Posted by: simonsteachingblog | January 20, 2010

The politics of amazement

In his little book Notes on the Occupation, Eric Hazan observes that ‘it is not hatred that predominates in Palestine, but rather an immense and almost naïve amazement – what have we done to be treated like this, how can such injustice have lasted for so long, why does the entire world refuse to help us?’ (Eric Hazan, Notes on the Occupation: Palestinian Lives, The New Press, 2007, p. 106) This understandable Palestinian sense of amazement at the injustice of their situation is accompanied in the book by the Hazan’s own amazement at what he sees while travelling through the West Bank in 2005. Thus, for example, he recounts his surprise at the ‘astonishing’ sight of a jogging settler being escorted by an army jeep. Although this is a phenomenon quite normal to the absurd world of the Israeli occupation, it strikes Hazan as something absurdly amazing and as an organisation of human resources that makes no sense except within an regime premised on the systematic prioritisation of one group of people over another. This kind of amazement should be the reaction to such sights on the part of every progressive person who witnesses them. Indeed, the entire apparatus of the occupation can be understood to constitute an amazing spectacle, the most visible manifestations of which are the West Bank Barrier, the checkpoints, the unmanned road blocks, and the bypass roads, but which is not limited to such major material structures. The elements of this panoply of occupation are also to be found in the everyday occurrences generated by military routines, in small events, gestures, and normalised acts of domination.

Still from Avi Mograbi 'Avenge but one of my two eyes', 2005

A short film by Avi Mograbi that can be seen in low resolution on ‘youtube’ (which is also part of his feature length documentary Avenge but one of my two eyes (2005)) epitomises such low-key yet amazing sights thrown up by Israel’s ongoing rule of the West Bank. Mograbi filmed a confrontation between himself and some soldiers tasked to open a gate in the West Bank Barrier to allow Palestinian children to return from school. The soldiers have not opened the gate and refuse to answer Mograbi’s questions about their inaction. Instead, the soldiers focus their comments on Mograbi and his increasingly angry berating of their apparent refusal to open the gate. For the soldiers, it is Mograbi’s use of language towards them as individuals and not the children’s plight that is scandalous. The amazement this generates in me as a viewer not only involves a perception of the scandalous effect of the Barrier on the lives of children, but also a sense of incredulity towards the young soldier’s indifference to this situation, to their apparent inability to even see this situation as a problem that urgently needs to be remedied. Thus the amazing nature of the occupation is not simply defined by the inhumanity of its apparatus, but also by the inability of its agents to see this inhumanity. The inhumanity of the occupation is therefore compounded by an inhuman field of visibility that is structured by a moral blindness towards the effects of the occupation regime. This is also compounded by the condition that those who are blind to the inhumanity of the occupation are also blind to their blindness. In this context, acts aimed at redefining the ‘distribution of the sensible’ (Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, Continuum, 2004) in relation to the occupation are distinctly political. Mograbi’s confrontation with the soldiers is just such an act that does not appear to bring the immorality of the occupation into visibility for these young men, but does potentially generate this effect for viewers of the film.

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