The Wall & All Its Friends: Documenting the Absurd

”Hypocritical council with an automatic majority against Israel,” said Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, aka. Bibi, describing the United Nations Human Rights Council’s investigation into the impact of its settlement construction on the human rights of Palestinians calling the 47-member committee “Detached from reality.”

This is a week of disheartening realities. One of seeing the matrix of control at play. Between Bibi’s rejection to cooperate with the UNHRC’s investigation into the impact of illegal settlements in the West Bank, going through Jeff Halper’s 94% Solution, which might as well have been a re-purposed exegesis/manual on “Under the Security Mask: How to Oppress a People, Stifle Them, Kill Them Slowly and Get Away With it All” and then, just when you thought it was all over, at the end, be asked whether you thought whether the apartheid wall is in fact an apartheid wall. It was set be one of those weeks.

In more ways than one, this cluster of works in combination with a dose of realpolitik rained down like a meteor shower of hard facts. Surely something as sturdy as a 8 meter high “security fence” could protect one from. Alas, “protection” dropped from the list of supposed Wall functions as facts bore holes through its insurmountable thick skin of cement. From B’tselem’s laundry list of human rights abuses, Halper’s mindboggling “matrix of control”, Machsomwatch’s powerpoint of injustices, the bleak virtual reality of SafePassage, Azoulay and Ophir’s showcase of permanent disaster creation, the unnerving potholes of Khleifi and Sivan’s Route 181, Gary Field’s depressing black and white photos, Meir Wigoder’s disempowering how-to on photography and borderline self-deprecation and Michael Sorkin’s misshapen plea – we were in an apocalyptic space with no end in sight. “Creative attempts to dematerialize the wall only reinforce its existence. The wall’s surface is stronger than all the creative and political gestures of defiance.” If, as Wigoder suggests, photographing the wall makes one an accomplice to the injustice that it imposes, then what can we consider the process of writing about photographing the wall? Or writing about writing about photographing the wall, for that matter?

Pity the subaltern.

And then there was light. The wall had grown another side. A third side! Who would have thought it possible? And they named it a thirdspace. Not only that, but it had an economy, and stores and graffiti. The monster’s mouth had been transformed into a music hall. In it rang an orchestra. It broke out in melodious song. The song of resilience, of strength, of hope. But most of all, of Palestinian resilience. And genius.

And like every feeling of impending doom, a turning point revealed itself. It came in the form of words. And some pictures. And imagined sounds. Through Özgüc’s audacity, tipping an academic Foucaultian-backed hat to resistance, Tawil-Souri’s dynamic exhibits of captivating contrasts and a display of survival against all odds and the happy-sad irony of Decode Jerusalem in which Palestinians had a voice set against Tolan’s soundtrack by Qalandia’s Mozart Ramzi Aburedwan, a weight was partially lifted. Partially out of embarrassment. To make way for courage. This was unlike any other breed of courage. This was resistant courage that refused, not only to be subjugated, but to be studied and discussed as a subject of subjugation. Courage that forced a reconsideration of modes of analysis.

“They will remember that we were sold, but not that we were strong. They will remember that we were bought, but not that we were brave.” – William Prescott, former slave 1937.

In Beyond the Panopticon: The Separation Wall and paradoxical nature of Israeli security imagination, Umut Özgüc hangs, not a two, but a three-way mirror on the Wall. An experiment, which at first glance may seem bizarre and inconceivable, soon proves to be something of a revelation. “Is it really possible for a sovereign power to reduce a life into a bare life?” he boldy asks.

NPR | Ramzi’s Story: Laying Down Stones, Picking Up Instruments

While recognizing that the wall, as it stands within the political matrix is indeed a “political technology” to control Palestinians, Özgüc, backed by Tawil-Souri’s exposition on Palestinian perseverance in the most impossible of non-places and conditions, throws a bucket of paint at the bleak surface of the wall in protest of its imposed meanings. He calls that specific shade of paint: the thirdspace.

“Any analysis of the Wall should go beyond questioning how the Israeli power works and engage with the nature of the new resistance emerged in the West Bank and Israel”. (Özgüc )

In Through an extensive deconstruction process, Özgüc and T-S raise the flag of the thirdspace above the wall. Only after a detailed illustration of not only the functions of the wall as an apparatus of “exclusion” and “intervention”, but of the implication of the rationale behind the same, does Özgüc proceed to argue the consideration of the wall as a thirdspace.

The Tawil-Souri & Özgüc paint is acidic: “productive and positive”; it gives credit and questions a reductionist rhetoric by empowering through recognition, the possibility to look beyond the wall. However, this thirdspace does not emerge from a vacuum, rather it is a manifestation against all odds, “in the midst of an oppressive aesthetic of concrete, barbed wire, bullets and tear gas”.  It rises. As legendery poet Mahmoud Darwish puts it, in Tawil-Souri’s Checkpoint Economy we see how, indeed “On this land, there is what deserves living” (Darwish)

But is it apartheid?

Masquerading under cherry picked semantic preferences, the wall and the checkpoints navigates the texts like one would navigate a house of mirrors. “Security fence” read one. “Separation barrier” read another. Indeed, apartheid is a deceptive thing. In its starring role in Halper’s  “The Matrix of Control” co-produced by B’tselem and subtitled by Decode Jerusalem – Apartheid reveals its true colors, or the lack thereof.

Apartheid’ is defined by the UN as

“…a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group … over another … and systematically oppressing them…” by: creating ghettos; land confiscation; bans on freedom of movement, speech assemblies and mixed marriages; illegal arrest and detention. (United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)

Yes, yes the UN is just the UN and no country, oppressive or not is under any obligation to “listen” to it! Bibi has made that very clear this week, so has the rest of the world as it sat by idly since 1967 watching international law being violated decade after decade. Same goes for the International Court of Justice. (Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (ICJ 2004). They are, afterall “hypocrites”, no? –Bibi 2012 .

So let’s look at what others, the “civilians”, the “grassroots” the academics, the NGOs, the do-gooders have to say: 500+ checkpoints, colored identity cards, land confiscation, settler-only roads and highways, minimum wage, 17% access to water, fragmented communities, 70 isolated enclaves, permits, humiliation, anger, surveillance, attacks, violence, base-less imprisonment, tree uprooting, bulldozing, curfews, closures, military raids, harassment, no representation or trial rights and a score of other abuses — is it apartheid? (B’tselem, Halper, UNOCHA, Human Rights Watch, Tawil-Souri, itisapartheid.org, ICAHD, UNHCR)

If the wall and all its friends in the matrix of control are not examples of apartheid posing under “security” disguises, I don’t know what is. As Özgüc puts it, in Palestine-Israel

“Security is not an innocent language; it produces arbitrary identities and landscapes.” (Özgüc)

In Palestine-Israel, security is always “security”, between quotations, pulled from the MOD or elsewhere in the state. It will, just like the wall that it justifies should remain treated and referenced in the same framework that it uses to validate its existence and acceptance as a legitimate means for its continuity: “security”. “The Wall regulates details of everyday life by “[assigning] each individual his name, his true place, his true body, his death by means of omnipresent power” (Foucault in Özgüc) And while the Apartheid wall in Palestine-Israel, shares similar traits and justifications to its brethren on the borders of US-Mexico, India-Pakistan, the Saudi-Yemeni “barrier”, the Belfast Peace Lines, the Cyrpiot cousin of the green line twice removed, the Berm aka Wall of Shame in Morocco, Korea’s KMZ – is in fact, quite, for the lack of a better word, divisively unique.

“Israeli expropriation of non territorial, supra territorial, and “special” territorial assets (such as single horizontal laminations of space) including the aquifer, airspace or even the olive groves hacked down in the name of “security” extends the wall by other means”. (Sorkin) In Palestine-Israel, where a mammoth-like wall built its framework in a manner hell-bent on maintaining the purity of Barak’s “we are here and they are there” governing by politics of purity, purity has little room for existence. Just as “security” lost its innocence, so has the “law” – in Palestine-Israel, “law” is also, forever trapped in walled between quotations.

It is the justification and the reigning of “rule of law” just like the “security” rationale, law proves an equally iffy player. As Azoulay and Ophir contend, “The abuse of life at the hands of the ruling power is not due to some withdrawal of the law, but occurs thanks to a savage proliferation of legalities and illegalities and the creation of an extensive judicial patchwork that has no lawfulness of its own and that keeps changing the law itself, the regime’s authorities and immunity, and the subject’s own status before the law.” (Azoulay & Ophir)

Yet, against all odds, matrices and laws Palestinian resilience lives on, strong and innovative, challenging and ultimately irrepressible. It twists the disciplinary function of the Wall into room for creativity, resistance and counter hegemony.

“I reject the idea that Palestinians’ lives can be reduced to bare life; because the weak has always a capacity to resist being docile and the power always produces its alternative forms which make total control an unrealizable dream.” (Özgüc)

So yes, ladies and gentlemen, it most definitely, is apartheid. So lets call it like it is.

During the siege, time becomes a space
That has hardened in its eternity
During the siege, space becomes a time
That is late for its yesterday and tomorrow

(حالة حصار A State of Siege, Mahmoud Darwish)

The above is a response to the following cluster of works:

  • Jeff Halper (2000). “The 94 Percent Solution,” Middle East Report 216: http://www.merip.org/mer/mer216/94‐percent‐solution
  • Michael Sorkin (2005). Against the Wall (intro)
  • Umut Ozguc “Beyond the Panopticon: The Separation Wall and paradoxical nature of Israeli security imagination” Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra, Australia
  • Meir Wigoder (2010). “The Blocked Gaze: A User’s Guide to Photographing the Separation Barrier‐Wall” Public Culture 22(2); pp. 292‐308
  •  B’Tselem “Restriction of Movement” http://www.btselem.org/freedom_of_movement/checkpoints_and_forbidden_roads
  • Ariel Handel (2009). “Where, Where To, and When in the Occupied Territories: An Introduction to Geography of Disaster” in Adi Ophir et al., eds. The Power of Inclusive Exclusion; pp.179‐222
  • Helga Tawil‐Souri (2009). “New Palestinian Centers: An Ethnography of the ‘Checkpoint Economy’” International Journal of Cultural Studies 12(3); pp. 217‐235
  • Helga Tawil‐Souri (2010). “Qalandia Checkpoint: The Historical Geography of a Non‐ Place” Jerusalem Quarterly 42; pp. 26‐48
  • Sandy Tolan (2011). “Operation Mozart: A Musical Intifada at the Qalandia checkpoint.” http://mondoweiss.net/2011/06/operation‐mozart‐a‐musical‐intifada‐atthe‐ qalandia‐checkpoint.html
  • Gary Fields (2011). “Photo Feature: Landscapes of Occupation in Palestine” Settler Colonial Studies 1; pp. 201‐205
  • “Decode Jerusalem: An Alternative Travel Guide”
  • Machsomwatch, “Endless Checkpoints” http://www.ziv‐p.com/MW/
  • Safe Passage video game (Gisha)
  • Lemon Tree (dir. Eran Rilkis, 2008, 106 min.)
  • Route 181: Fragments of a Journey in Palestine‐Israel (dirs. Michel Khleifi & Eyal
    Sivan, 2004)

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