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.
What we can consider in this precedent is the means and reasons to disobey the law. The only reason that seems to legitimate such a disobedience is the very resistance against this specific law. If an individual or a state disobey the law for its own purpose without contesting the essence of the law, this act cannot be considered as legitimate. However, if this same disobedience does not have any other effects than the refusal to conform it, it has to be considered as part of the debate about the validity of the law itself. In simpler words, if somebody shoots somebody else, the chances are that (s)he is not deeply contesting the law according to which one cannot kill a person; however, when Rosa Park refuses to sit in the black section of the bus, it is not that she does not mean to sit with other African-American people but rather that she refuses absolutely to accept this law as a organizing device of her life.
In the case we consider here, the group of Palestinians were not really interested in creating a new village for the sake of it, but rather to resist the law according to which their own land will be withdrawn from them. As for the Israeli settlements, they do not constitute a resistance against the Geneva Convention but rather an interested appropriation of a land and for their own economical, political and symbolical purposes.