How To See Palestine: An ABC of Occupation

Life Lived in Enclosure

I paid attention to domestic and zoo animals because I went to Palestine hoping to investigate the question of how life might be lived through the relationship between people and the environment and with animals. But I found instead that the force of the racialized articulation of dominance means that such issues cannot be considered separately from the violence of the occupation.

The environment in a settler colony is usually those parts of the territory not under enclosure. In the United States, land is set aside for national parks as wilderness or as so-called Indian reservations outside the formal sovereignty of the colonizer. Clearly, these spaces are not 'free,' although they are differentiated from other so-called 'normal' spaces.

In Palestine, there is no space whatever outside enclosure. Even the fruit trees, like the cherries above, are occupied. There is, as a result, no 'environment.' That does not mean that there is no pollution or other human-created distortions to the conditions of life, to the contrary. It means that within the articulation of the occupation, it is not possible to have an 'environment.' What non-Palestinians might consider environmental questions can only be understood as matters relating to the occupation. 

In decolonial struggles of the past, it was felt that such matters could wait until later. Today, it is already later. The struggle is now over land that has been rendered toxic or otherwise (soon-to-be) uninhabitable for lack of water or excess heat. I do not say this to diminish the importance of the decolonial project in any way whatever, still less out of expectation of changes in its strategy, but rather to sharpen its urgency. Even the Dead Sea is dying, due to lack of water in the fabled Jordan River that no longer exists in the West Bank. Sink holes are appearing in areas surrounding the sea for reasons that are not fully understood.

Allow me some poetic license here. Let us take the Dead Sea as a metaphor for the occupation because, as Orlando Patterson has put it, in servitude or slavery, a person undergoes 'social death.' Social death is a 'relation of domination' such that a person loses all rights, understood as a substitute for death, even for those born into that relation. The dominated today are often called 'disposable people' and these conditions are met in Palestine. Even as that struggle goes on--and there can be no more vital one--the ground is giving out beneath the feet of the combatants. Never was it more accurately said: liberty or death. 



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