I’ve read a lot of analysis of the contemporary situation in Palestine, and I’ve spent in total about three months there myself. Almost all of it leaves out something essential – i.e. the positive role played by the resistance, the corrosive effects of NGOs and USAID, and also just how peaceful the fake-peace is, and yet how far it is form “peace”.
So, when I came across, “From the American People”: Sketiches of the US National Security State in Palestine by Lisa Bunghalia, I feel the need not simply to share it on facebook, but give it a glowing recommendation here on the blog. I don’t have much to say about it, other than it is a refreshingly honest and serious analysis (it’s a research paper, really), which confronts the conflict as what it is: a military confrontation between a colonized, displaced indigenous population and a colonizing power. I will cite the conclusion below, but I recommend reading the whole piece.
Conclusion: A Baroque Occupation
What we are seeing, in effect, is a proliferation of sites and diversity of means through which US political and economic power is being articulated. Alongside its military and diplomatic interventions, the US is simultaneously extending its reach through a host of “development experts,” humanitarian agents and “democracy promoters” charged with filtering, sorting and policing the Palestinian civilian population. While taking a new and perhaps more sophisticated form, these contemporary practices and strategies must not be dissociated from a longer history of counterinsurgency in Palestine. Suppression of the Arab Revolt of 1936-39, Khalili reminds us, ended with a Palestinian nationalist movement that while fragmented was not entirely defeated. The repeated failure to destroy nationalist sentiment over time, as she points out “has been met both by the British and the Israelis [and to which we should add Americans] with a more determined commitment to reproduce—more perfectly—the very techniques that failed.” The desire to perfect these techniques, she suggests, has entailed a “constant refinement and ‘reactivation’ of the processes, of ever-more technologically sophisticated identification methods, of increasingly expansive methods of mapping and controlling territories in three dimensions, of more elaborate recruitment of collaborators, or more baroque punishments of collectives.”
The aid regime that has taken form in recent decades is part and parcel of the refinement and evolution of techniques that Khalili speaks of. The various practices mapped here—collection of personal information, mapping of coordinates of land plots, development of internal policing and reporting systems, intelligence gathering and the forging of alliances and divisions between various social groups—are all part and parcel of ever-more sophisticated methods of identification, mapping, controlling, dividing and making legible this population that has time and time again refused wholesale defeat. These mundane practices of counterinsurgency, often renamed with technical terminology such as “reporting” or “compliance,” have become part and parcel of the daily practices of aid governance displaced from the US state and shot through a host of development and humanitarian forces working on its behalf. What has resulted in this process is a proliferation of sites through the US national security apparatus is being articulated within Palestine encased in ever-more sophisticated modes of control.
Of course these processes are not unfolding on a blank slate and if indeed the ultimate result of counterinsurgency techniques is “the production of the civilian not as collateral but as the central object of war making” then here too is where the struggle to resist such projects is taking shape.