Geology of Disaster

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.

Geology of Disaster

With over 350 quarries in the West Bank and the stone excavated has been termed the 'white oil' of Palestine and is the only raw material available in this territory.

Geology of Disaster
Artist/Author: Judy Price

There are over 350 quarries in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank. The stone excavated has been termed the 'white oil' of Palestine and is the only raw material available in this territory, providing a livelihood for over 20,000 workers. Against any semblance of legality Israel has expropriated the stone and sand for their construction industry and to build walls, checkpoints and settlements in the West Bank. The stone industry is having a devastating consequence on the environment and surrounding community in the West Bank with almost every hillside scarred by the brutal incision of the quarries. Walking through the landscape of the West Bank this mutilation is disconcertedly visible to the naked eye, a 'geology of disaster'. 

In collaboration with the owners, workers and security guards White Oil explores the quarries as multilayered spaces, bringing to bear the myriad losses of land, economy, identity, history and community, and, how the forces of colonisation and globalisation structure landscapes, economies and experiences.