Palestinian Studies

2015 Workshop

Nell Gabiam

Iowa State University ─ Iowa, USA

Mapping Palestinian Identity in the Diaspora: Affective Attachments and Political Spaces

This paper focuses on a set of interviews and mapping exercises that I conducted in summer 2012 with 25 Palestinians of various ages, genders, and legal statuses, who were living in France at the time. These interviews and mapping exercises were part of a larger collaborative project with Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Center on “stateless diasporas.” In addition to age, gender, and legal status differences, my Palestinian interlocutors were a diverse group in terms of their reason for being in France and the length of their stay in the country. Some were born in France or had spent most of their life there; many were there for the purpose completing their university studies; others had recently arrived, fleeing the instability brought about by the uprisings in Syria. Finally, my Palestinian interlocutors were a diverse group in terms of their geographic location prior to arriving in France: these locations included Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and places within what is now Israel.

My paper explores the meaning of Palestine and Palestinian identity through individual maps drawn by each interviewee as well as the spoken commentary that accompanied those maps. Each interviewee was asked to sketch, on a piece of paper, the places that were meaningful to them and that they felt some sort of attachment to. In the paper, I examine the various meanings of Palestine and Palestinian identity that emerge from the maps drawn by my Palestinian interlocutors. I subsequently reflect on the political implications linked to the ways Palestine and Palestinian identity are portrayed on these maps.

My paper contributes to the goals of the symposium on “Political Cultures and the Cultures of Politics” in that my interlocutors’ maps capture the different ways in which Palestine is produced and the kinds of political projects that emerge from such production. Furthermore, my paper pushes the “political” beyond its conventional boundaries by focusing its analysis on an artistic genre, drawing, and by using my interlocutors’ drawings to engage in political reflection. In my analysis, I examine whether Palestine is represented on the maps, how it is represented, what other places it is represented with. I also examine the stories my interlocutors told me about the places they had drawn on their maps. I subsequently reflect on the kinds of political projects that are opened up or foreclosed through what in included and excluded in my Palestinian interlocutors’ maps and through their readings of these maps.