Movement and the Ordering of Freedom: On Liberal Governances of Mobility

Movement and the Ordering of Freedom: On Liberal Governances of Mobility

by Hagar Kotef

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We live within political systems that increasingly seek to control movement, organized around both the desire and ability to determine who is permitted to enter what sorts of spaces, from gated communities to nation-states. In Movement and the Ordering of Freedom, Hagar Kotef examines the roles of mobility and immobility in the history of political thought and the structuring of political spaces. Ranging from the writings of Locke, Hobbes, and Mill to the sophisticated technologies of control that circumscribe the lives of Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, this book shows how concepts of freedom, security, and violence take form and find justification via “regimes of movement.” Kotef traces contemporary structures of global (im)mobility and resistance to the schism in liberal political theory, which embodied the idea of “liberty” in movement while simultaneously regulating mobility according to a racial, classed, and gendered matrix of exclusions.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822358558
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 03/06/2015
Series: Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Hagar Kotef is Visiting Professor of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University, and Research Fellow at the Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University.

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Movement and the Ordering of Freedom

On Liberal Governances of Mobility

By Hagar Kotef

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2015 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7575-3


Between Imaginary Lines

Violence and Its Justifications at the Military Checkpoints in Occupied Palestine

Hagar Kotef and Merav Amir

Then he [the soldier] saw a large group of women, those still waiting for their men who are being kept inside.... He went over to them and stood with his foot marking the soil. Over there, he signaled, showing them the way with his foot, his hands in his pockets. Over there, he signaled with his chin in the general direction behind them, and they started to move back.... Among them was a young woman holding three plastic bags. The soldier approached her and kicked her bags. She looked, waiting for him to say something; to signal. Over there, he said, or perhaps didn't even talk, and anyway, when he talked it was only in Hebrew. But she got the point and retreated with her bags beyond the line he had marked. A line that represents nothing but the true purpose of the checkpoint ...—harassment for its own sake. All the rest are clichés that the fictive history one learns here, the brainwashing and the ever-hovering racism offer, for harassing without the slightest movement of a butterfly's wing another people, merely for being the other.—, 2007

Israeli checkpoints are positioned throughout the West Bank as a web, capturing, regulating and often prohibiting movement. They are a component within one of the most material, most efficient, and most destructive means of the contemporary modes of the Israeli occupation, a mode commonly referred to as "the regime of movement." Gradually developed from 1991 (the first general closure of the occupied Palestinian territories), this regime subjects to Israeli control the circulation of people, goods, and services—and with them the economy, society, and polity—in the West Bank. Together with a wide variety of obstacles (ranging from ditches, to metal gates, to walls) and accompanied by a complex and convoluted system of permits, the checkpoints form a dense grid, fragmenting both the space and the Palestinian social fabric living within it. Most are not located between "Israel" and "Palestine," but rather inside the Palestinian territories: on the entrance roads to towns and cities, restricting the movement of vehicles entering or leaving them; enclosing the cities, separating them from the surrounding villages that depend on them; and fracturing the few roads on which Palestinians are allowed to move. They inhibit and, in fact, prevent any real possibility of maintaining the mundane aspects of daily lives (getting to work, school, the doctor, the market, or visiting family members or friends); they impede—almost completely paralyze—the economy (hindering the circulation of goods and labor power); and they prevent the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian political entity (as they prevent maintenance of a political community and territorial continuity).

These checkpoints are elements of a political technology aimed at securing a particular mode of control over the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). They are also particular sites that can be seen as a condensed microcosm of this political technology. The form of control to be found at these sites—indeed, the form of control I seek to decipher here—was consolidated some time between the Oslo Accords (1993—the formal beginning of the ongoing "peace process") and the years following the El Aqsa Intifada (2000). At this juncture, a growing appeal to the logic of security constantly countered (and still continues to counter) the language of political compromise. Yet the two opposite trajectories—the discourse of reconciliation and its constant undoing by growing securitization, which often takes the form of eruptive violence—keep working in tandem. In fact, I argue that the mediation of the two, which is necessary for the simultaneous sustainability of both, is what gave rise to the new modes of control that form the current stage of the Israeli occupation. To reconcile these contradictory logics a justification mechanism is needed: one that would enable a regime of occupation to be sustained amid peace negotiations and vice versa. Such a mechanism may be obtained by proving that the Palestinians cannot govern themselves. If this were to be the case—and I argue that Israel keeps producing the conditions to (at the very least) simulate that this is indeed the case—it would be justified to continue controlling them (always temporarily, only until they could do it themselves; a date always deferred precisely by mechanisms such as the one in question).

This chapter proposes that movement and its regulation are essential to both the logic of security and the above justification mechanism. Not only has movement become fundamental to Israel's control, and to its understanding of the threat posed by Palestinians, as demonstrated by the technological developments of the regime of movement. Movement is also a key to understanding the production of Palestinians as unruly subjects. This chapter focuses on one local example of such a mechanism; a particular technique of marking the space of the checkpoints—and more accurately, of unmarking it. Merav Amir and I named this technique "the imaginary line." The imaginary line joins other political technologies—such as sets of contradictory orders, obscure and constantly changing regulations and instructions (that sometimes even change on an hourly basis), or a system of permits that is impossible to abide by and that sometimes renders people illegal residents even in their own home—to form a new mode of population management: one that is based on concealment rather than knowledge, on confusion and irregularity rather than regulation. In the first part of the chapter, I describe the operation of this technique of (un)marking. In the second part I further explore the particular subject-position produced by this line by comparing it to another line, and by comparing the Palestinians at the checkpoints to other regular inhabitants of these sites. I examine a tangible demarcation of the space allocated to the activists of the human rights organization that regularly operates at the checkpoints: Checkpoint (Machsom) Watch. This enables me to identify the particular subjectivization processes occurring at the checkpoints and to argue that the checkpoints are part of a corrective system that is meant to fail. Finally, I move to examine a new form of checkpoint: the terminals. Analyzing the emergence of these sites I question the liberal impulse to appeal to regularity and regulation to counter eruptions of violence that induced failure facilitates.

On Imaginary Lines and Technologies of Power: The Checkpoints

The imaginary line is a line drawn (metaphorically, abstractly, in thin air) by Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint. It is a line that delimits the permitted movement of Palestinians within the space of the checkpoint, yet a line that exists only in the minds of the soldiers standing in front of them. As such, the imaginary line is a technique and a symbol of a particular form of controlling a given space, which not only relies on controlling the rules applying to this space, but also, and most important, on controlling the knowledge of those rules.

Let us examine its operation in detail. The density and location of the checkpoints mean that all Palestinians have to pass through at least one checkpoint—and most often through several—whenever they need to move beyond the boundaries of their villages, towns, or cities.

The near impossibility of receiving a permit of passage for one's private vehicle forces most people to cross most checkpoints on foot. Therefore, during rush hours, the major manned checkpoints are packed with long lines of hundreds of people waiting to cross, most of whom are tired and eager to continue on their way. Sometimes they wait in the long, closely packed lines for hours, often exposed to the burning Middle Eastern sun in summer or the winds and rain in winter. This experience, which has become an integral part of most Palestinians' routine since 2000, ends in a thorough and degrading security check upon reaching the security-check booth, in front of drawn and loaded guns. First, a bodily search is conducted; then personal belongings are rudely and invasively checked, sometimes scattered on the dirt paths; and finally, the person's papers are inspected, and sometimes the person also has to go through a short interrogation: "Where do you live? What are your parents' names? Where are you going? For what purpose?" Since the security check progresses slowly, the tension in the line quickly builds. Everybody is pressed against one another so that the people at the front of the line are constantly being pushed forward by the crowd behind them, violating what the soldiers see as the appropriate distance between the head of the line and the security-check booths. Then the imaginary line makes a sudden appearance: "Irja La'wara!" (Go back!) the soldiers shout in what is most often the only phrase they know in Arabic. "Go back" behind the line—the line that cannot be seen, the line that is never marked, the imaginary line.

In his book Yearning in the Land of Checkpoints, Azmi Bishara describes this routine:

"Go back!" shouts the soldier to the crowd whenever the crowd moves forward a few steps because of the shoving, because it is crowded, because of the wish to get to the shade or because of the commotion.... "Go back" is the phrase that leads to pushing in the direction contrary to the direction of movement. How many wars has this phrase instigated between all those who are pushed back while they are trying not to lose their place in line! ... Whenever the soldier feels like playing the role of the teacher and educator at the checkpoint, or just to have fun, or when he wants to make sure that the situation is under control, he yells "Go back" in a definitive manner which does not leave room for debate.... "If anyone crosses this line you will all go home." At that instant, with no prior warning, being at the head of the queue turns from a blessing into a curse. The person at the head of the queue is now the protector of the line, and needs to be careful not to cross it.

Because of its invisibility, and since its exact location is completely contingent and frequently changes, the imaginary line is bound to be transgressed. Perhaps needless to say, although this line is never publicly and visibly marked, its transgression carries penalties. Most often these penalties take the form of disciplinary punishments, such as detaining the "transgressors" for hours, sending them back to the end of the line, or denying them passage. Other times the disciplinary punishment is enforced on everybody waiting to cross the checkpoint by slowing down the security-check procedure or completely shutting down the checkpoint for periods of time. But every so often, the reaction of the soldiers is violent, sometimes with the result that whomever is found transgressing the nonexistent demarcation is badly injured or even killed.

The notion of punishment is not altogether foreign to the perspectives through which Israel perceives its relations with the Palestinians. Rationalizing many of its actions in accordance with a proclaimed carrot-and-stick logic, military incursions, bombarding towns, closures, and a six-year blockade (so far) of the 1.5 million residents of Gaza are all explained as corrective responses to successive transgressions by the Palestinians, by their leaders, or by militants among them. This notion of punishment brings to the fore a predicament that is, to some extent, the quandary subtending this chapter: Can we see the radically oppressive subjection of Palestinians by the Israeli regime as intertwined with subjectivization processes? And if so, how may we understand them? Or, to somewhat rephrase this question in the terms already set in the introduction: How is a population that is controlled as if it were merely moving dots (controlled by controlling movement; killed from above and afar) produced at the level of the subject? Ultimately, this coproduction of populations and subjects, to which, I argue, the incitement and restraint of movement are quintessential, runs as a thread through this book's arguments.

As many contemporary analyses of the occupation have noted, Israel has no interest in the Palestinians as its own subjects and has therefore withdrawn all the disciplinary and biopolitical arrays that were deployed in the first years of the occupation. Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir further argue that "the Palestinian uprising has virtually destroyed Israel's capacity to employ ideological or disciplinary means for governing the Palestinian population." Without contesting these claims, I maintain that different Israeli controlling apparatuses (including the checkpoints) have a crucial role in constituting a particular subject-position that Israel designates for the Palestinians, even if this is no longer an extensive, or even a coherent one.

In a different geopolitical context, Pradeep Jeganathan has read the checkpoints in Sri Lanka as anthropological sites, aiming at deciphering the identity of those passing through them. Moving through a checkpoint, he argues, is a process in which the soldier has to solve the question that is posed by the very presence of the checkpoint: "What is your political identity?"—a question entangled with another question: "What is your social/cultural identity?" and whose answer may be derived from factors such as areas of residency, place of birth, language, and other attributes on the identification papers. In the oPt, most of these classifications are performed outside of the checkpoint; those who are subjected to the checking procedure (the West Bank Palestinians) are already categorized as belonging to a particular ethnic and national group. Furthermore, at the checkpoint itself, the procedure by which the identity of those who pass through them is checked is supported by an extensive and elaborate database collected by the Israeli secret service, detailing the history, familial affiliation, and any other factor that might render the person a potential political enemy of the Jewish state. I further argue that the checkpoint operates not only in an attempt to read identities, but also to produce them.

It is important to emphasize that the checkpoints were not built for disciplinary purposes and are lacking many of the attributes of disciplinary sites (although they do include some, in particular the rigorous distribution of individual bodies in space). But the soldiers, successful products of two highly structured disciplinary apparatuses—the school system and the army—identify the disciplinary potential of the checkpoints. Accordingly, they often see their role as educational and attempt to discipline the "child-like" Palestinians who "misbehave." Caught transgressing, the Palestinians are punished so they will learn not to repeat the "bad behavior." Many times, the act of punishment (usually in the form of detention—much like in school) is followed by a lecture in which the soldier makes sure that the lesson has been learned. But when the lines not to be transgressed are imaginary, the operation of discipline is set up to fail.

Presumably, all that is at stake is a deficiency in the structure of the checkpoints, an insufficient demarcation of space that can easily be solved. After all, one only needs to mark a line, perhaps also post a sign saying: "please wait here." Yet although this malfunction could have been addressed and eliminated, the imaginary line is an obstinate component of the checkpoints. It shows surprising perseverance over time and space, appearing at practically all checkpoints—from the temporary and primitive to the highly elaborate ones, in which the spatial arrangements are strictly marked by signs, gates, fences, and other measures.

Perhaps more surprisingly, it retains high degrees of permanence in a system that is typified by its flux and inherent arbitrariness. Even as checkpoints became more well constructed and permanent; even after lines were visibly marked; even after turnstiles were installed, separating the crowd of waiting people and the security-check booth; even after these turnstiles were replaced by electric turnstiles activated by remote control, ensuring that the progress of people was fully controlled by the soldiers; even while all these technological apparatuses were put into operation, imaginary lines kept appearing at different areas of the checkpoints. They appeared either before or after the turnstiles—keeping the crowd of people at a distance from the turnstiles or having them wait after going through the turnstiles, before being allowed to approach the soldiers. They emerge in the parking lots or on the roads, determining the point at where the cars waiting to go through the checkpoint should stay until they are signaled by the soldiers to enter the security-check area, or limiting how near taxis waiting to pick up people from the checkpoint can park. And they are occasionally (un)marked in other zones of the checkpoint, setting the distance the people who were already checked should keep from the checkpoint. The stubborn persistence of the appearance of imaginary lines should serve as evidence of the significance of their role.


Excerpted from Movement and the Ordering of Freedom by Hagar Kotef. Copyright © 2015 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Preface  vii

Acknowledgments  xi

Introduction  1

1. Between Imaginary Lines: Violence and Its Justifications at the Military Checkpoints in Occupied Palestine / Hagar Kotef and Merav Amir  27

2. An Interlude: A Tale of Two Roads—On Freedom and Movement  52

3. The Fence That "Ill Deserves the Name of Confinement": Locomotion and the Liberal Body  61

4. The Problem of "Excessive" Movement  87

5. The "Substance and Meaning of All Things Political": On Other Bodies  112

Conclusion  136

Notes  141

Bibliography  203

Index  217

What People are Saying About This

Wendy Brown

"Hagar Kotef brilliantly refracts historical and contemporary liberal political theory through the problematic of human movement. The result is a set of novel insights into the emancipatory promises as well as the regulations, violences, and exclusions performed under liberalism's reign. Especially illuminating of the ways that contemporary colonial powers are tended by formally liberal political regimes, this extraordinary work fundamentally alters our received understandings of the insides and outsides of freedom."

Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation - Eyal Weizman

"In this book Hagar Kotef manages to successfully weave several intellectual projects: a wide-ranging and theoretically sophisticated contribution to political theory, a robust and fine-grained analysis of the mechanisms of Israeli control of Palestinian movement, and a direct confrontation with its injustice. This book is a major contribution to the topological shift in the study of space. Kotef does nothing less than rewrite the history of territory as a matter of movement, and that of sovereignty as the control of matter in movement. By pushing her original insight as far as it would go, she best captures the logic of the world we struggle to live within."

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