, Volume 75, Issue 4, pp 347–357 | Cite as

A liminal territory: Gaza, executive discretion, and sanctions turned humanitarian

  • Lisa Bhungalia


In September 2007 Israel’s security cabinet approved a ‘hostile entity’ classification for the Gaza Strip and intensified its economic and diplomatic blockade of this Hamas-controlled region. Taking the ‘hostile entity’ classification as a point of entry, this paper examines the construction of Gaza as an insurgent zone, a liminal space within which Israel’s executive discretion has authorizing force. Central to this process, it argues, is a blurring of lines between the civilian and combatant—the elimination of a purely civilian space. This paper begins with an analysis of the discursive strategies employed to collapse the space between the civilian body and battlefield in Gaza. It then turns to an examination of socio-spatial practices mobilized around the ‘hostile entity’ classification, foremost Israel’s sanctions policy, and argues this counter-insurgency strategy entails regulation and management of the Palestinian body combined with the active subjugation of Palestinian life to the power of death. Centrally, this paper attends to the relationship between geopolitics and violence at the scale of the (Palestinian) body.


Critical geopolitics International law Sovereignty Palestine-Israel 



Sincere thanks go to Jennifer Hyndman, Alison Mountz and Don Mitchell for leading engaging graduate seminars at Syracuse University, each of which inspired ideas for this paper in different ways. Additional gratitude goes to Jennifer Hyndman for comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Lastly, thanks to three anonymous reviewers for their feedback. All opinions, conclusions, errors and omissions are those solely of the author.


  1. Agamben, G. (1998). Homo sacer: Sovereign power and bare life (D. Heller-Roazen, Trans.). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Agnew, J. (2003). Geopolitics: Re-envisioning world politics (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Arendt, H. (1958). The human condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  4. Barnett, T. (2003). The Pentagon’s new map. Esquire, 139(3), 174–175. 227–228.Google Scholar
  5. Bronner, S. (2002). Us and them: The state of the union and the axis of evil. Logos, 1(2), 42–52.Google Scholar
  6. Bull, M. (2007). Vectors of the biopolitical. New Left Review, 45, 7–25.Google Scholar
  7. Butler, J. (2004). Precarious life. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  8. Cheney, R (2008, March 22). Remarks by Vice President Cheney and Prime Minister Olmert of Israel in Press Availability. Jerusalem: United States Office of the Vice President. Retrieved March 23 , 2008, from
  9. Dalby, S. (1994). Gender and critical geopolitics reading security discourse in the new world order. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 9, 261–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dalby, S., & Ó Tuathail, G. (1996). The critical geopolitics constellation problematizing fusions of geographical knowledge and power. Political Geography, 15(6–7), 451–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dershowitz, A. (2006). Arithmetic of pain. Wall Street Journal, July 19, A.12.Google Scholar
  12. Dinstein, Y. (1995). International colloquium of the right to humanitarian assistance, January 25–27. Paris: UNESCO House. Retrieved December 15, 2007, from
  13. Dodds, K. (2001). Political geography III critical geopolitics after ten years. Progress in Human Geography, 25(3), 469–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Egypt ‘won’t force Gazans Back. (2008). BBC News, January 23. Retrieved January 26, 2008, from
  15. Ek, R. (2006). Giorgio Agamben and the Spatialities of the camp: An introduction. Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography, 88(4), 363–386.Google Scholar
  16. Eldar, A. (2007). Gaza’s bleak reality. Haaretz, November 27. Retrieved December 11, 2007, from
  17. Farish, M. (2008). Panic, civility and the homeland. Spaces of exception and unexpectability. In D. Cowen & E. Gilbert (Eds.), War, citizenship territory (pp. 97–118). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Foucault, M. (1990). The history of sexuality, Vol I: An introduction (R. Hurley, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  19. Foucault, M. (1997). ‘Society must be defended’: Lectures at the College de France 1975–1976 (D. Macey, Trans.). New York: Picador.Google Scholar
  20. Gaza Conditions at ‘40-year low’ (2008). BBC, March 6. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from
  21. Graham, S. (2003). Lessons in Urbicide. New Left Review, 19, 63–77.Google Scholar
  22. Gregory, D. (2004). The colonial present, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq. Malden: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  23. Gregory, D. (2006). The death of the civilian? Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 24(5), 633–638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gregory, D. (2007). Vanishing points: Law violence and exception in the global war prison. In D. Gregory & A. Pred (Eds.), Violent geographies (pp. 205–236). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Harel, A., & Issacharoff, A. (2007). Israel’s real intention behind sanctions on Gaza Strip. Haaretz, October 26. Retrieved October 30, 2007, from
  26. Huntington, S. (1993). The clash of civilizations? Foreign Affairs, 72(3), 22–49.Google Scholar
  27. Hyndman, J. (2001). Towards a feminist geopolitics. The Canadian Geographer, 45(2), 210–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hyndman, J. (2004). Mind the gap: Bridging feminist and political geography through geopolitics. Political Geography, 23, 307–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. International Crisis Group. (2008). Ruling Palestine I: Gaza under Hamas, March 19. Retrieved March 20, 2008, from
  30. Israelis declare Gaza ‘hostile. (2007). BBC, September 19. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from
  31. Issacharoff, A., Barak, R., & Shamir, S. (2007). Cabinet declares Gaza ‘hostile Territory’. Haaretz, September 20. Retrieved October 14, 2007, from
  32. Kalyvas, A. (2004). From the act to the decision: Hannah Arendt and the question of decisionism. Political Theory, 32(3), 320–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kinsella, H. (2006). Gendering Grotius: sex and sex differences in the laws of war. Political Theory, 34(2), 161–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Li, D. (2008). Disengagement and the frontiers of Zionism. Middle East Report, February 16. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from
  35. Lockman, Z. (2004). Contending visions of the Middle East: The history and politics of orientalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mbembe, A. (2003). Necropolitics. Public Culture, 15(1), 11–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ó Tuathail, G. (1996a). An anti-geopolitical eye: Maggie O’Kane in Bosnia, 1992–93. Gender, Place and Culture, 3(2), 171–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ó Tuathail, G. (1996b). Critical geopolitics. Minnesota: University of Minnesota.Google Scholar
  39. Ó Tuathail, G. (2006). Introduction: Thinking critically about geopolitics. In G. O. Tuathail, S. Dalby, & P. Routledge (Eds.), Geopolitics reader (pp. 1–32). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. OXFAM. (2008) Gaza Strip: A humanitarian implosion, March 6. Retrieved March 24, 2008, from
  41. Puar, J. K. (2007). Terrorist assemblages: Homonationalism in queer times. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Ranciere, J. (1999). Disagreement: Politics and philosophy. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  43. Reynolds, P. (2007). Gaza sanctions: The legal argument. BBC, October 30. Retrieved October 30, 2007, from
  44. Routledge, P. (1996). Critical geopolitics and terrains of resistance. Political Geography, 15(6–7), 509–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Roy, S. (2007). Falling peace Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  46. Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  47. Said, E. (2001). The clash of ignorance. The Nation, 273(12), 11–13.Google Scholar
  48. Schmitt, C. (2007). Concept of the political (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  49. Shamir, S., & Yoazm, Y. (2007). EU urges Israel to reconsider cuts in energy supply to Gaza. Haaretz, October 30. Retrieved November 10, 2007, from
  50. Sharpe, J. (2000). Condensing the cold war. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  51. Siddique, H. (2008). Israel suspends Gaza air strikes. Guardian, March 10. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from
  52. Sparke, M. (1996). Negotiating national action: Free trade, constitutional debate and the gendered geopolitics of Canada. Political Geography, 15(6–7), 615–640.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sparke, M. (2000). Graphing the geo in geo-political: Critical geopolitics and the re-visioning of responsibility. Political Geography, 19, 373–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Tamimi, A. (2007). Hamas: Unwritten chapters. London: Hurst and Company.Google Scholar
  55. Tesfahuney, M. (1998). Mobility, racism and geopolitics. Political Geography, 17, 499–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Uhler, O. (1958). Geneva convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in times of war. Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross.Google Scholar
  57. Usher, G. (2006). Hamas risen. Middle East Report, 238, 2–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Weizman, E. (2007). Hollow ground: Israel’s architecture of occupation. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  59. Zizek, S. (2002). Welcome the desert of the real! Five essays on September 11 and related dates. London: Verso.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public AffairsSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA

Personalised recommendations