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Secrecy and the use of "secret information" as capital in the hands of the state is mobilised by affective racialised machineries, cultivated on "security" grounds. Securitised secrecy is an assemblage of concealed operations juxtaposing various forms of invasions and dispossessions. It is a central strategy in the politico-economic life of the state to increase its scope of domination. Secrecy is used and abused to entrap and penetrate political subjects and entities. This article explores the necrocapitalist utilisation of secrecy embedded in the coloniser's attempt to distort the mind of the colonised. Built from the voices of those affected by secrecy's violent psychopolitical entrapment and penetrability, we expose the ways in which secrecy manufactures colonisers' impunity and immunity. Further, we discuss the ruins that secrecy mislays, arguing as Fanon explained, that psychic ruins are common usage of colonial violence. In fact, Fanon (1963) argued that damaged personhood was central to the colonial order and its making. We conclude by insisting that ruins can also be sites of reflection and counteractions of life against the necrocapitalist violent machinery and ideology of the settler colonial state. Building on previous critical and decolonial theories, this essay argues that the coloniser's yearning for destruction, coupled with the use of militarised "secret information", constitutes colonial invisible criminalities to maim (Puar, 2015) and erase (Wolf, 2006). Militarised secrecy's necrocapitalist assemblage takes us to one of the core dimensions of settler colonial ideology "accumulation by dispossession" (Harvey, 2003), that is, the elimination of the colonised, demolition of life and the psychic in which the colonialist "trades" and "sells" the machineries of elimination as combat proven. Examining secrecy and its eliminatory machineries exposes the colonialist's brutality and the colonised's unending capacity for resistance and the power of life. This essay hopes to expose the politics underpinning the way securitized secrecy is imagined, implemented and resisted.
Social and Health Sciences
Volume 19 | Number 2 | 2021 | #10488 | 18 pages
© Unisa Press 2021
Colonial necrocapitalism, state secrecy and the
Palestinian freedom tunnel
Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian
The Faculty of Law, The Hebrew
University of Jerusalem; Global Chair in
Law, Queen Mary University of London
Stéphanie Wahab
Portland State University, School of
Social Work
Secrecy and the use of “secret information” as capital in the hands of the state
is mobilised by affective racialised machineries, cultivated on “security”
grounds. Securitised secrecy is an assemblage of concealed operations
juxtaposing various forms of invasions and dispossessions. It is a central
strategy in the politico-economic life of the state to increase its scope of
domination. Secrecy is used and abused to entrap and penetrate political subjects
and entities. This article explores the necrocapitalist utilisation of secrecy
embedded in the coloniser’s attempt to distort the mind of the colonised. Built
from the voices of those affected by secrecy’s violent psychopolitical
entrapment and penetrability, we expose the ways in which secrecy
manufactures colonisers’ impunity and immunity. Further, we discuss the ruins
that secrecy mislays, arguing as Fanon explained, that psychic ruins are
common usage of colonial violence. In fact, Fanon (1963) argued that damaged
personhood was central to the colonial order and its making. We conclude by
insisting that ruins can also be sites of reflection and counteractions of life
against the necrocapitalist violent machinery and ideology of the settler colonial
state. Building on previous critical and decolonial theories, this essay argues
that the coloniser’s yearning for destruction, coupled with the use of militarised
“secret information”, constitutes colonial invisible criminalities to maim (Puar,
2015) and erase (Wolf, 2006). Militarised secrecy’s necrocapitalist assemblage
takes us to one of the core dimensions of settler colonial ideology “accumulation
by dispossession” (Harvey, 2003), that is, the elimination of the colonised,
demolition of life and the psychic in which the colonialist “trades” and “sells”
the machineries of elimination as combat proven. Examining secrecy and its
eliminatory machineries exposes the colonialist’s brutality and the colonised’s
unending capacity for resistance and the power of life. This essay hopes to
expose the politics underpinning the way securitized secrecy is imagined,
implemented and resisted.
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
Keywords: Secrecy, epistemic violence, refusal, settler colonial accumulation,
affective colonization
Even after they killed him, I mean after our son became a martyr…they kept invading
our house in the middle of the night….claiming they possess secret information about
him (the martyr son)…..they arrested his brother and continued to claim they have secret
information and his arrest is a matter of securitized crimes…..what they define as
terrorism….I lost my temper….they killed him….want to kill us all, as long as they
live…and their state continues to kill with their secrecy….(Ahmad, 54 years old,
Ahmad’s account reveals the obsession with secrecy, security and immunity in the
settler colony. He testifies to the ways in which “secret information” is used to intensify
the necropolitical (Mbembe, 2003) psychological warfare of the settler state and its
systematic engagement in developing new modes of policing colonised others that move
beyond Marx’s primitive accumulation into what David Harvey (2003) termed
“accumulation by dispossession”.
Ahmad’s narration reveals secrecy’s power to
accumulate dispossession and designate a more rigorous understanding of an ongoing
process of dispossession. At the heart of this dispossession lies the anticipation to
dominate via ongoing uprooting and dismemberment. From the home walls to walling
land and life, and from the psychological to the social body, securitised secrecy reveals
the relationality between necropenology and the “accumulation by dispossession” of the
necrocapitalist regime of control. Necropenology “is a form of forced confinement of
the living and dead colonised entities, in a frozen and freezing temporality and
spatiality (confined to their dying presence). It is a form of carcerality masked by a
structurally instituted racialised regime, authorised by a colonial legal system, and
manifested through marking and conquering the flesh, body, and land. It is a fluid
carcerality and an ever-changing penalty that produces an eliminatory social order"
(Shalhoub-Kevorkian, 2020b, p. 286). The necrocapitalist nature of necropenology
in the settler colony (Lloyd & Wolfe, 2016) requires engagement with “accumulation
by dispossession” and its psychosocial ramifications.
Ahmad concludes:
How else can they live….they can live only if they are killing us all….So, the new
fashion claiming to possess secret information….secrets about the dead???? He is dead,
no? They killed him???....But their psychological and political game of secrecy
continues…..After all, it is their “security” (saying it sarcastically).
David Harvey, The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 13782. See also Glen
Sean Coulthard’s recent Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition
(Minneapolis, MN: University of Minneapolis Press, 2014).
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
Thus, to critically analyse secrecy, we invoke necrocapitalism to illustrate a state’s
practices of accumulation, practices that “involve dispossession, death, torture, suicide,
slavery, destruction of livelihoods, and the general management of violence” (Banerjee,
2008, p. 1548). To illustrate the necrocapitalist nature of the colonialist’s militarised
secret penetrabilities, we draw on empirical data collected from 32 Palestinians in
Occupied East Jerusalem (OEJ) during 2019-2021, as well as from everyday lived
experiences, observations and personal conversations with Palestinians living under
occupation. Our Palestinian, indigenous, feminist epistemology guides our meaning-
making process such that we position ourselves as co-constructors of knowledge with
the individuals who shared personal narratives with us. Given the extremely sensitive
nature of the participants’ narratives, coupled with the potential risk that their
disclosures pose to them by the state’s security forces and governance, we’ve changed
some details about their stories and locations, as well as (re)presented their voices with
pseudonyms; moreover, all possible identifying details of the respondents have been
deleted. A feminist ethic of care informed every step of the research, including our
reflexive and collective meaning-making process. All who contributed to this research
and manuscript identify as Palestinian, and all but one contributor live in Palestine. One
contributor/author lives as part of the diaspora in the United States of America (USA).
This paper discusses only a few of the themes we identified during the analysis.
What follows is a discussion on militarised secrecy, exposing its necrocapitalist and
destructive yearnings, which are designed to dispossess and disorganise the colonised.
We draw on a range of theoretical bodies of work, including but not limited to decolonial
and anticolonial theories, critical race theory, post-structural feminism and
psychoanalytic theory, to make meaning of the everyday, lived experiences of
Palestinians living under settler colonialism’s violent secrecy regime. The narratives
offered in this essay are analysed with a focus on what we term “a trial to subjugate the
colonised to affectual colonisation”. We conclude with a discussion of the
counterpolitics that decolonise secrecy.
We define “secrecy” as an assemblage of concealed operations, juxtaposing various
forms of invasions and dispossessions. Secrecy, within the politico-economic life,
constitutes a central strategy for increasing the scope of domination. Secrecy, used and
abused by the state securitised apparatus, is skilled concealment of showing, owning or
penetrating political subjects and entities. Secrecy, as Ahmad’s narrative indicates, is a
site of psychopolitical intimacies where forms of public/sovereign infiltration penetrate
and intrude on social life, the body and the psyche. These intrusions facilitate the
private/self-disciplining of bodies and affects that can result in physical and
psychological death. Furthermore, secrecy is a mode of regulating access to knowledge,
as well as a mode of constructing and maintaining individual, collective and national
identities. Operating both affectively and politically (Davis & Manderson, 2014;
Manderson et al., 2015; Taussig, 1999), secrecy carries the power to regulate social
interactions and frame institutional practices with the mere promise of some unspecified
knowledge, a mystery that sustains the theatre of the concealed.
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
Secrecy and “secret information” obtained violently by the state support, maintain and
in some instances increase colonising power, enhancing a political monopoly within
global capitalism. As Michael Taussig (1999) argues, the state’s use of secrecy and its
revelation increases the power of secrecy. In the Palestinian context, secrecy’s
domination facilitates Zionist logic and its policies of elimination (Abu-Laban et al.,
2011; Sa’di, 2008; Tawil-Souri, 2016; Zureik, 2001). Secrecy also generates new
articulations, a counterpolitics to take on a life against death, a life that is reproduced
through a momentum within rhizomic networks in communities.
Impunity as immunity: Settler’s violence
To understand the significance of secrecy as a technology of settler colonial violence,
an enactment of epistemic violence (Spivak, 1988), we must understand that settler
colonialism is intent and dependent on the erasure of the indigenous people (Tuck &
Yang, 2012; Veracini, 2010). This erasure, in the context of Palestine, manifests through
destruction, or at least attempts to destroy Palestinian land, culture, crops, resources,
body, spirit and psyche.
Secrecy enacts the yearning for destruction of the colonised and it is cultivated and
mobilised through the enhancement of exclusionary politics embedded within sacralised
and securitised grounds. The month of September 2021 revealed various mobilisations
of such yearning.
It was here in the old city of Jerusalem, from the window of my (NSK) house, during
the Jewish holiday on 9 September 2021, that I saw a group of young Jewish settlers
march past at midnight, chanting the people of Israel are alive, the people of Israel
should not be afraid”, “death to the Arabsand may we erase the name Palestine”.
This happened as police escorted them along the edges of the streets for “safety”
purposes. During this procession, “security” personnel invaded Palestinian homes in the
neighborhood of Silwan in Occupied East Jerusalem (OEJ), attempting to “catch”
children accused of security offences, namely stone throwing at settlers living in
Palestinian neighborhoods. It is in the construction of both the burnt and dead other and
the non-fearful sacred Jew that secrecy and security politics intersect to produce the
exclusionary politics of colonial necrocapitalism. Describing how necrocapitalism is
embedded in the coloniser’s yearning for destruction helps us to understand that when
“they catch” the terrorist child with their surveillance, they simultaneously refrain from
“catching” the sacred settler, instead mobilising the latter.
Amir shared his rage in the face of the settlers’ continued attacks on his small shop.
When he complains to officials, even while using video footage of the attacks on his
shop, the Israeli security respond with threats of secret information: “The Mukhabarat
[intelligence apparatus] informed us you are hiding weapons.” The Mukhabarat carries
secret information, always threatening with “secret information and data”. He
explained, while crying:
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
I can’t run my shop….a small shop here in the old city, when settlers steal from me,
attack my kids, vandalize the area, spray on the wall “Mohammad is Dead”…all this is
done under the surveillance cameras, and those settlers are never arrested, while my two
sons, one is 14 and one is 12 were arrested over five times…..with the claim that the
Mukhabarat informed me about my sons involvement with terrorism…..secret
information, Mukhabarat, and terrorism is all we here….what about their crimes?
Another shop owner commented:
See, they burned alive a child…remember Mohammad Abu-Khadir? They burned an
entire family in Douma……burned them while asleep….what can I say….they stole our
homeland…openly, developed surveillance devices, missiles and weapons…..killed,
displaced and uprooted us…..with impunity.
Maybe if it weren’t political or weren’t the Aqsa, not closing a shop, one would be
curious… But because it’s related to something political, one is constantly
afraid/fretful/frightened and even avoids thinking about it… I escape (bahrob) from
thinking…but they return to us with their mukhabarat [intelligence]… They stole a
homeland with their mukhabarat and the “secrecy” of their information…because
whenever there’s something that’s political, they immediately come to clutch him and
lock him/it up… whether it’s yours or not yours (laughs)… It’s never clear why, there’s
a lot of people who don’t know why they’re taken.
Amir’s rage is directed equally at the settlers who attacked his shop and the Israeli
security that refuse to validate or respond to his complaints, despite having video
evidence. The oneness by which Amir analyses the violence inflicted by these joint
forces reveals a form of racialised state violence, rooted in race thinking (Razack, 2008),
where the Palestinian is excluded from protections of law and justice. This violation of
the Palestinian’s rights is represented not as violence but as “the law itself” (Razack,
2008). No wonder Amir’s video evidence was dismissed! Race thinking functions to
strip Palestinians bare of their legal rights, such that they can be annihilated with
impunity. The threat of having secret information is constantly invoked by Israeli
security to terrorise Palestinians. These threats function as a type of affective demolition
(Joronen & Griffiths, 2019), facilitating anticipatory affective conditions. Through acts
of epistemic violence (Spivak, 1988), Israeli security deny the Palestinians access to
legal and civil rights with threats of “secret information”, casting them as impervious to
their right to know, effectively erasing them as political subjects. This erasure lays the
groundwork for all types of atrocities framed as legitimate measures to protect the lives
of Israelis from “terrorists”.
Nehal, a Palestinian psychotherapist, shared the following:
The recent events of the past years confirmed the state of paranoia, so this
catastrophizing mode of thinking has gained validation, so in our head we’re constantly
on guard in expectation of the next blow.
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
Another Palestinian psychotherapist, Anan, states:
Also… people react in a hardhearted manner because they’re always expecting the
worse… People are constantly anticipating a catastrophe… Catastrophes rooted in
“secret information” wreak havoc on one’s spirit. Then they use our emotions as
commodity and trade in us… and this can demolish one’s spirit.
Within a necropolitical framework, the very existence of the Palestinian endangers the
colonial state, and it follows that their death is necessary for the survival of the Israeli.
Banerjee (2008, p. 1541) defines “necrocapitalism” as “contemporary forms of
organizational accumulation that involve dispossession and the subjugation of life to the
power of death”. Necrocapitalism, operationalised through violent policing of
Palestinians, goes beyond “subjugation of life to the power of death” (Mbembe, 2003,
p. 39) by extending necropower as a means of accumulating capital and profit from the
death (Banerjee, 2008). This is what David Harvey defines as “accumulation by
dispossession”, although the accumulated dispossession is not only from the living, their
land, life and death, but also from their psyches. Thus, necrocapitalism and its
exclusionary politics are central to understanding secrecy as security, whereby profit
flows from visible and invisible violence, as well as the killing of the colonised, as a
state of fear generates continuous insecurity, which in turn generates a demand for
security goods (Green, 1999) within global capitalism.
As Shalhoub-Kevorkian has proposed in Speaking Life (2020a), Israel is one of the top
arms exporters in the world. With the USA’s consistent and inordinate financial
allocation to Israel’s military, the latter leads the world in border technology, military
occupation and population control. The territories that Israel occupies are used not only
to settle Jewish foreigners but also to turn land into showrooms for weaponry,
technology and methods of domination and control. Israel commodifies its security
practices within global capitalism and promotes them as goods to be sold to other
regimes to be used on other oppressed populations (Graham, 2010). We agree with
Laleh Khalili’s suggestion that Palestine is a central node and “social laboratory”
(Graham, 2010, p. 414) for the transmission of technologies of control and effective
ruling practices between colonial metropoles and colonies. Israeli’s economy is thus
heavily dependent upon, and continuously sustained by, capitalising on the subjugation
of Palestinians to these technologies of containment, power, incarceration and violence.
Following the argument that Israel’s economy depends on the political and economic
capital accumulated through its secrecy apparatus to control and erase Palestinians, the
settler state reconstructs spaces like OEJ as spaces of death for Palestinians, where
harassment, threats, interrogation and possible execution loom amidst everyday
activities. The domination of every inch of space that the settler state can lay its hands
on aims to sustain the military industrial maker. When industry stakeholders become
implicated in moral controversies over their products, like global outrage over “security
barriers” (Klein, 2007, p. 438), these corporations embrace negative publicity as free
advertising (Klein, 2007, p. 439). In that sense, violence is endorsed within global
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
capitalism as a means of advertising Israel’s military merchandise, and spaces like OEJ
are turned into structurally operable and ideologically sustainable sites to “battle test”
and “showcase” Israeli security products as modern, effective and combat-proven
(Shalhoub-Kevorkian, 2020c).
The settlers’ chants in the streets during September 2021 spoke of the state’s violence:
the violence that has military systems kill Gazan civilians without hesitation, with
immunity and impunity, and without the need to fact-check targets since those they kill
are Palestinian. The killing of Raed Jadallah during September 2020 is a prime example.
Raed lit a cigarette to smoke while waiting for his son and friend and was shot dead
because Israeli soldiers thought he was a suspect (Levy Libek, 2021). While the
immunity, protection and encouragement of necroracist chanting and acting is not
secret, its necrocapitalist power is. As Ahmad explained earlier, the economic game of
the settler colonial regime of control is focused on killing. To better understand
necrocapitalism in militarised zones, we lean on Green’s (1999) suggestion to consider
the negative market where secrecy as security is traded by building an everyday state of
fear against the colonised which is precisely what facilitated the execution of Raed. In
the following section we develop our understanding of the political work of affects when
secrecy functions as economy what we call “a market of death”.
Affective colonisation
Palestinians experience multiple forms of entrapment because of the occupation. To
entrap the colonised, the settler colonial state coordinates across various ministries and
entities to wage secret wars that it euphemises as economic, health, legal or intellectual
attacks. It does this while claiming to be a liberal democracy. While this is no secret to
Palestinians, the state uses its secrecy apparatus to keep Palestinians in a maze of
bureaucracies inside an affective state of fear and anxiety what we termed previously
as “affective colonisation”. Drawing together the “secret” work of complementary
ministries and state agencies creates a powerful staging tool for the psychological
warfare against Palestinians, as described by Farah, 29 years old, below:
There’s no secrecy, your income in its entirety is known to them, what’s coming in and
what’s going out is all laid bare Even during the Corona pandemic, my address in
Kafr’Aqab is not registered on my ID, nor in the social security (agency) or the Interior
(Ministry) or anywhere. Nothing. I mean, I’ve only recently settled here. When they
called me from the ministry of health, someone called me on Whatsapp! He said: “Yeah,
because you’re in Kafr’Aqab you’re out of phone service”, hahaha, like, how? Hooww?
I told him: “You’re calling me in WhatsApp, how can I make sure you’re from the
ministry of health?” He replied: “You can be certain that I’m from the ministry of health
because I was trying to call you and couldn’t reach you, since your phone is out of
service, surely you’re in the area of Kafr’Aqab today then.” But how did you know that
I’m in Kafr’Aqab? Maybe they traced my car’s identification number? I don’t
know…My car has Ituran (tracking service), yeah, I mean from the Ministry of Interior
to the transportation ministry, to the ministry of health, to the ministry of
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
communication, to the Sharia court (they know if we get divorced, married, or give
birth…) Let alone the police, and the soldiers… All of them use threats of secrecy and
“secret information” to suffocate/smother us… and we, we have no privacy, neither
Farah offers evidence that the various ministries talk to each other to “swarm” (Kosek,
2010) Palestinians with fear, intimidation and anxiety. Swarming, a concept adapted
from biology (biological swarms), has been adopted by a range of disciplines, including
but not limited to architecture, philosophy, business and the military, as strategy to
theorise the use of collective intelligence for the purpose of forming a single emergent
intelligence (Kosek, 2010; Metcalf et al., 2006). According to Kosek (2006, p. 665),
“military understandings of the swarm are not solely metaphoric, but make possible new
assemblages of people and animals, new forms of social relations, and new
technologies”. Wilcox (2017, p. 31) argues that swarms are seen as an evolved stage
of networked warfare. The idea behind the drive to harness the material capabilities of
the swarm is that bees, ants, and such are not individually intelligent, but can exhibit
much more complex behaviour collectively.” Consequently, swarming functions to
create a material and psychological web of entrapment, resulting in affectual
colonisation, whereby the detailed and intimate is sold as combat proven (Shalhoub-
Kevorkian, 2020c) This accumulation through dispossession is sold as knowledge
and expertise as a function of global capitalism where security is for sale (Grassiani,
2018; Musleh, 2018). This web of entrapment contributes to the affective conditions of
demolition (psychological and material), feeding necrocapitalism’s accumulation
through dispossession and subjugation.
Rawan shared with us similar concerns to Farah’s when talking about the small room in
her house that she and her family closed off to build a cosier space. This process
included several bureaucratic entrapments where “secret” information was used to
“demolish” them psychologically, ending up in the actual demolition of the home. She
But… when our house was small, okay? When there was a front yard of the
house…Something like a tiny room, dad raised the ceiling and enclosed a part of the
yard and it became a room, but they denied him a building permit, of course they
wouldn’t give him a permit, but why? What’s the reason? To this day we don’t know
the reason. He also was fined, and here he is, still paying for the state, but what’s the
reason that prevented them from… the secret information, they can’t share it with
us…[maybe the secret is that they gave the settlers all needed permits to build, renovate
and expand a home in a Palestinian area?, maybe the plan is to Judaize our spaces?
Displace and uproot us from here?]… and this room is basically part of my home and I
only enclosed it and it resembles a room now…and above all the land is mine, what’s
the reason you’re refusing to give me permit to build this room? None whatsoever. You
feel humiliated… I mean, any action I would take will be restrained, as to why, you can
never know… they keep you confused and entangled in the net of their mukhabarat.
(Tears filled Rawan’s eyes, yet she didn’t cry.) Give me a reason to convince me…
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
Confusion, rage also, you know how it is when something happens to you and you don’t
understand what it is, it builds up rage inside of you, it leaves you alone with the
confusion inside your head. Dad already built the ceiling and paid for it, but they asked
him to choose between demolishing what was already built, or paying the fine and the
accumulating Arnona (property tax)… and it was very difficult, I mean dad was
hospitalized because of this… he wasn’t convinced that we should demolish and let all
our efforts go in vain… so he filed a lawsuit against the housing department folks, for
two years he and a lawyer grappled with them, during which he was forced to pay all
the property taxes and the fines… Eventually we demolished it…while they also
demolished us in “secrecy”.
While Israeli legal-sociologist Yael Barda discusses the “bureaucracies of occupation”
(2012), we extend her analyses to discuss the affectual politics of secrecy within such
bureaucracies of occupation. Affects, we argue, are important capital in the hands of the
state to oppress and control the mind of precarious others (Ahmed, 2014; Athanasiou,
2016). Rawan’s experiences offer a prime example of what Joronen and Griffiths (2019,
p. 5) refer to as “affective demolitions”, namely the “embodied dimension of structural
precarity induced by the occupation, and the affective conditions of Palestinians living
with the continued threat of future demolition and the violence this produces”.
Similarly, Farah insists that everything is exposed to the authorities and all is done
openly and invoked as “secret information” against Palestinians. Farah also highlights
the confusion that results from the mishmash of ministries and other related state
apparatuses that move beyond the economic security to Judaise land and life, while
maintaining a racialised order. The state, we argue, needs “secrecy to perpetuate a
system of psychological terror that incarcerates bodies and minds.
The sense of entrapment mentioned by Zureik and our interviewees confines individuals
and communities psychologically. Secrecy games used to entrap psychologically aren’t
simply weapons of the state’s criminal policy; rather, they are explicitly political traps,
central to the settler colonial attempt to reorder the Israeli polity and its Jewish
sacredness while excluding the inferior profane resisters. Secrecy and its “security
threat” ideology build the walls to incarcerate Palestinians psychologically. Using the
Mukhabarat to confine land, bodies and minds provides the Mukhabarat with virtually
unlimited powers to create a world of secrets that Farah defined as “living in a
Mukhabarat state”.
Samia, 24 years old, was arrested and kept in solitary confinement for one month. Her
words and writings provide a glimpse into the intrapsychic effect of “secrecy” and the
Mukhabarat’s work during her interrogation. She talked about the Mukhabarat’s
brutality as they deprived her of water, sleep, light, darkness and sanitary pads, making
her lose her sense of time, space, body, self and power. She shared:
I started raising doubt everything in my life… since the beginning… allegedly they’re
in possession of secret information that can be used to charge me… they arrested me…
and tortured me… and during the interrogation I was lost… even lost from myself… my
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life became… even the small events…my trip to my auntie, my meeting with colleagues
and friends… my love… yes my love and marriage… all became a laboratory of their
While speaking of her activism with youth in OEJ, Samia mentioned that their activism
scared the Mukhabarat, so they “fabricated secret information to make me lose my
mind….and I did”. She then paused and said, Isn’t that the best way to get rid of an
entire nation…to turn them crazy? For Samia, the use of secrecy is central to managing
the mind and life of Palestinians, as most of the state’s “operations” to “secure” Jewish
citizens involves the exclusion of Palestinians. The invocation of secrecy becomes a
major psychological burden, given the claim that its “operations” are responses to
Palestinian violence. Secrecy becomes a site of fatal psychopolitical intrusions
involving forms of public/sovereign infiltration, penetration and intrusion into social
life, the body and psyche, raising the possible consequences for self-disciplining of
affects that can result in physical and psychological death.
Samia became very sick with severe dissociative reactions that lasted for over nine
months. When interviewed two years after her release from prison, she discussed the
power of secrecy on her psychological abilities and the ways it blocked her inner powers
and ability to absorb anything. At the end of the interview, she said:
They managed to fully paralyze me with their secret information’s, and lies……and I
feared everything in life, and mistrusted everybody….not because I feared their secret
information….no….but because I feared for the safety of those I love….so, I stayed
silent…..I imprisoned my own fears….to safeguard my loved one’s.
Samia’s insights and analyses remind us of Fanon’s argument (1963, p.249):
“Because it is a systematic negation of the other person and a furious determination to
deny the other person all attributes of humanity, colonialism forces the people it
dominates to ask themselves the question constantly.”
Samia asked, In reality, who am I?She explained her condition as both total loss, a
kind of mind misplacement, and an advantage. When asked to explain more, she said:
Losing one’s mind from such state terror freed me psychologically from facing their
Her words suggest that the “loss” of her mind allowed her to reside psychologically in
a place where the brutality of the state’s secrecy apparatus could not penetrate, nor
invade. It was her “freedom tunnel” away from and outside of the psychic carcerality of
secrecy. Consequently, even in the face of the state’s psychological warfare, the
deliberate attempts to stage Samia’s psychological annihilation failed, as she maintained
the ability to conceptualise a freedom that lives in her.
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
We argued above that secrecy as a technology of settler colonial violence treats the
psyche as an active war zone, a space of psychological warfare geared to impair the
colonised and colonise them affectively. In describing the affective experience of
psychological warfare, Salma (34 years old) uses the word "ruins” to reference a sense
of a demolished self:
When I was released and arrived home from prison, I found myself… I mean
psychologically… living in a world of doubts…. they threatened me with secret
information… Once about my mother, another time about my brother and my
teacher…they did not leave a safe place to trust…or call for when in need… I started
living on ruins….I mean living on my demolished self… just like this… they destroyed
my home… my inner home, deep from the inside… I felt deranged, disoriented, I was
dumbfounded… everything was wrecked… I mean confused… Took me some time to
rebuild myself and my spirits/psychology anew.
Stoler (2013, p. 347) theorises ruins largely as physical and material spaces:
“In its common usage, ruins are privileged sites of reflectionof pensive rumination.
Portrayed as enchanted, desolate spaces, large-scale monumental structures abandoned
and grown over, ruins provide a favored image of a vanished past, what is beyond repair
and in decay, thrown into aesthetic relief by nature’s tangled growth.”
Salma’s conceptualisation of a battered self (as a ruin), living in the ruins of her home,
describes how ongoing settler colonial violence creates ruins as “privileged sites of
reflection,” psychic and material structures “beyond repair and in decay”, (Stoler, 2013,
p. 347). Stoler (2013) writes that the word “ruins” functions as both noun and verb.
“Imperial projects are themselves processes of ongoing ruination, processes that bring
ruin upon exerting material and social force in the present and through their presence.”
Much like Fanon wrote about the psychological and material “decay” that follows
colonialism, Salma speaks to the affectual colonisation (e.g. Joronen & Griffiths, 2019)
of the self, resulting from necrocapitalism’s insatiable yearning and hunger to consume
and amass.
While the people who spoke to the secrecy apparatus in this project lend support to
Fanon’s (1963) analysis that psychic distress can destroy people’s bodies and distort
their minds, creating ruins, a closer look at Salma’s story leads us to consider the role
of Palestinian refusal and sumud.
Freedom tunnels: Refusal Sumud
Maram, an ex-political prisoner, explained her own mode of longing for freedom and
resistance to oppression:
…even after a long interrogation session, with all the terror they imposed on me, no
information about my family….my home….no water, no rest….. …the threats of their
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
secret information…and with the immense exhaustion, I kept dreaming of being around
my family, walking the old city’s street with them, planting my home garden with
Jasmin….yes…I even smelled the Jasmin flowers around my parents’ house,….in that
nasty small room…I did smell the Jasmin…that smell erased their “secret”
threats…totally erased it.
Maram’s reflection and her dreams of life, the beauty of her old city, her family
activities, her dreams of planting flowers and the imagined joy of being with her family
echo Fanon’s theorising: “During the period of colonization, the native never stops
achieving his freedom from nine in the evening until six in the morning” (1963, p. 15).
Smelling jasmine was Maram’s outlet against the interrogator’s threats. For Fanon,
dreaming-actions reveal the strong unabated desire for freedom, and Maram’s
enjoyment of jasmine amidst interrogations is imperative in salvaging a dignified self.
This same unabated desire for freedom, even at the risk of sacrificing one’s physical
security, can be observed daily by watching youth in an area packed with the state’s
secret services in Jerusalem. One of us (NSK) observed a group of children and youth
while the Mukhabarat was searching for children to arrest them during a politically
violent period involving the state’s police, military, secret services and private security
professionals. After more than two hours of the Israeli secret services’ cruising the area
and searching for children who threw stones at their military vehicles for the purpose of
arresting them, a group of about 20 children and youth started chanting and singing
loudly: “Tell the Mukhabarat, we don’t mind their arrests….” In Arabic, this is a
rhyming statement: “Qulu Lal Mukhabarat…Ma Bit’himna el E’etiqalat.” This group
of youth not only exposed ‘the secret’ of the “secret apparatus” by telling the state’s
representatives, “we know your secret, and that the ‘secret services’ are here”, but also
insisted on expressing that they don’t fear secrets. The strength of their chanting and
singing broke the secrecy shackles, allowing the group to speak ‘the secret’ exposing
the Mukhabarat. The temporal cathartic moment of chanting against the secret services
serves the larger purpose of resisting the carcerality of secrecy. It first and foremost calls
on the coloniser to recognise the colonised’s refusal of colonial violence and it enables
the colonised to show their defiant resistance to desperation. The youth’s refusal to
subordinate to state violence, even in the face of tremendous risk, echoes Fanon’s
writing about Black people’s defiance against slavery: “For the Negro who works on a
sugar plantation in Le Robert, there is only one solution: to fight. He will embark on
this struggle, and he will pursue it, not as the result of a Marxist or idealistic analysis
but quite simply because he cannot conceive of life otherwise than in the form of a battle
against exploitation, misery, and hunger” (Fanon & Markmann, 1986, p. 224).
According to Fanon (1963), in maintaining their dignity and morality, the colonised
break the coloniser’s “spiraling violence” (p. 9); thus the colonised are always ready to
change their role “from game to hunter” (p. 16) in order to survive and resist. Maram’s
vivid recollection of the jasmine flower’s image and scent and the youth’s defiant
chanting refuse the occupiers’ domination through performances that disrupt the
structures that render secrecy an acceptable routine of the state. These actions oppose
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
the settler colonial use of secrecy and its assumption that secret intimidation and fear
might be easily internalised. Amid, one of the youth chanting defiantly, stood up and
told the soldiers: “You think your Mukhabarat is scaring us…..come….come….how long
is it going to take you to come?” Amid sensed the tension among the soldiers and fear
was apparent on his face. When he noticed that the security/military people were aiming
to attack his house, he drew on a conviction of undefeatability to distract them as a
means of preventing them from reaching his family’s home. Amid was pushed, arrested
and beaten while his embodied refusal to accept state control revealed his affective and
psychological power.
Similarly, Ahmad, a 14-year-old, spoke of his own mode of dealing with the threats and
When they arrested me…the interrogator kept on telling me they have video footage
showing me standing on my house roof, taking photos of soldiers, and pouring dirty
water on them…..then he said, he collected all my phone calls to my friend Samer….and
there I confessed of attacks against the soldiers that are blocking the entrance to my
house….then he left me in the room, on that chair for another 3 hours, and it was so
cold….and I got so tiered….could not even look at him. When he came back, he started
threatening again with his secretly collected information that can result in my father
losing his job….and I was so outraged…I started shouting, screaming, hitting my head,
pulling my hair……screaming… are a liar….liar….I did not do tell Samer
anything…….liar…..I don’t fear you……you liar….I screamed maybe for 15 minutes
until I passed out…yes…I fainted….did not sign a paper, nor admitted to anything I did
not do….just screamed at his “secret” lies.
Ahmad’s refusal to submit to psychological warfare, expressed through his screaming
and fainting, presents an affectual anticolonial counteraction against the penetrability of
the systematic colonial violence. His body and mind resisted the securitised secrecy and
its manipulative accumulative dispossession with what was available to him; his rage
and inner-psychic refusal.
The youth’s chants against the soldiers in Jerusalem, Amid’s attempts to distract the
soldiers from demolishing his house, Ahmad’s dramatized fainting, Maram’s use of her
imagination to smell jasmine and the digging of “the freedom tunnel” in 2021 by six
political prisoners all amount to acts of profound rage and refusal, creating material,
psychological and imagined realties of decolonisation. Decolonisation implies the
urgent need to challenge the colonial state thoroughly (Fanon, 1963). Boaventura de
Sousa Santos (2018, p. 248) argues that knowledge is critical to decolonisation efforts
through “ways of knowing and validating knowledge that aim to contribute to the
refoundation of insurgent policies capable of efficiently confronting the current,
insidious, and techno-savage articulations between capitalism, colonialism, and
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
Freedom from the necrocapitalist governance of affects, the psychological
incapacitation of the ruins of secrecy and the colonised’s refusal to be trapped by its
swarming effect were on display for the world to witness when six Palestinian political
prisoners dug, with spoons, a freedom tunnel during September 2021. The fact that the
prisoners dug a hole for over a year, using a spoon or something even more primitive,
to escape prison for only a short period of time before being recaptured attests to their
refusal of domination in the most profound way. Their secret tunnel spoke of their
yearning for freedom from the coloniser’s penetration, invasion and incapacitation.
Keeping their freedom tunnel secret revealed many things, among them their agential
power even while incarcerated. These acts enhance the fact that the colonised, whether
incarcerated inside prison walls or outside of them, carry a desire, a yearning for
freedom amidst necrocapitalism’s dependence on secrecy. The prisoners’ digging of the
tunnel while incarcerated constitutes an act of counter-secrecy and expresses a refusal
to remain docile. Furthermore, the publication of the prisoners’ escape via the freedom
tunnel undermined the Israeli combat-proven technology of surveillance and its
reputation for sophisticated tracking. Protesting against the settler state’s securitised
secrecy and its glocal necrocapitalism, the prisoners dug a tunnel to uproot their
Secrecy always functions as an underlying rationale for political projects: a
psychological war here, an exclusion and dissemination of mistrust there; an eviction
here, a child arrest or political arrest there; a penetration and fragmentation here and a
demolition, killing, or partial “solution” there. Secrecy plays a foundational role within
settler colonial violence because it swarms into the lives of those defined as “security
threats,” as “internal” enemies that must be eliminated. Utilising secret information as
a security measure suggests that the colonised’s life – their intimate, personal and
collective domains and their daily routines is turned into penetrable, politicised zones
for accumulating dispossession. Utilising secrecy and activating its swarming effect
authorise the settler state to invade spheres of intrapsychic well-being, sexuality,
friendship, family connectivity and communal collectivity. Secrecy’s underpinning
logic and its security discourse unveil the nature of the political war in the settler colony.
It reveals the inherent idea of annihilations by other means, creating new political
behaviours and reality. Secret wars are not there to end the war but, rather, to pacify
global and local politics and to allow settler colonialism to conduct a war while denying
its existence, because it is a “secret.”
Secrecy is granted an existential apparatus such that the exclusion of the colonised as
feared other is insufficient. Secrecy is about psychological demoralisation and
annihilation, socioeconomic control. Secrecy has become a dominant trope in settler
colonial politics, imposing obviousness on issues (Althusser, 1971) and a firm erasure
of the humanity of the colonised. Its focus is the killing of the colonised as rooted in the
logic of elimination. Secrecy politics carries existential weight because of the meanings
Shalhoub-Kevorkian and Wahab
brought to the political a political system built on the exclusion and fear of the enemy.
Fear is a key feature of fascism (Adorno, 1998; Neocleous, 1997; Neumann, 1953).
Secrecy’s fear factor allows the development of a mythical security to become the only
measure of political judgement. Hence, secrecy is the great necrocapitalist politic. It
needs no justification for its existence since it is always and forever regarded as a state
necessity, mainly since the “enemy” is still alive.
Critiquing secrecy is part of the decolonial installation that builds the conditions for
refusal. The challenge is political and analytical. We must recognise how the wounding
effects of secrecy, its duration, moments of exposure and brutality further ruin the
colonised’s mind and life. And it is from those same ruins and against necrocapitalist
brutality that freedom tunnels are unlocked and carcerality is uprooted.
We wish to thank Nada Yasin and Asrar Kayyal for their assistance, and attentive
engagement in preparing the manuscript.
Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a Professor and a Palestinian feminist, is the Lawrence
D. Biele Chair in Law at the Faculty of Law-Institute of Criminology and the School of
Social Work and Public Welfare at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Global
Chair in Law- Queen Mary University of London. Her research focuses on trauma, state
crimes and criminology, surveillance, gender violence, law and society and genocide
studies. She is the author of numerous academic articles and books among them
“Militarization and Violence Against Women in Conflict Zones in the Middle East: The
Palestinian Case Study” published in 2010; “Security Theology, Surveillance and the
Politics of Fear”, published in 2015; “Incarcerated Childhood and the Politics of
Unchilding”, published in 2019; all by Cambridge University Press. She also co-edited
two books, the latest entitled: “When Politics are Sacralized: Comparative Perspectives
on Religious Claims and Nationalism”, CUP 2021, and is completing another one with
Lila Abu-Lughod and Rema Hammami entitled: The Cunning of Gender Based
Violence”, to be published with Duke University Press.
Stéphanie Wahab is a Professor at Portland State University’s School of Social Work.
Her body of work, rooted in critical, post structural and feminist studies centers
structural violence related to social inequality, sex work and intimate partner violence.
She teaches courses focused on social justice, philosophies of science, qualitative
inquiry, and intimate partner violence. She is a co-editor of Feminisms in Social Work
Research: Promise and possibilities for justice based knowledge with Routledge.
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... Original accumulation has not disappeared. It has changed its form and continues to be reproduced daily (see Shalhoub-Kevorkian & Wahab, 2021). ...
... Yet, as Achille Mbembe (2019) notes, biopolitics is not always appropriate for studying the ways by which neoliberal rationality coalescences with coloniality. 2 He argues instead for the notion of necropolitics, whereby the normative capitalist order is premised on determining who matters, who does not, and which lives are disposable (see also Shalhoub-Kevorkian & Wahab, 2021). Put differently, necropolitics-which is structured by the historical trajectory of colonial rule-denotes governance via an economy of death, where the lives of some (e.g. the lives of Black, poor, indigenous, transgender women) are made into killable sites so that the lives of others (e.g. the lives of White, wealthy, able-bodied, cisgender men) can be valued and preserved. ...
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