How To See Palestine: An ABC of Occupation

The example of Palestine

In trying to see Palestine, I am trying to see the global conditions in which I too am forced to live. I am not trying to find solutions for the Palestinians, who are doing that for themselves. As the journalist Ben Ehrenreich puts it, 

Palestine’s realities are not different from our own. They are just starker, denser, more defined.

In understanding solidarity as the work of coming to know how life is lived under occupation, I now see the situation, as Michael Hardt has described it:

rather than [as] an exception, we can see Palestine and the struggles of Palestinians as exemplary.

That is to say, Palestine is an actually existing possibility for the general condition of social life in the twenty-first century. In the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, columnist Gideon Levy pithily called the regime one of 'real estate and messianism.' Not unlike a certain candidate for the US presidency.

The Palestinian situation has become exemplary for a new form of settlement and occupation in the era of real-estate driven capitalism. It is marked by a combination of old forms of domination with new modalities of deprivation. The occupation uses spectacular punishment, typical of settler colonies, like the destruction of houses belonging to people designated as terrorists. By its walls and fences it creates physical segregation, typical of the divided cities of both the Cold War and global counterinsurgency post-9/11, as we can see in places like Baghdad.

It also practices service deprivation, meaning cutting off water, electricity and other services, which has become typical of segregated global cities from Detroit to Johannesburg. One of these conditions makes for difficult living--all of them together creates a new paradigm. Putting together the old and the new, as happens in Palestine every day, everyday life under occupation becomes exemplary not exceptional. In these conditions, to have an everyday life and to live every day, is a revolutionary act.

To see every day

Because this is new, we need to be grounded. To understand what it means to live in this global paradigm, in other words, look at how life is lived every day, a condition that is a hybrid of the new and the old. How can we see this condition?

There are four key aspects to the new global society, as I set out in How To See The WorldIt is comprised of a majority young (under 30), mostly urban, and networked society, undercut and challenged by the effects of climate change. In Palestine, it does so, moreover, in conditions of intensified colonialism. People make images--over 3 billion photos are posted to social media every day in 2016--to first understand the change that is happening and then make social change as a result.

In my earlier 
work, I have shown that visuality is not a new idea, coined by some contemporary theorist. Rather, it is a colonial technology that renders ground (to use a neutral term) into land for enclosure or terrain for battle. First, the overseer in the slave colony visualized his labor camp as a means of controlling the enslaved. Then, once battles extended beyond the possibility of one person seeing them, generals visualized battlefields to ensure victory. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this tactic was generalized, as it were, to the supervision of social order as a whole. 

In Palestine today, those spaces are indistinguishable. Everywhere is a battlefield, all the land is contested, and occupied order has to be newly imposed every day. The general political question that arises is whether Palestine becomes exemplary for the a security society, as advocated by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic and in Australia. Or, just possibly, it becomes the paradigm for a new decolonization.

Mapping the new global everyday is consistent with how the concept came into critical focus. Inspired by his involvement with Surrealist anti-colonialism, Henri Lefebvre published his ground-breaking Critique of Everyday Life in 1947, at height of the decolonial transformation following World War II. India had just become independent, and the disaster of Partition was unfolding. The Nakba was just months away. For Lefebvre,

the revolution...can only be defined concretely, at the level of everyday life.

Working within the Marxist-Leninist tradition, Lefebvre was perhaps more confident as to what the form of that revolution might be than we are today. Now it seems closer to Grace Lee Boggs' concept of {r}evolution, meaning 

a two-fold transformation of ourselves and our institutions.

This {r}evolution would require structural changes to eliminate poverty, racism and war, accompanied by what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called 'a mental and spiritual re-evaluation.' We need to be oriented towards people, not things, so as, said Boggs, 

to live more simply so that others can simply live.

The questions that arise from this interface of revolution and the everyday are those that motivate this project:

These questions are explored in more detail in the following pages on this path.

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