Roy Wagner, Martin Buber Society of Fellows, Hebrew University
Gay activist-scholars who describe themselves as queer have been among the most radical critics of Israel. Coined by Aeyal Gross (TAU), pinkwashing became the rallying cry of those who accuse Israel of promoting liberal policies towards gays in order to cover up the occupation.
Roy Wagner (HUJ), a self proclaimed scholar and queer activist, takes the pinkwashing theory one step further in a lengthy “On (not) choosing between mobility and visibility: Crossing sexual and national borders in Israel/Palestine,” published in Borderlands, an Australian-based e-journal. Wagner stated that the article derives from activities at Tel Aviv University’s Queer Theory Reading Group and its annual LGBT studies and queer theory conference.
Admittedly, Wagner’s piece, replete with critical theory language and convoluted prose is a difficult read as the following typical sentence demonstrates: “The term visibility-mobility regime indicates here the Israeli system of technologies organizing mobility and visibility in Israel/Palestine, but also the distributed agents that implement these technologies (this
ambiguity is meant to avoid the assumption of a unified sovereign that exists apart from the implementation of its governance technologies).”
Stripped of its critical verbiage, Wagner theory is simple; there is an inverse relation between visibility and mobility, that it the less “deviant” from the norm a person is, the easier it is for him or her to “pass” and move around. In his view, the 2006 Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem illustrates this point: the police let the “straight” looking gays to march but confined the “queers” (who sometimes march in drag or semi-nude) to a small lot. Whether straight or queer looking, Palestinian gays were not allowed to march under their banner at all.
Still, it was the case of Palestinian gays that demolished his theory. Wagner admitted that the Israelis were quite lenient in allowing gays from the territories to enter Israel; one such frequent traveler was gay who performed in drag in a Jerusalem bar. Indeed, he was forced to state that Israel’s treatment of gays - is more “civilized” than in the Palestinian Authority - where gays are often beaten and persecuted. Contradicting himself even further, Wagner proceeded to chastise the Israeli press for ignoring the near fatal beating of a gay Palestinian by an East Jerusalem man who claimed to represent the Muslim religious authority. It is noted that Gross and other pinkwashers normally complain that Israel highlights the plight of Palestinian gays to score public relations points.
Wagner further undermines his thesis by comparing the treatment of the Palestinians to that of the Jews during the Holocaust - a situation where “passing” was a question of life or death. There is little logic to this comparison, but it is not coherence that Wagner is interested at. In the radical academic community, the goal is to create the Palestinian-Holocaust equivalence, no matter the ontological and epistemic cost.
Needless to say, Wagner can violate all rules of research because he is sailing under the flag of academic freedom while fleecing the tax payer.
On Friday, 23 May 2014, 23:51, Roy Wagner <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
[againstwall] This Friday in Bil'in
17 Israelis and quite a few internationals joined the weekly demo against the wall and occupation in Bil'in. The organizers dressed up as prisoners and cuffed their wrists in solidarity with the hunger striking administrative prisoners. Just as we started to march from the Oak grove to the wall, the soldiers showered the procession with barrages of gas, not waiting for us to come anywhere near the wall. Only a few demonstrators managed to brave the gas. The shabab hurled stones at the violent soldiers and threw their gas canisters back at them. Cindy Corrie, Rachel Corry's mother, along with many others, suffered from gas inhalation, and was treated by a medical crew on the spot. One photographer suffered a leg injury from a gas canister.
VOLUME 12 NUMBER 2 2013
On (not) choosing between mobility and visibility:
Crossing sexual and national borders in Israel/Palestine
The Martin Buber Society of Fellows in the Humanities, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Statement of Purpose
This text is about how a political regime limits the public presence of marginalized groups, and how marginalized groups manage these limitations. It will juggle together two dimensions of analysis (mobility and visibility), two political concerns (heteronormativity and ethnocracy) and a geographical domain that is hard to label as single or twofold (Israel/Palestine). Of course, things would be much neater if I handled these aspects one at a time, but being neat is not always the most instructive strategy. The 'diagonal' analysis here, studying the interaction between moving about and carrying identities on either side and across the 1967 Israel/Palestine ‘border’, while insisting on the superposition of sexuality and ethnicity, slices, I believe, a challenging cross-section of how Israeli governmentality1 works. Even more importantly, this diagonal approach helps reconstructing some techniques available to marginalized people for resisting their stationary exclusion from view.
By visibility I refer not simply to being optically discernible, but to being seen as marked by certain identities – more specifically sexual or ethnic identities such as ‘Palestinian’ or ‘gay’. I will discuss this kind of visibility in urban spaces, while crossing borders, and through media coverage of political activism. By mobility I mean here the ability to move through space and take place in it. More specifically, I will discuss the (in)capacity of marginalized individuals to move through urban spaces and across borders – a spatial mobility that obviously has implications on social and economic mobility as well.
The term visibility-mobility regime indicates here the Israeli system of technologies organizing mobility and visibility in Israel/Palestine, but also the distributed agents that implement these technologies (this ambiguity is meant to avoid the assumption of a unified sovereign that exists apart from the implementation of its governance technologies). On the side of Israeli sovereign power I will describe technologies for restricting mobility and visibility that operate through sexuality and nationality. On the side of activists and marginalized groups I will describe techniques that attempt to undo this restriction of mobility and visibility (the terms technology and technique, standing for Foucault's (1990, part IV, Ch. 2) strategy and tactics, serve to highlight the homogeneous continuity between power and resistance).
Two theoretical contexts intersect here with the local Israeli-Palestinian context: border studies and the notion of passing. The former studies how borders work; the latter how they are violated. Superposing the two will help us fill a crucial gap in contemporary research. This is all the more important as the Israel/Palestine case is not just one among many, but one that risks becoming a paradigm of globalization seen not in terms of “trans- border flows” but of “systemic processes of closure and containment” (Shamir 2005, p. 197).
Border crossing is a constitutive Palestinian experience: the border is where Palestinians are singled out for special restrictions (Khalidi 1997, Introduction). Inside Israel/Palestine borders are so distinctly present for Palestinians that exiled thinker and politician Azmi Bishara (2004) called Israel “the state of the checkpoints” and Palestine “the land of checkpoints”.
But borders and checkpoints do not strictly separate Israel from Palestine, they force them into what Potugali (1993) called “implicate relations”: relations of co -construction that change with the ever redeployed boundaries.2 These relations can be analyzed as “exteriorization”, “interiorization” and “dissectionization” referring, respectively, to excluded areas closely controlled from their periphery, spaces that are included while excluding the people living in them, and areas that combine small exteriorized and interiorized spaces that people keep crossing (Amir 2012). These practices depend on Israeli crossing through and observing from behind walls – invisible, inaccessible, but always ready to strike (Weizman 2007). Hanafi (2004) aptly names this reality “spatio - cide”: an attempt to leave Palestinians in a placeless state of exception.
But the local border studies literature cited above usually fails to give enough weight to the ways in which Palestinians bypass Israeli means of control (Kelly 2006; Parizot 2008, forthcoming and Topaz 2012 are important exceptions). One should recall that Israel practices its sovereignty through intermittent suspension and deferral of violence and law (Azoulay and Ophir 2009). This means that an understanding of Israeli governmentality requires not just the discussion of how borders are set, but also of how they are crossed. These border crossings are not confined to the spatio-temporal perspectives explored by such scholars as Weizman (2007) and Handel (2009). They are also about experience, performance, discourse and meaning (later I will try to suggest a notion of topology to capture these aspects of border crossing). This is precisely where passing comes in.
Passing as manipulation of visibility to gain mobility is well researched, especially in the context of identity formation and its politics (see, e.g. the collections Sanchez and Schlossberg 2001; Jackson 2005). The term passing emerged from the US racial context (people of partly colored ancestry who managed to be temporarily or permanently taken for white). Later on this term was applied to gender passing (people who grew up as women or men and managed to live as members of the opposite gender) and to sexual orientation (gay people assumed to be straight). Passing can be represented as leaving one’s previous identity behind or as an act emerging from that identity and meant to help those who cannot pass; it can be considered in terms of mere social mobility or as a profound transformation with psychological and moral repercussions (Sollors 1999). The social effect of passing lies, on the one hand, in the assumption that the identities one passes between are indeed distinct (otherwise there’s no need to pass), and, on the other hand, in undermining boundaries and hybridization of identities (Ginsberg 1996; Cutter 1996; Fabi 2001, p. 5). My purpose here is to explore how these effects interact with border crossing and political activism.
To get a concrete idea of what this paper is about, let’s consider Jerusalem’s 2006 LGBT pride events as a vignette. The massive public debate concerning these events started with the initiative to host the 2005 World Pride in Jerusalem. The initiative suffered strong homophobic objection led by Jewish ultra-orthodox religious groups, which extended to the municipal council, members of other religious groups, nationalist groups, and liberal groups raising multi-cultural arguments for respecting the sensitivity of Jerusalem’s religious populations. These objections were compounded with security concerns due to the concurrent Israeli ‘disengagement’ from Gaza, and resulted in the postponement of the Jerusalem World Pride to the following year (in the local parade in Jerusalem that took place instead of the postponed World Pride three marchers were attacked and stabbed). In August 2006 the parade was postponed again due to the war in Lebanon and northern Israel (a small stationary vigil and other scheduled World Pride events did take place). The organizers, NGO Jerusalem Open House, obtained court permission to march in November. But then the Israeli army killed 22 Palestinian civilians in Gaza two days before the projected parade. The Police stated they could not simultaneously protect the Israeli population from Palestinian retaliation and pride marchers from homophobic opposition. The parade was replaced by an event in a confined stadium separated from the rest of Jerusalem by several security circles. 3 This was the first of three pride parades that did not march in Jerusalem on November 10, 2006.
This example demonstrates not only how sexual and national politics keep bumping into each other, but also traces Israel’s regime of mobility and visibility. LGBTs did move through the streets of Jerusalem on November 10, 2006; but those recognizable as manifesting pride, seeking LGBT visibility, were denied mobility. Those who were visibly proud to be queer were confined by Israel’s security system to the peripheral stadium event, while those who moved through Jerusalem had to make themselves less visibly different. LGBTs had to choose between mobility and visibility.
Taking these events as a starting point, the paper will continue with accounts of attempted pride parades, anti-occupation demonstrations and the mobility of Palestinians and migrants working in Israel so as to figure out which forms of 3 Tal Arbel (forthcoming) reviews how the discourse around the pride parade turned from ethical and liberal-democratic into a security-focused one. visibility can be asserted while moving about and which can't. I will also comment on the economic impact of this regime. After pointing out some cases where there's a visibility-mobility tradeoff as in the above example, I’ll move on to ways of challenging this tradeoff. In considering forms of passing as techniques for subverting the visibility-mobility tradeoff, I will highlight means of gaining mobility by realigning, rather than strictly suppressing, forms of visibility. Then, returning from border crossings to the city of Jerusalem, I’ll consider other ways of asserting simultaneous mobility and visibility and attempts to escape a mobility-visibility binary in favor of opaque place making.
My purpose here is to understand the opportunities and limitations of various forms of resistance in the Israeli/Palestinian queer and national contexts. But writing from the position of an academic who’s also an activist, I try to avoid an authoritative attitude that values academic theorizing over activist experience, and therefore suspend judgment on some forms of visibility politics (indeed, many attempts at good-willed academic critique, when presented with the symbolic capital and violence of academic authority, rightfully alienate even academic-activists). My purpose in this text is therefore not to recommend a best political practice, nor to claim that some techniques will necessarily crash against the technologies of the dominant regime, nor even to offer overarching narratives of mobility-visibility economies or their transgression (I doubt the efficacy of critical thought that assumes overarching narratives or actively fishes for them). My purpose is to construct a patchwork portrait of the Israeli mobility-visibility regime in the contexts of sexuality and nationality in Israel/Palestine, and of ways to escape this regime. I hope that readers will use this text’s rough sewing and loose threads to patch some of its pieces into their own practice and research.
Finally, I write this text as a gay Israeli citizen. My starting point was observations concerning Jewish queers, and from there I went on to explore these observations’ relevance to Palestinians. This trajectory obviously limits the orientation and balance of my research, and I hope it will be complemented by people writing from other positions.
1. Three parades that didn't march: Tradeoff between mobility and visibility in LGBTQ and occupation activism; their immobile and invisible intersection. The above Jerusalem pride parade that didn’t march demonstrates a tradeoff between visibility and mobility: to gain visibility one must give up some mobility, and vice-versa. Thousands of cops carefully directed and restricted the mobility of the visibly proud to the confines of a stadium.
In return for this reduced mobility participants could maintain some forms of visibility: both media visibility and visibility as LGBTs among participants. At the same time many LGBTs did move through Jerusalem, but their mobility was conditioned on their sexual invisibility. They were mobile only as city folk ‘lacking’ sexual orientation – straight by default.4
Further evidence of a visibility-mobility tradeoff is provided by the attempt of some thirty activists to assert both mobility and queer visibility in Jerusalem’s urban space at the same time as the stadium event took place. The activists resolved to march inside Jerusalem despite Police prohibition. This was the second parade that didn't march in Jerusalem that day. It resulted in a violent group arrest. As activists’ mobility was more violently repressed than that of participants in the stationary event, those few activists gained media visibility disproportionate to their number, compared to the thousands of participants in the stationary event.
Protesters arrested in attempts to march in Jerusalem (left) and Bethlehem (right) Photos by Activestills
To start tying together the regime of mobility-visibility as it operates through sexuality and through nationality, I would like to point out a similarity between two scenes where uniformed state agents deny demonstrators’ mobility: the failed Jerusalem pride parade mentioned above, and demonstrations that attempt to cross the wall that separates Palestinians from their lands or communities (of which the weekly demonstrations in the village of Bil'in are the most famous).
The images above demonstrate the visibility earned by the restricted mobility. In both kinds of demonstrations state agents violently deny demonstrators’ mobility – through the streets of Jerusalem or across the separation wall. In both kinds of demonstrations the levels of demonstrators’ persistence, the authorities’ ‘trigger - happiness’ and the corresponding level of injuries predict the level of media coverage. In both cases the trade off is manifest: the stronger the elimination of mobility (as measured in arrests and damaged human flesh) the more media visibility protesters gain.
But connections between West Bank village demonstrations and the attempted Jerusalem pride parade of November 10, 2006, are not restricted to those structural similarities, which in fact extend far beyond the local context, and form part of a general logic of media visibility politics. Jerusalem and West Bank demonstrations are also connected through a substantial intersection of the Israeli activists involved in both kinds of actions, and their assertion of an ideological bond. Indeed, the activists who wrote the email invitation to the second failed Jerusalem pride parade make the sexual- national connection explicit: “We won’t tolerate threats in Jerusalem, and won't be silent concerning the massacre in Gaza! [referring to killing 22 civilians in Gaza by the Israeli army two days earlier] Sexual freedom and gender equality are inseparable from political, economic, social and religious freedom and equality”.
Those who oppose protesters make the sexual-national link explicit as well. Former national soccer coach Shlomo Scherf explains: “They're doing the march of the gays in Jerusalem of all places, why specifically there, in the holy city?  There's no
place in Tel Aviv? … Do you know where I'd do it? In Eilat , near the [Israeli-Egyptian] border, I'd get them across the border and wouldn't bring them back” (Gogay 2007). Making a similar point, a homophobic leaflet distributed in Jerusalem
was signed “those who appreciate the dignity of Jerusalem, and expect the disgusting ones to go to Uganda”.
Here the reference is to Zionist leader Herzl's 1903 plan to settle Jews in East Africa (Uganda) so as to save them from Eastern European pogroms. This plan was undermined by other Zionist leaders, who insisted on the settlement of Palestine. The quoted statement therefore suggests that homosexuals do not belong in the Zionist community.
But while keeping these relations between sexuality and nationality in mind, one must not forget that in West Bank demonstrations the army shoots tear gas and bullets while Jerusalem LGBT activists suffered ‘only’ bashing and bruises, and that the Israeli oppression of Palestinians is generally much more violent than that of queers. This means that the possibilities open in the different context are not the same, and that carrying techniques over from one to the other depends on local pragmatic considerations.
To conclude this review of mobility-visibility trade off, note that one should not hypothesize a naïve inverse relation between mobility and visibility. The mobility-visibility regime is sensitive to who is trying to move and to what is made visible. Indeed, the mobility-visibility trade off is much more relaxed, if Jerusalem is replaced by Tel Aviv, where pride parades are a western-style routine. On the other hand, things become much stricter if Palestinian gays replace Israeli gays.
On the day of the two parades that didn't march, a third attempt was staged. But the “group of gay Palestinian Americans canceled [the] planned pride march in East Jerusalem … after one of them was beaten unconscious by a local man who said he was from the Waqf Muslim religious authority” (Kalman 2006). Whereas Israeli activists violently prevented from marching and, a year earlier, Jewish pride demonstrators stabbed by an ultra-orthodox Jew received substantial visibility in Israeli media, Palestinian demonstrators in similar situations received no Israeli media coverage whatsoever. Few Israelis have heard of this third parade that didn't march. Palestinian gays can gain mobility in Jerusalem by being invisible, but they can’t gain visibility even when their mobility is violently denied.
For another attempt to make the intersection of sexuality and nationality visible, let’s go back to August 10, 2006, the originally scheduled date of the Jerusalem 2006 World Pride. The parade was postponed due to the war in Lebanon and Northern Israel, but a vigil was held in Jerusalem's Bell Garden. It was joined by participants of the 9 th international Queeruption events that took place in Israel at the time, defined as an “anti-commercial non-hierarchical DIY gathering aimed at creating a safe open space for workshops, music, art, activism, parties, sex, shows etc.” (Queeruption 9 collective 2006, p. 2; for an analysis of Queeruption history see Brown 2007). The vigil started quietly with the Police watching over, but peace was dramatically violated once local and international Queeruption activists joined in with banners and slogans linking Israeli homophobia and militarism.
According to Police chief superintendent Ben Rubi, “there was a group of a few dozen anarchists who took advantage of the vigil to protest against the war in Lebanon. There were 15 [Israelis] killed [in the war] that day, and [Queeruption protestors] chanted slogans against the army, and confronted the Police” (Merhav 2006). This was, apparently, reason enough for the Police to violently disperse the vigil. The violent dispersal, however, did not result in substantial media visibility. Tami and Ishai, two Queeruption activists, summarized the lesson they had learned: non-political “gays dancing in a thong next to a telecom sponsorship ad – pass; gays who think that the Occupation is corrupt – break their bones” (Queeruption 9 collective 2006, p. 8).
We see that hypothesizing a tradeoff between visibility and mobility can only serve as first approximation for describing Israel’s visibility-mobility regime. Of course, this is hardly surprising. There's a long line of research on which gays can obtain visibility and which are symbolically erased. 5 Moreover, homonationalist alliances between some gay groups and the state further contradict the claim that gays can't be visible and mobile. But the bottom line here is that gay Palestinians and anti-war queers don't get to choose: they're left out of sight even when they’re made immobile.
Caught in a panopticon:
Giving up visibility for mobility; its economic price Above we saw how activists gain visibility by being denied mobility. But to get a more complete picture of the Israeli mobility-visibility tradeoff we should also observe how Palestinian non-citizens avoid visibility to gain mobility.
Given the problematization of Israel/Palestine borders cited in the introduction, it is not surprising that Palestinians routinely cross into Israel. But given the visibility- mobility tradeoff, one can observe those Palestinians invisibly moving through shadows only when they fail to pass unnoticed. The video report Catch Me (2007) by Israeli human rights NGO B'Tselem shows Palestinian workers crossing Jerusalem hills to reach work inside Israel. In the report the videographer's gaze is interspersed with the army's gaze: a shot of the Palestinians crossing is cut into shots of soldiers with binoculars and a military chopper. The army’s elaborate technologies of seeing (binoculars, choppers) and showing (army person presenting to a B’Tselem researcher his version of the movement restriction regime) turn both the open hillscape and the Israeli civic debate into a panoptically supervised prison. 6 As in a panopticon (which, recall, is a term originally used to describe a violent incarceration facility), the filmed Palestinians cannot tell whether they’re seen or not – until, that is, they hear a warning shot.
Palestinian LGBTs, whether workers or not, also cross the panopticon described above to participate in the gay life of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which, for better and worse, are more western-like than in the Occupied Territories (in terms of sexual categories, meeting places, pop culture, etc.). Once in Israel, however, workers and/or LGBTs must maintain low visibility under pain of expulsion, fines, imprisonment, and sometimes even death (B’tselem 2007), again following a western logic of excluding “illegal aliens”. 7
Before investigating techniques of passing through the panopticon, let’s note how Israel applies the technology described above for economic control (without claiming that economic control subsumes this technology; indeed, a whole hierarchy of middle men, smugglers and employers have vested interests in it, and the social position of young Palestinian able-bodied men who can pass is formed in many ways by the necessity/adventure/rite of crossing through). One must understand that the panopticon is not designed to prevent Palestinian entry into Israel. Given current material conditions, an exhaustive prevention of Palestinian entry is too costly to maintain for long. And indeed, many Palestinians enter Israel in ways considered illegal by authorities. The estimated number of Palestinians employed illegally in Israel is around 20,000-30,000 (on top of a similar number of legally employed Palestinians). Palestinians expelled by security forces exceeded 100,000 annually, including, of course, many repeated expulsions of the same persons (B’Tselem, 2007 p. 22).
The panoptic technology, which makes it expensive, difficult, dangerous and potentially lethal – but not for all that impossible – for Palestinians to enter Israel, enables the exploitation of Palestinian workers. 8 Khaled Si'areh’s testimony is highly revealing: Getting to work in Israel is really dangerous. I usually leave home on Saturday night, because it is easier to cross at night, and return on Thursday. When we get to Jerusalem, an Israeli car takes us to the work site … there are usually 7 I won’t relate the stories of Palestinian LGBTs here, because my access to sources is limited, and because circumstances are ripe for gay and lesbian Palestinians to access the means, opportunities and strategies for publicly telling their own stories (the most prominent organizations being Aswat and Al- Qaws; a round table with Palestinian activists was published by Hochberg et al. 2010. 8 The advantages of continually reinscribing violence on the bodies of Palestinians was described already by Peteet 1994. three other cars that also make the trip. One drives a few kilometers ahead, to make sure that the road is safe, another car drives a few meters in front of us, and the third drives behind us. The four drivers … report by phone if it is safe to continue, until we get to the work site. For taking us there and back, each driver receives 140 shekels from each worker.
I usually sleep at the construction site. We generally sleep in the basement. We close the opening with wooden boards and iron bars so that people would think it is abandoned. We don’t turn on lights and don’t leave at night … We remain holed up there from about 5:00 pm until the next morning … Most contractors I work for … know how much we need the work and that we are not in Israel legally, and they exploit us … I end up with less than one hundred shekels a day, and don’t forget there are many days that I don’t work, or there is no work, or the Israeli employers don’t want to employ illegal workers (B’tselem 2007, p. 83).
This testimony shows how mobility restrictions force Palestinian workers in Israel to remain invisible throughout their time off, and how they render workers exploitable. In a conference entitled "Friendly or Hostile Separation: Israeli-Palestinian Economic Relations at a Crossroads", which took place at the Tel Aviv University Institute for Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation (May 31, 2007), former deputy Minister of Defense, Dr. Ephraim Sneh, boasted that the Ministry turned a blind eye to Palestinians working without permits in Southern Israel farms. Dr. Sneh presented this policy as a benevolent act towards an unemployed population, rather than as means of creating a constantly threatened and highly exploitable body of workers. 9 This visibility-mobility regime generates a caste of beaten bodies under constant threat of violence and death, in constant hiding, with no certainty over their comings, goings and livelihood, which are unusually cheap.
Passing through the panopticon:
Realigning (but not quite giving up) visibilities to gain mobility 9 For further information on Palestinian workers see Kav LaOved 2013; for the impact of this mobility regime on Palestinian life, kinship and economy, see Handel 2009, Parizot 2008 and Gutman 2003. After having surveyed the Israeli visibility-mobility regime, it’s time to study ways available to marginalized individuals for subverting this regime. The obvious technique for confronting a mobility-visibility regime is, of course, passing, that is the manipulation of one's visible identity.
The research literature shows that the motivation for passing could be an attempt to obtain the social and economic mobility or personal safety bestowed by the sought identity, to reach an object of romantic desire, to embark on an adventure, to defy social boundaries or to express one’s authentic “essence” (Dekker and van de Pol 1989; Cromwell 1999). Passing thus coheres well with the notion of a tradeoff where one suppresses visibility to gain mobility, as in the previous section. But the literature also shows that passing does not fit a binary division into failed or successful, and that it depends on a continued effort and on a complex economy of doubt, denial and partial knowledge (Garfinkel 1984; Sedgwick 1991; Stone 1991). Following this insight, I’d like to focus here on techniques for retaining mobility that do not depend on plain invisibility.
The first example below presents a standard form of passing, but exceeds the typical race-gender-sexuality context, and will bring us closer to more sophisticated forms of passing. Juliana is the daughter of a Colombian domestic worker, who lived and worked in Israel without legal permission. Juliana grew up in Israel. When her mother left, she decided to stay behind. Journalist-activist Nurit Wurgaft explains that
over the years Juliana learned safe behavior patterns that became a second nature to her when she grew up. For instance … when a cop asks her for an ID card, she must rely on her petit build, express surprise, direct her gaze to him, and say in her most Israeli Hebrew: “What do you mean? I don’t have one, I'm not old enough. (Wurgaft 2006, p. 162)
To move safely Juliana must give up her visibility as woman, and pass as a child.
The larger context for this story is an Israeli policy that forbids the expulsion and detention of children of migrant workers.
Nurit Wurgaft explains that
the regulations … state that it is unlawful to detain a single custodian so as not to leave the minor unattended. That's how children started serving as shields for their parents against arrest and deportation. Babies and toddlers were often brought to my meetings with African community leaders, even when we met in late evening … "I don't dare to leave home without my daughter", a participant in such a meeting apologized while trying to soothe his one year old daughter. "As her father I must protect her, but here she protects me." (Wurgaft 2006, p. 140-141)
By keeping close to his child this man passes as father (hence non-deportable) rather than as migrant worker (hence deportable). I will refer to such techniques of passing as passing by association: changing one’s visibility to gain mobility through an association with another, who is allowed to pass.
Passing by association is relevant for the Occupation context as well. In 2007 I made a short trip from Tel-Aviv to the Palestinian town of Qalqilia and then to the industrial zone of Jewish settlement Barqan as activist of worker rights NGO Kav LaOved (Worker's Hotline). Such a trip cannot be taken for granted under contemporary political circumstances. The visibility of my colleague, a hijab wearing Israeli Arab, allowed us to pass the Qalqilia checkpoint. But entering Barqan, my colleague insisted that I, a full member of the colonizing power, take the front (more visible) seat. A mutual passing by association allowed us to complete the journey. Similarly, at the intersection of sexuality and nationality, Palestinian participation in queer events in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem sometimes requires Israeli assistance to Palestinian mobility.11
But one must acknowledge the limitations of passing by association. Indeed, our Qalqilia trade union host, who enabled my visit to Qalqilia, preferred not to try and enter Barqan, where many Palestinian trade union members work, even with my accompaniment. Moreover, the practical problems of having ‘to be there’ for each other make it difficult to regularly arrange such trips. Israel attempted to prevent such mobility by regulations against Palestinians and Israelis or internationals traveling in the same vehicle in the Occupied Territories, but public outcry blocked this attempt. Inside Israel driving or accommodating a Palestinian who is considered to be staying illegally is a criminal offense punishable by a fine and imprisonment.
The next form of passing through Israel’s visibility -mobility regime is more curious and surprising. It should perhaps be termed
double-passing. Budi, a young gay Palestinian from Ramallah visited Jerusalem regularly, and even performed as drag queen. In the documentary Jerusalem Proudly Presents (2007) he testifies:
When I go to Jewish Jerusalem, it's clear that I go illegally, it's clear. And it happened more than once that the military detained me. And then I showed them my Palestinian ID, and told them that I was going to the Shushan [Jerusalem's only gay bar at the time], and explained that I go there for one day to live my life as a gay person. And they would tell me, OK, you can go.
In this testimony, a person, who acknowledges that as a Palestinian he is not allowed mobility, manages to gain mobility by making visible another supposedly immobilizing feature: being gay. The Occupation’s awkward logic turns this cumulative negation into a sort of affirmation. The checkpoint personnel can’t see a person as both gay and Palestinian; indeed, gay lifestyle is typically associated in Israel with an image of the liberal-democratic West (even by those who oppose gays and/or Western liberal democracy), whereas Palestinians are stereotyped as backward and homophobic. Budi's gay identification thus erases the threatening aspect of Palestinian identity. Budi’s blinding gay visibility takes over his Palestinian visibility.
And since, as observed in the comparison of gay and Palestinian activism in section 1, gay mobility is more tolerable than Palestinian mobility, Budi crosses through.
Another example for double passing is available at Topaz (2012). A Palestinian from the West Bank requested his employer to present him to his landlord under the stereotype of the “dangerous Arab”, one that “you don’t want to get in trouble with”.
This ruse convinced the landlord not to insist on signing a rent contract – a procedure that might have exposed the Palestinian as staying in Israel without a permit. Projecting the negative “dangerous” identity on the negative “Arab” identity led the landlord to give up formalities, and the Palestinian could take his place in the apartment.
This micro level of double passing (a local decision of a soldier at a check point or a landlord) is reproduced at a macro level (public discourse and official policy) in the context of Palestinian gays seeking asylum in Israel. Gay Palestinian visibility in Israeli media is restricted to those who state that they would be persecuted for their sexual orientation or their association with Israelis if they returned to the Occupied Territories (Kagan and Ben-Dor 2008; Weiler-Polak 2010). These gay Palestinians profess that their gayness is negatively marked on the Palestinian side; therefore, according to the logic of the Occupation, this gayness becomes on the Israeli side a mark that might sometimes cancel the perceived threat of their Palestinian identity, occasionally leading to a precarious form of informal local protection while seeking asylum abroad.
This treatment of gay Palestinians is in line with what has become known as 'pinkwashing': flaunting the rights that the Israeli gay and lesbian communities obtained through extended struggles, often against strong resistance from state organs, in order to portray a sharp contrast between Israel's image as a liberal democracy and the image of Palestinians as backward homophobes. This alleged contrast is meant to cover over Israeli homophobia, the complexities of GLBT existence in Palestine, the Israeli apartheid regime, and this regime's role in suppressing internal Palestinian opposition and human rights struggles. In fact, Israel does not provide formal asylum or residence permits to Palestinians persecuted due to their sexuality and extorts information in return for 'protection'.
In the case of Budi, his gay activism and visibility in Ramallah eventually forced him to immigrate to Europe for a while. Under the logic of Occupation, what passes on the Israeli side of the wall should not pass on the Palestinian side, and so forms of homosexuality, being associated with Israeli culture, are linked by some Palestinians to cooperation with Israel and are excluded. Fortunately, just as the wall meant to separate Israelis from Palestinians has many gaps in it, so is the logic of the Occupation not entirely strict, and some LGBTs do manage to enjoy their sexuality on both sides of the 1967 border.
My point here is to counterbalance the system presented in sections 1 and 2. Passing here is not the simple erasure of visibility for attaining mobility in a reality of rigid tradeoff between the two. In fact, the visibility-mobility tradeoff, like every binary, has its loose fibers, and occasionally allows for techniques that deconstruct visibility/mobility. But deconstruction does not necessarily imply a replicable political technique for subverting visibility-mobility technologies. These techniques of passing may have a limited lifespan. Indeed, once such techniques are recognized as replicable methods, agents of the visibility-mobility regime may adapt their technologies to foreclose them. However, the frequent changing of actual agents and the delegation of much of the decision-making to the lowest and most arbitrary levels may render such techniques viable for extended periods of time.
At stake here are individual, contingent, temporary and dangerous techniques for managing visibility/mobility. Not everyone has access to sophisticated passing techniques, and those who do, only have it at certain times. Persons operating such techniques play dangerous games of identity realignment. The fact that the ‘heroes’ of our associated and double passing examples managed to realign their visibility does not mean that they are free at all times to choose how they are perceived. In particular, they may no longer be favorably seen by some members of their communities of origin.
Do such marginal, fragile, contingent and dangerous mobility/visibility techniques even deserve theoretical consideration? I believe they do, because of the extremes to which they can be stretched as last resorts for those with little or nothing to lose. Even in the most volatile circumstances mobility might be obtained by realigning, rather than suppressing, visibility. Indeed, in our definition of double passing above, two “negative”, mobility-restricting marks (e.g. ‘Palestinian’ and ‘gay’), conflicted in a way that the more mobile one managed to dominate over the other, less mobile one. But double passing might occur even where there's no other, more mobile identity, which contradicts the immobilizing one.
The following example comes from a very different time and place. I impose it onto this discussion because it provides a rare glimpse into a sort of zero-degree of double passing, when a single identity can cross itself out. Indeed, one is expected to hide an immobilizing identity in order to pass. But when one insists on asserting an immobilizing identity where one is expected to try and hide it, the very atypical performance of this identity contradicts the logic that rules over it. This contradiction may then lead to surprising results:
On April 28, , the Germans again declared one of their 'amnesties', offering to transport all [Warszaw Jews] who surrendered voluntarily to the labour camp at Poniatowa. [Michał Line, his daughter, and future wife Maria] decided to take advantage of this 'amnesty' and gave themselves up; but … Maria was seized with misgivings and told Line she would not go to Poniatowa. And then Line, not hesitating, moved in the direction of the Wache, … Line went up to a group of German soldiers and said, ‘let five people through!’ They didn't shoot him. They looked at him with stunned expressions. They remained silent. A couple of the gendarmes left. Two remained. Then Line said, almost as if giving an order: Retten Sie drei Seelen! [Save three souls!]. One of them said, aber schnell! [but be quick!]. And by that miracle, so hard to believe, they managed to get out of hell. (Paulson, 2002, Eugenia Szajn-Lewin's testimony, p. 84)
When the mobility restricting mark (Jew), instead of being hidden, was accentuated by the individual carrying it in a way that violated the expectations of dominant power, the mobility-visibility logic momentarily collapsed, and mobility was allowed. Such techniques are entirely unpredictable and extremely dangerous (atypical identity performances are often punished), but they demonstrate a potential to undo the technologies of power. It is the technique of a typical performance that lies at the core of acts of double passing.
Passing through another dimension:
Attaining mobility and visibility by moving through a different topology The last couple of sections focused on Palestinian non-citizens and on how the structural holes of the Israeli technologies of control allow them to pass. Since queer Israeli citizens and Palestinian non-citizens are subject to different means of control and can have different objectives, their techniques are not identical. Here I’d like to study an example of how queer activists, who are citizens of Israel, manage to retain both mobility and visibility by taking advantage of what this regime fails to capture. I’d like to read these techniques here as complementing ways of deconstructing Israel’s mobility/visibility regime. The case study that will lead the discussion is one parade not mentioned so far, one that did cross through Jerusalem on November 10, 2006, the very day when the three parades discussed in section 1 failed to march. I bring the description of this event as recounted in an email sent by one of the participants to an activists’ mailing list a day after the event.
One other small event took place yesterday in Jerusalem between the 'demonstration' that I'd rather not comment about [the first parade that didn't march - the stadium event from section 1] and the action in the Bell Garden [the second parade that didn’t march – the attempted parade from section 1 that ended in a mass arrest]. Noa K. said in our last meeting on Thursday that we're being led into a well rehearsed scenario. We're coming to get beat up and arrested. We inform the police and the media of the location where the heart beats and say: we're willing to get hurt. Four people. … marched through King George – Jaffa Street [West Jerusalem high streets] in the morning for a short while. At noon we climbed up the entire Gaza Street all the way to the Women in Black place [where peace movement Women in Black hold peace vigils]. 12 Each of us held a banner: "I am a gay Jerusalemite", "I am a trans Jerusalemite" and "I am a friend of Jerusalemites". There wasn't a single person or vehicle that didn't stop to watch, curse, give the finger, smile with embarrassment, and very few to cheer. Every breath counts. And of course the cops. The streets were littered with those.
In the morning we could tell the policeman, who humiliated us and threatened to tear up our banners, that we were just on our way to the march [the stadium event]. They followed us to the car and unwillingly let us through. Then in Gaza [Street] the cops told us: you can't be here. Only where you're told. After a pointless argument we put down the banner for a few steps and picked it up again. When we finally made the Women in Black place we joined some 'black- pinks' [Anarcho-queer and related activists] who were already waiting there. Every time someone made it, she was happily cheered. We set to circle the place (seven times?) [like the biblical Jericho, whose walls came tumbling down after the Israelites had circled them seven times] singing the partisan song "our march is yet to thunder, we are here" [the Hebrew anthem of East European Jewish partisan Nazi resistance]. Some avant-garde person yelled from a window "Lesbian Arafat fuckers". At two o'clock we left each to his and her own permitted life.
Why weren't we arrested? It's true, we tried not to, and we marched in the streets of the bourgeois Rehavia neighborhood. But that's not the main point. We marched with heads high and high heels as queers. We were the only ones who marched this way in Jerusalem. Then we all thought how depressed we'd have been if after all the investment and rage we'd ended up in the [official] event [in the stadium]. And with the sick “Kahana Lives” [Jewish supremacist religious fundamentalists] demonstrating with permit in Zion Place [the commercial hub of Jerusalem]. Of course, the struggle is not over. And it must continue well before next June. Next week. Those of us who wish can go on marching through the same streets where some of us march daily anyway.
Before we started marching with the banners I was terribly frightened. I'll be frightened next time too. That's the way it is. There's reason to be afraid … The relation between Gaza Street and the pounded Gaza city is clear [Recall that two days earlier the Israeli army had killed 22 civilians in Gaza]. But it's not the same. Not all struggles are equal. I have water, and I am not slaughtered, and I am not imprisoned to the extent that I have to tunnel my way out. But this was our own personal struggle for ourselves. For the first time in years I didn't want to compare. I wasn't in a position to compare. …
The empty streets, unaware of the blood, and carefree of the cleanliness or filth or undercurrents, are filled with people again. And again I was afraid and again I depend more on the kindness of strangers (Peleg 2006).
This text records an exploration of mobility/visibility boundaries. The successful march depended on local knowledge and manipulations of the visibility/mobility regime: where to cross, when to put banners down, group size, secrecy with respect to Police and media. These activists walked between the lines, rather than force through Police lines. They maintained full visibility, but avoided identification as an illegal demonstration. This activity was about embodiment, nationality, fear, trust and community-building, as opposed to the possible alienation of the big stadium event and the prescribed violent dispersal of the attempt to march through Jerusalem in the originally intended route. This march obtained visibility and mobility where the other attempts had to sacrifice one for the other (or, in the case of the gay Palestinian attempt to march, attained neither).
An objection: the mobility of this successful event depended on its poor visibility. The bigger events – those that received mass media coverage and were presented to millions of TV viewers – were those where mobility had to be restricted. This small group gained mobility, one might claim, simply because it had negligible visibility. But such objection, I maintain, is wrong.
A methodological diversion: topology
To explain why this objection is wrong, I'd like to introduce a new notion of 'topology' as framework for socio-spatial analysis. It is well known that distance has a role in representing space, but that (a) distance is not enough to subsume space, and (b) there are many competing notions of relational distance, as opposed to the supposedly objective distance of physicists (e.g. measuring distance in terms of time, effort, social proximity, etc; see Gatrell 1983). Since these distances are subjective and hard to quantify, several scholars attempted to replace quantitative distance by mathematical analyses of discrete relations referred to as topology (such as membership, contiguity, intervisibility, etc., as in Atkin's 1972 Q-Analysis and Hillier 1996 Space Syntax).
I'd like to offer here a different, mathematically 'softer' notion of topology, inspired by point-set topology, a mathematical branch that articulates a notion of convergence (getting closer to a given destination) without necessarily appealing to quantitative measures of distance. In this kind of topological setting, one can describe a sequence of steps as converging to a goal without necessarily being able to compare the closeness to the goal of any two specific steps in the sequence. To converge to a goal would mean that if we tried to imagine a system of enclosures (called neighborhoods) around the goal, the sequence of steps would eventually visit all these neighborhoods. Our choice of what to consider as relevant neighborhoods is precisely what defines the specific topology.
Mathematical examples of topologies not based on quantitative distance are too technically involved to present here, so I'll give a non-rigorous, non-mathematical one: a topology based on discerning the color of objects with a naked eye. In this case, a single neighborhood is the set of all locations from which a specific aspect of the color of the object can be discerned. The system of such neighborhoods defines the topology. Due to lighting and 3-dimensionality, being closer in metric terms does not necessarily equal seeing more, so this topology is not equivalent to a distance based topology. Depending on the object, one might not even have to come very close in terms of metric distance to visually discern its color. Moreover, two locations may simply tell us different things about the color of the object (say, that it's green from behind vs. red from the side) in a way that doesn't allow us to state that one is closer to the object than the other in terms of color discerning. We would say that we converge to an object in this color discerning topology if our trajectory visited all relevant neighborhoods, namely, each of the enclosures that allow to visually discern some aspect of the color of the object. This notion of topology can obviously be relativized in terms of the individual viewer and the specific aspects of color to be discerned.
This visual color discerning topology would be entirely different than a topology based on say, smell or electrical conductivity. We could approach an object in a way that would allow us to see everything there is to see about its color, but without smelling it properly or being electrocuted by it (and vice versa).
To go back to a humanities and social science setting, we could consider the social topology, where convergence to a person can be characterized by relations of exchange, discursive interaction and kinship; IT topologies, where convergence is characterized in terms of mining various kinds of information; or the detective narrative topology, where a protagonist gets closer to solving a crime by various forensic, psychological and common sense indicators. I reiterate that in topologies not based on a quantitative distance, different degrees of proximity are not always comparable. In the social topology it’s undecidable who’s socially closer, the friend one meets on holidays or the colleague one works with on a daily basis.
The point of this topological point of view is that an event may be considered from various topologies at once, and changing topologies can substantially affect experience and research, 13 and I make no claim that some topology is privileged, either politically or ontologically.
One of the advantages of this topological point of view is that an assertion of convergence often depends on the completion of an infinite process of getting closer, so no observation of a finite part of the process can ascertain convergence or divergence (we can never be absolutely sure, after observing a finite sequence of steps, whether the following steps will continue approaching the object or not). The assertion of convergence, therefore, is never simply an objective assertion, but 13 Paul Virilio’s work, for example, highlights the impact of the ever growing role of remote sensing and mass media topologies on our lives. depends on speculation and foresight. I believe this property is essential for a concept in the service of critical theory, which should not be reducible to positivist claims.
In the analysis of the successful mini-parade documented above I’ll consider three topologies: media coverage topology, law and order topology, and urban interaction topology. In terms of media coverage, converging to an event is measured in terms of the plurality of media coverage outlets, of air time, of rating, framing, editing and narration. Journalists’ strategies and viewer reception strategies determine whether one converges to a covered event. In the law and order topology, getting close to one’s objective is measured in terms of borders, fences and police lines that might separate people from their goal and in terms of the legal rights, permits and court rulings that facilitate or hinder people from getting there. In the urban interaction topology, however, coming close to an event is measured in earshot, in interaction with other people occupying the urban space, and in lines of sight. A stone’s throw range, for example, can be a crucial measure of proximity when one considers urban interaction.
Passing through another dimension – continued
Now I can explain why this parade that did march did not gain its mobility due to its negligible size; in fact, the number of people who eventually reached the Women in Black place apparently wasn’t very far from that of activists in the mass arrest. Its visibility wasn't smaller than that of the media-covered events – their visibilities, I claim, are topologically incommensurable.
The topology that the participants of the parade that did march had in mind was very different from the topologies considered by the organizers of the two parades that didn’t march in West Jerusalem. The stadium event and the mass arrest were assessed predominately in terms of the quantity and quality of media coverage, the security rings that surrounded them, police violence, and the twists and turns of the legal battle that was held to try to make them happen. They reached (or failed to reach) their goal by succeeding (or failing) to obtain permits, cross police lines, and get substantial mainstream media exposure. In other words, the visibility and mobility of these two parades were measured mostly in terms of media coverage and law and order topologies.
But that’s not how the parade that did march was assessed. In the above terms, this mini-parade was a failure. But these were not the relevant terms. Instead, this parade was discussed mostly in terms of the reactions of passers-by, in terms of the sense of fear or security of walking Jerusalem’s streets while manifesting pride, and in terms of local interaction. In other words, the visibility and mobility of this parade were measured in terms of the urban interaction topology. And in those terms it reached its goal. Comparing the visibility/mobility of the two West Jerusalem parades that did not march and the one that did is a comparison of apples and oranges. The latter parade had a different sense, and was evaluated in very different terms. These differences explain why the visibility/mobility of the parade that did march managed to bypass the tradeoff between visibility and mobility that was forced on the two parades that didn’t march: this tradeoff only applies in some topologies, not in others.
To succeed, the parade that marched had to remain small and spontaneous. It had to visibly approach people in terms of urban interaction topology, and yet remain practically invisible in terms of law and order and media topology. Beyond the visibility-mobility tradeoff, orthogonal to the panopticon, lie topological spaces where queer techniques manage to avoid the technologies subjecting sexuality and nationality to a visibility/mobility tradeoff. 14
Locally savvy Jerusalem queer and LGBT activists managed to turn the above parade into a replicable, ongoing, and yet police-free event. Every Friday for over a year a dozen or so activists rallied in Zion place, at the heart of Western Jerusalem. They stood there with banners, and concluded with a brief march through the adjacent pedestrian highstreet. 14
Discussions of visibility and spatial aspects of queer activism and experience, which can be rearticulated in terms of the analytic framework suggested here, are available, for example, in Ingram et al 1997 and in Duncan 1996. Throughout a year of vigils, activists recorded only two minor violent incidents, and even those took place only when the 2007 Jerusalem pride parade approached. Most Israelis with whom I discussed these rallies expressed disbelief at their almost peaceful weekly existence. Those who observe Jerusalem in terms of the mass media topology see only the clear and distinct lines of the dominant visibility-mobility regime. But these parades take place through the urban topology, where lines are often (but not always) less strictly drawn, and where visibility and mobility can concur.
Beyond visibility: Being visible without making a clear statement; taking place without crossing borders In order to understand better the potential of mobility and visibility in urban topologies, let’s pay more attention to the reactions of passers-by in the above urban vigils. Some passers-by expressed support, some experienced silent encouragement from the affirmation of a life they are denied, some expressed hostility (directing demonstrators to protest in Arab villages – linking sexual and national exclusion even in a vigil that says nothing about the Occupation). It is important to note, however, that many passers-by simply expressed bewilderment. I don’t mean here the commonplace bewilderment at gays ‘flaunting’ their sexuality. I’m referring, for example, to an older woman, who sat next to an activist, expressed support, but asked “what am I supposed to do?” What demand is directed at her, when confronted with the banner: “I am a gay Jerusalemite”? Another woman, a young soldier, approached, and asked, pointing to a banner, "what's homophobia?". I answered that it was fear and hatred directed at homosexuals. She asked if we'd invented the word.
Something in the presence of these LGBT and queer activists was opaque. The message was unclear. The activists were visible, but their purpose wasn’t. Such opacity is not restricted to gay vigils in Jerusalem. For example, during a Tel Aviv anti-war demonstration in August 2006, black-pink activists (anarcho-queer) joined in, carrying banners and chanting slogans with messages relating sexuality, militarism and the war. The slogans ranged from “No pride in Occupation” to “Dan Halutz don't you brag, one day we'll see you wearing drag” (Dan Halutz was the then Israeli Chief of Staff; this slogan is a take-off on “Dan Halutz don’t you brag, one day we’ll see you tried in Hague”, referring to the International Court of Justice in the Hague). In response, an article appeared in the communist party website, entitled Why the anarchist message damages opposition to the war in Lebanon (Livni 2006). The writer added a talkback stating “that the anarchists protest in a colorful and interesting manner, but their emphasis is originality and form, instead of content. For an outsider, it is not clear what the anarchist messages are and how a 'black block' and pink ribbons are related to the war”. Another talkback writer objected more pointedly: “When I saw the demo, I didn't see a demo against the Lebanon war, I saw a bunch of anarchist kids taking advantage of the opportunity to make some noise”.
Similar criticism was encountered from the opposite direction, when some of the same black-pinks (Queeruption activists) participated in the Jerusalem vigil, which, as mentioned at the end of the first section, replaced the gay pride parade postponed due to the war in August 2006. The black-pink slogans, such as “Beirut has an open house too” (ironically referring to LGBT NGO Jerusalem Open House, and bearing an image of a bombarded house in Beirut) and “In Beirut and in Sderot Lesbians should not get shot” (Sderot is an Israeli town near Gaza suffering Palestinian missile attacks since 2001), were seen as overshadowing the anti-homophobic context, and rendering the demo’s message inaccessible and opaque. One participant suggested that black- pinks should have been more sensitive to the local context, “just like a man in a group of feminist women, just like a Jew in Bil'in 15 ” (Queeruption 9 collective 2006, p. 12).
This opacity brings me to my final point. Opaque messages are usually viewed as failures to get the message across. Rather than successfully affirming the connection between different aspects of oppression, black-pinks were accused of alienating co- demonstrators. But as Brecht taught, alienation – the sense of not being able to empathize or intuitively connect with another – may motivate people to thoughtfully reconsider the situation in order to make sense of it.
Indeed, in some discursive situations, subversive messages are foreclosed, and cannot be expressed, or cannot be expressed without being reappropriated by dominant discourses. In such situations one can only leave a trace of subversion by representing the contradictions and difficulties that this foreclosure generates (Spivak 1998). When confronted with such traces in the form of opaque messages, people may sometimes find that the discourse through which they frame an issue is inadequate. The opaque message may lead observers (not always, not any observer, and definitely not under any circumstances) to rearrange the field of positions they're acquainted with in order to give the opaque message some sense (Wagner 2012).
A brief example: In researching for this paper I wanted to interview an activist concerning her efforts to include Palestinians in queer events in Israel. She refused to cooperate. As a regular participant (although not an organizer) in black-pink activities, I was surprised. Expressing her general dismay with the academic discourse and institution, the activist explained that she didn’t want her hard activist work to be capitalized by another for academic credit. As a result of her refusal to discourse, I was forced to critically reconsider my project. But before one celebrates the force of her refusnik-opaque message, one should recognize its limitations. While I was indeed prevented from academically thematizing her work, here I am academically thematizing her silence.
But still more is needed to understand the force of the opaque performances described above. The above analysis assumes that opaque performances are targeted at outsiders, trying to communicate something. It assumes that the inability to communicate a clear message (because dominant discourse forecloses its convincing formulation) yields opaque statements that direct attention to a trace of the foreclosed message and to the limits of discourse. However, one should also consider the possibility that there is no message; that the queer political performance does not always seek to communicate anything.
Amalia Ziv has analyzed the non-communicative aspect of queer activism in the context of Israeli LGBT anti-Occupation group Black Laundry (Ziv 2010). She pointed out the impact of the group’s political performances not only on observers, but also on the activists themselves, generating an experiential bond between the performers and the performed situation (e.g. in a performance of handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinians). This impact is indeed related to the performative experience of the activist who documented the parade that did march in the email quoted in the previous section: political performance allowed this activist to “depend more on the kindness of strangers”.
I’ll try to illustrate the point through another example. The night after Passover I saw a group of young people wearing Yarmulkas sitting in a circle in Tel-Aviv's central Magen David place, singing and playing guitar. I believe there's no point in asking what their message was. They didn't send a message. They reformed the urban space. Magen David Place was no longer that place I cross on my way to a bar. It became a communal place for a group which is a minority in mostly secular Tel-Aviv. It became a space, where a group of people communally took place. They weren't another part of the public. But they weren't quite a counter-public, as their position with respect to the public was ambiguous (they might not count as part of the public in Tel Aviv, but perhaps do count as such in the greater Israeli context.16 Perhaps they are best described as a co-public: staging their community not against or away from the public, but not inviting the public to share in their community either. They didn’t incite the public to discourse, but neither did they foreclose the position of addressee or possibly even participant for members of the public. They affirmed their co- participation, taking
their part in public space. The public, in turn, may try to reclaim this part, but can no longer deny this part-icipation, whether they understand it or not.17
The kinds of queer activism that was discussed in this text (in the contexts of sexuality and nationality alike) is largely about confronting visibility-mobility regimes, and also about avoiding them and attempting to pass through. It is largely about making statements, and also about disrupting a discourse that forecloses convincing formulations of queer claims. I've tried to describe these political techniques, and point to their strengths and limitations. Confronting something as strong as Israel’s racist, homophobic and militarist technologies may leave activists with little choice between banging heads against walls and contingent, non-replicable and dangerous opaque actions. But that's not all there is. Beyond opposing and avoiding policing, beyond making clear or opaque messages, takes place a politics of performative formation of communities and space. By taking a public place for queer performance, they take a part of the public space, and verge on taking it apart, that is, splitting it into places that fail to communicate with each other. Given this situation, we might want to think of these queer performers not as uttering valid statements, but as performing testimonies: acts of martyrs (Derrida 1995) and shaheeds, but also acts of bystanders and passers- by, that is, performances that may be hard to believe or understand, but bear an undeniable manifestation of a foreign experience, and may have a forceful impact on the performer's self, on the public space where the testimony is performed, and on ambient discourse. We now venture again to the realm of marginal techniques that might end up in volatile violence, or might allow people to live along the seamline of taking a part in public and taking it apart.
The four queer activists who marched through Jerusalem on November 10, 2006, those who attended LGBT & queer visibility vigils, participants in a queer anti-Occupation event opaquely entitled “Meow to the Occupation” – but also, in a different way, Palestinian non citizens living without permits in Tel Aviv – they are all reformers of selves and space. To reform their ability to express, they chart topologies and spaces where, briefly, sometimes irreplicably, they take a/part in public. The place they take does not necessarily depend on a sender-addressee relation with the public; they partake whether they are understood or not. But these parts and places that they take are not delineated (like the official Jerusalem pride parades) by security circles and police lines. They’re taking a/part in public, partaking in places they have never taken before.
Roy Wagner has PhD's in mathematics (1997) and philosophy (2007) from Tel Aviv Universities. His research interests include the history and philosophy of mathematics, which he studies from a semiotic point of view, and political philosophy, where he is concerned with resistance from the margins. He is currently a fellow of the Martin Buber Society for the Humanities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
This paper derives from activities of Tel Aviv University’s Queer Theory Reading Group and its annual LGBT studies and queer theory conference. The paper could not exist if it weren’t for what I learned from group members Merav Amir, Tal Arbel, Aeyal Gross, Dafna Hirsch, Yasmin Sasson and Amalia Ziv. Related readings include Amir and Kotef (2007), Gross (2009), Hirsch (2002), Wagner (2006) and the work by Ziv and Arbel cited above.
(See original article for footnotes)
Can occupiers struggle alongside the occupied?
6 February 2014
he question of how Israeli activists should act when offering support or solidarity to Palestinians is a troubling and recurrent theme.
Organizations such as Peace Now have often revealed themselves to be essentially Zionist, more concerned with peace for their own society than justice for Palestinians. The history of Israeli-Palestinian relations has been peppered with “dialogue” projects which offer Israelis ways to demonstrate how “reasonable” they are in speaking to “the enemy” but present no challenge to the fundamentals of the occupation.
Anarchists Against the Wall (AK Press) is a small book about an organization that has tried — with varying success — to be very different. Anarchists Against the Wall (AATW), as a group, has tried to “stress that we are not equal partners but rather occupiers who join the occupied in their struggle” and to highlight that it is the “relentless popular resistance movement” of Palestinians which “embodies all that is dignified and human about the struggle for freedom and equality.”
The values inherent in this include the necessity of outside activists establishing whether they are wanted or welcome in a Palestinian community, rather than just assuming that their presence is desired or useful.
Edited by Uri Gordon and Ohal Grietzer, Anarchists Against the Wall includes contributions by Adi Winter, Adar Grayevsky, Yanay Israeli, Jonathan Pollak, Leehee Rothschild, Kobi Snitz, Roy Wagner, Tali Shapiro, Sarah Assouline, Iris Arieli, Uri Ayalon, Yossi Bartal, Ruth Edmonds and Chen Misgav.
The book itself is divided into two sections. Following a broad-brush history of AATW — influenced by Palestinian and international movements from the second intifada, it emerged in protest camps set up against Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank during 2003 — the first section is composed of “official” documents.
These set out AATW’s main positions and arguments, giving a sense of the ideas and priorities which have driven them.
Snapshots of struggle
These offer snapshots of historical moments in the struggle against Israel’s wall andsettlements, and of AATW’s desire to build an alternative language to that of the increasingly right-wing “peace” movement. As early as 2003, we see Israeli activists using terms that are now commonplace among international activists — describing the situation as “apartheid” and the West Bank as a “ghetto … being built by Jews.”
Other early documents include clearly articulated anarchist principles, focusing on “pragmatic rather than ideological” methods of resistance. A January 2004 declaration uses the phrase “no masters and no slaves” — echoing the anarchist slogan “No Gods, No Masters” — and insisting that “the Berlin Wall was not dismantled by rulers and agreements but rather by citizens who felled it with their own hands.”
In the second part of the book, individuals who have been part of AATW reflect on their experiences. This is, perhaps, the section that some will find less comfortable to read.
When Israeli activists talk about the experiences of seeing comrades injured and of being isolated from Israeli mainstream society, it is always tempting to ask: but how does this compare to what Palestinian activists go through?
There is always a danger, in focusing on the experiences of activists from privileged positions, of self-indulgence and solipsism. Anarchists Against the Wall argues, however, that there is a “legitimate space” for discussing movement dynamics in the interests of improving them.
As Anarchists Against the Wall suggests, the attention that is sometimes focused on the group, often disproportionate to its numbers and impact, has not necessarily been sought, but is the result of international activists who have “projected more of their aspirations and hopes on us than we deserve.” This is a problem of global injustices (Israeli rather than Palestinian activists often find it easier to get visas and pay for flights), but also one of the racism embedded in Western activists, who find it easier to talk to someone who is socially and linguistically “like them.”
Anarchists Against the Wall, therefore, raises important issues which are often under-discussed in all movements, especially those concerned with “solidarity” or being “allies.” These include problems of burnout, machismo, martyr-complexes, informal hierarchies, and the challenges of maintaining radical analyses and positions while not seeming gratuitously weird or extreme in the eyes of “ordinary” people.
These may be discussed in a specific Israeli context — for instance, the failure of “radicals” involved in the Sheikh Jarrah campaign in occupied East Jerusalem to find useful ways of articulating the fundamental inconsistencies of the “soft left” and Zionist peace movement positions.
But there are lessons here for radical movements much more widely.
To what extent are our choices of tactics informed by our own desires to appear radical or daring, rather than an assessment of their effectiveness? What happens when activist “lifestyles” alienate those who are politically sympathetic but socially “mainstream”?
Some of the more specific issues also expose the dynamics of the Israeli Zionist mainstream, and provide a useful counter to narratives which separate the actions of the Israeli state or the army from “ordinary Israelis.”
“We’re all responsible”
One contributor clearly states, “To me, Israeli citizens are the ones to point the finger at; they are the ones who elected these politicians … they … are the ones who do not revolt against racism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing … despite this powerful indoctrination, we are all responsible for our actions.”
Personal accounts contradict the idea that activists have to be “red-diaper babies” or social loners. Many are “normal” people who, whether through slow processes of radicalization or “road-to-Damascus” incidents, have faced up to the inconsistencies on which their privileged positions depend.
While the occupation is a key part of this, many also engage with the fundamental racism of Israeli society and its prejudice against and exploitation of asylum-seekers and non-Jewish migrant workers.
Anarchists Against the Wall, and the book that it has produced, are not perfect, and do not purport to have definitive “answers.” The members and editors involved are the first to admit that. But this little collection asks important questions, and tries to answer them with courage, realism and honesty.
There are significant points here for those struggling for a just peace in the Middle East. But more than that, there are valuable lessons for anyone trying to build healthy radical movements across the globe.
Sarah Irving is a freelance writer. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the occupied West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06. She is the author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine and co-author, with Sharyn Lock, ofGaza: Beneath the Bombs.
Manufacturer: AK Press