Notes on Gaza and necropolitics



What the State of Israel practices in Palestine is necropolitics or the production of the extermination of a people

Achille Mbembe wrote a short essay called "Necropolitics", published in 2003. In it, the Cameroonian philosopher declared himself concerned about “those forms of sovereignty whose central project is not the struggle for autonomy, but the widespread instrumentalization of human existence and the material destruction of human bodies and populations”. Mbembe expands Foucault's notion of biopolitics to include forms of violence that are explicitly death-oriented. For Mbembe, necropolitics is practiced in various contexts, from colonial relations to contemporary practices in war zones and areas of conflict.

Mbembe writes without euphemisms what the zealous and educated Western elites try to deny and neglect about what happens to the Palestinians in their land: “The late colonial occupation differs in many aspects from the first modern occupation, particularly in its combination of the disciplinary, the biopolitics and necropolitics. The most successful form of necropower is the contemporary colonial occupation of Palestine.”

Yes, what the State of Israel practices in Palestine is necropolitics or the production of the extermination of a people. Mbembe clarifies what he considers the practices of necropower:

“To return to Fanon’s spatial reading of colonial occupation, the occupation of the Gaza Strip presents three main characteristics linked to the functioning of the specific formation of terror, which I called “necropower”. The first is the dynamics of territorial fragmentation, prohibited access to certain areas and the expansion of settlements. The objective of this process is twofold: to make any movement impossible and to implement segregation in the style of the apartheid state. Thus, the occupied territories are divided into a complex network of internal borders and several isolated cells. According to Eyal Weizman, by moving away from a flat division of territory and adopting the principle of creating three-dimensional boundaries within it, dispersion and segmentation clearly redefine the relationship between sovereignty and space.”

Achille Mbembe, based on and citing the text by Amira Hass called Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land under Siege, published in 1996, described the tragedy of Gaza:

“To live under contemporary occupation is to experience a permanent condition of “living in the pain” of fortified structures, military posts and roadblocks everywhere; constructions that bring up painful memories of humiliation, interrogations and beatings; curfews that trap hundreds of thousands of people in their cramped homes every night from dusk to dawn; soldiers patrolling the dark streets, frightened by their own shadows; children blinded by rubber bullets; parents humiliated and beaten in front of their families; soldiers urinating on fences, shooting water tanks from rooftops just for fun, repeating offensive slogans, banging on flimsy tin doors to scare children, confiscating papers or dumping rubbish in the middle of a residential neighborhood; border guards kicking out a vegetable stand or closing borders for no reason; broken bones; shootings and fatalities – a certain kind of madness.”

Amira Hass, daughter of two Holocaust survivors, gave a detailed account of what was happening in the 1990s in Palestine and, in particular, in the Gaza Strip. The description made in the last century is enlightening and does not require my comments. That's why I reproduce excerpts from the Epilogue of his book Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land under Siege:

“[…] by 1996, Gaza's GDP per capita had fallen by 37 percent since 1992; total GDP decreased by 18,5 percent. In six months, unemployment increased by 8,2%, reaching 39,2%. Gazans who were lucky enough to hold jobs in the Strip experienced a 9,6 percent drop in real wages in 1995. Those who worked in Israel lost 16 percent of their wages. Without a doubt, Israel's closure policy is responsible for the appalling numbers. It is difficult to imagine that Israel's decision-makers did not realize the inevitable consequences of imposing what is, in effect, a years-long siege. As we have seen, Israel explains closures simply as an inevitable response to terrorism and as the only way to prevent further attacks. But a careful analysis of the policy and its consequences – along with other Israeli measures taken in the context of the Oslo Accords, such as blocking the safe passage route between Gaza and the West Bank – suggests a different understanding of the closures.”

“[…] the government [of Israel] began implementing an old plan to connect West Bank settlements to Israel through a network of expressways. In the new language of Oslo [the peace agreement], these have become “bypass roads” – wide, high-speed asphalt cuts that will, Israel argues, guarantee the safety and freedom of movement of Jewish settlers. This massive construction project involved the confiscation and destruction of thousands of hectares of cultivated Palestinian land and forever altered the natural fabric that connects the cities and villages of the West Bank. Palestinian consent was easily obtained – apparently the secondary roads were designed to increase the success of the interim phase, protecting the Jewish settlers and thus allowing all parties to reach the final status of the negotiations without too much acrimony.”

“Built at the cost of billions of shekels, exclusively for the needs of the small Jewish minority, the network of secondary roads will play an important role in Israel's negotiations over the retention of territory. Anyone who invests a fortune in roads does not intend to dismantle the communities that use them. Furthermore, this network, which guarantees Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip a safe and rapid lifeline to Israel, was created at exactly the same time that even greater restrictions were imposed on Palestinian freedom of movement.”

“It is true that since 1994 more land has come under the jurisdiction of the Authority, but the Jewish settlement blocks and patchwork of new roads are, in effect, the nail in the coffin of a contiguous Palestinian state, whatever whatever form it may take. The new geography means that Palestinian society will be fragmented, fragmented into isolated enclaves; The size and proximity of these enclaves has not yet been determined and will be determined by the strength of the Palestinians' negotiating position, but movement between the enclaves will always involve passing roadblocks and checkpoints manned by Israeli soldiers. In the West Bank, social, cultural and economic life has already been harmed by the fragmentation of the region and, especially, by the separation of the north and south into two distinct areas. But for the true model of the future, look no further than the 147-square-mile enclave of the Gaza Strip.”

I dedicate these passages from the text by Achile Mbembe and Amira Hass to all people who, despite being democratic and anti-racist, view the actions of the State of Israel with sympathy. Yes, what Israel practices against the Palestinians “is the most successful form of necropower”.

*Sergio Amadeu da Silveira is a professor at the Federal University of ABC. Author, among other books, of Data Colonialism: How the Algorithmic Trench Operates in Neoliberal War (Literary Autonomy). []


HASS, Amira. Drinking the sea at Gaza: days and nights in a land under siege. New York: Henry Holt, 1996. []

MBEMBE, Achilles. Necropolitical . 3rd ed. São Paulo: n-1 editions, 2018.

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