The stabbings that have recently become a daily reality in Israel/Palestine have been widely framed by the international media as an escalation of violence in the region. Before using such charged terms to describe desperate resistance by an occupied people, however, it would be prudent to examine these acts in their context. That is to say, it would be advisable to understand them against the background of a seemingly endless, efficiently organized, and institutionalized aggression perpetrated by the Israeli state apparatus and unleashed against the entire Palestinian population.
Indeed, stabbing attacks make violence visible, spectacularize it, but, in doing so, do not produce it as though out of nothing, ex nihilo. Rather, they draw the spectators’ attention to the already existing, silent, and relentless violence that drives the “attackers” to the breaking point. Their actions are, after all, suicidal: they know that, most likely, they will be shot dead in the altercation. Their knifes are powerless in the face of guns that await them at every corner, now that Jerusalem’s mayor has called on the Jewish residents of the city to carry registered firearms with them at all times.
Such a technological imbalance is typical of colonial occupation, as already noted by Frantz Fanon in the 1950s and ‘60s. And the same asymmetry affects the numbers of those who succumb to violence on both sides; disproportionately more Palestinians than Israelis die in the altercations. The victims of stabbings are individuated, each with her or his story; the victims of occupation are not only more numerous but also anonymous, unnoticed, subject to the additional violence of namelessness.
It is to be expected that reactive violence would flare up once a dialogue has failed. Hannah Arendt expressed this point well: when speech, or logos, is brushed aside, mute physical aggression takes its place. The absolute unwillingness of the current Israeli government to engage in a meaningful dialogue with its Palestinians neighbors, with the view to urgently ending the occupation and creating a viable Palestinian state, is at the root of the language of force that, alone, is speaking today.
The active violence, to which the current incidents are a response, is the grinding violence of occupation: severe travel restrictions, land grabs through the construction of the West Bank barrier considered illegal by the UN, arbitrary arrests, the destruction of houses be it by bombings or demolition orders… Let us pause and think, instead of automatically reproducing the ideologically inflected jargon of the mass media. Is the “cycle of violence” limited to stabbings and revenge attacks on both sides? Or, is it inscribed in a larger and particularly vicious circle—the suffocating siege of a people denied the basic conditions for living, let alone a chance for their collective self-expression?