In 1991, the Israeli government introduced emergency legislation canceling the general exit permit that allowed Palestinians to enter Israel. The directive, effective for one year, has been reissued annually ever since, turning the Occupied Territories into a closed military zone. Today, Israel's permit regime for Palestinians is one of the world's most extreme and complex apparatuses for population management. Yael Berda worked as a human rights lawyer in Jerusalem and represented more than two hundred Palestinian clients trying to obtain labor permits to enter Israel from the West Bank. With Living Emergency, she brings readers inside the permit regime, offering a first-hand account of how the Israeli secret service, government, and military civil administration control the Palestinian population.
Through interviews with Palestinian laborers and their families, conversations with Israeli clerks and officials, and research into the archives and correspondence of governmental organizations, Berda reconstructs the institutional framework of the labyrinthine permit regime, illuminating both its overarching principles and its administrative practices. In an age where terrorism, crime, and immigration are perceived as intertwined security threats, she reveals how the Israeli example informs global homeland security and border control practices, creating a living emergency for targeted populations worldwide.
The article examines the legacy of British colonial emergency laws through a critical comparison of their transitions into contemporary anti-terror laws in Israel and India. To employ the emergency legislation, colonial bureaucrats classified the population according to the level of their loyalty or threat to the regime. This classification (which Berda calls the "axis of suspicion") blurred the boundaries between "security threat" and political threat. Following independence, in both India and Israel this same institutional logic and these same emergency laws shaped the perception of minorities as alien, hostile and dangerous populations. There was, however, one major difference: In India, the colonial laws were used against citizens, even those from the Hindu majority; in Israel, these same laws were used primarily against Palestinian subjects (even after they were granted formal citizenship). This difference, I argue, can be traced back to the specific form of the legal/bureaucratic mechanism developed in both states to deal with the colonial inheritance. In India, the emergency laws were incorporated into the constitutional framework, while in Israel they remained as a bureaucratic legal toolkit, limiting the scope of legitimacy for state violations of citizens' rights. The proposed War on Terror bill, which has already successfully passed its first reading in the Knesset, will make the legal situation in Israel parallel to that of India, enabling extensive violations of the civil and political rights of citizens on the basis of identity and political affiliations.