Yehudit Keshet: Neve Gordon's contribution to the Middle East debate

The Israel-Palestine conflict has generated a plethora of literature ranging from personal accounts to precise recordings of abuses and misuses of power, policies and human rights, and from historical surveys to a host of solutions and counter solutions for ending the occupation and/or achieving ‘peace’. In this library of anguish relatively few works provide a theoretical framework for understanding the overall processes of Israeli domination over Palestinians and their land. The focus tends to be experiential, on what was or is or should be done, on what is endured rather than on the underlying structure, the deeper meanings of oppression.

Neve Gordon’s [new book] Israel’s Occupation is therefore a welcome contribution to the field. First of all it is immensely readable, providing a clear, comprehensible theoretical framework as well as tracing the development of the Occupation from its beginnings as an ostensibly temporary ‘benign and enlightened’ military-administrative system whose ‘arrangements, legal orders and policies were constantly modified to conceal the permanent nature of Israel’s control’ (P16)to the current phase which Gordon identifies as a move away from a policy of colonization to a policy of separation. That is, from the management of the colonized population in order to maximise the exploitation of resources such as land and water, to a policy summed up by the statement ‘we are here, they are there.’ (p 119) an abdication of responsibility for the well-being of the occupied population while continuing to exploit those same resources of land and water.

Gordon’s cardinal argument is that the underlying logic of the occupation is, and always has been, the separation of the Palestinian people from their land, and not simply by means of land expropriation for colonizing purposes: In the immediate aftermath of the Six-day war the then military advocate general, Meir Shamgar, formulated a manipulative legal policy that ‘rejected the applicability of the 1949 4th Geneva the OT’ (P.26) Shamgar maintained that since neither the West Bank nor Gaza had been sovereign areas prior to June 1967, they should be considered disputed rather than occupied territories. This position not only continues to find its place in Israeli policy, it is frequently voiced in public discourse; it denies the rights of Palestinians to their land and to political self-determination in that land. It cannot be stressed enough that this removal of the people from their land, legally and, increasingly physically, lies at the heart of the occupation. It is a truth that is overlooked, hidden beneath the mass of plans and roads maps for a supposed peace.

Drawing on Foucauldian theory, Gordon goes on to identify three modes of control operative in the Occupation and based on the above logic: biopower – control of the population rather than the individual via institutions that regulate aspects of societal life such as medical care or welfare; ‘while configuring and circumscribing the political sphere and normalizing knowledge’ (P12) disciplinary control that ‘aims to engender normalization through the regulation of daily life ‘(P.16) and sovereign power ‘the imposition of a legal system and the employment of the state’s military to either enforce the rule of law or to suspend it’ (P13). These modes of control operate concurrently and frequently overlap, as effected by Israel over the last 42 years. Gordon makes clear that this theory is not an essentialist claim presaging a given outcome, but that the occupation has a dynamic of its own: ‘Even though the Israeli state appears to be a free actor from which a series of policies originates, a closer investigation reveals that its policies, and more particularly the modification of its policies over the years have been shaped by the different mechanisms of control operating in the OT. The same is true of the policy choices of resistance groups... and other non-state actors...’ (P.3)....

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