Saturday, February 1, 2020

Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins's "Waste Siege"

Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Bard College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Waste Siege: The Life of Infrastructure in Palestine, and reported the following:
Page 99 finds us in chapter 2, which describes the trade and value of used Israeli goods in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Jenin. It tells the story of one of my daily visits to Jenin’s rabish (“rubbish”) market, during which I was accompanied by Mais, a college-educated young woman from a middle class family. In the rabish, Abu Mahmoud and his son Mahmoud, men of lower socioeconomic status, held forth. They told me and Mais tales of Israeli everyday life that they had gleaned through their work illicitly importing discarded materials from across the Green Line separating the West Bank from Israel. Through their storytelling they performed authoritative knowledge of Israeli lifeways that are now inaccessible to Mais and most other West Bank Palestinians who live under a strict military permit regime that prevents them from entering Israel. The page also describes how the fact that rabish goods are often marked with the patina of former use, and the fact that former use is assumed to have been carried out by Jewish Israelis, gives the otherwise stigmatized men who sell them added authority to speak about Israel. This authority translates into rare cultural capital for these men and is based on their capacity to offer a sense of--if not actual--access to Israel for Palestinians stuck on the West Bank side of the Wall.

The Page 99 Test is probably not made for this book. This page does show a reader that by “waste” I mean more than municipal trash and sewage. It exemplifies the ways in which the book cares about how people give meaning to things and to one another, about how wastes mediate sociality and politics, and can become objects of unexpected desire. This page hints at the way in which the trade in used Israeli goods has become an infrastructure for a set of relationships in Jenin. But it doesn't get to the heart of the counterintuitive argument I make in chapter 2, which also means it falls short of demonstrating the full extent of the main concept of the book—“waste siege.” Waste siege is a condition of inundatedness by matter that is unwanted, toxic or out of place, a condition to which West Bank Palestinians have been confined since the turn of the twenty-first century. One of its key features is that it can obscure or confuse the causes of the besieged's ethical, political and material burdens, for example by making its relationship to settler colonialism or occupation opaque. Chapter 2 argues that, while Jenin residents sell, purchase, wear and desire discarded Israeli goods (which we can, and they often did, think of as waste), they do so in large part because they seek to escape the inundation they feel by the new (i.e. unused) goods that constitute the main markets where they shop. The latter, imported objects besiege because they are perceived to be of inferior quality (a waste of money, easily becoming trash) and because they have become one of Jenin residents’ only options since the Israeli government made Palestinians’ movement into Israel and Jordan onerous, and since it severed the Israeli and Palestinian economies.The Page 99 Test also fails to capture the effects of specific ideas about environmental protection having become dominant in Israel, among the foreign donors who fund the Palestinian Authority and in the PA itself. Chapters 1, 3 and 5 describe how Palestinians' waste siege has been shaped by this emergent, militarized environmental politics.
Learn more about Waste Siege at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue