I’m a little late off the mark on this one, but being so close, I could hardly let it pass without note.
As I’m sure many of you already know, Benjamin Netenyahu over the weekend ordered the eviction and mass arrest of Palestinian and international protestors from the area that the Israeli Military call E1. The protestors had set up camp on Friday – January 11 – in a small but immensely significant piece of land just to the east of Jerusalem. The establishment of the camp at what Palestinians call Bab el Shams had a simple aim: to bring attention to Israel’s plans to illegally build a settlement on this (and other) Palestinian land. The Israeli High Court had issued an order which prohibited the military from taking any action – pending further investigation of the facts – but (and it is unclear how) the order was overturned and within 48 hours of having been set up , the camp was torn down and the military moved in to evict the protestors and impose a closed military zone in the area.
“E1” is an eerily militaristic nom de plume and it effaces the violent geographies that lurk behind such military-juridical designations. Israel has had plans to develop and build in E1 since 1999, but has refrained from doing so largely, I suspect, because of pressure from the U.S. But in a provocative and insensitively timed move, Netenyahu announced that Israel would resume plans to build 3000 settler homes in the area. He did this just days after the U.N. took a vote on whether Palestine should be allowed to upgrade its status at the UN (see my ‘where is Palestine post‘). The U.S. booed and hissed at the time, but the recent eviction prompted President Obama to remark that “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are“, a point on which I can actually agree with him. But beyond this nasty politicking it is the geography which matters. As Guardian Journalist Harriet Sherwood pointed out last month, implementation of the E1 development plan:
“would largely complete a crescent of Jewish settlements around the east of Jerusalem, separating it from Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank. It would also almost bisect the West Bank, making a contiguous Palestinian state almost impossible.”
She was drawing from a report by the Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem (who I’m meeting with while I’m out here…), in which it is noted that implementation of the E1 plan will have:
“far-reaching consequences and will interrupt the contiguity of the southern and northern West Bank […] “The construction in E1 will further increase the forced isolation between the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It will enclose East Jerusalem from the east, connect to the Israeli neighbourhoods built north of Jerusalem’s Old City, and create a physical and functional barrier between East Jerusalem and the Palestinian population in adjacent West Bank communities for which the city serves as the main metropolitan and religious centre.”
It is important to remember then, that while on the one hand this is ‘settlement as usual’, it is also something much more. E1 is not simply just another site where Israel wants to construct settlements, it is a territory that is of utmost strategic political and military value. It single-handedly destroys the possibility of peace based on the two state solution, and does so precisely because of the specific geography which it ceases. ‘Crescent’ is far too euphemistic a term for this territorial contiguity. The continuos, uninterrupted and smooth geographies of Israeli space necessitate the discontinuation, disruption and bifurcation of Palestinian space.
All of this is connected, of course, to Israel’s doctrine of putting ‘facts on the ground’, a simple enough strategy but a genius one too: you declare a certain area closed and prohibit Palestinians from entering; slowly and over time you then build a military outpost, erect a satellite and perhaps build some ‘administrative’ buildings. Later, you build a house where nobody lives at first – but then an apartment complex appears and finally a small city with all the trimmings: cafe’s; faux waterfalls; synagogues; gardens and perhaps even the odd bike lane. Houses, homes, kitchens and bedrooms: family lives, everyday lives, working lives. Its hard to give up such stuff once its there; once barren land and ’empty’ space become thoroughly inhabited: because this is what settlement does, it turns abstract spaces – E1; Area C etc. – into exclusively Israeli and Jewish lived and domesticated spaces.
I am not, of course, the first one to make this point and for those who want to know more about settlement in the Occupied Territories I highly recommend Eyal Weizman’s Hollowland and parts of Derek Gregory’s The Colonial Present. To be sure, settlement beyond the 1967 borders has a long history but I do think that there is something slightly new (and worrying) about the E1 plans and expulsion of peaceful protesters last weekend. Netenyahu is willing to do what countless heads of the Israeli state would never have done: to settle one of the most contentious pieces of land in Palestine with or without U.S. support. This comes at the same time as members of the Likud party are calling for the annexation of the entire West Bank and re-occupation of the Gaza Strip. The elections are but a week away (post on this to follow), and it looks very much as though Netenyahu will be re-elected.
I worry, therefore, that there is truly a sense in which the E1 terra expello is an experiment in pushing new and more violent limits. We should remember Hannah Arendt’s warning that the occurrence of atrocity makes its re-appearance in the future more and more likely…