Excessive Use of Force as a Means of Social Exclusion: The Forced Eviction of Squatters in Israel

Neta Ziv


This article discusses the legal concept of excessive use of force by analyzing a particular incident that took place in Israel in the summer of 1997: eighty families, faced with dire housing needs, squatted in vacant apartments in an immigrant absorption center in the town of Mevasseret Zion near Jerusalem. After a period of failed attempts to persuade the families to leave the apartments peacefully, the police moved to evacuate the families, and did so by use of massive force. In the article I describe the violent measures used by the State (police), and analyze the media portrayal of the squatting and the evacuation. I argue that both these forceful measures and the media portrayal of the squatting and evacuation cumulatively took part in constructing the squatters as criminal deviants rather than political protesters. I claim further that we should understand the concept of use of force not only as a means to achieve certain ends by the state, but also as a mechanism through which the state constructs a social problem and presents it in a manner beneficial to its own interests. Excessive use of force, in this sense, is not just a disproportionate response to a real or perceived threat posed by an individual or group, but a means by which the state fosters a belief that the individual or group present some danger, which must be tackled through the use of a certain level of force. By drawing a line between the legitimate (that is, not excessive) and illegitimate (defined as excessive) use of force, the state affirms its monopoly on violence, which ultimately can be used to suppress political resistance.

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