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The Practice of Domination in Everyday Life

Amidst the many images of hostility, conflict, and destruction that come out of the occupied territories in Palestine, this one is truly shocking.


The photo appeared on page A8 of the morning edition of the New York Times with this caption: “Tinderbox In Hebron, a Jewish settler threw wine at a Palestinian woman.  The city is a center of tensions between settlers and Palestinians.”  The complete set of images, which included a photo on page 1 of an Israeli child being bathed and three other photos on page 8 labeled “Veneration,” “Remembrance,” and “Preparation,” clearly favored the Israeli settlers.  Even so, the photo above gives the lie to the myth of taming the frontier in the Holy Land.

But why does it shock?  He is not hitting her, and surely spraying her is less of a crime than, say, razing a house with a military bulldozer.   Or blowing up a bus with a suicide bomber.  Since there is violence enough on both sides, why make so much of a minor incident of teenage insolence?

I think that there are at least three reasons for the photograph’s impact.  One is that it reveals what is rarely shown: the small acts of personal viciousness and humiliation that make up the practice of domination in an occupied land.  Second, it is clear that both the boy’s aggression and the woman’s protective reaction are often-practiced, habitual responses.  Were he taunting an older woman for the first time, he would be likely to look much more ragged, uncoordinated, and either furtive or overly demonstrative.  Instead, he could be a figure out of Whitman: throwing his weight around without breaking stride, a figure of youthful grace on the city street.  Likewise, she isn’t being caught by surprise.  Her head is already turned, her body hunched against the impending blow.  She’s been through this before, and she’s learned that direct confrontation is not an option.  This may be her neighborhood, but it’s his street.

The third dimension of the photograph’s power derives from its capacity for analogy.  Look at the woman’s coat and hat, and at the Star of David scrawled on the storefront; she could be in the Warsaw ghetto, and all it takes is a change of costume to see him as a German soldier.   Or they could be an African-American woman and a young white teenager in the Jim Crow South, or any other tableau that depicts the small details of domination.  One picture isn’t enough to nail down such comparisons, but it should make you think of them.

Photograph by Rina Castelnuovo/The New York Times.  The accompanying story is here.  Note that the caption at the online slide show is less vague than in the paper edition: “A settler tosses wine at a Palestinian woman on Shuhada Street in Hebron. The approach of some settlers towards neighboring Palestinians, especially around Nablus in the north and Hebron in the south, has often been one of contempt and violence.”

Update: Cross-posted at BAGnewsNotes.


The Practice of Domination in Everyday Life


13 Responses

  1. Chris Deardurff says

    The US is aiding and abetting the “domination” of Israelis over the former inhabitants of their land, the Palestinians. Do we wonder why such attitudes. hardened into policy by the often lawless Israeli government, engender violence and terrorism? Did not the arrogant domination by England spawn a violent rebellion–which we now applaud–in the 13 colonies? We give over half our total US foreign aid dollars to Israel; they use it to oppress the indigenous peoples there and to incite war against those who would oppose them. The woman in the photo would ask you, “Why?”

  2. Jan Petrovsky says

    Uh, ok…obviously he behaved badly while drinking….big deal. If that’s all most people in the world did to misbehave when drunk, the jails would be empty.

    What is the evidence that this action is but one example of a typical social encounter between Jews and Palestinians, as is implied by the title of this piece (‘The practice of domination in everyday life’), and not rather the unilateral action of one, single drunk guy? I need more evidence than one picture and the seemingly universal impulse to believe the worst about Jews that Jews are in fact abusing Palestinians as a matter of course.

  3. Jan: You obviously have the skills needed to be a Holocaust denier. Perhaps you should consider that as a second career.

    Does this one photograph prove that Israelis dominate Palestinians? Of course not, no more than it proves that I am subject to a “seemingly universal impulse to believe the worst about Jews.”

    The photograph and my discussion of it assume a certain level of knowledge regarding the situation in Palestine. Those who lack that knowledge might want to start paying attention to the news, articles, reports, books, and other documentary media that provide extensive evidence of the extent and effects of Israeli control of the region. Such materials do not point toward a single resolution of the problem, nor do they eliminate the need for vigorous debate about alternative policies, but they do provide the information necessary for responsible deliberation.

    Those who deny the obvious need to reflect on who they resemble, and how well they would function if they thought the same way on all other issues.

    For a strong discussion of how the inequalities of power in Palestine are evident in the photographic record, I recommend The Civil Contract of Photography by Ariella Azoulay.

  4. ref : Our Strategy for being US, Over There

    imho Military occupation is neither a necessary nor desirable prerequisite for the successful endowment of humanitarian aid, or the humanistic idealism that this unselfish message, perhaps even moreso when done so with some sacrifice, delivers. Nor in history writ has military occupation ever been a successful preemption of or prophylactic remedy to the malady of terrorism. War making for the cause of peace keeping — not unlike ‘censorship’ in the guise of protecting the people from the truth — always looks ridiculous, self-defeating or simply petty in historical retrospect.

    Though it may come to pass that Mutually Assured Destruction prevents the extinction of species, yet perpetuates, ironically the archaic conduct of conventional warfare ~ I would argue that in the end the idea of totalitarian Communism was defeated by our faith in and persistent pursuit of the ideals of Democratic Capitalism. fwiw, I believe that Fundamentalism will likewise reveal itself to be a cultural dead-end, a parasitic affliction that does eventually defeat itself by means of its own decadent meaninglessness; that militant occupation and counter-occupation anarchy only perpetuate being barbarously archaic; and that our most powerful weapon against the cultural insult of Fundamentalism is, indeed our resolute faith in the higher purpose promise of Humanism.

    “Occupation” becomes by its own existential being there the enemy of the future of a people and their being in their place. Only by freeing ourselves, Over Here of this tense ‘possession’ pretense, “our strategy” for being US — can they begin building and being any notion of their nation, Over There.

  5. Hilary C. says

    Jan’s comment reminded me of a film I recently saw called “Welcome to Hebron” that portrays settlers as young as five years old throwing rocks at Palestinians and shouting out to kill arabs. When I asked the person who showed us the film what the Jewish response was to seeing the settlers commit such actions he said that the typical response was disbelief. He said that they were convinced that the settlers were not real, but portrayed by actors. Jews are so used to being portrayed as the victims and seeing themselves that way, that images of Jews as aggressors are not even conceivable to them/us but instead lambasted as anti-Semitic and immediately put back in the victim role and frame regardless of the image. I think another interesting aspect of this photo are the religious symbols and the way they’re used and represented in the photo. Wine as weapon. Star of David as graffiti. The sacred, the religious means little to this settler as he uses it as a weapon to fight with both literally and metaphorically.

  6. hasi says

    This is a very telling image. Yes it is a picture of domination. When a people do nothing to advance their culture beyond stone age tribalism, and when their Moslem brethren in neighboring countries do nothing in an effort to keep that culture mired in in it’s misery so as to deflect the worlds attention onto that culture and away from their own barbarism, a superior, more intellectually advanced neighboring culture is going to dominate them. In 1948 those Palestinians were first offered an independent state of their own neighboring Israel, they rejected the offer. After that, those Palestinians were offered full citizenship in the nascent State of Israel, they rejected the offer. Now their stuck, and they cry foul and want the world to feel sorry for them.

    Too bad.

  7. corrosion says

    Stopped reading at the 2nd paragraph.
    Please, post how many people died because of “Hamas” and how many people died because of the Israel army.
    Oh, and please, remember everybody. Israel is expanding ILLEGALY into Palestinian territory.

  8. […] Hebron is home to about 163,000 Palestinians and roughly 800 Jewish settlers.  In the sector where the settlers live, Palestinian movement is highly restricted, whereas the settlers can move anywhere and have some streets reserved solely for their use.  According to a report in The Washington Post, “Shuhada Street, the principal thoroughfare [in the H2 sector], is well-paved thanks to multimillion-dollar renovations funded by the United States, but empty of Palestinian pedestrians and Palestinian vehicles. . . . In some areas near the settlements, Palestinians cannot walk unless they are residents or visit unless they have a special permit from the Israeli army.”  In short, the “closed street” shown in the photograph is just one example of a much larger state practice for controlling the territory and degrading the well-being of a captive population.  Thus, although no Palestinians are in the picture, it is precisely because no Palestinians are in the picture that the photograph is another witness to the practice of domination in everyday life. […]

  9. bob says

    the reason the image is potent is it shows palestinian vunerability. we are bombarded with mainstrean images of screaching arabs & gun weilding arabs in media. but here we have a palestinian woman cowering from a young jewish man’s aggression. many of these settlers are permanently armed – with serious automatic weapons and are an aggressive & dangerous presence in the traditional arab towns. israel has long engaged in sporadic bouts of ethnic cleansing through harrasment – imprisonment & destroying homes. reality is ethnic arabs in israels’ occupied zones can be killed & few questions asked.

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