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The occupation: it's about controlling land and space

True, there are no large-scale killings of civilians in the West Bank. But that’s not what Israel’s control of the West Bank is about

It is often mentioned that Israel’s war against the Palestinian people does not fall under the rubric of truly violent crime because of the absence of large scale killing of Palestinian civilians. Indeed, this point does have weight and the absence of rape as a tool of war in Israel’s arensel strengthens the argument. However, the core aim of Israel’s onslaught on the Palestinians is the control of space. Since the beginning of the Zionist colonization project, Israel has deliberately sought to control space. Beginning with the 1948 war, Israel liquidated Palestinian villages in order to take over their space and not necessarily to kill their inhabitants. Since the 1967 conquest of the West Bank and Gaza, the Zionist mantra of “a land without a people for a people without a land” has proven to be a guiding principle of Israeli conquest of the land.

Israel’s unwillingness to set fixed borders contributes to its ability to control Palestinian space. The separation barrier and recent Israeli land acquisition projects, such as settlement expansion, represent the current method of Israeli space control in the West Bank. The renowned Israeli sociologist Adi Ophir has coined the term ‘camps’ for built up Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank. The barrier and myriad of checkpoints have isolated Palestinian areas leaving them in disjointed camps. Every minute, Israel pumps resources into institutionalizing this system of disconnection which makes a two-state solution virtually impossible, and ingrains permanent Israeli control. As a result, Palestinian institutions and centralization function like organs without a body. The absence of borders allows Israel to extend its power in the Palestinian territories unchecked, which Palestinians are now challenging with the drive to fix borders and declare statehood.

The West Bank as Disconnected Islands. Photo by Julien Bousac/Le Monde diplomatique

The West Bank as disconnected Islands. Photo by Julien Bousac/Le Monde diplomatique

Just as Palestinians are excluded from representation in the Israeli military law they are subject to, Israel exerts sovereign control over space in the West Bank. The creation of settlements, therefore, is not as much of a problem as their continued maintenance which necessarily involves the unequal distribution of resources to Palestinians who, at least in Area C of the West Bank, are completely beholden to Israel. Even underground space and its resources such as wells and aquifers are controlled by Israeli occupation authorities. Sociologist Sair Hanafi has referred to Israel’s control of Palestinian space as ‘spaciocide’ because it forms an attack on a people with the absence of full scale slaughter.

Frantz Fanon wrote of the differences between the settler town and that of the native in his landmark book The Wretched of the Earth. He describes how clean and kept settler towns are while the town of the native are ‘uneven’ and dirty. A recent evening in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh reminded me of this passage in reference to Israel’s ability to decide what is visible and invisible in the West Bank. After a long demonstration in which extremely violent crowd control measures were used, the people of Nabi Saleh invited the Israeli and international supporters in the village for a large meal. The traditional meat-based Palestinian kitchen was transformed to respect the veganism of the many Israelis. We ate together and then took much needed downtime over coffee and tea.

As I emerged from the dinner for the long ride home to Tel Aviv, I was struck by the darkness. The village was pitch black as if it was on the moon. I looked off across the valley to see the Jewish-only settlement of Halamish bathing in light. The settlement looked like a lighthouse in the pitch black sea of surrounding Palestinian villages. I asked one of the villages for an explanation for the darkness. He told me that every time they install proper road lights, Israeli soldiers destroy them due to ‘lack of permits.’ Of course, the permits required to build light posts are virtually impossible for Palestinians to acquire.

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    1. Grammar dude

      Sorry to be a pendent (I liked your article very much) but just wanted to point out that myriad checkpoints will suffice the ‘of’ is redundant.

      Reply to Comment
    2. michael

      It is not only Halamish is “bathing in light” in comparison with Nabi Saleh. It is, actually, Israel is bathing in light in sharp contrast with Syria, Egypt, Jordan and all the Arab world. Is that just because Israeli soldiers destroyed all the road lights in the Arab states?

      Reply to Comment
    3. BlightUntoNations

      ……………………………………….The Arab world has made contributions to science and mathematics, poetry and literature that the vile Israelis could never dream of in 10,000 years. Israeli society has no value and they know that. Their raison d’être is violence, stupidity, and tribalism, fortified with billions of dollars stolen from the American people.

      Reply to Comment
    4. zvi

      @blightuponthisforum, you are conflating Arab and Muslim contributions to these areas, and negating Jewish and Israeli contributions is pure spite. Many Islamic contributions come from non-Arab areas. The Moorish Era in Spain marked the Golden Era of “Arabesque” art and science and also happened to be the one of the high points of Jewish contributions in these areas. Arab and Jewish contributions were intimately intertwined, because many of the people involved were in fact both Arab *and* Jewish!

      There is no point discussing Israeli contributions because clearly you are not willing to recognize anything. I don’t know if I would call that anti-semitism, but you clearly have issues.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Karin

      Great article. Just got back from trip to West Bank and Israel and fully agree with your description. Heartbreaking. Weird comments, though. Keep up the good writing.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Blight: I think that you comments are pushing the edge of acceptability on my page. I am happy if you would like to engage in proper discussion but the racism and language needs to be toned down. I think that Zvi makes an excellent point.

      Reply to Comment
    7. BlightUntoNations

      ……………………………………….Zvi …point taken and I should have made it clear I was referring to the Islamic achievements, not merely Arab. George Sarton, the great historian of science devotes the opening of his magisterial history to Islamic science, pointing to its central place. But we also shouldn’t conflate Jewish achievements–which by any measure are spectacular–with Israeli achievements, which are essentially non-existent. I quote again one of our fine Jewish over-achievers, whose opinion of the Israelis I can wholly relate to: “But then to the entire world they are oblivious. For the entire world they have one word: goy! ‘I live here and I speak Hebrew and all I know and see are other Jews like me and isn’t that wonderful!’ Oh, what an impoverished Jew this arrogant Israeli is! Yes, they are the authentic ones, the Yehoshuas and the Ozes, and tell me, I ask them, what are Saul Alinsky and David Riesman and Meyer Schapiro and Leonard Bernstein and Bella Abzug and Paul Goodman and Allen Ginsberg, and on and on and on and on? Who do they think they are, these provincial nobodies! Jailers! This is their great Jewish achievement—to make Jews into jailers and jet-bomber pilots!” ………..Philip Roth

      Reply to Comment
    8. BlightUntoNations

      ……………………………..in short, it is not anti-Semitism, but on the contrary, Jewish pride, that causes so many of us to say we will not allow the Israelis to drag the good name of the Jews—kind-hearted, intelligent and long-suffering people–into the sewer. It is not only compassion for the wretchedly abused Palestinians that ought to motivate decent Jews to stand against Israel, but actually Jewish self-interest and Jewish self-preservation. That’s my view.

      Reply to Comment
    9. zvi

      @Blight – at last we get to the point of your hostility: that Israelis are destroying the “good name” of the Jews. Well, there certainly is something to be said for this argument, but personally I find the Jewish community more responsible for it than Israel. There have been impressive ISRAELI developments in many areas: technology, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, etc. And in fact Israel holds it’s own quite well in the arts as well, especially given the countries size and the limited number of people who speak Hebrew (in the world).

      I am rather conflicted about how the ‘Diaspora’ Jewish community should relate to Israel. Certainly not by blindly supporting everything that the Israeli government does! On the other hand, I also have little patience for Westerners who naively support anything just because it is anti-Israel. This is a very complicated topic, and this is not the appropriate thread.

      This is a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. For this land. This is not some existential battle between “cultures”. I do not think that outside influences are helping to bring this conflict to a resolution. And no I do not think that the US government should be “supporting Israel” in any way at all. Israel is strong enough and mature enough to make it’s own decision. And Israel needs to be responsible for the consequences.

      Reply to Comment
    10. zvi

      Outside powers can be useful in banging heads together, but they cannot impose a solution.

      Cast lead was widely supported because the previous ‘situation’ was not sustainable. No government can sit by and do nothing while missiles are falling on you day in and day out. Sure they were not particularly accurate, nor did they do much actual damage, but that is beside the point. And from that point of view, the operation was a success. There were very few missile launched until recently.

      But just like the last round in Lebanon, I think that the desired deterrent effect could have been achieved in a few days of heavy retaliation. There is no military solution to this conflict, so trying to achieve one is futile.

      I am generally against the BDS movement. I do not think that it is targeting the right people to be effective. Most of the BDS “supporters” do not really understand the issues, but it has become trendy to be anti-Israel. Certainly Israel has hugely helped in this!

      Just lock up the relevant Israeli representatives (Leiberman, Bibi, a few Rabbis, from Shas, the settlements, etc.) together with the appropriate Palestinian representatives (Salaam Fayed, Marwan Barghouti, Ismail Haniya, Khaled Meshaal, etc.) and let them bash it out amongst themselves. Nobody leaves until an appropriate modus operandi is worked out.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Zvi, just a few points:
      (1) rockets (not missiles- no need for special effects in the comment zone) were fired from Gaza for more than a decade. Action was taken 2 months before an election. And boy do I wish I had taped the Kadima meeting I was at around the time it was established (years before cast lead, back when kadima ddnt need to blow ppl up to try to win an election), where Sderot citizens asked those same people that launched that attack, why there is never any response to the rockets, and those politicians answered that the rockets are a nuisance, but dont essentially cause that much damage, so they don’t see a need to respond.
      (2) saying that its become trendy to be anti-israel is first of all, detached from reality. second- a wrong analysis. Israelis that support BDS don’t do it because they hate israel, they do it exactly because they feel connected to Israel, want to see it flourish, and think this is the best way to do that. Don’t dismiss legitimate arguments by spewing propaganda.

      Reply to Comment
    12. zvi

      Ilan, I don’t have the time at the moment to do sufficient ‘thought-checking’ on my comments. And of course there were other considerations in the timing of that particular operation, as opposed to the last Lebanese war which was provoked.

      I have no problem with Israelis or Palestinians supporting BDS because they know what they are protesting. I am all for legitimate arguments about the situation and I enjoy very much partaking in them. It is the naive fools who express blind certainty in their opinions and yet cannot even find the Middle-East on a map who annoy me. And from my perspective (I no longer live in Israel), BDS seems to be a very trendy fad indeed.

      Reply to Comment