You’re probably already familiar with Jasbir K. Puar’s scholarship, even if you don’t know her by name. The renowned Rutgers Women’s and Gender Studies professor published her first renowned book Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times in 2007. The monograph quickly circulated around colleges and universities internationally and popularized the terms pinkwashing and homonationalism by the late 2000s. Over a decade later, Puar is now back with another groundbreaking book at a timely moment in queer political history. The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability offers readers a glimpse into the politics of queerness and disability, focusing on Israel and dozens of other contemporary conflicts.
Puar’s central argument revolves around the idea that society produces disability as a central form of control over populations. She names this trend debility: “bodily injury and social exclusion brought on by economic and political factors.” At first, this claim may appear puzzling. However, looking at recent events in Israel, her writing is timelier than ever.
Just months after the book’s publication, tens of thousands of Palestinians marched in protest of the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a place that many Palestinians can’t visit themselves. While the protests began on March 30th, their height came in the middle of May when the embassy officially moved.
As you’ve likely seen, between 13,000 and 14,000 Palestinians were injured during the protests; slightly over 100 were killed by the IDF. Past attacks on Palestinian civilians have seen much higher rates of death compared to injury. It’s clear that this shift to non-lethal debilitating violence was part of an Israeli strategy to make their repression of peaceful protesters seem humane.
Unsurprisingly, news outlets quickly uncovered that the ammunition they used was actually illegal explosive bullets internationally banned by the 1899 Hague Declaration. The use of these bullets is a war crime by itself. Nevertheless, Puar’s understanding of their debilitating use uncovers something much more sinister: the extraction of resources and “capacity” from Palestinians as a way to nullify any meaningful resistance.
Palestinian travel is heavily restricted by the Israeli government. Even if Palestinians have approved documentation, travel is much more difficult if they are disabled, hospitalized, or unable to move. Along with that, attending protests – taking part in meaningful resistance – can become impossible if one is disabled. By using explosive “butterfly” bullets, the IDF was able to limit future protesters.
Where do queer and trans people fit into this complicity in the debilitating of the Palestinian resistance? The Right to Maim recycles Puar’s notion of pinkwashing – “propaganda highlighting the LGBT rights record of Israel as a function of obscuring or legitimating its occupation of Palestine” – to explain how Israeli LGBTQ-focused PR plays a central role in today’s apartheid.
Puar points to the presentation of the “robust gay male Israeli body” as the individual being worthy of support as opposed to that of the disabled Palestinian. Like the body in the below flyer from the San Francisco-based Israeli propaganda nonprofit BlueStar, Israel is cast as a queer multicultural haven opposed to the Palestinian Authority’s flimsy queer/trans rights record.
According to Puar, the capacity for movement is one of the greatest privileges in Israel stemming from the state’s capacity to debilitate. Throughout the book, she notes moments when individuals she was working with were not able to attend meetings or obtain crucial documents or support due to their Palestinian status. While this is far from news within itself, Puar’s unique queer take on the events notes the need for solidarity between disabled communities in the States and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The removal of capacity for movement is one of the most violent ways in which governments subdue resistant groups.
Puar ends the book with an important anecdote from her work in Palestine:
“[…]We asked the twenty-odd people […] of varying ages and genders what their dreams were for the future. Alongside hopes for the full implementation of ‘Number Four,’ a reference to the 1999 constitutional amendment, one respondent after another articulated desires for rehabilitation: ‘I hope to walk again someday’; ‘I want Palestine to be liberated, so we can have freedom of movement, we can get the treatment we need’; ‘I want to be able to know what it’s like to walk.’ These statements of desire for mobility are profound in the context of the mobility impairments and the enclosures of space that fuel the prime logics of settler colonial occupation.”
While we see new forms of movements against Israeli apartheid (BDS, Queers Against Apartheid, Jewish Voice for Peace, etc.), Puar urges her readers to keep disability and queerness in mind when we approach such hard topics.
The Right to Maim is laden with technical humanities jargon. However, it engages in very mainstream debates about the place of Israel within our current political moment. If you’re an activist, scholar, or someone interested in the queer, disabled, or Palestinian communities, Puar’s new monograph is a must-read.
The Right to Maim is available now from Duke University Press.