Exhausted Circulation: The Limits to Cement Transportation and Urban Metabolism in the West Bank
Keywords: 
infrastructure
metabolism
circulation
cement
power
sovereignty
ecology
urbanism
occupied Palestinian territories
West Bank
Abstract: 

This article looks at cement as a vital material in the process of urbanization. It specifically addresses urban metabolism, examining the intricacies of the cement circulation network in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) during the post-Oslo period. Because of Israel’s near-total control of land and natural resources in the oPt, there is still no fully integrated Palestinian cement plant there, making the Palestinian construction sector highly dependent on imports from Israel’s Nesher cement factory. This article argues that controlling the circulation of cement constitutes sovereignty over the processes of urbanization. In the current context, the cement circulation system that is effectively controlled by Israel is characterized by exhaustion, resulting in Palestinian urban geography’s perennial metabolic insufficiency.

Full text: 

The tired has only exhausted realization, while the exhausted exhausts all of the possible. The tired can no longer realize, but the exhausted can no longer possibilitate.

—Gilles Deleuze1

Cement as Agent of Circulation and Metabolism

Construction and economic growth are key to urban transformations and the production of new social space.2 Starting in 2007, the Palestinian Authority (PA), under the leadership of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, turned to the construction sector as an anchor for the new political and economic reality it sought to create in the West Bank with a reinvigoration of its state-building project. Arguably the most established economic sector of the Palestinian economy, generating an estimated $2.3 billion, or about 22 percent of the GDP in 2012,3 construction was embraced as a showcase sector demonstrating progress in the institution-building process and establishing the viability of the PA’s performance.4 A key element to the continuity of this construction imaginary hinged on securing a stable cement supply, making politics concrete, so to speak.5 A frequently repeated statement I heard during my fieldwork interviews with Palestinian engineers, architects, planners, developers, contractors, economists, investors, and PA government officials was that “cement is sovereignty.” In other words, cement determines the continuity of both the construction activities and the political economies embedded in the urbanization process as a whole.6

Portland cement (henceforth cement) is the main component of concrete. Its importance derives from its physical properties, especially its ability to bond to other construction materials in a concrete mixture. As numerous scholars have shown, concrete has cultural and political dimensions as an agent of both the modern urban imagination and of the actual building of urban infrastructure.7 It is impossible to imagine urban infrastructure and development, whether dams, water storage tanks, railway tracks, roads, bridges, or housing projects, without cement. Tracing the material’s social and political dimensions allows us to dive deeper into the network and ecologies that characterize the flow of cement into Palestinian urban spaces—specifically, the ways that cement infrastructure networks (that is, transportation, logistics, storage, and so on) are structured and restructured through power relations.8 In this context, cement becomes a material agent that can radically shape Palestinian social and environmental politics precisely because it has become a material wherein power can be imagined, performed, and actualized through the built environment.

From the perspective of political ecology, construction activities can be thought of as a form of urban metabolism or, in the words of geographer Erik Swyngedouw, “a process of de-territorialization and re-territorialization through metabolic circulatory flows, organized through social and physical conduits or networks of ‘metabolic vehicles.’”9 Urban metabolism is inseparable from the circulation networks and infrastructure that mediate the flow of vital construction materials10 such as cement, sand, aggregates, and energy. Along with the networks inherent to it in the production of new urban spaces, that metabolism is central to the constitution of political power.11 The circulation of things defines territorial sovereignty precisely because it shapes the relationship between social and political entities, on the one hand, and territories, on the other. The question of metabolism, however, is related to the capacity of cities to stay alive thanks to their ability to provide the sufficient—life-supporting—infrastructure that allows the urbanization process to take place. In a sense, the ability (or inability) to circulate materials in an urban geography determines the extent of actors’ power over territory. Thus, making absent a system in which material flows of cement, water, sewage, and so on, are stable and regular. Therefore, the possibility for assembling the network of vital materials supporting urban life—in other words, the urban metabolism—is extremely limited, which is the current case in the Palestinian territories under Israel’s military and settler-colonial regime.12 Cement circulation under Israeli movement restrictions can be understood as a way to limit the possibility of a regular and healthy process of urban metabolism. In the following pages, I focus on understanding how cement is transported into and moves around the West Bank, revealing the various forms of power relations that determine stability in the process. I argue that the cement circulation network in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) is subject to Israeli military controls that cause the movement of cement to be characterized by a state of exhaustion, resulting in the constant metabolic insufficiency of Palestinian urban geography.

Unlike stone and aggregates, which are extracted from local quarries and have always been part of the Palestinian construction economy, cement is an imported material in the oPt13 since the Palestinians have been prevented from establishing their own autonomous cement factory. Cement is a manufactured material that requires complex management and engineering of resources and sovereignty over energy infrastructure. Under Israeli occupation and military control, assembling a functional cement plant reliant on local natural resources has been impossible. Therefore, Palestinian cement supply and flow networks are almost entirely dependent on materials produced by Nesher Israel Cement Enterprises.

How cement became a contested political and economic material goes back to the British colonial period (1917–48),14 when Nesher was established and its factory built in 1925 under the mandate for Palestine. Viewed by Zionists as an expression of their national project, and initially formed as a public sector company, Nesher was one of the earliest cement factories established in the region.15 Since the June 1967 war, when Israel occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, Nesher has been the sole supplier of cement to both the Israeli and Palestinian construction industries. Thus, a cement entanglement can be viewed as central to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, by which I mean that the establishment of any kind of autonomy through cement production has driven the politics of Palestinian construction and urbanization, and continues to do so. The Palestinians’ entanglement with Israel’s cement production network is an ongoing arena of political contestation to this day.

The absence of a Palestinian-owned and -run cement factory is not the only obstacle that the construction market faces in the West Bank; just as important are the inadequate cement flows into the territory. The current network of cement circulation was established in the mid-1990s following the signature of the Oslo Accords, and it has been controlled by the PA and its investment arms ever since. Control of that circulation network is, I will argue, the only way for the PA to imagine some kind of provisional sovereignty over cement and the urban metabolism whose main parameter is construction. A key question I examine here is how that circulation network was established and how it has operated to date. After Oslo, the PA gained control of cement importation by restructuring the market and handing its private investment arm, the then Palestinian Commercial Service Company (PCSC), responsibility for managing cement imports. In 2015, the PCSC morphed into the Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF) and Sanad Construction Resources, also known as Sanad. While the cement markets’ instability is largely attributable to Israeli occupation policies that restrict the transportation of cement and forbid its production by Palestinians, the PCSC has also played a key role in shaping the circulation and delivery of cement through its control of the largest share of cement imports, originating with Nesher. Controlling the transportation and delivery of cement to the Palestinian construction market, I will argue, was a way for the PA to manifest its sovereignty across the territories it nominally governs.

During my fieldwork and data collection between 2015 and 2019, the question of securing a stable flow of cement into the oPt was at the forefront of preoccupations among everyone I spoke to in the Palestinian construction sector. In 2013, after cement importation was interrupted for several months due to Nesher’s inability to satisfy demand in both the Israeli and Palestinian markets, the Palestinian construction sector plunged into crisis: local Palestinian importers, construction material shops, and ready-mix concrete factories saw their business suspended in what became known as the “cement drought”—a phrase repeatedly used by those I interviewed attesting to cement’s commensurate significance with water.

The magnitude of the impact from unstable flows encapsulates the vitality and importance of cement as an indispensable element of urban ecologies. Disruptions in the flow of cement affect a wide array of economic sectors, from real estate and construction to banking and mortgage lending, not forgetting the labor market. The current cement circulation system in the oPt is characterized by temporality, constant disruption, and, occasionally, total interruption. The price of a metric ton of cement may vary month to month and it increases annually, impacting the affordability of construction. Because of limits on importation and other controls imposed by the Standards Institution of Israel, cement market operations are characteristically unstable: the solid grey powder that is cement requires transportation by fleets of trucks in an area under occupation where they do not enjoy free movement on West Bank roads and at Israeli commercial crossings.16 Understanding how such a system of infrastructure operates from the perspective of local Palestinian importers uncovers the workings of what I call an exhausted network of cement circulation. Cement importers and ready-mix concrete factory owners who are at the center of cement material flows provide us with a keen understanding of the functioning of the circulation network. Examining that network from their perspective brings into relief the intricacies of power relations at play between various actors entangled in the network—Nesher, the PA, the PCSC, local importers, and, most importantly, how the limits of sovereignty over urban geographies are produced by control of cement circulation.

Threshold Circulation: Cement as Contested Political and Geographical Terrain

In one interview I conducted at the Palestinian Ministry of Economy (MoE) regarding the dynamics of the construction sector in the oPt, my interlocutor stressed that understanding the Palestinian cement market “starts with the agreement … the Paris Economic Protocol.”17 An annex to the Oslo Accords II, the Paris Economic Protocol (PEP), signed on April 29, 1994, is the legal framework governing economic activity between the Palestinians and Israel.18 In the oPt, cement circulates as a strategic material and its associated transportation and infrastructure are shaped by the agreement’s legal, political, and economic ambit. Simply put, the PEP effectively limits Palestinians’ sovereignty with regard to cement as cement production and circulation remain firmly under Israeli control. Curtailing the autonomy of cement is one way to determine (and limit) the PA’s sovereignty over the processes of urban metabolism and growth.

In the early post-Oslo period, Israel regulated the quantity of cement flowing into the oPt in accordance with the PEP’s legal framework, which established three main avenues for the flow of cement into the area (see Figure 1). First, and foremost, per the agreement, cement falls under Category A1 imports, meaning that all imports from neighboring Arab countries (such as Egypt and Jordan), which are managed by the PA, are capped.19 Accordingly, the PA may import only four hundred thousand metric tons of cement annually from Jordan and Egypt in four quarterly tranches. This fixed amount is known among Palestinian cement importers as the “cement quota,” that is, the quantity of cement allowed into the Palestinian urban space that is locally produced in Jordan, Egypt, or other nearby countries.20 Second, the PEP places no analogous limit on cement imports from the Israeli private sector,21 which means that the Palestinian private sector can establish trade relations with the Israeli private sector to import Israeli cement without limitation. In this way, the PEP upholds Nesher as the sole producer of cement in Israel and as the primary source of imported cement into the oPt. The PCSC has effectively monopolized this option since 1995.

Figure 1. The three options for cement circulation into the oPt following the Oslo Accords.
Source: Graphic created by the author.

Figure 2. Al-Khawaja Modern Company’s operations in the West Bank, which includes running liquefied petroleum gas and fuel stations, cement transport and trading, and logistics.
Source: Screenshot obtained by the author from the now defunct al-Khawaja Modern Company website, 2019.

Figure 3. Palestinian cement consumption from 2003 to 2015.
Source: Compiled by author from Sanad Construction Resources, Prospectus for the Issuance of Shares in Accordance with Securities Law (12) of 2004 [in Arabic], 2016, 20.

Figure 4. An illustration of the wider network of bulk cement transportation in relation to its uses in construction.
Source: Created by author.

 

Third, the agreement does not restrict Palestinian cement imports from sources other than Jordan, Egypt, or Israel. Palestinian importers term such imports as “outside the quota” or beyond the cement threshold. However, many importers were not able to take advantage of this option until the cement crisis of 2013–15 because they first needed to obtain permissions from a variety of Israeli institutions, a protracted bureaucratic process that involved quality certificates, importation licenses, and customs clearance, as well as shipping arrangements and land transportation logistics. All of which had to be preapproved by the Standards Institution of Israel and sometimes other state-sponsored organizations. Many local importers were not sufficiently established to take on such demanding logistics in the 1990s when there was no shortage in the cement market that warranted them availing themselves of such an option.22

Cement consumption in the oPt reached one million metric tons in 1998,23 with the so-called cement quota fulfilling only 40 percent of construction demand. Of the one million tons imported, some 15–20 percent came from Egypt and Jordan (per the PEP) with the remaining 80–85 percent provided by Nesher.24 Thus, even in the early post-Oslo period, annual demand for cement exceeded the four hundred thousand metric tons allocated under the PEP, and the urban growth of the so-called peace-making period, 1995–2000, rested mainly on Nesher supplies. By 2015, the proportion of cement allowed into the oPt under the PEP remained at approximately 15 percent of total cement consumption of 2.2 million tons.25

The MoE regards cement as “a strategic construction material” and thus views the construction sector as “one of the main tensions” in the conflict with Israel.26 The regulated amount of cement permitted into the oPt creates what I term a cement threshold: the point at which the PA’s jurisdiction to manage the inflow of cement ends and the geography of limitation begins. In this context, the PEP can be understood as the regulation that produces the legal “threshold of articulation between nature and culture.”27 In other words, the legal restrictions on cement circulation dictate how the process of urbanization takes place and, consequently, how power relations and politics around cement play out. Given that Palestinians can only import cement in the three ways described above, it is arguable that the PEP in effect established a new power order, which effectively allows the PCSC to be the sole importer of Nesher cement while other Palestinian importers are only able to bring in limited amounts from Jordan and Egypt. In other words, the current cement circulation network, including the restrictions on the movement of cement and the functioning of the entire transportation system, is dictated by the PEP. The agreement created the juridical-political limits of the geography in which cement circulates and the parameters for the entire cement flow operation,28 as will be shown in the next section.

The Monopoly on Limitation: Cementing Power

As part of its institution-building efforts following Oslo, the PA established the PCSC as a trading company in 1995. Created to manage the import of cement into the oPt, the organization was part of a group of “Palestinian companies that gained political control of essential infrastructure such as electricity, telecommunications, and water.”29 A key transformation in the cement market post-Oslo was the emergence of close trade relations between the PCSC and Nesher.

The PCSC obtained an exclusivity agreement from Nesher immediately after it was established, which effectively gave it a monopoly over the primary source of cement flowing into the oPt and also entrenched cement’s pivotal significance in the post-Oslo process of state building when the PA followed a “rent-seeking and political settlement”30 approach. Although it operated as the PA’s private investment arm, the PCSC was part of the broader project of institution building that followed the Oslo Accords.31 What did emerge clearly was that the PCSC monopolized the supply of Nesher cement with the PA’s support and facilitation, particularly in the early years following its establishment.

Material networks create and are constituted from social assemblages32 and the PCSC consolidated its grip over cement transportation and distribution by reconfiguring the structure of the pre-Oslo social network related to cement. Until the accords were signed, Nesher cement had been imported and distributed by several Palestinian family-owned businesses. These were based in various Palestinian cities and effectively made up the geographic network of cement circulation. According to a former PCSC employee, the family-owned firms dealt with Nesher directly and the relationship between the two remained unmediated.33 The Palestinian companies then distributed the cement through a chain of small retail shops they owned in the West Bank and Gaza.

Because of its profitability, the trade in cement gave these family businesses considerable influence, but after the PCSC was formed they were marginalized by their inability to import Nesher cement directly. To continue in the field of cement trading, they had two alternatives: either to import cement from Jordan and/or Egypt—within the threshold mentioned earlier—or to become distributors for the PCSC and operate under the company’s purview. The PCSC, for its part, grew its share of the cement market, not only by becoming the sole importer of Nesher cement but also by occasionally bringing cement in from Jordan and/or Egypt. One local business owner told me that, after the PCSC effectively became Nesher’s agent in the oPt, accounting for most of the cement used there, local cement-related businesses favored the company’s imports since it got preferential prices on Nesher cement. “I began buying from the agent because it was cheaper than buying directly from the factory. It would be hard to compete with [their prices],” my interlocutor said.34

Most family-based businesses had imported cement from Israel ever since the occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967 as Israeli cement was more accessible than cement from Jordan or Egypt, which required a reliable fleet of long-haul trucks. In the early years of the occupation, many of these companies were fledgling businesses and for them to invest in an effective infrastructure of mobility was expensive and highly risky due to Israeli-imposed movement restrictions.35 But going from being cement importers to distributors operating under the PCSC was a difficult transition for most of these companies, some of which had been established as early as the 1970s, especially since the PCSC’s Nesher cement monopoly effectively put an end to competition and there was thus no profit margin from Jordanian imports, which some customers favored. “Akalna hawa” (we are screwed) was the comment offered by the owner of one of these small family-based companies.36 When cement from Nesher began flowing into the oPt through the PCSC after 1996, trading in cement became only marginally profitable for the family businesses and the PCSC’s exclusive agreement with Nesher eventually transformed the structure of the cement market altogether.

As a private company, Nesher found it easier to deal with one Palestinian counterpart rather than with multiple small companies as had been the case before Oslo.37 For the Israelis, it was preferable to have a single reliable client like the PCSC: since it operated as a private sector company and not as a government entity, it would be a reliable actor with whom Nesher could have a stable relationship to “deal with all the issues” on the Palestinian side.38 According to my Palestinian interlocutors, the PCSC’s sizeable distribution capacity was a primary reason for Nesher to grant it an exclusivity contract. Gradually the small family businesses lost their function as importers and became simple distributors, and the PCSC’s exclusivity agreement turned the company into a cement-importing monopoly and further entrenched Israel as the Palestinians’ indispensable cement supplier.

Given limited support from the MoE, it was impossible for smaller businesses to regain their significance, as the Palestinian NGO, Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) put it, this was “due to these companies’ inability to compete with the PCSC.”39 According to the MoE, the relationship between the PCSC and Nesher falls under the ambit of the private sector, which the ministry does not regulate or interfere in. A high-ranking MoE official put it this way: “It was not the PA’s decision to have an exclusive agreement with Nesher. Therefore, it is not the duty of the Ministry of Economy to intervene in private business export and import agreements.”40 The official was referring to the PA’s free market policy and its responsibility solely for managing the importation of four hundred thousand metric tons of cement annually, per the PEP. All Palestinian importers, including the PCSC, compete for a portion of that amount. The selection criteria applied by the MoE are based “on the ability [of cement importers] to deliver the material to the market.”41 New companies or smaller less experienced importers, or those who have only a small transportation fleet, are eliminated from participating according to the MoE selection criteria.

The local mobility network of cement and other construction materials had been a people’s infrastructure, or rather “people as infrastructure.”42 Prior to the establishment of the PCSC, cement and other construction materials were produced, managed, distributed, and coordinated by a small number of Palestinian families, namely the Hassuniehs, Abu Ebids, al-Asbahs, Tarifis, and al-Khawajas. Even within the severe constraints of Israel’s occupation since 1967, these relatively small importers formed the infrastructure of cement flow without reliance on a state structure or governmental body to regulate their activities.

In the context of Palestinian urbanization, cement encapsulates an array of symbolic and material meanings embedded in Palestinians’ efforts to remain on their land and continue constructing homes. In a thoughtful article, the urbanist Nasser Abourahme shows how cement carries a symbolic political meaning in Palestinian refugee camps as a material-lived practice manifesting the continuity of the Nakba.43 Abourahme observes that “cement is but one crucial unit in an assemblage that itself acts.”44 It is thanks to cement that the refugee camp expands and extends its urban reach beyond the limitations and political exceptions imposed on refugees—in other terms, cement acts as a metabolizing agent. In other geographies, such as the Negev, Alexander Koensler notes that cement becomes an agent for what he calls “insurgent building,” that is, construction by Bedouin communities whom the Israeli state repeatedly dispossesses through the continuous demolition of entire villages and their forced expulsion from their homes. Anthropologist Kali Rubaii has also highlighted how the more concrete is deployed in the villages of the Jordan Valley the more permanent these become.45 Thus, construction with cement-based concrete becomes a necessary action for Palestinian villagers to manifest their existence on their land. Palestinian communities thus negotiate the juridical limits on land by enacting construction as a means of remaining on the land. Quotidian building, mediated by the availability of cement, works against the Israeli occupation’s spatial control mechanisms that subject Palestinians to processes of erasure, disappearance, and displacement.

What is at stake, however, is not the use of cement or concrete, but the political dimension of the material, which resides in its ability to circulate within different geographies in the fragmented Palestinian territories. Construction becomes a radical socio-political practice in the context of occupation as political power is expressed and performed through cement’s networks of social and material relationships.46 In what Jane Bennett calls “distributed agency,” the PA’s control of the network of cement importation and therefore of material flows embodies its sovereignty in urban geographies.47 In the post-Oslo period, controlling the network of cement circulation was one of the main ways for the PA to begin “cementing” its institution-building project.48 Despite limited control over land and resources under the Oslo Accords, which turned Palestinian cities and towns into urban enclaves,49 cement was able to offer provisional sovereignty over urban supply networks, including the transportation and distribution of construction materials.

The Infrastructure of Circulation: Integration of the Old into the New

Establishing a mobility network for cement was the PCSC’s initial challenge. In the words of a former employee, “how to transport cement from one side to the other?”50 In the context of urban development, the question of metabolism is basically about transportation networks and thus the mobility that allows constructions materials to flow into cities and towns.51 Stable cement circulation requires the establishment of a vast network of infrastructure consisting of an efficient transportation fleet, storage warehouses and silos in various locations, the vehicles needed to move cement on-site and across areas, and the knowledge of the relevant laws, restrictions, and engineering standards related to the material’s physical properties (for example, no contact with water or moisture).

Initially, the PCSC had little knowledge of, or capacity for, moving cement between Israel and the oPt. As a former employee put it, “We did not have the experience to move cement into the [Palestinian] market as this knowledge rested with large local importers.”52 While the operation of this cement infrastructure operation remained in the hands of few family-based businesses, the PCSC had little control over the actual transportation infrastructure in operation. But at the same time, the PCSC’s establishment eliminated competition from other large logistics companies—mainly those which the PCSC could not marginalize and transform into distributors within its own network and that were potentially large competitors in the cement market.53

Instead of establishing an entirely new relationship and network with Nesher, the PCSC subsumed into its own business the two largest Palestinian logistics companies so as to develop the necessary infrastructure for cement transportation.54 In a series of interviews with Palestinian cement importers and distributors, two leading family-owned businesses emerged as central to cement importation since 1967. First, the al-Khawaja family, which established an extensive network for transporting petroleum and cement between Israel and the oPt. Functioning as a major cement trader under its original name, structure, and management, the company remains in operation but under the PCSC’s purview.55 Second, the al-Asbah family, which established a cement transportation fleet as Asbah Transportation Company and dominates the trade in heavy-duty transport equipment such as trucks and bulldozers. As soon as the PCSC was operational, al-Asbah Group created a subsidiary, Bulk Express, to transport bulk cement.56 The PCSC merged al-Asbah into its broader structure, acquiring 60 percent of Bulk Express with the remaining 40 percent retained by al-Asbah. This was how the PCSC established its large transport network and fleet of vehicles.57

Al-Asbah and al-Khawaja not only had the components and know-how needed to establish a stable network of cement circulation, but the families associated with the companies also enjoy the dual status of being Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Unlike other family-based Palestinian construction retail companies that did not have access, licenses, or approved and certified trucks that could enter Israel, the Israeli citizenship of these Palestinian families allowed their fleet easy movement to and from the oPt in a context where cement transportation from Israel could only be undertaken by Israeli citizens with licensed and registered vehicles. The majority of small Palestinian importers in the cement industry enjoy only a Palestinian trading status under Israeli occupation military law.58 Rather than marginalizing the Israeli Palestinian family businesses, the PCSC tapped into their already established transportation network, which was a useful tactic in its strategy for monopolizing cement. Thus, the al-Khawaja and al-Asbah families and their businesses played a vital role in establishing the early stages of the PCSC’s transportation infrastructure.59

Cement Disruption and Interruption: Crisis in the Palestinian Cement Market 

Any kind of trouble in Nesher production processes immediately translates into a crisis in the Palestinian cement market.

—Anonymous Palestinian construction economist and consultant

Since 2013, the Palestinian cement market has suffered from acute instability,60 partly triggered by a technical failure in one of Nesher’s production lines, to which Palestinians in the construction and cement sector refer as the “silo nine crisis.”61 That technical failure severely affected the cement distribution network, with several importers describing the subsequent period as “a cement drought.” The crisis impacted the construction industry in the West Bank particularly badly, with cascading effects on all ancillary activity such as construction processes, ready-mix concrete companies, contractors’ ability to work, and the employment of construction workers. To mitigate the effects of this incident, Nesher’s first option was to cut off the supply to PCSC and therefore to all of the oPt. As the only cement producer in Israel, Nesher was unable to meet the high demand for cement from both the Palestinian and Israeli markets.62 Although the incident was not reported in the Israeli media and no documents have emerged detailing the technical failure, its occurrence dominated the headlines in the oPt. It certainly created more of a crisis in the Palestinian construction market than in the Israeli one since Palestinian distributors are generally more vulnerable to cement market fluctuations. The interruption of the cement supply represented a moment of failure in the flow of cement into the oPt, and particularly the West Bank, damaging the stability of the circulation network.

The politics of urban metabolism and its connection to cement circulation appears clearly when examining the cement crisis from the perspective of the urban development and construction projects that started after 2008 and peaked in 2014. The PA and a group of international NGOs and private investors had seized on construction and new urban development as key economic activities to demonstrate the PA’s ability to constitute political stability precisely because construction represented change without a fundamental transformation in the Israeli occupation’s spatial and political structure of control.63

In his detailed account of the emergence of Rawabi, the much-touted planned city near Ramallah, the anthropologist Kareem Rabie shows how construction was used to manufacture normalcy and showcase the PA’s efforts at viable governance. As Rabie indicates, the multi-phase housing project involved a complex network of activities, including the emergence of commercial land developers and new banking systems offering financial incentives and mortgages that not only transformed land tenure but, maybe more importantly, created a political economic project.

For the PA, the project to construct entirely new neighborhoods was the materialization of a new political imaginary. The changes in the flow of cement, which created a form of instability in the continuity of the construction imaginary, led PCSC to rethink its relationship with Nesher. The idea of building the first Palestinian cement factory fostered an imaginary of independence and emancipation while simultaneously maintaining PCSC’s monopoly on the Palestinian cement market.64 But it was the silo nine crisis that began to shape an unprecedented moment of disentanglement from Nesher’s domination. As the crisis deepened, PCSC mutated into a construction materials company under the name Sanad on September 23, 2014,65 transforming into the construction materials investment arm of the PIF. The fund was a major force behind what it called the affordable housing development project undertaken by its real estate investment arm, Amar Group, which had built a number of housing developments around Ramallah, Jenin, and Jericho. According to a PIF report, the rationale for PCSC’s transformation into Sanad was “to consolidate the supply chain of cement … which would stabilize the growing national construction sector.”66

Not only were affordable housing and construction projects represented as modes of sovereignty, but the very material of cement itself was becoming representative of a mode of urban autonomy. Thus, the uncertainty of the cement supply threatened to undermine the meta-narrative of the PIF, the PA, and other actors involved in the state-building project and steadying cement flow into urban areas of the West Bank was the corollary for stabilizing this political imaginary. Securing stable cement flows lay at the heart of the urban development question, turning the construction driven state-building project into a single-material issue: cement.

Bulk Exhaustion in Cement Circulation Networks

Although it manifested in all kinds of local markets, the cement crisis was most pronounced in the Palestinian bulk cement market. Since Nesher was the main supplier of bulk cement, the silo nine incident hit the ready-mix concrete factories particularly hard67 given that 88 percent of bulk cement used in the oPt came from Nesher.68

Bulk cement is a loose form of cement moved in large quantities to bagging and ready-mix concrete facilities and to cement brick (cinder block) factories. These facilities act as the infrastructure for the transformation of cement into concrete, which is then used in construction. According to factory owners and engineers who I interviewed, most ready-mix concrete is used to cast large quantities of concrete in the construction of foundations, slabs, and the load-bearing walls and columns that compose the skeletal structure of any multistory building or mega infrastructure. Casting concrete for structural elements involves pouring it in liquid form without interruption according to exact engineering standards, making the bulk cement supply vital as cement deliveries must be uninterrupted at this critical stage of construction. From a civil engineering perspective, structural elements “fail” if concrete hardens before it is fully casted. Such specificity helps explain the need for fine-tuning the wider network of bulk cement—in other words, timing and the flow’s temporality must be constantly managed and stabilized. The stability of bulk cement supply becomes vital precisely because it is intimately linked to how cement’s physical properties act as an agent in assembling the exoskeleton of urban buildings. Unlike bagged cement, which is usually used in plastering, as well as erecting partitioning walls, mechanical works, and tiling, bulk cement is an indispensable element in the larger chain of construction activities. As the Nesher crisis emerged, the supply of bulk cement was severely impacted, affecting different scales of construction. According to the co-CEO of Sanad, Hussein Yasin, the cement crisis “did not manifest in the reduced supply of bagged cement … but in the flow of bulk cement” which led to paralysis in many concrete factories and in the delivery of cement to construction sites.69

The 2013–15 cement crisis, exacerbated by the Nesher-Sanad monopoly, kick-started efforts by Palestinian cement importers to break the two companies’ dominance. According to ready-mix concrete company owners, as soon as the crisis began, the question of “the possibility of importing bulk cement from alternative sources [other than Nesher]” began to emerge.70 To import cement over and above the threshold set out by the PEP in order to mitigate the crisis, the option was to source cement from Turkey, Greece, and Jordan. But doing so required a well-established fleet as well as financial wherewithal, given the small profit margins as well as the commercial crossings and movement restrictions involved, and Sanad was yet again the only entity able to take on such challenges.

Moving cement was thus deeply entangled with the complex system of mobility established by the Israeli military to regulate the movement of goods in and out of the oPt. Not only were cement prices and availability affected by the system of transportation, but, in many instances, Palestinian cement importers were unable to maintain a regular flow of bulk cement into the Palestinian construction market. As an economic consultant for Sanad put it, “importing cement from other sources [besides Nesher], and in light of the grip of the Nesher-Sanad monopoly, is a fruitless business. Transportation costs also increase the price of cement. Commercial crossings require more time and money, so imported cement cannot compete with Nesher-Sanad prices.”71 Of course, price determines affordability for everyday construction needs while bulk cement determines the speed of cement flow into urban areas and therefore the pace of construction.

The urban territory of the Gaza Strip presents an exceptional case to the vital need for the control of cement flow in urban ecologies. The systematic and repeated destruction of Gaza’s built environment and infrastructure by Israeli air force and drone strikes, on the one hand, and the prevention of cement importation from Egypt and Israel into the territory, on the other, both shape socio-environmental and urban conditions in the territory. Chronic shortages of cement and steel are leading to the slow deterioration of essential infrastructure. For example, without adequate supplies of construction material, and particularly cement, Gazans cannot maintain an adequate sewage system, which then leads to sewage overflows and flooding every winter. Furthermore, they cannot build the infrastructure needed to keep underground water reserves from mixing with seawater; or, obviously they cannot construct new housing and public buildings to meet the needs of an expanding population. Israel considers cement a dual-use material, meaning that cement might be used for expanding the tunnel infrastructure that Hamas and Palestinians in Gaza maintain continuously to break the blockade. Of course, underground tunnels that can only be constructed with reinforced concrete are vital insurgent infrastructures72 that mediate the flow of material in and out of Gaza beyond Israel’s control. As a result, every truck of cement entering Gaza is equipped with GPS technology that instantly sends data registering the location of the cargo after it enters the territory through one of the commercial crossings. The location identifying data is sent in real time to an online platform that calculates how many tons of construction material entered Gaza, what kind of material it is, and the possible dual use of each material.73 The use of high-tech tracking systems is, I argue, not designed to prevent cement from entering the Gaza Strip but to produce constant exhaustion in cement flow. Such chronic disruption and instability in turn generate insufficient urban metabolic processes and directly impact the ways that logistic operations function in geographies of conflict. This is what Deborah Cowen has named the “deadly life of logistics” wherein violence becomes embedded in the flow of life supporting materials for urban populations.74

While Gaza may be the outlier in terms of urban metabolic insufficiency, the West Bank is subject to a similarly suffocating system of control. Commercial crossings shape the spatial flow and movement of cement into the oPt, allowing the entry of goods directly from Israel as well as via international seaports and Jordan75 and effectively regulating trade exchanges between the oPt and surrounding geographies.76 The Israeli military specifically designed these commercial crossings as infrastructures of control that are part of a much broader system of control in the oPt.77 Such spaces create temporal geographies that function in the same manner as the checkpoint system that controls the movement of people by road across the West Bank.78 However, unlike the checkpoints that are located in the hinterland of the West Bank, commercial crossings are fixed spaces that police the borders of the West Bank and Gaza (see Figure 6).

Figure 5. The flow of cement into the Gaza Strip between January 1 and December 3, 2020.
Source: Image obtained from the website of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (https://grm.report/, 2022) and altered by author for clarity.

Figure 6. A map of commercial crossings in the oPt.
Source: Map taken from the UNCTAD report, Trade Facilitation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Restrictions and Limitations, 36. Map altered by author for clarity.

 

Braverman describes commercial crossings as a system that “relies on intensified networks of identification and bureaucratic sophistication”79 and shows how it is a geographic, legal, and procedural apparatus that limits the flow of materials and commodities into Palestinian urban spaces and the oPt.80 The crossings are usually administrated by several Israeli security organizations, including the Israeli Crossing Point Authority, customs, military district coordination offices (DCO), Israeli police, and sometimes a department of the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, all of whom are involved in identifying the cargo and providing clearance.81 The PA has no jurisdiction at the crossings and can only exercise administrative oversight once the cargo has crossed into the oPt.

Exhausted Procedures of Circulation

Systemically, commercial crossings also drive territorial exhaustion. Rogoff defines exhausted geographies “as material manifestations of territorialities and territorial claims that cannot sustain themselves.”82 Following this approach, commercial crossings can be viewed as spaces where exhaustion of material flows take place on the geographic scale. The impact of movement restriction is geographical in that it affects a variety of processes, including construction activities, urbanization, and the operation of the circulation system.

As an illustration, before a truck from the Israeli side reaches the crossing, it requires customs clearance. The Israeli logistics company (or the source importer) must obtain prior permission from the Israeli customs control for the cement to enter the oPt. Nesher-supplied cement is automatically accepted at the crossing because the company is a local cement producer with the required quality certificates. However, when cement is coming in from Jordan, Greece, or Turkey, this certificate of quality must be issued before the cargo reaches the crossing, and it might take months for a shipment to enter through seaports and get cleared at one of the commercial crossings before actually arriving in the oPt. Cement importers are usually required to deal directly with the Standards Institution of Israel to obtain quality approval and certification.83 Additionally, for all the paperwork to be legal, Palestinian importers must assign an Israeli customs clearance agency to the cargo. The agent’s role is to act on behalf of the Palestinian importer and to negotiate with several Israeli organizations to obtain seaport clearance, deal with port delays, and acquire the relevant certificates mainly because oPt-based lawyers have no access to the Israeli legal system.84

Unlike other goods, cement requires certification of the material’s standards and a separate certificate for the transport truck to enter the crossing. Obtaining a certificate of material quality is the most important part of the process. Vehicles transporting cement must also be certified in terms of their suitability to meet humidity and water contamination standards as well as capacity requirements, which are set at no more than forty-two metric tons.85 Only after satisfying all these requirements can trucks be cleared to reach the crossing. This applies to imports from any point outside the West Bank, whether airports, seaports, or land crossings from Jordan and Egypt.

Back-to-Back as A Mechanism of Exhaustion

The architecture of commercial crossings and their functioning entail major challenges for the movement of bulk cement. This process requires unloading from Israeli trucks and reloading onto Palestinian trucks, with the bulk cement transferred through a hose running between the two vehicles. Among truck drivers, this stage is known as Shahina-Muqabel-Shahinain, what is known as back-to-back shipments in the transportation lexicon. Cement importers describe this as the most “exhausting” stage in the chain of cement transportation, “one of the most expensive and time-consuming processes of cement transportation,”86 that often creates delays in the arrival of the cargo at its West Bank destination.

Commercial crossings are generally open for nine hours a day, typically between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., or from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and all crossings are closed on weekends. The trucks from both sides have to arrive before 3 p.m. in order to finish the back-to-back unloading and reloading before closing time. Since commercial crossings are not open 24/7, time restrictions limit the number of trucks that enter on any given day.87 This applies not only to cement trucks but to all goods coming through commercial crossings (see Figure 7). The main outcome of this laborious process is to impact the supply of much-needed materials and, with regard to bulk cement in particular, supplies remain below demand for urban construction.

Figure 7. The map shows an architectural plan of the movement of cargo at a commercial crossing, including the transfer areas of back-to-back goods.
Source: Created by the author through sketches based on several interviews with cement importers during the author’s fieldwork in 2018.

 

The back-to-back transportation mechanism also imposes a financial burden that exhausts importers by increasing the price of every ton of cement entering the oPt. A direct journey by truck from the factory (be it Nesher, or a manufacturing plant in Jordan or Egypt) to its final destination, without the back-to-back process, can significantly cut costs and therefore become more affordable for the Palestinian construction market. Sanad co-CEO Hussein Yassin believes that back-to-back transportation has been central to the increasing price of cement. He explains that “if transport were direct, from Nesher to Palestinian concrete factories, there would be a price drop of 30 NIS [approximately $8.50]” per ton.88 The current transportation mechanism makes the price of cement imported from Turkey, Jordan, and Greece even higher than that of Nesher cement. Under these circumstances, many cement importers have been discouraged from importing cement from Jordan (or other countries) as it was cheaper to buy from Israel and the process of importing cement bags was not worth the hurdles at the commercial crossings, which “increase the price of each ton of cement due to cost increases in transportation, border delays, checkpoints etc.”89

*****

In the Palestinian context, cement can no longer be understood as the banal everyday grey construction material. The entire network that facilitates the flow of cement cannot be separated from studying the material’s social-political and spatial configurations. It is the network of circulation that determines the agency of cement. Tracing cement circulation networks and how cement flows into urban areas renders clear the limits of urban metabolism for Palestinian towns. There are two options for the oPt to achieve autonomy in cement circulation: either the relaxation of Israeli border restrictions within Israel’s matrix of control so that cement can be imported freely from Jordan, Egypt, and other locations; or building a Palestinian national cement plant that guarantees Palestinian construction some autonomy.

The dream of establishing a national cement factory has emerged repeatedly at different points in the history of Palestine/Israel.90 Recently, and especially in the 2015–19 period, the PIF began considering the possibility of building the first Palestinian cement factory. Sanad, as its construction investment arm, undertook all the requisite feasibility studies, including geological testing for the optimal location as well as the engineering specifics involved. Raw materials for the production of cement were found to be abundantly available as the oPt has no shortage of limestone quarries but the challenge was to secure the energy resources required to maintain cement production.

To be considered an independent process, cement production requires sovereignty in terms of both land and natural resources. An integrated cement plant is one that involves all the elements of cement production, a complex set of limestone mining and quarrying activities. This is an energy intensive process that requires stable energy sources as well as a reliable transportation system to ensure that the vital commodity reaches urban areas in a timely manner. In mid-2019, Sanad announced that it would not pursue the construction of an integrated cement factory because it was not able to ensure the necessary infrastructure, specifically, the availability of low-cost energy sources. This “failure to build,” as anthropologist Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins calls it, has become the fate of many a Palestinian infrastructure project wherein Palestinian engineers are conditioned to fail in the assembly of large infrastructure projects.91

A final note: the politics of cement can no longer be seen only as the ability of Palestinians—whether in villages, refugee camps, or cities—to enact their right to remain on the land given that the question of cement sovereignty touches on the entire network of production, circulation, and urban metabolism. Palestinians’ ability to sustain stable infrastructure that carries material flows is vital for urbanization. What this means in terms of political ecology is that Palestinians are limited in the ways they construct their relationship to nature and produce their metabolic imaginaries.

 
 

Endnotes:

1 Gilles Deleuze, “The Exhausted,” trans. Anthony Uhlmann, SubStance 24, no. 3, issue 78 (1995): 3.

2 David Harvey, The Urbanization of Capital: Studies in the History and Theory of Capitalist Urbanization (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985).

3 Office of the Quartet Representative, Initiative for the Palestinian Economy: Construction and Building Materials, 2014.

4 Kareem Rabie, Palestine Is Throwing a Party and the Whole World Is Invited: Capital and State Building in the West Bank (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2021).

5 Leandro Minuchin, “Material Politics: Concrete Imaginations and the Architectural Definition of Urban Life in Le Corbusier’s Master Plan for Buenos Aires,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 37, no. 1 (January 2013): 238–58; Leandro Minuchin, “The Politics of Construction: Towards a Theory of Material Articulations,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34, no. 5 (October 2016): 895–913.

6 David Harvey, Abstract from the Concrete (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2017); Sérgio Ferro, “Concrete as Weapon,” trans. Alice Fiuza and Silke Kapp, Harvard Design Magazine, no. 46 (Fall/Winter 2018): 8–33.

7 Adrian Forty, Concrete and Culture: A Material History (London: Reaktion Books, 2016); Nicholas D’Avella, Concrete Dreams: Practice, Value, and Built Environments in Post-Crisis Buenos Aires (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2019); Ferro, “Concrete as Weapon.”

8 Matthew Fry, “From Crops to Concrete: Urbanization, Deagriculturalization, and Construction Material Mining in Central Mexico,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101, no. 6 (2011): 1285–1306; Matthew Fry, “Cement, Carbon Dioxide, and the ‘Necessity’ Narrative: A Case Study of Mexico,” Geoforum 49 (October 2013): 127–38; Eli Elinoff, “Concrete and Corruption,” City: Analysis of Urban Change, Theory, Action 21, no. 5 (2017): 587–96.

9 Erik Swyngedouw, “Circulations and Metabolisms: (Hybrid) Natures and (Cyborg) Cities,” Science as Culture 15, no. 2 (2006): 106.

10 Maria Kaika, City of Flows: Modernity, Nature, and the City (New York: Routledge, 2005).

11 Erik Swyngedouw, Liquid Power: Contested Hydro-Modernities in Twentieth-Century Spain (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015); Erik Swyngedouw, “Power, Nature, and the City: The Conquest of Water and the Political Ecology of Urbanization in Guayaquil, Ecuador: 1880–1990,” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 29, no. 2 (February 1997): 311–32; Erik Swyngedouw, Social Power and the Urbanization of Water: Flows of Power (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004).

12 Fredrik Meiton, Electrical Palestine: Capital and Technology from Empire to Nation (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018); Omar Jabary Salamanca, “Assembling the Fabric of Life: When Settler Colonialism Becomes Development,” JPS 45, no. 4 (2016): 64–80; Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins, Waste Siege: The Life of Infrastructure in Palestine (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019).

13 Although stone and aggregates are available resources in the oPt, Israeli military law imposes various limitation on the mining of limestone deposits. See Andrew Ross, Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel (Verso Books, 2019).

14 Ross, Stone Men, 34–40.

15 Nimrod Ben Zeev, “Building to Survive: The Politics of Cement in Mandate Palestine,” Jerusalem Quarterly 79 (Autumn 2019): 39–62.

16 My research does not examine Gaza and the Egyptian commercial crossing due to the lack of access to cement importers in Gaza.

17 Author interview no. 2 with an official of the Palestinian Ministry of Economy’s trade department who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 9, 2017.

18 A number of scholars have criticized the agreement for limiting the Palestinian economy from growing and expanding, highlighting the dependence of the Palestinian economy on Israel. For more details on the PEP, see Raja Khalidi and Sobhi Samour, “Neoliberalism as Liberation: The Statehood Program and the Remaking of the Palestinian National Movement,” JPS 40, no. 2 (2011): 6–25; Ray Smith, “Interview: Raja Khalidi on the Neoliberal Consensus in Palestine,” The Electronic Intifada, April 25, 2011; Adel Zagha and Husam Zomlot, “Israel and Palestinian Economy: Integration or Containment?” in State Formation in Palestine: Viability and Governance During a Social Transformation, ed. Inge Amundsen, George Giacaman, and Mushtaq Husain Khan (New York: Routledge, 2004), 120–140; Raja Khalidi, “Reshaping Palestinian Economic Policy Discourse: Putting the Development Horse before the Governance Cart,” JPS 34, no. 3 (2005): 77–87; Raja Khalidi and Sahar Taghdisi-Rad, “The Economic Dimensions of Prolonged Occupation: Continuity and Change in Israeli Policy towards the Palestinian Economy,” United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, no. UNCTAD/GDS/2009/2 (August 2009): 1–32.

19 International Trade Agreements: Economic Agreement with Israel (Paris Economic Protocol),” Palestine Trade Center (PalTrade), accessed May 5, 2022.

20 “International Trade Agreements,” PalTrade.

21 Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR), Al-aismant fi al-aradi al-filastiniyya, November 2007.

22 Author interview no. 1 with the owner of a Palestinian construction materials company and cement importer who spoke on the condition of anonymity, al-Bireh, July 24, 2017.

23 PECDAR, Al-aismant.

24 Author interview no. 1 with an official of the Palestinian Ministry of Economy’s trade department who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 26, 2017.

25 Sanad Construction Resources, Prospectus for the Issuance of Shares in Accordance with Securities Law (12) of 2004 [in Arabic], 2016.

26 Author interview no. 2 with an official of the Palestinian Ministry of Economy’s trade department who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 9, 2017.

27 Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 102.

28 Jane Holder and Carolyn Harrison, “Connecting Law and Geography,” in Law and Geography, ed. Jane Holder and Carolyn Harrison (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003), 3–16.

29 Author interview no. 2 with a former PCSC employee (1995–2009) who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 16, 2017.

30 Toufic Haddad, Palestine Ltd.: Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory (London: I.B. Tauris, 2016), 159–77.

31 Although the PCSC operated as a private company, it enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the PA because its initial capital was put up by the Palestine Liberation Organization, from which the PA is derived. But it was also not a public company because it remained entirely separate from the PA’s institutional structure and operated as a private company. Since Sanad became the PIF’s construction arm, the company has operated as a private sector firm. PIF defines itself as a sovereign fund owned by the Palestinian people and is registered at the Palestine Ministry of Economy as a public shareholding company. See Jamil Hilal and Mushtaq Husain Khan, “State Formation under the PNA: Potential Outcomes and their Viability,” in State Formation in Palestine: Viability and Governance during a Social Transformation, ed. Inge Amundsen, George Giacaman, and Mushtaq Husain Khan (New York: Routledge, 2004), 89.

32 Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007).

33 Author interview no. 2 with a former PCSC employee (1995–2009) who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 16, 2017.

34 Author interview no. 2 with the owner of a Palestinian construction material company and cement importer who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, August 19, 2017.

35 Author interview no. 2 with the owner of a Palestinian construction material company and cement importer.

36 Author interview no. 2 with the owner of a Palestinian construction material company and cement importer.

37 Author interview no. 2 with a former PCSC employee (1995–2009) who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 16, 2017.

38 Author interview no. 1 with a former PCSC employee (1995–2014) who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, September 17, 2017.

39 The Government Does Not Interfere with Cement Prices … There Are No Clear Policies,” AMAN-Transparency Palestine, February 25, 2014

40 Author interview no. 2 with an official of the Palestinian Ministry of Economy’s trade department who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 9, 2017.

41 Author interview no. 1 with an official of the Palestinian Ministry of Economy’s trade department who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 26, 2017.

42 A. M. Simone, “People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg,” Public Culture 16, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 407–29.

43 Nasser Abourahme, “Assembling and Spilling‐Over: Towards an ‘Ethnography of Cement’ in a Palestinian Refugee Camp,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39, no. 2 (March 2015): 200–217.

44 Abourahme, “Assembling and Spilling‐Over,” 212.

45 Kali Rubaii, “Concrete and Livability in Occupied Palestine,” Engagement (blog), Anthropology and Environment Society, September 20, 2016.

46 Swyngedouw, Liquid Power; Swyngedouw, Social Power and the Urbanization of Water; Swyngedouw, “Circulations and Metabolisms”; Swyngedouw, “Power, Nature, and the City.”

47 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

48 Matthew Gandy, “Urban Nature and the Ecological Imaginary,” in In the Nature of Cities: Urban Political Ecology and the Politics of Urban Metabolism, ed. Nik Heynen, Maria Kaika, and Erik Swyngedouw (New York: Routledge, 2006), 63–74.

49 Lisa Taraki, “Enclave Micropolis: The Paradoxical Case of Ramallah/al-Bireh,” JPS 37, no. 4 (July 2008): 6–20.

50 Author interview no. 2 with a former PCSC employee (1995–2009) who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 16, 2017.

51 Steve Graham and Simon Marvin, Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition (New York: Routledge, 2001).

52 Author interview no. 2 with a former PCSC employee (1995–2009) who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 16, 2017.

53 Author interview no. 1 with a former PCSC employee (1995–2014) who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, September 17, 2017.

54 Author interview no. 1 with a former PCSC employee (1995–2014).

55Khawaja Home Page,” Al-Khawaja Modern Company website, 2012.

56 Sanad Construction Resources, Prospectus.

57 Sanad Construction Resources, Prospectus.

58 Author interview no. 1 with the owner of a Palestinian construction materials company and cement importer who spoke on the condition of anonymity, al-Bireh, July 24, 2017.

59 Author interview with construction industry economist and market analyst at a private consultancy company who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 17, 2017.

60The Cement Crisis in the West Bank Markets without Supervision or Accountability” [in Arabic], Ma’an Agency, March 28, 2013.

61 Na’el Musa, “The Scarcity of Israeli Cement … a Real or Fabricated Crisis?” [in Arabic], al-Hayat wa al-Souq 95, March 10, 2013, 2–3.

62 This was reported to me by several interviewees cited in this article.

63 Samir Harb, “Imaginary and Autonomy: Urbanisation, Construction, and Cement Production in Palestine” (PhD diss., University of Manchester, 2020), 97–105.

64Palestine Investment Fund (PIF) Launches the First Palestinian Cement Factory Mega Project,” press release, Palestine Investment Fund, October 1, 2016.

65 Muhammad Fa’eq, “Sanad Is the New Name of the Palestinian Commercial Services Company” [in Arabic], al-Hadath, September 23, 2014.

66 Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), Annual Report 2014, February 2019, 7.

67 It was clear that the interruption of cement flows affected most of the businesses whose officers I interviewed during the period of 2015–19.

68 Sanad Construction Resources, Prospectus.

69 Tala‘at Alawi, “Ninety Minutes on the Economy: Shortage of Bulk Cement in the Palestinian Market” [in Arabic], Raya FM, 56:08–56:15.

70 Author interview with a Palestinian ready-mix concrete company owner who spoke on condition of anonymity, Qalandia, July 27, 2017.

71 Author interview with construction industry economist and market analyst at a private consultancy company who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 17, 2017.

72 Toufic Haddad, “Insurgent Infrastructure: Tunnels of the Gaza Strip,” Middle East–Topics & Arguments 10 (June 2018): 71–85.

73 Where the Cement Goes,” The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, 2022.

74 Deborah Cowen, The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global Trade (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

75 PalTrade and Palestinian Shippers’ Council, Facilitating Palestinian Global Trade through Jordan and Egypt, October 2009.

76 World Bank, Palestinian Trade: West Bank Routes, report no. 46807–GZ, December 16, 2008, 7–17.

77 Derek Gregory, The Colonial Present: Afghanistan. Palestine. Iraq, 1st ed. (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2004); Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (London: Verso, 2012); Mark Griffiths and Jemima Repo, “Biopolitics and Checkpoint 300 in Occupied Palestine: Bodies, Affect, Discipline,” Political Geography 65 (July 2018): 17–25.

78 Hagar Kotef and Merav Amir, “Between Imaginary Lines: Violence and Its Justifications at the Military Checkpoints in Occupied Palestine,” Theory, Culture & Society 28, no. 1 (January 2011): 55–80; Avram Bornstein, “Military Occupation as Carceral Society: Prisons, Checkpoints, and Walls in the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle,” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice 52, no. 2 (Summer 2008): 106–30.

79 Irus Braverman, “Civilized Borders: A Study of Israel’s New Crossing Administration,” Antipode 43, no. 2 (March 2011): 292.

80 Braverman, “Civilized Borders.”

81 Mutasim Elagraa, Randa Jamal, and Mahmoud Elkhafif, Trade Facilitation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Restrictions and Limitations (New York and Geneva: United Nations, 2014), 37–8.

82 “Exhausted Geographies (3 of 7)–Professor Irit Rogoff,” YouTube video, 5:32, Iniva at Rivington Place, August 23, 2010.

83 “Import” [in Arabic], Palestinian Shippers Council website, accessed July 23, 2019.

84 Author interview with a Palestinian ready-mix concrete company owner who spoke on condition of anonymity, Qalandia, July 27, 2017.

85 Palestinian Shippers Council, “Import.”

86 Author interview no. 2 with an official of the Palestinian Ministry of Economy’s trade department who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Ramallah, July 9, 2017.

87 PalTrade and Palestinian Shippers Council, Facilitating Palestinian Global Trade.

88Despite Nesher Imports: Israel Announces Cement Price Drop while Sanad Announces Increase” [in Arabic], Dunia al-Watan, March 3, 2016.

89 Author interview no. 1 with a former PCSC employee (1995–2014) who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ramallah, September 17, 2017.

90 See Ben Zeev, “Building to Survive” and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Palestinian External Trade under Israeli Occupation (New York and Geneva: United Nations, 1989), 130–1.

91 Sophia C. Stamatopoulou-Robbins, “Failure to Build: Sewage and the Choppy Temporality of Infrastructure in Palestine,” Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 4, no. 1 (March 2021): 28–42.

Author biography: 
Samir Harb is an architect and urban geographer. He is a visiting scholar at the Institut für Geographische Wissenschaften, Freie Universität Berlin. His research focuses on the political ecology of construction materials using the lens of neomaterialism and more-than-human social approaches.

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