Maps of Gaza by the UN Office for Coordination of Human Affairs (August 2014) – Selected and Augmented with 200-meter radius circles for The Funambulist (August 15, 2014)
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When it comes to the Israeli enforced organization of space in the West Bank and Gaza, one can always turns towards the UN Office for Coordination of Human Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian territories and the regularly updated maps they provide coupled with a multitude of important data. OCHA just released a 120-page “Gaza Crisis Atlas” that superimposes recent satellite photographs of the Gaza strip and their analyses in terms of damage imposed by the Israeli army bombing/shelling of this last month. Each red dot on these documents represents a destroyed structure, and it does not take much time to realize the amplitude of the bombings’ impact on the ground as red dots populate each page of the ‘atlas.’ What the precision of OCHA’s mapping fails to represent however, is the fact that a bombing is not confined to the violent physical destruction of a localized building, it also corresponds to an atmospheric volume of impact that I will try to expose in this article. In order to visualize this ‘atmospheric’ impact, I selected four pages of the OCHA ‘atlas’ and augmented each ‘red dot’ with a 200-meter radius circular red area. What this means is that everyone who lives inside one of these red areas has been experiencing at least one (often more) bombing in her/his immediate proximity — we can probably all agree that 200 meters equals immediate proximity when it comes to war. These four maps were selected for their representative characteristics in that some areas of the Gaza strip have been so heavily and systematically bombed that their maps would have been fully red, while a few other areas were more sporadically bombed, in particular in the less densely populated zones where the former Israeli settlements were situated. One of the map is in the North of Gaza, two others in the middle area, and the last one is near Rafah in the South, in order to illustrate how the totality of the Gaza strip was heavily affected.
Guantanamo bay detainees, blindfolded, ear-muffed, gloved and hooded, awaiting processing (source: Wikileaks)
The 49th conversation I had for Archipelago was a conversation with A. Naomi Paik about her forthcoming book, Rightlessness, which examines the American production of rightless subjects through their incarceration into camps that function as legal fictions (read more on the podcast page). One of the three camps she considers as paradigmatic is Guantanamo Bay’s Camp Delta, where 149 detainees remain incarcerated without having received any due trial. Paik explains how such a camp can only exist once it has created a specific legal status that makes it function through a manufactured legality. In this regard, she attached a particular importance to the status of “enemy combatant” attributed to detainees for their kidnapping and incarceration to be enacted. This made me thought of this status of “enemy combatant” as operating through a legal illocution that I would like to examine here.
The term of illocution was spread through the writings of Judith Butler, who demonstrated that gender, as a social construction, was produced by perfomativity, and triggered by phrases like the one of the doctor at the birth of a baby: “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”. Nevertheless, we have to go back to J. L. Austin and his 1962 book, How to Do Things with Words that Butler regularly quotes. The illocution consists in enacting the content of words when pronouncing them. The phrases mentioned above can illustrate well such a definition in the context of gender; in the judicial context that frames the content of this article, we can evoke the example given by Austin himself: “I sentence you to…” that enacts the sentence when pronounced by a judge in a court. The simultaneous nature of the pronunciation of the words with their enactment makes their cancellation difficult as the illocution carries a sense of definitiveness. This is particularly important for the argument presented in this article, since the listeners of the illocution are often incarnating the subject of its words and, therefore, of its enactment.
I started writing this article when the ceasefire in Gaza was still active and that, for the first time in 4 weeks, no one was killed for three days. As argued in a recent article, we need to put as much energy in critiquing the ordinary violence of the blockade on Gaza and the occupation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank than the one we have spent in our outrage to the recent massacre. The language we use for our political struggles informs the degree of resistance that it offers to the dominant narrative as Mimi Thi Nguyen have been arguing in the determining of figures of innocence (see past article and conversation on Archipelago). The Palestinian narrative for the future therefore needs to be carefully constructed depending on the vision at which it is aiming. Such prospects are always problematic, as they touch the delicate realms of “solutions,” which should be thought not as “ends of history,” but rather, within their own reconfiguration of relations of power. Since I already presented a speculative map of what the future of the region could (should?) be like, I would like to complement it now by proposing an inventory of terms we would need to use (i.e. the narrative we would need to convey) if we were to move towards such a future.
Maps created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (August 3, 2014) /
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The horror continues to be perpetuated by the Israeli army in Gaza. I have to be honest, I write these articles and draw these maps as much by political urge as by cathartic necessity — hopefully, both can work together. This text attempts to work as a complement to Derek Gregory‘s recent article entitled “The Dead Zone” (Geographical Imaginations, August 2, 2014). It focuses on the recent 3000% increase of the “no-go zone’s” width that borders the Gaza strip, thus forcing close to 500,000 Palestinians to be displaced (source: UN OCHA)
The Israeli army, as we saw through the examples of land expropriation in the West Bank, and of the so-called “knock on roof” tactic in Gaza, is particularly fond of manufacturing legal fictions that provides a simulacrum of legitimacy to its action. The three zones that border its separation wall with the Gaza strip are exemplary of this strategy (see map 1): The 100 meter-wide “no-go zone,” enforced by remote controlled machine gun, is complemented by two offset areas (300 meter-wide and 1,000 meter-wide) that both include a certain amount of agricultural fields and, in certain cases, houses. The widest area, euphemistically called “risk zone,” sees several dozens of Palestinians get shot every year for simply being in it — a brief look at map 1 and 3 will expose the extents of Palestinian activity in this zone. On July 22, 2014, the Israeli army increased the width of the “no-go zone” from 100 meters to about 3,000 meters (see the July 23 OCHA map) reaching the central road of the Gaza strip and reducing the accessible Palestinian territory to 56% of its ‘normal’ area — as explained in the previous article, the term normal cannot possibly be neutral here.
Let’s be clear however: we would be profoundly mistaken if we were to think that this means that 56% of the Gaza strip constitutes a relatively safe place in comparison to the “no-go zone.” Since the maps created for the sake of this article focus on the Gaza city area, one can simply look at the inventory of material damage inflicted by the various bombs of the Israeli army in this part of the strip (source: UNITAR) to understand that absolutely no place is safe in Gaza. Nevertheless, it would be erroneous as well to think that the legal fictions created by the IDF have no effects on the Palestinian population: more than 1 person out of 4 has been displaced in the last four weeks whether evacuating this zone or finding themselves homeless from the bombing of their house.
Israeli soldiers stand guard as Palestinian couples participate in a protest against the Israeli barrier before their wedding in the village of Al-Masara. (West Bank, July 2009) (source)
This article was originally thought in the perspective of the 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza that finally lasted only for 2 hours yesterday. It wanted to ponder on the idea that things will go back to a certain degree of normality: we usually think of “going back to normal” as a genuinely good thing that we should wish for. In view of the horrific massacre that is still perpetuated by the Israeli army in Gaza, it would be hard not to think that such return to normality would be fundamentally good: families would no longer be shattered by the systematic death machine of the Israeli bombs and “life” would re-organize itself little by little in the Gaza strip. In many historical contexts, these observations would be legitimate despite the fact that they usually forget the ‘invisible’ part of the war’s aftermath: mourning and trauma. For Gaza (as well as for the West Bank and East Jerusalem), on the other hand, a return to normal is unacceptable.
As illustrated through a recent map, Gaza’s normality is inherently contingent to the Israeli militarized administration that manages the flux of all people, goods, food and energy through its blockade. No one will argue that the State of Israel shows any benevolence whatsoever for the Palestinians; this dependency therefore maintains a continuous state of siege, from which the normality that can emerge can only be perverted. The unique power plant in Gaza has been bombed this last week, triggering massive blackouts and preventing most of Gaza inhabitants from the use of light, water pumps, phones, etc. As Israeli bombs also destroy several bakeries and other food facilities (not to mention the impossibility of any agricultural activities in these conditions), food also became scarce, in particular for the 520,000 refugees living in the Gaza strip. All these aspects of daily needs won’t be “returning to normal” for a long time as they necessitate important works of reconstruction and re-organization.
The practice of normality is however a strong political weapon when everything around you is actively preventing this same normality to occur. We can think of one of the first scenes of Gilo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers (1966) that dramatizes the wedding of two young militants celebrated by a FLN (National Liberation Front) officer during the Algerian struggle for independence. In many geographical and historical context, a wedding could be legitimately considered as a relatively conservative perpetuation of social norms; yet, in certain cases, the same celebration can materialize an act of resistance against colonial apparatuses that ensure that normality cannot be practiced. Similarly, the resilient function of schools (137 of them have been shelled in Gaza in the last three weeks) and religious buildings despite the siege constitutes a refusal to “let war win.”
Israeli police spraying Palestinian houses with “skunk” in East Jerusalem (July 24, 2014) via Mohamed El Dasha
As atrocious as is the Israeli massacre in Gaza, we should not forget to address the (current and continuous) situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As friend Rashid Khalidi explained yesterday in an article for the New Yorker, the siege on Gaza is not merely about what it claims to be (a “war” on Hamas): it is “a collective punishment” for the reunion of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, as well as a re-affirmation that Israel’s control on Palestinian territory should be absolute. Five days ago, massive Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been suppressed with great violence by the Israeli police/army, killing seven people and injuring hundreds of others. After the violent suppression in East Jerusalem, the Israeli police implemented another form of collective punishment: the systematic and methodical spraying of “skunk” (pestilential water) on Palestinian houses and buildings. This militarized tactic certainly carries the problematic aspects of the water cannon in terms of suppressive arbitrariness (about which I wrote a few months ago), but it goes much further: it implements a collectivization of punishment after the events. In this regard, we cannot help but notice that both the collectivization of punishment, and its implementation in the ‘coldness’ of the aftermath correspond much more to a mobster logic than to one of a nation-state.
The fact that these despicable operations are accomplished methodically by the Israeli police excludes any exceptionalism associated to this practice; on the contrary, it tells us about the state-implemented racist imaginary that legitimizes such tactics. This imaginary is the same that currently makes many Palestinian Israelis afraid for their lives when being recognized as Arabs (by their appearance, their language, or their accent) by antagonist groups of Jewish Israelis.
The “skunk” that infiltrates Palestinian houses and stick to bodies and objects for a few days in its pestilence, carries clear similitude with the way one usually treats rats, insects and vermin: it attempts to make their targeted entities flee an area by developing an atmosphere unproper to their lives (perpetuated by breathing). Such tactic can only be used if there is a conscious or unconscious consideration for sprayed bodies and objects as fundamentally abject. As introduced in a past text, abjection is defined by matter being “out of place” (Mary Douglas, 1966) resulting for a body who considers (and attribute) abjection, to clean-up this same matter.
בית-منزل /// A Cartographic Manifesto Against Partitions and Borders
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Before starting this article, I would like to confess that I have been ready to write it for the last three weeks, and that I have been hesitating as the presentation of an imaginative prospect for the future of Palestine carries a part of obscenity when the people of Gaza have been living and continue to live in absolute terror for the last weeks, and when the people of the West Bank cannot demonstrate without fearing for their life. Let it be clear that the present text calls for no judicial forgiveness nor forgetfulness for the crimes that have been committed since 1947. What finally pushed me to write this article is my intuition that such a prospect is more frightening for the authors of these crimes, than it might be inappropriate for their victims. Furthermore, it does not present itself as a “solution” in the messianic sense of the “end of history” (see past article) that the usual rhetoric of one or two state solutions usually convey, it simply means to work in the realms of the imaginaries.
This present text, as well as the map associated to it, is inspired by five visions that have been already introduced on the Funambulist: Raja Shehadeh’s 2037: Le grand bouleversement (Galaade, 2011), Sophia Azeb’s “No-State Solution” (Archipelago, 2014), Sabine Réthoré’s map of a “Méditerranée sans frontières” (Borderless Mediterranean Sea, 2013), Nora Akawi‘s affirmed will of “extraordinary solutions for an extraordinary situation,” as well as the work of various thinkers and activists I met in the recent past, who dedicate all their efforts to fight for statutes and rights for the migrants of the world. I hope not to betray their inspiration with the following:
Evicted inhabitants of the Torre David / Photograph by Jorge Silva (July 2014)
Yesterday, I received an email from a well-known art/design publisher describing, as an introduction, the on-going eviction of the Torre David in Caracas, whose never achieved high-rise structure has been hosting 3,000 squatters for the last fifteen years. The architectural appropriation of a capitalist structure by a multitude of proletarian bodies provided a dramatic aesthetic fetishized by many architects (me included, see past article). The tower is now being evicted, stripping away its inhabitants from their years of efforts to make their community function and to construct a sense of home. Passed the introduction about the on-going eviction, this same publisher presented its award-winning book dedicated to the Torre David and ended its article with the following statement: “We would like to recommend the book for review, as it is becoming a historical document due to the most recent events.” As it happens, I do own a review copy of the book that the publisher was ‘recommending’ and, after having observed that it seemed to serve more the interests of its authors (and its readers) than the inhabitants of the tower themselves, I had refused to write an article about it. This, added to the inappropriate affirmation that this book is becoming “a historical document” while 3,000 people are forced into displacement, makes me wonder about the production of knowledge in which we take part.
The photograph above was taken on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, only a few seconds (if not fractions of seconds) before the four Palestinian kids were killed by an Israeli navy shell directed at them. For many of us, this murderous event culminates as the paradigm of the Israeli army’s war crimes in the on-going siege on Gaza. These four children are part of the 111 who got killed by the Israeli army these last two weeks according to today’s OCHA report. The assassination of children, whether deliberate or not, appears as absolutely unacceptable and touches us all deeply. I certainly do not want to argue the opposite. Yet, I would like to make us think about the fact that this massacre is far from being the first one in history against Palestinian children and the fact that they seem to repeat in all impunity would tend to tell us that we are arguing against it using a wrong way.
Let’s consider a hypothetic scenario: if we were offered the choice of saving every children of Gaza in exchange of the perpetuation of the siege, wouldn’t we all accept it? Here lies the fundamental problem of looking for innocence, it drives us to ask the questions that legitimize that against what they think they are fighting. Let’s consider this hypothetical choice again: what lies behind it is a transfer of responsibility. If you refuse it, you will become responsible for the death of children. This is what happened following the four kids’ murder described above: both Israel and the United States, regretted that children had to die but imputed the blame to Hamas for not having signed the (unilaterally designed) ceasefire the day before. “Hamas could have saved Gaza’s children but refused to do so” is the explicit rhetoric that comes out from the affirmation of this choice. Much of the Western press saw it this way and perpetuated the narrative of symmetry that has allowed the occupation to exist until now. The choice is however crooked in its very essence: the responsibility cannot be legitimately transferred. Despite its rhetoric, Israel does have the choice of whether or not continuing the bombing and raid on Gaza; the idea that it would have not such a choice, and therefore such a responsibility — invited by the title of the NY Times about the four murdered kids for example — brings us back to the absurd Kubrickian narratives of Doctor Strangelove and his “doomsday device.”
On July 13, 2014, Palestinian Gaza-based journalist Mohammed Omer wrote the following tweet: “Most difficult moment for a father: split his children in all corners of the house or all in one corner and die together?“. This heartbreaking question in the context of the siege of Gaza by the Israeli army reveals the duress (a term I learn yesterday from Ann Laura Stoler) of the situation for Palestinians. What it also brings back to light is the fact that the Israeli attacks are targeting domestic structures, such as hospitals, schools, and homes. But what is a home anyway? Privileged’s imaginaries invite us to think that it is the perfect embodiment of safety. As kids we play tag and, when reaching the zone where the rules prevent us from being tagged, we scream “Home!”. Later in our lives, we run away from someone in the street, reach “home,” lock behind us and take the deep breath that signifies that we are safe. Of course, as I have argued many times, this safety comes at a social price as the walls that form a home are almost always materializing the regime of private property, which imposes a form of violence in the exclusivity it gives to some bodies having access to it, and exclude others. And still, we all need a home where we can feel safe and appropriate, hence the tragedy of homelessness as described in a past article.
The necessary association of safety and home is however a luxury that many people in the world cannot afford, the Palestinians maybe less than anybody else. Many people of the West Bank see their homes raided by the IDF in the middle of the night, waking-up all inhabitants with guns in their face, then leaving with men and boys arrested until further notice. Gaza’s homes do not even see the ‘precautionary” presence of bodies on site but are subjected to F16 fighter jets’ and drones’ bombs that lead to Omer’s tragic dilemma. How does the paradigmatic architecture of the civilian realm thus become the favored target of military bombing? The Israeli army itself asks the question: “When is a house, a home?” This architectural section poster, prepared by the IDF as a propaganda kit for everyone willing to use disingenuousness to support its bombing, attempts to propagate the demagogic argument of “human shields” that embody the national alibi of the massacre it organizes. In this regard, it ought to be noted that no one serious seems to believe in the rationale of this argument, otherwise, questions about whether the IDF can then legitimately kill the “hostages” with the alleged “hostage takers” would have emerged. On Aljazeera, Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon make a useful synthesis of the propaganda means created by the IDF to spread this simulacrum of argument. As we saw in a recent article, the goal of the IDF consists in transforming legal statuses: from a civilian body to a “warned potential collateral damage,” and, in the case of a house, from the status of home to the one of “enemy military building.” This strategy is however purely ideological. As we know thanks to the work of Eyal Weizman and his original work on “Forensic Architecture” (see past article), the internal calculation made by the Israeli army (and the American one in its “targeted assassinations”) is not as much a question of legal status, but rather the calculated amount of acceptable civilian killings for each military objective — that also includes the rate of mistaken objectives.
Erez Crossing: one of the only land access to Gaza
While I am writing these words, the Israeli army is starting its land invasion of the Gaza strip, thus providing the conditions for the continuation of the massacre that this army has been undertaking this last week. Once again, the fact of writing about the on-going tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes constitutes for me to insists on the (infra)structural conditions that foresee it, as well as enforces it to some degree.
The spectacularization of many aspects of the IDF’s militarized operations (via their Twitter account for example), coupled with their despicable interpretation as a sort of show by an Israeli ‘audience,’ as I wrote in the previous article, provide us with the comparison of the Roman games and their dramatic display of death. In the case of these games, the stage for the spectacle is insured by the architecture of the amphitheater itself that enforces the presence of the victims inside the circus, the doors being accessible only by the agent of death, whether executioners or wild animals. The doors to the Gaza strip are not numerous (five plus one in Egypt: see the map in previous article) but, similarly to the Roman amphitheater, they open only for the asymmetrical agent of death, in this case the troops and vehicles of the IDF. The population of Gaza is thus prisoners from the walls while the latter’s porosity is controllable at wish by the Israeli army: architecture’s power is fully exercised.
Tel Aviv inhabitants evacuating beaches and shopping malls during siren alerts.
Writing seems to be the only thing that does not make me feel completely powerless in front of the horror of the on-going bombing of Gaza coupled with a vast campaign of misinformation led by the Israeli State and army then followed by the quasi-totality of the Western mainstream press. Commenting on the (deliberate or not) misuse of images of destroyed houses in Gaza to describe the situation in Israel like openly biased media the BBC or Fox News have been doing is not of my interest here. On the contrary, the imaginary that is conveyed by self-entitled “liberal press,” in particular in European is, I believe, much more problematic. The main basis of this imaginary consists in constructing narratives presenting absolute symmetry. They talk of the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” or “peace agreements,” when presenting the destruction of Palestinian lives and homes, they insist on the “retaliatory” characteristics of such military operation and, despite the affirmed regrets of the killings of civilians, they directly use IDF documents and rhetoric to justify them. But symmetry can only manifests if the manufactured imaginary involves the notion of threat for all bodies living in Palestine (i.e., the region of Israel and the Palestinian territories). There is thus a need for an imagery of Israel under attack, an ideological spectacle (one might want to wonder if there can be a non-ideological spectacle).
Manufacturing the ideological spectacle of threat and fear is used by the Israeli army both internally and externally. Externally, such a spectacle will, indeed, provides the imagery of a nation under continuous threat, a “villa surrounded by the jungle” as former Israeli Prime-Minister and Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak famously defined Israel. This spectacle used externally is conveyed through images. It therefore requires a photographic and cinematographic labor to provide such visual documents that will inform the imaginary of legitimacy. The Israeli crowd gathered at night with portable chairs and popcorn on the hills of Sderot bordering the Gaza strip, cheering each time a bomb explodes on Palestinian houses, articulates the role of the audience (external use) with the role of the actors (internal use) introduced in the next paragraph.
In the continuity of the last article about the current Israeli dreadful siege on Gaza, this text will try to examine the way the Israeli army adopts legal tactics that supplies its supporters — how else calling these people who go out at night and sit on Sderot hills to watch the ‘show’ of the IDF bombing Gaza ? — with a narrative that only ‘a little’ of disingenuousness would transform into an argument. History has showed us that, if repeated by enough people and enough times with the same rhetoric construction (“Israel has the right to self-defense!”, “Palestinians use Human shields!”, “Only hating terrorists get their houses destroyed!”), these arguments appear to gain a certain legitimacy both at the national and international scale. How else could have this deadly apartheid situation continued otherwise?
In September 2013, I wrote an article entitled “Law as a Colonial Weapon,” about the way the IDF has made use of its legal corps to legally organize and justify the occupation of Palestinian territories. The techniques described in it (mostly thanks to Ra’anan Alexandrowicz‘s fim, The Law in these Parts) mostly applies to East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the withdrawal of all Israeli bodies and settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005. This article therefore constitutes a short examination about the way the law is also used as a weapon in Gaza; in this case, as a military siege one. Before starting my argumentation, I feel compelled to say that I will be using the Israeli army’s terminology to make a point about its legal tactics, but we should remain very careful about all discursive hints that would legitimize the very process of “targeted assassinations” without due trial conducted by the State of Israel on territories that it controls.