Urbicide: design by destruction – Israel strangles Palestine Everyday – Towards a no state solution

Nowhere is the true face of the armed state and its characteristic violence so blatant, the bankruptcy of its ruling class politics so brutally visible, as in the Palestinian West Bank under the Israeli boot. Tristan Anderson’s severe injury in Ni’ilin village on March 13 marked a dark Friday in a long non-violent struggle of resistance to the Israeli matrix of control and oppression, a struggle for dignity and self-determination at the grassroots in Occupied Palestine. Eight days later, many marched in solidarity with Tristan, and the hundreds of other Palestinians, Jewish Israelis and internationals injured or murdered by the Israeli military in Ni’ilin and numerous other villages and towns on the Occupied West Bank over the past nine years, in the vortex and wake of the al-Aqsa intifada.

A chronicle of oppression

Arafat al Khawaje, aged 22, was murdered in Ni’ilin by Israeli bullets, even as the attack on Gaza reached a new peak of ferocity, shot in the back on December 28. Arafat was a third-year student at the Arab-American University Jenin. The AAUJ held special services on January 1, 2009 to mourn his murder (1).

At the same demonstration, Mohammed Sa’adat Fahami Al Khawaje, 20, was shot in the forehead with live ammunition from close range, and died on New Year’s Eve. Mohammed was the fourth youth from Ni’ilin to be murdered by the Israeli Occupation Forces. 10-year-old Ahmed Mousa and 18-year-old Youself Amira were shot dead in late July, 2008.

This is a struggle over the uprooting of olive trees, the theft of land and livelihood, the erasure of a people from their homes, villages, soil. And the continuing construction of the Great Wall of Palestine, the Apartheid Barrier.

This village of some five thousand inhabitants had 22.4 square miles of land on the eve of the 1948 war that established the state of Israel. 15 square miles were confiscated at that time, along with some 4.5 square miles slated to be confiscated by the construction of the Separation Wall and other Israeli military barriers, which will leave the village with 2.8 square miles, including its built-up area.

At the forefront of the resistance in Ni’ilin – which has become an icon of the Palestinian struggle at the grassroots across Palestine – has been Anarchists Against the Wall, a direct action group out every week to protest in solidarity with local Palestinians. Nowhere else in the world is a small determined group of non-violent social anarchists facing a heavily armed military on a weekly, and sometimes a daily basis. The work of AATW deserves international support. Tristan stood in solidarity with them, and they stand with him.

Getting free

The ultimate radical vision that should guide Palestinians and Israelis is, in my view, a decentralized socialist commonwealth of ta’ayush (togetherness), cooperating in free association and mutual aid, beyond the abominations of capitalism and its nation-state system. The goal, as James Herod sees it, is to forge a community of communities, countering hierarchy, wage slavery, profit, commodities, social classes, private ownership of the means of production, patriarchy, and much more (2).

Herod argues that if we were already now reorganizing ourselves “into neighborhood, workplace, and household assemblies, and were struggling to seize power there, then we would have a base from which to stop ruling-class offensives.” He stresses that in the three-pronged attack on the System that he envisions, “by focusing not merely on the workplace (seizing the means of production) but also on neighborhoods and households, it anticipates a recapturing of decision-making – that is, its relocation out of state bureaucracies, parliaments, and corporate boards, and into our assemblies. […] It also emphasizes capturing the means of reproduction (and not only production) through household associations. Its guiding principle is free association.”

But that is a future space of radical liberation toward which we can move, down a long road of fightback and transformation. Revolutionary pragmatism knows that today’s work is standing together with those in the daily struggle – rooted in a tough and resilient sumud (steadfastness) — for justice, dignity, and resistance to the matrix of control and urbicide in Ni’ilin and across Occupied Palestine.

Urbicide in action

Integral to Zionist state ideology and matrices of control is a policy of “urbicide,” a form of spatial strangulation, stunting the demographic, physical and economic development of Palestinian communities. Palestinian villages and cities are systematically invaded and destroyed, along with structures of livelihood, health, education, and the surrounding natural landscape and agricultural land. The resistance in Ni’ilin is against this urbicide, and a policy of the “eradication of normalcy” designed to wear down and demoralize the Palestinian population. It is associated with a planning strategy of conquest where “Palestinian urban space is constructed as a pre-modern, formless, almost solid conglomerate of material and human refuse, a treacherous, dangerous place that needs to be cleansed through hygienic practices embodied in the act of ‘design by destruction'” (3).

In the sociopolitical imaginary of the Israeli ruling-class, Palestinian space is demonized and dehumanized, a “cancerous” threat to the purported organic “body” of the modern state of Israel (4). As Abujidi & Verschure stress: “Sovereignty over space is an important element in achieving geopolitical aims intrinsic to the longer-term policy imperative within the geopolitical colonial imaginary that guides the Israeli nation-state” (5).

The construction of the wall and intense violence against civilians throughout Palestine including the attacks in Ni’ilin and many other villages is urbicide in action, an engineering of space and an invasion of local neighborhoods designed to ensure total Israeli control of the Palestinian territories and traumatize the population, undermining all aspects of their infrastructure, and shattering their psychological well-being. In Sari Hanafi’s view, such policies are intended to make it all but impossible for Palestinians to live a normal life, and to induce them to emigrate – a form of “voluntary transfer,” as Israeli documents term it (6).

Resisting the brutality and building a different future deserves the solidarity of the progressive community in Oakland, throughout North America and around the globe. As Anne Feeney reminds us, from the West Bank to Seattle: “It’s a worldwide war. It’s a war on the workers / And it’s time we started calling the shots” (7). Now more than ever. ¡Ya basta! / khalas! is the watchword.


1. The university is here: http://www.aauj.edu

2. James Herod, Getting free: Creating an association of democratic autonomous neighborhoods. Oakland: AK Press, 2007

3. See Nurhan Abujidi & Han Verschure, Military occupation as urbicide by “construction and destruction”: The case of Nablus, Palestine, The Arab World Geographer (2006), vol. 9, no. 2: 126-154.

4. Eyal Weizman, Builders and warriors: Military operations as urban planning, Site (November 2004): 2-4; see also Weizman, Hollow land: Israel’s architecture of occupation. London: Verso, 2007.

5. Abujidi & Verschure, ibid., 143.

6. Sari Hanafi, Targeting space through biopolitics; The Israeli colonial project, Palestine Report, February 18, 2004.

7. Listen to the song “War on the Workers,” http://home.earthlink.net/~unionmaid/id1.html