Separation Wall

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.

Separation Wall

Ramzi Safid, a quarry security guard at Rafat Quarry on the outskirts of Ramallah, talks about separation the wall and poverty in the West Bank.

Separation Wall
Artist/Author: Judy Price

Ramzi Safid, a quarry security guard at Rafat Quarry on the outskirts of Ramallah, spends five nights a week sleeping in a porter cabin before going to his day job as a plumber. His narrative conveys the spatial dynamics of the West Bank, now closed off by the wall and the poverty in the West Bank.

Prior to the separation wall the quarries were used as fluid spaces by the Palestinians to travel to university and work. They were no-man’s lands that allowed those prepared to navigate off the traditional routes on to minor roads and paths to find gaps and cuts in the landscape that were not surveyed by the Occupying Force. These no-man’s lands enabled access to Jerusalem and Israel as well as being shortcuts past the checkpoints that had sprung up all over the Occupied Palestinian Territories. With the construction of the Separation Wall, the quarries no longer fulfil this purpose and are now merely desolate spaces in the landscapes, standing in as markers for the transfer of stones and sand to Israel. (1)

Unemployment for Palestinians rose steeply with the construction of the Separation Wall. Prior to the Separation Wall Palestinians were one of the main sources of cheap labour in Israel and were to be found in all spheres of manual work. 

As well as poverty in the West Bank Ramzi refers to the acceleration of a neo-liberal society in Palestine subsequent to the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1996. He discusses the opening up of banks and credit systems he claims had not previously been part of Palestinian society within the West Bank before 1996. This is not strictly historically accurate as the Arab Bank was founded in 1930 in Jerusalem by seven Palestinian investors. With 600 branches spanning thirty countries in five continents it has since become one of the largest banking conglomerates in the Middle East. (2) However, what Ramzi is referring to here is the rise of neo-liberalism and the push by the Palestinian Authority for Palestinians to invest in property and material growth, which only became possible as a credit system became more readily available with Oslo Accord in 1996.

1) The Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar’s single screen film Infiltrators (2012) tracks the movements of Palestinians of all background attempting to find gaps and holes in the Separation Wall as a means of seeking routes through this oppressive barrier in connecting with loved ones, places of work, lost homelands and sites of worship. The film takes the form of a road movie in which Jarrar documents these feats of resistance.

2) Arab Bank, Beginning the Journey (2013) <> [accessed 16 September 2013].