TRAPPED IN THE BORDER’S THICKNESS /// September 2012
Originally published on September 7, 2012 on The Funambulist / Re-published in The Funambulist Pamphlets: Volumes 04: Legal Theory and Volume 12: Appendix to Weaponized Architecture (Punctum Books, 2013-2015)
For the last seven days, a group of twenty Eritrean refugees have been trapped between the two fences materializing the border between Egypt and Israel as they were trying to enter the latter. Today, the group was dismissed when a vast majority of them was expelled and three of them were brought to a detention center on the Israeli territory. The ‘normalized xenophobia’ of European countries and Israel results in migrants dying at their frontiers. In this case, one of the women in the group miscarried a child, since no other humanitarian aid was brought to them than a limited amount of water. This reality long reached the tragic stage where it has been accepted as a collateral effect of globalization. I would require a more developed reflection to properly deconstruct this dreadful logic.
I would like to stress the geometrical paradox where a border acquires a thickness. In reality, the line traced on a map is often materialized by a physical element. Inevitably, this element has a given thickness. That is the difference between the mathematical abstraction and its physical adaptation in reality. In this case, the materialization of the abstract border is achieved by a double fence, creating a space in between that is legally ambiguous. Technically, this space is on the Israeli territory. Nevertheless, for seven full days, the state of Israel refused to grant access to its territory to those twenty migrants, implying that this space was not part of its territory:
An Israeli government spokesman said: “According to international practices and binding precedents, the fence is a de facto border, and therefore anyone who is beyond it is not located in Israeli territory and is therefore not eligible for automatic entry. (Harriet Sherwood, “Eritrean refugees trapped by security fence at Israeli-Egyptian border,” The Guardian, September 5, 2012)
Similarly to the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea, or the United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus, the space between two lines of fences carries a legal status that is not the same as the status of the territory on each side. Whoever lives in this space can be said to be liberated from the law. However, such liberation also implies the loss of a legal status for this individual, who becomes the target of one or both sides’ fire. In this case, the individuals were dispossessed of the right to be treated humanely either by Egypt or by Israel. In Homo Sacer, Giorgio Agamben invented the concept of bare life to characterize the status of individuals who are subjected to the state of exception and who are fully expelled from the political and legal process. The border’s thickness as the space that establishes the conditions of existence of the bare life status.