Posts Tagged ‘palestinians’

“Late-modern colonial occupation differs in many ways from early-modern
occupation, particularly in its combining of the disciplinary, the biopolitical, and
the necropolitical. The most accomplished form of necropower is the contemporary
colonial occupation of Palestine. 

Here, the colonial state derives its fundamental claim of sovereignty and legitimacy
from the authority of its own particular narrative of history and identity.
This narrative is itself underpinned by the idea that the state has a divine right to
exist; the narrative competes with another for the same sacred space. Because the
two narratives are incompatible and the two populations are inextricably intertwined,
any demarcation of the territory on the basis of pure identity is quasiimpossible.
Violence and sovereignty, in this case, claim a divine foundation:
peoplehood itself is forged by the worship of one deity, and national identity is
imagined as an identity against the Other, other deities. History, geography, cartography,
and archaeology are supposed to back these claims, thereby closely
binding identity and topography. As a consequence, colonial violence and occupation
are profoundly underwritten by the sacred terror of truth and exclusivity
(mass expulsions, resettlement of “stateless” people in refugee camps, settlement
of new colonies). Lying beneath the terror of the sacred is the constant excavation
of missing bones; the permanent remembrance of a torn body hewn in a
thousand pieces and never self-same; the limits, or better, the impossibility of
representing for oneself an “original crime,” an unspeakable death: the terror of
the Holocaust. 

To return to Fanon’s spatial reading of colonial occupation, the late-modern
colonial occupation in Gaza and the West Bank presents three major characteristics
in relation to the working of the specific terror formation I have called
necropower. First is the dynamics of territorial fragmentation, the sealing off and

expansion of settlements. The objective of this process is twofold: to render any
movement impossible and to implement separation along the model of the
apartheid state. The occupied territories are therefore divided into a web of intricate
internal borders and various isolated cells. According to Eyal Weizman, by
departing from a planar division of a territory and embracing a principle of creation
of three-dimensional boundaries across sovereign bulks, this dispersal and
segmentation clearly redefines the relationship between sovereignty and space.

For Weizman, these actions constitute “the politics of verticality.” The resultant
form of sovereignty might be called “vertical sovereignty.” Under a regime of
vertical sovereignty, colonial occupation operates through schemes of over- and
underpasses, a separation of the airspace from the ground. The ground itself is
divided between its crust and the subterrain. Colonial occupation is also dictated
by the very nature of the terrain and its topographical variations (hilltops and valleys,
mountains and bodies of water). Thus, high ground offers strategic assets
not found in the valleys (effectiveness of sight, self-protection, panoptic fortification
that generates gazes to many different ends). Says Weizman: “Settlements
could be seen as urban optical devices for surveillance and the exercise of power.”
Under conditions of late-modern colonial occupation, surveillance is both inwardand
outward-oriented, the eye acting as weapon and vice versa. Instead of the
conclusive division between two nations across a boundary line, “the organization
of the West Bank’s particular terrain has created multiple separations, provisional
boundaries, which relate to each other through surveillance and control,”
according to Weizman. Under these circumstances, colonial occupation is not
only akin to control, surveillance, and separation, it is also tantamount to seclusion.
It is a splintering occupation, along the lines of the splintering urbanism
characteristic of late modernity (suburban enclaves or gated communities).

From an infrastructural point of view, a splintering form of colonial occupation
is characterized by a network of fast bypass roads, bridges, and tunnels that
weave over and under one another in an attempt at maintaining the Fanonian
“principle of reciprocal exclusivity.” According to Weizman, “the bypass roads
attempt to separate Israeli traffic networks from Palestinian ones, preferably
without allowing them ever to cross. They therefore emphasize the overlapping
of two separate geographies that inhabit the same landscape. At points where the
networks do cross, a makeshift separation is created. Most often, small dust roads

are dug out to allow Palestinians to cross under the fast, wide highways on which
Israeli vans and military vehicles rush between settlements.” 

Under conditions of vertical sovereignty and splintering colonial occupation,
communities are separated across a y-axis. This leads to a proliferation of the
sites of violence. The battlegrounds are not located solely at the surface of the
earth. The underground as well as the airspace are transformed into conflict
zones. There is no continuity between the ground and the sky. Even the boundaries
in airspace are divided between lower and upper layers. Everywhere, the
symbolics of the top (who is on top) is reiterated. Occupation of the skies therefore
acquires a critical importance, since most of the policing is done from the air.
Various other technologies are mobilized to this effect: sensors aboard unmanned
air vehicles (UAVs), aerial reconnaissance jets, early warning Hawkeye planes,
assault helicopters, an Earth-observation satellite, techniques of “hologrammatization.”
Killing becomes precisely targeted. 

Such precision is combined with the tactics of medieval siege warfare adapted
to the networked sprawl of urban refugee camps. An orchestrated and systematic
sabotage of the enemy’s societal and urban infrastructure network complements
the appropriation of land, water, and airspace resources. Critical to these techniques
of disabling the enemy is bulldozing: demolishing houses and cities; uprooting
olive trees; riddling water tanks with bullets; bombing and jamming electronic
communications; digging up roads; destroying electricity transformers;
tearing up airport runways; disabling television and radio transmitters; smashing
computers; ransacking cultural and politico-bureaucratic symbols of the proto-Palestinian
state; looting medical equipment. In other words, infrastructural warfare. While the Apache helicopter gunship is used to police the air and to kill
from overhead, the armored bulldozer (the Caterpillar D-9) is used on the ground
as a weapon of war and intimidation. In contrast to early-modern colonial occupation,
these two weapons establish the superiority of high-tech tools of late-modern

 As the Palestinian case illustrates, late-modern colonial occupation is a concatenation
of multiple powers: disciplinary, biopolitical, and necropolitical. The

combination of the three allocates to the colonial power an absolute domination
over the inhabitants of the occupied territory. The state of siege is itself a military
institution. It allows a modality of killing that does not distinguish between the
external and the internal enemy. Entire populations are the target of the sovereign.
The besieged villages and towns are sealed off and cut off from the world.
Daily life is militarized. Freedom is given to local military commanders to use
their discretion as to when and whom to shoot. Movement between the territorial
cells requires formal permits. Local civil institutions are systematically destroyed.
The besieged population is deprived of their means of income. Invisible killing is
added to outright executions.”

–  Achille Mbembe, translated by Libby Meintjes, “Necropolitics.” Public Culture, Volume 15, Number 1, Winter 2003, pp. 27-30.

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“The period of 1940 to 1946 witnessed unprecedented solidarity between Arab and Jewish workers, not only among the railwaymen but in many other mixed enterprises as well. This may seem ironic in retrospect, since by the end of 1947 Palestine was engulfed in a full-scale civil war. But during the Second World War and immediately after it, a short-lived conjuncture created new possibilities for militant joint action, though they were eventually eclipsed by escalating political tensions.

The Palestinian working class, Arab and Jewish, expanded very dramatically during the war. Disruption of the usual sources of supply stimulated development of the country’s industrial base, as did the demand created by the enormously swollen British and Allied military presence. Military bases and related service enterprises proliferated, drawing tens of thousands of Arab peasants and townspeople into wage labor at work sites which also employed Jews.


Labor shortages in many sectors strengthened the workers’ bargaining position, while high inflation pushes them toward action. […] In these circumstances there ensued an unprecedented wave of unionization and militancy which affected Arab workers most dramatically because they had hitherto been less active and less organized. [redmensch: This is mostly because the Jews had been strongly influenced by working-class politics in the European diaspora already.] […] This upsurge was encouraged by, and in turn benefited, newly reinvigorated left-wing forces in both the Arab community and the Yishuv which implicitly challenged nationalist leaderships on both sides by advocating class solidarity and political compromise between Arabs and Jews.

During the war a new Arab left emerged in Palestine, organized in the communist-led National Liberation League (’Usbat al-Taharrur al-Watani’, NLL). […] In the Yishuv, the initially kibbutz-based socialist-Zionist Hashomer Hatza’ir (Young Guard) movement, which advocated a bi-national Palestine and Arab-Jewish class solidarity and was trying to extend its influence among Jewish urban workers … and it won significant support among militant Jewish workers, including railway workers in what had become known as Red Haifa. The Jewish communist movement also resurfaced during and after the war. […] It now sought to gain legitimacy and support from the wartime popularity of the Soviet Union, whose Red Army the Yishuv hailed as the main force fighting the Nazis, and by trying to ride of the wave of worker activism.


A series of job actions and short strikes culminated … in a three-day occupation of the Haifa workshops in February 1944. Unrest continued after the end of the war in Europe, manifested during 1945 in a number of brief wildcat strikes by railway and postal workers, now among the most militant and experienced (and of course most integrated) segments of the Palestinian working class. The NLL’s newspaper, al-Ittihad, hailed these incidents as “clear proof of the possibility of joint action in every workplace,” provided that the workers steered clear of interference by both Zionism and “Arab reaction.”

The Arab communists’ prescription seemed to find confirmation in April 1946 when a planned strike by Jewish and Arab postal workers in Tel Aviv spontaneously expanded to encompass some 13,000 Arab and Jewish postal, telegraph, railway, port and public workers department workers, along with 10,000 lower- and middle-level white-collar government employees. This general strike paralyzed the British colonial administration and won the support of much of Jewish and Arab public opinion. The Arab and Jewish communists naturally saw in it a wonderful manifestation of class solidarity, “a blow against the ‘divide and rule’ policy of imperialism, a slap in the face of those who chauvinist ideologies and propagate national division,” but warned the strikes against “defeatist and reactionary elements, Arab and Jewish.”


The strikers ultimately won many of their demands, and … the following year witnessed the rapid growth of unions and the spread of worker activism, especially in the army camps and at the oil refinery and the Iraq Petroleum Company’s pipeline terminal in Haifa. In these workplaces Arab and Jewish workers often cooperated in pursuit of higher wages and better conditions.”

– Zachary Lockman, “Railway workers and relational history: Arabs and Jews in British-ruled Palestine.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Volume 35, Issue 3, July 1993. pp. 601-627

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