Academic journal article Jerusalem Quarterly

Photographic Conditions: Looting, Archives, and the Figure of the "Infiltrator"

Academic journal article Jerusalem Quarterly

Photographic Conditions: Looting, Archives, and the Figure of the "Infiltrator"

Article excerpt

A vast treasure of books, documents, and photographs looted from Palestinians in 1948 became part of the Israeli archives established or reorganized after the founding of the Israeli state. But this did not remain a single past event. The looting of archives has been ongoing and should not be understood merely as a violation of Palestinian property and rights, but rather as an ongoing performance of national sovereignty in which the persona of the "infiltrator" plays a foundational role. The looting has been one of the acts by which this sovereignty has been performed as the ongoing project of partition of populations into distinct, differentiated groups, whereby violence among the two groups is both the pretext and the effect. Using the archive as a medium for the performance of national sovereignty, I will show that the Schmittian conceptualization of sovereignty as power that hinges on brief, singular moments of decision presupposes full control of the archive and the erasure of the ongoing struggle over sovereignty taking place in and through it.


The Infiltrator Does Not Exist

The category of "infiltrator," a constitutive element of differential sovereign regimes, i.e., regimes whose governed population is differentially ruled, is usually attached to the bodies of those who are forced to incarnate it as a different skin color, and is read by security forces on borders and front lines as a set of instructions: interrogate, arrest, harass, expel, or execute. Infiltrators, the archive lures us to comply, should be looked for in photographs and documents, while making room for scholars, citizens under the regime who make the archives available, to come and look at them carefully, study their images, manners, habits, modes of infiltration, and thus acknowledge their existence there, in the archive as our object of knowledge. Hence, my study of the infiltrator is based on the assumption that the infiltrator who is allegedly captured in the photos does not exist. As spectators, we attend the event during which state agents try to force a Palestinian - who resists the authority of the state to expel him from his homeland - to become an infiltrator. We can either reiterate the act of the state and bring it to completion, or join the Palestinian's struggle to reject this figure of infiltrator and be recognized as exercising his right to return. My assumption - the infiltrator doesn't exist - is a politico-historical assertion that the archive cannot confirm or refute since the archive is one of the sites where infiltrators are fabricated. Being a product of violence, the infiltrator cannot be studied for itself but rather, in relation to the citizen who - by differentiating herself from it - participates in its fabrication. The persistence of this figure, I argue, is evidence of the nature of citizenship, archives and scholarship in places where such a category has been naturalized into the discourse. In this text I would ask: what are the photographic conditions for the fabrication of the infiltrator?

Photographs and documents are held both secretly and openly in archives which we visit in order to research photography, under the aegis of the Absentees' Property Law. This is how such property is defined by the law:

"absentees' property" means property the legal owner of which, at any time during the period between the 16th of Kislev, 5708 (29th November, 1947) and the day on which a declaration is published, under section 9(d) of the Law of Administration Ordinance, 5708-1948, that the state of emergency by the Provisional Council of State on the 10th Iyar, 5708 (19th May 1948), has ceased to exist, was an absentee, or which, at any time as aforesaid, an absentee held or enjoyed, whether by himself or through another.1

To avoid doubt, the part of the law addressing "rules of evidence" indicates that "where the Custodian has certified in writing that a person or body of persons is an absentee, that person or body of persons shall, so long as the contrary has not been proved, be regarded as an absentee," but clause 30(i) makes clear that: "The plea that a particular person is not an absentee, within the meaning of section 1(b)(1)(iii), by reason only that he had no control over the causes for which he left his place of residence as specified in that section shall not be heard. …

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