How To See Palestine: An ABC of Occupation

T is for Trash

Everywhere you look in Palestine, there’s detritus—discarded packaging, demolished housing, unfinished settlements, abandoned cars, electrical components, trash and waste of all kinds. In Area C, most of the ‘West Bank,’ no one is authorized to pick up trash—the PA has no authority and the IDF could care less. In the refugee camps, the United Nations steps in.

I saw landfills of Israeli garbage in the 'West Bank' that periodically catch fire, near where Bedouins were farming. Elsewhere, trash piles up or people burn it, contributing to the omnipresent smog that is strikingly visible against the mountains as you approach from the coast.

It is not haphazard, this mess. As Mary Douglas taught us long ago, where there is dirt, there is system. The system here aims to reduce human value. More precisely, the separation system distinguishes between humans and non-humans, Palestinians being designated as non-human. Palestinians living in the 48 are called 'Arab Israelis,' clearly second-class citizens but distinct (in the regime's taxonomy) from those without any value in the territories.

There is a striking contrast in Palestine between the well-ordered and immaculately clean private spaces in people's homes or in cafés, shops and restaurants and the unattended outdoor spaces, where trash necessarily accumulates.

Outside the Qalqilya checkpointcoffee cups, soft drink bottles, bus tickets, and candy wrappers pile up, signs of lives lived in transit. As they sediment into the ground, the impermeable plastics and metals will await some future archaeologist, one who will note with surprise the sudden collapse of a short-lived but apparently consumer-oriented society. They will puzzle over the fences and walls: what purpose could they have served? Perhaps a new legend, like that of Joshua and the walls of Jericho will have been created. It’ll be a long wait for these new investigators, evolution takes place in deep time. The plastics, metals and rocks won’t mind.

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