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RONIT LENTIN DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY, TRINITY COLLEGE DUBLIN RLENTIN@TCD.IE
Paper presented at the „Biopolitics, Society and Performance‟ conference, Trinity College Dublin, 31 October – 2 November 2012
Introduction In July 2012 an Israeli government committee, established to examine „steps to be taken to regularise construction‟ in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, Chaired by retired Supreme Court Judge Edmund Levy, ruled that the West Bank is not occupied territory. The Palestinian territory has not been annexed as part of the state of Israel and thus there is no legal basis for Israel‟s operation there. (Indeed as argued by Shaerer, 2012, according to Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits a state from transferring parts of its own civilian population to territory it occupies, the West Bank is occupied by Israel, and „the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are unlawful‟). At the same time, and despite the Levy committee claim, Israel enacts a model of colonial administration in the territory that produces constant organisational and operational exceptions (Berda, 2012) This circular logic calls for theorising Israel/Palestine – a borderless state entity, governed through a series of emergency laws inherited from the British and never repealed – as a state of exception (Agamben, 2005). In my edited collection Thinking Palestine, the Israeli political historian Ilan Pappe criticised my argument that exception, emergency, necessity and security lead to theorising Israel as an ideal type racial state of exception (Lentin, 2008: 1-22). Pappe insists that the state of Israel cannot be construed as a democracy fallen into state of exception, but is rather a „state of oppression‟ (Pappe, 2008; see also Zureik, 2011: 34). I have moved from focusing on the state of Israel to analysing Israel/Palestine as one settler colonial racial state. 1 But it is important to emphasise that I employ Agamben‟s theories not in order to abstract the Palestinian question, but rather to re-politicise questions of sovereignty and abject subjecthood. There are other critiques of theorising Israel/Palestine as state of exception. David Lloyd (2012) and Barnor Hesse (2012) respectively question whether Israel/Palestine is exceptional or rather unexceptional. But more poignantly, in a new edited collection titled Agamben and Colonialism Svirsky and Bignall (2012: 2) argue that Agamben‟s project is not only firmly anchored in Western political thought and society, but is also conceived without reference to colonialism and is thus „outside of the critical interventions that have already been made by colonised people engaged in revolutionary retaliation against their oppression‟. In this paper I address these critiques through two readings. The first is Yael Berda‟s analysis of the bureaucracy of the Israeli occupation as a constant production of exceptions based on racial hierarchy and replicating the administrative memory of colonial ruling systems (2012: 111). Secondly, as this paper is as much an Agambenian as a Fanonian project, I follow Shenhav‟s (2006) postcolonial reading of The Wretched of the Earth (1963). In line with Agamben‟s argument that „It is only in a land where the spaces of states will have been perforated and topologically deformed, and the citizen will have learned to acknowledge the refugee that he himself is, that man‟s political survival today is imaginable‟, I conclude by outlining Israel‟s recent deportation campaigns against African asylum seekers. Permanent state of emergency defending the volk Agamben‟s argument that the voluntary creation of a permanent state of emergency as an essential practice of contemporary states (Agamben 2005: 2) is relevant to the state of Israel, where the state of exception involves both the extension of military wartime powers 2
into the civil sphere, and the suspension of constitutional norms that protect individual liberties, as argued by Raef Zreik (2008). The state of exception means not only the declaration of a state of emergency in which the sovereign both enacts the law and stays outside it, but also the idea that it is the body of the volk that needs defending. In Homo Sacer (1995) Agamben argues that the constant state of exception enables the state to render the lives of those under state rule „bare life‟, both excluded and captured within the political order (Agamben, 1995: 9). Foucault claims that racism makes it possible to establish „a relationship between my life and the death of the other ... the more inferior species die out… the more I… can live, the stronger I will be‟ (Foucault 2003: 255). In Israel/Palestine, technologies of governmentality from the 1948 „Plan D (Dalet)‟ for ethnic cleansing to today‟s ongoing land confiscations, house demolitions (Pappe 2006), and the West Bank permit regime all aim to make Israel‟s Jewish citizens live at the expense of the Palestinian and migrant other. However, some issues remain. We can hardly apply Foucault‟s concept of biopwer without remembering that biopolitics in these settler colonial conditions becomes one of death, that Achille Mbembe (2003) calls „necropolitics‟ and Honaida Ghanim (2008: 69) documents as „thanatopolitics‟. As Ghanim writes: „from the moment that power is directed to destroying, eliminating and dismantling their group, the decision about their life becomes a decision about their death‟ (Ghanim, 2008: 69). And death, expulsion, and exclusion become the ultimate way of overcoming (self perceived) Israeli Jewish victimhood. Moreover, considering that Israel is precariously positioned between Europe and non-Europe, we can apply Agamben‟s Westocentric „state of exception‟ concept to non European conditions of settler colonialism only „under erasure‟. 2 Racial state David Theo Goldberg reminds us that while „there is no singular racial state‟… the racial state as „more or less coherent… state projects, is underpinned by ... history as state memory; and…(by) state power(s)’ (2002: 8). The racial state excludes and includes in order to construct homogeneity, achieved through innocuous governmental technologies, such as border controls and census categorisations, but also including invented histories and traditions, ceremonies and cultural imaginings, and the evocation of ancient origins. Zionist settler colonialism, imagining Israel as Europe away from Europe (a civilizing „villa in the jungle‟ 3), is a racial state par excellence, where „there is a constant state of emergency. The state inherited the British Mandate‟s “Emergency Regulations” under which it continued the anomalous suspension of the law, within the law… this system enables: one rule (life) for the majority of the state‟s citizens, and another (death, threat of death, threat of expulsion) for the state‟s subjects, whose lives have been rendered “bare”‟ (Shenhav, 2006: 206-7). 4 Goldberg calls this „racial Palestinianisation‟: „Palestinians are treated not as if a racial group, not simply in the manner of a racial group, but as a despised and demonic racial group‟ (2009: 139). 5 This regime creates constant zones of exception, where what Ida B. Wells calls the „unwritten law‟ (of lynching in her case) is the law, 6 enacted every day in every West Bank checkpoint, where sovereignty – practices of controlling space through the security forces, and governmentality – practices of managing populations through intelligence, economic control and racial profiling – constitute Israel‟s colonial bureaucracy (Berda, 2012). 7 Racial governmentality, however, cannot be understood without exploring Jewish self- and other racialisation as an integral part of Zionist ideology as I now demonstrate. 3
Zionism‟s racial subjects Though according to Edward Said (1980), thinking Palestine is indelibly linked to thinking Zionism, Zionism is also about the modernising imperative according to which Jews (though ancient Biblical people) are modern, while Palestinians (Philistines) are pre-modern and thus in need of Zionism‟s civilising – always also colonising – mission, that Goldberg calls „historicist racism‟. Foucault‟s articulation of the need to defend society (2003) brings to mind the Zionist imperative to protect the nebulous body of „the Jewish nation‟ from antisemitic persecutions, leading to its state-building aspirations. Paradoxically for a people whose history is a history of racial persecutions, Zionist ideology itself articulates „the Jewish race‟, creating a homogeneous „Jewish people‟ despite obvious Jewish heterogeneities. The Israeli geneticist Rafael Falk reads the history of Zionism as a eugenic race project, aiming to save the Jewish genetic pool from the degeneration enforced by diaspora existence (Falk, 2006: 25). Just as antisemitism racialised Jews as a separate „race‟ justifying their persecution by biological reasoning, prominent Zionist thinkers – such as Theodor Herzl, Moshe Hess, Haim Nahman Bialik, Max Nordau and even the liberal philosopher Martin Buber – adopted the terminology of volk – a racial nation shaped by „blood and soil‟ (Falk, 2006: 18-9). Thus, Zionism‟s main „coloniser‟ Arthur Rupin preached the eugenic selection of Jewish „human material‟ in the Zionist settlement of Palestine. Like other race hygienicists, Rupin argued that in order to prevent assimilation and improve their racial qualities, the Jews have to be concentrated in their own state that will have a role in improving the race; he was thus instrumental in producing a Zionist repertoire of racial categorisation and volkish imagery (Bloom, 2007). 8 To illustrate. Israel, constructed as the state of the „Jewish nation‟, grants automatic citizenship to anyone who can prove she has a Jewish mother, 9 denied to Palestinians born on the land and deported during the 1948 Nakba. The 160,000 Palestinians not expelled were dubbed „Israeli Arabs‟ and put under military rule, based on the 1945 British Emergency Regulations, which abolished basic rights of expression, movement, organisation and equality, though they left Palestinian citizens the right to vote and be elected. A series of laws 10 bar the selling, leasing, sub-letting and owning of land by „nonJews‟, read Palestinians. Though officially abolished in 1966, the emergency regulations are still in place, controlling 20 per cent of Israel‟s citizens (Pappe, 2006: 220-2). Crucially, in the state of exception, as both état and condition, the paradigm of security is used as „the normal technique of government‟ (Agamben, 2005: 14). Security and the discourse of „existential threat‟ and victimhood are central to Israel/Palestine. As Israel sees itself as a haven for the „Jewish nation‟, the control of the Palestinians is viewed as an imperative born of necessity and emergency, which, as Agamben suggests, creates and guarantees the situation that the law needs for its validity, enacted, to paraphrase Foucault, because (Israeli Jewish) society must be defended. Yael Berda‟s trenchant analysis the colonial bureaucracy of the occupation proves my point. Her analysis has three components. The first is racial segregation – an overarching principle of the colonial bureaucracy model. Contrary to Weber‟s impersonal, universal bureaucracy, the colonial model creates a gap – based on racial hierarchy – between governmental practices targeting Jews and those targeting Palestinians. The second is the individualisation of population management. The permit regime and the management of the occupied population are based on racial profiling. After the 1993 Oslo 4
Accords and the ensuing separation policy (including the so-called „separation wall‟ dubbed „the Apartheid wall‟), the Palestinian individual becomes a tool of intelligence sourcing and is thus she whose movement across the many checkpoints must be surveyed and delayed. The third component is the lack of actual separation between the bureaucracy of managing the Palestinian population and the management of the labour market within the Israeli state itself. Berda‟s analysis of the colonial bureaucracy of the permit regime, through racial hierarchies, managerial flexibility, and the constant emergency and production of exceptions by an „absent sovereign‟, targets not only occupied Palestinian subjects, but is at the very heart of the state system – demonstrating Agamben‟s insistence that the line separating citizens and refugees is very thin indeed. Crucially, the secretive production of exceptions entails the categorisation of West Bank Palestinians in relation to being „security risks‟, making the Security Services (Shabak) the final arbiters in granting or refusing permits and thus in enabling or disabling Palestinians to work and ultimately to live (Berda, 2011: 164-7). „Insurrection of subjugated knowledges‟ As both Agamben and Goldberg insist that the racial state of exception channels potentialities of resistance, I conceptualise „the Palestinian‟ not as mere homo sacer, but rather as active resistant staging an „insurrection of subjugated knowledges‟ (Foucault, 1980: 81-2). According to Foucault, „subjugated, local, regional knowledge‟ stands in opposition to professionalising, medicalising, and state knowledge, [and] is the only way of enabling criticism to perform its work‟. 11 To counteract Agamben‟s Westocentrism, I read Shenhav‟s discussion of Frantz Fanon about violence (though many Palestinians insist on non-violent resistance, including, inter alia, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign). In Black Skin, White Masks (1952), not content with constructing the identity of the black subject, Fanon insists on „lived experience‟ as the focus of a politics of resistance (A. Lentin, 2008). Later, in The Wretched of the Earth (1961), written while he was deeply involved in the Algerian struggle, he posits violence as a crucial phase of de-colonisation. Fanon recognised that the forces of occupation cannot last and that for the colonised natives the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land (2001: 34). The coloniser‟s argument that the colonised understand only force 12 – an argument often used by Israel to justify its actions – means that colonial violence aims not only to keep the enslaved at arm‟s length, but also to dehumanise them. The settler‟s preoccupation with security reminds the natives that it alone is master. Thus „the settler keeps alive in the native an anger which he deprives of outlet; the native is trapped in the tight links of the chains of colonialism…‟ (2001: 42). Violence, according to Fanon, leads not only to trauma and hence submission, but also, as Sartre argues in his preface, to the colonised making it their own. As the colonist army becomes ferocious, as the country is marked out and there are mopping up operations, transfers of population, reprisal expeditions, and massacres of women and children, the colonised draws from violence their humanity (Sartre 2001, 20; see also Abdo, 2008), while the European has only been able to become through rendering the colonised slaves and monsters. Fanon produces the colonised viewpoint: the colonial sovereign declares a state of emergency, positioning himself outside the law, while remaining the very incarnation of the law. But through the permit regime that enables all players, from the Security Services, the police and the army to the civil administration, the Ministry of Industry and even human rights organisations to constantly produce exceptions (Berda, 2012: 154), the colonial sovereign makes the state of exception unexceptional, routinised and a paradigm of the normal, 5
blurring exception and the law. Thus, although Palestinians in the West Bank are often forced to play Israel‟s game so as to gain the much needed permits enabling them to work in Israel – there is ultimately little point in obeying that law. Walter Benjamin (2004), who influenced Carl Schmitt‟s work on the state or exception, proposes that „pure violence‟, that is violence which stands outside the law, is appropriated for the benefit of the sovereign by the declaration of a state of emergency. In her afterword to the Hebrew edition of Fanon‟s The Wretched of the Earth, Ella Shohat (2006: 331) writes that while Jews can identify with Fanon‟s emancipatory project, Israel‟s rule over Palestine and Zionist anti-Arab and anti Mizrahi racisms locate it firmly on the European side of the Fanonian equation. All of this persuades me that reading Fanon provides the missing postcolonial link in the European debate about the state of exception. This reading also invests the Palestinian subject with the potentiality of the „insurrection of subjugated knowledges‟, which includes resistance to colonial oppression as a means of assuming subjecthood, and clears the way for interpretative control by Palestinian subjects who, even in empathetic Israeli Jewish readings, have hitherto largely been theorised as victims, or „bare life‟. That this is no longer acceptable is evidenced on a weekly basis in protests in the Palestinian neighbourhoods and villages of Sheikh Jarrach, Silwan, Bil‟in, Nabi Saleh, and elsewhere. Conclusion: Deportations, zones of exception In September 2012 21 Eritrean asylum seekers, including a boy of 14, were trapped in a „zone of exception‟ between the security fences on the Israeli-Egyptian border. The Israeli Defence Forces charged with guarding them, was under orders not to allow them to receive medical aid or food and told to give them „as little water as possible‟. Israel has reacted to influxes of African asylum seekers who it defines as „infiltrators‟, by building a fence along its border with Egypt and a detention centre able to hold up to 11,000 people up to three years, the longest such detention period in the world (even though, according to Ha’aretz, the detention facility would be able to accommodate up to 30,000 detainees, Cohen, 2012). The entrapment ended by the Prime Minister bypassing pending Supreme Court deliberations and ordering the deportation of the men back to Egypt – violently, as it turned out – and „invite‟ the women to be jailed in southern Israel, demonstrating the executive creating an exception by bypassing the legislature. Moreover, the Israeli deportation regime is typified by its lack of pretence as evidenced by the Interior Minister‟s statement, „I have asked the Treasury for a budget increase to build more detention facilities, and until I can deport them I‟ll lock them up to make their lives miserable. This I can without anyone‟s authorisation‟ (YNet, 2012). Israel/Palsetine‟s unique citizenship and immigration regimes epitomise the racial state of exception making, as Willen (2010: 266) argues, an indelible link between Israel‟s Palestinian and migrant others: „the sharp distinction between who does and does not, can and cannot, belong to the Israeli nation – a sense of Jewish Israelis as authentic citizens and Palestinians, whether citizens or subjects of military occupation, as others – has influenced the state‟s discursive and pragmatic responses to the presence of a heterogeneous new population of noncitizen residents‟. Willen further argues that techniques of biosocial profiling applied to Palestinians are integral to the Israeli Immigration Police deporting African migrants, who, like Israel‟s „real (Palestinian) others‟, are considered a threat to the state‟s ethnonational (demographic) security (2010: 289).
This paper argued that although Agamben himself does not engage with colonialism or with postcolonial criticism, he provides us with the right analytical tools for a critical analysis of colonialism past and present. As Svirsky and Bignal (2012: 11-2) remind us, „when positioned in relation to colonial history and with attention to local and specific contexts, some of Agamben‟s concepts can be used in the service of a strategic postcolonial politics of transformation that is mindful of colonial legacies and histories of resistance‟. More specifically, the case of Israel/Palestine, as Berda argues, can hardly be analysed without reference to the routinised production of exceptions. In conclusion, extending Arendt‟s theorisation of the refugee as the incarnation of a new historical paradigm, Agamben suggests that the refugee, his homo sacer, destabilises the holy trinity of state-nation-territory, and must be regarded as a central actor in our contemporary political history (Agamben, 2000: 22). Though its colonial meanings are often obscured, Agamben‟s state of exception is alive and well in the settler colony that is Israel/Palestine, where the sovereign re-rehearses, through ceremonial acts of occupation and closure, but also deportation and detention, the glory, which, as Agamben (2011: xii) argues, „is still at the centre of political apparatuses of contemporary democracies‟.
Likewise, Azoulay and Ophir (2008) and Svirski (2011) oppose theorising the Israeli state separately from the occupied Palestinian territory and insist that we need to think of Israel/Palestine as one occupying state from the Mediterranean sea to the (Jordan) river. 2 I am indebted to Barnor Hesse for this reminder (personal communication, September 2012). 3 Ehud Barak, Israel‟s former PM, often used a telling metaphor: Israel is “a villa in the middle of a jungle”. Meaning: We are an island of civilization surrounded by savage animals. This is remarkably similar to oldestablished colonial attitudes, and, indeed, a variation of Theodor Herzl‟s (the father of modern Zionism) metaphor of the “wall against barbarism” (Avnery, 2002). 4 The emergency regulations were revalidated as recently as May 2007 by the Israeli Knesset as it does annually (Pappe, 2008: 149). 5 Against Goldberg‟s „racial Palestinianisation‟ as „born again racism‟ thesis, Nadia Abu El Haj argues that Zionism was deeply embedded in racial tropes from the very start, concurring with Svirsky (2011) positing Zionism as essentially segregative. 6 See Hesse, 2011. 7 See also Alina Korn‟s (2008) on the post Oslo Accords ghettoisation and restriction of the Palestinians to their villages and towns, understood as a means of protecting Israeli Jews and assuring efficient control – the ultimate aim of governmentality. 8 In 1862 Moshe Hess „implored “the Jewish race” to be the bearers of civilization to peoples who are still inexperienced... in the European sciences‟ (Goldberg, 2009: 108). See also Piterberg, 2008: 81-2. Interestingly, this race thinking, albeit without „race‟, goes against the prevalent thinking about racist discrimination in Israel that rejects the notion of „race‟, preferring to theorise Israeli schisms in ethnic terms and the state as an „ethnocracy‟ (Yiftachel 2006). 9 Or, for the wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union, 50 per cent of whom were not Jewish according to the orthodox reading, Jewish relatives (Hayeem, 2010) 10 Including the Law for Absentee Property (1950), the Jewish National Fund Law (1953) and the Law of Agricultural Settlement (1967). 11 My thanks to Festus Ikeotuonye for drawing my attention to this concept. 12 In 1956, the FLN‟s famous leaflet argued that „colonialism only loosens its hold when the knife is at its throat‟ (Fanon 2001, 48).
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