The sixth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles (as well as additional photographs) of the blog about Palestine, is now officially published by Punctum Books in collaboration with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School. You can either download the book as a PDF for free or order it online for the price of $7.00 or €6.00. Next volume to be published will be dedicated to Cruel Designs. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.
Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Raja Shehadeh, Nora Akawi, Eyal Weizman, Regine Debatty, Ahmad Barcklay, Dena Qaddumi, Dror Etkes, Franchaska Katz & Amir Terkel.
Official page of The Funambulist Pamphlets Volume 06: PALESTINE on Punctum Books’ website.
Index of the Book
Introduction: Cartography of a Colonial Politics of Space
01/ The Palestinian Archipelago: A Metaphorical Cartography of the Occupied Territories
02/ For a More Embodied Vision of the Occupation: The Israeli Settlements in the West Bank Through Palestinian eyes
03/ Architectural Stockholm Syndrome
04/ The Route 443, a Symptomatic Example of the Apartheid Apparatus in the West Bank
05/ Road Link between Gaza and the West Bank: A Sovereignty Contained in a Line
06/ The Ordinary Violence of the Colonial Apparatuses in the West Bank
07/ The Right to the Ruin: Civilization Absence in the Post-Nakba Landscapes
08/ Sympathy with the Obstacle in the Gaza Strip
09/ War in the Manhattan Strip
10/ Political Geography of the Gaza Strip: A Territory of Experiments for the State of Israel
11/ Representation of Otherness for a Gaza Kid
12/ The Policies of the “Lesser Evil”
13/ Palestine: What the International Legislation Says
14/ Law as a Colonial Weapon
15/ The Reasons for Disobeying a Law
16/ The Palestinian Legal Right of Return
17/ Manual of Return
18/ 2037 by Raja Shehadeh
19/ Running as Political Resistance
20/ Idealism & Imagination
21/ Are we Questioning the Essence of Problems?
22/ An Epistolary Conversation with R. Debatty
23/ An Epistolary Conversation with A. Barclay and D. Qaddumi
Olive Harvest / Where Law Stands on the Wall – Visualizing Palestine 2013
The collective Visualizing Palestine is finishing a crowdfunding campaign for their operative budget (only five days left!). This gives us a good opportunity to look again at the work produced by this talented team a year and half after I published one of their first visuals on this blog.
The principle of Visualizing Palestine is to create posters expressing in an expressive manner, the conditions in which the occupation of the Palestinian territories unfolds itself on a daily basis. In order to do so, they articulate a metaphoric or diagrammatic visualizing one of the many dimensions of the occupation, with an inventory of sourced facts that informs this data. The two examples above are illustrative for that matter. The powerful imagery of Central Park being “uprooted” allows the information of the massive uprooting of Palestinian trees since the beginning of the occupation in 1967 to be understood both at a rational and at an emotional level. Similarly, the second poster provides a clear information about the various decisions of justice given by the International Court of Justice regarding the separation barrier built by the state of Israel since 2002. This information is crucial when we see that Benjamin Netanyahu now projects to build a new wall in the West Bank (once again on Palestinian ground) along the border with Jordan.
Following is four more visuals (more on VP’s website) created in this last year: Continue reading
Still from The Law in these Parts by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz (2012)
I recently watched Israeli director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz‘s fim, The Law in these Parts (merci Philippe) that unfolds the legal mechanisms of the occupation of the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since their take over by the Israeli Defense Forces in 1967. Alexandrowicz alternates archival footage and interviews with six members of the Israeli military legal corps who had a significant action on the legal colonial framework. I have written a lot about how architecture was used as a colonial weapon in the Palestinian territories; it is important to observe also how this architecture is the embodiment of a series of legal strategies that were implemented in order to organize Palestinian daily life according to military occupation logic, to allow the civilian colonization of these territories, as well as to registers each actions in regard to the international legislation to determine a position that never reaches a ‘breaking point.’
This colonial law is a well-thought strategy, not a set of quickly decided tactics. In this regard, the first thing that the film tells us, is that the brochures informing the Palestinians that they were now under the Israeli military legislation — a necessary measure in the international law — were designed and printed by dozens of thousands long before 1967 and the actual occupation of the Palestinian territories by the I.D.F.. The content of this colonial legislation was then regularly updated as issues were raised, involving groups of military law-makers to continue constructing the legal means by which the Palestinian population’s life would be organized by the Israeli army. Alexandrowicz asks the question about whether it would have not been more simple to enforce the Israeli legislation on the Palestinians. He is answered that such logic had to be avoided absolutely as it would have been considering the occupied population as citizens of Israel de facto. The films also points out the ambiguous legal obligation on the Israeli civil population — there are currently 500,000 Israeli civil settlers in the West Bank — who live in the occupied territories. Unsurprisingly this population’s criminal activity is not judged by military courts as for the occupied population, but rather by the civil Israeli courts that has been consistently lenient with their action.
I am aware of the fact that I already wrote a very similar article (same topic, same reference) a bit less than three years ago. Yet, with the forthcoming sixth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets dedicated to Palestine, it might be a good time to revisit it.
The small group of Palestinians practicing parkour in the Gaza strip has been largely spread around the net (see Joseph Grima’s article in Domus for example with beautiful photographs by Antonio Ottomanelli). However, we should not be overwhelmed by the aesthetics offered by these bodies subverting walls in a region where walls embody the paradigm of the containment from which the people of Gaza suffer. We should nonetheless not refuse the symbolical aspect of such practice as symbols have a strong impact on collective imaginaries. The latter have various degrees of political involvement and one can easily understand that, in the specific case of Gaza, the collective imaginary built by the Palestinians have indeed strong political implications.
What is wrong with these pictures? Start maybe by looking at them all. The landscapes that they show are beautiful and seem to be almost untouched by humans. The problem is that they are taken where Palestinian villages used to exist before 1948. Five days ago was the 65th anniversary of the Nakba (the catastrophe in Arabic), the day that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had to flee from their land when the State of Israel was established. These photographs are from the website of the association Zochrot that attempts to familiarize Israeli people with the tragic consequences that their country originated, advocate for a Palestinian right to return (see past article about it) and, hope for a bi-national reconciliation. In this regard, Zochrot has established a map (in Hebrew only) giving an inventory of the Palestinian villages that were evacuated and those that have been destroyed after 1948.
Sometimes their destruction led space to the new Israeli towns but as these photographs reveal, it was a much more profound destruction than a “simple” take over. Palestinian villages have been purely annihilated to the very last stone. Such a clear act of negating the presence of a civilization before the existence of Israel is even more shocking and disturbing as it occurred only a few years after the industrialized Nazi death machine against the Jewish people – let us not forget the gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped and communists either. Ruins of these villages would have told a narrative involving the Palestinian existence prior to the state of Israel and would have implied their evacuation from it. This narrative was apparently not part of the newly born State that got rid of it through the violent erasing of this historical tracks. The ruin implies a tragic situation, but the negation to the right to the ruin goes even further: it is an absolute re-writing of history as it attempts to erase a part of it (it is understood here as the factual history, not the interpretation of it, also named history).
The space beyond the walls: Defensive “a-legal” sanctuaries
(originally written for the Wheelwright Prize – failed)
Considered purely in the abstract, the law appears to be a tool which makes strict categorizations of human actions and behaviors as either legal or illegal, just or unjust. Concomitantly, the abstraction of the law corresponds with a similar spatial abstraction in which territories are defined diagrammatically. This is true as far as the sovereignty of states is concerned but also for all architectural plans; they diagrammatically organize space into distinct territories of jurisdiction. In each case, law and diagram are reduced to their abstract lines. Once manifested as physical architecture, however, such strict delineation becomes far more ambiguous. Which law is applied in the space of a wall, the space of a border or the space of a contested zone? These spaces are legal anomalies and may be understood as the architectural manifestation of what Legal Philosophy Professor Hans Lindahl calls a-legality. Such in-between spaces seem at once to underwrite the law as well as to contradict it. In this research project, I propose to investigate specific cases in which the architecture of such “a-legal zones” is strategically used as a space of sanctuary from coercive forces. My argument insists that an “a-legal architecture” is specifically a defensive one as it gives itself the means to preserve such a status.
Israeli settlement of Rimmonim on the road from Ramallah to Jericho
I am not quite sure to know the reasons that made me take so much time to write this article, three years after my last trip in Palestine; better late than never as one says so here it is: a majority of the photographs (see below) I took when I was there of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It seemed important here that I include only my own photographs in order to reduce the “degree of separation” between the readers and them.
Those photographs are important to me as they give another approach to the multitude of maps that have been traced to ‘cartograph’ the situation in Palestinian territories. The latter are effectively fundamental to understand the legal implications of the occupation but it also tends to desincarnate any discourse one might have about it. It is therefore extremely important to add to them a more subjective approach, not so much for emotion to emerge, but rather to trigger a clear understanding of the physicality of the occupation on the field. Without this understanding, everything remains abstract and in the realms of territories, thus forgetting that these territories are actually physical and host physical bodies on it.
I want to stress the fact that approaching the problem in a more incarnate and subjective way does not mean in any way that we should focus on the ‘news items’ however tragic they may be. What I mean by that is that what requires all our attention is what systematize the colonial organization of space and the bodies, what affects them on a daily basis. That might be less spectacular than the “news items” I was just evoking; however, there lies the real and durable condition of occupation. In this regard, I would like to link this article with another I wrote a bit more than a year ago entitled The Ordinary Violence of the Colonial Apparatuses in the West Bank that was addressing a similar dimension of the occupation through the various devices that control and hurt the Palestinian bodies on a daily basis.
Photograph by Leyland Cecco/Al Jazeera
Two days ago, about 650 runners participated to the Right to Movement Palestine Marathon. This race, open to both genders and both local and international participants, was taking place in Bethlehem (see the map of the race below), along what the city has the most precious in terms of building heritage (the Church of the Nativity) and what it unfortunately has of the most violent (the separation wall). The race was also crossing the two refugee camps of Al Ayda and Ad Dheisheh where many people have been living in poverty since 1949. It is important to recall here that this poverty is both created by the occupation that makes sure to maintain a very high rate of unemployment in the West Bank (it is even worse in Gaza) but also by the strong will of refugee to continuously affirm their situation as being temporary; their families should be able to go back to live in their villages and towns which are now on Israeli territory (see previous article).
The very name of the Marathon clearly expresses the extra-sportive motivations that animate the race. On its official website, we are reminded of what the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights precises in terms of right to movement:
Running is a means of terrestrial locomotion allowing humans and other animals to move rapidly on foot. The Right to movement, means that you have right to move from A to B. Even taking the decision on where you want to be when and why. It is also one of the most basic human rights; Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
Article 13 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights
I apologize to those of my readers who would reasonably see this article as a form of self-promotion, this will be the first and only post about this book. Following the research I undertook in 2010 and the architectural project that emerged from it in 2011, My good friends Ethel and Cesar from DPR-Barcelona and I have worked together to come out with a book, Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence that would be available for all. This is now the case and you can find the book on any national franchise of amazon and (preferably!) in some bookstores in various countries. For a presentation of this work, you can see the small lecture I was lucky to be able to do at the school of architecture of Lund (Sweden) in September 2012. One particularity of the book that is also worth noting, was developed by dpr-barcelona is the introduction of a dose of augmented reality through smart phones and tablets that allow a second layer of multimedia information for each chapter.
More information after the break.
3d reconstitution of Israeli intelligence data from The Gatekeepers (2012)
I recently watched the documentary The Gatekeepers by Dror Moreh (2012), which gathers six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic secret service agency in a sort of reconstitution of Israel’s military operations in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967. Remarkably enough, the six of them are extremely critical of the policies they had to implement as they evidently constitute punctual tactics rather than long term strategies. The interesting twisting moment in this regard since to be Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 when it became clear that an important part of Israelis were not open to any form of compromise vis a vis the Zionist colonialist dream.
However satisfactory and probably helpful it is to listen to those six gentlemen who embodied one of the most powerful position in the realms of Israeli military operations from 1980 to 2011 (only one director is missing in the film within this period), it is actually tragic to observe that such opinions from them come after their retirement or worse, that they do not have any impact on the government’s policy when they were in office. From here, what seems to be a hopeful message of mind evolution can be interpreted, in the contrary, as a tragic perpetuation of an unacceptable situation regardless of the protagonists’ opinion on it.
Interpreting the problem based on opinions, polls, compromises, efforts etc. as it is usually considered (especially in Europe where people keeps considering this conflict in a very strict symmetry) might therefore be the wrong way to look at things. Similarly, getting indignation from videos or news of IDF soldiers punching a Western activist or a Palestinian kid being beaten up by some Israeli bullies in East Jerusalem and other various unjust punctual events is simply not enough as this same indignation did not nothing to change the status quo of the last forty-five years. What we need to understand and act upon is the system that makes those events possible if not encouraged.
Earlier this week, a group of about 250 Palestinians gathered in East Jerusalem in the E1 Area where the Israeli government announced the construction of 3,000 new housing units after the recent UN vote granting Palestine a status of observer member at the General Assembly. This group of people established a small village made out of tents on what is being stated as Palestinian owned private land. The photograph above shows the tents being set-up with the largest Israeli settlement in the West Bank in the background, Ma’ale Adummim (see previous article). Since then, the encampment got evicted by the Israeli army under the reason that it represented “a danger for the security of the area.”
You can read more about this story on +972 Magazine website but beyond this event, I would like to insist on the legal status tackled here. The opposition of the two settlements in one image allows us to question their relationship to the law. In both cases, there is a clear will to go against a legal system. As we know the Israeli settlements are in violation of the article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (see previous article) and therefore constitute a disobedience to the International Law. The Palestinian tent village, on the other hand, affirms a disobedience to another law, the colonial one, which was designed in a clear spirit of domination from one people on another. Of course, international law is not to be unquestionned as it has been, as always, thought and implemented by “the winners of history”, in that case, the winning countries of the Second World War. However, it does not seem irrational to consider that a law established after the horror of the war and designed in the abstraction of future conflict needs to prevail over another one which was designed unilaterally by a state with a clear self-centered agenda. After all, the state of Israel itself was implemented around the same time than the Geneva Convention and its very existence should not be reconsidered in my opinion.
In both cases, the disobedience is territorial and architectural. In that matter, the very ‘language’ of architecture used here is far from innocent. The fragile, precarious and manually built tents are a response to the various fences, walls and watch towers of the Israeli settlements. Such a dichotomy indicates the asymmetric forces involved between a state organized militarized operations of claiming a land and an immanent encampment in which the determination is affirmed through the very presence of their bodies. As I have been writing earlier (in the context of the Occupy movement), we have only one body and it can be only in one place at a time; therefore, the place we choose to be cannot be innocent and this choice can be said to be political in its very essence.
Inspired by a recent conversation I had with my good friend Nora (see her text for the funambulist) about the recent UN vote in favor of the Palestinian Authority, I came to think about the notions of idealism and imagination. In substance, Nora was explaining that the idealist she is could not possibly be satisfied by such decision. As we all know, this vote crystallizes the post-1967 borders (which is a tremendous issue as far as East Jerusalem is concerned for example) eludes the problem introduced by the territorial separation between Gaza and the West Bank, abandons the right to return for refugees as well as judiciary prosecutions, and re-affirms a support to the Palestinian Authority which does not have any electoral legitimacy since it ended its term in 2009. What Nora pointed out however, is her disappointment to see extraordinary issues ‘solved’ with hyper-ordinary solutions, problems that have no real equivalent in history addressed through responses that had been already applied in the past. There was room for imagination, she claims, to invent a new form of democracy for a post-apartheid country whichever its future name might be.
Being a supporter of this thesis myself (although I am not quite able to articulate it that well), it reminded me of the recurrent answers we get when affirming an ideal. “This is unachievable”, they say or, “that will never happen.” The point they are missing is that being an idealist does not really mean that one believes that this ideal will be reached; rather it consists in the engagement in the continuous struggle that ‘walk’ towards this ideal, in the same way that one has to aim at the horizon in order to move forward.
Imagination is the thing that cynics lack of. It is important to differentiate here creative imagination from the imagination communicated through the advertising/Hollywood industry’s slogans which, undercover of messages like “nothing is impossible”, reiterate the same limited version of a certain vision of the possible. Slavoj Zizek often argues that capitalism succeeded in making us believe that it would be easier for us to live on Mars than to find an alternative to itself. Imagining living on Mars is not really hard indeed if we simply transpose our life on earth to a red background settings with the astronauts suits added. What is really hard to imagine and therefore deserve to be the object of much efforts, is to think of other societal models that would radically change from the one we have known and we still know.
Imagination has been captured by capitalism, not in the way that dictatorial regimes censored and prevented it but, by making us think that what we see every day is the product of imagination when, really, it all comes from the very same system of production of ideas. The end of the 20th century consecrated the fear of utopia as the latter seemed to be the motor of this same century’s atrocities, but again this is false inasmuch that imagination had been captured as well by the various dominant forces that were trying desperately to reach the horizon (we can think of the Nazi autodafe and the Sovietic censorship for example). We must, of course, refrain ourselves from any form of suppression just as much we must stay away from the ambient cynicism of an era that delusionally declared itself “post-ideological”. Imagination is the creative fuel for struggle, let’s not take it for granted.
Israeli Settlement of Kokhav Ya’akov / New Palestinian Housing Complex (both near Ramallah) /// Photographs by Léopold Lambert
I wrote many times about the numerous Israeli settlements in the West Bank (I will repeat once again that they violate the article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention), but I never dedicated a whole article about what I call here an Architectural Stockholm Syndrome that is symptomatic of a problem within the Palestinian society. This syndrome that you can observe in the two pictures above lies in the quasi-imitation of those settlements’ architecture and planning for new groups of Palestinian buildings.
It has been shown many times that colonization defines itself by an absolute intrusion of a nation into another’s collective life and imaginary. One has to understand that the docile policies of the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank for almost two decades had for result to allow the bourgeoisie to develop within the Palestinian society. This bourgeoisie, in addition of strongly contrasting with the 25% unemployed people of the West Bank, is mostly depoliticized and, for part of it, silently accommodates itself of the status quo of the conflict. The architectural consequence of this class struggle within a broader geopolitical struggle is the development of those somehow luxurious groups of housing buildings, built in what must be a more or less aware reproduction of the newest and most luxurious examples of the region: the Israeli settlements.
The political consequence of such ambiguity between the colonized and the colon, in addition of the well understood internal class issues it creates, consists in the dismantlement of the creative collective imaginary that ties a nation together when it is oppressed by another one. It also participates to the ratification of the current situation as it introduces various forms of comfort which are in complete contradiction with the participation to the struggle. This contradiction has been perfectly understood by the Palestinian refugees in this regard. When offered to improve their life conditions in the numerous camps of the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, they have been consistently refusing for three generations, as such improvement would be a form of acceptance of their current situation as a definitive one. On the contrary, their rudimentary conditions of life keep them in a wakefulness position that can easily serve a political participation.
IDF Soldiers in front of a ‘flock’ of militarized Bulldozers Caterpillar D9
I apologize to those of my readers who would like to come back to a bigger diversity of articles but, to be honest, I can not yet feel comfortable writing about something else than the situation in Gaza right now, as upset and infuriated I am. Again, I don’t want to count those who died, neither publishing pictures of wounded kids, we all have access to information that insist on the ‘spectacular’ aspect of this tragedy. On the contrary, I would like to balance my anger with a deeper analysis of the daily situation in Gaza for the last decade.
After my map of the Manhattan strip (see previous post), I would like to ask my readers for another imaginative effort to put their eyes in the ones of a Gaza kid who have never been able to leave the 140 square mile piece of territory (approximately half of the area of New York City) that he lives in. What is the representation of the otherness that (s)he might have from this situation. Of course, there is always her (his) brief encounter with various foreigners working for NGOs or other aid/activist organizations; but this representation is extremely likely to be mostly influenced by the various Israeli killing machines that obviously trigger an absolute terror in this kid’s imaginary. Nothing that (s)he has seen in books or on television about other people and countries can surpass the reality of these extremely violent intrusions of deshumanized machines that vowed to destroy her (his) direct environment. In “normal” times, these are the remote controlled machine guns towers that prevent any movement in a 1,500 meter zone from the territory’s border (see previous article), there are also the frightening sound of the F-16 aircrafts and other drones over the Gaza sky, every now and then and on a regular basis, the bulldozers caterpillar D9 (see previous article) that have been so ‘efficiently’ customized by the IDF that even the US army feels obliged to buy some ‘back’ (caterpillar is an American brand) for their own use. Of course, in times of heavy conflict like the ones we powerlessly observe those days, those weapons are complemented by tanks and battleships and they all participate to bomb the Gaza strip from the outside.
Map of the Gaza Strip (Dec 2011) /// United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory
I think that many of us are infuriated in front of the unfolding new siege over Gaza by the Israeli army. As horrifying as those images of children and entire families being struck by the bombs sent by aircraft, battleships, drones or other remote controlled machine guns, it is extremely important to also insist on the daily oppression that the people of the Gaza strip have to face even when they are not being bombed. Since 2006 and the Israeli disengagement of its settlement within the strip, the situation is different from the one in the West Bank -which I have to say, I am more familiar with. When the West Bank has to suffer from multiple colonial apparatuses, Gaza functions pretty much as a gigantic prison from which, it is almost impossible to escape -even the Egyptian border remains close to most people. Most of the needs of its people (water, food, electricity, phone & internet networks etc.) is provided directly by Israel (for most of it, see the last map of this article) who has been, along the years, quite literally experimenting how little it could provide without provoking a severe humanitarian crisis in the eyes of the International Community. The access to the sea itself is heavily restricted – and enforced with real rockets – by the IDF to keep Gaza fishermen’s boats within a limit of three nautical miles. Needless to say, fishing cannot be a strong economy in this context.
The strip is thus a scale 1 experiment for the Israeli state to determine how to sustain the lives of 1.7 millions Palestinians – apparently more for its International reputation than for its philanthropic will as we can currently see – with the minimum of ressources. But, this very small piece of territory – and to some extents, this is also true in the West Bank – is also a terrain of experiments for military training and weapon technology. As some specialists have been detecting, some US military officials have been often spotted during IDF operations in a clear attempt to learn how to lead a siege in the Middle East. After the operation Lead Cast in Dec 2008-Jan 09 that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians of all ages, the Goldstone Report and various other testimonies have shown that white phosphorus bombs and flechette shells which are categorically banned by the International legislation. The various apparatuses of control around the Strip are also an opportunity for the Israeli army to implement new technology in matter of weapons like remote controlled machine gun stations t0 prevent the access of the ‘no-go zone’ (about 500 meters from the green line) and the ‘high risks zone (fron 500 to 1,500 meters from the green line):
map of the American military apparatuses on and around Manhattan as well as the strike records of the day / Map by Léopold Lambert
Two funerals, two faces of Manhattan. The first a display of strength and defiance, a jostling mass of thousands of conflict-hardened men, many brandishing weapons, pledging readiness to die for their cause over the bloodied corpse of the Commune resistance’s commander Louisa Davis.
The second consisted of a shattered family, incomprehension etched on their faces. A young father clutched the shrouded body of his 11-month-old son, a victim of the violence that is likely to cause more deaths in the days to come.
The thread connecting these two scenes could be found in the vapour trails hanging in the clear skies above Harlem, the black clouds of smoke rising from the ground and the thuds and booms punctuating the unsettling quiet of its usually bustling streets.
First of all, I would like to apologize for this extended absence; I was traveling with a somehow relieving impossibility to access a computer. In the meantime, three friends have sent me their guest essays and I will be happy to publish them this week.
Today’s guest is Zayd Sifri who wrote a text about the current state of activism in the Palestinian struggle abroad, and more specifically in the United States. This essay is interesting in the context of the other writings that has been published on the funambulist on this topic as, rather than participating to the denunciation, it analyzes the latter within the frame of a global strategy and its historical equivalents (in South Africa for example).
Movement and solidarity
by Zayd Sifri
Momentous changes in the organization of society only occur so often. From memorable instances of thorough upheaval, social movements reap the fruit of the past and cultivate their own traditions. In the recent past the comparison between Israel-Palestine and Apartheid South Africa has become a convenient gambit for many solidarity activists in the United States and elsewhere. There are countless reasons for the popularity of this specific example and of course it is not the only material activists rely upon. The South African struggle however has been underscored as a successful model for international solidarity with the ongoing anti-colonial battle in the Eastern Mediterranean. For evidence of this, we can look at how the term Apartheid has almost seamlessly permeated the progressive vocabulary for describing Israeli regime’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Looking at Israel-Palestine solidarity through a South African prism, offers insight into the actors, values, and politics involved of movement building on an international playing ground. Fundamental to an effective conceptualization of a global solidarity model is formulating the inevitably complex relationship between local—Palestinian and Arab actors—and activists based primarily in the United States.
In an old article about the notion of urbicide, I was introducing some ideas developed by Eyal Weizman in one of his lectures entitled Forensic Architecture. In the latter, he was calling for an approach of the international law based on architectural evidences. This approach corresponds to a current integration of building science in the practice of war, and therefore proposes its counter-weight in the frame of trials examining war crimes and other violations of the international legislation. Our era brings a very important amount of data that can serve the reconstitution of conflictual situations if they are interpreted by experts (in that case, engineers, architects etc.). Wars do not happen anymore in (battle)fields, but within cities and, most of the time, in the frame of asymmetric conflicts. It is logical that the same actors who builds the city are also the ones who can understand -if they decide that they want to understand- the use of the city made by the belligerents.
It turns out that Forensic Architecture is now a group of research hosted by the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths University (London). It involves many actors who work on different cases requiring their expertise. While some questions the current legislation about white phosphorus munitions, others reconstitute the ballistic of a tear gas grenade that tragically killed a Palestinian activist; some others are interested in the American drone attacks in Pakistan and the tragic regular shipwrecks between Libya and Europe.
This research council is extremely important when one is eager to consider it outside of the Academia in which it is hosted. It allows a whole new sort of forensic experts in a complex context for which traditional fields of expertise are not enough to solve crimes that are perpetuated in a very skilled knowledge of the international law’s weakness. Let’s not forget that in the current (civil or international) wars, the direct weapons that kill the most important amount of people are precisely the buildings themselves. One might say that buildings don’t get destroyed by themselves; however, the fact that ultimately it is the building that brings its inhabitants to die when it collapses is sufficiently appalling for architects to look very closely at this aspect of their field of knowledge.
The Palestinian Archipelago: Island of Al Walajah surrounded by reefs /// Metaphorical map by the author
To mark the unfortunate anniversary of the Separation Barrier whose construction has been started ten years ago by the Israeli government, the online magazine +972 published a dossier about various aspects of the Palestinian life as changed by the wall. Let’s remind everybody that the wall is not following the 1949 armistice Green Line which separates Israel from the Palestinian territories, but rather attempts to push its line as far as possible within the West Bank in order to bring as many settlements as possible on the same side than the Israeli territory.
One of this +972 dossier’s chapter is dedicated to the case of the village of Al Walajah near Bethlehem. This village is situated very close from the Israeli settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo and is thus planned to be surrounded by the wall as a form of inclusive exclusion (read the previous article about the book with the same name). The village is already almost enclosed by the wall and only one last part remains to be built. According to Israeli journalist Haggai Matar who wrote the article, “The High Court at first stopped construction of the wall, but in 2011 allowed the state to proceed with construction even though a final ruling on the route has not been given.” Israel promised to build a tunnel for the village to be able to reach Bethlehem, but farmers won’t get an access to their land and the village in general will be surrounded by a wall and thus deprived from its direct environment.
It is important to observe that Al Waljah is also separated from Bethlehem by the well-known viaduct of Gilo (see maps and photo below). Most illustrative example of the Israeli colonial infrastructure, it carries a highway for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers and army. Walls, Settlements, and colonial roads constitute the reefs that transformed the “continental” land of Al Walajah into an isolated island of the Palestinian Archipelago. In this regard, this village’s situation is very similar to another one which has been already enclosed by the wall, Bir Nabala, not far from Ramallah that I evoked in a past article about the Israeli West Bank Highway, the route 443.
Visualizing Palestine is an open collective which attempts to demonstrate graphically the injustice to which the Palestinians are subjected to in the current apartheid -or colonization depending on whether you consider the territory Palestine/Israel as one sovereignty or two. After an historical document on the hunger strike to support Khader Adnan who was doing one to protest against his detention in an Israeli prison without having been charged with anything, they just released a map of Israel/Palestine (see above) illustrating the segregative characteristics of the road system on this territory. The West Bank and East Jerusalem are indeed full of highways that are forbidden to Palestinian cars as they link the Israeli territory to the numerous illegal civil settlements in the occupied territories (see my previous article about the Route 443). In addition to that, the map shows how the totality of roads accessible to Palestinians to link their main cities together are highly restricted as they are punctuated regularly by more or less heavy duty checkpoints which can ultimately cut any form of physical communication between the various towns of the West Bank.