Antigone in Palestine

The retention of war remains, and therefore the prevention of funeral rituals, plays an important and little-studied role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If the enemy triumphs, even the dead will not be safe. And this enemy has not finished triumphing.

Walter Benjamin, On the concept of history

This work plunges the reader into the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by focusing on a relatively unknown and yet crucial aspect of Palestinian daily life for more than fifty years: the fate of the dead described as enemy combatants or terrorists by the Israeli state which refuses to return them to their families, as well as the mobilization of Palestinians to obtain the repatriation of these deceased considered to be resistance fighters and political deaths become martyrs. Stphanie Latte Abdallah's book is based on an ethnographic investigation, the result of a long-term immersion in a field that the author has known and analyzed for around twenty years. She collected around forty testimonies from the families of the deceased whose bodies were either never returned or were returned well after their death. She also relied on often unpublished written sources: archives, memorial stories and gray literature ofNGO or international institutions. This research offers a diachronic approach to Israeli practices and policies relating to the detention of bodies and mortuary treatment of Palestinian deceased.

It is also based on a multiscalar analysis which offers an essential macro perspective of the Israeli and Palestinian issues relating to the subtraction and possible evolution of the corpses which are the subject of political recovery in the two opposing camps. S. Latte Abdallah finally analyzes the micro level by simulating the intimacy of families distressed by the absence of remains or who recover mistreated, soiled bodies, and are thus confronted with a complex and painful process of mourning.

From prison canvas to post-mortem exiles

like the sexual violence finally recognized as a weapon of war in the aftermath of the war in Ex-Yugoslavia, the detention of dead bodies and the ban on enemy funerals, or their extreme disruption, constitute a formidable weapon, endowed with an extremely powerful, albeit still fatal, fatal symbolism. little explored. However, the refusal to return the remains is part of a decisive process of dehumanization, of the corpse reduced to the state of an object. This is the case with frozen remains which cannot benefit from adequate ritual care, which further reifies these stained bodies without purifying cleansing. What is also of concern is the burial of thousands of Palestinians in graves located on Israeli military sites called the cemeteries of numbers, and which are not returned to the families despite their requests. In these places, the lack of identification and the neglect in terms of systematic location until 1976 and which continued until the 1990s had the concrete effect that most of the dead buried there became missing, before the IDF rabbinate carried out their registration and identification.

The removal of remains deprives loved ones of the opportunity to carry out the appropriate rituals of farewell to the deceased. The absence of body unrealizes death And suspends the time of the living indicates the author. Not returning the corpses to their loved ones is thus knowingly orchestrating an anthropological invariant which is the foundation of our common humanity: the imperative obligation to take care of our deceased.

This book therefore introduces us to political lives of dead bodies evoked by Katherine Verdery to shed light on the instrumentalization of the deceased as one of the facets of the reconfigurations of power relations in situations of political crises. As S. Latte Abdallah rightly points out, the detention of remains is at the heart of the colonial management of Palestine, which involves the control of its population which finds its extreme form in this management of the dead. It also demonstrates the prevalence of prison life in the Occupied Territories. The influence on Palestinian bodies is embodied by what the author calls the prison canvas 40% of Palestinians have been in Israeli prison at least once in their lives! and its extension post mortem which seems to extend to infinity, oriented towards the dead which are also, as the title of the work suggests, dead in war. Transactions around corpses are an integral part of the daily low-intensity Israeli-Palestinian war, at least since the Six-Day War of 1967. These remains are in fact one negotiation tool among others. non-territorial devices subjugation, such as the asymmetric exchange of prisoners for which the detention of bodies becomes a key currency within this economy of warlike limitation.

Colonial necropolitics and collective punishment

If this management of dead bodies often concerns individuals who died during clashes with the occupying army or even who are the origin of attacks, it also concerns civilians executed extrajudicially and with complete impunity. Without even mentioning the repeated violation of International Humanitarian Law relating to the inviolable right to funerals and a dignified burial, the illicit appropriation of the remains of which the Israeli authorities refuse or postpone, sometimes for years, the devolution to the families aims to prolong the punishment beyond death, like collective punishment strained on families. It is in fact a question of inflicting a sanction and a humiliation designed and assumed as part of the sentence itself, or even as a substitute for justice if no trial could take place.

On the other hand, the posthumous incarceration of the remains which S. Latte Abdallah describes aspost-mortem exiles can hardly be justified when the bodies of civilians murdered at checkpoints or in the streets by soldiers or settlers are at stake, unless we assume that this illegal gesture of seclusion of the dead serves to print the ultimate mark of the colonial domination exercised on Palestinian society. And that’s what it’s all about ultimately: the affirmation of the exercise of the sovereignty of the State of Israel over the Palestinians, emblematic illustration of the ncropoliticsa notion coined by Achille Mbembe two decades ago and precisely on this colonial situation.

The outrage inflicted on the deceased, the desecration of corpses stored in fridges, non-compliance with funeral care or burial in unworthy conditions, causes terrible injury and defilement inflicted on those who are classified as enemies and who are refused a funeral or even a burial. However, S. Latte Abdallah shows that the perpetuation of these gestures of dehumanization is compensated by the mobilizations of families who seek restore these erased lives in their humanity and the belongings that found them. This is how the procedures for qualifying the deceased sequestered as martyrs and especially not like victims prove crucial to preserve the last form of accessible dignity and not sink into despair or nihilism, the driving force of deadly radicalism. The contrast between the Palestinian case and the Latin American situation in the quest for unevolved bodies is instructive in this respect. The mobilization in America is mainly led by collectives of women, mothers and grandmothers of the disappeared, who from Argentina to Peru, via present-day Mexico, fight to recover the bodies of the disappeared while in Palestine, men, mainly, are the essential actors.

It is also another political economy of affects which is expressed in the public space, with the imperative erasure of any expression of sorrow during negotiations and the maintenance of a language anchored in the register of resistance against the occupier who must not display any vulnerability, assimilated to weakness. . Recovering the deceased is part of the battle of the fathers and is part of a story of the quest for justice which must evacuate the tears of the mothers, circumscribed in the domestic sphere of intimacy.

The consolatory grammar of shahid

One of the contributions of this study lies in its analysis of the polysmic nature of the figure of the martyr, the shahid. S. Latte Abdallah first emphasizes the way in which the funeral space of the repatriated deceased can be the subject of opposing appropriations and therefore of tensions between families, religious actors and political parties, their vision of martyrdom not resting on the same emotional springs, symbolic and political. However, despite everything, a consensus exists around the absolute sacrificial dimension of shahid in the context of the brutal continuation of the incessant colonization of the territory of Palestine. This context places these deceased in the lineage of those who oppose and fight against the existential catastrophe of the Nakba, which is not a simple echo of the past because the despoliation has continued to continue since 1948. But the power of the category of martyr must also be linked to its capacity to relieve loved ones. The figure of the martyr is limited neither to the register of faith nor to its political use. Far from the reductive vision of access to eternal life promised to the martyr, a belief which is far from being shared by all, as the author specifies, it is above all consoling image for oneself and one's community which authorizes the reappropriation of the holy figure of shahid.

The author thus exposes the new methods of paying tribute to certain dead people through posthumous alliances. The example of marriage post mortem by Rania and Raed deserves attention. Revolted by the death of Rania, aged 17 and killed at a checkpoint without any motive, Raed, 22, attacked Israeli soldiers and was killed in turn, a sadly banal echo of the endless cycle of violence in this region. on the occasion of their funerals, adapting the nuptial semantics of funerals of shahid, the families of these two young people who had never met celebrated their posthumous union, at the same time uniting these families united by the pain of a transfigured common mourning. In this context of maximum ontological precariousness, S. Latte Abdallah shows that the mobilization of the grammar of the martyr is endowed with an undeniable consoling performativity.

Endless ontological catastrophe?

Finally, the work exposes the difficulties encountered by many Palestinians in burying their deceased, even when they are in possession of the bodies, due to the desire to expel the Palestinian dead from public space which proves to be more or less strong depending on their place of residence. This is how the inhabitants of East Jerusalem are regularly confronted with the ban on funerals in the city and sent back to peripheral cemeteries, another case of exile. post mortem which obeys the more global project of erasing Palestinians from the holy city. Here again the obstacles to obtaining a burial are part of the fight against the elimination of the Palestinian presence from the territories annexed by Israel. Succeeding in burying your deceased in the cemetery of your choice is a victory against colonial dispossession, the challenge being to offer your dead rest in the land of their ancestors.

We also find this fight to be buried in Palestine among certain exiles from abroad who fled the Nakba in 1948, as recounted by the Palestinian-American anthropologist Lila Abu Lughod. His father, Ibrahim Abu Lughod, a refugee in the United States since his youth, PhD from Princeton and friend of Edward Sad, finally obtained burial in the cemetery of his hometown of Jaffa, after overcoming many obstacles. But this is an exceptional situation, only made possible by its political networks and its social capital.

It is more necessary than ever that Stphanie Latte Abdallah's research be widely disseminated, discussed and debated. As you finish reading this book, how can you not think back with concern to the famous destiny of Antigone?? King Cron's refusal to allow his brother's burial before sentencing her to death for defying his prohibition ultimately sealed Cron's own disgrace and that of his people. We cannot recommend this enlightening work highly enough, which allows us to understand from a relatively unknown angle the treatment of dead prisoners, the sustainability of the colonial situation in Palestine and the current modalities of its daily implementation.