"Fragments of Lost Life"

By Judith Butler


Published in Killing Time 2013 and reprinted for Gaza Works 2017

Killing Time

How do we approach the visual imagery of devastated homes and dispossessed lives in Gaza after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza (2008-2009). There are photos here, taken after the bombings, but there are also cell phone videos. In each case, the camera and the visual image seems to have survived the lives and dwellings it recorded. The cell phone video often survived the person as a kind of testament or archive of lost life. The photos, on the other hand, in particular are all about having been dispossessed, that is, having had to vacate, having left one’s living room, bedroom, kitchen, and roof in disarray or destroyed, being forced out. The photographs show the decimated structure of everyday life; disposses-
sion has happened, and the photograph puts a certain archival seal on the event. The photograph also appeals to archival desires: what did the destruction wrought by Operation Cast Lead look like on the ground? And how can it be documented? A life is forced out of its dwell- ing and the destroyed fragments of the dwelling remain. We see a series of individual lives and houses, but the series implicitly multiplies; there were many such lives and homes. The vanished creatures are marked by the remains of the structure: the furniture, the window cas- ing sometimes still standing, the walls forcibly disjoined from one another, the sunlight streaming unacceptably streaming through the remains of the blast. We see
that something about the life of those who lived there is bound up with the objects of the home, such that we cannot nally separate the dispossession of the one from the destruction of the other.
 In light of the name of the video, Killing Time, I could have written an essay on waiting. But perhaps living in the time between bombings, without work and without a clear sense of future, is not quite as agentic as waiting. Is there a way of living in time when the future is closed that is precisely not waiting, but rather killing time - not quite the same as wasting time? If one is wasting time, then one could be doing something else, a moral judg- ment is implied. If one is waiting, then there is antici- pation, and something of hope is implied. But if there is not enough sense of future for “waiting”, then time becomes something else. And it matters whether one is biding time or killing time, since one bides time “until” something happens. But the title, Killing Time opens up a problem of agency; “killing” shifts our understanding of action from an in nitive to a continuous present, one in which the beginning and the end of action cannot be properly identi ed. We might say that now it is time that kills, that is in the process of “killing”, but that is perhaps to personify time. We would have to be able to understand this “killing” as a kind of destructiveness that exceeds any particular action on the part of a subject; it would have to encompass the brief and precarious lives of those who persist in such a time. Agency seems to have lost its moorings when time is said to exercise a slow and incremental mode of killing those who never- theless persist. We catch a glimpse of what those lives are doing between bombardments, between the one that they survive and the one that they do not. And part of what we see is a spatialized sense of time that is killing of all those forms of futurity that make for agency. The expansive sense of “killing time” refers to actual kill- ings, to be sure. The scenes we see in Killing Time are ones that happen or we might say, a kind of time that continues in another way the killing that happened in the bombardments of 2008-9 as well as 2012 (and several others we can clearly name and document). How do we describe what people are doing during the time in which action seems to have lost its temporal and spatial sup- ports? Do not get me wrong: there is play, and eating, and friendship in those scenes, frivolity and laughter; so it is not that what is in the scene is especially grim, but that the scene itself is evanescent. Nearly everyone we see in Killing Time dies. The fatality of the photo is not fully ex post facto. They are all living in a time that has been and will be suddenly stopped by bombardments that destroy or displace lives, and yet the “killing” we see is precisely of the sort that takes place between bombardments. The human activities are stuttering and repetitious, going around in circles, living in the moment at once very brief and interminably long. Small repeti- tions of gestures, moving objects back and forth, the rudiments of play with animals and balls, somehow take place against a background pervaded by the history and the certain prospect of destruction of one kind or an- other. We see something of what it means to live within that particular interval.
Kent Klich is a Swedish photographer who showed me his photographs in May, 2012, and asked that I write this piece about them. I hesitated, for fear of having more work, and having to work on this material - and then found myself saying yes. His images of destroyed homes in Gaza come from a series he has made called Gaza Photo Album. These are photographs he took in February and March of 2009, one month after the bombardment of Gaza and the loss of over 1400 Palestinian lives.
 All of the images of homes are one that have been evacuated. Kent has explained to me that not all of those who lived in these buildings were killed. Some of them left in time to live with relatives or in temporary shelters, mainly tents; after some months, many of them had to move back to their apartments if they were not totally destroyed, so they were compelled to live among the ruins of their former lives. As we know, the passage of building supplies are severely restricted by the Israeli government, so there was not enough concrete or plas- ter to repair walls and foundations, and not enough glass for windows. So though one sees the building structures as they were in March of 2009, many of them have remained in more or less the same condition because of the restrictions on building supplies. As you know, every border into Gaza remains under the control of Israeli authorities, and though there are now intermittent ways to bring goods through the Rafah Gate, bordering with Egypt, there is no autonomous control over that gate by the Egyptian authorities.
 What is the problem of time posed by these images? The objects and structures have lost their inhabitants, their own integrity and function, and they are now strewn and standing, sealed events and spectral monuments. Some of the inhabitants were violently dispossessed and others have died. We can only say that someone else has died, and if we say that we ourselves have died, we make use of some expansive or gural expression to communicate something de nitive and irreversible about a loss. Those who are dispossessed are still alive, and those who have died are not. Augustine claims there is an absolute difference between dying and being dead, and he is apparently very glad in The City of God to chart that grammatical shift. But still, I want to ask whether this is a sense of killing or dying that goes along with radical dispossession in the wake of
bombardments that take many lives, destroy many homes, has before (just recently in November 2012 in which 95 Gazans were killed), and surely will again? Does the collapse of temporality within that interval not only recall and presage violent death, but already breathe its fumes? If there is a kind of killing or dying happening in space and time, there is also, conversely and concomitantly, a living on that takes place within or among, or with these structures that are them- selves inhabited precisely by a loss – the chairs in which no one sits, that now face the wrong way so that no two people could face one another, strewn and up-ended, showered by a light that enters with a kind of criminal beauty through a bombed-out roof. We can ask these questions in the face of these photographs, but in truth, within the space of the home and of the photograph from early 2009, there is no one there, no one living on and no one dying, no one even killing time. There was once life (a de nitive past), and now there are only the ruins of life that once lived there (a continuous present for the time being). There are numerous signs that these are the structures of shared life, and that these structures were once conjoined and assembled as homes, but the inhabitants are van- ished from the scene; the built structure that provided for inhabitation is no longer exactly built, undoing not just the authorial will of the architect, but the animating powers of co-habitation, leaving us with a zone of the uninhabitable.
 As onlookers, we are face to face with the fragments of lost life. At the same time, all the signs of habitation are there, blasted into fragments, opened to the sky, blanched and emptied. How many years did those who lived together in these structures have together? How many decades and generations were blasted out and dis- possessed? How sudden was the bombing, and for how long did the noise precede the blast? Where did anyone hide? When Kent Klich entered these homes one month after the bombings, he did so always with the permission of the family or a surviving neighbor and with a representative from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. He found out the names of the families and learned where they had gone. And he gives us that documentation, making sure that he honors the ethical demand that testimonial archive imposes on the photographer.
Indeed, I want to suggest that there is nothing prurient or sensationalist in these images. The photographer, we might expect, will stay outside the dwelling as an act of respect, but this proves impossible: the dwelling has already lost its outside, and it is this particular devastation that he documents. We are seeing the effects of a bombing in the fragments of wall, floor, and roof, the windows without panes; this is, to be sure, the decimation of shelter, but also of the structures that once sustained shared life. Some questions emerge that no archive can successfully answer: Who sat where and said what to whom, and who sat there in the generation before, and where have they gone? Who is left to see, and where is the archive for the violent unbuilding of infrastructure that is bombardment? What choice does Kent Klich make as he sets up the camera at the threshold of the home, a home that has been opened up against the will of its inhabitants? The camera takes up the same position it would take if it were chronicling the everyday life of the family, usually the extended family, who lived within the home. In fact, the camera holds on to the idea of the family album as a way of preserving the life whose destruction it documents. I am not sure we can say that the camera is inside the home, since the distinction between inside and outside has been destroyed. But the camera still seeks to instate and organize the family through its composition, standing, as it were, for those who have been separated, dispossessed, or destroyed.
 Where precisely is the camera? The problem of location is the problem of the photograph itself. Does it participate in the invasion, or does it hold fast against its force? Can its own location remain uncompromised by which it shows? I think we can say that these visual documents seek to memorialize and to offer recognition, working in a spirit similar to the important photography of Bedouin homes made by Ahlam Shibli, a Palestinian photographer whose work has been shown in the art gallery at Bir Zeit University.1 The photographer and the photograph work under an ethical injunction not to enter the homes that have already proven to be so fatally permeable, where families have been killed or from which they have been driven out. So securing the permission of those who have lived there or who are the closest neighbors is one way to secure the invitation to show that part of what has been destroyed is a stable sense of the “inside” and “outside” of the home. Minimally, there have to be enough standing and contiguous walls for any inside/outside distinction to hold – otherwise, the remaining fragments of the structure become pure threshold. And yet, as we can see from several of these images, there is no indication that the walls have stood. In fact, if the ethical demand on photography in the aftermath of bombing is to document the destruction of life and the aftermath of violation, then it would seem that we have to “see” the very breakdown of the distinction between interior and exterior as the violation; we have to be installed in the very moment of that breakdown. It is not just that a home has been entered; it has been forcibly opened and destroyed by bombings that destroy the conditions of inhabitation, a way of life, and all too often life itself. So if the photograph is to document the destruction that has occurred, it must situate itself precisely here on the grounds of the shattered wall, looking in or looking on or looking out, or looking back on a life that has lost the protective function of architectural interiority, where the basic supports of the building have rent asunder, dispersed and/or obliterated. This is a life for which there is no longer any protected interior space, a life for which the destruction of the very idea of the interior is at once the destruction of life, since it is at the same time the very idea of the exterior, and the very possibility of living that depends on the stability of that distinction. The documents thus give us some access to that particular form of destructiveness, the unbuilding of shelter or defenseless exposure.
 And yet, many of these photos are beautiful – what are we to make of this beauty? The bright sun of Gaza streams in through the opening, a light that is let in by the adjustments of the camera itself. So there is a kind of “aperture” that is produced by the encounter between the camera and natural light, a modulation that is the sign of their encounter. Shall we oppose this gorgeous light as it streams in through the wreckage of the wall, or is this light precisely another testimony to what life must have been like, as one woke in the morning, opened the window, raised the shade, walked out through the door? Are we meant to understand that streaming light as precisely the characteristic beauty of Gaza, one that now streams on, entering the homes like the bombs, perhaps, but also a certain visual remainder of what the relentless lighting of everydayness?
 Is it even possible within the world of the photograph to distinguish between those who lived there, their strewn objects, the dispersed signs of their way of life and livelihood, the fragments of the house, the light that makes them all visible to us? We can say that the objects are abandoned by those who were forced to leave or we can say that the objects have perhaps abandoned those who lived with them, sometimes outliving human life even as they carry its resonance. Are all of these in their radical absence gathered together conceptually in the photograph so that we have a sense that the lives that are gone remain clearly bound up with one another, with the household and its objects, its rooms, its threshold spaces that opened the home to the world, and secured its protection? That opening and that closing were part of the rhythm of living in bodily proximity under that roof and within those walls, moving periodically between those doors, exiting and returning, lingering in the doorway, opening and closing windows and doors. Destroyed were those very rhythms of bodily movement within an animating structure. The life is bound up with the structure, and though the remains of the structure are still there to be seen, the human remains are not. Some of them moved from these structures, but many died (2000 structures were devastated). So though we do not see body parts at the time these photos were taken, we do see parts of furniture and bedding, and these objects carry in condensed form the sundered parts of the human body itself. There
is no life without the spatial, if not architectural, conditions of livability, without its objects, its supports, and its environment. And yet, amidst all the signs of dispersion and death, something remains animated within this riven and destroyed environment. It is not a question of a ghost or some other after life, but of a very specific absence lining the curtain, the chair, and the window sill. We cannot see what human meanings may have been invested in the objects, but we do see the way that the objects and the structures outlive the human lives, suggesting an afterlife of objects where the life is neither exclusively the life of a human nor the life of an object. It is the condensed relation between them that has lost its functionality, turned perhaps into a monument of that very relationality.
 The camera does not have to do anything spectacular to achieve these results – though these are excellent photographs by any standard. In a way, in Gaza Photo Album, the camera never really departs from its domestic function and the domestic environment. It does not chronicle everything about that war, but stays angled on the domestic. The camera continues to take those shots capturing life in the home as if the camera does not know that the family is gone; or rather, if one can speak this way: the camera keeps operating as if there were no loss, as if it were itself stunned or traumatized, and its position is still structured by the expectation that the family or group of people who lived there were still there; the camera thus continues the convention of the family album even when there is no more family, stuttering mechanically in the face of this loss. A most jarring disjunction is produced between what the conventions of the family album anticipate and the pervasive and shocking absence by which that anticipation is checked. Again and again, a space is encountered: this is where the family used to be, or should still be; a quiet and steady form of mourning and outrage over a suddenly stilled and vacated way of life becomes the affective work of the camera. And yet, as the domestic photographic convention outlives the very life of the family, some sense of traumatic impasse is at stake. The images do not exactly convert into a story; they stay with the unfathomable surface of destruction. They do not present the effects of war to give us a history or to elaborate a context for our understanding; they show us, rather, how history becomes destroyed by the devastation of the lived structure of the home.
 Would it be different if we saw the devastation of hospitals and roads, of playgrounds and schools? Surely, yes. What is it about the home that seems so difficult to see? Is it that we believe that the home is a haven in
a heartless world? Do these photographs sanctify the family or the family domicile? Or do they, rather, take us far into the remnants of quotidian life – the towels used for the shower, the sheets from the bed, the presumption that there is some significant difference between the inside where one eats and sleeps and the outside, where one encounters the broader world. In war, that broader world enters the domicile through every possible aperture. What is built for one purpose becomes undone. Can we say that building depends on decisions about how much light to let in, and where, how to keep out the cold and the wet, how to gather and distribute warmth, how to provide protection against the elements and aggression for those who live within the structure, and how to organize and secure access to the exterior world, how to open out onto the world, protected? Perhaps every assumption that architecture makes of this kind, namely, to establish enduring conditions of livability through deliberate ways of orchestrating the distinction between inside and the outside is destroyed by the bomb that targets the home. The unbuilt structure is thus laid bare, the elements of architecture dispersed in random directions, the conditions of livability destroyed. Of course, I am not saying that architecture is on the side of non- violence, and bombing on the other side, since there are many architectures of war, including the architecture of bombs. But perhaps this is one reason to keep the image focused on the lived structure, the one that used to be inhabited, to underscore that ethical link between architecture and a livable life. Can these photos be said to mourn, or to give us the visual condition for mourning? Or are they perhaps trying to let us know how devastation enters into quotidian life, something that none of the statistics or news stories really can do.
 One thing that seems clear is that these photographs are still, by which I do not mean that they are still life or generically different from the moving image. I mean rather that they are pervaded by the stillness of an aftermath of what must have been a horrible force and noise, the sound of the bombs, of screaming. This time is both aftermath and lull. What sense do we make of this calm? Does the photograph announce that war is over? Or does it, rather, produce a stillness that marks the irreversible character of vacated life, of family and friends sundered from one another, of death and dispossession. Does the voiceless character of the photograph accentuate the sudden silencing of all human sound? The camera stays calm and centered and fixed on its object, seemingly immovable. Is this perhaps some kind of steadfastness? The photos do not reproduce the bombing for our vicarious engagement, but provide the pivot for its counterpoint and afterlife. Light and wind have come to settle where humans once lived. Remains of everyday life, lamps and family albums strewn about like leaves, but this was no storm. Are these random objects and decomposed elements of the building all that is left of habitation? In reconstructing the sequence that brings us here, we invariably ask whether body parts were strewn in the same way as objects and, if so, do those strewn objects resonate with the untold story of human dismemberment? We are perhaps stilled by these photographs, made to move less quickly, come to our conclusions with less facility. What is it we are asked to take in, and to know? If it is a form of knowing, it is not one that pieces together all the fragments into a comprehensible whole. There is no reparation in these images. The absence of reparation recurs in each frame; the absence of life as well as the absence of recognition and reparation is the repeated punctum of the image, the one that the photograph seeks to mark and make known in an effort to initiate recognition and reparation.
 The video and the photographs are very different. The photographs show us unbuilt structures where no one lives any longer, where those who once lived are now gone, either temporarily or finally, but also where the structure surely seems uninhabitable. It is thus with some degree of shock that we learn that some people did move back into these structures without the materials to repair them. The fragments of infrastructure point to an absent center, but the camera continues to produce every image here belongs to the family album, as if these are domestic photos designed to let us know about the daily life that happens there. The camera does not pan away from the domestic scene, or run through a variety of perspectives that might elaborate on the modalities of life lived there, moving toward some omniscient view of the structure; on the contrary, the photograph holds its frame as if it were in allegiance with what is gone, and through its dogged and faithful perspective shows time and again the house that has lost its integrating frame. The steadfast frame of the photo thus compensates for the lost frame of the dwelling, but without being able to restore what is gone. We stay riveted on the shorn and emptied shell of a place where people once lived together. Photography encounters architecture in an act of mourning. The photos are a kind of show and
tell, transmuting a narrative voice into an emphatically indexical visual composition: “here is my family”, and “here is our kitchen”; “that was the refrigerator that held our food”; “this was my room – my brother lived in this one next door”. “Here are the towels we used to dry ourselves after a shower”; “these are the sheets on my bed that night after night covered me as I slept.” And yet there is no one there to say such things, to explain where everyone sat, and what they said and did. Yet, the photos are voiceless. The subject who would narrate the story is gone, either dead, wounded, or dispersed, though the absent narrator of domestic life haunts these pictures; the pictures still show, but we cannot find the story. In this way the photos operate by way of a disjunction, a jarring and disorienting disconnect between the way the structure is shown and what has actually happened there. Pictures of each room proceed, as if we are on a real estate tour of the dispossessed. Once again, a banal, everyday function of the photograph in relation to the home foregrounds the way that everyday life has been devastated.
 The photos chronicle what has happened – this event of a dwelling bombed. But the video, /Killing Time/, takes place in the indefinite present of the home and its thresholds; some of the men wait on the steps of their homes, reclining, bodies waiting for the conditions for their own action; trying to play a game, falling into useless and desperate forms of repetition; we see what waiting feels like in the body and its actions, weighing down the posture and generating repetition that lead to no result, – leaning, lying, bending, repeating gestures and motions. Can we say that they are waiting, these bodies that have nowhere to go and nothing to do? Are they anticipating their life and their work, their action and their future, their community and their desire. As the video proceeds, we learn not to expect any action; there will be no plot. Watching, we are implicated in that useless passing of time, one that is imposed by a siege that has produced unemployment for more than 59% of Gazan youth. What is it we need to know to understand how the time in which these people live is a “killing time.” Gaza has a population of over 1.6 million people living, and they live in an area that is 360 square kilometers. Gazans are, as you may know, prohibited from exporting anything, including agricultural goods, furniture, crafts, and the after the 2008-9 bombardment, 95% of factories and businesses were closed and that statistic has now eased to about 80%. As I mentioned, the total ban on raw materials has stopped nearly all production and home reconstruction. Fishermen are denied access to their own coastal waters, and are arrested even if they stay within 400 meters from shore. In the last few years, the average daily wage has dropped from $100 a day, to about $10, and for many, the only work available is in the tunnels, originally built by the Israelis to bring in material for the settlers prior to their leaving, and to install military structures. Now they are the predominant route through which illegal goods are smuggled. Children sometimes collect building material near the border, and at least 30 have been shot while gleaning in this way. So, when we look at the men sitting around, or the mother with her child, we are seeing unemployment, to be sure, but a loss of work that is organized temporally and spatially by the siege. The siege restricts the mobility of workers and students, of the entire population, the ability of locals to get access to medical care or to visit family members in the West Bank (those corridors are closed). No one and nothing crosses into or out of Gaza without explicit Israeli permission. Rationing and restricting food supplies keeps the population on the edge of destitution, intensifying its dependency on Israeli whims, and undermining a basic right to have control over feeding itself. Dov Weisglass, a former advisor to Ehud Olmert, remarked after Hamas was elected in 2006, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” 2 Neve Gordon and Ariella Azouley disagree, and see the siege as a slow way of administering death. Under such conditions, there is nothing to do but kill time. On the other hand, time is already killed or, rather, is being killed all the time, and this by the terms of the siege that has produced Gaza not only as an open air prison, but as exposed to sudden and devastating aerial bombardments. So even for those who survive the bombings, something is still killing them; they live within a time that is no time for agency, a recurrent slipping away of life under conditions of coerced immobility and hopelessness, but where, against the odds, some forms of play and pleasure still have their moments. We might ask, what are these people waiting for? But the question seems to miss the point, since there is no prospect of employment in Israel or in Gaza, of reparation or recognition, of seeing their relatives again, of the end of war, the end of fear, a new regime, justice, a state, the effective emergence of international recognition, the lifting of the siege, the beginning of self-determination? Perhaps this video is precisely what it looks like when one is no longer waiting, but still living on in local and episodic ways with objects and others in and around standing homes.
This video, as you can see, moves between three different frames, showing us simultaneously three ways of living through the time of siege and intermittent bombardment. We learn at the beginning of the video that over 1400 Palestinians were killed during the five weeks of bombing in 2008-9. We do not know until the end of the video that many of the main characters we have just seen have died. And yet, as the three different frames are put into motion, each of them suddenly vanishes, and we do not know why. What has interrupted this scene of daily life? What has suddenly blacked it out? It is not right to say there is no life depicted here; there are many activities, the small activities of Palestine: playing and pacing, soccer with a rooster, soccer without a soccer ball. There is a child playing with a hoola-hoop, but without the hoop. There is the solitary ritual of the cigarette, moving the position of the cigarette package back and forth and then the ashtray, here and then there –a doing which is living remnant of action and agency or, rather, an action whose meaning is that can still be undertaken, and so is. There is the mother who holds the child, taking pleasure in that simple act; the child who reaches with happiness toward the lens of the camera; there is sitting cross-legged, swinging from a swing, reclining, a rooster crowing, a chance to walk by the water when the light is piercing, a small child in a shock of pink, sandals. One frame suddenly vanishes, a premonition of the sudden and irreversible obliteration of life; that frame returns, but now with a new scene. Where did the last one go? A sense of panic - we cannot reverse, go back, recover what just was. A child meows like a cat, someone rearranges some of the ubiquitous plastic chairs of Palestine, the reclining man turns onto his stomach on his very familiar couch, the radio chatters, friends engage in easy conversation, calling each other “habibti” – dear one, precious, or darling. It turns out that the camera is in fact many cameras; these are images culled from the surviving cell phones of those who have died, gathered from the wreckage by relatives and friends and entrusted to the photographer. In some cases, we see the ones who took the picture, yet we see something of what they wanted to show and to preserve; a brief foray into quotidian life, a splash of color or laughter or absurd play, the small acts and events that were still possible, the ball that produces the possibility of play, even under those conditions, until, in fact, they were no longer possible at all or ever again, at least not for those pictured here.
 And so our video unexpectedly becomes a memorial, and we learn the names and ages of all those whose images we have seen, many of whom were killed in the bombardment. Was the memorial function of the cell phone video there from the start, or was self- filming a way to document a life, a way of saying, ‘this is what it is like’, or ‘this is who I am’, or even, more fundamentally, an address to an anonymous recipient: ‘here I am’. In /Killing Time/ these video clips become so many forms of documenting moments of those lives as well as their sudden destruction; brief moments followed by the brevity of life itself under conditions of war. Apparently, one way to kill time is to take a video of oneself with one’s cell phone. In the case of Gareeb, the smoker on the right, this is a video he made of himself. The man to the left, Mohammed Jabir Hwaiej, filmed himself as he prac- ticed martial arts, walking on the beach, playing soccer. The remaining videos were taken by family or friends, and passed on to Kent Klich for this film.
 So these cell phone videos are the archives of the everyday undertaken by those who relied on ubiquitous forms of technology to preserve and show something of their lives. I want to say, they could not have known that the cell phone would survive them, but perhaps I am wrong, and these are visual obituaries self-made. The technology of the cell phone apparently survives more easily than does the human body – a strange and difficult lesson to learn on this occasion. That video function still somehow worked when the human body could not breathe or move or was no longer intact. Much like Kent Klich’s camera, the cell phone proves to be a stubborn mechanism for making an archive of a daily life now lost. Recovered, and re-framed in this film, these visual fragments become a way to begin to fathom the loss of someone’s quotidian life, those who were in the midst of life, sitting at those tables, or playing with that rooster, when suddenly the frame stops. The frame and the life are bound together, so that when the footage stops, the life is understood to have vanished as well. Perhaps the cell phone carries the lost life in a way that the objects of the house carry the lost body parts. In a way, both cell phone and the broken piece of furniture somehow survive when the human life does not, charged, we
might say, with a testimonial function. A strange sort of Ishmael, the cell phone! If we ask, where are we positioned in the face of such sudden and brutal obliterations of life, we can perhaps answer that justice begins with documentation, with piecing together who has been lost, and what the feel of those sheets and blankets might have been, what the sound of that chicken was like, the chance sighting of that sun on water, all of which composed the sensorium of daily life. Perhaps this is too much detail, and we think that we must surely turn to the history and strategies of colonial occupation, its relation to settler colonialism, to tactical invasion and military terror. All those are crucial, to be sure. But what we can expect here is an understanding of the way that the colonial occupation of Palestine works (and let us remember that the siege and bombardment are both parts of this occupation) is through the sudden, unexpected destruction of daily life, of movement, of land, of homes, and of livelihoods and of life. For the lives documented in their absence or in their briefly documented presence are ones for whom life can be taken or one’s world destroyed with violent suddenness? That violence does not simply interrupt and destroy a daily life, but pervades the very sense of daily space and time. It is doubtless linked with the practice of indefinite detention in the West Bank in which every Palestinian knows that he or she can be arrested without cause, imprisoned without due process, humiliated and isolated. A sudden and irreversible destruction of the small sequences and gestures of daily life, one that comes as no surprise, and leaves us to understand what it means to live life under conditions in which devastation comes as no surprise. In fact, however expected, it is always brutal and unexpected, and this is part of what makes it terror. For many, the repeated bombardments of Gaza collapse the distinction between past and future into an indefinite time, establishing the present into a killing time, one that murders grammatical tense as we know it, undermining the conditions of waiting and hoping and acting; they collapse as well the division between inside and outside such that there is no shelter against unprotected exposure to destruction. If we come to understand what it means to live with the imminent, certain yet unpredictable destruction of someone’s daily life, then perhaps we have begun to understand the spatial and temporal modalities by which terror is administered in Gaza.

  1. See Ahlam Shibli, “Unrecognized” (2000) Birzeit Gallery
  2. From Electronic Intifada (10/24/2012): “ Health officials provided calcu- lations of the minimum number of calories needed by Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants to avoid malnutrition. Those figures were then translated into truckloads of food Israel was supposed to allow in each day.
    The Israeli media have tried to present these chilling discussions, held in secret, in the best light possible. Even the liberal Haaretz newspaper euphemistically described this extreme form of calorie-counting as de- signed to “make sure Gaza didn’t starve.”
    But a rather different picture emerges as one reads the small print. While the health ministry determined that Gazans needed daily an average of 2,279 calories each to avoid malnutrition — requiring 170 trucks a
    day — military officials then found a host of pretexts to whittle down the trucks to a fraction of the original figure.
    The reality was that, in this period, an average of only 67 trucks — much less than half of the minimum requirement — entered Gaza daily. This compared to more than 400 trucks before the blockade began.”