A Liminal Territory: Gaza, Executive Discretion and Sanctions Turned Humanitarian

In September 2007 Israel’s security cabinet approved a ‘hostile entity’ classification for the Gaza Strip and intensified its economic and diplomatic blockade of this Hamas-controlled region. Taking the ‘hostile entity’ classification as a point of
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  A liminal territory: Gaza, executive discretion,and sanctions turned humanitarian Lisa Bhungalia Published online: 23 January 2009   Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009 Abstract  In September 2007 Israel’s security cab-inet approved a ‘hostile entity’ classification for theGaza Strip and intensified its economic and diplo-matic blockade of this Hamas-controlled region.Taking the ‘hostile entity’ classification as a pointof entry, this paper examines the construction of Gazaas an insurgent zone, a liminal space within whichIsrael’s executive discretion has authorizing force.Central to this process, it argues, is a blurring of linesbetween the civilian and combatant—the eliminationof a purely civilian space. This paper begins with ananalysis of the discursive strategies employed tocollapse the space between the civilian body andbattlefield in Gaza. It then turns to an examination of socio-spatial practices mobilized around the ‘hostileentity’ classification, foremost Israel’s sanctionspolicy, and argues this counter-insurgency strategyentails regulation and management of the Palestinianbody combined with the active subjugation of Palestinian life to the power of death. Centrally, thispaper attends to the relationship between geopoliticsand violence at the scale of the (Palestinian) body. Keywords  Critical geopolitics    International law   Sovereignty    Palestine-Israel A ‘hostile entity’ In September 2007, following a series of Qassamrocket attacks against its territory Israel’s securitycabinetapproveda‘hostileentity’classificationfortheGaza StripandintensifieditseconomicanddiplomaticblockadeofthisHamas-controlledregion. 1 Pursuanttothe ruling, Israel prohibited imports of all but 18 basicgoodsintotheGazaStrip,bannedexports,andreducedoperations at Karni—Gaza’s main crossing point—byhalf (International Crisis Group 2008). The securitycabinet also authorized complete border closures inresponse to rocket fire for up to 48 h. In monthsfollowing, Israel coupled its quarantine strategy with aseries of aerial bombardments and military incursions.Subsequent to the cabinet’s decision a number of human rights groups charged that Israel’s sanctionspolicy failed to distinguish between the ‘civilian’ and‘combatant’, and therefore violated the 1977 Addi-tional Protocols to the Fourth Geneva Convention(1949). 2 United Nations (UN) Secretary-General BanKi-moon urged Israel to reconsider its decision L. Bhungalia ( & )Department of Geography, Maxwell School of Citizenshipand Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 144 Eggers Hall,Syracuse, NY 13244-1020, USAe-mail: 1 This blockade built on an existing economic and diplomaticsanctions policy imposed on the Palestinian Authority follow-ing Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentaryelections. 2 The 1977 provision establishes legitimate (combatant) andillegitimate (civilian) targets in times of war and stipulates thatmilitary attacks may only be directed at the former (  principleof distinction ).  1 3 GeoJournal (2010) 75:347–357DOI 10.1007/s10708-008-9251-8  warning that any intention to interrupt essentialservices and humanitarian assistance to the civilianpopulation of Gaza would be ‘‘contrary to Israel’sobligations towards the civilian population underinternational humanitarian and human rights law.’’Ban also recognized Israel’s right to defend itsborders (Issacharoff et al. 2007). The EuropeanUnion (EU) echoed the UN’s position, juxtaposingIsrael’s right to defend itself against its obligation tominimize the ‘‘negative impact of such measures on acivilian population already living under very difficultconditions’’ (Shamir and Yoaz 2007). In effect,human rights discourse centered on protection of the civilian population while also recognizing andaffirming the principle of state sovereignty.Israel responded to its critics by assuring human-itarian considerations would be taken into accountbut posited the principle of state sovereignty sacro-sanct. ‘‘We will not hit food supplies for children ormedicines for the needy,’’ Israeli Prime MinisterEhud Olmert declared. ‘‘However, there is no justi-fication for demanding we allow residents of Gaza tolive normal lives while shells and rockets are firedfrom their streets and courtyards at Sderot and othercommunities in the south [of Israel]’’ (Egypt ‘won’tforce Gazans back  2008). In this way, Israel positedrecognition for the Geneva Convention, but evadedthe language of legal responsibility. 3 This posturingenabled Israel to mobilize public sentiment aroundthe twin notions of civil defense and homelandsecurity, while relegating humanitarian obligations,constructed as ethical concerns, to a secondary andlegally non-binding sphere (Farish 2008).Taking the ‘hostile entity’ classification as a pointof entry, this paper examines the construction of Gazaas an insurgent zone, a liminal space within whichexecutive discretion figures centrally. This paperbegins by situating the ‘hostile entity’ classificationwithin a larger geopolitical context colored in largepart by oppositional logics underwriting the U.S.-led‘war on terror’. It then analyzes the discursivestrategies employed to construct Gaza as an insurgentspace within which Israel’s executive discretion hasauthorizing force. Central to this process, it argues, isa blurring of lines between the civilian and combat-ant—the elimination of a purely civilian space. Itthen turns to an examination of socio-spatial practicesmobilized around the ‘hostile entity’ classification,foremost Israel’s sanctions policy, and argues thiscounter-insurgency strategy entails regulation andmanagement of the Palestinian body combined withthe active subjugation of Palestinian life to the powerof death. In this vein, Gaza more accurately resem-bles Achille Mbembe’s ‘death world’ than Foucault’sgovernmentalized state. In Gaza, death is not some-thing to be hidden away but rather, something to bestrategically exposed: the spectacle of death serves asa critical reminder of the stakes involved in continuedHamas rule. The geopolitical terrain Geopolitics, as Gearo´id O´Tuathail contends, entails‘‘theworkofcreatingframesforinterpretingeventsandmaking them meaningful’’ (2006, p. 2). The allure of geopolitical discourse, he suggests, is in its ability ‘‘toreduce the complexity of world politics to a simplifiedframework’’(O´Tuathail2006,p. 2).Thedeploymentof grand spatial metaphors such as ‘blocs’, ‘axes’, ‘fault-lines’, ‘torn countries’ and the ‘Islamic world’ forexample,expungehistoricalspecificity,internaldynam-ics,andembodiedexperiencefromentireterritoriesandlandscapes and collapse these sites into highlyabstracted, predetermined and often culturally essen-tialist storylines (Said 2001). These classificatoryschemes, in turn, serve as analytics of explanation:conflict occurs because ‘Civilization A’ will inevitablyclash with ‘Civilization B’ (Huntington 1993).Sinceitsemergenceinthe1980scriticalgeopoliticshaseffectivelychallenged takenforgranted categoriesof analysis and normative claims of geopoliticaldiscourse (Dalby 1994; Routledge 1996; O ´Tuathail1996b; Sparke 2000; Agnew 2003; Hyndman 2004). Influenced by poststructural and critical intellectualpractices, this school has foregrounded questions of power and representation in geographic knowledgeproduction, and in doing so, has critically denatural-ized representations of ‘others’ by Western ‘experts’and destabilized statist ontologies underwriting dom-inant geopolitical scripts (Said 1978, 2001; Dalby and O´Tuathail 1996; O´Tuathail 1996a, b; Routledge 1996; Hyndman 2001, 2004). This subfield has in 3 Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza and redeployed itsmilitary forces to the territory’s perimeter in 2005. In part onthis basis, it contends that it is no longer bound by rulesgoverning the administration of occupied territory.348 GeoJournal (2010) 75:347–357  1 3  many ways become, as O´Tuathail suggests, oneamong many ‘‘cultures of resistance to Geogra-phy as imperial truth, state-capitalized knowledge,and military weapon’’ (1996b, p. 256). However, asDodds (2001) suggests, while critical geopolitics hasrigorously attended to the power of geographicalrepresentation and politics of geographical knowl-edge, it has perhaps not afforded equal, or adequateattention to the ways in which geopolitical discoursesshape everyday life for populations living in border-lands and ‘danger zones’. This paper aims, in part, tomake this link.This paper draws upon a critical geopoliticalframework to analyze the dominant frames andrepresentational practices scripting Gaza in westerngeopolitical discourse. It takes seriously Dodds’(2001) call for a critical geopolitics that engagesmore rigorously with military geographical imagina-tions and strategies, as well as Hyndman’s (2001,2004) for a critical and feminist geopolitics thatdevelops a ‘‘politics of security at the scale of the(civilian) body’’ (Hyndman 2004, p. 309; see alsoAgnew 2003). 4 As such, this paper attends to therelationship between geopolitical discourse and vio-lence at the scale of the (Palestinian) body. Manichean cartographies: mapping Gazain global space The geopolitical narration of Gaza as a ‘hostile entity’is as much an expression of contemporary geopoliticalculture as it is a classic Orientalist posturing of ‘Self’against ‘Other’ in colonial exchange. This Self/Otherdistinction, as it has been argued by Said (1978) andmore recently Gregory (2004), is constructed in partthrough a geographical imaginary that demarcates‘our’ intimate, familiar, ordered space from ‘their’wild, disordered, unfamiliar space. 5 In effect, Israel’sbranding of Gaza as an insurgency zone constructs aconceptual framework based upon an ontologicaldistinction of ‘us’ and ‘them’: Gaza, the antagonistic,‘otherized’ space, a manifestation of Barnett’s (2003)strategic ‘threat environment’, is set against thenormalized, civilized space of Israel. 6 Geopolitical abstraction has been a central tactic of United States president Bush’s global war strategy. Inhis 2002 ‘State of the Union Address’ Bush dividedthe world into a Manichean cartography demarcatedby those aligned with the U.S. (‘us’) and those againstit, a global vision upon which he frequently draws inspeeches to justify U.S. unilateralism abroad. Embed-ded in the oppositional logic of Bush’s speech, as wellas the U.S. led ‘war on terror’ more broadly, is thepolitical philosophy of Carl Schmitt for whom friend-and-enemy (or association-dissociation) groupingsconstitute the core of ‘the political’ (Schmitt 2007,p. 79). The greater the distinction between ‘us’ and‘them’ by the political authority in power, Schmittsuggests, the more likely the success of its policy(Bronner 2002, p. 44; Schmitt 2007). Various regimes and political leaders including General Mushareef of Pakistan, former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon,and U.S. president George Bush, among others, haveliberally drawn upon this classic friend/enemy dis-tinctiontoadvancenational,regionalandinternationalgeopolitical interests (Bronner 2002). Schmitt’s ghost,itseems,hasmadeaforcefulappearanceinthe present(Gregory 2004).In effect, the geopolitical narration of Gaza as a‘hostile entity’ scripts this territory and the popula-tion therein into a post-9/11 Manichean theatrecomprised of humanity fighting the  mujahideen , thebesieged versus the barbaric: Gaza (as Hamas) issituated on one side of this coin, and Israel, on theother. United States Vice President Dick Cheney has 4 Hyndman contends that much critical geopolitics literatureprivileges the state as a central analytic, and thereforereproduces, perhaps inadvertently, statist ontology and disem-bodied vision. She cites a number of geographers who have‘‘mobilized critical geopolitics in a manner that bespeaks to aconcomitant critical and/or feminist politics,’’ including Sparke(1996), Sharpe (2000), Tesfahuney (1998) and Routledge (1996); however, she also calls for a critical geopolitics thatmore thoroughly dislocates dominant categories of analysisthrough deeper engagement with feminist geography andmethodology and offers up embodied ways of seeing (Hynd-man 2004, p. 307). 5 Drawing from French philosopher Gaston Bachelard Saidcalls this processes a  poetics of space  whereby ‘‘the vacant oranonymous reaches of distance are converted into meaning forus here’’ (Said 1978, p. 55). 6 Barnett maps the world into what he calls the ‘FunctioningCore’, which he defines as those areas of the world where‘globalization is thick’, and the ‘Non-Integrating Gap’ where‘globalization is thinning’ or has failed to take root (Barnett2003). Barnett fuses globalization with  security  arguing thatregions where globalization is ‘thin’ constitute strategic threatenvironments.GeoJournal (2010) 75:347–357 349  1 3  been quick to script Israel’s struggle (and ‘enemy’)into that of a global phenomena. In a speechdelivered in Jerusalem in May 2008 he stated: ‘‘Aswe continue to work for peace, we must not and willnot ignore the darkening shadows of the situations inGaza, in Lebanon, in Syria, and in Iran, and the forcesthere that are working to derail the hopes of theworld’’ (Cheney 2008). These discourses function toarrange global space along a bifurcated axis: a linecan be drawn from Gaza, to the streets of Baghdad, tothose of Kabul, with each site folded into the meta-narrative of humanity’s fight against a masked,‘spectral other’ (Butler 2004). As such, the popularnarrative surrounding events in Gaza throughoutmuch of the English-speaking press has centered ona specific origin and framing: the narrative beginswith the firing of Qassam rockets by Palestinianmilitants into Israeli villages of Sedrot and Ashek-elon, and Israel responds in self-defense.While the designation of Gaza as a terrorist zonecapitalizesoncontemporarydiscoursesofsecurityandterror, this classification must also be situated within alonger lineage of Orientalist knowledge productionbased upon ‘‘an ontological and epistemologicaldistinction between ‘the Orient’ and [ … ] ‘the Occi-dent’’’ (Said 1978, p. 3). As Said contends, thisdiscourse categorizes ‘‘civilizations’’ along an east/ west axis, and is ‘‘brought to bear on (and thereforealways involved in) any occasion when that peculiarentity ‘the Orient’ is in question’’ (Said 1978, p. 3).The resurrection of this discourse becomes especiallyprominent during moments of declared emergency. 7 Attentive tothe larger Orientalist tradition upon whichIsrael’s designation ofGaza asa‘hostileentity’draws,I suggest this analytic alone is insufficient to capturethe ways in which Gaza and its population are in factconsigned to an extra-human sphere of life (Butler2004). The geopolitical narration of Gaza as a ‘hostileentity’ certainly builds upon a longer Orientalist tra-dition rooted in the production, mapping, and rankingof essentialized identities into binary paradigms of east-west, civilized-uncivilized, developed-underde-veloped. These classic Orientalist tropes howeveroperate in large part, although not exclusively, withinan expansive conception of the human. Building uponthe work of Butler (2004), this paper suggests that theframe-workingofGazaasa‘terroristentity’scriptsthesubjects therein potentially beyond the contours of thehuman.Butler (2004) works outside the east/west binary,suggesting that the term ‘civilization’ is in fact one‘‘that works against an expansive conception of the human’’ (2004, p. 91). For Butler, civilizationconstructs itself through an oppositional identitypositioned not on an east/west axis, but on a human/ non-human one. Civilization comes to define itself,she argues ‘‘over and against a population understoodas, by definition, illegitimate, if not dubiously human’’(Butler 2004, p. 91). In this way, ‘‘dehumanizationbecomes the condition for the production of thehuman’’ (Butler 2004, p. 91). As Butler contends, itis not just that some humans are relegated to a lowerthreshold of humanity, but rather they are  outside humanity. This exteriority then, in turn, produces the‘human’ (the civilized) subject. For Butler, the rela-tionship between the ‘human’ and the ‘spectrallyhuman’ spheres is co-constitutive; however, the latter,as Butler remarks, is ‘‘maintained and detained, madeto live and die within the extra-human and extra- juridical sphere of life’’ (Butler 2004, p. 91). Theframe-working of Gaza as a ‘hostile entity’—cum—insurgent zone—cum—terrorist territory, relegatesGaza and its population to a spectral sphere, one‘beyond the bounds of civilization’, rather than to alower threshold within the sphere of the human. Ineffect, it inscribes Gaza and its inhabitants onto ahuman/subhuman vector, not a civilized/uncivilizedone (Bull 2007). Situating Gaza Israel’s classification of Gaza as a ‘hostile entity’ andthe policies it has since mobilized around this 7 The early 1990s, the Gulf War period, for example, saw therise of neo-Orientalism, spurned forth by a group of MiddleEast scholars including the likes of Bernard Lewis, SamuelHuntington and Thomas Friedmam. While this school ‘‘reca-pitulated key elements of Orientalism, it offered a verydifferent understanding of the spread of Islamism’’ (Lockman2004, p. 218). It understood the emergence of Islamistideology not as a resurgence of tradition or retreat topremodern times, but instead, as a call for a ‘‘return to apristine srcinal Islam’’ (Lockman 2004, p. 219). Specifically,this school understands Islam as a thoroughly modern deploy-ment, which uses modern technologies to realize political aims(i.e., the formation of a state), albeit its nationalist position ismost commonly couched in religious discourse (Roy 2007).350 GeoJournal (2010) 75:347–357  1 3  designation, while significant, do not mark a distinc-tive shift in Israeli policy vis-a`-vis Gaza; they havemerely accelerated a policy already in motion. Thebranding of Gaza as a ‘hostile entity’ builds on alonger process of politico-economic isolation under-way since the period of the Oslo Accords (1993–2001). 8 The Oslo period marked a period of reconfiguration in Israel’s mechanisms of controland spatial practices in the Occupied PalestinianTerritories from those centered on direct territorialcontrol to ‘‘ selective  physical presence and absence’’(Weizman 2007, p. 10, emphasis added). As part of the Oslo Agreements, Israel gained jurisdiction overGaza’s internal and external borders, enabling it toenforce closure at will. During the Oslo period, Israeladopted a policy of ‘strategic integration’ withrespect to the West Bank while it progressivelyde-linked socio-economic and political relations withthe Gaza Strip. This shift in policy and method,described by Eyal Weizman as ‘distanciation’, soughtto ‘‘control the Palestinians from beyond the enve-lopes of their walled-off spaces, by selectivelyopening and shutting the different enclosures, andby relying on the strike capacity of the Air Force overPalestinian areas’’ (Weizman 2007, p. 11). Through-out the Oslo period comprehensive and partialclosures were instituted liberally, forcing the Pales-tinian economy into steady deterioration. With theoutbreak of the second Palestinian  intifada  (uprising)in September 2000, characterized in part by theadoption of violent resistance strategies by somePalestinian factions, Israel instituted a more compre-hensive and severe closure policy throughout thePalestinian Territories. The rise of the political-Islamic group Hamas to a formal position of power inGaza within the context of the global ‘war on terror’set the context for an escalation of violence in thisregion. 9 On January 25, 2006, slightly over a year afterIsrael had dismantled its settlement blocs from theGaza Strip, Hamas candidates won the majority of seats (74 of 132) in the Palestinian parliamentaryelections. A number of factors contributed to growingsupport for Hamas over the years, the full scope of which cannot be properly treated here; however,some of the more prominent factors include: Hamas’srole as a civil service provider; its political andmilitary leadership, particularly during the secondPalestinian intifada; Palestinian disillusionment aftera decade of Fatah misrule of the Palestinian Author-ity; and progressive fragmentation of Palestinianpolitics from the second intifada to the present (Usher2006; Roy 2007; Tamimi 2007). 10 It is within this larger political context that Israel’sclassification of Gaza, as a ‘hostile entity’ must beanalyzed. In months leading up to the court’s decisionIsrael argued in domestic courts that it no longeroccupied Gaza and should therefore absolved of responsibility to the population there. 11 The classifi-cation of Gaza as a ‘hostile entity’, as many politicalanalysts predicted, has further severed ties betweenthese two entities. With this classification, Gaza isframedasbothterritoriallydistinctandmilitant,whichinturnscriptstherelationshipbetweenGazaandIsraelas that of enemy states, rather than occupied-occupier. 12 A classification in latter category obligesIsrael to adhere to humanitarian obligations, asstipulatedbythe1949IVGenevaConventionRelativeto the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. 13 Of equal significance, the declaration of Gaza as‘hostile entity’ inscribes the identity of the combatantintothislandscapeintototherebythrowingintodisputeIsrael’s responsibilities to a civilian population, as 8 The Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 between Israeli PrimeMinister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, leader of Palestin-ian Liberation Organization. The intention behind thisagreement was to facilitate the realization of a two-statesolution over a series of transitional phases. 9 Hamas, which has its origins in Al-Ikhwan (the MuslimBrotherhood), grew out of a social philanthropy project inEgypt and became an official party in Palestine in 1987. 10 Palestinian disillusionment was further intensified byFatah’s failure to bring law, order, economic recovery orpolitical progress in the wake of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal fromGaza (Usher 2006). 11 Israel contended that it no longer occupied Gaza on thebasis that it had withdrawn its civilian population from thisterritory in the summer of 2005 and redeployed its militaryforces to the territory’s perimeter. 12 As such, Israel formally announced that it was not  obliged  to help a ‘hostile’ territory following the security cabinet ruling(Reynolds 2007). Numerous human rights and humanitariangroups, however, challenged this position, arguing that theclassification of Gaza as a ‘hostile entity’ does not necessarilyalter the relationship of law to this territory. 13 The authoritative commentary on this convention sets forththat under Article 59 of the Convention, an ‘‘unconditionalobligation is created for the Occupying Power to accept relief supplies destined to the population’’ (Dinstein 1995).GeoJournal (2010) 75:347–357 351  1 3
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