SOAS | London, UK
Ordinary and Extraordinary – the Struggle for Palestinian Citizen Space Inside Israel
The following proposal responds to NDPS’ offer of a shifting spotlight for academic study of Palestine, from the traditional focus on the productions and erasures of the Zionist settler-colonial project to an emphasis on Palestinian cultures of political resistance. The paper’s analysis of the struggle for land and space by Palestinian citizens of Israel contributes to carving out this new arena, in which the culture of resistance of the ‘subordinated ethnic other’ is explored in its dialectic relationship with the Israeli state, an intimate engagement in which each, mutually, if asymmetrically, impacts and transforms the other.
This discussion is anchored in the Palestinian citizens’ paradoxical positioning as ‘present and absent’ in the structures, systems and spaces of Zionist Israel from 1948 onwards. Through laws that incorporated Palestinian citizens (which make up 20% of the Israeli population) into the political structures of the state while at the same time denying them access to its material and ideological productions, these Palestinians are included and excluded, inside and outside. There is no room for the indigenous Palestinian within the Zionist state’s dual rationales of ethnic-nationalism and settler-colonialism. There is, nevertheless, an ongoing encounter between the Zionist state and subaltern Palestinian-citizen that is essential to the shape and journey of both. For all its attempts to segregate the Palestinian other from its story, the State has outlined its limits and frontiers, as much as its methods, plans and narratives, in dialectic relation to the colonised Palestinian demos in its midst. This has resulted in the construction of a highly segregated and stratified society, in which the ethnic other, and the space they inhabit is endlessly and necessarily targeted for de-legitimisation, removal and replacement. An ethno-colonial ethos of de-Arabisation and Judaisation has evolved as the foundation of the state, internalised in its political, material, social and symbolic landscapes; because it cannot escape its encounter with the other.
However, using three years of grounded, ethnographic study of three cases of Palestinian-citizen struggle, this paper aims to tell a more complex story. Through comparative analysis of a popular movement for housing rights in Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jaffa-Tel Aviv; an enduring protest-movement against the Judaization project in the Galilee region; and the existential struggle for land rights of Bedouin communities in the Naqab desert, we see a pervasive Zionist hegemony clash with a real, contextualised, material history; with a Palestinian community surviving, resisting, antagonising and engaging the structures of power. This encounter – between Zionist erasures and the struggle to root and re-entrench Palestinian space – produces the particular story, the particular space, in which both are housed, the lines and boundaries of which are articulated and disrupted through unique spatial relations.
This paper investigates moments of containment and transgression from each of the three cases discussed above, highlighting resistance that exists on the fault lines and contact zones of the Zionist colonial geographies. It explores actions that attempt to reclaim (Palestinianise) public space, streets and symbols; disrupt hegemonic norms in court rooms and planning committees; outline and map ‘Palestine’ in Judaised space; and challenge the borders that segregate Jewish and Palestinian spatial relations. Ordinary and unruly, everyday and catalytic, conscious and unconscious, these practices articulate how power is entangled, (re)produced, disarticulated and reshaped through struggle that is both inside and outside, included and excluded, absent and present; and offer an acute lens as to how struggle is articulated and mediated by the same conditions. Such an analysis can inform a new way of understanding the lived experience of Palestinians trapped within the settler-colonial state, and the culture of politics they produce in relation to the field of force that surrounds them. It, moreover, challenges the idea that the colonial act of Judaisation determines all social and spatial relations; and the idea that the structures of the state –and the Palestinian space, culture, politics and position within it –are pre-determined, permanent and unchangeable.