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Architect[e], writer, editor & podcaster


Political Cartography of Palestine (Léopold Lambert Funambulist

“Weaponized Architecture in Palestine,” lecture at the Teatro Diana (Santiago de Chile, August 29, 2014)

Related article on The Funambulist (August 18, 2014):

In the two last months, much information was released (including on this platform) regarding the various issues that Palestinians have to face, the massacre occurring in Gaza being only one (particularly violent) aspect of these issues. Part of this information was very specific and, legitimately so, since part of the political struggle is also accomplished through the production of knowledge. However, it is always useful to take a step back, and supply synthetic information to people who might not have accessed (for whatever reason) to this introductory narrative. Moreover, the construction of this synthetic information informs the way we envision the future of the struggle, as I explain in my recent attempt to begin a “lexicon for a future Palestinian narrative” recently.  In this regard, I felt that it was important to trace the map presented above in order to introduce the various historical and present embodying means of Israel’s state violence. In addition of ‘localizing’ them on the map, I will try to briefly expose them here, as well as linking them to past articles as reading complement (most of these issues are also introduced in Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence).

Two circular keys responds to each other on this map. The small dots populating the Israeli territory are pre-1948 Palestinian villages that have been evicted by the Israeli army, then destroyed, often to the very last stone in an act of erasure of Palestinian presence on the land. Such destruction denied Palestinians from what I came to call “the right to the ruin,” which would have allowed the narrative of the Nakba to be expressed through the visible abandonment of these structures. In this regard, the Israeli organization Zochrot has been instrumental in making an inventory of these villages and providing photographs of their forced absolute disappearance. The larger white dots of the map outside of the Israeli territory respond to these first dots: they are Palestinian refugee camps administrated by UNRWA and constructed to host those who had been evicted from the villages on what became Israeli territory in 1948. They are situated in Gaza (8 camps and currently 1,221,000 registered refugees), in the West Bank (19 camps and currently 741,000 registered refugees), in Jordan (10 camps and currently 2,035,000 registered refugees), Syria (13 camps and currently 499,000 registered refugees), and Lebanon (10 camps and currently 449,000 registered refugees). These camps constitute extremely dense urban fabric and rudimentary life conditions, as they are fundamentally thought to be temporary, despite the fact that most of their inhabitants lived their entire life within them. The right to return for 5.7 million Palestinians, like the one allowed for each Jewish person of the world by Israel, is one essential element of the Palestinian agenda, but it seems like it would be abandoned by the Palestinian authority in their negotiation for an independent state of Palestine, hence the will of many of us not to pursue this future.

The map also shows the Israeli military historical occupation of several areas of the region. The entire Sinai Peninsula (60,000 square kilometers), which is part of the Egyptian territory, was occupied by the Israeli army between 1967 — during the six day war that tremendously changed the entire geopolitics of the region — to 1982. On the other side of the Israeli territory, a part of South Lebanon (10% of the national territory) has been occupied by the Israeli army between its second invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to a disengagement in 2000, which preceded the 2006 Lebanon war. The region of Golan Heights (Syria), on the other hand, remains under Israeli occupation since 1967 and is contained by the 1974 ceasefire line materialized by a fence and a minefield constructed by Israel. The map also shows the zone adjacent to the wall surrounding the Gaza strip as an occupied area, since this zone is considered as a “no-go zone” and a “risk zone” where dozens of Palestinians are shot every year (see the map of Gaza from July 2014). The last occupied area showed on the map is the West Bank coupled with East Jerusalem. Since 1967, these Palestinian territories beyond the 1949 armistice “green line” have been occupied, administrated, policed, and judged by the Israeli army. Things changed with the 1993 Oslo Accords that defined three distinct areas in the West Bank, where different type of sovereignty would be applied — the Palestinian city of Hebron was given a special status because of the existence of Israeli settlements within the center of the city itself. Given the fact that these different types are more principles than realities — the Israeli army still operates everywhere when its wants to — I did not distinguish Area A and Area B on the map, and designated them as territories where Palestinians can exercise a relative autonomy. Area C, on the other hand, remains under absolute control by the Israeli army; its particularity is that it not only constitutes 63% of the West Bank, but it also encompass Areas A and B that thus form ‘islands’ separated from each other by this surrounding militarized milieu (see my essay about “the Palestinian Archipelago”). The access from one ‘island’ to the other is therefore controlled and granted/refused by the Israeli army itself that setup systematic and occasional checkpoints between them. These checkpoints are also showed on the map.

Let’s remain in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Since 1967, dozens of Israeli civil settlements (in dark grey on the map) have been built on these Palestinian territories in violation of the article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that stipulates that “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Historically, the first waves of Israeli settlers were the most ideologically involved actors of Zionism; they believed that God gave the entire land of Palestinian to the Jewish people and were thus entitled to live on it. This is still true nowadays, and this often manifests by various forms of violence undertook against the Palestinian people and their agriculture — burning olive trees is still common practice in the West Bank for instance — yet, there is now another type of Israeli settlers, who thus prove the indissoluble link between Western countries’ militarized policies and capitalism. This new form of settlerism is characterized by the choice of a middle-class population to take advantage of the low price of settlements’ real estate — the land being expropriated from Palestinians, it does not cost anything — and thus moving in the West Bank for economic reasons. Today, there is about half a million of Israelis living in the occupied Palestinian territories — the settlements in Gaza were evicted and destroyed in 2005 by the Sharon administration.

This brings me to the re-organization of territory that accommodates the existence of these settlements. Many roads in the West Bank are only accessible to Israelis (in blue on the map) in order for them, as well as for the army, to join rapidly the Israeli territory and the settlements — most people living in the settlements work on the Israeli territory. The corollary of this road segregation (see past article) is that while Israeli movement is maximized, Palestinian one is minimized through various detours added to the time spent waiting at checkpoints. Road segregation is however only the visible part of this infrastructural apartheid, since water and electricity are also separated between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. The water apartheid operates in a particularly violent manner, since only 70 liters of the West Bank aquifer is supplied per day to each Palestinian (WHO recommends 100 liters a day), when 300 are supplied to Israelis settlers (see the infographic by Visualizing Palestine).

The re-organization of the territory also includes the construction of the “separation barrier,” which is discursively presented as temporary and materializing the 1949 Green Line. However, as the map illustrates, only parts of the solid wall (hence not so temporary) is built on the Green Line, when most of it actually ‘dives’ inside the West Bank to include as many Israeli civil settlements as possible on its Western side. The wall also creates enclaves that leaves many Palestinian villages/towns in a position where a unique road constitutes their access to the rest of the territory (see the paradigmatic case of the village of Al Walajah). The wall also cuts farmers from their land (that can then be expropriated), and even neighbors and families from each other in the specific case of East Jerusalem (see my 2010 photographs of Abu Dis). The fact that the Jordan border is also controlled by the Israeli army associated to the construction of the wall makes the West Bank a prison from which most of the Palestinians cannot escape — one needs a permit to access the Western side of the wall — just like in Gaza, even though its case is particularly extreme in this matter for reasons that I have exposed in my articles this last month.

Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem, although not citizens of Israel, have access de facto to the Israeli territory but their ID can be revoked if they are found living in another place. Also, they are subjected to the same martial legislation than other Palestinians, including the collective punishment organized by the Israeli army and police as we have seen it in the case of home demolition and the spraying of building and bodies with pestilential water following demonstrations. One thing that the map does not shows is the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel who, despite their right to vote, are “barred from living in 68% of all towns in Israel by admissions committees” as Visualizing Palestine illustrates.

Another issue I did not want to forget to integrate in this map is the condition of the Bedouin population. There are 45 Bedouin villages in the Negev desert, each of them hosting between 600 and 5,000 people. These villages are not recognized by the Israeli state, which thus refuse to provide any form of infrastructure to them — including the protection of the now famous “Iron Dome” as we recently saw — nor any form of welfare. The recent “Prawer plan” voted by the Knesset intended to evict and relocate 35 of the 45 Bedouin villages of the Negev (approximately 70,000 people). Large protests in 2013 however put the plan on a halt.

One last issue, not shown on the map is the situation of African migrants, who are subjected to institutional racism and segregation in some schools (see this example in Tel Aviv). None of these issues should be forgotten in the Palestinian struggle, since all live together in Palestine: the struggle will therefore be condemned to fail if, it too essentializes people between Arabs, East European Jews, North African Jews, Bedouins, Sub-Saharian and East African migrants, etc. I hope that this synthesis is helpful and recommend the historical inventory offered by Adi Ophir, Michal Givoni and Sari Hanafi (eds) at the end of the book The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Zone Books, 2011) as a useful complement to it.

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