I came back yesterday from three weeks spent in the Levant (Beirut, Palestine, and Amman) and Egypt (Cairo) both for the purpose of Archipelago and to deepen/complexity my vision of militarized cities/architecture. It should thus result in a series of articles that begins today. This first article allows me both to release one new map, as well as to associate my writings to the conversation I had with Dror Etkes, founder of the organization Kerem Navot, which monitors the Israeli settlements’ activity in the West Bank.
The reference to the biblical character Navot (aka Naboth) in the name of Dror’s NGO is far from innocent. As he explains himself in the podcast, in the Book of Kings, Navot is the owner of a vineyard situated near the Royal Palace of King Ach’av (aka Ahab). The later coverts this land and offers Navot to buy it from him. Navot refuses as he inherited the vineyard from his ancestors. When Queen Jezebel sees the King so upset not to be able to acquire the land, she promises her husband to take the matter in her hands. She then organizes a mock trial where Navot is accused to have cursed God and the King, which result in his execution. The ownership of executed men’s land returning to the King, the latter thus acquire the desired vineyard.
Beyond the essence of the land takeover this story introduces (and that draws a parallel to the situation Dror describes through his work), we have to insist on the legal process engaged by Jezebel to obtain the land. The King does not merely slaughter Navot to steal his vineyard, a legal narrative has to be invented to claim a legitimacy to this takeover. Such a weaponization of law has been continuously at work in the West Bank since its occupation by the Israeli army in 1967, as Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s film, The Law in these Parts (2012) particularly illustrates (see past article about it). For instance, we can evoke the Ottoman Mawat (waste) law that returns the ownership of a given land to the Sultan — in contemporary cases, the Israeli army — when the latter has not been cultivated for three years in areas sufficiently far from a village not to be able to hear its roosters. The reactivation of this law by the Israeli army allowed to expropriate a tremendous amount of hectares from their Palestinian owners, especially because, often, the agriculture of a land is prevented by the means of occupation themselves.
Here lies one of the many vicious loops practiced by the Israeli army: a legal fiction describes the conditions for a land can be legitimately seized to contribute to the occupation, and the occupation itself ensures that these conditions will be filled. Similarly, the use of the “security” purpose for the Israeli army to expropriate parcels of land finds its claimed legitimacy in its very act, since such land grabbing necessarily creates an antagonism that translates well in the security issues used as the justification of the takeover itself. Here again, the legal loop is complete, which allows the occupation to continue exercising its violence while self-convincing of its legitimacy. Although rarely, every now and then, the Israeli Supreme Court rules against its national interests, which has for effect to strengthen its own (in)justice, since the latter appears to always be able to rule against its army.
As Dror explains in the podcast, even though this official process of land takeover is facilitated, a substantial part of the Israeli settlements’ expansion in the West Bank is accomplished in an unofficial manner, and almost always retroactively legitimated by the Israeli government. Much of this unofficial land grabbing is exercised through settler’s agriculture as Kerem Navot’s 2013 report “Israeli Settlers’ Agriculture as a Means of Land Takeover in the West Bank” explains. With this map above, I attempted to show the three main means of territorial occupation by the Israeli settlers and army. While the darker areas shows the built part of the settlements, the intermediary blue zone illustrates the extents of settler agriculture’s land takeover. The lighter blue zone materializes Area C, under full Israeli control in agreement to the 1993 Oslo Accords, which parcels the 37% remaining part of the West Bank in an archipelago of islands where the Palestinian Authority exercises a relative control (see one of the many past articles about this topic). The region between Bethlehem and Hebron was chosen for its illustrative characteristics of such occupation of the land, in association to the other architectural means of the Apartheid: the Israeli so-called “separation barrier” (built and planned), as well as the various observation towers and checkpoints controlling the Palestinian population transiting between the various islands.
It would be naive to think that law can exist outside of its weaponization and the interests that foresee its use during its conception. However, the way legal narratives are being used by the Israeli government and army are particular insofar that, on the contrary of most national legislation, these narratives exercise their violence on a population that is fundamentally other than the one that conceives them. We powerlessly saw this legal weaponization in its extreme forms last summer during the siege on Gaza and the Israeli army’s constructed discourses of legitimacy through concepts of “human shields,” “previously warned inhabitants of a bombed building,” and “infinitely extensible no-go zone.” Even of this logic does not reach the same degree of violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the mechanisms that form a discursive legal justification of military takeover operate in the same manner.
Photographs of the area on the map: All photos by Léopold Lambert (2010/2015)