Silent Springs: The Nature of Water and Israel’s Military Occupation

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Drawing on interviews with, and observations of, officials from Israel’s Nature and Park Authority, fieldworkers from environmental and human rights nonprofits, and local Palestinian farmers, this article tells stories about springs in the occupied West Bank. Entangled with the physical decline of the springs’ water supply and quality, it examines this waterworld also in a broader sense, which includes cultural, political, and religious—with a specific focus on legal—spring-related practices. After discussing the relevant water and land regimes within which springs exist, and their socio-geological uniqueness, I pause to tell the story of Ein Kelt—a desert spring on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Next, I move to discuss a variety of colonial dispossession tactics at work in the West Bank springs. In many cases, such tactics are performed by Jewish settlers with the tacit support of Israeli authorities. Inspired by legal geography scholarship on the coproduction of law and matter, I examine Israel’s seemingly paradoxical preoccupation with the rule of law in the administration of springs in the occupied territories, what I refer to here as a hyperlegality, on the one hand, and its disregard of formal law in the face of settler misconduct at these sites, on the other hand. Complicating the story, I also describe recent spring-based practices of purification carried out by Jewish Hasidic groups. The springs newly emerge in this context as sites of recreation, pilgrimage, and purity. Simultaneously, they are becoming places of danger for the Palestinians and are increasingly figuring in the mobilization of Palestinian protest. After all is said and done, one is left wondering whether water is actually different from land and soil. Could springs possibly serve as an alternative socio-material foundation that moves away from traditional colonial regimes?

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Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space

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