Living Emergency
Israel's Permit Regime in the Occupied West Bank
Yael Berda


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

The reader joins Issa, a Palestinian construction worker from the West Bank who suddenly received word from his employer that his permit has been denied by the Israeli military, on the long and convoluted journey through the bureaucracy of the occupation, to try to recover his permit. He encounters many obstacles: police detention, attempts to find clandestine ways to work during closure, and mostly, long waiting times in offices and courtyards of the bureaucracy. Following his classification as a security threat by the secret service, he engages two lawyers in his struggle, one of them the author, who represent him in Israel's Supreme Court in the attempt to annul his classification as a security threat and secure his work permit.

1 Dangerous Populations
chapter abstract

This chapter provides a concise history of Israel's military rule over the Occupied West Bank, focusing on population monitoring and control. It outlines the development of the messy bureaucracy of the occupation and the establishment of the permit regime by an array of agencies, technologies, rules, and practices. Following the institutional changes brought about by the Oslo Accords, the chapter shows that while it is administratively inefficient, the population management system followed an effective institutional logic to achieve two major goals. First, it makes the Palestinian population dependent on the administrative system to construct, maintain, and widen the scope of monitoring and control, based on a racial separation through laws and enforcement. Second, it produces uncertainty, disorientation, and suspicion within Palestinian society through the prevention of mobility.

2 Perpetual Emergency
chapter abstract

This chapter analyzes the shift in the role of Israel's secret service, the Shin Bet, in the bureaucracy of the occupation, from an intelligence agency to the central organization that designed, strategized, and made administrative decisions regarding the population of the West Bank. Focusing on the expanding category of Palestinians classified as security threats that encompassed over a quarter of a million people after the Second Intifada, the chapter explores the contradictory profiling practices. It suggests that the permit regime became the major asset of the Shin Bet, increasing its capabilities to recruit thousands of low-grade informers in the West Bank.

3 Labor of Uncertainty
chapter abstract

The permit regime includes the Ministries of Economy, Interior, and Defense, which created a political economy that controlled the lives of Palestinian Laborers and their employers. The complex array of military and civil organizations that populated the expanding flow chart of regulations, forms, and offices created an economy of shortage, in which there were consistently fewer permit quotas than need by employers. This chapter traces how this administrative shortage, the product of the negotiation between the different fragmented institutions of the state, created the perfect conditions for a black market of permits sold, rented, and exchanged between employers and employees, ruled by middlemen, intermediaries, and semiofficials who ran networks of forgeries that were criminalized but not severely punished.

4 Effective Inefficiency
chapter abstract

This chapter outlines how institutional practices of the permit regime affected and shaped Palestinian daily life in the West Bank by disorientation, atomization, and routinization of emergency. Administrative flexibility and the wide discretion of clerks who actually made law during the permit process produced a different kind of bureaucracy, where contradictory decisions, overlapping policies, and secret information turned freedom of movement into an unknown variable in Palestinian life across Israel and the Occupied Territories. Attempts of international and human rights organizations to standardize practices helped develop the permit regime, while resistance to life in the emergency took various forms. People found ways to obtain permits, broke pathways into Israel and across the separation wall, and challenged the Shin Bet classifications in the High Court.

chapter abstract

The reader joins the author as she recounts her first contact with the bureaucracy of the occupation through the military courts of Judea and Samaria. She sets up a makeshift office on Saturday mornings at a restaurant in Area C, where Palestinians who are denied entry because they are classified as a security threat come to prepare documents and affidavits for their petition to the Supreme Court. She then realizes that legal attempts to retrieve permits and remove someone's classification as a security threat are futile. Understanding that legal representation of Palestinians provides legitimacy to an illegal colonial bureaucracy that constituted a security threat for both Israelis and Palestinians leads her to leave her practice.