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<nettime> Beyond colonialism: Israeli/Palestinian space
pavlos hatzopoulos on Mon, 1 Oct 2007 19:22:51 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Beyond colonialism: Israeli/Palestinian space

*Eyal Weizman interviewed by Konstantin Kastrissianakis (on his new
book, Hollow Land)*


** *Konstantin Kastrissianakis: *In your recently published
book, Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation
d.shtml>you provide a multilayered understanding of what the spatial
dimensions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are. Architecture and
planning are revealed as strategic tools in the conflict, could you
elaborate as to how this is so?

*Eyal Weizman:* The book is looking at the various means of spatial
dispossession and control that Israel has built in the West Bank and
Gaza. It attempts to read them not only as an index of government
top-down planning, but, instead, to see the ways in which they are
reflecting conflicts and contradictions and how they mirror the play
of various independent or semi independent organizations, whose
actions are 'architectural' in as much as they have solidified into
form. What this book tries to go against, in a historiographic manner,
is the idea that there is a one to one relationship between state
ideology and facts on the ground. Until now, most of the research
on Israel-Palestine has looked at built realities as the output of
the intentions of a chief political or military designer. That the
relation of space and power is that organized centralised power
determines spatial organization. In fact, the relation between space
and politics is never like that; it is in fact responding to many and
diffused forces and influence, space is the product of conflicting
interests. Even if we are speaking from within the hegemonic Israeli
discourse, it has many fissures within it. Even the practices of
the Israeli occupation of Palestine embody more contradictions than
coherence. This is of course no excuse to the brutal occupation and
the ongoing violation of Palestinian legal rights, but I think hat if
we are more nuanced in understanding politics we could as well find
better ways to manage and deal with conflicts.

The consequence of all this ? and this is outlined very clearly in the
book ? is the existence of systems of dispossession, and violations
of human rights and international law. The idea behind the book is to
ask how do you take a built reality, like a settlement, a checkpoint,
a road, the wall, and treat those not as embodiments of state ideology
but as diagrams of the very complex political force fields around
them. Built forms are a result of the mediation among the interests
and demands of humanitarians, the intentions of the Israeli military
?and the books makes distinctions between various sectors within the
military itself, the influence of international organisations, the
various wills of Palestinian organizations themselves ?and their
internal conflicts play as well a major role in shaping space. This
approach is based on a more ecological understanding of the spaces of
conflict. In an ecology of conflict state-bound and non-state bound
actors are operating in a condition of relationality and feedback.
In fact, the West Bank is this kind of laboratory, where all these
actors are linked in a relation of conflict/cooperation and through
various other forms of association in a very intense and accelerated
manner. You need to see the realities of the occupation in the West
Bank as a field of forces which is extremely diffused, operating
through the transformation of the built environment. This will allow
you to see the Wall for example not only as the obvious material
manifestation of state ideology but as a diagram of all forces that
act and change its path as it is built. In many cases Palestinian and
Israeli organizations were successful in changing the path of the
wall. ? moving it closer to the international border. The problem,
however, always was that by interfering in the design of the wall they
pretty much accepted it as a fact. There is always a paradox of lesser
evil involved in decisions to act.

*K.K.:* In the end, however, something is built, something perennial

*E.W.:* Even what is built there is not simply an embodiment of
power politics. If you look in a more nuanced way the contour of
the settlement, I would argue that its form is an index of these
conflicting forces. The form itself grafts various aspects of Israeli
and Palestinian micro-politics. An analysis that just sticks to the
obvious - almost metaphysical- notion of evil intentions would miss
another level of understanding, re: the way in which the form of
architecture can graph the working of various groups within Israeli
society, the working of NGOs, the working of Palestinian resistance,
the ways in which humanitarians and international groups are working
spatially within this environment. That is why I insist on the concept
of the flexibility of architectural forms ? it does not mean that the
elements of the wall are in and of themselves soft or pliable but that
the wall is the key to understanding the relationship between forces
and form.

The wall might seem as the clearest manifestation of power politics,
state ideology and human right violations, but its root grafts and
surrenders to other forces as well. Not registering that would be
to misunderstand the ecology of the conflict. Ecology is a good
analytical category, because it includes a relationship between
various kinds of organisations and their interests, it shows that
there are co-dependencies, co-evolutions.

*K.K.:* You explain in your book that the wall reveals like a
seismograph the forces that shape that ecology. As a built form does
it actually serve its intended purpose?

*E.W.:* It is effective on a very mechanical level; it is making
Palestinian life in the area very miserable. It makes it very
difficult for Palestinians to move. Considering, however, the
economy of belligerency, if you want to deliver explosives from
the West Bank or Gaza to the 1948 part of Palestine you could
still do it over the ground or under the ground, as it has been
recently demonstrated in Gaza. The wall can never be hermetic. It
is just one of a series of technologies of control that Israel has
placed throughout the West Bank and throughout Israeli space. Adi
it "the monster's tail" - I think it is a good definition.

*K.K.:* It seems to me that the wall in itself might be
an embodiment of what Giorgio Agamben calls the 'state of

*E.W.:* In fact, my analysis could be read as rather critical
of Agamben and more in line with Foucauldian thinking. Agamben
sees things in purely antagonistic terms: the normal state of
affairs versus the state of exception, inside/outside sovereign/homo
sacer<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_sacer>. Under the term 'state
of exception' the occupied, the victim is incarcerated in a camp and
has no agency at all. She is a pure body without rights or ability to
act and shape her life.

My analysis refuses both the all powerful sovereign and the
powerless victim. I could show that within the supposedly unified
Israeli sovereign system there are all sorts of internal conflicts,
inefficiencies, incapacities and failures. Palestinian agency is also
a real factor in this conflict. Palestinians through politics or
armed struggle have as well shaped the realities of the conflict and
their resistance has been powerful and effective at times. Calling
the wall, or the occupied territories a state or a zone of exception
threatens to become more of a barrier than a tool of analysis, because
it simplifies the situation rather than opening it up. Israel, after
all, has been in a state of exception since its inception. Every kind
of significant policy towards the Palestinians has been argued on the
basis of the state of exception. For Agamben, the state of exception
has become the norm. In this respect, it is a redundant category. If
We are already within the state of exception, the entire politics of
the area take place within this state to the degree that exception
does not help us understand what is actually going on. Our current
emergency does not occlude politics and agency.

*K.K.:* Critical theory and post-structural language are shown in your
book to be used by the Israeli military in its tactics of combat. What
do you think this says about critical theory?

*E.W.:* When you are in conflict, you grab every tool that you can.
Israel has been using everything. They have been using roads. What
does this then say about roads? Everything can become a tool in the
context of conflict. The intention of the book is not simply to blame
critical theory. It could be abused as everything else. What you see
is the operative level of critical and postmodern theory, which have
been in turn been influenced by military tactics.

There is no great divide between critical theory and military
thinking. Deleuze and Guattari ? themselves fluent in
military theory ? (similarly Guy Debord) ? had already
warned<http://www.semiotexte.com/books/nomadology.html>that the
state apparatus might use the war machine. Toni Negri argues
<http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/HAREMI.html>, for example, that
the global capitalist economy is moving very close to his ideal of
communism. Far from being simply "subversive," these theories are
saturated in the operational mode of today's capitalism - the whole
infrastructure is already there, but the world needs to change its
thinking about itself. Negri says that the empire and the multitude
are co-dependent categories.

*K.K.:* We see a dynamic where subversive movements are subverted,
where the use of subversion is taken over by the state.

*E.W.:* For me, what is more interesting is to see how we can subvert
the entire apparatus of occupation. To make a detournement to it, and
to use all the stuff that Israel has built in the West Bank as agents
for another form of life. They are facts, they are there. What you
do with these settlements once they are evacuated? How do you turn
them into places of habitat for Palestinians? How do you turn this
environment on its head? How could we revolutionize an order whose
very principle is constant self-revolutionizing?

*K.K.:* How do you do it?

*E.W.:* Well, this is what I am currently trying to do with
Palestinian architects. We are trying to turn these settlements from
sites of exclusion to sites of Palestinian public institutions,
non-state institutions, and so on. It is a utopian plan. Why destroy
these spaces, when you can turn them on their heads, when you can turn
their surfaces around?

*K.K.:* In Gaza, these spaces have already been destroyed?

*E.W.:* Yes. I thought it was a great crime to have destroyed these
settlements. Though they are hated by Palestinians, they were built by
Palestinians. It is exactly this sort of tension between the spaces of
liberation and the spaces of oppression that needs to materialise.

We don't need more destruction of very serviceable buildings. But,
what does it mean to inhabit the house of your enemy? What does it
mean to actually live there? We did not suggest that people would
actually live there; this would reproduce the power hierarchies in
space and would fall into the postcolonial traps of the colonised
becoming the colonizer. There are other ways to subvert the previous
power structures that permeate these settlements and transform them
into news forms of institutions.

What does it mean to create institutions that specialise their
functions in the suburbs? How can a hospital exist in a suburb? What
has to change, what has to remain? This process would need to invent
new forms of the public. It is important, to creatively think about
how these places can be transformed.

*K.K.:* To come back to your book, you mention there the 'humanitarian
paradox', which implies that even with the best of intentions
humanitarian intervention may do more to perpetuate the problem rather
than help in its solution.

*E.W.:* This is why I call it the humanitarian paradox, rather than
the humanitarian crime or the humanitarian problem. It is always a
paradox: you do both good and bad. You may do good on a local level,
but bad in the context of the larger political agenda. And one needs
to learn to operate within this paradox, rather than surrender to it.
There is no point trying to push the pendulum to one side or another.

If you participate to improve the life of an individual, of a
community, of a city, and so on you should do it. Sometimes, even if
this makes you complicit with other forces, but you should learn to
operate both within and outside the system.

What I want to see is critical practices. I don't want to criticise
activists saying they are just as bad as the military. This is not
my intention. My intention in pointing out the problem is to prevent
mistakes from being repeated and to find ways to better gear local
action to larger political issues. How can you operate both as an
activist and a witness? How can you operate both as an activist and an
information centre? How can you put pressure from the outside while
being inside? These questions open up new possibilities for action
rather than closing them.

*K.K.:* It's a very difficult position to adopt for an architect?

*E.W.:* But, this is our most important task. Just opting for the
lesser evil is total complicity.

*K.K.:* This does not only apply to conflict situations, to Israel?

*E.W.:* Of course. A critical practice would aim through its
intervention to challenge the entire system, destabilise the way it
thinks of itself, destabilise the way the world thinks about it. That
is why I do not accept that there is no outside. You can think from
within and outside the system simultaneously.

*K.K.:* That is why an organisation like MSF <http://www.msf.org/>
gives you inspiration?

*E.W.:* They made horrible blunders, especially in Rwanda. They
realised that by giving aid they created refugee camps that were later
attacked. So, in fact, they were responsible for facilitating the
genocide. They have acknowledged and learned from it. To argue that
because of this there should be no humanitarianism is wrong. Could you
accept that? I see any humanitarian action as cooperation with people
who perceive themselves or are perceived as persecuted. It has to be
done by acknowledging the paradoxes and the dangers of humanitarian

If you look at the role of the Red Cross during the Second World
War it shows a complete complicity. They refused to report on the
existence of the extermination camps as not to endanger their work
under an oath of neutrality. But, then again was it better to have
the Red Cross or not? I would say that in the context of WWII they
did more damage than good. However, this remains an open question. As
Agamben again says, humanitarians are always already complicit with
the forces of biopolitics. Yes, they could be. But, can we find a way
out of it?

Engagement is always contingent; it is a kind of an analogue relation,
geographically and conceptually.

*K.K.:* We keep on coming back to Agamben's theory. It seems that it
is difficult to push it aside, although you were against the idea of
connecting the wall with the state of exception.

*E.W.:* The wall does not separate two sides, Israel and Palestine,
but Palestinians from Palestinians. It slices through the heart of
a geography where Jewish and Palestinian spaces were previously
overlapping. The conflict cannot be seen through the prism of
traditional colonial analysis. In this sense, the occupation is
a laboratory of advanced capitalist colonialism in which the
military, humanitarian workers, settlers, and different groups of the
colonised themselves are sharing the same plain and their actions are
intertwined, forming intense relationships.

Another useful way of understanding the geographical outcome of all
of this is as an "archipelago of exceptions". It is the idea whereby
a geographical order is no longer exclusively based upon the model
of the homogenous nation-state and continuous borders, but a spatial
order fragmented into a multiplicity of extraterritorial zones. These
zones could be zones of legal exception' where sovereignty is in
question. Contemporary extraterritorial spaces are embodied today
by humanitarian zones, refugee and internment camps, manufacturing
enclaves, military bases and some gated communities of nationals

Contemporary political space has now grown to resemble similar
territorial patchwork of introvert enclaves. It is an incessant
sea, poked by multiplying archipelagos of externally alienated
and internally homogenous enclaves ? outside the control of the
territories surrounding them. Various other zones ? zones of political
piracy, zones of crisis, zones of barbaric violence, zones of
"humanitarian catastrophes," zones of full citizenship, no citizenship
or "weak citizenship" are located side by side, each within the
other, simultaneously and in unprecedented proximities. The dynamic
morphology of contemporary frontier-territories is an evolving image
of transformation; borders ebb and flow, creep along, stealthily
surround buildings, roads, transport hubs, villages and cities. The
scar tissue of the splintering multitude of contemporary digital or
physical "separations" is fragmented across multiple sites: local or
regional fortification, embassies, residential enclaves, military
camps, off-shore production zones, mineral extraction sites, airports
as well as the shadow zones of the dispossessed, in ad-hoc detention
centers, occupied by refugees, 'illegal' immigrants, asylum seekers
and other undesirable "suspects."

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