Israel, Palestine, and the Use of Psychological Force

By David Levin

Culturally Palestinian and cartographically Israeli, the West Bank is a present focal point of Israeli settlement and military occupation, signifying decades of apartheid and violence that manifests in the infrastructure of the land.1 Israeli settlements cut between and divide Palestinian territory, establishing strategic positioning for the construction of checkpoints and military bases. Interruption of Palestinian land and elevated topography allows Israeli settlements to maintain a hegemonic position overlooking the divided swaths of Palestinian villages. This strikingly visible presence gives way to forms of psychological violence that furthers the strategic damage already done. Checkpoints, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) sieges, and infrastructural regimentation of daily life through landscape utilization create deep emotive impacts that alter the ways in which conflict is dealt with and resisted by Palestinian civilians and revolutionary groups. Evaluating the affects produced through Israeli occupation is vital to understanding this conflict, as these are the intensities that undergird both emotion and potentiality, which can be either be crushed or provoked.  Through strategic manipulation of landscape, architecture, and infrastructure in Occupied Palestine, the Israeli state has created spaces propagating effective hegemony over Palestinian subjects. This creates environments of anxiety and resentment which terrorize Palestinian daily life and necessitate revolutionary forms of redevelopment and catharsis as a means to achieve social and physical survival.

Since 1968, Israel has accelerated its extension of East Jerusalem into the West Bank, increasing the settler population from 100,000 in 1993 to over 400,000 in 2016.2  This development is not random, but rather strategically interrupts Palestinian communities. The colonization of Palestinian land is presented by the Israeli state as a form of “domestication,” wherein they “transform, in the eyes of Israeli Jews, the unfamiliar occupied territories into familiar home ground.” Israeli infrastructural development, therefore, becomes folded into the sociocultural history, carefully considered in state planning of settlements in the Palestinian territory. In 1918, Jerusalem’s military governor Ronald Storrs mandated that specific varieties of stone be implemented in the accelerating construction of Jerusalem. In 1968, this bylaw was followed in the masterplan for the colonial expansion of “Greater Jerusalem,” using stone cladding, rather than full stone construction to aid the aesthetic continuity of Israeli settlements. This continuity carries a familiarity, notably exclusive to Jewish settlers, as Weizman describes, “it carries ‘emotional messages that stimulate other sensations embedded in our collective memory, producing strong associations to the ancient holy city of Jerusalem.’”3 Additionally, Israeli homes in settlement areas are designed to adhere to apartheid strategies. Israeli law mandates that roofs on Israeli residences be painted red, not as an artistic or cultural significance of presence, but rather as a simple political technology to deter IDF bombings of Israeli structures.4 This characteristic is a blatant example of apartheid and occupation, creating a clear ethnic delineation of what structures can survive and be destroyed during targeted IDF violence, exacerbating conditions of subaltern Palestinians further through the predetermined condemnation of their residences.

The aesthetics of Israeli infrastructure serve to signify apartheid and the geospatial positioning of Israeli settlements is tactical. Today, many Israeli settlements line the upper elevations of the region’s hills. While the Israeli state continues the extension of the Israeli-Palestinian dividing wall to encompass new areas of the West Bank, with 85% enveloping Palestinian territory upon completion, land use in the developments within the wall creates territorial stratification in itself. New Israeli developments resemble walls, creating an insulating stretch of Israeli land amid otherwise continuously Palestinian territory. Israeli settlements force Palestinian mobility to be regulated by state checkpoints. The settlements expand out from old Jerusalem along highways that serve as main transportation arteries for Israelis, but not Palestinians. Israeli military stations are scattered through this occupied land. Guards, aided by their altitude, can keep watchful eye over surreptitious Palestinian movement. In Ana Naomi De Sousa’s The Architecture of Violence, Weizman calls attention to a guard tower signifying the ever-looming IDF presence in the region, “what is very cruel about this tower next to the wall is that its designed to hide the presence of the army, so you always assume there is somebody looking at you.  It is apartheid in action.”5 This panoptic surveillance serves to regulate and categorize flows of people in the territory, while the IDF remains poised to launch attacks, with the ability to use infrastructure and topography to their strategic advantage.6 This multimodal occupation continues physical and mental domination of Palestinians. When altercations between Palestinians and Israelis occur, Israel demonstrates the utility of their strategic positioning. Weizman describes this phenomena:

When conflict erupts, the slow violence of the environment is being put into immediate use. Israeli soldiers move down into Palestinian towns and villages from the settlements themselves. The checkpoints harden and nobody can move through, the border completes around them, and the entire territory springs into use.

In action, the infrastructural violence of Israeli occupation is chaotic and visible, while other forms of violence are produced in its passive state. The imperceptibility of Israeli infrastructural regimentation and surveillance functionally traps Palestinian agency. For Palestinian political resistance to be tenable, assembly and freedom of mobility is critical. Without opportunities to move freely within and between Palestinian enclaves, political activism and resistance is fragmented, and movements struggle to reach critical mass for producing a revolutionary project with potential for broader-scale political agency.

Palestinian affective potential is robust. That is to say that its potential of revolution is large, but is stifled by Israeli tactics. Psychologist Sylvan Thomkins describes the “mechanism” of affects as a signifier of urgency. “If we cut our hand, saw it bleeding, but had no innate pain receptors, we would know we had done something which needed repair, but there would be no urgency to it… The pain mechanism, like the affect mechanism, so amplifies our awareness of the injury which activates it that we are forced to be concerned, and concerned immediately.”7 Revolution is deeply embedded in the recent cultural history of Palestine, with some political success, most notably the signing of the Oslo Accords following the First Intifada.8 Despite this, the unpredictable nature of IDF attacks make achieving more large-scale political victories a seemingly insurmountable battle. The looming possibility of IDF raids disincentives civil redevelopment, forcing Palestinians to choose between evacuation and rebuilding, with high risk of similar attacks. This is a disturbingly visible manifestation of the IDF’s affective violence, as the unpredictability of attacks produces great affective intensities, but functionally crush the potentiality of these intensities to generate effective forms of resistance. This leaves Palestinians to grapple with high-affect emotions of anxiety and fear that interrupt resilience.

While the effects of Israeli infrastructural domination of Palestinian land presents a considerable challenge, the transmissions of Palestinian affects provide opportunities for intervention and international challenges to Israeli dominance. Palestinians have redeveloped and restored some of the spaces razed by IDF sieges, though due to the unavailability of funding and lack of international recognition, much of Palestine’s efforts have depended upon NGO intervention. Through coordinated efforts of rebuilding and peaceful protest, there are opportunities for Palestinian survival amid occupation. Outside Palestine, media representations of Palestinian suffering provide a tragic but politically powerful method for engaging the international community. Huwaida Arraf, of the International Solidarity Movement, stated in a United Nations panel on “Civil Society and Occupation” that “Having internationals present also raised media attention. In addition, being present on the ground, each international bore witness to events that they could share with their respective communities back home.”9 The Israeli state understands the potential of media representations, controlling the way Israeli aggression is viewed while slanting the view of Israel and Palestine outside of its’ borders.10 Recognition of Israel’s unlawful occupation has gained some traction elsewhere, with Sweden becoming the most recent of 135 nations to formally recognize Palestinian statehood and right to self-determination.11 Despite this, Israel still maintains the support of the most heavily resourced nations, receiving hefty political and military assistance from the United States, who has unequivocally supported occupation.12

Even with challenges in expanding awareness, representations and narratives of Israeli occupation in Palestine provide a unique opportunity to subvert the most easily deployed modes of Israeli suppression and expand affective consciousness in the international community to generate momentum toward the decolonization of Palestine. While representations themselves do not manifest political change, the affective intensities of occupation can be redirected toward increased visibility of IDF violence, and broader international political awareness, opening potential roads to resources for a movement toward more tangible decolonization.

____________________________________________________________________________________

1Beauchamp, Everything You Need to Know About Israel-Palestine, 2014

2Myer, Kaplow, 7 Things to Know About Israeli Settlements, 2016

3Weizman, Hollow Land, 2007 (p. 26-29)

4De Sousa, The Architecture of Violence, 2014

5Weizman, De Sousa, The Architecture of Violence, 2014

6Ozguc, Beyond the Panopticon: The Separation Wall and Paradoxical Nature of Israeli Security Imagination, 2010

7Shouse, Feeling, Emotion, Affect, 2005

8Aziza, Palestine’s First Intifada Is Still a Model for Grassroots Resistance, 2017

9Arraf, UN General Assembly, Civil society organizations discuss grassroots activism in Occupied Palestinian Territory, 2002

10Al Saadi, Western Media’s Coverage of Palestine: Part of the Problem, 2014

11Tharoor, The Countries That Recognize Palestine as a State, 2014

12Weizman, Hollow Land, 2007

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