What is the occupation? Is it possible to laugh about it?

Suad al-Amiry, in her closing speech at an event organized by TedXRamallah, re-told the famous story about her dog and her dog’s Jerusalem passport, which says a lot both about the occupation [and about crossing Qalandia, the main and terrible checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem], and about becoming a writer, and much more:

[[ Sorry two facts here are confusing, perhaps just misspoken: (1) Suad explains that from Atarot, where she got Nura’s dog passport, you can go either to Ramallah or to Qalandia… (2) Suad says Israeli license plates are yellow, while Palestinian license plates are blue (they are green, with white)…]]

The Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and lives – continued – 21 years after the Proclamation of a State of Palestine

Today is the 21st anniversary of the Proclamation, by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at a meeting on 15 November 1988 of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s National Council (PNC) in Algiers, of the still-unrealized State of Palestine.

Still, today is marked as Palestinian Independence Day, here in Ramallah and the rest of the West Bank, and in Gaza as well — and also in East Jerusalem (though there, where I also live, it will have to be surreptitiously, because the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, and the Israeli national and Border Police, are mobilized against any manifestation, however far-removed, of the “authority” of the Palestinian Authority…)

And today, we are informed by YNet, the Israeli English-language website of the country’s most popular Hebrew-language daily paper, Yediot Ahronot, that “Palestinian plans to possibly unilaterally declare a state continue to yield reactions in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to reject the increasingly strengthening Palestinian imitative during his speech at the Saban Forum in Jerusalem on Sunday“. YNet added that Netanyahu “will warn the Palestinians against moving forward with the initiative, emphasizing Israel’s objection, and will stress that the solution for the establishment of a Palestinian state can be found in negotiations with Israel. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned in a speech at the Saban Forum on Saturday that a withdrawal to the 1967 borders will not end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. ‘A return to 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria will not end the conflict, but rather, shift it into Israel’s borders’, he said, adding that such circumstances would prompt Arab-Israeli demands for autonomy in the Galilee and the Negev”. This YNet report can be viewed in full here

Yasser Arafat himself was strongly warned against “unilaterally” declaring a state, as he had “threatened” to do, in 1999 and in 2000 (after the end of the five-year “transition” period of Palestinian autonomy that was agreed in the Oslo Accords, and just before the start of the Second Palestinian Intifada that was sparked by a militarized visit of Israel’s Ariel Sharon to the mosque plateau known to Palestinians as the Haram ash-Sharif, the third-holiest site in Islam, which Jews believe is the site of the Second and possibly also the First Jewish Temple, the central focus of the most sacred site in Judaism.)

Here are a few bare facts of the day from the English-language publication in Israel, the Jerusalem Post, (generally considered more right-wing than the English-language version of the Israeli paper, Haaretz). [The JPost and the Ma’an News Agency in Bethlehem are the only two media covering such news as this] —

(1) This report is talking about the Israeli-occupied West Bank:
Nov 15, 2009 8:09
IDF troops detain 4 Palestinian fugitives in West Bank ops
By JPOST.COM STAFF
“IDF troops detained four Palestinian fugitives Saturday overnight near Ramallah and Bethlehem. The military said all detainees were transferred to security forces for interrogation”. This JPost report can be read in full here.
These reports appear several times a week, sometimes daily. The Palestinians (men, usually) who are seized, often from their beds, are variously described as “suspects”, “fugitives”, “wanted”, and so on. No one ever really bothers to ask what happens to these people. Most often, they are eventually, if not immediately, taken out of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) to jails inside Israel, which is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. (Today it was reported that the Arab League has decided to request an advisory opinion from the UN’s International Court of Justice in The Hague about Palestinian and Arab (yes, there are others, from Lebanon, Syria, and other countries, some of whom are explicitly being held in exchange for release of information about missing Israelis) prisoners in Israeli jails

(2) This report is talking about the State of Israel:
Nov 15, 2009 9:48 | Updated Nov 15, 2009 9:52
Border Police arrest 252 illegals over weekend
By JPOST.COM STAFF
“Border Police arrested 252 illegal aliens over the weekend. The Palestinian illegals were working in Israel without permits. Three people were arrested for employing the illegals and thirteen on suspicion of transporting them”. This JPost report can be read in full here.
These reports appear once every couple of months. Often, the figures are larger — 1000 or 1,500 “illegal aliens” from the West Bank, who are working in Israel, often with the complicity of Israeli employers who can, among other things, pay them a lower wage with fewer benefits…

Then, let’s take a step back and try to understand what is going on here.

Suad Amiry, a Syrian-born Palestinian architect who came to Ramallah to teach at Bir Zeit in the 1980s and who now heads the Ramallah-based organization Riwaq, dedicated to preserving Palestinian architecture, has written a new book entitled Murad, Murad, about the life of Palestinian West Bankers who — despite The Wall and Israeli bureaucratic and military restructions — continue to try to work in Israel. (Her earlier book, Sharon and my Mother-in-Law, chronicled life under house confinement during the forceful military Israeli re-occupation of Ramallah in 2002). Suad Amiry said in an interview published in the Summer issue (number 38) of the Jerusalem Quarterly that: “We who are professionals in Ramallah are able to make a living away from Israel. It’s difficult to understanding the complexity of Murad and other workers’ relation to Israel. Murad went to Israel when he was 13. All his growing up happened there. He is oppressed, beaten, and lately has been put in prison – but in a strange way, Israel is also his home. In this contradictory relation, he is more like the Palestinians inside Israel”. The Jerusalem Quarterly interview reports that “Suad tells a story of lives that are largely invisible – invisible to her before her journey, and invisible to much of the Palestinian public, as well as to the world. She notes that when the Palestinian Authority didn’t pay salaries [to its employees, over half of whom work for the security services] for several months, it was the talk of the town. But Murad told her: ‘Why the big fuss? When we are thrown into prison, no one helps us’. In the year 2000, there were about 100,000 West Bankers workers in Israel, with many more family members dependent on their work. While numbers fluctuate today, it is no exaggeration to say that the lives and rights of a substantial proportion of the population are rarely acknowledged … Suad Amiry’s new book, Murad, Murad, scheduled for publication in Italian in the summer of 2009, is the story of her eighteen-hour journey in 2007 with Murad, an ‘illegal’ Palestinian worker and his friends, as they attempt to cross the ‘border’ into Israel and find work. Starting off at midnight from the village of Mazra el Noubani, in the Ramallah-area, a group of workers, accompanied by Suad in male disguise and Mohammed, Murad’s brother who is a colleague of Suad, set off in a rackety bus on a journey that resembled a maze, as they struggle to avoid army patrols, skirt the Wall, walk through ditches, orchards and tunnels to reach the ‘other side’ and work in Israel … Murad, who has worked in Israel since he was thirteen and is utterly determined to continue to work there, despite the enormous odds against him”. This is published in the Summer issue of Jerusalem Quarterly, and posted on the internet here.

Another article in the same issue of the Jerusalem Quarterly is an excerpt of remarks made earlier this year by leading Palestinian academic and writer, who has also participated in multilateral negotiations under the Madrid Process, Salim Tamari, in a discussion at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which were summarized in the Summer 2009 issue (no. 38) of the Jerusalem Quarterly, which he edits, for the Institute for Jerusalem Studies, which he heads. The Institute for Jerusalem Studies (a branch of the Institute for Palestinian Studies) was formerly located in Jerusalem, but was forced by Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement to re-locate to Ramallah. Salim Tamari is commenting, here, on an analysis also presented at MIT in a discussion last February at the Department for Urban Planning, by Israeli academic Eyal Weizman:
An Architectural Laboratory of the Extreme? Reflections on Weizman’s Hollow Land by Salim Tamari
“Eyal Weizman’s Hollow Land is the first systematic study of Israel’s regime of spatial control, combining the insights of political geography, architecture, semiotics, theories of counterinsurgency, and an appreciation for the shifting ideological tenants of Zionism and the history of settler regimes. It combines a majestic sweep of broad conceptual paradigms about population control, with a meticulous examination of the detailed mechanisms of such control and the thinking among military strategists who plan it, as well as their willing and unwilling accomplices among them. Those are the social scientists, contractors, and service providers who cater to their vision, and who often provide humanitarian services to mitigate the dire human costs and the disastrous results of these strategies. One of the most rewarding features of this study is the manner in which it posits architectural knowledge and affiliated disciplines in social science, engineering and politics as partners, willing or sometimes unconscious, in the process of colonial conquest. The study provokes a number of issues that are only partly examined, and in need of elaboration. Here are some of them, listed briefly as questions:

The Process of ‘Distanciation’. One of the most significant achievements of the Oslo Agreement from an Israeli governmental perspective (as pointed out in The Hollow Land) is the creation of a spatial geography of fragmentation in which the de-linking of the Palestinian and Israeli population has enhanced the legitimacy of occupation. This happened through withdrawal to the periphery of urban areas and handing over the administrative control and welfare of 80 percent of the Palestinians, in areas A and B, to the Palestinian Authority. In effect it created conditions for population control from a distance, either through surveillance and checkpoints, or through administrative autonomy by a non-sovereign Palestinian regime.

But the process is not complete. Rural areas in region C, the settlements, and the greater Jerusalem area (outside the municipal borders), remained zones of direct military control. Arab Jerusalem also continued to be ruled directly, but was separated both from other Palestinian communities and from Palestinian leadership. To a large extent the process removed the physicality of the confrontation and therefore made the tactics of civil insurrection and strategy of disobedience (which defined the first uprising) virtually impossible. No alternative resistance strategy since then evolved partly due to the absence of physical encounters, but also due to the absence of a leadership.

One area where I differ with Weizman is over the issue of the illusion of sovereignty, which he illustrated through the semiotics of the one-way mirror: the example from the pre-intifada period was the presence and power of Israeli officials at the King Hussein/Allenby bridge who used a one-way mirror to monitor (and approve or disapprove ) Palestinian passage. I do not believe that there was an “illusion of sovereignty” here, and it did not need the conditions of dusk to unravel the real power behind the mirror. What existed rather is rather a consensual delusion in which Palestinians (as in La Vita è Bella) shared in the self-deception in order to make life more tolerable knowing that they could not resolve the issue of sovereignty, given the existing power relationship between them and the Israelis.

Normalization of Occupation?

One consequence of removing the physical military presence in the major urban areas has been to create a sense of normalcy. Weizman refers to the normalization of the ‘absurd’ system of population control through filtering checkpoints. The system creates a mechanism of routinization of arbitrary military control that is internalized by the subject population, leading to protocols of acceptance through negotiating its loopholes (permits, exceptions, smuggling). But this system of normalization of oppression has built-in weaknesses that undermine its own sense of normalcy.

Two features of this system are its unpredictability and irrationalism. It is supposed to create mechanisms of control in order to prevent penetration, circumvention and deceit. But in overdoing its objective of population control it leads to immense resentment and conditions of rebellion. A relevant question here is why does the system resort to extreme humiliation of the population when such humiliation defeats its function of security control?

The question of agency in Weizman’s analysis is also problematic. The system of control chartered by the author produces an occupation regime that is all pervasive. Does the cunning adaptation of the subject Palestinian population to this regime through subversion of building regulation and getting around the blockade, constitute resistance to the regime, or a normalization of oppression?

The System is over-designed. Weizman skillfully draws an architectural system of control that is omnipotent and omnipresent. The regime of population control through the technology of monitoring and surveillance; of countless filtering systems; of segmented road systems; of counter-insurgency through predicting every possible contingency of the enemy and pre-empting it, is ultimately overdesigned. It ostensibly operates through open and closed spaces, underground and in the air, and through the bureaucratic regime of permits and civil administration. By investing so much conceptual capital in detailing its omnipotence Weizman produces a paradigm that is hermetically sealed and has the force of nature. There seems to be no escape from it.

Even on the intellectual plane, in this paradigm the military commanders have captured the terrain, utilizing critical theory, Foucault, Deleuze (and Marx, in the case of the Village Leagues) to (successfully) engineer a counter-revolutionary reality. The weakness of this paradigm is that it overdetermines the omnipotence of the hegemonic power by attributing to it exaggerated capacities of control both at logistic and intellectual levels. It leaves unexamined its own contradictions; its misadventures; its control by politicians who have myopic ideological visions, whose thirst for land grabbing will make them choke on excessive expansion of limited economic capacities; and who seem to behave as if they are independent from the world around them. But after all, as Weizman points out in “Demographic Architecture,” it is indeed remarkable that Israel’s planning policies in Jerusalem have not succeeded in transferring the requisite number of Palestinians outside of the city; even the most powerful do not operate in a laboratory where they control all the elements”. These comments, and more, can be viewed in full on the Jerusalem Quarterly website,
here.

NOTE: The Two-State Solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has, since the Second Palestinian Intifada, become the central credo of Israel and American diplomacy, and thus also of “international” efforts (backed by the European Union and the United Nations). However, there is still no Palestinian state. After returning to power in February general elections, the current Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu resisted for months agreeing to this Two-State formula, and only did so in a speech months later at Bar Ilan University, in which Netanyahu posed several major limiting conditions. Opposition leader (and former Israeli Defense Minister) Shaul Mofaz has just proposed Israeli support for a Palestinian State on 50-60 percent of the West Bank (excluding existing Israeli settlements, which would remain under Israeli sovereignty). As the climate has deteriorated, with intense Palestinian disappointment in the position of Barak Obama’s Administration, Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat has “threatened” that the Palestinian Authority is ready to jettison its commitment to the Two-State Solution, and to mobilize behind a theoretical “One-State solution” — by which is generally meant Palestinians and Israelis living together with full and equal rights, as if they had the choice… But this option it is not on the table. The only alternative to the Two-State solution now appears to be a continuation of more of the same, with continued direct Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem — now officially ruled by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, with limited autonomy given to the present Palestinian Authority and its security forces, and also of Gaza (where Hamas may or may not be allowed to continue its present “de facto” rule if it becomes a “responsible address” that Israel can count on to limit attacks against Israel. It is not terribly surprising that the powerful Israeli military leadership opposes ending the occupation — they feel more comfortable being in control, and they would like a 25, 50, or 100-year period to continue the current status quo, with checkpoints and all (perhaps even inside Israel, certainly also in the Golan Heights), to see if the Palestinians have peaceful intentions, these Israeli miltary officials say, after which they might begin to consider talking about territory. The impression is given that they would not mind if all of Israel, or even all of the world, became like the West Bank… But this current status quo is, simply, unsustainable. What will happen next is unclear…