Panel 5D

The (Settler)Colonial Present in Palestine/Israel: Realities and Resistance

11.30 – 13.30

Chair: Lana Tatour, University of Warwick

50 Years After 1967: Legal Resistance Evaluated

Elian Weizman CBRL, Kenyon Institute

Situated within the debates of critical legal studies, law and resistance are seemingly two contradictory concepts: while the law is instrumental in producing and sustaining the hegemonic order, resistance aims to subvert that very order. Nevertheless, in resisting state policies and practices, groups and individuals often utilise the law in struggles to overturn it This paper will interrogate the paradoxical relationship between law and resistance in the context of the fiftieth anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Ever since 1967 Israel applied a military regime accompanied by law-like rules and regulations issued by the military commander, legal practitioners have endlessly worked to challenge, undermine and overturn the law (and order) that governs the lives of millions of Palestinians. What was actually achieved in the past fifty years of legal battles, on both the individual and collective levels? What damage was caused to the political struggle by the legal battles? What opportunities the legal struggle holds for the future? This paper will offer an assessment, based on interviews with legal practitioners dealing with different aspects of the legal system – from representing individuals in the Israeli military courts and lower courts, through petitions to the Israeli Supreme Courts against state legislation, right up to the appeal to international law and advocacy work. Accordingly, the paper promises to flesh out the limitations and possibilities of law as a strategy of resistance, and will reflect on the possible ways out of these limitations and paradoxes.

The Defence of Hebrew Labour in the Cotemporary Israeli Construction Industry

Simon Englert, SOAS

The defense of Hebrew labour arose as the central campaign of the pre-1948 Jewish labour movement in Palestine. It demanded the exclusion of Arab labour and produce from the Jewish economy. The Histadrut, Israel’s main trade union federation, was set up to lead these campaigns. After the establishment of Israel, the Histadrut continued to limit the participation of Palestinian workers inside the Israeli economy. Gradually, as Israel occupied the whole of historic Palestine and its state infrastructure developed, the political role of the Histadrut and Hebrew labour diminished. Today, it is considered a minor political force in Israel. However, in 2014, in the face of a construction workforce made up mainly of Palestinian and Migrant workers, the Histadrut, the state and private companies, launched a joint project to encourage Jewish workers to join the industry. This paper studies the ways in which the defense of Hebrew labour is still promoted in Israel today, through a case study of the construction industry. First, it will discuss the importance of the construction industry in Israel as a driver of economic growth and an important actor in the development of Israeli settlements. Second, it will address the apparent contradiction between the industry’s development of settlements, and its majority non-Jewish workforce. Finally, it will discuss how the defense of Hebrew labour remains an active policy pursued by the Israeli state and the Histadrut in construction, and ask what the implications are for our understanding of the relationship between state and labour in Israel today.

Conceptualising Corridor Networks and Colonial Infrastructures: The View from the Train

Sharri Plonski, SOAS

This paper is concerned with the ways in which ‘infrastructure’ – the physical networks that circulate  and control the movement of goods, people and ideas – shapes and is shaped by the territorial project in which it is embedded. It works to unveil the contradictory modes that produce settler colonial space  in Israel; and, through the lens of Israel’s newest/oldest train corridor, the infrastructure it uses to nullify and normalise them. The paper interrogates the flows and frictions that under-write Israel’s recent re-inauguration of the Palestine branch of the Ottoman ‘al-Hijazi’ Railway. Launched in Nov., 2016 as the ‘HaEmek (Valley) Railway’, the line links the Haifa port with Beit She’an (on the Jordanian border). Bearing little resonance with its original route – which once connected Ottoman and then British  imperial hubs in Haifa, to Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the Saudi Kingdom – the train simply ends in Beit She’an. It is, quite literally, a train to nowhere, reiterating Israel’s dislocated relationship with its neighbours. Yet, its freight cargo, which starts in Europe and enters Israel through Haifa port, continues (via Jordanian trucks) into Jordan and beyond, bypassing structural and political limits to Israeli trade relations in the Middle East by leaving no paper trail of the Israeli portion of the journey. This paper focuses on the tightly controlled, securitised and limited gateways and exit-points that constitute the train’s route; and asks in what ways these new efforts to link and de-link Israel from global trade processes, reinforces and yet re-casts Israeli colonial geographies.

Breaking Which Silence? A Critical Examination of Resistance Practices Inside Israeli Society

James Eastwood, Queen Mary, University of London

This paper will critically examine the resistance practices of the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence. This organisation collects testimonies from Israeli soldiers and publishes them in order to develop a moral critique of the occupation. In recent years, it has attracted a large amount of media attention both within Israel and abroad. It has also come under fierce attack from right-wing groups and government ministers. Although it contains some non-Zionist and anti-Zionist activists, the organisation as a whole does not take a formal position on the question of Zionism. It is therefore an interesting case of a group which awkwardly straddles the Zionist/anti-Zionist divide. I ask why this organisation has attracted so much attention, but also seek to challenge the assumption that it poses a serious threat to the colonial reality of Zionism. By examining the activism of this organisation inside Israel, I question the effectiveness of the moral critique they develop in the absence of substantive political engagement with issues of colonialism, militarism, and racism. In particular, I look at the activity of the organisation within pre-military academies for high school graduates as an example of these limitations. The paper will also use the example of Breaking the Silence as opportunity to reflect more broadly on the possibility for movements of radical change to succeed from within Israeli society. The analysis will be based on extensive interviews and participant observation conducted in Israel.