Palestinian Studies

2014 Workshop

Kareem Rabie

PhD Candidate, The City University of New York

Some Thoughts on Housing, the Production of the State, and the Day After

I propose to present a paper based on material from the last chapter of my dissertation, “Palestine is Holding a Party and the Whole World is Invited: Housing Development, Privatization, and the Production of the State in the West Bank.” At various times between 2007-2013 I conducted fieldwork on the West Bank economy, and my dissertation is an ethnography of Rawabi, a massive private housing project being developed for 40,000 Palestinians. I combine approaches from cultural anthropology and human geography in an investigation of how the push towards economic liberalization and state making is producing the West Bank as a political and physical space, and how lifestyles and political economic aspirations among Palestinians are changing.

I would first lay out some of the ways that I think cultural reproduction is happening in the West Bank, and the economic, social, cultural, and political consequences of privatization and state building there. I argue for the importance of taking seriously claims that Rawabi developers, the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the proponents of privatization are making about their projects, new forms of politics, and modernity in Palestine. I describe the ways that this rhetoric is both embedded in and productive of new ideological, material, and political practices there. Rawabi is at the center of the PA’s project to remake the West Bank economy and politics through privatization: outside capital is coming in and encouraging new markets, land is being bought, sold, seized, and bundled together, and mortgage instruments are being created to sell new housing to new consumers that are to make up new classes.

Second, I would briefly discuss some of my research among potential buyers and residents of the villages that surround Rawabi. Different classes are encouraged and incorporated into certain visions for Palestine through private development: potential buyers see new housing developments—and even long term debt—as a commitment that can provide some kind of stability. Villagers feel somewhat more uneasy. Already, in addition to the istimlaq (something like eminent domain) that forced villagers to sell land to developers, some have seen their land incorporated into Rawabi’s municipal boundary and subject to its rules for appearance and so on. According to some of the potential buyers I interviewed, one of the things that make new developments attractive is that they are in Palestine, indebted to ideas of Palestine, but they enable capacities and capabilities for a future outside of the politics of the present situation. The idea that Rawabi represents modernization out of the traditional, occupied, village past, into a new, optimistic, and aspirational future is a draw for certain people, and it’s something developers emphasize. On the other hand, villagers provide the past and present upon which this Palestinian identity is built, but are not as easily integrated into the future. Here I would take a political economic approach to the question of Palestinianness, agrarianism, and memory. Following Beshara Doumani, Omar Tesdell, and others, I attempt to historicize agricultural production and industrialization, and note that Palestine has long been integrated into world markets. Monetization of land happened as part of Ottoman legal reforms and was strengthened throughout the Mandate and by Zionist colonization (c.f. Riyad Mousa). I would explore the relationships between labor, Israeli colonization, and Palestinian political identity in producing the town/country distinction (drawing upon work by Salim Tamari, Edward Said and Raymond Williams, and others).

Finally, and for the bulk of the paper, I would use this material to frame a broader analysis and critique of both the political economy of, and the way that economics are often presented in, Palestine. I reject critiques of Rawabi that describe it as entirely new, as an imposition from outside of Palestine, or in terms of a “neoliberalism” that doesn’t include class, land tenure, labor, capital, and power. As the Rawabi construction site becomes a physical place, media accounts and opposition rhetoric join the PA and NGOs to contribute to the ways it is produced and understood. This section would be a more theoretical discussion of the privatization of the state in Palestine and the significance of the public/private partnership to the creation of a state, pacification, and the state/society interaction. I describe the PA desire for greater integration into the global network of nation-states through the UN and ongoing attempts to attain status in the WTO, and what this signifies for its geographical and political relationship with Israel. I speak to the idea of a territorial trap by calling for an expanded notion of the state/territory relationship, and argue that a state without defined territorial sovereignty is nonetheless a scale at which capital accumulation is organized, and is productive of economic and social conditions of life for its citizens. I will explore Lefebvre’s “state mode of production,” a framework for understanding the state’s role in organizing capital accumulation, production, and space for capital accumulation. Palestinians’ relationships to each other and to Palestine are changing through the increasing presence of new forms of urban space, housing, property rights, and consumer markets that comes alongside the process of building a privatized state. Even in the absence of distinct territorial sovereignty, public/private attempts to engineer modernities, liberal politics, values, and new economic relationships are being dialectically produced in relation to old and emerging conceptions of Palestinian identity, politics, family life, aspiration, and possibility. More generally, if the state and the economy are understood as mutually constitutive, then the current forms of economic liberalization must be seen in relation to the minimal forms of political autonomy under occupation. The physical places being produced—and the material and ideological ties between inhabitants and those places—contribute to wider political stability at one scale, and create various forms of possibility out of insecurity at another.

Kareem Rabie is a PhD candidate in anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is currently finishing his dissertation project based on West Bank field research undertaken in 2009-2010 and 2013, Palestine is Holding a Party and the Whole World is Invited.