Monday, July 28, 2014

Israel and the Zionist Panopticon

Here is an interesting reference to Foucault's metaphorization of the panopticon in light of Israel's current assault on Gaza:

The author Anna Jacobs writes:
Foucault’s notion of the panopticon as a framework for understanding the invasive power of the modern state’s security and surveillance system is especially palpable in Jerusalem. It is not just the security forces that create this effect, but also the t-shirts sold in shops with machine guns on them, the bumper stickers that say “Fight terrorism, support Israel,” “I support the IDF,” “America don’t worry, Israel is behind you,” and “Israel does it best,” with yet another image of a machine gun. It is the struggle to find alternative voices and opinions. It is the tour guide pointing out that the Western Wall is so calm and peaceful while protests engulf the al-Aqsa mosque right above, without giving any explanation as to why this might be. As soon as you mention potential alternatives to her mainstream Israeli narrative, you are met with two hands in the air and the statement, “I don’t like to get into politics and share my opinion,” even though she has been doing just that for the first hour of the tour by failing to ever mention the Occupation or the word “Palestinians.”

Jacobs' experience in a panopticonic Israeli society is a contemporary example of Foucault's use of the metaphor to describe a state of surveillance and self-censorship. The panopticon arises not merely as a prison, save for the West Bank and Gaza, where the "security" infrastructure and military occupation sees the control of everyday Palestinian life; but it also arises in Israeli society, where even now mobs of Israeli civilians in Jerusalem are chanting "Death to Arabs" while attacking Palestinians on the street and in their own neighborhoods. These mobs are often accompanied and protected by Israeli police, illustrating a pretty close realization of the surveillance, police state suggested by Foucault.


Clinton Barnes said...
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Clinton Barnes said...

An interesting comparison, but I feel that Anna Jacobs may be tunneling too hard onto the concept of surveillance and ignoring the concept of the panopticon as a utilitarian laboratory. Her interpretation reminds Dale's description of someone whose takeaway from Discipline and Punish is a fixation on the panopticon. Perhaps a fuller comparison to the Foucault panopticon can be seen in Jacob's writing when she discusses Israeli society?

King said...

I find the comparison of the current state of affairs in Gaza to Foucault's ideation of a panopticon to be an interesting but not entirely apt comparison.

Although, she makes her case very well, I fell a more fitting juxtaposition (especially so close to Huxley's birthday) would have been with Orwell and Huxley.

In Huxley's dystopian vision people are controlled through pain and in Orwell's dystopian vision people are controlled through pleasure.

In our present, people are controlled through both. The attempt to control people in Gaza through pain whereas the rest of the developed world are busy amusing themselves.

Cheyenne Overall said...

So many things to talk about or rather directions to take in contributing to this discussion...

To start, I would like to say that I agree with @King in saying that this is a very timely discussion. Piggybacking off of his analogy of Israeli society to the dystopian visions of Orwell and Huxley, I think that it could be possible to claim that the Palestinians are being controlled through pain and the Israelis through pleasure. I think that could be a mistake or rather problematic to read Palestine as a complete externality when making these types of politicized comparisons.

Likewise, I also read Palestine to be held captive within the confines of the Panopticon (for obvious reasons I hope). Taken further, an admittedly flawed and potentially inflammatory reading that's been sort of been stewing in the back of my mind as I've read this article and these comments places Palestinian and Israeli society (at large) within the Panopticon where the Zionist discourse producers and policers function as the guards. There would be a problem with this though as there is resistance to Zionism on the part of Palestinians that doesn't seem to be symptomatic of a people self policing themselves. To this then I would propose that there would be two panoptic carceral spaces operating here where the Palestinians are trapped in one and guarded by the overbearing Israeli state. The second, would house the Isreali state policed by the Zionist discourse producers.

Considering @Clinton Barnes comment about the lab like confines of the panoptic space, I think that making a comparison that would have included a discussion on Palestinian might have allowed the author of the article to delve deeper into that side of Foucault's work.

I always like to think about the this piece and surveillance. In a sociology class, I read a work on how Disney Land functions as a Panoptic space that was really interesting. Anyway, thanks for posting this. Great though and discussion starter!