Palestinian Studies

2019 Workshop

Rana Barakat

Assistant Professor of History and Contemporary Arab Studies, Birzeit University

Telling a Story of Loss: Home Re/imagined and Un-imagined

In April 1948, the people of Lifta were forced to leave their homes. A Palestinian Nakba nightmare: Zionist soldiers implementing their settler plans of indigenous erasure. It happened throughout Palestine, the methodology of the settler army eliminating indigenous lives. While elimination has been unpacked and deeply engaged in Palestine studies, this paper will discuss “what remains.” In particular, the case of Lifta and how part of the village (the “remaining part” in the lower valley northeast of the center of Jerusalem) has become a different kind of “contested” space. After having gone about a great deal of fieldwork speaking with and among generations of Liftawis (people from Lifta), I find myself asking a number of questions: Is Lifta actually different from the rest of Palestine? Is thinking about “what remains” an entrée into a new conversation about the Nakba and notions of home in Palestine and return to Palestine or is it a variation of an older conversation about exile? Further still, is there an exceptionality to Lifta as a village whose “remains” have become a part of what I describe elsewhere, a project of museumification, a concept that reduces Lifta to an empty space of stones without people and a static idea in the pre-History of Zionism?

Within this complex landscape of outside/inside, these questions will be grounded in a material discussion about contemporary projects to “Save Lifta.” I will discuss several projects from various geographical locations that have taken up the issue of the politics of indigeneity of this space and the politics of representation. In particular, I am asking: an indigenous context of Palestine, what does “saving Lifta” even mean? How can we read these various cultural, political and artistic projects within the frameworks of “home” and “return?”

Part of a much larger book project, this paper is an opportunity for me to continue to think about my work on/in/with Lifta as a space inside history and outside of History, including my work with people from Lifta (full disclosure: these include my maternal family). Perhaps an admittedly selfish move, I hope to benefit from the space provided by this workshop for a conversation about questions that have come up from the last several years of thinking, talking and writing about Lifta and the Nakba within my contexts in Palestine, in general, and in Jerusalem, in particular. I want to be able to ask these questions among those in Palestine studies, who are located outside of Palestine. Turning the notion of ethnographic fieldwork on its head, I am hoping to use this space of Palestine Studies that is “outside” of Palestine to see how the main themes of my work on Lifta and the historiography of the Nakba compare and contrast. That is, how is the contested space of Lifta read outside of the immediate proximity to what “remains” of the village? How are the politics of home and return treated? How do conceptualizations of preservation and heritage differ? And, perhaps most importantly, how is a discussion about home with the complicated backdrop of the idea and place of Lifta an opportunity to complicate outside/inside and within/without for Palestinians and Palestine Studies. 

Rana Barakat is assistant professor of history and contemporary Arab studies at Birzeit University in Palestine. Her research interests include the history and historiography of colonialism, nationalism, and cultures of resistance. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Chicago and has since published in several venues including the Journal of Palestine StudiesJerusalem QuarterlySettler Colonial Studies, and Native American and Indigenous Studies. She is currently completing a book monograph, The Buraq Revolt: Constructing a History of Resistance in Palestine, which argues that this 1929 revolt was the first sign in the Mandate period of sustained mass resistance to the settler-colonial project, including direct and rhetorical actions against both political Zionism and British imperialism, planting seeds of mass political mobilization. She is currently working on a second book monograph titled Lifta and Resisting the Museumification of Palestine: Indigenous History of the Nakba, which advances an indigenous understanding of time, space, and memory in Palestine by focusing on the details of the people and place of Lifta village over time.