Het uitgeholde land

Forensic Architecture

Vooraf wil ik n.a.v. onderstaande boekbespreking benadrukken dat civiele en militaire planning steeds met elkaar zijn verweven, nadrukkelijk bij het (auto-)wegennet en lokalisering van vliegvelden.
De Euregio bij Maastricht geeft een duidelijk exempel over militarisering van een relevant strategisch gebied uit heden en verleden. Ze toont ook nadrukkelijk de gevolgen aan voor een gekoloniseerd en bezet gebied. In Palestina, met haar Ottomaans verleden, is dat niet anders. En uiteraard: grenzen en nogmaals grenzen.



Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, Eyal Weizman. Verso, London (2007). 288 pp., ISBN: 978-1844671250

Oren Yiftachel

The recent anniversaries of Israel’s 60th year of independence and 40th year of colonial occupation of the West Bank, inspired a surge of new publications about one of the last (overt) colonial regimes. In geography, too, notable political geographers such as Derek Gregory and David Delaney, devoted important segments of their recent work to the topic, while Israeli and Palestinian political geographers added new analyses to their on-going work on this troubled area.1

A noticeable addition to the latest wave is Eyal Weizman’s ‘‘Hollow Land’’ – a perceptive and skillful ‘spatial history’ of Israeli occupation, which summarizes Weizman’s impressive work on the subject in recent years. The book makes a significant contribution both to the understanding of Israeli colonialism and to the conceptualization of power/space interaction, that is, to political geography. These descriptive and conceptual strands are weaved through the entire book in an original and eye-opening manner.

The book’s first task is a ‘blow-by-blow’ account of Israel’s spatial control in the Palestinian Territories, and is rather ‘dry’ and documentary in nature. However, it fills a gap, as the literature on Israel’s occupation was lacking a systematically spatial account of the type offered here. Weizman meticulously outlines the steps enabling the settle- ment of close to half a million Jewish settlers in the West Bank (including of course occupied East Jerusalem), preventing to date the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Judaization, militarization and fragmentation of the previously Arab space was termed by my own work as a colonial ‘fracturing’ and ‘entrapment’ of indigenous groups causing a process of ‘creeping apartheid’, and by Palestinian sociologist Sari Hanafi as ‘spacio-cide’ – a thorough destruction of national space.2 Weizman’s book extends these analyses and unpacks the making of Israeli apartheid and the resultant spaci-cide.

A central part of the book is rightly devoted to the role Ariel Sharon, one of Israel’s mythical military–political leaders. Sharon was a most prominent figure in the planning and construction of the occupation, and – ironically – also in the beginning of their dismantling. Yet, the latter ‘disengagement’ and partial retreat stage is rightly viewed by Weizman, not as a move towards peace, but as a new configuration of spatial oppression, notably demonstrated by the separation barrier (‘the wall’ built against a vocal settlers’ opposition), and most strikingly – by the ‘scorched earth’ method of evacuating Gaza and later placing it under siege.

Weizman traces Sharon’s spatial-military thinking over time and demonstrates convincingly how Israeli ‘civilian’ authorities and herds of professionals (architects, engineers, planners, geographers) had little hesitation in putting in motion Sharon’s military–civilian– colonial vision. The symbiosis between military and ‘planning’ control is nowhere more clearly symbolized than in Israel’s Orwellian ‘administrative government’ authorities of the West Bank, which rules of course on the basis of military decrees.

In this way, Weizman doesn’t only shame these professionals, who undoubtedly betrayed many of the ethical standards on which their professions are based, but also demonstrates the inextricable connection between civilian planning and military power in areas of ethnic conflict. Beyond the professional and political critique, the militarization of planning enables Weizman to provide insight- ful re-conceptualizations of power/space relations. He uses the West Bank as a giant laboratory, in which a range of power geometrics are being tested, adjusted, re-calibrated and re-planned by the controlling powers.

Rather than a ‘state of exception’ (so fashionable in today’s social sciences), Weizman treats the West Bank as a hyper-example of controlling the unwanted ‘other’ – any unwanted ‘other’. This lends itself to ‘exporting’ his analysis to other cases of ‘creeping apartheid’ where populations are stratified by spatial means. Through this perspective, the West Bank is different only in detail but not in principle, to other ghettoes, gated communities and no-go zones, sprinkled around the world. This analysis starkly highlights the implicit violence lying behind most legalized spatial relations of control, articulated and administered by respected members of architectural, planning and geography professional guilds.

Weizman is at his best in connecting the concrete to the conceptual: using a range of insights from philosophy, history, poetry and science fiction, he travels to some uncharted zones of geographical imaginaries. Some of his conceptualizations may be raw and not fully articulated, but the readers are presented with an array of promising concepts, such as ‘elastic geography’, ‘politics of verticality’, ‘civilian occupation’, ‘optical urbanism’, ‘suburban frontier- ism’, ‘walking through walls’, ‘inversion of the inside’ and more. These not only describe the surreal and violent relations in the West Bank, but possibly also sketch spaces of the future, when and where power has to deal with the inevitable existence of excluded masses.

The book title too, cleverly uses a spatial metaphor for the process at hand: a land is made ‘hollow’ by militarized planning which constantly attempts to both facilitate Jewish colonization, but at the same time separate the colonialists from the locals. Given the small size of the West Bank, this incessant effort results in a surreal political geography of multi-dimensional and temporal separations, with constant ‘surgical’ attempts to reshape space in the logic of ethnocratic power.

Drawing on 19th century authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne, Weizman describes the Arab West Bank land as being ‘hollowed’ by the many attempts to partition it. The construction of the new territory is likened to a giant airport, characterized by different strata of the vertical spatial configurations, by which power is divided vertically, and not horizontally as commonly perceived by two-dimensional geographers. Hence, Israel’s dynamic remoulding of the West Bank valorizes vertical space, redefining the political meaning of geographical elements such as aquifers, archaeological diggings, sewerage and road infrastructure, housing, hill tops, militarized airspace and even satellite surveil- lance. The ‘slicing’ of vertical space which is so explicit in the West Bank, provides a powerful methodological tool of significant implications for all political geographers.

The book, however, has some weaknesses, three of which may be mentioned here briefly. First, the many eye-opening concepts and insights do not quite mesh together to a theory; the reader often wonders about the links between spatial reconfiguration and deeper societal currents, mobilizations and struggles. Second, the book lacks serious engagement with aspects of the Zionist project beyond the Occupied Territories. Needless to say, the prac- tices found in the West Bank, important as they are, are only part of the colonial project through which Palestine has been Judaized for over a century. No analysis of the spatialization of control in the West Bank can be sliced out of its historical and geopolitical context. Finally, Weizman analysis underplays of the dialectics of space/violence. Israel’s expansion and oppression of the Palestinians is fuelled in part by Palestinian resistance and violence. Weizman diminishes the role of Palestinian agency, and does not account sufficiently for the mutual (though clearly asymmetric) dynamics of violence that have caused and legitimized oppressive spatial dynamics.

These weaknesses, however, may be viewed as challenges for Weizman’s future work, which is undoubtedly set to make further insightful contributions. In the meantime, the current book should definitely be read by all students, scholars and activists concerned with Israel/Palestine, and by political geographers interested in unpacking the working of spatial power in zones of conflict.

1. Delaney, D. (2005). Territory: A short introduction. London: Blackwell; Greg- ory, D. (2005). The colonial present. Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine: London: Black- well; Newman, D. (2002). The geopolitics of peacemaking in Israel-Palestine. Political Geography, 21(5), 629–646; Falah, G. (2006). The geopolitics of ‘enclavisa- tion’ and the demise of a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Third World Quarterly, 26(8), 1–32; Yiftachel, O. (2006) Ethnocracy: Land and identity poli- tics in Israel/Palestine. Philadelphia: Pennpress.
2. Yiftachel, O. (2006). Neither two states, nor one: the evolving political geography of Israel/Palestine. Arab World Geographer, 8(3), 125–130; Hanafi, S. (2006). Spaciocide. In P. Misselwitz, & T. Rieniets, (Eds.), City of collission: Jerusalem and the principles of conflict urbanism (pp. 32–39). Berlin: Birkhauser.

Prof. Oren Yiftachel teaches political geography, urban planning and public policy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Yiftachel is one of the main critical geographers and social scientists working in Israel.

Political Geography 28 – januari 2009 – pag. 145 e.v.

Uitgelichte foto: bron

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