Fractured Time

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.

Fractured Time

Around the fire at night theAlshalaldaha brothers and their associates discuss life working  in the quarries.

Fractured Time
Artist/Author: Judy Price

The night scenes focus on the social gathering of the Alshalaldaha brothers and their associates who rent land to excavate the stone from their small quarry near Birzeit, a university town North of Ramallah. From a small town near Hebron they spend five nights a week camping out in a metal shipping container, as the journey time from Ramallah to Hebron, with the checkpoints and the Separation Wall, today takes twice as long -over two and half hours. The hardship and precariousness of quarrying as well as politics, reminiscences and anguish is articulated in the day-to-day lives of the brothers as they sit around the fire watching over their quarry and machines. 

They also allude to how a particular stone from their quarry in Birzeit is widely sought after by Israelis as it has properties that make it look much older once it has been exposed to the air. The use of this particular stone in Israel imbues buildings with a sense of time and which Israel uses to symbolise their presence in the landscape and by which they invest national, ideological and spiritual narratives within the stone (see file 03 Seizing Locality).