Palestinian Studies

2019 Workshop

Heidi Morrison

Associate Professor of History, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse

Ethnographic Narratives of the Home: Identifying the Inescapability of Trauma During the Second Intifada

Palestinians who grew up during the second intifada use narration to craft meaning out of the traumatic memory of their childhoods. In their oral histories, Palestinians play the role of what I term “ethnographers of war,” creating a very detailed and thorough narrative of past trauma. An essential part of healing from past trauma is having the ability to talk about it and label it. Palestinians trace the threads of war through kitchens, rooftops, living rooms, and other domestic places that are often absent from mainstream news and academia yet saturated with violence. Obvious and conventional causes of wartime distress, such as confrontations with enemy soldiers and falling bombs, do not usually constitute entry points into narrators’ experiences during the intifada. For instance, narrators most certainly reference the infamous Muhammad al-Durra incident caught on film in which a Palestinian father shielded his son to no avail from Israeli gunfire; however, narrators fill their oral histories with non-headline-making incidents in and around their homes. In discussing the small ways that trauma is intertwined in the ordinary actions of daily domestic life, such as homework, bedtime rituals, or cooking, narrators refuse to paint over their problems with happy thoughts. Understanding and identifying one’s trauma is a key component in processing, evaluating, and moving beyond trauma.

The ethnographic narrative pivots around three domestic spaces of their childhood: the bed; the roof; and the front door. This paper looks at these three spaces one-by-one, showing how narrators’ memories of them serve to spell out the trauma of their childhood. The paper considers what each of these three spaces in the home symbolize to people in general and then looks at how the narrators integrate that space into their memories. Space is not just defined by the tangible place objects occupy (Lefebvre). The individual engages in a process of continual self-formation through interactions with their surrounding geography. The bed, for instance, is the ultimate sanctuary within the sanctuary of the home. It is the place where people go to enter a state of unconsciousness that puts them at their most vulnerable and relaxed. The bed is a symbol of complete surrender and is an essential aspect of human welfare. In childhood, the bed is the site of the maternal tucking in and the typical space to hide for safety when afraid. Narrators describe the intifada as causing a perversion of this domestic space, and hence a perversion of their childhoods.

Thus, narrators’ descriptions of the quotidian reveal Israeli violence to be interwoven in the private domains of Palestinian childhoods. Through their ethnographic style of narration about the home, Palestinians describe what they perceive to be an attack on their childhood through: 1) an Israeli pursuit to regulate Palestinian children’s behavior; 2) destroy children’s sense of normalcy and privacy; 3) and detach the young generation from Palestinian land. Palestinians ability to survive the traumatic events of the second intifada requires their processing of it. Such processing includes putting into words the often-overlooked Israeli violence they experienced in the home.

This paper is based on oral histories I collected with Palestinians since 2010.

Heidi Morrison is Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. Morrison is the author of Childhood and Colonial Modernity in Egypt (Palgrave, 2015), the editor of The Global History of Childhood Reader (Routledge, 2012), and co-general editor of the six-volume set A Cultural History of Youth (Bloomsbury, 2019 expected). In 2013–2014, she held a Fulbright scholarship and a NEH/PARC grant in the West Bank. She is currently writing a book, Surviving Memory in Palestine: Narration, Trauma, and Children of the Second Intifada, and editing a volume, Palestinian Children: Targets of Settler Colonialism, Agents of National Struggle (University of Georgia Press, 2019, expected). Morrison founded the Association of Middle East Children’s and Youth Studies (AMECYS) to promote research on children and youth in the Middle East. She serves on the Board of the Palestinian-American Research Center (PARC) and holds degrees from UC Berkeley, Harvard, and University of California Santa Barbara.