Dr. Julie Peteet
Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to The Jerusalem Fund and our educational program the Palestine Center. Welcome to our audience here and our audience online. Our audience here, thank you for your patience as you bear with us with our renovations and repairs with the office, but we are pleased that this room is going to work out. Every summer we have a new batch of interns who put together always a very stimulating intern lecture series and our interns this year have met our expectations and exceeded them yet again. The theme of our series is “Mobility: Israel’s Structural Restrictions and Palestine’s Resistance.” Our interns are Abby Massell, Mirvat Salameh, Sarah Dickshinski, and Zoe Reinstein, and they have put together this wonderful series on mobility. Every year we look forward to a new and fresh perspective on everything, and we’re really delighted with this theme and our interns this year. Of course our first speaker who is going to set the theme and whole framework for this series is Dr. Julie Peteet, who will be talking about “Conceptions of Mobility.” I’ll hand it over to Zoe Reinstein.
Thank you Zeina for that great introduction. My name is Zoe Reinstein and I am one of the Palestine Center’s summer interns. So when choosing the theme of mobility, when we first started thinking about this year’s theme, we realized [about] mobility that it is at the core of many of Israel’s occupational strategies aimed at the dehumanization and subjugation of Palestinians. When initially discussing possible themes, we talked about the main tools of the occupation and what they had in common, such as the separation wall, the blockade of Gaza, legal barriers such as visas and the denial of the right to return, and the obstruction of the Palestinian voice in international media coverage. We then realized that all of these factors strategically restrain the physical mobility of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and diaspora as a whole, but also the movement of ideas through censorship and media blackouts. As you will hear in a moment from Dr. Peteet, mobility is integral in defining and claiming spaces of living to affirm a community’s identity, and therefore restrictions on Palestinian mobility are some of the most apparent and dehumanizing aspects of Israel’s military occupation.
That being said, Palestinians overcome this lack of mobility through publication, expression, and the creation of their own platforms when necessary. They have used media as a powerful tool in the spread of ideas beyond the walls of the occupation, [which is] ultimately a form of resistance in itself.
Please join us for the rest of the lectures in the series. This Friday, July 11, we have the second installment — “Restrictions on Mobility: Structural Mechanisms & Physical Barriers” with Dr. Shira Robinson and Minem Maroof. Then the series concludes on Tuesday, July 26, with “Overcoming Restrictions: Resistance through Publication & Expression” with Laila El-Haddad and Dr. William Youmans of GWU.
We will have a question and answer period at the end, and our livestream audience can send questions via twitter to @palestinecenter.
Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the Jerusalem Fund and our educational program, the Palestine Center. Welcome, also, to our online viewers. My name is Mirvat Salameh and I’m an intern here at the Palestine Center. We are pleased to have anthropologist Dr. Julie Peteet with us today from University of Louisville, where she is a professor of anthropology and director of the Middle East and Islamic Studies program. She has spent ten years in the Middle East conducting research on Palestinian refugees, displacement, gender, resistance, culture, and human rights. The title of her talk is “Conceptions of Mobility” in which she will draw conceptual analyses from her forthcoming book titled, Space and Mobility in Palestine, where she explores the significance of mobility in terms of power, identity, and meaning for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Her publications include Landscape of Hope and Despair: Palestinian Refugee Camps, Gender in Crisis: Women and the Palestinian Resistance Movement, and several other significant works found in journals and books pertaining to the Palestinian plight and the Middle East. Her work has been funded by the Fulbright Program, the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, the Palestinian American Research Center, among many more. So we thought she would be the perfect speaker to start off our series about mobility in Palestine and we are delighted that she accepted our invitation. And without further ado, please welcome Dr. Julie Peteet.
Dr. Julie Peteet:
Thank you for that lovely introduction and to The Jerusalem Fund for having me here today. Can you hear in the back? It’s always [about] where to start. I’ll start with how I started this latest research project and book, which will also tell you a little bit about how anthropologists, some of us anthropologists, work. I started this research in the West Bank around 2004 and I hadn’t planned to be doing this research. But I went to the West Bank for a conference and saw the wall and Qalandiya checkpoint, and was just bowled over by the enormity of this wall on the landscape – this very highly visible but very primitive, low-tech symbol of separation and immobilization. It was the visuals that really got me. And then of course having to pass through Qalandiya, [which is] the embodied experience, if you will. And so this sparked my interest in mobility and its physical, structural, and bureaucratic mechanisms that have immobilized Palestinians, made them at once mobile and immobile, visible and invisible, subject to both ordering practices and disordering practices — seemingly contradictory things.
And about over twenty years ago I remember giving a talk at Penn [University of Pennsylvania] on work that I had done for the book, Landscape of Hope and Despair, which was really about space but also about mobility. And I called for a politics of mobility and people looked at me kind of strangely. I think if I said that now I wouldn’t have to explain much, but at the time it was still something that was sort of out there. And it reminded me [of] when I wrote the book Landscape of Hope and Despair I went to Beirut just for a visit because it had just opened up in ‘91, ‘92, and I had no intention of writing that book or going to do research in Shatila, which is where I originally worked. But I was so struck again by space and mobility and so I was really connecting in my mind as a researcher these two spaces of Palestine: the exiled space of the camp, where Palestinians were immobilized after the camp wars, and they were in shrinking space and so that set me off on that project; and then I go to the West Bank and I see this same thing – immobilization and shrinking space. And so I felt that with the research in the West Bank I could really work more on mobility. But, in this setting and of course in any setting you cannot unyolk or separate space and mobility. They are mutually constitutive in many ways.
So, today what I’ll do is just talk a little bit about how I’ve conceptualized mobility and then use a few ethnographic examples. And what I’ve found was Palestinians live in this very dense, interwoven network of regulations and control over their mobility that’s both physical and bureaucratic. And this is the policy of “closure” which Israel announced way back in the ‘90s around the time of Oslo. It’s what Jeff Halper, the Israeli anthropologist, has called the “matrix of control” and its compromised of these overlapping layers from the spatial to the legal and the bureaucratic. And in the matrix victory comes not by defeating your enemy or decimating him, but by immobilizing them. Immobilization as kind of a new strategy of conflict. And of course in the matrix the first layer is spatial, and that’s where you see the on-the-ground control of space for Palestinians, whether it’s through the location of Jewish-Israeli colonies, checkpoints, the bypass roads, the military bases – this sort of fragmentation of space. And the second layer is the bureaucratic and the legal, things that also immobilize Palestinians or regulate, modulate, their mobility, which would be ID cards, the permit system, and of course the checkpoints and the wall, which are both — these all overlap. And all of these layers are accompanied by vivid displays of violence and the ever-present threat of violence. You don’t have to have violence to feel that violence is saturating the atmosphere.
Now getting back to the turn to mobilities, or the new mobilities paradigm, which really took off about ten years ago. Some of this was the critique of globalization, the scholarship on globalization: “it’s going to lead to this unfettered mobility, people are going to be moving around the globe at high speeds.” Well, it didn’t work out that way. Increasingly, we are seeing the proliferation of borders, new technologies for identifying and tracking people, this growth of physical barriers, walls and fences all around the globe, not just in Palestine but in many other places. And so, you see fortressed and gated communities are being replicated on a state level, and Israel is a great example of this to just fortressed gate country.
Now just briefly mobilities as a field of study. It has arrived. It has a journal. When you have a journal you’ve arrived. There’s a handbook on mobilities. There’s a couple of research centers. This is part of demarcating a field; it’s the institutional accompaniments of a field of study. Mobilities has a very broad scope, which I think is good. It has a lot of theoretical and methodological flexibility, still very much an emerging framework. Most of us who work with mobility work with it in our own particular ways. But it is a good point of departure, or framework, I think for if you’re working on displacement. If you’re working on Syrian refugees you should be working on mobility and adapting methodologies to those kinds of mobilities. But Mobility Studies can be everything from a history of mobility to what initiates mobility, its trajectories, immobilities, regulations, meaning (what does it mean for people to move?), and of course the body, the body in waiting, or the body in motion and the body in how it experiences mobilities. And here we’re getting also to subjectivities, but what I think what’s clear in the mobilities research is that mobilities is no longer tacked onto something else like space, okay. It has become, itself, the foreground through which you can explore a host of other things.
And, so, in looking at mobility as a point of departure I was exploring, of course, power and inequality, the “haves and have nots” of mobility, and in this case an occupation that is instrumentalizing mobilities for purposes of demographic transformation and transforming the landscape for a variety of reasons. So, in early mobilities research, and here I’m talking about the early ‘90s, you know it became clear that you really had to unpack mobilities and look at the way it’s differentiated by power that mobility is not just this homogenous category, it’s really something that is subject to controls. It can be recorded, it can be withheld, it can be modulated. If you just gloss it over you really lose any kind of specificity. And we know that many people in the world move with unprecedented speed and scope and by their own choice, and other people have their mobility constrained and monitored and sort of encumbered, if you will. And mobilities really do remain tethered to the demands of labor, securitization practices, national boundaries, and those increasing state mechanisms of identification that happily nuance the possibility and extent of mobility and that, you know, is identity cards, visas, passports, permits, what have you, that constrain and magnify, regulate mobility.
Now, in the past two decades and especially since 9/11 states have really magnified their hold on their ability to control mobility and a lot of this is based on new technologies of surveillance and I’m thinking in particular [about] the biometrics, the biometric identity cards that we see in Palestine now and of course high detection fences and walls and this sort of thing. So, as the ambit and speed of human circulation has expanded, so has its regulation. They’ve been happening at sort of the same time. And Palestine provides, I think, a really wonderful setting in which to explore mobilities and immobilities, and their embedding in a regime of control that has an agenda of immobilization for very particular purposes.
Now, just to connect mobility with space. I look at mobility, it’s a way of affirming certain kinds of space, okay? Space that is colored by particular configurations of power and meaning, and so I look at access to space and the possibility of mobility, and the way mobility derives in Palestine from social categories of difference, okay? Whether they’re ethnic or religious, place of residence, citizenship, nationality; these organize accessed space and your scope and speed when you want to move. So, in other words, in Palestine, mobility, scope, and speed. Speed is differentially allocated, so categories of identity in the sense of an instrumentalized as an axis around which mobility is allocated and Palestinian mobility, as we all know, between the wall, checkpoints, permits, the road system, the IDs, this limits your mobility. If your mobility is limited, your ability to construct and give meaning to place is impeded, okay? You cannot construct space that you can’t move through, okay? Part of what’s defined space is what happens in it and what moves through it, okay? And of course the mechanisms of closure, the immobilizing mechanisms are designed such that space will be reconfigured: emptied of one and replaced by another, such that you will see new lines of ownership and sovereignty in space where Palestinians do not have access.
Now, I’m assuming most people know what closure is, but very briefly in case you don’t, closure was a policy launched in March 1993 and it refers to, in a very general sense, Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods, people, and labor into Jerusalem between Gaza and the West Bank, and within the West Bank, okay? And between the West Bank and Israel. So, for Palestinians, closure, which is this immobilizing regime, has led to fragmentation, economic devastation, social fracturing, serious problems with education and access to health care, and, of course, a deep sense of isolation, of separation from others (not just from Israelis, but from other Palestinians). By the early 2000s, in the West Bank, and I think it’s still in —- today, there are normally around 500 checkpoints at one time and many villages are blocked from accessing main roads by the placement of cement cubes, or digging trenches such that entry and exit becomes very problematic. And, you know, we think of the circulation, rapid circulation, unimpeded circulation of people, goods and ideas as an index of modern life. Speed is part of modernity, we usually associate it with modernity. But in Palestine, for Palestinians, mobility unfolds in a time warp. Time takes on very different dimensions, you know. If speed is a hallmark of modernity and then the era of high speed everything from travel, to food, to weapons, to communications, Palestinians, sort of are suspended in this web of immobility – a kind of trap, if you will, that has them moving often at a speed from another generation, another era, if you will. And yet they strive to continue their everyday lives in radically altered ways. They do a lot of resequencing, and in this talk today I’m not going to go into how they subvert and transgress and resist (I think that’ll come up in some of the later talks), but rest assured they have not been, [and] they have not become, self-disciplining robots who move as they’re supposed to. There’s a lot of subverting of the regime.
Now, going from one locale to another has become a real exercise, of course, in travel, in subterfuging patience and cunning. Space is an obstacle to be overcome and mastered anew sometimes daily or weekly – as a new checkpoint sets up and you have to find a new way to go around. And a young woman that I know in Ramallah, she wanted to go to Jerusalem to participate in a professional training workshop for a day and she had to apply for a permit and, you know, was very upset at the whole idea because she figured she wouldn’t get it and she just burst out and said, “I don’t want to be excited about anything that involves the future because you don’t know if it will really happen. Our whole life is like this: not knowing if something’s really going to happen.” And that’s kind of how people live, that is suspended in time: is what I want to do tomorrow going to happen tomorrow? Something we never think about. If we make a plan for tomorrow you can rest assured that it’s going to happen. So, people’s sense of time has been greatly affected by closure and immobilization.
Now, we know that states monopolize legitimate means of movement. That’s part of what states do and they issue documents. They issue passports, birth certificates, and visas, and what have you. What distinguishes mobility’s deep entanglement with power in Palestine is that here we have the monopolization of a non-citizen’s population, a non-citizen population’s movement within a territory not incorporated into the state. And this interlocking set of obstacles to Palestinian mobility penetrates deep into everyday life. It has real and experiential consequences that are endlessly, ultimately bound up with the production of new forms of space because if you can’t move through space, [and] it becomes cleared of Palestinians, that space becomes something else.
Now, in great part human history is a story of mobility and as anthropologists we have to go way back and remember that human history we’ve always been moving but this is, you know, we’re in another era, it’s a different kind of movement. And we’ve always overcome different kinds of distances and we’ve always used new technologies to do so. But in our era, mobility is an indicator of human rights and modernity. This policy of closure and immobilizing Palestinians is producing a kind of space to which they are excluded. Their exclusion, in a sense, constructs space, sets it up to be, to take on a new identity. Once it has this new identity, they can’t move through it anyway. So I hope that makes sense — this intermingling of space and mobility. And we couldn’t use PowerPoint or maps in here today because of the light, but if you can visualize the West Bank in what’s called the “Area C,” you know, the Oslo dividing the West Bank into Areas “A, B, and C.” If you look at “C,” which is basically Israeli territory and Palestinian territory, what’s left are all in these little fragments. It is often described as an archipelago. And the challenge for a Palestinian is to move from one island to another within the sea that you cannot cross. How do you move from one area to another when you’re marooned on these little islands, if you will. You move but very slowly, often denied, and having to pass through multiple checkpoints.
Now, one way of looking at mobility in this area is to look at it as relational. The Palestinian and Israeli mobilities are very intertwined with one another. And what that means is, in this case, one’s mobility is constrained, surveyed, managed, interrupted, and decelerated. The other’s mobility, the Israelis’, is accelerated and spatially expansive. They move through contiguous territory at a speed of their own making; whereas where the Palestinian can move, the speed is determined by the occupying authorities. So this is the relationality, if you will, that the immobilization of the Palestinian clears space for the Israelis to move with speed and at their own pace and through, of course, secured space. So sometimes this is very visual. You can see at a checkpoint Israeli cars moving very quickly, going through the checkpoint. They sort of whiz on through and the Palestinian line is, you know, a hundred cars deep, moving at a very, very slow pace. And that’s the relationality of these mobilities when you juxtapose them.
Now, there’s an interesting statement by a religious studies scholar, Sigurd Bergmann, who writes on mobility, of all things, and I’m going to quote him. He says “Could we restate the French philosopher Descartes by instead of saying, ‘I think, therefore I am?’” Bergmann says “I move therefore I am,” or “I am how I move.” So he linked movement and space to sort of a geography of subjectivity in a setting of pronounced mobility; the way your move starts having this impact on your sense of self and who you are. I’ll give you a small anecdote here: this was a young professional woman who lived in Beit Hanina, kind of a suburb of Jerusalem, and she said, “I walk across the street from our house in Beit Hanina. Once the Israelis divided the main street with cement blocks and then placed checkpoints on it, I could no longer walk across the street to go to work. It was less than five minutes away. Instead, I had to go up to the Qalandiya checkpoint, go all the way around and then back down the other side of the street. And Qalandiya checkpoint can be backed up. This took well over half an hour at best, sometimes more, to go a distance of less than five minutes.” She said, “I have such anxiety and I’m angry all the time.” And then she said, “I feel like a big bug.” This kind of stayed with me: she said, “I just feel like a bug here.” And I think [in] her narrative of mobility denied, constrained, and ultimately reconfigured, she had to re-sequence her route every day and negotiate it, [which] sort of allows you to start fleshing out the relationship or the impact of immobility on subjectivities as well.
And I’m just skipping around here because I know time will go by quickly. You know, Palestinians understand these techniques of managing mobility as a means of engendering a self-disciplining body, but they also understand it as a tactic of immiseration and a means of quelling resistance and punishment. And from my work, I don’t think this regime of immobility has been normalized. Now, people do go through the motions, they go through the checkpoints, they hand their cards, they don’t say a word usually, but they’re constantly subjected to this very critical analysis of what is going on. They’re not just sort of automatons following these rules, and of course they do subvert and resist: everything from small petty forms of subversion too trying to vault over the wall, if you will. So how do they think of immobilization? I’ll read again what a young man that I interviewed said. He said, “They want to drive us crazy. Literally crazy. They want to make us crazy with this anxiety that we have to live with.” And he had come to work late frequently because of the checkpoints. He could never really be sure. You can never be sure of what time you will arrive anywhere. So you live with constant uncertainty and unpredictability and this leads to a lot of anxiety. So he said, “If you can’t plan from one day to the next, and there’s never any real explanation for why you’re denied a permit, or turned back at the checkpoint, you just get so frustrated. Daily life becomes unmanageable. It takes so much time to do anything. Everything becomes an ordeal and you’re never certain what will happen. You add it all up and you figure they want you to go crazy with frustration. Then you’ll start thinking about leaving.” And this is what you hear often, that the immiseration is part of encouraging people to leave.
Now, I just want to look at the identity card, the permit system, and the road system to see how this works. And I’m not really doing the wall, and the checkpoints kind of come in here but I can’t do it all in a short period of time. But start with the identity card. And again I’ll start with an ethnographic example or anecdote. I visited a friend who had a teenage son and I went into the house, I could hear the dad and son in the midst of quite a loud quarrel over the identity card. The seventeen-year-old son had stopped carrying his nine digit Israeli-issued identity card, which every Palestinian must possess in order to legally reside in Palestine. You’ve got to have it with you all the time. You can’t go through checkpoints without it, you can’t apply for a permit without it, and people carry it all the time because if you get stopped without one, you can be arrested, you can be detained, and more recently you can be deported. So his father was hysterical almost that his son was running around without an identity card because he had lost it in the mess of his bedroom. And the father was screaming. He said “I got caught once. I had my identity card but I didn’t know the number. I couldn’t memorize it, I couldn’t recite it, so I was beaten up at the checkpoint.” So he said, “You’ve got to carry this ID card.” And the son says, “I don’t go anywhere any way.” He said “I don’t move outside of this neighborhood.” So in any case it gives you a sense of the importance of the identity card. So with the occupation, the Israelis assumed controlled over the Palestinian civil registry and they have assigned everybody a nine digit number. And they’re classified into four general classes and over forty sub-categories, which, I don’t know all the sub categories and most Israelis don’t either. So that when you get to the checkpoint, there’s a lot of going back and forth as to what category people are in. Now, colonial regimes craft population categories in ways of making them substantive, visible, and tangible in everyday life and I think the identity card is probably the most fundamental document that encodes and regulates Palestinian entitlements and deprivations and the scope and speed of mobility. And as part of Oslo, Israel did retain control over the Palestinian civil registry and thus the allocation of identity cards. And you go through a PA intermediary between these two entities.
Now, the identity card joins a host of techniques that compel this sort of knowable legible Palestinian subject. So the document – because it determines where you can live and where you can move and not move legitimately – the document is this very critical artifact. It at once encodes and produces legal distinctions, and it has an impact on subjectivity because it creates differences among Palestinians according to who has what identity card. And if any of you, and I know many of you are familiar with this, these are color-coded, your identity card is in a little color-coded sleeve and that color says a lot when you hold it up or you go through the checkpoint. This same young man who was talking about being driven crazy, he was talking about all these different identity cards. He has a West Bank identity card and he said, “All these different identity cards separate us from each other. Each begins to see the other as different and we start resenting the small privileges. Palestinians with Jerusalem identities begin to think of themselves as better than us in the West Bank because they get a few benefits from the Israelis.” So again, he’s talking about this fragmentation and sense of identity and belonging in the Palestinian community. And this color coding system is kind of like branding, you know, it marks you and makes you visible not only to other Palestinians, but also obviously to the occupier.
And in this book I have a chapter just on checkpoints where I describe the checkpoint as a ritual. It’s a funnel trap, which is a nice description that a biologist helped me with. I was trying to understand the spatial move through a checkpoint and it’s a funnel. It’s a funnel trap, which are used by biologists in the wild to catch animals and tag them. And that’s sort of the imagery that I had, but in any case there’s this ritualized set of actions that quickly unfolds. The identity card is almost always in the hand or at the ready so that you don’t have to fumble for it. It’s there, it’s been pulled out of the purse or the pocket well before you get to the checkpoint. People at checkpoints see it, they immediately know your identity whether you’re [from the] West Bank or whether you’re [from] Jerusalem. So in a way it’s become, I call it the appendage, because it’s always attached to the hand as you near a checkpoint. And often soldiers don’t even look at it because it’s always at the ready and the security is not always what it’s cracked up to be.
Now, new techniques of surveillance have emerged, particularly in this case with biometrics which I’ll just very briefly explain. But this is a situation where half the population watches the other half. It’s not just a small crew watching people. Palestinians are under surveillance not only because colonies are on higher ground; they’re always visible and they’re visible of course at these almost five hundred checkpoints. And Israeli citizens are always on guard for people who look suspicious. So it’s really a population that feels it is always being watched and under surveillance. It can be used, the identity card, not only as a weapon, it’s a form of punishment. [If] you have a — get into an issue at a checkpoint, or you’ve done something that might be slightly suspicious or not suspicious, the threat to confiscate your identity card is a very real one, and it often happens. You’re asked to collaborate, you know, provide names or information, “and then we’ll give you your identity card back.” Or, a driver of a taxi is caught with somebody who doesn’t have a Jerusalem ID: the taxi driver’s ID could be taken, and then he’s fined. It’s a substantial fine, and he loses a lot of days of business because he can’t drive. So, the identity card is not just to know the Palestinian, it’s also to compel a kind of obedience, and punish people as well.
Now, biometrics, which I think we’re all becoming much more familiar with – biometrics are when you encrypt in an identity document sort of physical aspects of the body, ok. The body becomes its own technology of verification, and you know the first biometrics, the oldest one, fingerprints. And now we have the iris scan and facial recognition. DNA is the ultimate, but nobody is doing DNA yet in this situation. So, the biometrically encoded-card is a way to verify the person is who they say they are so that you go to the checkpoint and they have the fingerprint reader. You put your fingerprint up and your biometrically-encoded card, and they better match, ok. You can’t use somebody else’s identity card, which is one of the ways people do circumvent some of these rules of this little petty transgression or subversion.
Now, just moving on to the permit system, which I call the “paper wall’ because it forms a wall of another sort that determines also how people move, and again I’ll start with just a little anecdote. A middle-aged professor from Al-Quds University who lived in Abu Dis was invited to give a lecture in Jerusalem. However, she had a West Bank identity card so she required a permit to enter the city, which is just — you know a kilometer or two over the wall. So, she took her documents to the appropriate office and was told to return at 9:00 a.m. on the day of her lecture to get her permit. Her lecture was supposed to be at 11 o’clock. So, she comes back promptly at 9 that morning and waits and waits and waits, and at noon she’s given the permit. So, the lecture is finished, and I heard this story frequently. You get the permit after the event. Or the permit is for twelve hours and you’re given it when you might have two hours left. And [these are] common stories.
So, the permit system also governs and regulates mobility and it compels compliance and collaboration. Again, if you want a permit, sometimes you’re told you can have a permit but why don’t you give us some information about somebody or so and so. But, it’s a very mysterious process to get a permit, time consuming, sometimes you have to travel to a place where you can’t travel because you don’t have a permit. The criteria for getting a permit is unstated and very hard to discern, and it always seems very arbitrary. And a phrase that people use a lot in the West Bank is, “It all depends on their mood.” I heard this a lot. Whether it’s at the checkpoint or with a permit, “depends on their mood that day.” But, it seems arbitrary but it’s not so arbitrary. What I came up with, or finished this field work with is that this disorder and seeming ambiguity is itself consistent. That’s the consistency: it’s consistent ambiguity so that you live in a state of uncertainty and anxious anticipation. And again, here’s somebody who needed to go to Jerusalem for a doctor’s visit but needed a permit, and she said she was denied the permit. “Permits are another way to strangle us, to rule us, and to make life so awful we will leave.” And that’s why this is immobility and mobility: Palestinians move but not at their own speed and scope, and there’s— Palestinians feel, that this is a way of making them leave, by making life unlivable particularly in rural areas. That they will empty out and people will move into these few remaining urban areas.
Ok. Alrighty. I just want to mention something about humiliation. And because I think that the stories really hopefully illustrate what the mobility is as a concept and how we can use it. And I had a neighbor in Ramallah who got a twelve-hour permit to pray at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and he told me later about going through the checkpoint and he said, “I felt so humiliated. I hold my permit up to the plexiglass window, and this 18-year-old bitch,” excuse my language, “flicks her wrist at me to go as if I’m a fly. As if I’m nothing. I waited so long for a permit that she barely glanced at.” And on another occasion I met an acquaintance who had a half-day permit to go to Jerusalem on religious grounds and he was so excited but then he looked at his watch and he said, “Oh my god I have to run! My permit expires at 6 and I have to buy my mother her favorite bread from a shop in Musrara where she was born but could no longer visit.” So he was very sheepish like a child getting home before curfew.
On a bus — these kind of petty indignities are part of the routine texture of the permit system. On the bus, one day, an elderly gentleman was on this bus and the soldier gets on the bus and screams at him “Give me your ID card!” He examines it and the permit, and he says to this elderly gentleman “You’re almost late, your permit to enter Jerusalem ends at 6 and it’s now 5:55.” These are the petty indignities.
Now I’m just going to say five minutes on roads, and then I will finish this. The road system, the bypass roads, the whole road network that many of you are familiar with. A couple of over middle-aged friends and I are in Ramallah and we decide to go to Abu Dis one day. Now these guys all have cars, they all grew up there, and they’ve all spent their life driving around. So we meet and they — nobody knew how to get to Abu Dis from Ramallah. [It’s] a very short distance, maybe ten kilometers, something like that. And they had no idea which roads to take. So, needless to say, we took a bus, but what has happened is people’s sense of the landscape — the landscape has become unknowable, it is becoming foreign.
So, you know, we all have mental maps, geographic imagination. We all have a knowledge of the landscape that we acquire socially and experientially through moving through space, and Palestinians, like many people do not use maps. I mean, you never see them with a map figuring out where they’re going to go like we do when we’re tourists or when we’re in a new place. They know the landscape from living there, from travelling through it. But increasingly, they find it difficult to navigate in the landscape. And people will tell me, “I know this place, but it all looks different. I don’t know which road to take.” And the signs are now in Hebrew in a lot of areas. They really feel lost and a kind of disorientation sets in. That very intimate relationship you had with landscape and with place has been disrupted.
Now, in the future, archaeologists will perhaps excavate the West Bank – the road system, kind of like [how] now archaeologist are always excavating ancient roads, [like] the Roman road system. And I think they’ll uncover what we might then term the “Occupation Era.” And I think what they’ll find, or they’ll start speculating about this era — inequality and privilege are etched into the road system. And it will be read by the eye trained in archaeology and excavated strata. They’ll see the smoothly paved bypass roads with their ubiquitous surveillance devices, and then they’ll see the old rudded, circuitous roads that were consigned to the Palestinians. Rusty tangled barbed wire and the tell-like mounds will mark the once blocked villages. Perhaps these archaeologists will also uncover the crumbling yellowed and frayed remnants of the permits and the various metals and cement, and the crumbling watchtowers and technological devices that were the checkpoints.
Roads weave together elements of daily life. Whether it’s work or school or healthcare or shopping or trade, commerce, family, social networks – roads bridge distance and obstacles to connect us to each other as they have throughout history. So, this road system is a material artifact that sort of encodes hierarchy and privilege. And through it, we can conceptualize somewhat a society’s circulation, their movement, their worldview, as well as you know— we use roads to look at ancient trade networks, economies, levels of integration, and relations with the exterior.
Now I know my time is short. I’ll just say that what the road system does, the “bypass roads” with that medical lexicon, is they bypass the indigenous population and they create contiguous space for Israelis so they do not have to have contact with Palestinians. They’re not driving on the same roads; they are separated from them, if you will. And there are a variety of roads, there are shared roads, but I don’t have time to go into that here.
So just to conclude, one small anecdote. In an office, the office manager tells everybody when they go home that night to take their laptops because as she says, “None of us really know if we will be here tomorrow. If we can come to work.” Daily life lurches forward in crisis mode. Its sequencing enveloped in uncertainty. This is the “I move therefore I am; I am how I move.” And mobility is central to human subjectivity. It’s essential to being human. Part of the human condition is movement, and the sense of the self, the “I”, and the knowledge of where you are, which has been so disrupted with closure and this regulation of mobility.
So I’ll end there and we’ll take questions.