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For further discussion, see Waiting and claiming rights: precarities of settler colonial recognition. Free to access until December 2017
ince the Oslo (Peace) Agreements in the mid-1990s, Israel has used the temporary legitimation it gained for controlling the mostly rural ‘Area C’ of the West Bank to offensively proliferate its settler colonial ambitions. The area-classification, still in place, was supposed to set the stage for Israel’s withdrawal in 1997 and for the end of occupation after the final agreement on the most controversial issues—the settlements, Palestinian refugees’ right of return, and the status of East Jerusalem—originally scheduled for May 1999. Since then, this temporary solution has expanded into a space of postponement and delay, which Israel has strategically used to speed up the settler colonial processes of land grabbing, territorial fragmentation, and settlement building, which it never ceased, not even during the peace negotiations (e.g. Amir, 2016; Falah, 2005; Joronen, 2017).
Much discussion in academia, and beyond, has taken place around the lawlessness of the occupation. Whether about the violations of international law, spaces of exception, or the role of settler vigilantism, the discussion has shown the pivotal role illegal conduct, ranging from the settler violence to the forced displacement of the occupied population, play in maintaining the occupation (Handel, 2014; Joronen, 2016). However, to a great extent the strategic avenues offered by the Oslo Agreements have been implemented through the plans, regulations and orders of official institutions, often working in parallel with the informal, illicit, and the unauthorized. Whether related to administration, security, or judiciary, the scale of official techniques has been vast, including denial of building permits, land use plans, areal zonings, security claims, questionable use of Ottoman era legal regulations, forced displacements, endless requirements for extra documentation, demolition orders during the pending applications, and so on—many certainly used before Oslo, but which Oslo made more difficult to fight against (Hilal, 2015).
Although each technique contains a logic of its own, they all play a crucial role in producing the occupation through the modality of government centered on slowness, postponements, delay, and waiting. Accordingly, the endless piling up of administrative decisions, regulations, and requirements, has produced another kind of spaces of waiting, where the precarities of living under the uncertainty and arbitrariness of occupation are recognized without alleviation. State institutions hence maintain the precarities of the occupied by simultaneously ensuring that the Palestinian ‘right to claim rights’ is ceremoniously recognized. Such way of governing can camouflage settler colonial aims under the seemingly neutral institutional procedures, which simultaneously do recognize the right of the occupied to claim their rights, but without implementing means that would change the precarious situations that originally induced such claims. Instead of changing the precarious conditions, these apparatuses work to produce and maintain what any settler colonial privilege fundamentally leans on: the precarious positions among the occupied.
It is hardly a surprise significant portion of the practices of postponement and delay take place near the proliferating settlements. In the settlement block of Gush Etzion, for instance, which forms a corridor continuing from the Green Line in south of Jerusalem all the way to the nature conservation area ending to the Dead Sea in the east, several Palestinian villages, fields, and farms are practically surrounded by the expanding settlements. One of the Palestinian municipalities in the area—Tuqu’—affords a typical example of the problems these sites face today. Its four village centers, consisting only 1.5% of the municipality’s land area, are classified as Area B (where Palestinian Authority holds the administrative control), while the surrounding, mostly agricultural area is classified as Area C under the full administrative and security control of Israeli military (74.5% of municipality’s land area is Area C, rest classified as nature reserve) (ARIJ: 2010, 2015). The full scale control of Area C through the manifold sovereign, biopolitical, and thanatopolitical means has enabled Israel to create spaces where the settler colonial state, on the one hand, produces precarities with violent means of elimination, eviction, and appropriation, and on the other hand, it offers the only official avenue for Palestinians to claim justice, development, and security.
The outpost ‘Tekoa D,’ located north-east of the Tuqu,’ affords a grand example of how such control produces what Hammami aptly calls ‘hyperprecarity’: a condition where the only option for the precarious is to seek protection from the state that targets them with violence in the first place (Hammami, 2016: 170). This does not mean Israeli legal and administrative procedures work in perfect sync with one another—they seldom do—but rather, that they operate in a manner that ensures precarities among the occupied population abide for decades. Established without authorization in 2001 under the tutelage of several other activities, the outpost Tekoa D for instance is still standing, against the order of the Israeli High Court of Justice (IHJ), as Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) never evacuated the outpost, nor let the Palestinian landowners to access their lands due to the ‘security reasons.’ Within last fifteen years, the outpost has gained permanent infrastructure—its caravans have been replaced with concrete buildings, it is connected to the water and electricity networks of the Tekoa settlement, etc.—while its inhabitants enjoy the same rights as other settlers (B’tselem, 2014; Levinson, 2015; Stahl, 2015).
As the Tekoa D illustrates, legal recognition of Palestinian claims for rights does not guarantee that precarities are alleviated among the ones making these claims. Not only can administrative and security decisions operate against the legal ones, but also settler vigilantism plays its part in producing precarities among the occupied population. For instance, the municipality of Tuqu’s more recent effort to repair a badly damaged agricultural road was first suspended by a group of settlers (operating together with the military), and only a few weeks afterwards was an official demolition order given for the municipality.
In general, building permits are close to impossible to get: only 1% of the Area C, which consist altogether 87% of West Bank territory, is allocated for the Palestinian development, which itself does not guarantee permits, least in the vicinity of the settlements (OCHA, 2014). According to the representative of the municipality, in this particular case a verbal permission had already been given to the municipality by the ICA (Israeli Civil Administration, a military body dealing with the civilian population under the occupation), especially since the aim of the project was not to build up a new road, but to renovate an old one. After the settlers intervened, the ICA ordered the municipality to destroy the already repaired part of the road, this leaving the road in poorer condition than before the repair work.
Precarities, however, can be also produced by other means than denying the legal decisions of IHJ. Military laws themselves have dubious regulations, which Israel has interpreted in ways that differ significantly from the earlier uses under Jordanian or Ottoman rule, while the IHJ decisions are in many cases simply left pending and unexecuted. Such is the case in another site close to the village of Nahalin, where a family, owning a farm located in a small spot surrounded by three settlements of Gush Etzion, has struggled over 26 years for the right to a land they have a documented ownership. In 2005, 14 years after the military court had declared the farm as a ‘state land,’ IHJ finally recognized Palestinian claimants as the legal owners of the farmlands.
Since then, however, another 12 years has passed by with the land registration process. The registration process contains several phases, which have all been slow (and expensive), and ended up to rejection more than once, mainly due to the strict (and absurd) requirements set by the ICA. During the over two and a half decades long land struggle, the ‘unregistered’ farm has gained several demotion orders, and still today suffers from several infrastructural shortages—including lack of electricity, running water, or road connection—due to the denial of building permits. Curiously, even in a case of successful land registration it is not guaranteed building permits will be granted to the farm, as the events in Tuqu’ also underlined.
In spite of the continuous, decades-long administrative and legal processes, not much has changed in the sites discussed above. Palestinian right to claim rights may have been theatrically recognized, but the alleviation of precarities prolonged, delayed and denied. In them, political recognition constitutes a settler colonial technique of government, where it is precisely recognition of rights that is used to promote precarity. As positive recognitions of rights cannot alone guarantee those precarities that ignited the claims for recognition in the first place are removed, the prevalent academic discussion, on the one hand underlining the importance of the political recognition, while on the other raising critical awareness about giving a voice to those subject to political abandonment, needs to be tied more closely to the question precarity. This is particularly important because more distorted, camouflaged, and bracketed modes of recognition do prevail, especially within hegemonic and colonial conditions of recognition. Focusing on precarity helps us to understand how controversial uses, contradictory techniques, legal and illegal, formal and informal, even the opposing decisions, operate together to constitute the subaltern geographies of the occupation.
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ARIJ (2010) Tuqu’ Village Profile. Palestinian Localities Study. Jerusalem: Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem.
ARIJ (2015) The Settlement of Tekoa. Jerusalem: Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem.
B’tselem (2014) The West Bank. Settlements and the Separation Barrier, November 2014. (accessed 10 November 2016)
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Joronen M (2017) ‘Refusing to be a victim, refusing to be an enemy’. Form-of-life as resistance in the Palestinian struggle against settler colonialism. Political Geography 56: 91–100.
Levinson C (2015). 2,026 settlement houses build on private Palestinian Land, Right-wing Study Finds. Haaretz, 12 May, 2016.
OCHA (2014a) Area C Vulnerability Profile. East Jerusalem: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Stahl Z (2015) Under the Radar. Israel’s Silent Policy of Transforming Unauthorized Outposts into Official Settlements. Yesh Din and The Rights Forum.