Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins, an assistant professor of anthropology at Bard College, is the author of Waste Siege: The Life of Infrastructure in Palestine (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020), which won the Albert Hourani Book Award from the Middle East Studies Association in 2020. Tessa Farmer talked to her about her research, the book and her next project.
The colonial vision of terra nullius—unoccupied or empty land—is the epistemological basis of any settler colonial project. A vision of land as empty or null drives the dehumanization of indigenous communities and the violent elimination of existing land claims. A great deal of scholarly attention has been focused on the nullius piece of terra nullis. But what happens when the terra does not behave?
Peteet’s main theoretical contribution is to show how the violent territorial expansion of Israeli settler-colonialism has developed mobility regimes that govern and restrict Palestinian movement through space.
Sami Tayeb examines how a multitude of privately financed urban development projects in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank are creating a form of colonization that parallels that of Israel. Unlike Israel’s settler-colonial urbanism, however, this form of urban colonization is driven by global, and particularly neoliberal, capitalism, as it consumes Palestine’s remaining agrarian land at an unprecedented rate.
Israel’s settler-colonial project has been premised on a set of racial and spatial assumptions that require the dispossession—even the elimination—of the native Palestinians. Over the seven decades of Israeli rule in Jerusalem and throughout historic Palestine, the state has produced abiding landscapes of loss for Palestinians, while enabling mass Zionist settlement on lands and in homes wrested from the indigenous population.
The United States’ Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and the Challenge to the International Consensus
On December 6, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that the US was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would be moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv in fulfillment of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act (henceforth Embassy Act). In one fell swoop, the US has seriously challenged 70 years of international consensus enshrined in international law as regards the status of the city, and put the potential for a two-state solution into a tail-spin. What are the consequences of this major policy change?
The White House announcement distinguishes between recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and establishing an embassy there and recognizing “the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.” In other words, the Trump administration, like all those before it, seeks to avoid acknowledging how Israel, in defiance of UN resolutions, has altered the demographic and geographic realities of the city.
On August 12, 2017, more than 1,200 people gathered in Chicago to bid farewell to Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian-American community organizer facing deportation due to US government efforts to repress struggles for social justice and support for Palestinian freedom. At the gathering, Angela Davis honored Rasmea’s lifelong commitment to revolutionary struggles against racism, Zionism and imperialism. A week later, Kristian Davis Bailey, a Detroit-based activist with the Black4Palestine network, stood outside Rasmea’s sentencing hearing with banners that declared: “From Assata to Rasmea, We Fight for Freedom/Hurriya.”
What makes Hebron special is the religious-nationalist militancy of the Israeli settler projects in the city and its environs—along with the ferocity of the accompanying violence. In the province as a whole, the settlement pattern is the same as elsewhere in the West Bank—the inward creep of colonization forces the occupied population into ever smaller and denser enclaves. The southern Hebron hills are a recurrent flashpoint, as settlers and Israeli army bulldozers repeatedly try to push Palestinian shepherd families out of their villages.
In February, the well-known British street artist Banksy went to the Gaza Strip to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians in the aftermath of the devastating Israeli assault the previous summer. With regard to the murals he painted around the Strip, he wrote: “Gaza is often described as ‘the world’s largest open-air prison’ because no one is allowed to enter or leave.
“We are not just talking culture and art for the sake of having a vision (lil-tanzir), holding exhibitions irrespective of who comes or doesn’t. To the contrary, we have a mission!” At the press conference in Ramallah on October 21, 2014 for the second edition of the Qalandiya International Biennale (QIB2), impassioned organizers responded to a pointed question about the role art could have in protecting Palestinian identity and overcoming Israeli oppression. The spokesperson, Jack Persekian, proclaimed that naming the biannual Palestine art event for the infamous checkpoint in the Israeli separation wall could transform the barrier into a bridge.
Early each morning, dozens of workers from Jaba’ walk up a narrow set of stairs with trash strewn on either side to reach a bus stop on Highway 60, which bisects the West Bank on its way from Nazareth to Beersheva. As they climb the stairs, the workers pass a tunnel that once allowed villagers convenient access to the highway, but which has been blocked by limestone boulders, dirt and rubble since the intifada of the early 2000s. At this bend in the road, nine miles northwest of Jerusalem, much of the horizon is defined by the 20-foot high concrete separation wall.
At the close of 2014, Mahmoud ‘Abbas, head of the Ramallah wing of the Palestinian Authority (PA), announced that he would sign the Rome Statute, the 2002 treaty establishing the International Criminal Court based in The Hague. This move opens the possibility that the Palestinians could ask the Court to investigate Israeli military operations and/or occupation practices as violations of international law. ‘Abbas accepted Court jurisdiction retroactive to June 13, 2014, when Israel began the raids that developed into Operation Protective Edge, the seven-week bombardment and invasion of Gaza. The meaning and efficacy of the PA’s maneuver are subjects of considerable debate.
On July 2, 16-year old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted, beaten and burned alive, apparently by a group of Jewish Israelis. News of this “torture and murder by fire,” prominent American commentator Jeffrey Goldberg confesses, “initially prompted in me a desire to say, ‘But.’” Alas, his considered response was scarcely more enlightened.
With intensity unknown since the second intifada and at a daily cost of $12 million to the Hebron economy alone, Israel is cracking down on the West Bank in its search for three missing Israeli settler youth. The result is a growing Palestinian chorus: Stop Israeli-Palestinian “security coordination.”