How To See Palestine: An ABC of Occupation

A hierarchy of the human

The second way of seeing Palestine is as an exemplary way to learn how to see difference. An ABC is constituted by difference. The letters make sense only by virtue of being different to each other. The alphabet, which is of course different in different languages, is an assemblage, put together equally for the work of making sense by means of difference. I see the occupation as also being an assemblage, put together in hierarchy for the purpose of domination.

Each of the entries in the ABC is a study of how things connect in the assemblage, which I call an 'articulation.' An articulation, as Stuart Hall taught us, is both a way of saying something and a way of making connections between practices. These connections are not given but once in place have considerable strength and cannot be undone easily.

Articulations express hierarchy. Hall used the concept to show that at the interface of neo-liberalism and decolonization in 1970s Britain:

race is the modality through which class is lived.

His point was not that this is universally true but that articulation connects, hierarchizes and organizes life.

In Palestine, these connections express the ways in which the colonizer asserts dominance over the occupied and how those occupied try to resist. Racialized difference (between Palestinians and the regime) articulates the hierarchy of the occupation and organizes lives under that occupation. 

Rather than bring an existing analysis to bear on these articulations, I have found, like many activists, that a theoretical understanding could only be found within them. (Technically, I call this the immanent critique of articulation.) It finds a theory of struggle in determining how the occupation does what it does and how it is resisted in everyday life every day. This project is a beginner's contribution to that ongoing work.


The articulation at stake here is a racialized distinction within the category of the human. That is to say, from the point of view of the occupation, Palestinians are not fully human, just as the refugees seeking asylum in Europe (some of whom are Palestinians based in Syria) have been treated by state officials as a 'swarm.' Alexander Weheliye defines 'racialization' as 

a conglomerate of sociopolitical relations that discipline humanity into full humans, not-quite-humans, and non-humans.

That process is what Black Lives Matter recognized in Palestine because 'blackness' under white supremacy is a way of deciding which humans can be fully human and which cannot.

A similar set of hierarchical relations extends from the implicitly 'fully human' Israeli citizen; to the Palestinian-Israeli citizen, not-quite human; and the non-human Palestinian/Bedouin. Within this articulated hierarchy, when people are not considered fully human, they can be occupied, displaced, or even shot without sanction.
Caged birds are popular pets in Palestine, you see them everywhere, from canaries to finches and parrots. I couldn't help but recall the title of Maya Angelou's famous autobiography, quoting the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar 'I know why the caged bird sings.' The bird is a symbol for the enslaved human being and its song is a kind of freedom. By contrast, the brown bear in Qalqilya Zoo paces without rest, desperately seeking something to end his boredom or a way out of his cage. His confinement is visibly making him insane and it is unbearable.
 

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