Waste Siege: Infrastructure and the Environment in Israel/Palestine with Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins


What is it about waste. That helps us to think through big questions about what's been happening in terms of israel and the palestinian territories. You know what is going on there. You know both in terms of you mentioned the history of infrastructure and also in terms of the history of the relationship between society. The government and the palestinians in between later also the jewish settlements in the west bank and the palestinians. Living there as well like what is waste. Give us as a lens to think through kind of what's going on on a bigger scale. One way to answer that is to say that it helps us look at multiple scales at the same time so one question that kind of answers and it may be a question that we don't realize we have or we should have but that question is who governs the west bank and you could get the answer by looking at this material and where it goes and how it's processed and when it's left there when capital gets invested to place in certain places or treated in certain ways i think from those very impractical tangible practices and sites we can see who is kind of managing this territory and that such an important thing for us to know politically above all because since the mid nineteen ninety s. Either you have people saying that. The palestinian authority now that it exists is the government. You have that coming from various political positions where there's an assumption that whether or not it is recognized fully as sovereign it can be held accountable for various things like it exists and it is the government and then you have other people who sort of its presence including at some point. I remember early in my project. I had faculty telling me you know really. You wanna talk about the pa. They're not really doing anything you know and i thought like you to find out what they are doing and if they are doing something from a project that looks waste but then you do have people who think that you know. Essentially the pa is to which the israeli administration has out sourced its occupation and so it's sort of treated as a neutral conduit. You know that does israel's bidding and that therefore sort of doesn't deserve its own analysis beyond what it does to facilitate essentially the occupation. And i think that waste enabled me to see the very dumps and thick and complicated network which includes donors which includes companies which includes people who are not sort of formed in something that's legible and coherent. Who might just be people in a neighborhood who are all managing the every day together. And i think that's important to understand that we know how we want to name the condition essentially that we are looking at when we look at contemporary occupied palestine. There's a lot going on. there's lots of think about. You're talking about like the ways in which the palestinian authority plays different kinds of roles in terms of occupation in terms of the day-to-day life of the palestinians themselves. And it's interesting. Because i think that when we think about basic infrastructure people don't think about it for the most part when it works properly right you know when you turn the tap in your apartment and clean. Water comes out. No one gives that any thought or really for the most part people. Don't any thought it's one there's failures infrastructure and thinking about like for instance you know questions clean water or when it comes to waste management or i know like nuclear power plants and people may not pay attention to what kind of plant is producing their power until it turns out that it was a nuclear plant that melted down. Or you know if they somehow see the direct outcome of a coal-based plant or something ultimately. It's a question of what is the role of infrastructure in society. I think that's part of what's really interesting. Here in general also speaks to the question of what's taking place in terms of the history of israel and palestine over the course of the past hundred years if not more which is the question of what does it mean to build up infrastructure so much of the zionist movement. The building of the shoe later the state of israel was an attempt to try to construct infrastructure to increase the absorptive capacity of the land. And then later on. Also you think about you know. What does this mean in terms of the palestinians. Well there's so much going on here as we think about the history of infrastructure and about how waste is a useful element that people tend not to think about in terms of their daily lives. Yeah i mean if i can respond to a couple of things there one just point on that. Last thing that you mentioned is that i was struck by the fact that my observations of the efforts the palestinian authority was making to build waste. Infrastructures was Those early zionist efforts. You know that kind of focus on independent infrastructure essentially no matter what and i say no matter what because they're all kinds of ways in which that presented challenges for construction so for example. Israel would often say we'll let you build a wastewater treatment plant as long as you connect it to a settlements wastewater treatment plant and the. Pa would say a red line. We won't because the point is to build the infrastructure of the state. I want to say that vision. And the insistence of the palestinian authority to build the infrastructures that it imagined to be the foundation of a future state took the oxygen out of the room. In terms of what other possibilities there could be for taking care of waste and of course the assumption was and this is going to get us a little bit toward are kind of capitalism climate change direction the assumption was definitely that we consume and we produce waste at the normal speed of any normal ideally normal society and then we build the infrastructures to house those wastes. But we don't try to limit what we produce because we're still in the process of becoming what everybody else's which i think something that you find. In general and the global south. I would say that people and infrastructure studies who study it in the global south. There have been making this point over and over again which is important which is in a lot of places like basically the postcolonial world. Let's say infrastructures are just failing. All the time one interesting question to ask is do people perceive it to be a problem. In those cases or is there a kind of a normality to infrastructural failure. Such that something else becomes the abnormal thing you notice. you know. I happen to do my research in this special moment when the pa was trying to build up infrastructures from scratch for waste like infrastructures that did not previously exist. It was disrupting essentially processes and practices of managing waste in the name of order a new order but in ways that were very disruptive to people who had become accustomed to for example dumpsites being at the edge of every municipality instead of being few and centralized know two or three across the whole west bank. So what could look like failure. Now from the perspective was successful management. At that time. So i think the question of perception and how populations experience infrastructural failures super interesting.

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