Enclosure: Palestinian Landscapes in a Historical Mirror

Enclosure: Palestinian Landscapes in a Historical Mirror

by Gary Fields

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Enclosure marshals bold new arguments about the nature of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. Gary Fields examines the dispossession of Palestinians from their land—and Israel’s rationale for seizing control of Palestinian land—in the contexts of a broad historical analysis of power and space and of an enduring discourse about land improvement. Focusing on the English enclosures (which eradicated access to common land across the English countryside), Amerindian dispossession in colonial America, and Palestinian land loss, Fields shows how exclusionary landscapes have emerged across time and geography. Evidence that the same moral, legal, and cartographic arguments were used by enclosers of land in very different historical environments challenges Israel’s current claim that it is uniquely beleaguered. This comparative framework also helps readers in the United States and the United Kingdom understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the context of their own histories.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520291058
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 09/05/2017
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 424
Sales rank: 1,125,420
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Gary Fields is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego.

Read an Excerpt


The Contours of Enclosure

God gave the world to men in common; but it cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common. ... As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, enclose it from the common.

JOHN LOCKE, Second Treatise on Civil Government (1690)

As for the Natives ... they enclose no land. ... Only the fields tended by the Native women are their property, the rest of the country lay open to any that could and would improve it. So if we leave them sufficient [land], we may lawfully take the rest.

JOHN WINTHROP, governor of Massachusetts (1629)

When we built Ariel, we never took one square inch of land from anybody. This land was empty. Show me the document that said it belonged to them [Palestinians]. ... They [Palestinians] don't plant! They don't do anything with the land! Look at what we've built here.

RON NAHMAN, mayor of Ariel, author interview, August 5, 2005

IT WAS DECEMBER 2003 when the impulses for this book initially took shape on a fragmented portion of the Israeli/Palestinian landscape. That year, I found my way to this embattled region with a group of educators sponsored by the organization Faculty for Israeli/Palestinian Peace (FFIPP), which had arranged an ambitious program of venues for us to visit, including places at that time still very much under siege. With a long-standing interest in the geopolitics of the area, I imagined myself primed for a rare opportunity to observe firsthand one of the world's most intractable, conflict-riven environments. Early in the trip, organizers took the group to a hilltop vista in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ar-Ram, at the Jerusalem city limit, where we were able to look north into the Palestinian town of Qalandia, situated just over the Green Line demarcating the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. The vantage point on that hilltop provided an almost perfect metaphor of the conflict, communicated through a view out onto a truly arresting geographical landscape.

Stationed along the southern perimeter of Qalandia was an elongated concrete wall, its grayish façade of vertically ribbed concrete panels sweeping aggressively across the landscape, partially concealing the building faces on the town's southern edge (fig. 1). I was familiar with the barrier because it had become something of a news story, though few images of it — even to this day — appeared in the mainstream media. While I had been to the Berlin Wall when it was still standing, I had never encountered such unmitigated power conveyed so forcefully in the built environment. During the rest of the trip, as the group witnessed similarly partitioned landscapes in Tulkarem and Abu Dis, I was continually taken aback by the intensity of these deliberately fractured environments. These landscapes are the foundation for the central theme in this book: enclosure.

From the very beginning, my impulse for this exploration of enclosure has been comparative. The landscapes I observed in the Palestinian West Bank had a compelling echo in the similarly imposing, walled borderland environment of San Diego/Tijuana, close to where I live and work. With this comparison as a starting point, my early fieldwork combined several visits to my immediate border area with a six-week immersion in Israel/Palestine, where my focus was the West Bank Wall and its impacts. On this second trip to Israel/Palestine, however, one of my interviewees would change how I understood what was occurring in the West Bank landscape. This interview was with the mayor of the Palestinian town of Qalqilya, Maa'rouf Zahran.

By 2004, Qalqilya had assumed a somewhat heroic status in the conflict after Israeli authorities encircled it with a concrete wall, giving the town a celebrated if unenviable pedigree as a modern-day ghetto. After an interview of almost two hours, the mayor asked if I could return the following day so he could drive me to certain areas of Qalqilya and point out firsthand some of the impacts the Wall had had on the life of the city. I was happy to oblige.

The next day, Mayor Zahran showed me where Israeli army bulldozers had come under cover of night to begin the massive construction of the barrier. "We were placed under curfew and could not come out of our houses, but we could hear construction work for the next three days," he said. "When they lifted the curfew and we came out to see what they had built, we were shocked." As we got out of his car and began walking alongside the Wall, the mayor became more impassioned. "Our farmers cannot get to their land," he insisted. "They have enclosed us." The word enclosed, evoking the economic history of England with its early modern enclosures of land, resonated in my imagination. I knew that the English enclosures had dispossessed small farmers and eradicated access to common land across the English countryside.

Reflecting on the mayor's metaphor over the next several months, I decided to abandon the work I had already done on the border environment near me, convinced that I had a more meaningful point of entry into what was occurring in Palestine than the walled borderland of San Diego/Tijuana. What I had come to perceive in the partitioned morphology of the Palestinian landscape was a different analytical referent, one with echoes of the dispossessed from a more distant historical past.


The meaning of events in the present often remains elusive to both the actors participating in them and those writing about them. Although this assessment might seem counterintuitive, perception of events in the moment suffers from two types of distortion that can compromise judgments about the present day. On the one hand, analysis of current events often succumbs to what economic historian Paul David (1991, 317) has vividly described as "presbyopia," the failure to see events clearly owing to an exaggerated sense of the present as historically unique. When framed in this way, current events become separated from a meaningful relationship to the past. The second tendency exhibits the opposite problem by insisting — naively — that history repeats itself. This approach suggests that human affairs are an ongoing narrative of repetitive occurrences, with events in the present being explainable by reference to past precedent. While the first view overstates the uniqueness of the moment, the second flattens the human story into an ongoing cyclical pattern, one that fails to heed the insight of historians from Hegel and Marx to Marc Bloch and E.H. Carr that history does not in fact repeat. Instead, history is more akin to verse. It rhymes, rather than repeats, thus revealing parallels in events and outcomes from different periods in the past that provide a way of seeing the world at hand.

In the spirit of this metaphor, Enclosure acts as a lens, focusing on past events to uncover the meaning of a phenomenon observable in the world today. While taking inspiration from the pioneers of comparative historical methodology (Ibn Khaldun 1381), it also draws insight from modern practitioners of comparative history (Skocpol 1984, 2003; Tilly 1984). Substantively, however, this study places landscape at the center of comparative analysis in order to tell a story about power and conflict over rights to land.

Enclosure reveals how a historically recurrent pattern of power manifested in different geographical places has shaped the fragmented and partitioned landscape visible in Palestine today. To support this claim, this study revisits the territorial landscapes of two earlier historical periods: the early modern enclosures of England and the Anglo-American colonial frontier. The fundamental question posed in the comparison of these three cases is:

How does landscape become the site of confrontation between groups with territorial ambitions and indigenous groups seeking to protect their rights to land, and how do these encounters reshape the landscape to reflect the outcomes of power, resistance, and dispossession that emerge as a consequence?

Using historical comparison to address this question, Enclosure argues that the Palestinian landscape is part of an enduring narrative of reallocations in property rights in which groups with territorial ambitions gain control of land owned or used by others (Banner 2002, S360). This narrative reveals how across time and territory, groups coveting land partake of the landscape in a similar way. They use force to dispossess groups already there, justifying their ascendancy as the landscape's new sovereigns by referencing their capacity to modernize life on the land (Day 2008; LeVine 2005, 15–27).

Influenced by a discourse from early modern England about the virtues of "land improvement," such groups seeking a route to modernity come to imagine a modern order in terms of a changeover in the system of land tenure. This discourse suggested to would-be modernizers that land improvement leading to progress in the human condition was contingent on assigning individual rights of ownership to plots of ground, a departure from prevailing notions of the ground as a repository of use rights. While improving land conferred rights of ownership upon the improver, it was the ownership of land that provided incentive to those with ambition to initiate improvements in the first place. In this way, rights to land and improving land became inextricably linked on the path to modern progress.

By the early sixteenth century in England, the notion of owning land as a catalyst for improving it and a reward for the improver gathered momentum and inspired conversions of unimproved "waste" land into property. In such conversions, the improver became vested with the most basic right of property, the right of exclusion. Such a right, in turn, entitled the landowner to exclude non owners from the land as trespassers.

What emerged from this discourse was a rationale for improving unimproved waste land along with a justification for creating exclusionary spaces on the English landscape. Moreover, once established in England, this discourse found its way to England's overseas colonies where it legitimized the colonial impulse to take possession of supposedly unimproved Amerindian land. Eventually this discourse migrated to more distant areas such as Palestine, where Zionists echoed the same themes about modernization and land improvement in justifying their own takeover of Palestinian land and the creation of Jewish spaces on the Palestinian landscape. Thus, the establishment of exclusionary Jewish spaces on the Palestinian landscape is part of the same lineage that converted common land in England to private property and Amerindian land to white property. All three cases reflect the same basic attribute of exclusivity established from a changeover in the system of land tenure, in which the land's new owners rationalized their takeover of territorial landscapes by insisting on their unique capabilities to modernize and improve the land.

Starting from this imagined vision, modernizers enlist three critical instruments — maps, property law, and landscape architecture — to gain control of land from existing landholders and remake life on the landscape consistent with their modernizing aims. Such transfers of land and changes in systems of landed property rights became inscribed into the land surface through the remaking of boundaries on landscapes. This practice of bounding the land defines "spaces of belonging" where people can live, work, and circulate. In reordering boundaries on the land, groups with modernizing aspirations and territorial ambitions set aside ever larger areas for themselves while diminishing and even eradicating spaces of belonging for the dispossessed. This process of overturning rights to land in which land passes from one group of landholders to another, and of remaking boundaries on the landscape to match this change in land ownership and use, is referred to in this study as the phenomenon of enclosure.

Enclosure is a practice resulting in the transfer of land from one group of people to another and the establishment of exclusionary spaces on territorial landscapes. At the same time, enclosure brings profound material changes to the land surface after the practitioners of enclosure replace the disinherited as sovereigns and stewards on the land and begin to construct an entirely different culture on the landscape. Equally far-reaching are enclosure's impacts in redistributing people to different locations. Those redrawing boundaries on the land designate the enclosed areas as spaces of belonging for the promoters of enclosure, while those displaced by enclosure are driven into ever-diminishing territorial spaces, their presence on the landscape now considered trespass subject to removal. One trenchant description of this process reveals how it resulted in the "clearing" of the landscape and the "sweeping" of people from the land (Marx 1867, 681).

Enclosure argues that the Palestinian landscape is part of this lineage of dispossession and that this lineage of establishing exclusionary territorial spaces on the land surface is traceable to the practice of overturning systems of rights to land stemming from the enclosures in early modern England. By the early seventeenth century, this pattern of dispossession and the creation of exclusionary landscapes had migrated from England to its North American colonies. And today, it is found on the landscapes of dispossession in Palestine/Israel. By drawing on historical comparison to reveal this recurrent pattern of enclosure on land, this book aims to uncover meanings in the Palestinian landscape not otherwise knowable from direct observation in the present alone.


In the formal language of research, the three case studies of enclosure and dispossession in this book form a unified story focusing on the interplay of two primary variables, the independent variable of power and the dependent variable of landscape. In thus aligning power and landscape, Enclosure draws from the broad theoretical insight of Foucault (1984, 252) about power as a fundamentally spatial phenomenon and, conversely, the geographical notion of landscape as "power materialized" (Philo 2011, 165; Mitchell 2012, 397). Enclosure tracks the variation in the landscape across the three cases when dominant groups coveting territory use their power to seize control of land in an effort to modernize patterns of development in a place. In this way, Enclosure contributes empirical insights to one of the defining theoretical issues in human geography — how power shapes and remakes the space of territorial landscapes (Mitchell 2002). What results when power is applied to the landscape and control of land passes from one group to another is the focus of this study: enclosure landscapes.

As a theoretical concept, "landscape" has two basic attributes. In the first place, landscapes have materiality corresponding to the morphology of the land surface that is created by the interplay of the "natural" environment and human activity. In this sense, landscapes emerge from the way the land surface anchors human populations and the systems of cultivation, the patterns of economy and culture, and the architectural forms sustaining human presence (Baker 2003, 78). Such a perspective derives from the work of Carl Sauer, who viewed the landscape as a cultural phenomenon in which human activity is the agent, the natural environment the medium, and the cultural landscape the outcome (Sauer 1925, 343). From this perspective, landscapes are socially constructed territorial spaces that possess a material reality corresponding to what "the eye can comprehend at a glance" (Jackson 1984, 3).

Such morphological contours imbue landscapes with the attributes of texts that convey meanings about the life processes occurring on the land surface. Just as books communicate through words, landscapes communicate through the contours of land. While there is not always a directly perceivable route from the material landscape to human life processes in a place, the land surface is nevertheless a starting point for reading land as a document that reflects meanings about the society and human activity anchored to it (Widgren 2006, 57; Mitchell 2000, 113).

Landscapes also convey meanings about the societies anchored to them on the basis of viewers' interpretations of what they are observing (Said 2000; Cosgrove 2006, 50; Schein 1997, 664). Thus, the landscape is not limited to "what lies before our eyes"; it also comprises "what lies in our heads" (Meinig 1979, 34). From this perspective, landscapes are still texts, but now they are open-ended documents in which viewers imbue land surfaces with meaning. By this process of perception, landscapes transition from reflections of society to sources of projection and imagination.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations,
Preface and Acknowledgments,
1 • The Contours of Enclosure,
2 • Early Modern English Landscapes: Rights of Land Tenure and the Common Fields,
3 • From Land Reimagined to Landscapes Remade: The Discourse of Improvement and Enclosing the Common Fields,
4 • Amerindian Landscapes: Subsistence Systems, Spirit Worlds, and Indigenous Land Tenure,
5 • Reimagining and Remaking Native Landscapes: Land Improvement and Taking Amerindian Land,
6 • Palestinian Landscapes: Landholding and Tenancy in Historic Palestine,
7 • From Imagination to Redemption: Crafting a Hebrew Landscape on Palestinian Land,
8 • Enclosure in a Historical Mirror,

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