University professors, students analyse Israeli body politics in relation to colonisation
Professor Jasbir K. Puar (Women's & Gender Studies at Rutgers University), and Dr. Rami Salameh (Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at Birzeit University) explored the role of the body in colonized areas and the use of bio-politics as tools for colonialism in a round table discussion organized by the Windsor-Birzeit Dignity Initiative and on June 25, 2018.
Puar explained in her intervention how Israeli forces intentionally shoot to maim Palestinians, which was evident in the 2014 war on Gaza. “The Israeli forces present shooting to maim as a more humanitarian alternative to outright killing. But that stands in direct opposition to the maiming of the life-support systems and the destruction of the vital infrastructure in Gaza.”
Puar added, “Such bio-political vectors are used by the Israeli forces to deplete Palestinian resistance and maintain a disposable population. Maiming is not the result of an accident, or a humanitarian gesture, but it is a deliberate action designed to inflict damage and introduce disability,” Puar asserted, pointing to the 2014 war on Gaza as a prime example of such policies.
The author of “The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability,” noted that states use injury and forced debility as bio-political tools to control their population. Puar argued that disability has become biopolitical in and of itself. She noted that the right to maim, or the right to induce disability, has become closely linked to the sovereign’s right to kill – Foucault’s concept of the sovereign who exercises, and displays power through making people live or letting them die; hence, make live or let die.
The second intervention presented by Salameh, was entitled “Corporeal Experiences: Living as Colonized.” He reviewed the role of the body of the colonized as a site of power practices and strategies or as a site of resistance and counter-hegemonic practices.
Salameh remarked, “In the field of colonial studies and related literature, two approaches are usually taken when exploring the colonized body: The first stems from an understanding of the body as an active agent, and the second posits that the colonized body is only a subject with no volition.”
Salameh began by drawing attention to the fact that, in colonial studies, the body is always a proxy for understanding related issues and problems, but not the body itself. “The body becomes a proxy for interpreting issues or facets,” he said.
The question of the Palestinian body, continued Salameh, is a question of the lived experiences, emotions, and concepts inside that body under colonial rule. Colonization, he maintained, is the occupation of the body and the subconscious.
Salameh used the Israeli checkpoints dotting the West Bank as an example of how colonial rule burrows into the subconscious: “Checkpoints are biopolitical tools of control, but they’re also a place of resistance for Palestinians. The experience of checkpoints reproduces the consciousness of the body, thereby situating the checkpoint as part of that consciousness and reality. Not only is the checkpoint a tool of control, not only is it a place of resistance also, but it is a place where power relations between bodies occur.”
The checkpoint, Salameh concluded, becomes part and parcel of the body and its view of the world. It becomes part of the body’s existence, he noted, and not a hindrance.