Fifty Years of Occupation

A Forum (Part 2)

by Gershon Shafir , Omar Jabary Salamanca , Sobhi Samour , Mandy Turner , Andy Clarno | published June 7, 2017

Read part 1 of this forum here. Part 3 will appear on June 9.

June 5, 2017 is the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which culminated in the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, among other transformations of regional politics. The post-1967 occupation and its consequences continue to structure the mainstream conversation about resolving the conflict between Israel the Palestinians, and those between Israel and other Arab states, even as scholarship increasingly poses the occupation as part of a longer-term and more multi-faceted question of Palestine. We asked several specialists to reflect on the past, present and future of the question of Palestine at this historical juncture.



A Mosaic of Control

Gershon Shafir

The legal historian Lauren Benton has observed that the European empires from the fifteenth century on were constituted by two simple legal principles, both derived from settler-colonial practices. On the one hand, the empires sought to export their legal systems to protect their citizens who colonized the imperial territory and to expand the domain of European cultural mission. On the other hand, they resisted the complete annexation of their imperial territories and the assumption of full sovereignty, since that would have extended citizenship to all inhabitants. This contradiction created a mosaic of military colonies, enclaves connected by corridors surrounded by areas outside of imperial control, areas under martial law and states of exception. Sovereignty in settler colonies, therefore, remained incomplete, elastic and contested. To add the missing element to Benton’s framework, the uneven geographies of settler-colonialism are equally dependent on the colonial power’s withdrawals and redeployments in response to the occupied population’s resistance.

In spite of the geographical and historical differences between early modern European and contemporary Israeli colonization, Benton’s observations serve as a fitting framework for an account of the tangled web of a half-century of Israeli occupation. The Israeli occupation has evolved in the crucible of this very same paradox—the attempt to annex territory without its Palestinian residents, who consequently remain a legal anomaly. Jewish settlers, as well as all other Israelis and all Jews (namely, people who fall under the Law of Return) for the duration of their stay in the Occupied Territories, and the territory of their settlements are subject to Israeli legal frameworks. In contrast, for occupied Palestinians the Israeli military serves as the judicial, legislative and executive authority. Palestinians are subject to Jordanian law and the orders of military governors. Though it is the occupation that places Palestinians under a military regime and, therefore, under military law, it is not the occupation but the settler colonization that creates a dual legal system for the West Bank, an apartheid regime. Withholding citizenship from occupied Palestinians colors Israel as a colonial empire builder.

One of the central features of Israeli occupation, and means of control, is the multiplicity of jurisdictions under which it places Palestinians, making it all the harder for them to act in unison. The Oslo accords divide the West Bank into three zones. Area A encompasses eight large Palestinian cities that enjoy full Palestinian civilian and security control and make up 18 percent of the West Bank. Area B includes 440 Palestinian villages and their surrounding areas, under Palestinian civil and Israeli military control, encompassing 22 percent of the West Bank. Between 165 and 190 checkpoints, commissioned and decommissioned according to the levels of Palestinian resistance, control movement within Areas A and B; many of these areas are non-contiguous “islands” separated by portions of Area C. Area C is the only area with territorial contiguity. It includes the areas within settler local and regional council boundaries, is under full Israeli civilian and security control, and makes up a full 60 percent of the West Bank. But Area C also includes 297,000 Palestinians in 532 communities and villages. The land belonging to some of the villagers in Area C is found in Areas A and B, and their access to it is restricted through multiple checkpoints. The Palestinian Authority provides health and educational services to the remaining Palestinian population in Area C, while the construction and maintenance of infrastructure are Israel’s responsibility. A special arrangement places 20 percent of the Arab city of Hebron, Area H2 within Area C, under full Israeli control.

The completed part of the separation wall runs in large part through the Occupied Territories and has created a series of geographical anomalies of its own. The “seam zone” (merchav hatefer)—the area between the Green Line and the wall itself—is home to more than 57,000 Palestinians. Another 100,000 Palestinians live east of their land, which is located west of the wall. Residents needing access to their fields require special permits from the Civil Administration. On the occasion of the separation wall’s construction, Kafr ‘Aqab, Shu‘afat and part of the Qalandia refugee camps were separated from Jerusalem, to which they had belonged since the annexation of East Jerusalem to Israel. There is even a single-family enclave, the Ammar family’s house, trapped between the colony of Elkana and the separation wall; it has its own special gate in the wall.

Finally, there is the Gaza Strip, from which Israel withdrew its settlers and military in August 2005, making this area the least occupied among the Palestinian territories. Though Gaza has no colonists or settlers, Israel still maintains “effective control” over the Strip, the defining characteristic of belligerent occupation. Since the takeover of Gaza by Hamas in 2007, Israel has imposed a blockade of supplies to Gaza. Israel maintains direct control over all six of Gaza’s land crossings that border on Israel, as well as its airspace and seacoast. Israel opens some of the land crossings to allow in hundreds of trucks each day with goods it deems non-military that supply the amount of calories Israel has calculated to be sufficient per person. Most unusually, Israel maintains Gaza’s population registry to control the entry and departure of its residents, in effect retaining the governmental authority to determine who is and who is not a lawful resident of Gaza. Finally, Gaza remains dependent upon Israel’s supply of the majority of its water, electricity and telecommunications, and still uses the Israeli shekel as its legal tender. Gaza, in short, remains occupied, but from the outside.

Under the legal umbrella of occupation, Israel has been engaging in an intensive colonization project to extend its pre-1948 state-building project and unite the new with the ancient Jewish homeland. But what appears to be 50 years of solid accomplishments of sustained colonization is an opportunistic project that uses now one method of land acquisition and now another, establishes now one type of settlement and now another, settles one group in one part of the West Bank and another in a different part. Each segment—the Allon Plan settlers on the security frontier, those in search of a suburban lifestyle, religious Zionist and messianic groups, haredim—settled on its own terms and in areas of its own choice. “Settlement” carries within its structure all the diverse and conflicting interests of Israeli society and in many respects remains a hollow undertaking. The mosaic-like geography, the legal contortions, the administrative maze and even the blatant illegality of a considerable part of settlement construction all demonstrate that Israeli colonization is not a single or single-minded project and is vulnerable to challenges and pressures. The settlements’ and the occupation’s future, as well as the future of Palestinians within its geographic and legal mosaic, is yet to be written.

Gershon Shafir is professor of sociology at the University of California-San Diego, past president of the Israel Studies Association and author of A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict (California).



Notes on a Preoccupation

Omar Jabary Salamanca

Around 2002, as Palestinians were again up in arms to defy Israel’s relentless and vicious colonial policies, a renowned Israeli graphic designer, David Tartakover, released a poster series titled “Stain.” The prints display a glowing red blot in the shape of the West Bank over portraits of Israeli politicians and of Tartakover himself. Later, the artist recycled this design into other works, including a piece to mark “35 years of occupation,” the book cover of A Civilian Occupation and a poster titled “Stain, Herzl,” which features Theodor Herzl, one of the founding fathers of Zionism.

The later image is for me evocative of a hostile and widespread settler imaginary, with critical material effects to be sure. This imaginary for the past five decades, and particularly since the signature of the Oslo colonial treaty, has come to define how insiders and outsiders to the Israel question are often socialized into, think about and act on Palestine. It is, in many ways, a fabulous visual illustration that reduces a people´s century-old struggle to its contemporary minimum expression.

The West Bank, the red stain in this image, reveals itself as an abstract and dislocated figuration that can be read in terms of the elisions and erasures it produces. The most obvious is the spatial fragmentation that occurs in the replacement of contemporary Palestine, from the river to the sea, with what could well be a place called Judea and Samaria. Attached to the spatial imaginary is a temporal obliteration, the seamless transcendence of 1967 as singular historical point of departure and the collapsing of everything prior. The elusiveness of this hollow land, like cartographic depictions often do, additionally severs the social body politic within and extending beyond its opaque boundaries—Palestinians, with as many inhabitants living in the diaspora as in the land of milk and honey, are nowhere to be seen. Though more subtle, perhaps, is the conceptual partition emerging from this representation. Occupation, now as ontological certainty with its own spatial and temporal boundaries, disavows the broader collective experience and structural condition of Palestinian dispossession and displaces it with a singular, exceptional and temporary event.

In the shadow of oblivion, a particular fiction begins to sink in. Palestine becomes the West Bank; the West Bank, and the West Bank only, becomes synonymous with occupation; and, in turn, occupation redefines, decenters and whitewashes the settler-colonial and racial capitalist nature and trajectory of Zionism—after all, kibbutzism was always a bigoted negation of socialism and, today, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, not Modi’in Illit or Beitar Illit, are the major colonial settlements in Palestine.

This abstraction, however, also operates as a productive and cautionary tale. Occupation, understood as a legal and technocratic affair, corrupts the soul of an otherwise moral and necessary settler utopia—one marked by its own modern experience of erasure yet inevitably haunted by emptied houses, erased villages, devastated communities and the ghosts of those that die(d) for living. The West Bank metamorphoses into a convenient container for settlers on the proper side of a malleable Green Line, a site to dump their own sins, fears and pangs of conscience. This safe space absolves Zionism, and Israel itself, of confronting its criminal past while attempting to contain its boundless thuggish present. Simultaneously, the West Bank and the possibility of an end to its occupation, enables a refuge for liberal ideas of reconciliation and peace without social justice—an illusion that temporarily appeases embarrassment and guilt while cementing an endless time of injustice.

In the last instance, the perimeter of this blood-like stain, contained by the personification of Zionism and a lingering emblem of occupation, determines and prefigures an impossible Palestinian futurity. If there is a cure for the Zionist hemorrhage, then the answer must necessarily pass through and be contained within the strict boundaries of the West Bank. Relinquishing this territory, however, becomes itself an impossibility sustained through capital, violence, colonial amnesia and existential settler anxieties. The West Bank story becomes tautology; the stain must somehow disappear.

But the stain won’t go away. The cracks in this settler imaginary have become so deep, its contradictions so surreal, that they are no longer possible to hide and repair; the hemorrhage is terminal. Underneath, out of the fissures of this madness, a rebellious people are finding oxygen in unfettered imaginaries and practices that reclaim different ways of looking and listening, seeing and hearing—beyond the hollow promise of the state, outside the modern glossary and imperatives of racial capitalism and colonialism, past technocratic formulas of messianic solutionism. This radical imaginary is both necessary and transformative. It renders visible and challenges the ways in which structural oppression and inequality operate, recognizes how these mechanisms of domination are made common sense, and ultimately threatens to dissolve the iron cage. These dangerous potentialities constitute a fierce battlefield, and, as on other occasions, are being responded to with an extraordinary degree of violence, in Palestine and elsewhere.

Amid the hypocrisy of imperial insolence and the crumbling ruins of the current disorder, today, like yesterday, we observe a century of settler-colonial occupation, we mark the determination of a people to remain alive and stay on the ground as they continue a struggle for return, land, dignity, freedom and autonomy. We cheer the courage of a movement, beyond the certitudes of government and party politics, with its ups and downs, learning from past and present mistakes, in dialogue and solidarity with other struggles, accumulating knowledges and experiences from Palestine to Standing Rock, from Rojava to Chiapas, and from Ferguson and South Africa to Andhra Pradesh and Mahalla. We support recurring eruptions as moments that define a movement in motion, situated in the longue durée, navigating different understandings of what we are and who we could become in spite of all odds. We are in this together but not everybody stands in the same power position. This understanding is crucial for thinking how our various communities can and should be in solidarity with one another.

When Palestine and Palestinians are seen in this light, in transition, beyond the narrow perspective of Zionist settler-colonialism, tied to other struggles for liberation, we can begin to envision collectively what Palestinian futurity might look like and how we might bring it into being.

Omar Jabary Salamanca is lecturer in the Department of Conflict and Development at Ghent University.



Against Occupation

Sobhi Samour

Once the e-mails announcing talks, conferences and book projects about the fiftieth anniversary of the “occupation” started landing in my inbox, I felt a sense of trepidation, foreboding and irritation. My annoyance was caused, in many instances, by the regurgitation of conventional wisdom and moralizing about the irrationality and unsustainability of the “occupation.” As Salim Tamari observed in 1994, “[N]o Arab society has been researched, analyzed and written about as much as Palestinian society, and yet remained so poor in the theoretical treatment of its subject.” In the age of instant punditry, think tanks and self-promoting experts, this assessment sounds even more pertinent.

What, then, is left to say about the “occupation”? One could start by noting that it is a misnomer, as it suggests both temporariness and a static situation devoid of movement. Israel without the “occupation” is 19 years old; Israel with the “occupation” 50; and, to boot, the Oslo process that some think was supposed to end “occupation” is almost half the age of the “occupation” itself. And throughout this process, the size of the territory that Israel (presumably temporarily) occupies has steadily increased, hilltop by hilltop. One must live in an acute state of cognitive dissonance to assume that Israel could sever itself from the “occupation” in much the same way that an army would withdraw from a foreign territory. Indeed, giving the “occupation” an explanatory primacy—often the result of tying one’s research agenda to the downward trajectory of the Palestinian leadership, giving credence to the feigned concern of EU diplomats, ignoring the double-speak of Washington or basking in the warmth emanating from the fuzzy rhetoric of liberal Zionists—has had devastating consequences for the development of critical scholarship.

This is not to suggest that “occupation” is permanent or that its everyday horrors do not require our attention and documentation. Nor is it to say that the demand to end “occupation,” along with defense of the Palestinian right to self-determination, should not be at the forefront of mobilization for international solidarity. But just as Israel bars Palestinian refugees from returning to their land and hinders Palestinians inside Israel from achieving equal rights, so it is inconceivable that Israel will ever voluntarily end the “occupation.” Therefore, as an epistemological category, as a framework that informs our political praxis and commitment to emancipatory scholarship, “occupation” fails. Israel and the “occupation” are not independent categories that can be studied separately and then brought together, but rather must be understood as forming each other as the outcome of a larger historical process. One may quibble about whether such a process started in Basel in 1897 or before, but it did receive a significant boost in 1917 in the form of the Balfour Declaration, gained a major diplomatic victory at the UN General Assembly in 1947, captured its “dowry” in 1967, was temporarily disrupted in 1987, institutionalized a political split in 2007 and, in 2017, had to grapple with a 40-day hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners. The politics underlying each of these single dates, and many more, cannot be grasped individually but must be read together as occurring within a continuum. If, to use a Hegelian expression, the truth is the whole, then each of these parts—including the “occupation”—make up the settler-colonial whole.

A satisfactory contribution to theorizing the “occupation” can only be achieved if it is systematically interwoven with the conditions of Palestinian refugees and those living inside Israel to reflect on the persistence of the Palestine question. Conversely, using the “occupation” as an overdetermining factor not only produces theory that revolves around appearance of “occupation” instead of its settler-colonial essence, but also, wittingly or not, feeds the fragmentation of Palestinians and undermines the collective political Palestinian identity informed by return, equal rights and an end to foreign domination. Undoing this analytical separation, in which the epistemological category of “occupation” becomes an anti-dialectical device, can indeed provide theory as a weapon. In this theoretical arsenal, settler-colonialism supersedes “occupation.” The latter is not the cause of the conflict or a turning point but the consequence of Israel’s settler-colonial logic; it does not constitute a historical accident; it is not irrational; it does not persist due to institutional inertia, as questioning the legitimacy of colonizing Judea and Samaria would also mean having to question the legitimacy of colonizing the Galilee or the Naqab. Nor is the “occupation” an ugly appendage to an otherwise democratic Israel—to paraphrase Karl Marx, a people that occupies another cannot itself be free.

I do not intend to read the history of Zionist settler-colonialism as a process without a subject, or to understand “occupation” as a teleological product of it. The agency of those on the receiving end continues to throw a spanner in its works, thwarting it from achieving its ultimate ends. Rather, these reflections follow critical contributions that have seen through the veil of “occupation” and are grasping the essence underlying it—that ending the “occupation” cannot be achieved by demanding such, but only by overturning the whole that sustains it. Needless to say, the essence is only slowly trickling down to theoretical praxis and, categorically, has no chance of becoming the political praxis informing the existing Palestinian leadership. In both the occupied West Bank and the occupied Gaza Strip, Palestinians are increasingly referring to the ruling authorities as a second “occupation.” Israel has long tried to institutionalize indirect rule by entrusting an indigenous leadership to manage the unruly natives on its behalf. The Village League, for instance, ended in disaster. But one must grudgingly admit that, so far, the Palestinian Authority has been a relatively successful institution through which Israel mediates its rule by linking its collaboration with material rewards, which, in turn, cement a social base of support. As it is, and while I would like nothing more than to be proven wrong, I look forward to reading more reflections on the “occupation” on its sixtieth anniversary.

Sobhi Samour has a doctorate in economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London and was Ibrahim Abu-Lughod Fellow at the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University during the spring 2017 term.



Jekyll and Hyde in East Jerusalem

Mandy Turner

My research mostly focuses on the policies and practices of Western governments and multilateral agencies in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), and so I will concentrate my comments on these governments and agencies, to whom I will refer, for reasons of shorthand, as the “international community” (despite the label’s conceptual inadequacies). I will also focus on East Jerusalem, whose annexation by Israel in 1967 makes its experience of the occupation a specific one: It exposes the extensive practices of “Judaization” powered by Israel’s aspirations to make Jerusalem its undivided capital, isolation from the rest of the OPT by the separation wall and the permit system, and disintegration of the Palestinian economy and society. Indeed, the experience of annexation has meant that the East Jerusalemite Palestinian population has been marginalized while a number of struggles take place around it (but are largely beyond its control). These struggles are between Israel and the Palestinian Authority/Palestine Liberation Organization; between Israel and Jordan; and between Jordan and the PA/PLO. East Jerusalemites are locked out of these crucial struggles because they lack leadership since Orient House, the operational residence of the PLO in the city, was closed down in 2001 by Israeli military order, and has not been allowed to reopen. Since then, any meetings in the city deemed to involve PLO officials are stopped by military order. And, of course, the PA is not allowed to operate in East Jerusalem, either.  

In this context, the policies and actions of the international community toward East Jerusalem suffer from a form of psychosis known as the Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome. The novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, tells of a man with a split personality—between someone who performs good works (Dr. Jekyll) and someone who does bad deeds (Mr. Hyde). The story has come to signify a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next—which, I argue, perfectly encapsulates the actions of the international community in East Jerusalem and the wider OPT.

The international community’s Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome is the product of two fundamental contradictions. The first relates to the disjuncture between what we could call the “high” politics of diplomacy and Track One negotiations related to the currently non-existent peace process (including discussions about the status of Jerusalem), and the “low” politics of aid and development cooperation (where the international community supports the Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem). The second contradiction relates to the disjuncture between, on the one hand, Western governments’ support for the state of Israel and their reluctance to use tools available to them to prevent Israel eradicating the Palestinian presence in the city; and, on the other hand, their declared support for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the capital of both states and international support for the Palestinian presence.

And it is these fundamental contradictions that allows the international community to claim it does a lot in East Jerusalem; but it means critics are right to say the international community is not doing enough.

To return to the Jekyll and Hyde analogy, if Jekyll supports the two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states and gives money to the weaker party to assist in keeping this vision alive, Hyde makes sure that Jekyll does not put economic or political pressure on Israel, the dominant party, which is trying to undermine the internationally accepted solution. Maybe we can even stretch the analogy further. In the novel, Jekyll tries to destroy Hyde by drinking a special potion, but this potion allows the evil Hyde, not the ethical Jekyll, to take over. Maybe we can think about that potion as being the 1993 Oslo accords and the ensuing framework, which have accelerated the contradictions in the policies of the international community in Jerusalem.

One obvious form of the international community’s engagement is its insistence on the illegality of Israel’s occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem despite attempts by Israel to change the international consensus. It also continually confirms its support for the status quo regarding the Holy Sites as codified in the 1994 Wadi ‘Araba peace agreement between Israel and Jordan. The second is represented in the aid programs funding key sectors of the East Jerusalem Palestinian economy and society, such as education, social services, health, economic development, cultural heritage and tourism.

There are, of course, dozens of donors and UN agencies operating in East Jerusalem (and the OPT), and they all have different emphases and mandates. Some are regarded as being more “pro-Israel,” while others are regarded to be more “pro-Palestinian.” These differences are visible each time there is a vote in the European Union among member states or at the UN on issues related to Israel and Palestine.

So much for Dr. Jekyll.

Now for Mr. Hyde.

By leaving discussion of Jerusalem to final status negotiations, Oslo largely gave Israel a free hand to try to change the status quo. In this context, the international community has not done enough to stop Israel from restricting Palestinian political activity and organization in East Jerusalem, or shutting off East Jerusalem to the rest of the OPT thus choking economic and cultural interchange. There is a fundamental lack of political will to restrain and oppose Israel’s annexation and its policies that have created negative political, economic and social circumstances for East Jerusalemite Palestinians. And yet, in recent years, the international community has expressed increasing alarm at the accelerating problems for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. On paper it calls for the implementation of international law vis-a-vis East Jerusalem, but then fails to use any of the mechanisms it has to ensure they are implemented. Indeed, quite the opposite: While the UN is forced to steer a course of “neutrality,” relations between Israel and Western governments have never been better. There is, of course, the “unshakable alliance” between the US and Israel: a free trade agreement since 1985, a $3 billion military aid package per year (including, as one of the last acts of the Barack Obama presidency, a ten-year pact with $38 billion of military aid, the biggest pledge of US military assistance ever made), and diplomatic support in international forums. And in terms of EU-Israel relations, in the past 20 years, economic, cultural and scientific connections have increased and deepened. Certainly the EU is in confrontation with Israel regarding the labeling of goods from settlements in the OPT, but is this dispute really significant? Even when it comes to such an anodyne gesture as supporting Palestine’s membership in UNESCO, less than one third of EU member states voted in favor—while at the same time the EU continually draws attention to Israel’s erosion of Palestinian cultural heritage in the city and the wider OPT.

Consequently, unlike the character in the novel, Jekyll and Hyde have been able to coexist reasonably comfortably in the body of the international community in terms of how it relates to East Jerusalem. And while this situation persists, the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem and the Palestinians’ right to the city will continue to be undermined and eroded.

Mandy Turner is director of the Kenyon Institute in East Jerusalem and a senior visiting fellow at the London School of Economics’ Middle East Centre.



Settler-Colonialism and Neoliberal Capitalism

Andy Clarno

After 100 years of imperial support for Zionism, 70 years of an ongoing nakba and 50 years of military occupation, Israel aggressively continues to colonize Palestinian land and displace Palestinian people. Along with direct expropriations by settlers and the state, Israel’s settler-colonial project now operates through neoliberalism. But the connections between settler-colonialism and neoliberal capitalism have not received sufficient attention.

In the Occupied Territories, Israel’s colonial project in the era after the 1993 Oslo agreement involves concentrating the Palestinian people into a series of isolated enclosures and colonizing the rest of the land. This colonial project is closely articulated with the neoliberalization of the economy. As Israel underwent a transition from a state-managed economy focused on the domestic market to a corporate-driven economy integrated into global markets, Israeli business elites envisioned a “peace process” that would open Arab markets to Israeli and US investors. After Oslo, Israel quickly signed free trade agreements with Egypt and Jordan.

Neoliberalism dovetailed with settler-colonialism to transform the Palestinians into a truly disposable population. Whereas Israel previously incorporated Palestinians into the economy as low-wage workers, the state now treats jobs in Israel as a privilege for “good behavior.” Reduced dependence on Palestinian labor enabled Israel to carry out its project of enclosing and abandoning the occupied Palestinian population. Although Oslo led to the growth of a small Palestinian elite, most Palestinians confront a perpetual crisis of poverty and unemployment. In the West Bank, the two principal options for employment are constructing Israeli settlements on confiscated Palestinian land or joining the PA security forces and helping Israel to suppress Palestinian resistance.

While Palestinians are concentrated into urban enclaves, Palestinian villages in the West Bank have become the front lines of neoliberal colonization. Many Palestinian villagers who used to work in Israel have attempted a return to farming in recent years. But farming has become increasingly untenable due to a severe agricultural crisis manufactured by the state through land confiscations and restrictions on access to land, water, and local and international markets. In addition, Palestinian villagers confront intense violence from Israeli settlers, including unilateral expropriations of village lands and brutal attacks on farmers trying to reach their fields.

Although driven by political motives, the colonization of Palestinian village land is shaped by neoliberalism. To begin with, the West Bank villages are undergoing a process of rapid urbanization. Palestinians increasingly describe their villages as cities or slums. In part, this shift is due to the densification of the built environment. Under Oslo, the PA has jurisdiction over land use and planning within the core residential areas of the villages (Area B). But at least 75 percent of the land in most villages is designated as Area C—including cultivated fields, grazing land, and land set aside for future residential and commercial development. Israel has jurisdiction over land use and planning in Area C and systematically refuses to issue permits for Palestinians to develop this land. As a result, new construction is concentrated in the existing residential areas of Palestinian villages, which are becoming increasingly dense while also expanding vertically.

In describing the urbanization of their villages, Palestinians are also commenting on the sharpening class divisions. When asked about the biggest problem in the villages, residents generally point to the crisis of unemployment. Situating the crisis historically, they argue that Israel encouraged fallahin (peasants) to leave their lands in the 1970s by opening the Israeli labor market. This move provided Israeli firms with a source of cheap labor and enabled the Israeli government to confiscate lands that were not being cultivated. Yet the introduction of permits, closures and the wall has eliminated access to jobs for thousands of Palestinians. People without Israeli permits or jobs with the PA have few options in the villages. At the same time, Palestinian elites are buying land and building multi-million dollar mansions in the villages. Moreover, because restrictions on land use in Area C have inflated the value of the land in Area B, wealthy Palestinian speculators are now building residential towers in the villages.

High rates of unemployment, a manufactured farm crisis, limited space for expansion, growing inequality, and attacks by settlers and the state put pressure on the rural poor to leave their villages and seek opportunities in the cities. Some Palestinians describe this as a neoliberal, do-it-yourself form of expulsion. The rural exodus not only contributes to overcrowding in the urban enclaves, it also opens the door for another form of neoliberal colonization—land purchases by Zionist organizations.

In the 1980s, Israel began encouraging private investors to buy land from West Bank Palestinians. The state facilitated the process by waiving requirements that land sales be publicized and allowing people involved in the transactions to conceal their identities. As a result, transfers of ownership over the most contested land on earth are masked in secrecy and obfuscation.

A vast web of organizations and individuals mobilizes millions of dollars to purchase Palestinian land in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Much of the funding comes from wealthy international donors and is funneled through tax-exempt organizations in the US and offshore tax shelters. The process generally involves an Arab “front man” who negotiates the transaction and transfers the land to an Israeli company.

Despite the secrecy, Palestinians are well aware of the process. Community organizers complain about land sales and individuals share stories about being offered “blank checks” worth millions of dollars for their land. When a poor Palestinian buys a new car or builds a new house, neighbors often suspect he has sold land. The lack of transparency creates not only suspicion, but also the potential for fraud—including the use of forged title deeds by organizations claiming to buy land.
 
Dating back to the early twentieth century, Zionist organizations have presented land purchases as a consensual, market-based practice that has nothing to do with colonialism. Yet the land market is embedded in the broader settler-colonial context. The settler state not only facilitates the transactions, but it also creates the crisis conditions that lead some people to sell their land. The “free” market in land, therefore, is a neoliberal mechanism of colonization. And Israel’s settler-colonial project is now a process of neoliberal colonization.

Andy Clarno is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Illinois-Chicago and an editor of Middle East Report. This essay is based on work for his book Neoliberal Apartheid: Palestine/Israel and South Africa After 1994 (Chicago).



A Constant Process of Becoming

Kareem Rabie

When I agreed to write a post marking the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s occupation and annexation of parts of the West Bank and Gaza, Sinai and Golan, I began by looking at the 2007 iteration of this forum. Back then, contributors circled around similar themes: What does it mean for an occupation to look and be described as so intractable in some ways, and so temporary in others? Ten years later those questions are still relevant, and it’s not hard to imagine MERIP contributors asking them again in 2027.

Anniversaries compel us to look backward, and the fact that we’re still asking similar things shows how much 1967 has oriented Palestinian history. Ten years ago, Samera Esmeir convincingly argued that a politics of amnesia and the shifting definitions of occupation have relegated events like those of 1948 to an irrevocable past. She pointed out that the demands for a state have happened in response to and within the dispossession that has given it weight as an appropriate solution to the problems of occupation.

It’s not only the state-like process that frames our history and political frameworks in ways that reinforce the problems of the present or reiterate historical claims made within the terms of the fragmentation they produce. Part of the legacy of 1967 is to have given us a narrow political imaginary, based on a resuscitation of cultural legacies of Palestinian-ness. Given the real geographical fragmentation of Palestinians, and the difficulties in unifying atomized communities, this imaginary makes sense. Yet it also works toward a kind of exclusion, and a graying out of continuities and discontinuities between Palestinians in different places, with different experiences, different class bases or aspirations, and so on.

Generally, the idea of occupation as a moment of rupture has meant that much of our history has been understood in terms of an agrarian, prelapsarian peace disrupted by the impositions of Zionist colonial modernity. It’s not difficult to see a contradiction when we’re talking about some of the longest-inhabited and most world-historically important cities on the planet, crusades, waves of colonization, intervention and so on.

Lisa Taraki has written about some of the critiques of pre-1987 intifada cultural festivals and forms of cultural politicization that emerged after 1967—the “museumization” of Palestinian culture. She describes a styrofoam Palestinian village built in Birzeit in 1984, and quotes Mohamed Al-Batrawi complaining about the absurdity of a festival explaining village life to a people who mainly live in villages, and don’t need to eat replica musakhan or za‘tar. Salim Tamari has shown some of the ways in which Palestinian urban populations are left out; he and Ted Swedenburg have traced the emergence of agrarian identity and how it has been mobilized to organize political claims. Idealization of this kind of Palestinian presence was a response to 1967, and it led to a specific version of village life being sanctified in political imagination. Consequently, other ways of life no longer fit the narrative.

If claims of Palestinian historical presence are responsive and based on political need, we’re dead reckoning our national understanding and political trajectory. And we’re doing it with relatively recent and contextual terms we have taken to be stable and meaningful.

How does this all touch the ground? My first major research project is on state building and privatization as viewed through real estate development, and I’ve found a similar tension in master plans for the future, for “the day after” occupation. Today, the predominant liberal/international solution to the question of Palestine is economic development, and many actors explicitly argue for modernization in terms of the national economy. But those interventions take the present for granted, work to produce the kind of Palestine in which they would like to intervene, and enable precedent and possibilities for ongoing intervention. I’m thinking here of large-scale housing and real estate development—massive projects that require significant capital investment, state support, assertions of eminent domain and so on. For families and aspirants, housing in particular produces and orients social and economic relations through the promise of a different kind of lifestyle in a different kind of place, through debt relations and through local governance. (This is a subtle difference from some recent critiques that focus on rent seeking as a primary motivation among foreign capitalist classes and institutions. Surely rent is a big part of it. But I think that as Palestinian capitalists and NGOs figure out how to profit from the contemporary situation, they are making something new, organizing and creating new markets that contribute to a reorientation of what Palestine is and can be within given terms.)

Development helps enable a wide social project that produces markets, relations, cultural practices, and forms of aspiration and class identity. It’s an aspect of social, spatial and political economic becoming, and it is a Palestinian process not epiphenomenal to internal dynamics. It’s logically coherent within a history framed by pre- and post-, and political aspirations to emerge from the dispossession of occupation, among an occupied population. Writing about the idea of “civil society,” Ellen Meiksins Wood has argued that a sphere of action somehow apart from the state ought to be understood instead within totalizing social, political and economic processes of capitalist relations of production. It’s why capitalist development can come to seem either somehow new, or as a way around political problems.

Let me put it another way. In his excellent forthcoming study of land defense politics and private land registration in the highland West Bank, anthropologist Paul Kohlbry argues that individual market relations contradict territorial collective ambitions. But I think housing development demonstrates the ways in which collective logics (and it could be largely in language) enable market relations. That is to say, if private developers can make a convincing and logically coherent case for modernization at the same time as they seek to stabilize Palestinian relationships to the land, why can’t it be both? Is it possible to understand Palestinian economic development projects as a new form of class-based nationalism both based in, and at odds with, the cultural projects that emerged from 1967? I’m reminded of a speaker I heard at the last Palestine Investors’ Conference in 2010 encouraging Palestinian investors to do their “national duty as Palestinians and return…. It is difficult to be sure, but make no mistake, there are returns to be made here.” The latter is, obviously, a different kind of “return” than the majority of Palestinians are accustomed to asserting. And it is not a politics for the masses.

What accounts for the stability of the occupation? It is, in my view, a constant process of becoming and stabilization. It’s not the kind of top-down, Big Brother situation that it often seems (and indeed, that many of us saw when we first started writing about it, or going, or going back). The occupation is cohesive and coherent, but that does not mean it’s impregnable. It’s not something that happened once in 1948 and again in 1967, but is continually being made and remade in response to difficulties and contradictions. It’s like a tire that needs to be patched over and over. In 2007 we had the state project organizing privatization; by 2017 privatization has come to explicitly orient the state project. In 2027 it might be something different. Many of the actors and much of the political language might change, but the shape and direction stay the same.

The best I can do here is grossly insufficient, but it’s to suggest that we try to chip away at historical and ideological coherence that begins at the moment of dispossession. That we ask how we got here, and what present modes of political action emerge out of and are doing to shape the future. Geographical and ideological vernaculars for occupation may have changed over time, but politics responsive to those changes can work to obscure both general historical continuities and the possibilities for a way forward.

Kareem Rabie is collegiate assistant professor in the social sciences and Harper-Schmidt Fellow at the University of Chicago.



1967’s Ghosts: Beyond a Truncated Imaginary

Lisa Bhungalia

In one sense, Israel’s capture of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights in 1967—now a half-century on—is part and parcel of a longer history of Palestinian dispossession and fragmentation spanning from the British Mandate, to the mass displacement and expulsion of Palestinians in 1947-1949 from what became the State of Israel (referred to by Palestinians as the nakba) and into the present. As Palestinians have long pointed out, and as echoed by Patrick Wolfe, the nakba is not an event etched in history, but rather a process that persists through multiple means and mediums, whether ethnically exclusive citizenship laws, restrictive mobility regimes, continued land expropriation, mass incarceration or military violence, alongside more quotidian forms of bureaucratic dispossession, urban planning and resource allocation. Cumulatively, the ever-evolving modes and modalities of settler-colonial rule have continued processes of demographic engineering unabated since the mid-twentieth century. Thus, while 1967 should be read within a longer history of Palestinian dispossession, it also marked a pivotal acceleration of this trend due to the ways in which its legacy continues to shape and constrain how Palestine is narrated and conceived today.

The transformations of 1967, wherein Israel seized effective control over the remainder of British Mandate Palestine, inaugurated a new geopolitical grammar—Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. In the wake of the six-day war, international attention and condemnation quickly turned on the latter. Passed in November 1967, UN Security Council Resolution 242 declared the territories seized by Israel illegally occupied, a position reaffirmed by the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016, which deemed Israel’s settlement expansion beyond the Green Line to be a “flagrant violation under international law.” Even before the passage of Resolution 242, however, key Arab states had already begun to shift their position, as Ahmad Khalidi contends, from “outright rejectionism to a more nuanced and flexible political-diplomatic stance.” Indeed, as Khalidi insightfully observes, oft-forgotten lines prefacing the “three noes” approach of the Khartoum Resolution passed at the Arab League summit in August 1967 called upon Arab states to concentrate their political and diplomatic efforts on eliminating “the consequences of the [1967] aggression.” In this way, the occupied territories constituted a kind of exceptional space unmoored from the broader structures and processes of the settler-colonial project. It was this position undertaken by the Arab League in August 1967 that paved the way for the endorsement by key Arab states—Jordan and Egypt, in particular—of UN Resolution 242 three months later, which further fortified the division between contested territory and a naturalized political order. Indeed, as Samera Esmeir argued a decade ago, this new occupation effectively “set the older one of 1948 in stone.”

The various legal and diplomatic frameworks deployed to manage the ongoing “conflict” between Israel and the Palestinians have only reinforced this division. International humanitarian law (IHL), for instance, pertains only to those territories Israel occupied in 1967 and establishes permissible and impermissible actions on the part of Israel as the occupying force therein. Palestinian citizens of Israel, despite being subject to ongoing land expropriation, disenfranchisement and relegation to second-class citizenship, are definably outside the scope of IHL, as are the more than 5 million Palestinian refugees who reside outside the borders of Israel-Palestine. Notwithstanding the many inadequacies of IHL for dealing with the particularities of the Palestinian case, including, most notably, the lack of “temporariness” of occupation, the limited application of IHL to the 1967 territories does a certain kind of political work. It creates, as Darryl Li has argued, a kind of bifurcated imaginary wherein the occupied territories constitute a kind of exceptional space—a space of “otherness”—set against a naturalized political order. This is not to argue that international law has created this distinction, nor is it to make the case for the universal application of IHL to the entirety of the population residing in Israel-Palestine, for to do so would effectively eliminate any kind of social contract between the de facto government (Israel) and the Palestinians. Rather it is to query the kind of work that this distinction does and ask how it both produces and is produced by politics. In this case, the instruments of IHL and relatedly, various iterations of the “peace process,” perhaps most notably the Oslo accords, have produced a truncated political imaginary wherein the “problem,” and thus the “solution,” are limited to those territories occupied in 1967. History and geography start in 1967.

Contemporary critical scholarship on Israel-Palestine has likewise not escaped the trappings of 1967. While there has been a marked—and welcome—increase in critical contemporary scholarship on Palestine, and especially on post-Oslo Palestine, much of this work has tended to study “the occupation” and the evolving modalities of rule therein. Crucially important studies on the role of the Palestinian Authority as a native administrator for colonial rule, and critical accounts of foreign aid intervention and the neoliberal transformations it effects, alongside accounts of the post-2006 isolation and siege of Gaza have importantly shed light on the ever-evolving modalities and strategies Israel has employed to manage the “native problem” in these sites. But this trend toward studying the occupation, as Omar Jabary Salamanca, Mezna Qato, Kareem Rabie and Sobhi Samour have rightly pointed out, isolates and internalizes the post-1967 occupation and renders it ontologically distinct from the broader settler-colonial project. Rather than putting Israel’s differential regimes of subjugation on both sides of the Green Line, as well as beyond it, into conversation, much of this work tends to bracket Israel’s tactics in the “occupied territories” as bounded and distinct. This bracketing of Palestinian space to the “occupied territories” and relatedly “the Palestinians” to those living under belligerent occupation is a direct function of settler-colonial processes at work. Nixed from the frame is over 70 percent of Mandate Palestine and the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian population that resides outside the borders of Israel-Palestine, as well as the some 1.5 million possessing Israeli citizenship. Put differently, international legal regimes, diplomacy and scholarly production on Palestine have, to varying degrees, reinforced the fragmentary logic inherent to settler-colonial rule.

Yet, perhaps perversely for the Zionist leadership at the time, the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 produced two unintended effects. It was in the context of Israel’s direct military occupation that a new generation of Palestinian leaders began to emerge. Driven in large part by a populist reaction to the traditionalist leadership of the nationalist movement, and in particular what was perceived as the “degeneration of the ideology of sumud” (steadfastness) by traditional elites, as Salim Tamari has detailed, this new generation sought to build the “nucleus of the future Palestinian state (and society) as a parallel power to the occupation authority.” This trend only intensified with the outbreak of the first intifada, which shifted the center of gravity in the Palestinian national struggle from the “outside” to the occupied territories. Second, Israel’s territorial expansion across the Green Line, alongside the fact that it exercises supreme authority over Mandate Palestine, has, in turn, produced conditions for the emergence of a new kind of geopolitical imaginary. The de facto production of a “one-state condition” has opened up space for a more robust discussion of what a vision for Palestine might look like that is not predicated on a return to pre-1967 borders. This is the ghost and opportunity that presents itself 50 years on.

Lisa Bhungalia will be assistant professor of political science at Kent State University starting in September 2017.

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