Cover of Living Emergency by Yael Berda
Living Emergency
Yael Berda


152 pages.

Paperback ISBN: 9781503602823
Ebook ISBN: 9781503605299

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Runner-up in the 2019 APLA Book Prize, sponsored by the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology (APLA).

In 1991, the Israeli government introduced emergency legislation canceling the general exit permit that allowed Palestinians to enter Israel. The directive, effective for one year, has been reissued annually ever since, turning the Occupied Territories into a closed military zone. Today, Israel's permit regime for Palestinians is one of the world's most extreme and complex apparatuses for population management. Yael Berda worked as a human rights lawyer in Jerusalem and represented more than two hundred Palestinian clients trying to obtain labor permits to enter Israel from the West Bank. With Living Emergency, she brings readers inside the permit regime, offering a first-hand account of how the Israeli secret service, government, and military civil administration control the Palestinian population.

Through interviews with Palestinian laborers and their families, conversations with Israeli clerks and officials, and research into the archives and correspondence of governmental organizations, Berda reconstructs the institutional framework of the labyrinthine permit regime, illuminating both its overarching principles and its administrative practices. In an age where terrorism, crime, and immigration are perceived as intertwined security threats, she reveals how the Israeli example informs global homeland security and border control practices, creating a living emergency for targeted populations worldwide.

About the author

Yael Berda is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Hebrew University and Academy Scholar for International and Area Studies at Harvard University.

"Yael Berda's pointed and precise study plunges readers into an ugly and dark reality. A lawyer and ethnographer, she knows the jurisprudence of the Israeli 'permit regime' and sees the damages and despair it inflicts. Living Emergency tracks a form of infliction that operates on minute and life altering scales."

—Ann Stoler, The New School, and author of Duress: Imperial Durabilities in Our Times

"The next time someone tells you that Israel's occupation of the West Bank is benign—or designed only to provide Israel security—hand them Yael Berda's Living Emergency."

—Peter Beinart, author of The Crisis of Zionism

"Living Emergency is a deeply humane study of the permit regime in the West Bank. The neocolonial resonances of this malign system of control, and the technologies and institutional logics it bares for us, are fast being replicated in other places around the world, and in ways that are too loud for any reader to ignore."

—Sanjay Kak, filmmaker and editor of Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir

"Living Emergency is a groundbreaking analysis of the bureaucracy of occupation. And in Yael Berda, this intricate and obfuscated bureaucracy has met its match: Her meticulous research and brilliant insights call on us all to acknowledge the ways in which the contemporary rule of officials has developed across the globe."

—Eyal Weizman, University of London, author of Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability

"In Living Emergency, Jewish Israeli lawyer Yael Berda leverages her years of experience representing Palestinian laborers by using detailed personal anecdotes, administrative documents, and extensive historical research to construct a thorough picture of how the Israeli government manages and restricts the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank."

—Zander Guzy-Sprague, Middle East Journal

"Living Emergency argues convincingly that the permit regime functions in ways that exceed the security logics it is meant to uphold, operating instead as a powerful mechanism of population management and deepening Israeli control and surveillance of everyday life in Palestine."

—Michelle D. Weitzel, Journal of Palestine Studies

"Living Emergency is impressive in how it makes accessible and legible the way that the Occupation works in practice. It manages to lift the veil off the regime and enables us to peer into its institutional brain."

—Hilla Daya, Israel Studies Review

"Berda's [Living Emergency] and Erakat's [Justice for Some] are essential reads, not just for those who wish to understand the central place of law in both Palestinian liberation and Israel's expansionist policies. They also offer instructive perspectives for anyone who wants to think more profoundly about the law's entanglement with sovereignty, violence, liberation, and politics."

—Elif M. Babül, Political and Legal Anthropology Review