How To See Palestine: An ABC of Occupation

V is for violence

On my first afternoon in Bethlehem, we received word that a woman had been killed at a checkpoint twenty minutes away. Such death punctuated my stay at regular intervals. On the ninth day I was there, we drove past a vehicle near Sofar, in which a young Palestinian man had been shot dead by IDF. Perhaps the most shocking thing to me about the incident was how unshocked everyone else was. The Israeli soldiers we saw smiled at us. Habshe, a Palestinian organizer traveling with us was matter-of-fact about it. We should not euphemize: the occupation produces violence and death as its primary outcome. 

Where there is violence, there is a message. The message is simple: 'You are nothing.' Violence against people who do not count for anything is not subject to the same process as violence between legal persons of the same standing. Under slavery, owners of so-called human property could punish or kill without investigation. There is now an exception: if there is a video. When Abed al-Fattah al-Sharif was shot in the head and killed while lying on the ground in Shahuda Street, the incident was filmed by Imad Abushamsiya, who I was privileged to meet, a gentle, kind person. A trial is in progress, but don't hold your breath for a conviction.

So too Frantz Fanon understood colonization to be a matter of the barracks and the police station. He also understood that colonialism has its own psychopathologies, which is to say that if you colonize people by force, they will experience mental and psychic disturbance as a result. Sometimes that illness results in its own violence, hopelessly disproportionate to the force it is trying to resist. Fanon documented a case in which two Algerian boys stabbed their French playmate as their only available response to their oppression. Such stabbings have become endemic in Palestine since October 2015. 

One of the specificities of the Palestinian situation seems to be that places have been constructed for such violence. The stabbing attacks and the shootings that respond to them have mostly taken place in the areas adjacent to checkpoints, as in the case mentioned above, places under intense surveillance where no attack by a Palestinian could result in anything other than death. Let's be clear what this means: urban space has been set aside for the specific purpose of violence. So disturbing is this design that Palestinians have responded in kind. Who will be the Fanon of Palestine, analyzing the psychopathologies of occupation? 

Often people talk as if such violence might make the occupation unsustainable. But as we have seen in the United States during the current police war on its people, the violence has a way of sustaining itself. Just as you think perhaps the wave of police shootings is over, another one takes place. Why does this happen? During the First World War, Freud noticed that war trauma caused people to repeat the experience in ways that resisted therapy. It is the war, or the occupation, that is the problem, not the person responding violently. That's true for the Israeli soldiers and the Palestinian resistance alike, albeit in totally different ways. What it means is that no disciplinary code, no political agreement, no diplomacy can curtail the traumatic compulsion to repeat unless the occupation is ended. 

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