The Immobile Mass: Movement Restrictions in the West Bank

Date01 December 2004
Published date01 December 2004
AuthorAlison P. Brown
Subject MatterArticles
University of Stirling, UK
Control over land and over labour can be supported by movement restrictions within
territories. During the Israel-Palestine conflict, the primary form of movement
restriction that has been documented is closure to day-migrant workers of the borders
between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In recent years, however, restric-
tions on movement throughout the West Bank have been applied to the general Pales-
tinian population. International accompaniment work has endeavoured to resist such
restrictions and to escape the limitations of traditional human rights documentation.
In doing so, it presents alternative views: of the population as more than ‘worker’;
and the impact of restrictions on both the individual and the collective. It also demon-
strates the material, emotional and cultural aspects of movement. Observation
emerges as a principal form of resistance. This suggests that restrictions can be seen
as discipline in Foucault’s sense. The West Bank experience, however, is better charac-
terized by a negative rather than the positive conception of discipline associated with
the productive control of labour.
collective punishment; discipline; movement restrictions; space; West Bank
IMPRISONMENTASIDE, movement restrictions have always been a feature
of crime control and social control. Although the advent of electronic
monitoring, curfews, and civil law orders restricting individuals’
movement in western jurisdictions has highlighted movement restriction
as a means of control, very few studies have focused on its operation.
SOCIAL & LEGAL STUDIES Copyright © 2004 SAGE Publications
London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi,
0964 6639, Vol. 13(4), 501–521
DOI: 10.1177/0964663904047331

Furthermore, with the growing attention given by socio-legal studies to the
movement of people within and into Europe, there is great scope to explore
the complex relationships between power, nationality, citizenship and
movement of people.
This article will discuss the phenomenon of restrictions on freedom of
movement, taking the example of Israel-Palestine, and the rural West Bank
in particular (the circumstances in cities and refugee camps and in the Gaza
Strip are similar but more extreme due to the population density and land-
lessness; on Gaza see Hass (1999)). The article will begin by considering what
existing literature, particularly that of ‘law and geography’, tells us about the
relationship between land, labour and the control of movement. It continues
by suggesting that previous critical analyses of movement restrictions in this
context have focused narrowly on particular forms of closure and their
impact on the movement of labour, of ‘productive’ persons. In order to
extend its analysis, this article will then discuss the ‘internal closure’ of
localities by checkpoints and roadblocks, and alternative representations of
those affected. It will consider the potential for resistance to movement
restrictions, and the place in this of international accompaniment (that is, the
presence of international civilian peace teams that aim to prevent human
rights violations by armed settlers or soldiers). Looking at the discourses
used by human rights groups, it will also consider the geo-political function
of movement restrictions in relation to the settlement process, and the
representation as ‘unproductive’ of persons affected. It will then consider the
extent to which restrictions can be characterized as ‘disciplinary’ control, and
in particular, the inter-relationship between the control of movement across
space, and the control of identity and of time. Using international observers’
reports as sources of data, it will discuss the nature of non-violent resistance
to control, particularly ‘observation’. At each point of the analysis, the
relationship between the individual and the collective in both control and
resistance will emerge as significant. I will argue that negative (exclusionary)
discipline, consigned by Foucault to history, better, if not adequately, char-
acterizes this present-day example than ‘modern’ positive (inclusionary)
Although Chambliss (1969) highlights the anxiety among ruling elites about
unstructured movement, movement restrictions have been neglected by
critical legal scholars. Critical geographers, however, have given some atten-
tion to the power relations at work in the use of movement restrictions. This
is one way in which, as Blomley (1994) argues, law and space are mutually
constitutive in both material and representation terms. Thus movement and
its control interact with power relations of class, gender and ‘race’. In the
UK, for example, roadblocks are used to control the movement of ‘new age’
travellers, urban disorder, and labour disputes. Movement through space

became a crucial tactical concern for union and anti-union forces in the
miners’ strike. The police used roadblocks to prevent secondary picketing,
and arrests made at roadblocks were used to temporarily remove pickets and
also to intimidate. At the representational level, the struggle over the ‘right
to go to work’ was, for the government, to show that the unions were threat-
ening freedom of movement (Blomley, 1994). In Belfast, the escalation of
residential segregation has culminated in physical barriers or ‘peace lines’,
intended to reduce localized conflict. Although they provide a degree of
security, ‘peace’ walls contribute to segregation and stereotyping, and ‘distort
patterns of travel (to work, to hospital, to school, to visit relatives and friends
etc.)’ (Boal, 2002).
In combination with physical barriers, movement can be restricted by
administrative means such as passes and permits. For example, restrictions
on mobility, expulsion and spatial exclusion were used to restrict Japanese
Canadian citizens during wartime (Kobayashi, 1990). Pass laws were used in
Africa during the colonial era, particularly to control the movement of black
male labourers, but also that of women (Barnes, 1997). Along with the pass
system came the criminalization of a large proportion of the population for
violations of pass laws. In South Africa, pass laws regulated residence and
required ‘Blacks’ to produce documents on demand; they were ‘one of the
most pervasive and hated facts of apartheid, separating husband from wife,
parent from child, banishing “surplus” labour and “unproductive” Blacks to
impoverished “homelands”’ (Abel, 1995: 3). In colonial Africa, however,
economic and social differentiation ultimately was fixed ‘by allocating differ-
ing qualities and quantities of land to different group of people, rather than
by distinguishing between them with passes’ (Barnes, 1997). Speaking of the
(traditionally nomadic) Bedouins under Israeli law, Shamir (2001) notes: ‘as
in other colonial settings, a cultural vision complements the physical extrac-
tion of land and the domestication of the local labour force’. This brief review
of literature suggests a close relationship between the control of space (land),
the control of labour, and the control of movement across that space; and the
contested nature of individual and collective identities.
Foucault’s work is more concerned with architectural form and the creation
of spaces than with movement. He does, however, distinguish between two
forms of discipline: exceptional discipline and generalized surveillance.
Negative (exceptional) discipline is characterized by closure; every move is
supervised within enclosed, segmented spaces. Foucault (1979) offers the
example of the plague-hit town, in which the disorder of the disease is met
with the order of regularity, classification, law, knowledge, analysis. In the
plague town, power separates, immobilizes, partitions. It imposes an ideal
functioning ‘but one that is reduced, in the final analysis, like the evil that it
combats, to a simple dualism of life and death: that which moves brings death,
and one kills that which moves’ (p. 205).
This is different from generalized panoptic surveillance. Its power is over
the mind, and it needs no physical instrument other than architecture and
geometry. This modification of discipline was part of wider processes: the

change from negative to positive functions (to increase productivity,
education, moral welfare); emergence of discipline from institutions to the
whole population; a shift from private religious to state control. This in
turn is part of broader economic, political and scientific change, that is, to a
capitalist economy, an Enlightenment framework of rights and liberties; the
penetration of the disciplinary examination. For Foucault, even the negative
discipline of closure brings order and knowledge. Below, this proposition
will be investigated with the example of closure in the West Bank.
Britain’s colonial rule of Palestine passed to Israel, upon its creation in 1948,
the legal framework for control over the land (Home, 2003; Kedar, 2003). The
occupation of the West Bank is a process both of military occupation and of
colonization by a civilian population of several hundred thousand Israelis.
This settlement process entails the creation of separate systems within the
occupied territories for Israelis and for Palestinians; of...

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