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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, February 02, 2004
    Disengagement and the Politics of Verticality
    I don't understand the situation in Israel-Paelstine, at all. So I don't know how to interpret Ariel Sharon's announcement that he intends to evacuate all Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. The Times Online tonight says this indicates that "Mr Sharon intends to forge ahead with his 'disengagement plan' to separate Israelis from Palestinians... His announcement has appeared to stun political allies and foes in equal measure after saying that he envisaged a time when no Jews would live in the Gaza Strip among Palestinians."

    I don't understand it, but I'm interested in it in the light of a fascinating article in Mute, The Politics of Verticality by Eyal Weizman. No surprise in his assertion that the conflict has transformed the landscape and the built environment of that contested territory. But but he goes on to say that conventional 'maps' aren't enough to understand those transformations - that, since the 1967 war:

    The Occupied Territories were no longer seen as a two-dimensional surface, but as a large threedimensional volume, layered with strategic, religious and political strata.

    New and intricate frontiers were invented, like the temporary borders later drawn up in the Oslo Interim Accord, under which the Palestinian Authority was given control over isolated territorial 'islands', but Israel retained control over the airspace above them and the sub-terrain beneath.

    This process might be described as the 'politics of verticality'. It began as a set of ideas, policies, projects and regulations proposed by Israeli state-technocrats, generals, archaeologists, planners and road engineers since the occupation of the West Bank, severing the territory into different, discontinuous layers.

    This invites a whole new understanding of territory. Mute carries a few pages of panoramic pictures of the West Bank which show how these Israeli projects have created mountaintop settlements, politicised water and sewage supplies, militarised the airspace and - especially striking, to me - produced an astonishing infrastructure of bypass roads that weave above and below each other in an attempt to separate the two communities. Next up: the plan to connect Gaza and the West Bank - the two remotely estranged territories, forty-seven kilometres apart, that according to the Oslo accord are to form a single political unit:

    The so called "safe passage", still on the drawing board, will be a Palestinian route including six motor lanes, two railway lines, high-voltage electricity cables and an oil pipe that will connect the two enclaves across Israeli territory.

    It seems to me, reading Weizmann's article (reproduced in full in www.opendemocracy.net) that disengagement has already happened, that Israelis and Palestinians already live separate lives, above and below but never alongside each other. The vast wall being built throughout the territory has become the accepted symbol of disengagement. But from now, it's the image of Israeli six-lane speedways spanning high above and tunnelling deep beneath twisty Palestinian dirtroads which illustrates this tragedy for me.