Academic journal article Borderlands

Beyond Security in the Middle-East: An Ethics for (Co)Existence

Academic journal article Borderlands

Beyond Security in the Middle-East: An Ethics for (Co)Existence

Article excerpt

Introduction

1. How does security connect with life? In 1979, in an article about the first wave of settlers into the ancient Palestinian town of Hebron, the Israeli writer Amos Elon quoted one of them explaining his commitment to forcibly enacting the vision of 'greater Israel' on land seized in the 1967 Six Day War. The man, a former Tel Aviv lawyer named Eliakim Haetzini, explained: 'Sovereignty is like a woman. Do you share your wife with someone else?' (Elon, 2001: 63). I first read these words in Jerusalem in 2004, a day after two terrible suicide bombings in Be'er Sheva that killed 16 people and wounded a hundred. The bombers had come from a Hamas cell based in Hebron, and the press was saying that they had in part been successful because Be'er Sheva was an 'easy target' given that the formidable security wall under construction since 2003 had not yet extended that far south. Indeed the foreign minister stated that the bombing 'proves the necessity of speeding up the separation barrier's construction' (Schiff, 2004). I had seen this wall a few days before, in 'Arab' East Jerusalem, from the other side: eight metres of ugly prefab concrete slabs slicing across a roadway, dividing neighborhoods and shops, before vaulting the next hill and disappearing into the landscape. Young Palestinians had painted its lower part white, then sprayed it with graffiti in Arabic and English, like a Middle-Eastern echo of Cold War Berlin. Here and there, impressionistic screen-printed portraits of Yasser Arafat appeared, symbolizing both the undimmed force of Palestinian nationalism and a darker--more organized and selfish--political force in their lives.

2. The wall has many purposes, and means many things. One understandable purpose is to provide Israelis with better security against the deeply immoral, politically misguided and strategically disastrous Palestinian campaign of suicide attacks waged inside the pre-1967 borders of Israel--attacks that most often strike the innocent, even the sympathetic, and that have done so much to set back the Palestinian campaign for self-determination and hand the agenda to Israeli conservatives who wish to hang on to the territories forever. These conservatives have in turn sought to re-route the wall deep into Palestine, separating farmers from their land, workers from employment, families from hospitals, and communities from each other, while seeking to use the wall to achieve the virtual annexation of conquered land now host to extensive Jewish settlements. Even more profoundly, the wall separates peoples--Jewish and Palestinian--in a way that the 'two-state solution' imagined in the Oslo or Geneva accords would not have (given the accords' provisions for ongoing cooperation and longer-term reconciliation) (see Beilin, 2004: 326-62). This is a wall of separation as much existential as physical, mirroring and solidifying the mutual hostility and alienation that has deepened since the Al-Aqsa Intifada began in September 2000. Ironically the wall, which is supported by a large majority of Israelis, may provide them with greater short-term security only to undermine it over the long-term--by emboldening the champions of the occupation and further embittering Palestinians for whom its meaning is utterly different, yet another fact of colonisation and control. How does security connect with life?

3. Security appears and disappears, like a desert mirage; it is simultaneously desired and warned away. It stands in for other things, dark and unsettling to speak of; it takes on rich and terrible meaning. Twenty-five years--but little else--separated Haetzini from the violent impasse of 2004; the same towns, the same earth is in dispute, and the same attitudes hold the day. The same concepts and dreams arise to trouble us--security, sovereignty, being--their meanings violent and increasingly untenable. In a place where security is an overwhelming obsession and a very real problem we are witness to its simultaneous failure and dissolution, not merely as an existential state but as a meaningful concept. …

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