Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Anthropologists Reflect on the Struggle for Boycott and a Half-Century of Israeli Occupation

June 2017 marks fifty years since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a watershed event that consolidated and extended the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. After a half century of deepening colonization and apartheid, the “two state solution” that has long been proposed as a way to resolve the conflict appears more elusive than ever.

June 2017 also marks the one-year anniversary of the narrow defeat of the resolution in the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The vote was the culmination of years of vigorous debate among anthropologists about the best way for our discipline and professional association to support justice in Palestine and express solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions presents a series of reflections by our colleagues to commemorate this solemn occasion:

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui explains why “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory must be understood as part of the process of settler colonialism

Rhoda Kanaaneh‘s “Insecure Exchanges” traces links between struggles for racial justice in Palestine and the US

Les Field on “Why Jewish Anthropologists Should Support the Boycott

Glenn Bowman shares “Reflections on 34 Years of Field Research in the Israeli Occupied Territories

Ahmed Kanna emphasizes the importance of linking #Anthroboycott to struggles against capitalism

Nikolas Kosmatopoulos discusses opportunities for solidarity with Palestine beyond the boycott, especially at sea

Dan Segal reflects on last year’s AAA boycott vote in “How We Came So Close, and Why Victory is in Sight

Roberto J. González takes the long view in “The Patience of Activism


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The Patience of Activism

by Roberto J. González

This essay is part of a series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip

Among the many reactions following last year’s vote on the American Anthropological Association’s BDS resolution, there was one that was particularly shortsighted–namely, the idea that somehow the ballot marked a significant and historic turning point. For example, days after the votes were tallied, the Anti-Defamation League released a statement describing the result as “an important milestone in the effort to counter the BDS movement and in support of academic freedom.” Many others seemed to intepret the vote as the beginning of the end of BDS. Continue reading

How We Came So Close, and Why Victory is in Sight

by Daniel Segal

This essay is part of a series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip

More than ever, the world needs to find potent, non-violent means to achieve social justice and peace in Palestine-Israel.  And more than ever, those of us who are citizens of the U.S. state must oppose our government’s enabling of the Israeli state’s oppression of our Palestinian sisters and brothers. Continue reading

Blue-washing settler-colonialism: The sea beyond Palestine and the maritime BDS

by Nikolas Kosmatopoulos

This essay is part of a series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip

In this season of anniversaries, I wish to bring to memory the early summer 2010, when the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, the humanitarian fleet carrying cargo and solidarity activists sought to break the siege on Gaza. The flotilla was the boldest and bloodiest grassroots maritime campaign in the history of the international solidarity for Palestine. In international waters, the Israeli Navy attacked the fleet and killed nine civilians on the spot. Despite the brutal killings, the massive arrests, and the eventual blocking of the sea route, the Ships to Gaza constituted a watershed event that would be displaced in memory only by the Arab uprisings that arrived few months later. They caused a sea change that challenged the illegality and inhumanity of the siege before global audiences, uniting on board hundreds of people from all over the world. The ships were to the siege what a growing movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) is to the occupation: ample evidence that both are falling out of the consciousness of the world. Surely by serendipity, the ships went perhaps a bit further; they made the world conscious that the sea, not only the land, is about Palestine, politics, BDS. Continue reading

#AnthroBoycott, Anti-Capitalism, Articulation

by Ahmed Kanna

This essay is part of a series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip

What lessons does the short history of #AnthroBoycott hold for our organizing efforts in the future and what’s our place in the larger Trumpian moment?  That the boycott of Israeli academic institutions almost passed the general membership vote of the AAA in the spring of last year is a testament to the effectiveness of what even a small, committed group of activists can accomplish.  The tiny margin of our loss should always be seen in the larger and intensely hostile context in which our organizing efforts took place.  A number of malign factors confronted our efforts, among them that our discipline remains under the hegemony of a Cold War liberalism and, as many have observed, is yet to be fully de-colonized; the support of the “full might of the Israel lobby” enjoyed by our opponents; and their relentless attempts to distract from the basic issues of colonialism, racism, and occupation which are fundamental to any understanding of Israel – Palestine. Continue reading

Why Jewish Anthropologists Should Support the Boycott

by Les Field

This essay is part of a series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip

In June 2017 the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will pass the fifty year mark, and the “two-state solution,” an illusion that for years has received life support mainly from US politicians, seems to have lost its valence even in the United States. One year ago, the AAA resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions was defeated by the narrowest of margins. As a Jewish anthropologist, I have supported and continue to support BDS and the academic boycott of Israeli institutions because BDS is a non-violent and politically sophisticated path to expressing and acting upon critical analysis of the Occupation and the project of Israeli settler colonialism in Palestine.  I hope Jewish colleagues in anthropology will confront the Zionist backgrounds many if not most of them experienced as children and as adults, and ask themselves the most challenging questions they can. My grandmother always said “Its not easy to be a Jew,” and from my very different perspective, this is still the case. Continue reading

Insecure Exchanges

by Rhoda Kanaaneh

This essay is part of a series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip


I was born in the Palestinian village of Arrabeh but have spent most of the last twenty odd years in New York in the United States. My two homes are geographically distant from each other, but I’m often reminded of how closely linked they are.  President Trump’s promised wall is modeled after Israel’s. His attempted Muslim travel ban pales in comparison to Israel’s almost seven decade long ban against Palestinians who fled the war in 1948 and their descendants. Stories of police brutality and impunity, rates of incarceration, and prison conditions also bring these distant places close together.  Continue reading

Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory must be understood as part of the process of settler colonialism

This essay is part of a series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip

by J. Kēhaulani Kauanui

When does occupation come to an end? When the occupying power withdraws from the occupied territory or is driven out of it.  50 years too long, the Green Line was originally to be a demarcation line on the map while the armistice talks were going on, rather than a permanent border. The green ink used to draw the line itself has moved in practice, that brutal shift from “Israeli-occupied territories” to “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” Under international law Occupation is a form of administration by which an occupying power exercises government authority over occupied territory through military government. Continue reading

Support Democracy in the AAA. Vote Today!

Members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) recently received a series of emails from third-party pressure groups, urging them to vote against supporters of the boycott of Israeli institutions in the elections for the organization’s officers. Boycott opponents are using outside support to try and meddle in the organization’s democratic process. We hope that members will ignore this noise and vote for AAA office holders based on their merits.

As anthropologists, we believe that a critical global perspective, a suspicion of authoritarianism and state power, and an inclination to understand and even sympathize with the experiences of oppressed groups are meritorious qualities that we should look for in the AAA’s leadership.

As the United States faces a resurgence of right-wing nationalism, scholars face increasing challenges to our academic freedom. These include blacklists of faculty who express solidarity with Palestinians and other left-leaning causes, repression of labor organizers, and efforts of alt-right groups to infiltrate campus spaces. Now more than ever we need to support colleagues who will defend our academic and civic rights.

Support democracy in the association and in academia and vote in the upcoming AAA elections, which ends in only a few days — May 31st. AAA Members can access their ballots by clicking on this link and entering their login details. If that doesn’t work, go to www.americananthro.org, log in, and look for the “Vote” button on the right-hand side of the screen.