a new context for the communal production, appropriation and distribution of critical knowledge
Friday, June 29, 2007
bruegel with buñuel
[This is a visual posting of Bruegel's "The Peasant Wedding" (1568) and a still from Buñuel's Viridiana (1961). In their juxtaposition, the two images summarizes both the enjoyment of the ceremony and the impossibility of the sexual relationship that the wedding celebrates or perhaps substitutes for. This posting goes for... Anyways, they know who they are. Şerefe.]
(This is a very scattered posting. I am a bit fragmented, between the heat, the 6 hours of Arabic class a day, the intensity of the daily situation here, and I swear, the bumpy rides in the minibuses shake the thoughts in my brain in a way I haven’t quite adjusted to yet.)
Every Friday in the town of Bil’in residents are joined by some Israelis and other international volunteers to stand off the army. It’s a routine. The crowd marches from the mosque towards the apartheid wall chanting “laa laa l’jidar” ("No to the wall!") and waving Palestinian flags. The crowd is followed by a red crescent ambulance whose medics are equipped with water and cotton balls with vinegar to give to people overcome by tear gas. The army is waiting there outside of the town, at a point between the wall and the town. Several town leaders yell to the soldiers in Arabic and Hebrew ("Soldiers, it’s Friday, go home!"), young men and little boys gather small stones to throw towards the huge armoured jeeps, and then the tear gas starts coming, first to the sides of the road, pushing the crowd up towards the village, and then the soldiers shoot more gas into the outskirts of the village, amongst the houses. This can’t be an accident, as it is obviously in order to convince the town members, who stand steadfast every Friday with their international guests, to stop opposition to the wall. Because, they must think, if the village is gassed, maybe the villagers will start feeling like it is the activists and internationals who brought the tear gas to the village. The soldiers in jeeps and helmets advance, the crowd pushes forward, and back again, forward and back. Occasionally there is an arrest or two, and those involved are usually released several hours later--probably this is the only place in Palestine where release happens this swiftly. Eventually, the crowd disperses and there is an unspoken “see you next week” between the crowd and the soldiers.
Walking (trying not to run) towards the town, choking on the tear gas, one can’t help but wonder, why are we doing this? The back and forth, the forward and back, the advance and retreat structures that hour or so, as well as the weekly ritual. How can we understand weekly rituals like this? Is there an accumulation, besides the tear gas in peoples’ lungs, and if so, what is accumulated? It is certainly not that people expect that if they keep showing up, the soldiers just will stop.
I guess there are some easy answers; all of which are true, I think. There is some reappropriation of action, when it is the town people who are in some ways “forcing” the soldiers out, creating a confrontation when they are ready armed with words, flags, and rocks, as opposed to army incursions which occur suddenly and literally catch people with their pants down. There is a practice of making public collective resistance routine in the face of attempts to normalize the occupation, even if this is through posturing confrontation. Also, there are the relationships that are strengthened and expanded through weekly action, and that type of networking is resistance in and of itself.
But there is something else which is irksome, which begs for deeper digging. It’s that nagging feeling that there is some complacency in this action, that being arrested and released 2 hours later every week shows some sort of performance that the soldiers are a part of too. When I came back on Friday, I watched the film “Arna’s Children” about a theatre group in Jenin, from which almost all of the young actors were eventually martyred. One young actor said something quite profound about performance, or the relationship between stage performance and demonstrations. When the interviewer asked him about the role of theatre in the Intifada, at first he mistook the question and gave this answer more or less: when he is on stage he doesn’t think of the audience and that’s how he captures people’s attention, by being fully immersed. And then when the director repeated the question to him, the boy answered straight forwardly: “On stage I feel like I am throwing stones.”
In New York, we complain snarkily that protests that are “sanctioned,” end up being a handful of leftists walking around in a pen set up by the police. This protest in Bil’in, I must admit, feels, in some ways, the same. But, I think the difference is that this weekly protest is not an exceptional once a year event against the war in Iraq, but rather it punctuates another week of occupation, full of the millions of impossibilities of life under occupation. Restricted movement, violence, poverty. Stores flooded with Israeli goods. The Zionist images on the shekel, the Israeli currency, which is used in the West Bank too. The old books in the Birzeit library--since Israel doesn’t allow the book shipments into the university. There is no way to imagine all of the banal ways in which the occupation operates at every level.
It is easy for an international to get caught in the moment of the tear gas, and feel that the occupation and resistance is enacted primarily in these weekly encounters, and to get enthralled, and to lose oneself in the moment, and to imagine that these are the Sites of Resistance. One international complained to me in the servis (the shuttle, dolmuş) on the way home that the kids throw stones, and that this somehow means that Palestinian resistance is bankrupt. To begin with, the kids throw stones at armored jeeps. And second, this conversation ("Should the kids throw stones?") presumes that the moment is ground zero, that everything started today, 20 minutes ago when prayers let out, and that it is a conflict between the kids and the tanks, as if the kids didn’t throw stones, the occupation would end, as if the occupation started because kids began throwing stones. This weekly event is a point on a long history of occupation and resistance .
Why did I think of this interview in “Arna’s Children?” Throwing stones is a practice, and it does not think of its audience. Kids who throw stones are thinking of each other likely, and trying to impress and outdo each other, and they are not tailoring their project to get international support, or Israeli mercy. And they capture people that way, in ways that challenge the people for whom protest is about results. It was a great “mistaken” response because he was expected to say something about art and resistance, and he spoke instead about self-reflection, how he feels and what he thinks when he is on stage, what is performance and who is it for? And then he related it to the act of throwing stones.
This leads to the first question again. What is this practice, what is produced through it, and who is it for?
And all of this against the backdrop of cooperation between Abu Mazen, Olmert, and the other powers that be. The release of only Fatah prisoners from Israeli prisons, Palestinian money confiscated by Israel released in stages to feed Fatah. And then, today, an Israeli incursion in Gaza worse than people have seen in so long. It still amazes me that the news can speak of an “impending humanitarian crisis,” it’s like 12 life sentences, I guess.
The following is an excerpt from the interview that Amy Goodman conducted with Antonia Juhasz, the author of The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time. The interview is aired on Wednesday as the 600 pipeline workers in southern Iraq began a strike on June 5 to protest the new oil law for Iraq. You can follow the news pertaining to the Iraqi labor movement and the growing number of strikes across the country from the website of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers.
AMY GOODMAN: First, talk about this strike, Antonia.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, the strike is critical. It’s been a long time building. There had been some negotiations between the strike leaders and Prime Minister al-Maliki. There are a number of demands, basic working conditions, wages, as you say, but also a seat at the table and opposition to the attempt to turn over Iraq's oil to foreign oil corporations and the -- as more knowledge has been brought to Iraq, it’s been very difficult for Iraqis to even learn what this oil law was about, just like it’s been difficult here. As more information has spread, the opposition has spread, as well, and now the workers have taken the situation into their own hands and struck.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is this US-backed proposal?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: It’s a Bush administration, US corporate, very simple attempt to figure out: if you’re going to wage a war for oil, how do you get the oil. Does Exxon come in on a tank with a flag and stick it in the ground, or do you have a more careful process? The careful process is very simply: write a law, get a new Iraqi government in place, have the Iraqis pass the law, and then turn the oil over to US oil corporations.
The Bush administration designed the law. Last January, President Bush announced that it was a benchmark for passage by the Iraqi government. It was the same day that he announced the surge. And in the language of the administration, the surge was meant to provide the political space so that the Iraqis could discuss the oil law and other benchmarks. The Democrats then adopted this language of the benchmarks and said in the supplemental war spending bill, again, that the Iraqis have to pass this benchmark. And it very simply turns Iraq from a nationalized oil system, essentially closed to US oil corporations, to a privatized system in which potentially two-thirds of all of Iraq’s oil could be owned by foreign oil companies, and they can control the production with as long as thirty-year contracts.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, what about the news coming out of Iraq that Raed Jarrar has reported on, talking about the significance of the vote for the US to get out of Iraq by the parliament?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: It’s very significant. The United Nations mandate for the US occupation of Iraq gives ultimate authority to the Iraqi parliament and the Iraqi cabinet to determine if the occupation can continue. So, theoretically, if the Iraqi parliament, joined by the cabinet -- and that’s critical -- say that the occupation cannot continue, theoretically it would have to end. That stands in vast opposition to the plans of the Bush administration and now, apparently, the plans of the Democratic leadership, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Couldn't it give Bush an out?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: It could give Bush an out, if he wanted an out. I don't think he wants an out.
AMY GOODMAN: Because?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, I think there’s many ways in which the war is not going all bad for the President and for the administration. The only thing that’s truly going bad is the instability. But what has worked is a government in place that is more amenable to US interests than the last ten years of the Hussein regime, a government in place that is willing to negotiate in a dramatic fashion on the nature of Iraq's oil regime, and being on the precipice of a transfer of Iraq, a fundamental transfer, in its oil policy. We have US oil corporations engaging daily in negotiations with the Iraqi oil ministry, waiting on the sidelines. If the law passes, US corporations have the potential to own a true bonanza of oil and, if the US military stays, protection to get in and get it. Now --
AMY GOODMAN: Are all now working intensively with the oil ministry.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, they absolutely are, and have been from the beginning.
AMY GOODMAN: And if they don't pass this law?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: If they don't pass the law, it’s a big strike at the heart of the agenda. I would say that the game wouldn't be over, and the fact that the administration is talking publicly about this Korea policy, the idea that the United States would maintain some sort of military presence similar to the US presence, quote/unquote, "keeping the peace between South and North Korea," that’s a permanent military engagement, which could last as long as fifty years. The thirty-year contracts, the length, the extended length of the occupation, leads me to believe that this is the idea that the administration wants to pursue.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think of this comparison?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: It’s incredibly disturbing. First of all, the conditions are completely dissimilar, except for the desire of the United States to maintain a presence and to use the misunderstanding, I think, of the American public as to the role of the US military in Korea, to say, “Well, we’ve created peace for fifty years in one situation. We can create peace for fifty years in this other situation. Oh, and by the way, our military will be really well situated to move forward across the region to spread peace across the Middle East, where, oh, by the way, there also happens to be two-thirds of the world's remaining oil.” It’s a terrifying proposition.