Tufts University ─ Medford, Massachusetts , USA
Political systems and physical space establish the conditions of possibility for political speech and protest within and between two Palestinian communities: Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians of the West Bank. Rarely are these groups considered side by side in ethnographic study. Yet such an examination is integral to understanding the dynamics of fragmentation that have resulted from Israeli colonialism and settler-colonialism, a phenomenon addressed in various locations by scholars such as Tom Abowd, Shira Robinson, Nadim Rouhana, Areej Sabbagh-Khoury, and Lorenzo Veracini. Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians of the West Bank both live under Israeli rule, albeit with different legal statuses. Palestinian citizens of Israel enjoy some of the benefits of Israeli citizenship, but are excluded from the Zionist national project. They are also marginalized by dominant conceptions of Palestinian nationalism that work toward a Palestinian state in the 1967 occupied territory. Palestinians in the West Bank are at the center of the Palestinian project of state building, but they continue to live under Israeli military occupation, which affects virtually every aspect of their lives. These two groups rarely work in solidarity on a public stage. Israeli policies have fragmented these and other Palestinian communities from each other, for example through the system of closure.
During 2014 Gaza War, both Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank protested in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Inside Israel, Palestinians organized protests predominantly attended by Palestinians, rather than anti-war Israeli Jews. In addition to expressing outrage at Israeli aggression, they aimed at marking public space as Palestinian in all of the places where I did research, including Lydd, Haifa, and a Galilee village. Waving Palestinian flags and chanting political poetry old and new, protesters made clear that they saw themselves as part of the Palestinian people. This political activism came at the risk of arrest and losing one’s job.
In the West Bank, in particular Bethlehem where I was based, protesters had little chance to press Israeli authorities to hear their chants; well before they came into earshot of soldiers, the soldiers would disperse protesters with tear gas, sound bombs, rubber and live bullets, and skunk water. Protesters confronted the soldiers with stones, fireworks, and Molotov cocktails. Arrests tended to come during night raids, rather than in the midst of protests, because soldiers were never in such close proximity with the protesters.
Drawing on participant-observation from all of these sites, I consider how the political context in each of these locations conditions what Palestinians say and how they protest, and how this political context acts as a limit upon Palestinians speaking together. Tactics, temporality, and norms for media representation differed in these protests across the Green Line. Still, as a whole, these protests asserted and struggled for Palestinian unity, since both groups were protesting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. In my analysis, I build upon work by Charles Tilly, Regimes and Repertoires, which examines how the modes by which people protest relate to their political circumstances. Of special interest here is that Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians of the West Bank are effectively protesting against the same regime, though it operates differently in Israel and the West Bank. I argue that these two groups can both be conceived as subaltern, in Gayatri Spivak’s sense of subnational groups that face special difficulties in representing themselves effectively to outsiders. In this case, each group’s subalterneity has different qualities, and these differences compound problems of representation that have been at the heart of the Palestinian struggle and scholarship about it at least since Edward Said’s article “Permission to Narrate.” An ethnographic approach to protest underscores both the entrenched effects of Israeli rule in each of these communities, in particular fragmentation among Palestinian communities, and also Palestinians’ attempts to challenge this Israeli rule.