Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins talks about how we can look at Israel/Palestine and global issues in new ways, through the fascinating lens of waste—the byproducts of human society and what we do with them.
People often look at Israel/Palestine, and the Middle East, in terms of scarce resources such as water and oil. Sophia’s book, Waste Siege: The Life of Infrastructure in Palestine, looks not at resources but byproducts. This turns our perspective on its head in exciting and incredibly challenging ways. As she puts it, the experience of Palestinians being besieged by waste both describes the state of statelessness in Palestine, and specifically the challenge of infrastructure in that situation. But on a larger scale, it also serves as a metaphor for a dying planet.
Waste Siege offers an exciting, innovative approach to thinking about Israel/Palestine, and the lived experience of Palestinians in particular, through the lens of waste: as Palestinians are increasingly forced into proximity with their own wastes and with those of the Israelis, what happens when waste is transformed from “matter out of place” into matter with no place to go? It’s a powerful approach because it articulates matter-of-fact aspects of what life is like in the Palestinian territories, but it also offers a powerful conceptual framework: It calls on us to think about the byproducts of Zionism and its history in both practical and metaphorical terms. What are the outcomes of the rise of Jewish nationalism and the formation of the state of Israel that many people would prefer to push off to the side? What is more, this “waste siege” on the Palestinians calls on us to think about the nature of our planet as a whole. Considering the climate crisis careening towards us, how can the experience of the Palestinians speak to the broader phenomenon of the global south and its encounter with the waste of the industrialized world?
Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Bard College. Waste Siege was awarded the 2020 Albert Hourani Book Award from the Middle East Studies Association.