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Urbicide in Palestine – spaces of oppression and resilience

August 24, 2014 at 10:54 am


Urbicide in Palestine – spaces of oppression and resilienceAuthor: Nurhan Abujid

Paperback: 274 pages

Publisher: Routledge

ISBN-10: 0745334261

Review by Ramona Wadi

“The contemporary military urbanisation is about spatial engineering and reorganisation via complex surveillance and control and in many cases via the lethal devastation of cities.” Nurhan Abujidi’s defining introduction to “Urbicide in Palestine: spaces of oppression and resilience” (Routledge, 2014) sets the foundation from which hegemonic dictates regarding destruction are unravelled, revealing complex and intertwining dimensions of political violence.


The resulting academic treatise is meticulously researched, drawing upon various theorists and providing a thorough analysis which is finely assessed in all detail, while gradually evolving into the ultimate focus of colonial ramifications in Palestine. Focusing upon acquisition of “colonial space” and its ramifications in particular with regard to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Abujid illustrates the levels of colonial violence, which is discussed within the various aspects involved, as well as the phases leading to the imposed structural disintegration.

As violence navigates history and imposes rhetoric of defeat upon the colonised, consequences such as restricting demography, ethnic cleansing, cultural cleansing and memoricide fester within the destructed, usurped space, forming a reaction through resistance as the colonising power seeks to increase its domination through surveillance. Memory in relation to the remembered landscape, in particular, risks disintegration. Abujid paraphrases Mehrag about the dangers of revising memory beyond recuperation. “The localization of memory on the material is what negotiates its survival, and by removing the material we begin to erase memory, which constitutes memoricide.”

The targeting of cities and disappearance of historical structures generates exclusion – a system evident in the West Bank’s refined processes of home demolitions, the Apartheid Wall and ethnically segregated movement in order to construct a hegemonic settler identity. The result is generated through careful preparation that includes absolute targeting of the indigenous population in order to achieve an exclusion that is routinely perfected. Terror – a misconstruction of Palestinian resistance that is thoroughly supported by imperialism; becomes absorbed within the settler narrative, thus consolidating the premeditated dehumanisation of the colonised population and the appropriated geophysical space.

Urbicide patterns also follow a process that aids in distinguishing between urban renewal and destruction. Abujid deciphers distinct features classified as direct and indirect urbicide – all pointing towards deliberate planning of its materialisation and the ensuing colonial subjugation. A deeper insight into Palestinian territorial destruction reveals that the spatial destruction is not limited to borders but rather expands beyond to include the collective and individual punishment inflicted upon Palestinians, with particular reference to 1948 and 1967. The inclusivity of territory to power and sovereignty is reflected in the formation and deterioration of national identity.

The correlation between territorial space and identity, which in turn generates affinity, is an active process that, when destroyed by urbicide, is forced to relinquish culture and memory, thus also reducing contestation due to the imposed hegemonic narrative. Zionist focus upon territory inherently includes a forging of attachment that rejects subaltern claims. As a result, the fictitious absence of the indigenous population, to which the West historically acquiesced to, aided in generating an erroneous depiction of Zionist colonisation as “restorative” – a concept which, although endorsed solely by the settler-colonial state and its allies, has nonetheless strengthened the Zionist fabricated narrative within its restricted circle. Enforcing Palestinian absence, therefore, served a functional purpose – a result, also, of the genocidal Plan Dalet which inscribed a detailed methodology of destruction, massacre and forced displacement.

Urbicide since 1948 has been an exercise in widespread destruction within a spectrum of various frequencies in the construction of the settler-colonial state over depopulated land. Destruction has also encompassed the attempt to eradicate symbolic power and resistance, in particular with regard to Nablus which is regarded as a historical epitome of resistance, identity and culture. The historical configuration of Nablus has suffered imposed destruction, construction and control, exhibited in the “colonial urbanity”, which altered both perception and experience. The loss of the “place” as collective experience due to Zionist colonial expansion is proof of Israel’s maintenance of hegemony through land transformations which, in turn, defines the conqueror and the conquered. However, the last premise is constantly challenged by Palestinian resistance, in particular since 1967, which is constantly reinventing itself as a response within the same space undergoing geopolitical restructuring.

Within the process of restructuring, evidenced by territorial divisions, military checkpoints and bases, road segregation, as well as the application of military laws to the Palestinian population, surveillance as an integral component of urbicide features heavily in Nablus. Settlement expansion, already an obstacle to unhindered movement, becomes an added feature of the imposed permanent control over Palestinians. With domestic space fast transforming into military domain, especially after Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 which featured an intense form of urbicide through forced route explosions and aerial bombardment, Nablus’s domestic space was damaged on several fronts, including the inflicted psychological warfare which prevented Palestinians from asserting their right to return.

Reminiscent of other manifestations of colonial violence in Palestine, the colonised geography caused severe repercussions upon Palestinian collective memory. The memory process is selective and requires tangible material – urbicide lacerates the link between space and recollection. Combined with the colonisation process, urbicide induces a memory of destruction and new physical spaces, resulting in the eradication of identity of future generations, as well as the gradual infiltration of new discourse which leaves an insurmountable amount of identity on the periphery.

The destruction of memory can also be identified within the retained memory of territory. In the case of Palestinian refugees, Palestine could become “a memory of a place” due to urbicide being a permanent state of violent invasion. In this case, urbicide runs parallel to exile – permanent violence creating the conditions for permanent exile. However, permanence does not imply a fixed stance – rather the consolidation of a process that necessitates a vibrant challenge if the imposing hegemony is to be disrupted. The challenge is Palestinian resistance as a development process since the Nakba – a process which necessitates knowledge of colonial power in order to diversify in various modes that combat the destructive process unleashed by Israel. Abujid reiterates the importance of “spatial dimension” and “spatial resistance” – both necessary in the process of altering the dynamics of resistance according to the plans of rupturing Israel’s colonial structure.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.