THE PALESTINIAN ARCHIPELAGO: A METAPHORICAL CARTOGRAPHY OF THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES
all maps and photos are produced by the author
Since 1967, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while being considered with the Gaza strip as the territories of the Palestinian sovereignty by the United Nations, have been subjected to a ever growing military and civil colonization organized by the successive Israeli governments and implemented by an important part of the Israeli population itself during its military service or/and as civil settlers. Similarly to every cases of colonization, violent military punctual phases are followed by longer periods of time in which the very lives of the occupied population are administratively and technically (re)organized by the occupier to serve the latter’s economy and ideology. Such organization of the daily life – one might talk about biopolitics[i]- requires an active role of architecture as being inherently a technology of power. Books written by Eyal Weizman[ii] or Stephen Graham[iii] as well as the spatial analyses accomplished by Decolonizing Architecture[iv] (Petti, Hilal & Weizman) are exemplary to describe the militarization of such architecture in the West Bank, and paraphrasing their work would be useless for this essay. What the following text focuses on is an understanding of the spatial and displacement politics at stake in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. In order to make these politics and their implications fathomable, I would like to narrate a metaphorical cartography of the Occupied Territories under the name of Palestinian Archipelago.
Since 1993, the secretly signed accords in Oslo between the P.L.O. (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and the state of Israel have spatially implemented themselves through the division of the West Bank in three different zones: Areas A, B and C. While Area A guarantees – supposedly – a zone of governance for the Palestinian government and the right to insure security via its own means, Area C, on the contrary gives an absolute power to the Israeli army over security, planning and movement; Area B being a buffer zone in which both the Israeli Defense Forces and the Palestinian police have the right to intervene. Those accords were signed by the P.L.O. in order to gain a relative independence from Israel in the main cities of the West Bank –except Hebron which remains a special case- but it has been experienced by most Palestinians as an outrageous territorial compromise presenting no legitimacy whatsoever. In addition of a clear asymmetry – Area C constitutes 63% of the West Bank while Area A, only 17% – almost twenty years of application of this partition proved that the Israeli army regularly penetrated within Palestinian cities, during the two intifadas for example, but also in ‘calmer’ phases since then.
Far from the calm waters, this archipelago constitutes the scene of an ordinary violence for its inhabitants. The movement between each island is both submitted to a heavy ‘maritime’ official control and to potential attacks from settlers/pirates as many of them colonized the region. Corsairs would actually be a more appropriate name to define them since their presence and actions are tolerated –often encouraged – by Israeli authorities. The latter have been developing a form of biopolitics implemented by the construction of ‘reefs’ that filter or prevent the movement of Palestinians between their islands. Those reefs constitute a paradigm of militarized architecture as the latter finds its physicality entirely dedicated to the colonial purpose it serves. Those reefs are mostly divided in four typologies.
The first one is a continuous barrier whose function was claimed to be temporarily separating the Israeli waters from the Palestinian waters. In reality, this barrier has been built mostly on Palestinian territory and thus does not only prevent the movement from one sea to another but also participate actively to the colonial confiscation of territory. The small yet densely populated island of Qalqiliya (45,000 inhabitants), for example, is almost entirely encircled by the sinuous scar in the landscape that this barrier constitutes, resulting in a potential ‘quarantine’ of the city as only one maritime route links it to other islands.
The second type of reefs is as punctual as numerously applied. Placed on the various maritime routes between islands, some of them simply block these routes when others are organized in checkpoints imposing a degree of fluidity to the maritime traffic. This degree of fluidity, or rather of a-fluidity, is the result of an ambiguous mix of governmental policy and the subjective appreciation of the colonial float in charge of those checkpoints. Its consequence is a continuous uncertainty for Palestinians who can never be sure to leave an island to go to another, whether they accomplish this displacement in order to work, to visit friends or family, to go back home, or simply to exercise the freedom of movement which is recognized to nations on their own territory.
I was mentioning earlier the presence of many corsairs/settlers – about 500,000 of them – living on Palestinian territory. This colonial population live on artificial reefs/islands that host from dozen of its members to dozen of thousands of them. Those reefs introduce a defensive, yet domestic architecture which leaves nothing to chance in its geological formation which constitute another important obstacle to the circulation between Palestinian islands. The regular attacks from the most violent and ideologically charged fraction of corsairs on the local population also affect this circulation as it triggers a paralyzing fear to this very same population.
The fourth and last typology of reefs, more affiliated to infrastructure than architecture, frames some special maritime routes that are used exclusively by the colonial floats and the corsairs. While the Palestinian movement is filtered, slackened if not simply prevented, the Israeli one is maximized by those routes, thus contributing to the hegemonic control over the sea hosting the archipelago.
The various Palestinian populations, farmers and office workers, rich and poor, Bedouins and Arabs, therefore all suffer from the numerous apparatuses of movement restriction on their own territory. The maritime routes between each islands being supervised and controlled, a form of resistance against the colonial organization of space consists in experiencing the land via other means. In that regard, Palestinian lawyer Raja Shehadeh is exemplary as he practices the sarha (سير), sort of drifting walks in the hills of Ramallah[v] in a spirit of joy and resistance. Of course, these sarha cannot be used as a unique way to resist effectively against the established biopolitics; however, what the action of walking – swimming if we conserve the water metaphor – re-introduces the engagement of the body with a territory. This same territory being precisely the very object of the conflict, this interaction between the body and the land is not innocent. In fact, the issues that the Palestinians living in the West Bank have to face are not coming exclusively from the Israeli occupation but also in the internal dynamic of this nation. Indeed, a movement of rural exodus – catalyzed partially by the occupation itself – is provoking dangerous social changes, as a new Palestinian social class of depolitized bourgeoisie seems to have traded its dream of collective freedom for a compromised will of personal wealth. This class therefore does not mind so much the politics of the island within a same nation as it favors the concept of private property over a common becoming. On the contrary, it encourages the fragmentation of territory to the scale of the family and the individual and its bodies are dematerialized in cars, phones, computers and comfortable houses.
The battle to reconnect all the Palestinian islands into a unique continent[vi] does not seem to be winnable via another way than the enforcement of the international law[vii]. Nevertheless, until such legal application is reached, forms of resistance have to be sustained and developed. In order to be effective, this resistance cannot focus on attacking the occupier’s body but rather on the liberation of the occupied’s one. In fact, the architectural colonial apparatuses, evoked earlier in that text, are subjecting the body to a state of immobility in which the body is either absent if the apparatus acts as a form of dissuasion against the movement, or hurt, in the case of a confrontation with the apparatus’ physicality[viii]. In response to such violence, a revolutionary body that could freely migrate from one island to another needs to exist. Rather than delimiting a territory in the form of the sedentary property, (s)he considers her (his) land in the same way than nomads do, a mobile parcel of earth that the body itself delimits.
[i] Notion invented by Michel Foucault to define the application of political power on the daily lives of people who are subjected to it.
[ii] Refer to the book A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture (New York: Verso, 2003. ) by Eyal Weizman and Rafi Segal as well as Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (New York: Verso, 2007.) by Eyal Weizman.
[iii] Refer to the collection of essays, Cities, War, and Terrorism: Towards an Urban Geopolitics (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004.) edited by Stephen Graham
[v] Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape (New York: Scribner, 2008.) by Raja Shehadeh
[vi] The question of the connection with Gaza is also as fundamental as problematic in this matter.
[vii] To go further within the legal aspect, I highly recommend the reading of the collection of essays, The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Cambridge: Zone Books, 2009.) edited by Adi Ophir, Michal Givoni and Sari Hanafi as well as the consultation of the remarkable cartographic work accomplished by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: http://www.unocha.org/
[viii] In this regard, the pedestrian checkpoints’ narrow and heavy turnstiles are paradigmatic of such a violence inflicted to the bodies on a daily basis.
Léopold Lambert / Architect[e], Editor & Writer