Seeing Like a State, Unseen Like a State
The Middle Eastern old city – the medina – comes up in the very first sentence of the second chapter of James C. Scott’s Seeing like a State, a chapter in which he deals with High-Modernist plans to make the city legible. The medina’s look, he continues, “is the look of disorder”. Scott then charts certain attempts – the Haussmannization of Paris chief among them – to make old, tortuous, byzantine cities more legible – that is, more streamlined, more orderly, more manageable.
Between 1853 and 1869, Baron Haussmann, then the prefect of the Seine, had cut, straightened and widened the Parisian boulevards; he overhauled the sewage system, added new rail ways, erected monuments and dislocated the City’s poor. Behind the plan was a military logic: in the wake of the 1848 uprising, Louis Napoleon wished to make Paris more controllable; the wide boulevards were conducive to the deployment of large military contingents but less so to the erection of barricades. The renovation of Paris also made it more hygienic, with air circulating more breezily, sunlight enjoyed more widely, and objected moving more briskly. As Scott notes, hygiene, security and commerce are interrelated: the poorer districts were more prone to disease and so more prone to revolution. The Haussmannization of Paris, with its nexus of hygiene, security and commerce, serves as the blueprint for the reading of the colonial endeavours I am about to recount below.
First, we will turn to Jaffa circa 1936, where during the first months of the “Arab Revolt” the British Mandatory authorities cut two intersecting road through the flesh of the old city, passing the military operation as a “town-opening scheme”; then, we will be transported to the Gaza Strip in the 1970s, where a remarkably similar plan was executed in order to quell a Palestinian uprising, citing again a mix of hygienic and security rationales; finally, we will turn to the city of Jenin in the West Bank, where, during the second Intifada (2002), the Israeli army (IDF) haussmannized the local refugee camp, leaving it in ruin. This time, no hygienic excuses were given.
We will see how, despite the obvious differences between regimes, the oriental urban space has to be perennially bled and beaten into legibility. We will also remark on the pronounced difference between two bio-political authorities – the British Mandatory government and the 1970s’ IDF – which were concerned, however superficially, with the living conditions of their subjects – and the new millennial IDF that switched to thanato-politics, leaving nothing but death and destruction in its wake while the care for its subjects is outsourced to international NGOs. We will approach these episodes through articles by the historians Dov Gavish and Nathan Bronn, who studied the British demolition of Old Jaffa, and the writing of the Architect Eyal Weizmann, who studied the IDF’s actions in the OT.
Legibility, however, is not the only governmental technique in the state’s arsenal. A slew of new research by young scholars studying Palestine’s occupation suggests that while the state strives to see its subjects clearly, it also strives to remain unseen and/or unfathomable in the eyes of its non-citizens, acting out the old voyeuristic fantasy of seeing without being seen. We will examine works by Eyal Weizmann and Ariel Handel who analyse the complex grid of roadblocks and checkpoints that checkers the West Bank, and how its Kafkaesque logic subjugates the Palestinians through randomness and obfuscation.
Jaffa, 1936: Circulation and Circumlocution
The three-years-long struggle (1936-1939) between the Palestinians and the British Mandatory authorities, known as the “Arab Revolt”, broke out in the interstice between Tel-Aviv and Jaffa. In mid April 1936, a funeral of two Jews murdered in a Palestinian ambush turned into an ugly brawl. Soon, a general Palestinian strike was declared, and violence erupted, directed both against Jews and Britons. The port of Jaffa – a crucial entry point into Palestine – was shut down by strikers, and the old city of Jaffa, a motley mess of ramshackle houses and narrow alleys perched over the harbor, became a hotbed of insurgency. Not two months passed and the British forces were already too afraid to enter the old city, or, due to snipers watching from the old city’s hill, re-open the port. The British High Commissioner Arthur Wauchope was reluctant to send his troops into a bloody house-to-house combat, and facing dire economic and political consequences he had come up with a cleverer plan: to pave, under the guise of municipal work, two intersecting roads in Old Jaffa, which would allow the deployment of armed cars and large infantry forces. To make to the ruse complete, official notices were dropped from planes down on Jaffa, notifying the locals about the upcoming demolition of unsanitary houses and advising them to leave promptly. On the 17th of June 1936, British forces laid siege on the old city while its denizens hurriedly left with the few belongings they could carry. The first phase of the operation was completed on the 18th; dozens of houses were demolished, making room for a rough path stretching from east to west.
Unfortunately for the Mandate government, an appeal against the demolition was submitted to the Mandatory Supreme Court. The verdict given declared that there were no municipal by-laws allowing for demolition of houses due to sanitary reasons. Adding insult to injury, the Court denounced the government’s rather clumsy attempt at spin-doctoring, comparing it to the Dickensian “Circumlocution Office”. The Colonial emergency laws, however, allowed the High Commissioner to “pull down” houses for security reasons, and the appeal was rejected. The second phase of the operation was completed on the 29th of June, with a road stretching south-north; 237 houses were torn down in toto.
Figures 9 and 10: The Old City of Jaffa Before and After the Demolition.
Both Gavish and Bronn regard the operation, dubbed “Operation Anchor” due to the shape of the roads (seen in fig. 10), as a case of a political ruse gone sour. I would like to suggest a more subtle approach. The hygienic aspect of the operation, the “opening-up” of the city, was mentioned in the correspondence leading to it, and more importantly, in its aftermath. On the 6th of July 1936, a week after the end of the operation, High Commissioner Wauchope sent a report to his superior, the colonial minister. Although by now it was clear that the operation was, legally speaking, a military affair, Wauchope keeps mentioning the sanitary aspect. It is worth quoting his reasoning:
"[…] the opening up and improvement of the Old City of Jaffa by the construction of one or more wide roads and the demolition of insanitary buildings was a task which would need to be undertaken so soon as funds could be made available and a suitable opportunity offered. This measure we held to be in the highest degree desirable for two distinct but both commendable objects: –
i. Increase of public security;
ii. Relief of unhealthy congestion and insanitary conditions."
The old city, according to the High Commissioner, is a “nest” populated by outlaws. The district’s architecture itself facilitates outlaw-ness:
"The old town […] is a warren of tortuous and narrow covered streets, where blind alleys and culs-de-sac make the operation of police or troops an extremely hazardous enterprise."
It seems that for Wauchope spatial chaos beget social chaos; as Scott shows throughout his book, he was hardly the only official to think this way. At the heart of the matter here is circulation and congestion. The economic circulation in Jaffa is stuck because due to the strike no commodities are sent out the port, and due to the insurgency no scabs can get into the port. Old Jaffa, with its miasmatic alleys and precarious architecture is both a sanitary and a security threat; the opening up of the old city will allow the circulation of air, British soldiers, and eventually, commodities. If hygiene, security and commerce are inexorably linked, then Operation Anchor was not a military or a municipal procedure: it was both at once. As Scott shows when discussing the Haussmannization of Paris, for authoritarian High-Modernist regimes – and might we add, for colonial ones – there is no clear demarcation between those spheres.
Gaza, 1971-1972: The Sharonization of Gaza
In the wake of the 1948 war 200,000 Palestinian refugees fled to the Egypt-controlled Gaza strip, trebling its population. Those refugees settled mostly in densely populated camps. In June 1967 the Gaza Strip was occupied by Israeli forces; David Maymon, who was appointed its military governor, described in a memoir the architecture of the Gazan refugee camps:
“From the bird’s-eye view the camps looked like a hodgepodge mass of buildings, separated only by the narrowest of margins. The spacious streets built in the 1950s became winding, tortuous alleys – less than a meter in width – covered in filth and awash with insalubrious sewage. For the outsider, moving from one building to another seemed like an impossible feat. Indeed, the locals found private, sometimes mysterious, pathways that linked windows and rooftops, and dug underground tunnels between their houses.”
In 1971 the unrest in the camps turned into a sustained guerilla campaign. Much like the British in Jaffa, the Israeli forces feared going into the camps, now fully controlled by Palestinians militants. Ariel Sharon, one of the IDF’s most notorious generals, was appointed Chief of the Southern Command, which included the Gaza Strip, in order to deal with the uprising. Between July 1971 and February 1972, Sharon initiated a strategy of “pacification” which included extensive curfews, lax rules of engagement and assassination squads. Urban planning – or, rather, “creative destruction” – became a major part of the IDF’s tactics: in an attempt to make the camps more legible and controllable, Sharon sent bulldozers into the camps, cutting wide roads through the urban mass; some 1,000 houses were demolished. The new roads, writes Weizman,
“[D]ivided these camps into smaller neighborhoods, each of which could be accessed or isolated by infantry units. Sharon also ordered the clearing of all buildings and groves in an area he defined as a ‘security perimeter’ around the camps, effectively isolating the built-up area from its surrounding and making it impossible for anyone to enter or leave the camps without being noticed.”
But this was only the first part of Sharon’s plan. New neighborhoods for the refugees, located far from the camps and furnished with well-lit and spacious streets were planned; the rationale behind this plan was three fold: to disperse the refugees, making the organization of insurgency harder, to raise their living standard in order to ameliorate their anger and to make “terrorist-hunting” that much easier.
The plan was only partially executed. The IDF found it to be too costly and opted instead to build a series of Jewish settlements that were strategically placed between refugee camps. In a way this new strategy, named the “Five-Finger Plan” due to the shape of the five wedges the settlements drove into the Gazan territory, was a repetition of the tactics used inside the camps on a larger scale: to divide, disconnect and make manageable the refugees.
Jenin, 2002: Time of the Bulldozer
Figure 11 and 12: scenes of destruction from the Jenin refugee camp, 2002.
In February 2001, almost thirty years after he “pacified” the Gazan refugee camps Ariel Sharon became the prime minister of Israel. By then the Oslo peace process had collapsed and the Second Intifada had erupted, in part due to Sharon’s own controversial visit to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif; one might ponder whether Sharon was elected as Head of State for the same reasons he was given command of Gaza: to “pacify” the Palestinians. In April 2002, after a string of suicide bombings in Israeli Cities, Sharon launched a massive offensive against the Palestinian Cities of the West Bank. The conquest of the Jenin refugee camp, which we are about to discuss, is perhaps the most abominable chapter of that campaign. In the refugee camps conquered before Jenin, the IDF had employed a tactic very similar to the one the Irgun fighters used in Jaffa: namely, burrowing holes into residential houses’ external walls, and then blowing holes through the buildings’ party walls, moving through rooms and from house to house, thus avoiding fighting in the streets. This tactic, dubbed “walking-through-walls” by Eyal Weizman, had failed when the Jenin refugee camp was attacked, due to the Palestinian militants’ preparation, and the Israeli soldiers’, mostly reservists freshly re-enlisted, lack thereof. The Palestinian insurgents, probably unwittingly, had also imitated the battle of Jaffa: after a week of fighting, on the 9th of April 2002, they managed to collapse a row of buildings on Israeli troops. This proved to be a turning point in the course of the attack. The Israeli command pulled its infantry back, sending in instead armoured D9 Caterpillar bulldozers (fig. 13), which systematically tore down buildings, burying under them insurgents and, sometimes, innocent civilians (figs. 11 and 12).
Figure 13: An Armoured D9 Caterpillar Bulldozer.
The bulldozers did not just raze buildings. They used the detritus to barricade certain streets and passages, creating anew the camp’s topography. Weizman summarizes the results of the battle so:
“Inspection of the aerial photographs taken after the battle revealed that the destruction of more than 400 buildings, in an area of 40,000 square metres, was informed by the logic of military planning. This must be understood […] as the creation of a radically new layout for the camp. During the battle, the IDF widened the existing narrow alleyways and cut new ones through existing buildings in order to allow tanks and armoured bulldozers to penetrate the camp’s interior. An open space was cleared out at the camp’s core, where the new routes came together.”
Unlike their predecessors in Gaza, the IDF officers in charge of Jenin did not concern themselves with repairing the damage they had caused. This was the job of UNRWA. UWRA’s engineers tried use the opportunity to build wider streets and construct new, white and modern houses. The architecture of the refugee camp, however, was always based on temporariness: its chaotic nature, ramshackle construction and general destitution amounted to a political statement – this is not home; home is elsewhere, in Jaffa, Haifa and Tiberias. The UNWRA engineers had tried, in good faith, to improve the life of the refugees but in the process had consolidated their status as a diaspora. Small wonder, then, that when a Palestinian insurgent saw the new respectable-looking homes in the center the camp he murmured: “We have lost the Right of Return”.
Before the Law
Let us now turn from legibility to illegibility and uncertainty; let us now change our interpretive grid from the Haussmanization of Paris to Kafka’s depiction of modern law in the parable Before the Law. A man from the country, tells us Kafka, comes to see the Law – the Law being here a place rather than a concept. The doorkeeper refuses to let the man in; when the man asks if he might gain entry later the doorkeeper answers: “It is possible”. So the man waits and keeps asking for permission to enter, and keeps getting refused. Close to death, he asks the doorkeeper how come no one else has tried to enter the Law, and the doorkeeper answers with these reverberating words: “No one but you could gain admittance through this door, since this door was intended only for you. I am now going to shut it.”
There are a few things we should take from the parable: first, the Law is spatial; secondly, it is personalized; thirdly, the man’s interface with the Law’s representative is seemingly cryptic and arbitrary; finally, the Law is designed to interpellate the subject – to turn one into a subject – and to do so through a failure. It is exactly the unavailability of the Law, the way the subject is excluded from and by the Law, that makes the subject a subject. All these Kafkaesque cruelties, I would like to argue, are present in the movement regime constructed by Israel in the West Bank; the roadblocks and checkpoints, to which we will now turn, constitute its loci of Law.
House of Mirrors
Figures 14 and 15: the Qalandia checkpoint.
The Oslo Peace Process, ironically, introduced the Palestinians to a reality of constant closures and blockage. “Between 1994 and 1999, Israel installed 230 checkpoints and imposed 499 days of closures [in the Occupied Territories]”, Eyal Weizman informs us. The fragmentation of Palestinian space has only become worse since the Second Intifada; an “extensive network” of manned and unmanned checkpoints, roadblocks, gates, dykes and trenches has been erected by the IDF in the Occupied Territories, culminating in the “Separation Wall”, a discontinuous assemblage of barriers stretching 409 Km and separating the West Bank from pre-1967 Israel. The network of barriers has cut the Palestinian space into about 200 separate territorial cells, which are accessible to Palestinians only through military checkpoints. At the end of 2010, according to B’Teselem (an Israeli human rights NGO) there were 99 checkpoints and 505 other spatial obstructions fragmenting the West Bank. The number of checkpoints, however, is in constant flux and sometimes an IDF jeep parked across a road can be construed as a checkpoint.
In the present section we will look at the major checkpoints, which are usually situated at the seam between prominent Palestinian territorial cells, or between the Occupied Territories and Israel. The major checkpoints are usually housed within huge hangers, surrounded by concrete slabs, barbed-wire and watchtowers. Weitzman describes the architecture of the checkpoint so:
“In most cases, the checkpoint had two sets of turnstiles with space between them. The first set was placed several tens of meters away from Israeli military positions so as to keep the congestion away from them. Soldiers regulate the pace of passage by using an electric device that controls the turning of the gates. One person at a time passes through at the push of a button.”
Randomly, the soldiers would stop letting people through, and the unfortunate ones would get stuck inside the turnstiles. Apparently, the IDF has ordered the contractor who manufactures the turnstiles to cut the length of the turnstiles’ arms by almost half, so that the arms press against the trapped Palestinian, making sure there is nothing explosive on her person. Just as the quiet swish of automatic doors at malls interpellates Western consumers as subjects, the arbitrary carouseling of the turnstile interpellates Palestinians.
Then, the Palestinian approaches an inspection booth, where she has to present her permits. The booth is encased in a bullet-proof glass so thick, it practically functions as a one-way mirror; thus, the Palestinian is seen but cannot see. the IDF is slowly replacing human-operated inspection with bio-metric cards, making the Right to Passage personalized, literally, to the bone, and minimizing drastically the interaction between occupier and occupied; with computer terminals, no amount of arguing and supplication would do.
The one-way mirror, according to Weizman, is an important feature of the checkpoints. In the Allenby Bridge Crossing, which connects the West Bank with Jordan, Palestinian officers conduct the inspection of travellers, while Israeli security personnel – Kafka’s secondary and tertiary doorkeepers – watch the proceedings from behind a one-way mirror, ready to intervene at a moment’s notice. What we have here is a classic case of Lacanian misrecognition: Just as the infant looking in the mirror overestimates her agency, the Palestinians, both travellers and officers, take part in the charade unfolding before the one-way mirror, acting as if they are in control of the situation. The use of real mirrors is discarded altogether in the Rafah terminal, which connects Gaza and Egypt. Here, again, the terminal is operated by the Palestinian Authority, but is supervised, through CCTV, by Israeli officers and European observers situated in headquarters within Israel, who can order the Palestinian personnel to re-scan or apprehend suspects.
In a brilliant essay, Israeli scholars Neve Gordon and Dani Filc show how the systematic destruction of social security nets in Gaza has led Gazans to put their trust in the metaphysically failsafe Islam, thus contributing to the political ascension of the radical-Islamist party Hamas. Gordon and Filc focus on the rather mundane issue of health insurance, and how a healthcare system allows one to plan ahead; when one cannot plan ahead, they claim, society falls back on religious fatalism, allowing fundamentalist organizations like Hamas to take over.
The epidemic inability of Palestinians to plan ahead even the most quotidian activities is the subject of the present section. According to Ariel Handel, the existential uncertainty that plagues Palestinian everyday life is not an unplanned by-product of four decades of military rule; it is a major governmental technique used by the Israelis to disrupt any form of Palestinian resistance. Handel maps the movement regime created by the IDF in the West Bank. To reiterate, the West Bank is divided into hundreds of territorial cells by a melange of physical obstacles, and movement between those cells is controlled by checkpoints and roadblocks. The cells are usually connected to just one other cell, creating a “train car” effect, where a Palestinian who wants to travel to a village in a different cell might have to take a detour through three different cells, because that is the only route possible. Even if one is willing to make the detour, the checkpoints might be randomly shut down, or if the soldier – usually a 19-year-old teenager – in charge is having a bad day, she might decide to not let the traveller through; the worst case scenario, of course, is finding a new checkpoint where yesterday there were none.
The most pronounce effect of this movement – or circulation – regime, is the inability to plan ahead. Although the physical distance between point A and point B is a constant, the amount of time it takes a Palestinian, who has to rely on taxis, who has to travel with different kinds of permits, and who is dependent on the goodwill of the soldiers she meets, is markedly different from the amount of time it takes a Jewish settler, who can drive on a Jews-only highway built on expropriated Palestinian land, to get to the same place. Time, in other words, is relative to ethnicity.
Thus, the Palestinian who dares to venture out of her locale spends most of her time on the road, a “placeless place” as Handel puts it; the road, post 2000, has become the quintessential Palestinian place. The economic and social implications of spending a one’s day moving circuitously from place to place are devastating. In fact, the only sector of the West Bank economy that became relatively prosperous since 2000 is the food-services “industry” which caters to Palestinians waiting in checkpoints. The movement regime that confines Palestinians to their cities and villages and makes any kind of traveling a Swiftian adventure is an incredibly banal and cost-effective way to destroy a society.
 James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed,(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 53.
 Ibid., pp. 59-60.
 Ibid., p. 61.
 Ibid., p. 62.
 Dov Gavish, “Mivtza Yaffo 1936 – shipoor koloniali shel pne ha-‘ir [Operation Jaffa 1936 – A Colonial Renovation of the City], in Eretz Israel, Vol. 15 (1983), p. 69 [Hebrew]. Hereinafter abbreviated as: Gavish, “Operation Jaffa”.
 Ibid., p. 67.
 Nathan Bronn, “Ha-tov shebanetzivim mool sone hayehudim – hasichsuch ha-gadol bein ha-natziv ha-elyion Wauchope ve-zkan ha-shoftim MacDonnell al reka harisot yaffo [the Best Commissioner Vs. the Jew-Hater – the struggle between High Commissioner Wauchope and Chief Justice MacDonnell in Light of the Demolition of Jaffa]”,in Mechkarey Mishpat, Vol. 1 (2009), p. 307 [Hebrew]. Hereinafter abbreviated as: Bronn, “The Best Commissioner”.
 Gavish, “Operation Jaffa”, pp. 67-68.
 Bronn, “The Best Commissioner”, pp. 344-345.
 Quoted in: Walid Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest: Reading in Zionism and the Palestinian Problem until 1948, (Washington: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987), p. 347.
 Ibid., pp. 345.
 Gavish, “Operation Jaffa”, p. 68.
 Public Record Office (P.R.O.), CAB 24/263, "Situation in Palestine. Palestine Chief Justice's Comments on Jaffa Demolitions.", p. 2.
 Scott, Seeing Like a State, pp. 59-63.
 Anonymous, “A Gaza Chronology, 1948–2008”, in Journal of Palestine Studies , Vol. 38, No. 3 (Spring 2009), p. 98.
 David Maymon, Ha-terror shenutzach [Terrorism Defeated], (Tel-Aviv: Stimatzki Press: 1993), p. 28 [Hebrew]. Hereinafter abbreviated as: Maymon, Terrorism Defeated. The translation is mine. Compare this excerpt with Scott’s writing about navigating the medieval city and the modernist’s bird’s-eye view: Seeing Like a State, pp. 53-57.
 Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land, Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, (London: Verso. 2007), p. 69.
 Ibid., p. 69.
 Ibid., p. 68.
 Ibid., p. 70.
 Maymon, Terrorism Defeated, pp. 110-112; Weizmann, Hollow Land, p. 70.
 Weizman, Hollow Land, ibid.
 Yoav Peled, “Dual War: The Legacy of Ariel Sharon”, in Critique, Vol. 34, No. 2 (2006), p. 198. Sharon was nicknamed “The Bulldozer” by his supporters.
 Ibid., p. 200.
 Weizman, Hollow Land, pp. 192-195; see, also, section 1.4 of the present paper.
 Ibid., pp. 201-202.
 Ibid., p. 202.
 Ibid., pp. 202-203.
 Ibid., p. 203.
 UNWRA is the UN’s relief and work agency.
 Weizman, Hollow Land, pp. 203-204.
 Ibid., p. 205.
 Franz Kafka, “Before the Law”, in Parables and Paradoxes, (New York: Schoken books, 1946), pp.61-79.
 Ibid., p. 65.
 Weizman, Hollow Land, p.143.
 Ibid., p. 146.
 Weizman, Hollow Land, p. 146.
 Weizman, Hollow Land, p. 151.
 Kafka, “Before the Law”, p. 61.
 Weizman, Hollow Land, p. 140.
 See: John Muller, “Lacan’s Mirror Stage”, in Psychoanalytical Inquiry, Vol. 5, No. 2 (1985), pp. 233-252.
 Weizman, Hollow Land, p. 153. One might be reminded here of the parable in Benjamin’s first Thesis on the Philosophy of History, where a “little hunchback” is operating a chess-playing automaton dressed like a Turk. Not surprisingly, the illusion of the Grandmaster Turk was supported by a “system of mirrors”. See: Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), p. 253.
 Neve Gordon and Dani Filc, “The Destruction of Risk Society and the Ascendancy of Hamas”, in The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Adi Ophir, Michal Givoni and Sari Hanafi (eds.), (New York: Zone Books, 2009), pp. 457-486.
 Ariel Handel, “Where, Where to, and When in the Occupied Territories: An Introduction to the Geography of Disaster”, in The Power of Inclusive Exclusion, pp. 181-182.
 Ibid., p. 185.
 Ibid., p. 188.
 Ibid., p. 187.
 ibid., p.191; and compare with the freedom the jeune cadre associated with being on the road: Kristin Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies, Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture (Cambridge: MIT press, 1996), p. 54-55.
 Handel, “Where, Where To, and When”, p. 193.
 Weizman, Hollow Land, p. 148.