- Unsettling Visual Politics:Militarized Borders in the Work of Palestinian Artist Raeda Saadeh
This article looks at the work of the Palestinian artist Raeda Saadeh, which deals with militarized borders in Palestine. Through her mobilization of visual art—namely, through performance and video art—I show that Saadeh's work not only subverts the hegemonic visual dominance of the Israeli state but offers a context for thinking through visual liberation and sovereignty. I argue that understanding the subversion of visual politics is crucial in mapping and identifying the multiple strategies, of which art is one, that Palestinians employ in resisting Israel's militarized border apparatus.
The construction of the Israeli military Wall on Palestinian lands in 2003 resurfaced a nearly century-old desire that was expressed by the Zionist thinker Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky in his 1923 essay "The Iron Wall." Jabotinsky argued that "Zionist colonisation" should proceed on the premises of living separately from the Arab inhabitants of Palestine "behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach."1 Ninety years since Jabotinsky's proposal, the Israeli state has resorted to the building of walls as a way to imagine and enforce a separate life on the land. The Wall reintroduced the state's nostalgia for large-scale projects that imagine the Israeli nation as a modern state with advanced technological capabilities, and is argued to be Israel's largest and costliest infrastructure project since the 1950s–60s construction of the National Water Carrier.2 The Wall's presence on the landscape is part of its inherent function as a militarized structure of incarceration; it is thus a return to the beginnings of Israeli settler colonial nation-building, which relied heavily on the domination of large-scale state projects that altered the land and natural resources, both materially and symbolically.
I argue that the Wall restructured Israeli visual organization of the landscape in Palestine to the detriment of Palestinians' presence on, and relationship with, the land on a colossal scale. For Palestinians, the construction of the Wall constituted, among other violations (such as withholding access to medical [End Page 1059] care, education, housing, work, or agricultural fields), a visual violation of their ever-shrinking landscape. This visual violence has instigated a range of critical responses from Palestinian artists centering on visualizing the claustrophobic living conditions that the Israeli regime created. Among these visual artists are Yazan Khalili, Larissa Sansour, Raeda Saadeh, Samar Hazboun, and Khaled Jarrar, as well as architects such as Sandi Hilal, in addition to the numerous anonymous artists who engage with the Wall through graffiti art.
The Wall: A Brief Contextualization
The Wall in Palestine is not the first apparatus of partition, incarceration, or enclosure constructed by Israel. One could argue that since the 1947 vote for the United Nations Partition Plan, Resolution 181, settler colonial border formation was strongly reinforced in Palestine. The border apparatus in Palestine was solidified with the 1948 establishment of the Israeli state, which entailed the forceful displacement and expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians and the destruction of over 500 towns and agricultural lands.3 Palestinians refer to the events of 1948 as the Nakbah (or Nakba), Arabic for catastrophe. The militarization of Palestinian towns, the permit system that imposed travel restrictions on the Palestinian citizens of Israel (1949–66), land enclosures and confiscations, and the rejection of the right of return for Palestinian refugees were invigorated throughout the first decade of the newly established Jewish state, and have continued till the present day.
In 1967, with Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, Israeli border control and regimes of surveillance were aggressively intensified, targeting the occupied civilian population (in the form of curfews, blockades, checkpoints, and incarceration), in addition to continuous policies further dispossessing and displacing Palestinians from their lands. The Israeli Wall is hence situated within a longer history of state separation, enclosures, and border enforcement in Palestine, which is crucial for understanding the Wall in the context of settler colonial expansion and racial segregation as well as of Palestinians' relationship to these bordered spaces. Today, the Wall operates through incarcerating and confining Palestinian bodies to regulated spaces, but...