Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies

Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett

Book: Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alastair Bonnett
anchored in such locales. But their attempt to make this transition on their own terms has been continually challenged. The urban planner Steve Graham offers the word “urbicide” to describe the Israeli government’s policy toward the Palestinians, referring to the attempt to smash political resistance by breaking up the physical and social infrastructures of urban life. But at least the Palestinians have places to break. The problem for the Bedouin is that their villages are not even acknowledged. Ironically, as a cultural and ethnic group, the Bedouin receive a lot of attention. Their traditional clothes, food, and other items of ethnographic interest get tourist and state attention and even respect, but without the acknowledgment of place, respect for mere artifacts means little.
    Why do we have such a hard time grasping why people care so much about place, even if it is only a few rubbish-strewn meters of scrub? It is a difficulty that is in part rooted in the nongeographic way we approach the task of acknowledging or recognizing others. The German philosopher Hegel argued that people need recognition from others in order to achieve a sense of self. Hegel went on to claim that consciousness is always trying to make itself more pure and less dependent on dumb materiality. Thanks in part to such interventions, our ideas about what human liberation means have become ever more untethered from the earth, drifting off into abstract realms and leaving geography to become nothing more than a tedious list of facts. An obsession with the struggle for free consciousness, filtered through Karl Marx, framed the worldview of the last century’s anticolonial intellectuals. Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Memmi, and Frantz Fanon turned the colonized world into a field hospital of psychosocial trauma. Today the pain and humiliation of subject peoples has been fashioned into a series of sub-Hegelian clichés about respect for “others” and respect for “difference.” But all this attention to the internal life of victims has obscured as much as it has revealed, turning place into an irrelevance or something meaningless and inert.
    Place is the fabric of our lives; memory and identity are stitched through it. Without having somewhere of one’s own, a place that is home, freedom is an empty word. Twayil Abu Jarwal is just one ruined village hoping for recognition, but its story—like the stories of the Negev’s other unrecognized villages—is not only a local one. It reminds us of the necessity of place and the battles that are being fought between those who want to recognize places and those who wish to deny them.
    The grievance of the Bedouin is sharpened by the fact that, while their illegal villages fail to make the map, illegal Jewish farmsteads are being tolerated across the Siyag and the wider region. Fifty such farmsteads have sprung up, many with unapproved buildings. Rather than knocking them down, the state facilitated their growth. One way this has been done was by extending Highway 6 into the Negev. In drawing the route of the new road, the country’s transportation planners simply ignored the existence of the Bedouin’s unrecognized villages. The road’s blueprints show that it plows straight through a number of them. The highway will soon be on the map, but the villages beneath and around will remain invisible. Although recognition has been won for half a dozen Bedouin villages, the Israeli state’s plans for the region involve forced resettlements and demolitions for the remainder. It seems likely that Twayil Abu Jarwal will be destroyed many more times before its inhabitants or the government gives up.
    So what do you do if demolition is inevitable? The Bedouin are in a bind. If they challenge a demolition order, they have to admit that they built illegally and thus confess to a criminal act. With nowhere else to go, their claim on places like Twayil Abu Jarwal takes a perverse route, self-demolition. It is a final

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