Closure acts

White Oil

White Oil
Judy Price

This field research examines the extraction and expropriation of stone from the quarries in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank. Moving image is employed to explore the lived experiences of people and address the way in which the quarries are not just industrial spaces but also lived spaces.

This web version of White Oil relates to a sixty-five minute single screen film, which explores the quarries as multilayered spaces where conflicts over land, excavation, ownership and identity and statehood take place.

White Oil is field research that draws on observational cinema, visual ethnology and dialogical aesthetics.  My method has been to form intimate encounters with the quarries, their locality and the geopolitical and spatial relations of the West Bank. Spending time in these spaces, through repeated visits and building relationships with my co-participants over a three-year period, with an emphasis on listening has been absolutely vital to the project in which knowledge unfolds.

Derek Gregory’s work exemplifies the value of post-structuralist geography in my methodologies, in his book Geographical Imaginations. (1) Gregory argues that in the searching out of spaces we must address the way meanings are ‘spun around the topoi of different lifeworlds and threaded into social practices and woven into relations of power’. (2) In exploring the spatial dynamics of the West Bank this is highly resonant. The West Bank is a space of fragmentation and enclaves where relations between Israeli settlers, Israel’s Occupying Force, Israeli entrepreneurs and Palestinians are as conflicted as they are dependant on each other. They produce a geographic space in which any over view of how these different forces interact is exceedingly complex and always inevitably incomplete.

We can perceive the quarries as a ‘meeting place’ (3) of different forces and dynamics to explore how the physical, human, economic and political landscapes are folded into these quarry spaces, and both produce and are produced as a result. As such the research engages with: the quarry spaces, their proximity to residential areas, the environmental effects, the importance of the quarries as providing a livelihood for Palestinians, the use of the material excavated and Israel’s investment in the quarries, the arduous labour needed for excavation of the stone (Palestinians are not allowed to use explosives), the way the West Bank is divided into different zones by the Occupation and how this impacts on how Palestinians use their land, and issues of mobility and lack of other available work.

(1) Derek Gregory, Geographical Imaginations (Blackwell, 1994).

(2) Derek Gregory, Geographical Imaginations (Blackwell, 1994), p.76.

(3) Doreen Massey, ‘A Global Sense of Place’, Marxism Today (June 1991), pp. 24–9.

Closure acts

Interview with Ramzi Safid, a night-time security guard at Rafat quarry about the closure of the quarry and confiscation of machines.

Closure acts
Artist/Author: Judy Price

At a quarry to the west of Ramallah and bordering the Qalandiya refugee camp – where Ramzi works as a night-time security guard – excavation had been halted for over four years (until very recently) with all machinery closed down by Israel.  The reasons given were that the noise and dust was dangerous for a nearby settlement. However the quarry also neighbours a military training ground and the Separation Wall, so one assumes that these factors have played a part in the attempt to bring the operation to a standstill. As a consequence, of the 100 workers who relied on work at the quarry only a skeleton of twenty-five workers remain, contributing to the huge unemployment in the West Bank.

In my field research I visited another quarry east of Qalandiya Refugee Camp and Qalandiya checkpoint (Qalandiya checkpoint is one of the permanent structures that now exist within the West Bank, which Israel calls a ‘terminal’). The quarry is situated near an Israeli settlement and is subject to petitioning by the settlers demanding that the site be closed down due to the emissions of dust particles. In addition, the quarry owners, a family from Ramallah, have only been allowed to excavate a third of their land with the remaining two thirds used as an Israeli military training ground and as no-man’s land between the quarry, Qalandiya checkpoint and the settlement.

With an increase of areas in the West Bank being used as quarries for private Israeli companies, Israel is no longer completely reliant on trading with quarries owned by Palestinians (most of these are family run). The result is that some Palestinian quarries have come under closure acts from the Israeli military. With many Palestinian quarries operating in Area C, under Israeli administration and security, many Palestinian quarries have become economically unviable due to Israeli-imposed restrictions on work. These include: having to apply for permits from Israel; being able only to excavate part of the land; land being confiscated for military training; proximity to a settlements; explosives not being permitted for breaking up the stones; and the use of ineffective machinery which is time consuming. In addition the quarries in Area C are completely unregulated. Work conditions in the quarries are not monitored, giving rise to long working hours, a lack of protective clothing and masks, and low salaries. 

There is also no regulation of the environmental hazards of quarries in close proximity to, sometimes even inside, residential areas. In the case of a town near Nablus called Jama’een, where I spent a considerable amount of time filming and speaking with local residents about the impact of the quarries, the air is so polluted with dust that many of the elderly people find it difficult to leave their homes. There is a continuous source of traffic from the quarries through the town, which has only one main road, full of lorries laden with stone and debris.