Palestinian Studies

2020 Workshop

Caitlin Procter

Max Weber Postdoctoral Research Fellow, European University Institute

Visit Gaza: Promoting Ownership of Public Space in the Gaza Strip

2020 is the year the UN predicted Gaza to officially become ‘unlivable’ (UNSCO 2015), although by most metrics daily life is already unbearable for Palestinians locked inside the Gaza Strip. Alongside the rapidly deteriorating living conditions in Gaza, the brutal Israeli response to civil society demonstrations in the Great March of Return, the increasingly entrenched internal political divisions and international impasse towards ending the siege, Israeli airstrikes are increasingly targeting public and cultural spaces in Gaza. For instance, in August 2018, the Israeli air force dropped ten missiles on the Said Al-Mashal Foundation for Arts and Culture in Gaza City, a center which aimed to preserve culture and history in Gaza, and was where many young people received dance, music and theatre classes. Two weeks earlier, the Gaza Arts and Crafts Museum in Gaza was also bombed. What impact does this have on Palestinians efforts to engage in activities of cultural heritage and preservation in Gaza? What can ‘ownership’ of such spaces mean for Palestinians in Gaza whose lives are under a constant threat or military attack? 

One example can be found in the forthcoming publication of Visit Gaza, the first book attempting to fully document the historical, religious, archeological and cultural sites of the Gaza Strip. The concept of Visit Gaza is to share Gaza’s rich cultural life and heritage with Palestinians who cannot access their land to see these sites in person. This guide book concurrently seeks to encourage and promote public access to, and ownership over public space, while consolidating a historical record of the cultural life that continues to survive in extremities. By claiming (and enabling others to claim) ownership of public spaces and heritage in Gaza that exist today, the authors sought to document what exists today as a safeguard against future destruction. 

During 10 months of post-doctoral fieldwork in Gaza in 2018-2019, I worked with historians, archeologists, architects, artists, musicians and theatre directors in Gaza to develop Visit Gaza. All over Gaza today there is increasing investment in historic restoration and archeological projects, seeking to harness a new culture and engagement with Gaza’s cultural heritage. The St Hilarion monestary excavation close to the Nusierat refugee camp in Gaza, and the Byzantine church in Jabalia offer two such examples. Both sites were discovered in 1996, but had been severely damaged by air strikes and military tanks. Excavations, predominantly conducted by specially trained female archeology students at two Universities in Gaza have uncovered of stunning and meticulously preserved mosaics. These sites, are not only being rehabilitated, but protected from potential future damage by practical processes like building roofs and walls around them, to concerted efforts to have them mapped and listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. Considering how ownership and existential precarity can conceptually sit side by side, this paper attends to both the Hamas government neglect and Israeli military targeting of public space, before focusing on the ways that Palestinian academics in Gaza are documenting and preserving (to the extent possible) what is still there. How is ownership over public sites of heritage represented and claimed by Palestinians in Gaza? Drawing from the process of developing Visit Gaza, this paper reflects on the process of Palestinians in Gaza mapping, digging and creating a new historical record of their land. 

Caitlin Procter Max Weber Postdoctoral Research Fellow // Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies // European University Institute

Caitlin’s current research focusses on the impact of protracted conflict, violence and displacement on young people in the occupied Palestinian territories. She earned her DPhil (PhD) in International Development at St Antony’s College, the University of Oxford in March 2019. Funded by the British Economic and Social Research Council, her doctoral research in the occupied Palestinian territories studied the ways young refugees make decisions about their futures under severe political constraints, specifically considering choices around education, livelihoods, and migration. During the 2018/19 academic year, Caitlin was a research fellow at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, where she began postdoctoral field research investigating the politics of irregular migration among Palestinian refugee youth in Gaza, for which she completed eight months of ethnographic fieldwork. Alongside finalizing her first book manuscript based on her PhD, Caitlin is spending the 2019/2020 academic year working on a second book project based on her research in Gaza. She has also produced a short ethnographic film, shot in Gaza, titled ‘Time Waits for Nobody’ presenting portraits of four young people leaving Gaza to seek asylum in Europe. Alongside this, she is the co-author of Visit Gaza (Gilgamesh 2020), a guide to sites of cultural heritage and history in the Gaza strip.

Caitlin earned her MA with distinction in Social Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and is completing a Diploma in International Human Rights Law at the University of Nottingham. Caitlin is the co-founder of an online project on ethnographic research methods, The New Ethnographer, and is finalizing a research methods book manuscript titled The New Ethnographer: Contemporary Challenges in Ethnographic Research. Committed to applying academic research to the humanitarian sector, she has worked extensively as a consultant and advisor in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Kenya with UNHCR, UNRWA, UNICEF, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children and a number of small NGOs. Her working languages are English, French, Arabic and Italian.