Emptying Palestine

‘Today you have been denied entry to Israel; if you follow my colleague she will escort you back to Jordan.’

Passport

The sentence I write above is one that now seems slightly comical. I had until now associated ‘entry denied’ with those who had done wrong, broken the law, or at the very least ‘other’ people. Yet the sentence above was directed at me and its full meaning this time engulfed me and not an ‘other’.

As I write this far away from Palestine, I feel not just the denial of entry but more the separation which comes with it. A deliberate separation, isolation, and dislocation from the space of Palestine and one that illustrates exactly what the occupying power wants – an emptying of Palestine. Despite the creation of Palestine as an independent state in 1993 in the Oslo agreements[1] , Israel controls all borders in and out of Palestine. Anyone travelling through Israel’s borders who explicitly states they are travelling to Palestine or even worse happens to be Palestinian is likely to encounter problems. Through denial of entry, however, borders become not just a method of control but a very tangible way in which we see an emptying of this space physically and ideologically.

My denial of entry occurred as I attempted to renew my three month tourist visa by travelling to Jordan and then back to Israel[2] . Of course entering Israel, when you intend to enter Palestine, was never going to be an easy task. As I was informed in the interrogation room at the Jordanian/Israeli border, I was attempting to enter a highly securitised place. In other words a place where anyone and everyone is a potential threat. In recent years borders have become increasingly important for Israel’s sense of security, instead of dealing with the root causes of the Second Intifada, which saw a rise of bomb attacks in Israel, Israel built its separation wall. Bomb attacks in Israel stopped and Israel’s logical conclusion is that borders, walls, and fences should keep ‘them’ out and ensure Israel’s security and safety. Yet these methods to keep ‘them’ out are becoming increasingly de-mobilising and restrictive.

Borders are taking on a whole new meaning and have immense power in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Despite the increasing worldwide fluidity and breaking down of international borders as more and more people travel and move freely, Israel’s borders challenge this. Borders are built to create what Eyal Weizman calls ‘Israel’s architecture of occupation’[3], aiming to restrict mobility as much as possible through their construction. Others have suggested they are an emotional and embodied entity[4], and Stuart Elden[5] uses the term ‘vertical geopolitics’ to describe their three dimensional construction in which Israeli borders incorporate space above and below ground. Borders are one of Israel’s most important means to control their space and are created and controlled with military precision.

As I waited outside the interrogation room, slumped against the wall, a Palestinian man came to speak to me. ‘Please let me find you a chair,’ he insisted. My agitated, restless body told him really I was ok and even the comfiest of chairs would feel uncomfortable right now. We exchanged tales – mine of a tourist-cum-researcher denied entry, his of a Father being denied entry back to his home. Nine hours he had been kept so far and his fate was still up for grabs.

Summoned back into a windowless room my fate, however, was decided. The stern faced security guard lifted his arms in the air as to mimic a set of scales. ‘So let me see,’ he said, ‘you have spent three months studying Arabic in Bethlehem and in that time you have only travelled to the Israeli towns of Jerusalem (as the Palestinian capital, this is a contentious statement in itself), Tel Aviv, and Yafa (which are the same places he informed me). ‘Do I know what story I think you have heard, what the Palestinians have told you?’ ‘You know there is no such place as Palestine don’t you? No such thing as the Palestinian people?’ He continues, he presses how I help people, specifically how I help Palestinians. He persists – he wants to know why I am really here. Yet despite my reasonable answers, they will never be sufficient. My crime has been committed already in his eyes – I have seen ‘things’.

For most people being in a position of injustice is hard to bare, a situation where you feel you are wrongly accused, wrongly treated, and misunderstood. Yet this is how Palestinian people are being treated all around me. It is not hard to wonder why an estimated 9.6 million Palestinians live abroad compared with 4.4 million living in Gaza, the West Bank, and occupied East Jerusalem. And this border experience just stands for such a small part of everything happening to Palestinians recently. Palestinians start from a position in which they are the enemy – the ones at fault and the ones doing something wrong. Here this becomes a tool of the powerful against the weak – against Palestinians or anyone who might know them. Make your enemy a justifiable enemy, an enemy who is in the wrong.

The killing of 19 year old Palestinian student Fadi Alloun, a few weeks ago, in occupied East Jerusalem only epitomises this[6]. He was chased by a group of angry Israeli settlers. As he ran away he saw police in the distance, he tried to run to them to get help, as he ran the Israeli settlers shouted ‘shoot him shoot him’ – sadly the police obliged, trusting the Israel’s over the Palestinian. The result – now another innocent young student has been killed.

Over the past two months of recent violence across the West Bank and Israel – 77 Palestinians and 10 Israelis have been killed[7]. Both sides are understandably scared but the occupying power ultimately controls that fear – making it particularly scary to be a Palestinian right now. In the Palestinian refugee camps this is so clearly felt. Night-time raids are an everyday occurrence – with families continually threatened with a daily ritual of fear. Tear gas fills the atmosphere of Bethlehem everyday – tear gas that gets into your lungs, your eyes, your mouth, your throat – it engulfs your body and your senses. Tear gas that enters everyday spaces and has devastating impacts – just last week a baby was killed by tear gas inhalation while sitting in a car[8]. When tear gas and night time raids is not the menu of the day then another method deemed suitable is the spraying of sewage water in the streets. In the heat of summer (which this year was never-ending) this is particularly unbearable.

The emptying of space becomes relentless: every method is used to make everyday life unbearable for those living within Palestine, while at the borders every method is used to keep ‘us’ and ‘them’ out.

Trying to get back into Palestine makes Prison Break look like an after dinner party game. I am now not a problem anyone would like to neither deal with nor help. I am a problem of the Ministry of Interior – an impenetrable force in the heart of Israel. I must, I was informed, meet with the Ministry of Interior within Israel’s borders (a problem when I can’t physically get there). I have been told I was illegally there by the Israeli embassy in the UK (apparently I should have had a student visa which is not legally correct); and spoke to the Israeli embassy in Amman who informed me even if they wanted to help me they couldn’t.

What remains clearer than ever in my head right now is how empty a space Palestine is being threatened to become. The past month I have spent in Palestine, tourism has dropped 60 percent as people cancel trips in fear of current events. My own experience too has massive implications on my own experience to research and study Palestine. It makes me wonder how often other researchers are restricted from entering Palestine without anyone really knowing; silently and subtly at border crossings. Is Palestine really a place than anyone can go and see and understand? Who even wants to remain in a place where you are first and foremost a terrorist/enemy/attacker? In essence, how long will it take to empty Palestine?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oslo_Accords

[2] Since I am conducting fieldwork in Palestine I am unable to get a work or student visa, therefore my only option is to get three month tourist visas and travel out of Israel and back in to renew them.

[3] Weizman, E. (2012) Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation. London: Verso.

[4] Long, J.C. (2006) Border Anxiety in Palestine-Israel. Antipode 38 (1): 107-127.

[5] Elden, S. (2013) Secure the volume: Vertical geopolitics and the depth of power. Political Geography 34: 35-51

[6] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/10/controversial-killing-fadi-alloun-151005081834933.html

[7] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2015/10/mapping-dead-latest-israeli-palestinian-violence-151013142015577.html

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/30/baby-dies-west-bank-inhaling-teargas-palestinian-ministry-israel

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