Rolling in underground tunnels

Israel/Palestine
on 36 Comments
A view of a tunnel reportedly dug by Palestinians beneath the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel from 2013. (Photo: DAVID BUIMOVITCH AFP/Getty Images)

A view of a tunnel reportedly dug by Palestinians beneath the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel from 2013. (Photo: DAVID BUIMOVITCH AFP/Getty Images)

If the land was not full of holiness,
Holiness would have been in God and man, not just in it

In Udi Aloni’s movie Forgiveness, one of the Holocaust survivors who is committed to a mental institute built on top of a Palestinian village tells his psychiatrist the following story: An old legend holds that righteous Jews murdered in exile will roll in underground tunnels in order to be forgiven and resurrected on the Mount of Olives when the Messiah comes. (The legend is based on the double-meaning of the Hebrew word mechilot: “underground tunnels” and “forgiveness.”) Then Zionism came along and inverted the symbolic tunnel into a concrete settling (aaliyah) in the land of Israel/Palestine. Although the Zionist movement acted as a secular-national emancipatory/colonialist  body, it was founded on the grounds of theological structures — just like its sister movement, Christian colonialism. Thus the saying: despite the fact that secular Israelis don’t believe in God, they still believe that he gave them the holy land. But in parallel to this secular current with its religious subconscious, a theological reversal was taking place in the religious current of the settlers. That is to say: even though the settlers are convinced that God gave them the holy land, they don’t believe in him at all. Only those who emptied God of his holiness could take the secular-Zionist project to a perversion so extreme that all divinity is believed to be in the holy ground (the Holy Land). In that way, the Jews of the land of Israel, religious and secular alike, united in their libidinal passion for the Holy Land. And by filling that land with holiness, they depleted holiness from God and humankind.

Today in Gaza, the Israeli military is fighting not only in underground tunnels, but also against the natives of the land. They are fighting not only against Hamas, but also against Palestine itself. They –alongside the West– are fighting against a nation that they have tried to expel from the land for almost 70 years now. They are fighting not only because of these tunnels, but also and precisely to conquer the land within which the tunnels were dug. The refugee camps in Gaza are living evidence of this enormous land robbery, the original sin. Since 1948, there’s been an attempt to divide the Palestinian people, to deprive them of all national consciousness; there’s been an attempt erase their memory, as if memory were the inalienable property of only Judeo-Christian thought. It was assumed that afterwards they could be branded with a new, divided consciousness as Arab-Israelis, Arab-Jerusalemites, fundamentalist Gazans, West-Bankers, and exiled Palestinians without the right of return. But we in the West didn’t anticipate that the Palestinians would still see themselves as one people. And yet, despite the attempt to erase their collective memory, they are reunited again. That’s the real reason for the missing fourth beat [i.e., Israel’s refusal to release the fourth and last batch of Palestinian prisoners in March 2014 as guaranteed during US-backed peace talks], and that’s the main reason for the war and the killing. All of the rest — footnotes.

And so it was discovered that the more we attempted to expel them from on top of land, the more the Palestinians united to burrow underneath and wrap themselves in it, like a Jewish prayer shawl. While we thought they were digging themselves a grave, they thought they were digging an opening for life. This is the essence of tsumud [Arabic word for the fidelity of Palestinians to their land], and it’s bigger than all of the factions — bigger than Hamas and Fatah, bigger than farmers and urbanites, bigger than secular and religious alike. In the context of tsumud, it doesn’t really matter who you are. Because at the end of the day, you are Palestinian, a child of this land.

Most Palestinians are willing to share the land — many, not any more. But no Palestinian will give up on it. The attempt to expel them from the face of the earth was an attempt to erase them from our consciousness. But they migrated to the belly of the earth and the heart of our consciousness. They are the children of the land, the land where they are buried and resurrected inside of tunnels. Tunnels in which they roam as living-dead refugees, looking for an opening to roll up and reincarnate into their homes and villages.

When they are used to smuggle food, tools, or a bride and a groom, the tunnels can function as a manifestation of life. Or, when armed militants emerge from them, they can be conduits for death. They can be tunnels of salvation here on earth, salvation of life as such. Or they may become apocalyptic salvation, salvation by weapons and destruction. We can help to define the future meanings of the tunnels. We can help determine whether through their gates will come the messiah of peace and justice, or the angel of death. They are very heavy on us, the gates of Gaza. Maybe if we open them together to life, the mechilot (underground tunnels) will become mechilot (forgiveness).

Signed by Slavoj Žižek and a friend

About Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian Marxist philosopher, psychoanalyst and cultural critic, a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities.

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36 Responses

  1. just
    August 24, 2014, 2:42 pm

    This article is akin to a symphony. Thank you, Slavoj.

    “And so it was discovered that the more we attempted to expel them from on top of land, the more the Palestinians united to burrow underneath and wrap themselves in it, like a Jewish prayer shawl. While we thought they were digging themselves a grave, they thought they were digging an opening for life. This is the essence of tsumud [Arabic word for the fidelity of Palestinians to their land], and it’s bigger than all of the factions — bigger than Hamas and Fatah, bigger than farmers and urbanites, bigger than secular and religious alike. In the context of tsumud, it doesn’t really matter who you are. Because at the end of the day, you are Palestinian, a child of this land.”

    So beautiful and so very right.

  2. unverified__5ilf90kd
    August 24, 2014, 2:58 pm

    Some people who know, told me personally that these tunnels from Gaza to Israel were also used for smuggling goods etc. In fact the smuggling operations were massive and earned money for Palestinians and Jews I was told. Is there any evidence for this ? We already know that the tunnels from Gaza to Egypt were used for smuggling all sort of goods and made huge profits for Palestinians and Egyptians. However, we are told that the tunnels from Gaza to Israel were designed to kill Jews and invade Israeli kindergartens etc. We are given the impression that these tunnels from Gaza just remained open and unused waiting for a major Israeli attack on Gaza as recently took place ? Why were the tunnels unused before the recent Israeli attack on Gaza. What is the real story ?

    • Annie Robbins
      August 24, 2014, 3:03 pm

      i read an article in a mainstrean publication last year about a businessman in gaza with a clothing store. he used to get his goods via a tunnel to israel, according to the article. he’d been doing business with the same israeli business person for a long time.

      • yonah fredman
        August 25, 2014, 4:05 pm

        linking to the article or even mentioning the mainstream publication might be helpful.

      • Annie Robbins
        August 25, 2014, 4:45 pm

        i don’t remember yonah, but i think the article may have been about a shopping center in gaza (???). i can’t quite recall. i just remember being surprised because i didn’t expect it. sorry. perhaps if i find some time to go searching for it. i remember it was clothes tho.

      • yonah fredman
        August 26, 2014, 12:01 am

        Annie- I would think that it would be possible that the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt were used to export stuffs from Gaza to Egypt where it could be legally exported to Israel. The tunnels between Gaza and Israel itself, it seems to me, were not used to import cheap products to Israel.

      • Annie Robbins
        August 26, 2014, 6:44 pm

        you’re probably right yonah. i would not stake my life on my memory, i just thought i recalled reading something of that nature.

  3. Citizen
    August 24, 2014, 3:17 pm

    On a more mundane level, I read that most of the tunnels were on the Egyptian border, and have been used to bring in building material and basic life supplies otherwise stopped by the joint Egyptian-Israeli blockade.

    Also, I read HAMAS profitably taxed four basic commodities–I don’t remember all four, but one was cigarettes, and another was fuel, gas.

    I just dug this up:

    The tunnels are used to smuggle commodities such as fuel, cars, spare parts and cigarettes, sold in Egypt at a lower price than in Gaza, as well as commodities whose shipment through the official border crossings is banned by Israel. Banned goods are primarily building materials and products liable to be used for military purposes, for instance, chemical fertilizers, electrical equipment and electronics. On all of these, the smugglers are taxed by the Hamas government.

    Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ar/business/2012/02/smugglers-fed-up-with-hamas-taxe.html##ixzz

  4. Sabine
    August 24, 2014, 3:27 pm

    Hi Mondoweiss community,
    I am writing to you from Munich, Germany, with the following request:

    A group of friends are making a video for #Gaza with people from all around the world and need our help. The video needs to be only 3 to 5 seconds in length and have a landmark in your city in the background, or the city itself in the background. In the video you are to say the following phrase in your language or mother tongue “Humanity for Gaza”. We would like to have a diverse ethnic group sharing their videos from different countries.

    Requirements:
    * A video recording device (camera phones will work just fine)
    * An A4 (or larger) piece of paper with the words “Humanity for Gaza” written on it (in English and in your language)

    Please also share with your friends who live in major cities or near major well-known landmarks across the globe.

    Please send your videos by email to [email protected] by thursday Aug 26 at the latest.

    Thanks all for reading and sharing and have a happy Sunday!
    Best wishes
    Sabine

  5. ivri
    August 24, 2014, 3:51 pm

    Sounds like tunnel-vision to me

    • just
      August 24, 2014, 4:50 pm

      Yep, poor Israelis are suffering from a severe case of ‘tunnel-vision’.

      They are also blinded by hate and greed. They need help. Have at it, ivri.

    • amigo
      August 24, 2014, 5:16 pm

      “Sounds like tunnel-vision to me” ivri

      Trouble with the Zionist tunnel is, it is not horizontal.
      It,s vertical and exits in Hell.

      Enjoy the fall ivri and watch for the sudden stop.

      • Taxi
        August 25, 2014, 12:49 am

        Speaking of “vertical” tunnels, here’s an antipodal map of the world – enter your city/town in the site’s search engine to find your antipodal point – try entering Gaza too:

        http://www.antipodesmap.com/

      • amigo
        August 25, 2014, 11:51 am

        Taxi , thanks for that.Very enlightening.

        I entered Tel Aviv and this came up???.

        “Antipodes Location: Most likely the ocean. Watch out for sharks.
        Coordinates: -32.0852999, -145.21823240000003

        Sharks at both ends of that antipodal point.

  6. gracie fr
    August 24, 2014, 4:13 pm

    ….Given the considerable sums that the “tunnel economy” generated, one has to suspect that “under-the-table-commercial-activity” might have indeed existed with southern Israel, although I have not found any affirmative verification to this. Given that the tunnel trade was a tightly controlled in an effort to circumvent the Israeli siege, acknowledged trading with the enemy might have been viewed as treason, a crime punishable by death as we have just seen….

    “Once in control of the commercial tunnels, the Hamas government set about formalizing the smuggling economy through regulation. In the wake of Operation Cast Lead, the Interior Ministry established the Tunnel Affairs Commission (TAC) to act as the regulatory authority for commercial activities. Among its first acts was to issue a list of blacklisted imports, including weapons, alcohol, and tramadol, a painkiller much used in Gaza. In response to public concern at a rising toll of tunnel casualties, particularly of child workers, the TAC issued guidelines intended to ensure safe working conditions. Over time, it fenced off the site and stationed some three hundred black-clad internal-security personnel at entry points to spot-check the documentation of persons entering and leaving the zone. Tunnel openings were patrolled on motorbike. The TAC introduced a tunnel-licensing system to prevent construction in areas deemed of national security (particularly near border fortifications where outside observation was feared, or in areas reserved for factional tunneling) and to regulate oversupply. Investors seeking clearance to build a new tunnel were required to provide proof of land ownership or notarized proof of authorization of the right to use the land. The TAC also intervened to arbitrate disputes between merchants and tunnel operators, and monitored the market for instances of sharp inflation or evidence of hoarding and price-fixing, particularly of fuel. Traders and consumers alike said they welcomed the price stabilization and removal of petty traders selling gasoline from the roadsides.”

    http://sderotmedia.org.il/bin/content.cgi?ID=1086&q=7
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140721-gaza-strip-tunnels-israel-hamas-palestinians/
    http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/ht/display/ContentDetails/i/36415/pid/897

    The scale of the Gaza-Egypt tunnel exploit and the role tunnels played in the revival and maintenance of the economy made them an absolute necessity!!

  7. a blah chick
    August 24, 2014, 4:54 pm

    I don’t know why but the tunnel story that resonates with me is a few years old. The Israelis were searching one of them and among the detritus they found was a candy wrapper. Someone traveling in the tunnel had been eating candy… A child? An African refugee? I found myself strangely fascinated with the shear normality of the object. Shouldn’t they have found bullet casings or rocket launchers? But no, there it was, a candy wrapper.

    And before I forget “vive la resistance!”

  8. justicewillprevail
    August 24, 2014, 5:12 pm

    A brilliant piece. The use of the land as a symbol of Palestinian rootedness to the region and their deep connection to it, and its converse exploitation by cynical, appropriating zionists who have thereby emptied their religion of any value is incredibly astute. Which is what I would expect from Slavoj.

  9. DICKERSON3870
    August 24, 2014, 5:23 pm

    Speaking of Slavoj Žižek . . .
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  10. W.Jones
    August 24, 2014, 6:19 pm

    It was assumed that afterwards they could be branded with a new, divided consciousness as Arab-Israelis, Arab-Jerusalemites, fundamentalist Gazans, West-Bankers, and exiled Palestinians without the right of return. But we in the West didn’t anticipate that the Palestinians would still see themselves as one people.

    Israeli nationalists claim that Palestinians are just “Arabs” who came from the Arabian desert, and so try to avoid calling them Palestinians, which associates them with the land- Palestine.

    And yet Israelis are happy calling all the other “Arab” peoples by their names – Libyans, Algerians, Iraqis, etc.

    This rejection of calling them only “Arabs”, not “Palestinians” is pretty common among Israeli nationalists, and I wonder how common.

  11. globalconsciousness
    August 24, 2014, 9:23 pm

    Slavoj Žižek’S work is always a pleasure to read…
    This was in the same vein, haunting and beautiful in the same breath…

  12. Taxi
    August 24, 2014, 11:34 pm

    Thank you, Slavoj, for an immensely profound piece.

    Your tunnel allegory is comparable to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

  13. Taxi
    August 24, 2014, 11:38 pm

    Gaza’s tunnels are the birthing tunnels of a Palestinian state.

    Long live the tunnels!

  14. guzzi
    August 25, 2014, 5:04 am

    Nicely written, but essentially flawed. The metaphor about tunnels, I find are a touch romantic. Bluntly put they are simply a weapon; meant for survival and wealth creation as well as geared for causing destruction and death.

    Secondly the assertion that Israel is purely secular waving a religious banner for convenience is patently inaccurate. True, while many here are secular in life style , very few reject Judaism and hold those values close to heart. While eschewing fundamentalism, the majority can certainly not be labelled as non-believers.

    • amigo
      August 25, 2014, 11:55 am

      guzzi, If so many hold the values of Judaism to heart, why does Israel have the most far right Government in it,s history.

    • Mooser
      August 25, 2014, 6:45 pm

      “True, while many here are secular in life style , very few reject Judaism and hold those values close to heart.”

      I see. Would you like to tell us how the close-to-the-heart-Judaism of Israelis intersects with Protective Edge? How their “values” (which they hold close to their heart) influence, or even engender Israeli policy and actions?

    • Danaa
      August 27, 2014, 10:55 pm

      guzzi, Israel is not purely secular, of course, though a majority still are not religious in the sense of believing in a god or all the biblical mumbo-jumbo.

      Yet you are right about the majority wanting to have their cake and eat it too, ie, not believing in the god part, but believing in the “Judaism” part, especially when convenient. ie, there may not be a god, except perhaps when he made us the chosen, or promised the land of milk and money. So there is god and there isn’t at the same time, which helps clarify the mystery of the well known Jewish genius for being and not-being all at once.

      So there, we have it all wrapped up now – the “values” of Judaism (cf. we are the bestest and the chosenest) the genius of cracking the existential dilemma that troubled men and felines alike (to be AND not to be) while also beating heisenberg at his own game by demonstrating once and for all that the cat is both alive and dead (felines the world over rejoice!).

      So guzzi, where do I go to get tips on those “Jewish values”? will I get a glimpse thereof in Gaza perhaps? are they hidden in a tunnel? or must I wish upon a star?

  15. bahijeh.akoury
    August 25, 2014, 9:21 am

    Good article, but you forgot to mention the graves oand tunnels f Death that Golf and Arab countries are forging for the palestinian!!! Shame and Shame

  16. milx
    August 25, 2014, 2:43 pm

    I have read a tremendous amount of Zizek material and this sounds unlike anything else he’s written. It’s totally out of tone + character for him and I’m skeptical about how much of it he actually wrote and how much the “friend” wrote.

  17. yonah fredman
    August 25, 2014, 11:49 pm

    I never heard the term “mechilot’ used as a term for tunnels. the modern hebrew word for tunnels are minharot, which I assume comes from the word for nahar or river and tunnels being dug under rivers, but that could be a pure assumption (have no basis in reality). the concept that those outside buried outside of Israel roll underground to Israel for the resurrection of the dead is an idea that I learned in connection with why Jacob insisted on not being buried in Egypt. And gilgul, although usually a term for reincarnation was mentioned in connection with that journey from burial elsewhere to resurrection in Israel. I think, that the term mechilot would be connected with the tunnels, because the travail of the pain of rolling through the tunnels would lead to forgiveness for the sin of being buried outside of Israel or for other sins and I do not think that mechilot are intrinsically a word for tunnels but would only be used for the term of the tunnels of the resurrection because of the travails of the dead and their need for forgiveness.

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