrictions of movement work for both Palestinians and settlers but in a very different way: for the settlers, the sealing of their space and the restriction on their movement are means of protection; in the Palestinian case, the same measures are means of intrusion and penetration, a network for the deployment of suspended violence as well as a pretext and a solid support for its spectacular outbursts.
These three incommensurable maps represent and reproduce the constant effort to keep Palestinians and Jews apart. Living areas, working places, shopping areas, and above all the roads among them are mostly ethnically segregated, although segregation is not strict, formal, or effective in the same way in these various spaces. However, the spread of Jewish settlements and military bases throughout the West Bank and the limited economic, medical, and infrastructural facilities there create a situation in which no group can be contained within its own zone, kept moving only on the roads allocated to it, and do it without crossing others’ zones. Constant friction between members of the three groups is an inevitable outcome of this situation, and it leads to further attempts at keeping the groups apart, which in turn creates further points of friction. The wall is part of the old dream to put an end to the friction and keep the separate zones as “clean” and as “pure” as possible. But, like the more local means of segregation, the wall too is means of partition that only rearranges and determines the location of friction, the moment of coming together, and the means of contaminating “sterile spaces.”
Thus, space is not only ethnically and functionally segregated, its organization has become a mechanism for creating ethnic and functional segregation. At the same time, the control of movement by the Israeli army and the free movement it enjoys serve as means of integration of what is being constantly segregated. The violence used to enforce a spatial segregation or intrude into enclosed sites relates both sides of any boundary to the encompassing ruling apparatus. Hence the deployment of suspended violence and the occasional eruption of spectacular violence integrate what has been spatially segregated, while at the same time, the spacing out of power resegregates what sheer violence has integrated. But this dialectics is not symmetrical, for, after all, the space of the military encompasses both the settlers’ and the Palestinian spaces and is capable of compressing them into one, changing their outlines, redrawing their boundaries, and enforcing new forms of interlacing between them.
There is, of course, another space that claims superiority: the imaginary settlers’ space, the whole Land of Israel (Eretz Israel hashlema), that supposedly contains both the Palestinian and the military spaces. This space has a very tangible correlate: a detailed map of land allocations, of environmental and architectonic planning, of “outposts” and “enlargements” of new neighborhoods, and of new villages that respect no neighbor. This is the constantly changing space of colonization. It is often said that the army only follows the settlers’ initiatives, protects them from Palestinian violence wherever they go, and forsakes the Palestinians whenever Jewish settlers go into and out of their fields and orchards. However, no matter how geopolitically important is this colonized space, nor how powerful is the peculiar combination between the imaginary space and its detailed representations in maps of environmental planning, the fact remains that only the military commander, not the settlers’ leadership, is both authorized and capable of proclaiming and enforcing closure of the colonized space and determining exceptions to this closure. No matter how often settlers break into both military and Palestinian space (through “illegal” outposts, incursions into Pa-lestinian villages and orchards, bypassing roadblocks, etc.) and redraw their boundaries, it is only through the presence of the military and the articulation of space in its language and maps that spatial segregation and (re)integration take place. Furthermore, in the same way that a sovereign is characterized by its authority to declare an exception, only the sovereign (in the person of the government, the defense minister, the chief of staff, or the local commander) can order “disengagement” or any other form of withdrawal from certain spaces. As much as exception and exclusion are means for reappropriating the excluded and reestablishing the law,20 disengagement or withdrawal is a means for reappropriating of control over the entire space and reestablishing the occupier’s rule over it.
Indeed, the so-called disengagement plan is a means to regain control and reassert authority over the entire Gaza Strip. Regardless of the intentions ascribed to the plan, this has already been its affect –long before the first settler has been forced to leave his house– and will remain one of its effects if it ever materializes. The same is true for the wall. Long before the project is finished, and in some areas long before it has even started, space has be redrawn and redistributed, with new partitions of land, new restrictions on movement, and new methods to reintegrate the space that the planned or constructed wall divides. In both cases space is unilaterally redrawn and rearranged so as to regain full control over the way Palestinians move in and out of their enclaves, without hindering the penetrability of the Palestinian space that remains always open for the incursions of Israeli forces. Also in both cases, some settlers’ space is threatened by the rearrangement of military space; in the Gaza Strip this space is meant to be annulled altogether, while in the West Bank more restrictions on settlers’ movements are expected in settlements that will not be encircled by the wall. These future injuries, for which a great machinery of compensation has already been set in place, are the result of the fact that despite all their colonial privileges, Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories are not normal citizens: all their rights are fully protected by Israeli law except for their rights to the colonized space itself. The territories have never been fully annexed and the settlers’ presence in them has never been fully “naturalized” in Israeli minds, let alone recognized by non-Israelis. Neither the settlers’ free movement in the territories nor their possession of the land can be guaranteed by the Israeli legal system. From the point of view of this system, the colonized space has never been pacified and “civilized” (except for the annexed territory in the greater Jerusalem area) and is in a permanent state of emergency. It is a space where the law has never been fully established – or withdrawn– and therefore exception has become the rule, having a zone of its own. It is space itself (mainly, but not only, Palestinian space) that can be forsaken, abandoned, damaged, and destroyed without punishment.21 At the same time, for many years the Israeli governments acted as if this space cannot be scarified either, not even for the sake of peace, and this is still the position of many Jewish nationalists and religious fundamentalists. The settlers’ space –abandoned to un-punishable injuries and excluded from the realm of religious sacrifice– has itself become sacred, a sort of spatium sacer. As if space itself has taken upon itself two characteristics of a homo sacer,22 mirroring the Palestinians’ situation as homini sacri. In fact, it was the supposedly sacred nature of the settlers’ space, in which colonization was led by a vanguard of messianic fundamentalists who worked to transform space as a means to transform historical time, that had forsaken the Palestinians in the first place.
Every aspect of Palestinian life – economy, labor and leisure, politics and armed resistance, culture and education– is contained within this sacred/forsaken space, being constrained and constructed by the system of segregation and integration that operates within and through it. This system abides by no law except for the regulations it constantly invents, inscribes, and reinscribes into the space it controls and constantly transforms. The plethora of rules and regulations used to articulate, direct, restrain, or describe after-the-fact the operations of the ruling apparatus have only this in common: they are anchored in the present temporary phase of spatialization of this apparatus, to which they give form and which they constantly transform. Nothing is more constant than the changing spatial aspect of these rules. They may derive their authority from Israeli law, they may be restrained by an occasional, limited and partial respect for international humanitarian law, and they may reflect the changing intensity of Palestinian resistance, settlers’ pressure, diplomatic maneuvers, or economic interests. But all these sources of influence are always mediated by and articulated through the spacing out of power and the triple segregation/integration of space. With no special additional effort and within a very short time the mechanism of closure and restrictions of movement can render meaningless any external input – legal, political, economic, moral, or other– into the system of domination, preventing its proper realization.
This fact accounts for the obvious but irregular differences between the situation and well-being of Palestinians in different dominated areas. The government reacts to Palestinian resistance, and sometime to Palestinian submissiveness as well, while local commanders have a certain degree of freedom in making decisions regarding closure and movement. In some places, on some days, people can get to work, study and even have uninterrupted social lives while on others no one can go to work for weeks, schools are closed and people are stuck in their homes for many long days and nights. This difference is always explained as a matter of security, which means precisely that space must be resegregated or reintegrated according to the changing needs of the ruling apparatus that respects no rules but its own. Closure and restrictions on movement are means of security, they say, but security itself is always already spatially articulated and distributed: security for Jews, forsakenness for Palestinians. To ensure security means to perpetuate the spacing out of a power whose law is suspended and whose presence takes the form of a pendulum movement between suspended and spectacular violence and between violent segregation and violent re-integration of space: a sacred space, always on the verge of a disaster zone.
The more violent this spatial segregation and reintegration becomes the more apparent is its resemblance to a camp, in the sense Agamben gives to this notion.23 This is neither a concentration camp, nor a labor or a refugee camp, but a camp it is nonetheless: an enclosed space in which law has been suspended and power works through a series of spatial segregations of already-segregated segments of the population. In the camp the exceptional and temporary suspension of the law becomes the rule, and a state of emergency becomes the normal state of affairs. Life turns into “bare life” because, lacking the protection of any legal system and political status, it is completely invaded by mechanisms of power which make it at one and the same time an object of knowledge and an addressee of violence. In the camp, bare life becomes a medium in which knowledge and power meet, exchange, nurture, and produce each other incessantly, without the mediation of law or political discourse. The rules of power are immediately inscribed in the inhabitants’ bodies, property, and space, while any attempt by the inhabitants to reclaim their space, property, or bodies is immediately construed as resistance to power.
This camp, however, is not a place to which Palestinians have been sent or deported but a construction enforced on their place of living. For Palestinians the camp is inside their own homes, villages and towns, orchards and fields. In addition to, and through, the fragmentation of space and the complete control over all movements, the ruling power also made the very presence of Palestinians in their own living spaces a temporary matter. Both regular and unexpected restrictions of movement are temporary; identity cards and permits allowing movement in and out of the enclosed zones are also temporary and must be renewed frequently;24 in the greater Jerusalem area thousands of people literally have lost their right to return to their place for all kinds of administrative reasons.25 The demolition of houses has become so frequent that in certain areas the very existence of one’s house seem temporary;26 and the danger of deportation and expulsion is always hanging in the air, the suspended presence of the ultimate spatial weapon.
In most camps, people are in a state of transition, and this state is more or less temporary. The temporariness, transience, deferral, and suspension which characterize any camp create or assign a common identity to the camp dwellers, be they tourists, soldiers, detainees, refugees or deportees. Having lost or given up their identities and roots in their places of origin, either temporarily or for good, and not having reached their destinations yet, they all undergo a similar experience: the camp suspends or erases their many differences with respect to origin and destination and becomes their common destiny. In the territories, people are thrown into a state of transition because their living spaces are in transition, and by virtue of this transition the Palestinian common destiny is severely fractured; the fragmentation of space creates many local destinies according to the specific, contingent conditions in each of the enclaves or separate cells of the large camp. Still, the inhabitants of the separate spatial cells have one important attribute in common: they are all deprived of citizenship, and this status of noncitizen is their form of belonging to the Israeli State.27 This deprivation defines their political existence in a way that has now made it possible to turn their villages and towns into the cells of a new camp which, in its turn, makes possible their continuous expulsion from the realms of law and politics, of civility and culture. The camp is not the place where Palestinians have been gathered; it is rather the “encampment” of their birthplace that allows the continuous reduction of their existence into “bare life.”
This “encampment” of the Palestinians has now become visible with the construction of the wall. The wall has concrete destructive effects on the population caught within its serpentine tentacles; apparently, it is also having quite dramatic psychological effects on both Israelis and Palestinians. The wall has even contributed to the emergence of new, nonviolent and multinational forms of resistance to the occupation in the form of a series of demonstrations in which Palestinians villagers, Israelis from the radical left, and volunteers from various international organizations take part in civil disobedience at the construction sites. But the wall has not introduced any new methods of domination that have not already been put to use at a more local level. The system of separation, fragmentation of space, and spatial segregation according to national identity, the attempt to “clean” more and more space of Palestinian presence, the radical reduction of the volume of Palestinian movement in space, and the detailed, rigorous control over anything that is still moving were all already in place before the erection of the wall. What the wall is adding is both a momentous destruction of the Palestinian environment along a line whose logic lies precisely in the lack of any comprehensible guiding principle, and the phantasm of total separation construed through numerous new points of friction.
In other words, it is not the wall that has created the camp, but rather the strategy and reality of encampment which has led to the construction of the wall. The transformation of the territories into a sacred space, a zone of exception at the outskirts of law produced entirely without residue through an unrestrained interplay between suspended and spectacular violence, into a dynamic of destruction and construction, fragmentation, segregation, and reintegration, is now preformed most conspicuously –but by no means only– through and around the construction of the wall. It is the construction of the wall that has to be emphasized here, not the constructed wall: the long process of planning, the legal, military, and physical preparations, the diplomatic and political –local and international– struggles, the frequent changes in the wall’s line, the dismantling of certain parts of it and their displacement, the recurrent postponements of construction of some other parts (due to lack of money, political and diplomatic pressure, court decisions, local compromises with villagers or settlers, etc.), the frequent changes in the number of open and operating gates, their status and regulations. Every moment of this process, every curve along the hundred kilometers of the wall’s itinerary, every opening or closure of any of the gates, have been occasions for segregation and reintegration of space, redeployment of forces, interplay between suspended and spectacular violence. The wall may have already brought more security to many Israelis, but only at the expense of bringing havoc on many Palestinians, and only because “security” itself has remained a principle of segregation and colonization. At every turn of this long route, new ways to render space sacred have appeared and new forms of forsaking its inhabitants have been exercised. A static instrument of spatial separation has turned out be the tail of a crawling monster that devours space and re-territorializes it at the same time, without ever splitting the territory into two.
The wall is not simply a major project under construction; it is an unfinished project in which non-termination seems structural rather than accidental. Therefore, it seems safe to predict that the wall will remain unfinished “forever” (until one day some new project –of full annexation or true reconciliation– puts an end to it altogether). The wall’s role is not to reduce violence but to extend and reproduce domination and reinscribe it in space. The wall is not a means for total separation of two communities in conflict but part of a mechanism of spatial segregation and reintegration through which conflict management is carried out by the ruling partner. For the purpose of segregation and reintegration, the thousands of tons of reinforced concrete are less important than the numerous gates and their changing status and regulations.28 “The facts on the ground” are not inscribed by the concrete wall; they are inscribed by, in, and around these gates and the zones of friction around them, which, together with the unfinished parts of the wall, constitute the constantly changing network of permeability through which power is spaced out, the colonizing process continues, the Palestinian population is encamped and its daily life dissected.
The wall, so argue Israeli officials and opinion makers, is merely a substitute for a political solution; it is temporary, and it can be removed in peacetime or relocated according to a future agreement between the two parties. In the meantime it represents a suspended political solution. The wall is an architectonic-geographic-military solution to a lack of political solution. In the meantime, the wall that protects “us” is the wall that forsakes “them”. But the only way to bring “our” protection to perfection is to make “their” abandonment complete. Indeed, the wall embodies and helps articulate two complementary fantasies: total disengagement from the Palestinians (“We don’t want to see any of them around any longer”) and their total abandonment (“Let them kill each other, let them starve there, let them drink the sea of Gaza”). But it is precisely because total disengagement means total abandonment that both fantasies can never come true for a full-scale, “total” disaster is suspended as much as the political solution is postponed. While evading and postponing the latter has been the tacit policy of most Israeli governments since 1967, a policy Israel often shared with its Palestinian partner, suspension of a wholesale disaster has been a constituent element of its ruling apparatus in the territories since the outbreak of the second Intifada.29
The reduction of Palestinian livelihood to sub-Saharan standards30 is no doubt an effect of the geography of segregation, but it is also a means to reproduce it. Bringing the population to the verge of disaster creates submissiveness, foster dependency among Palestinians, and mobilizes the international humanitarian community that subsidizes the Palestinian economy –and hence the occupation itself– in proportion unparalleled by any other contemporary humanitarian crisis.31 Despite obvious frictions and tense relationships, the mechanisms of suspended violence and humanitarian action are at work simultaneously, complementing each other and often well coordinated. The hinge that today connects the two apparatuses –the military and the humanitarian– is suspension. In the new Palestinian camp, everything has been suspended and is on hold: normal daily life, law and the legal system in its entirety, total war, disengagement (which is itself a from of suspension), mass dislocation of population, a full-fledged humanitarian catastrophe, a permanent political resolution of the conflict, a final solution of this or that nature. The violent apparatus of the ruling power suspends not only daily life and the law, but total war and mass dislocation as well. The humanitarian apparatus takes an active role in achieving this suspension. By their direct distribution of aid and indirect impact on public opinion and on the Israeli authorities, the humanitarians prevent unemployment from becoming malnutrition and malnutrition from becoming famine, thus suspending the disaster which a widespread famine would have created. By their very presence, as part of the so-called international community and its representatives, they also contribute, temporarily at least, to the suspension of more brutal policies of domination; they contribute to the prevention of targeted killings becoming mass murders and local house demolitions becoming the full-fledged transfer of an entire population.
In moments of severe crisis, in order to prevent further deterioration and the crossing of that imaginary threshold of “true” catastrophe (which can always be redrawn according to the assumed changing sensibility and attentiveness of a no less imaginary “international community”), the ruling apparatus is always ready to consider certain alleviations of its yoke, open new gates, to allocate more soldiers to the checkpoints to allow faster passage, and so on. Most of the engagements between Israeli soldiers and the Palestinian residents take place in these circumstances and thus concern endless negotiations over passage within, into, and out of the territories, negotiations in which “humanitarian reasons” are one of very few things a Palestinian can bring to the exchange in order to get a permit to pass.32 Palestinians are constantly forced to exchange presentations and representations of the basic needs of their bare lives, their suffering and losses, for permits that would allow them maintain bare lives and mitigate some of their suffering.33 The immense suffering and humiliation of the crossing points themselves cannot be included in this negotiation, for they are part of the conditions for negotiation. The numerous gates in the wall, together with the numerous other checkpoints on both sides of the wall, function as a network of theatres in which these (re)presentations of bare life take place, sometimes several times a day for one person.
The wall has not reduced the Palestinian existence to bare life and has not created the theater where this existence is represented; it has only given this theater a more visible, more threatening presence, creating for it a stage whose size is enormous. And it has no doubt intensified the specter of a final solution (in the figure of separation or deportation) and the sense of temporariness in light of this specter. The rising concrete, in view everywhere, means that total separation is imminent, that the very existence of bare life is at stake, that every passage is temporary, and that everything gained at the checkpoint is ephemeral and has to be regained through the another tortuous round of negotiation. But there are always openings in the wall, there is always the possibility that closed gates would be opened, and there are still wall-less areas, which means that the real disaster has not happened yet, that some lines of flight are still possible, that resistance –not only submissiveness– should be channeled and redirected according to the advance of the monster’s tail. And it is precisely this continuation of resistance that reaffirms the necessity of the wall in Israeli eyes.