Visiting the scene of Tuesday’s attack on a Jerusalem bus, the city’s mayor, Nir Barkat, attributed this and similar incidents to “inflammatory incitement” coming from “mosques and Palestinian leaders.” Such superficial explanations are common in today’s Israel: just two days ago, Netanyahu himself filed for an investigation of Arab-Israeli lawmaker, Hanin Zoabi, for alleged incitement.
The double reference to fire in the mayor’s tautological expression falls squarely within what I call the field of pyropolitics. When a sense of instability supplants the politics of normalcy, I argue, we experience a shift from the politics of the earth, or geopolitics proper, to the politics of fire. The new intifada in Israel/Palestine is, undoubtedly, a pyropolitical irruption on the scene of security for the privileged few, protected by concrete fences and by the ideological façades of the Israeli occupation.
Barkat’s words are, nonetheless, highly misleading. Operating under the presumption of geopolitics, in which violent, “fiery” outbursts are an exception rather than a rule, he put the stress on discourse and ideology, rather than the unbearable situation on the ground (another geopolitical metaphor!) experienced by a vast majority of Palestinian people. From his point of view, the problem is incitement in speech, the use of language capable of fanning the flames of revolt. Such a standpoint denies the victims of occupation their own agency, not to mention the exercise of thinking, or, at least, assessing whether or not the mode of existence inflicted upon them is tolerable or endurable. “Inflammatory incitement” twice overwrites the culpability of the Israeli authorities and the idea that the material conditions in the West Bank and Gaza have become incompatible with life itself.
Insofar as the protracted occupation of Palestine is instituted in a permanent state of exception the geopolitics in the region are a priori pyropolitical. The normalcy of the Israeli enclave has been predicated upon the prevailing and intensifying upheaval and daily disruptions in the lives of the occupied population.
As Jewish pacifist-anarchist Nathan Chofshi noted already in 1946, the Zionist movement was building its projected state on a “volcano” of violence, demanding “endless suffering and bloodshed.” The long trail of carnage it unleashed is with us to this day, and it shows no signs of abating. Building on a volcano, in turn, is a very precise image interrelating geo- and pyropolitics in Israel/Palestine. Ostensibly stable political structures are constructed on a shaky foundation of land grabs, disregard for the basic human rights of others, and flouting of international law.
I have noted in a previous contribution to Mondoweiss that the mute force of violence breaks forth when speech and, in particular, a dialogue are powerless to shape the real. Violence is not an effect of fiery speeches—the “inflammatory incitement” blamed by Barkat—but an eruption of the volcano that is the Israeli politics-as-usual. For once, it is crucial to understand that the construction of the world in words has its limit, which is the unutterable, unspeakable, and intolerable theft of everything that makes life possible (land, water, movement, livelihoods). And that no fiery words can compete with the volcanic politics of occupation.