Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ilana Feldman's "Police Encounters"

Ilana Feldman is Associate Professor of Anthropology, History, and International Affairs at The George Washington University. She is the author of Governing Gaza: Bureaucracy, Authority, and the Work of Rule, 1917–1967 (2008).

Feldman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Police Encounters: Security and Surveillance in Gaza under Egyptian Rule, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Balancing the multiple security concerns posed by Palestinian insistence on the opportunity to fight for Palestine was a challenge throughout the administration. Speech, action, and organizing were all identified as security problems and therefore had to be controlled. At the same time, and for the same reasons, these were the same arenas in which the administration had to be most responsive to people’s demands. A careful calibration was required to create an outlet for expression and a sense of a public, political space, without creating a truly free space that might actually threaten government control.
Police Encounters explores the dynamics of policing and security in the Gaza Strip during the twenty-years after the loss of Palestine and before the Israeli occupation of Gaza, when the Strip was governed by Egypt. Egyptian authorities saw Palestinians in Gaza as both potential security threats and objects of protection and their policing practices reflected this double concern. As also happened in Egypt at the same time, police relied heavily on informants and surveillance to respond to a broad range of security concerns, including matters of national security, everyday illegality, and social propriety. The “security society” that developed through police practices was a tremendously unequal space. The police had an array of coercive powers at their disposal that other people could never mobilize. Yet this inequality did not mean that police held all the cards. People in Gaza also acted politically through security society, in part by mobilizing policing techniques to other ends.

Acting politically was not just about acting against or in relation to governing authorities. Not only were people occasionally able to push back at government policies they opposed, they mobilized security techniques to shape the behavior of others in their community. In these efforts people sometimes deployed an explicitly political language, particularly the discourse of nationalism, to suggest that others were involved in corruption or betrayal. Even more frequently though, or so it seems from the available sources, they used the notion of propriety, and especially gendered propriety, to assert control over public space, private behavior, and social practices. Political mobilization for the nation and social mobilization for proper behavior in the community were often linked.

Page 99 addresses one part of this complex security terrain: the perception by Egyptian authorities that independent Palestinian political or military activity was a threat that needed to be contained and the concomitant requirement that these authorities be responsive to Palestinian national claims and demands. Balancing between these competing demands was a challenge throughout the Administration. One way that Palestinians were sometimes able to effect a change in Administration policies was by changing the threat calculation. That is, by creating a situation where not responding to a demand seemed more threatening than meeting it.
Learn more about Police Encounters at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue