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Living Emergency

Israel's Permit Regime in the Occupied West Bank

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.

Author Information

Yael Berda is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Hebrew University and Academy Scholar for International and Area Studies at Harvard University.


Zander Guzy-Sprague:
"In Living Emergency, Jewish Israeli lawyer Yael Berda leverages her years of experience representing Palestinian laborers by using detailed personal anecdotes, administrative documents, and extensive historical research to construct a thorough picture of how the Israeli government manages and restricts the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank."

Sanjay Kak:
"Living Emergency is a deeply humane study of the permit regime in the West Bank. The neocolonial resonances of this malign system of control, and the technologies and institutional logics it bares for us, are fast being replicated in other places around the world, and in ways that are too loud for any reader to ignore."

Peter Beinart:
"The next time someone tells you that Israel's occupation of the West Bank is benign—or designed only to provide Israel security—hand them Yael Berda's Living Emergency."

Eyal Weizman:
"Living Emergency is a groundbreaking analysis of the bureaucracy of occupation. And in Yael Berda, this intricate and obfuscated bureaucracy has met its match: Her meticulous research and brilliant insights call on us all to acknowledge the ways in which the contemporary rule of officials has developed across the globe."

Ann Stoler:
"Yael Berda's pointed and precise study plunges readers into an ugly and dark reality. A lawyer and ethnographer, she knows the jurisprudence of the Israeli 'permit regime' and sees the damages and despair it inflicts. Living Emergency tracks a form of infliction that operates on minute and life altering scales."

Michelle D. Weitzel:
"Living Emergency argues convincingly that the permit regime functions in ways that exceed the security logics it is meant to uphold, operating instead as a powerful mechanism of population management and deepening Israeli control and surveillance of everyday life in Palestine."

Audience: Professional and scholarly;