The politics of opposing a landfill in the occupied West Bank

Rabbah Thabata (Rammun village); Ben Hattem, “Controversial Landfill Prompts West Bank Showdown,” 2 February 2014. Photograph by Daniel Tepper.

“Occupational Hazards,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (2014)

This article analyzes the story of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) that the Israeli occupying authorities required the Palestinian Authority (PA) to commission in order to assess plans for a landfill in Ramallah. It proposes that the EIA operated as a calculative device (Callon and Muniesa 2005) that objectified particular definitions of “the environment” (as an object shared equally by Israelis and Palestinians) and project “stakeholders” (as both Israelis and Palestinians), framing the project’s objects of risk as well as the people permitted to intervene on its construction. The PA has been trying to build a sanitary landfill for the central West Bank since the mid-1990s. But it has consistently failed due to opposition by Palestinian owners of the lands it has hoped to use for it. In the 2010s the PA chose another piece of land, this time in the village of Rammun. Both Israeli settlers living near the site slotted for the landfill and Rammun and other nearby villagers opposed its construction. American, European and Israeli media touted their agreement around opposing the landfill as an example of politics bypassed. They framed agreement against the landfill as a kind of “environmental citizenship” oriented against environmental pollution, where the line between colonized and colonizer disappeared in favor of an ecologically-oriented human unity. This essay challenges the simplification and political neutralization this framing entails by examining the bureaucratic practices through which objection took place. Not only was the EIA a requirement structured by military occupation and settler colonialism; it also created conditions that masked the wildly uneven power relations between, and disparate political commitments of, colonizer and colonized, thereby enabling those relations’ continuation. By exploring how and why the PA and the Israeli military administration found themselves on one side (in support) of the landfill, while Palestinian villagers and Israeli settlers found themselves on the other side (against) it, the essay also demonstrates the value of a science studies/actor network approach to the study of Israel/Palestine, where commentators tend to imagine controversies breaking down along national lines.

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