Additional Palestine/Israel Panels at #AAA2015

We are very excited about the set of six panels that we have organized related to the boycott for this November’s annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in Denver.

In addition, we provide information below on some panels featuring papers related to Palestine/Israel that we have not organized. For more details, contact the participants listed.


The Jewish Question Again: Palestine, Europe, and the Elementary Structures of Expulsion

Wednesday, 18 November, 4-5:45pm, CCC 205 (Colorado Convention Center)

Featuring Nadia Abu El-Haj, Gil Anidjar, Joyce Dalsheim, Irene Silverblatt, Jonathan Boyarin, Gregory Starrett

The strange and the familiar are not opposites that might be reconciled or transformed one into the other. They are qualities that intersect and alternate in complex ways without losing their moral force or relinquishing their hold over us, because they depend on each other for their meaning. Those meanings consist of multiple points of view. The stranger is sometimes our neighbor, and is often as familiar to us–even in imaginary or diabolical form–as we are to ourselves. In the same way, the roots of our own most intimate perceptions and commitments often appear vexing, obscure, and somehow foreign, uncanny. Sometimes we need to shift our point of view by reminding ourselves of what we already know and where we have already been in order to make theoretical progress. Contemporary debates about Jewish settler-colonialism in Israel/Palestine, Palestinian aspirations to statehood, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Europe, and the divisive politics surrounding these issues owe much to deep histories of racialized thinking and the production of theological and political enemies of “Europe”. Some of the processes that helped produce the chauvinistic nationalisms of the nineteenth century also underpinned the establishment by the broader “international community” of the state of Israel, which is now derided for being precisely what it was set up to be: an ethno-national state proposed as the solution to the acute problem of ethno-nationalism. Solving “the Jewish problem” participated in the removal of indigenous Jews from Europe and elsewhere, and helped create the categories of Jew and Arab as enemies. While none of this is news, these deeper histories seem to have dropped out of many of the current debates in the academy, which counsel practical political engagements while disregarding many of the theoretical resources developed by the human sciences over the last half century. This roundtable explores the dilemma of approaching justice through the recognition of political difference in the absence of recognizing the historical structures through which that difference has been generated. Focusing on the continuities and contradictions between the legacy of the Jewish Question in Europe and contemporary debates about Israel and Palestine, we will discuss some of the ways in which the intellectual frameworks of theology, along with racism and ethno-nationalism as objective structures, reproduce patterns of exclusion and violence. Despite decades of theorization, these patterns are consistently reproduced in the very conceptual frameworks and practical activities that appear to be their solution.


Epistemologies and Ontologies of the Familiar/Strange Among Middle Eastern Forcibly Displaced Populations

Wednesday, 18 November, 4-5:45pm, CCC 707 (Colorado Convention Center)

Featuring Giulia El Dardiry, Lindsay Gifford, Tory Brykalski, Sofian Merabet, Michal Ran-Rubin, Carola Tize, Sarah Tobin

The Middle East is currently the source and the host of some of the largest forcibly displaced populations in the world. Seeking security and stability, millions of people from the region have moved into and through social spaces that are at once strange and familiar and in which they themselves are both familiar and strange to others. Though ostensibly still in their country, internally displaced persons (IDPs) must leave their homes to find safety elsewhere; fellow citizens and government officials may receive them in a spirit of hospitality and fraternity, or one of suspicion and hostility. As asylum-seekers flee into neighboring Middle Eastern states, tensions may arise over scarce resources or divergent political aspirations; nevertheless, kinship, economic linkages or cultural, religious and linguistic similarities may also serve to tie them to host communities. In cases of third-country resettlement, Middle Eastern refugees must navigate sociocultural differences as they seek to integrate into new communities where popular discourses often represent them as culturally incompatible; however, such fraught encounters may also open up new opportunities for cultural creativity, networking and cross-pollination. All too often, however, much of the scholarship on ‘displaced’ actors has disproportionately emphasized their estrangement from places and people, thus obscuring the ways in which forms and techniques of familiarity are crucial in shaping their experiences. Drawing on sustained ethnographic research in diverse sites, this panel seeks to destabilize this focus on ‘estrangement’ by engaging with the lived experiences of forcibly displaced people from the Middle East. In so doing, it will examine how ‘displaced’ actors, host communities, governments and international and local agencies recognize, navigate, embody, conceptualize and respond to ‘humanitarian crises’ through a lens of the familiar/strange, and how such a paradigm may inform ways of thinking and acting vis-à-vis such situations. By investigating how refugees inhabit shared spaces with host communities, envision new futures or strategize to work with and against bureaucratic systems and international agencies that alternately make them ‘familiar’ or ‘strange’, these papers collectively foreground the creativity of ‘displaced’ actors. Specifically, the panel engages with projects addressing: the use of iris scanners to assign “Syrian” and “Lebanese” identities at the Lebanon-Syria border; the shifting experience of being both refugees and hosts among Iraqis, Syrians and Jordanians in Amman; the encounter between well-established and newly-arrived Iraqi refugees in El Cajon, CA, and the revitalization of Iraqi culture through changing rituals; the bodily practices and aspirations of gay Syrian refugees in Beirut navigating an urban landscape of familiar phobias; the re-familiarization of contested places through mapping techniques among Palestinian IDPs within the 1949 Green Line; and the imagined futures of Palestinian youth from Lebanon living in Germany without clear legal status. Through these diverse papers, of interest to both AAA and MESA members, this panel deepens our understanding of how forced displacement, far from being a singular event, is rather a continuous process of distance making grounded in forms of estrangement and familiarity, and conditioned by political, historical and social forces.


“History Moves in Slow Motion and the Future is Speeding Toward Us”: Palestinian and Israeli Visual Economies and Representational Strategies

Thursday, 19 November, 1:45-3:30pm, Centennial F (Hyatt Regency)

Featuring Maryam Kashani, Sarah Ihmoud, Sabah Fatima Haider

Filmmaking in Palestine and Israel has a long history that has been intimately tied to relations of power and visuality. Relationships around land, home, and identity are much contested, but likewise offer a unique challenge to filmmakers and anthropologists who attempt to challenge “familiar” narratives and oppositions, as well as the familiar tropes of “giving voice” and “suffering.” In recent years, words like “opaque,” “invisible,” and “slow-burning” have been used to describe work being produced in the region. How are visual anthropologists and documentary filmmakers “estranging” the notion of “conflict” and the visual economies (Poole 1997) that both constitute and animate it? This installation considers the “force of the image” in both colonial power and self-making (Ramaswamy 2014) by examining approaches to conflict, dispossession, resistance, and everyday life in Israeli and Palestinian filmmaking. What role do visual representations–of both presence and absence–play in claims to land, nationhood, and history? What alternative political imaginaries and spaces of resistance are opened or performed by Palestinian filmmakers and others who have utilized film to reenvision the Palestinian national project? How do Palestinian filmmakers reenvision freedom in ways that exceed the boundaries of the nation state or struggles to reclaim indigenous land and resources–the dream space, diasporic locations and other forms of deterritorialized sovereignty? Our two-channel installation begins with two screens presenting: 1) films shot in Palestine before 1948 (made available by the Spielberg Archive), which represent the Palestinian people and the Jewish presence in historical Palestine pre-1948 and in the early period of state formation and 2) Palestinian and Israeli documentaries and ethnographic representations that complicate hegemonic narratives of a “land without people for a people without a land,” beginning with excerpts from Mustafa Abu-Ali’s THEY DO NOT EXIST (1974) and continuing with more contemporary forms of representation (such as the work of Basma Al-Sharif, Kamal Aljafari, and Lia Tarachansky). Posters from the “Visualizing Palestine” collective and recent articles and interviews with filmmakers will be available to further educate members on specific films and commentary and/or analysis of films. The first hour of the installation will be dedicated to the screenings of the films themselves. The final 45 minutes will be dedicated to a roundtable discussion (with visual anthropologist/filmmaker Sabah Haider) and Q&A.


The Anthropology of Hope and the Futures of the Middle East

Friday, 20 November, 4-5:45pm, CCC 109 (Colorado Convention Center)

Featuring Noa Shaindlinger, Daniel Monterescu, Shea McManus, Bård Helge Kårtveit, Mariz Momtaz Shaker Kelada, Dan Rabinowitz

How would an anthropology of hope look like in region too often studied within tropes like ‘violence’ and ‘terror’? Hope, as a structure of feeling and a forward-looking cluster of promise, has a checkered history and genealogy in the Middle East. In colonial regimes, hope may assume the form of accommodation, opportunism and a wishful thinking to reap the benefits of collaboration with foreign powers. This was the scope of action of many Levantine minorities (Greek, Turkish, Italian, Jewish) as well as indigenous elites under French and British colonial rule from the mashriq to the maghreb (notably the Maronites in Lebanon and urban Jewish elites in Algiers). Anti-colonial struggle and Third Worldism framed hope within the national liberation movements. From Al-Wafd Party in Egypt to Nasserism and pan-Arabism, hope was predicated on political mass mobilization. From the the 1960s the PLO came to symbolize the global struggle for decolonization advancing notions such as the armed struggle (kifah musallah) and steadfastenss (Sumud). In these movements hope was framed within a series of strategies and tactics of active and passive resistance. Throughout the region universalist ideologies such as Marxism and Islamism offered alternative programs for dissolving structures of power. The postcolonial condition continues to challenge notions of resistance and hope for change as national liberation movements failed to deliver on their promise while in Palestine the colonial occupation still endures. The 2011 Arab Uprisings were yet another movement of a hopeful trans-regional mobilization which tragically shattered hopes for a better future. While the politics of hope is inevitably rooted in collective imaginaries, ethnographers cannot overlook personal agency and the ways in which life histories articulate tensions with forms of mobilization. In addition, hope is often very much about the ways in which people choose to remember the past as it is about fantasizing futurity. This panel includes papers from a variety of disciplinary approaches to address hope in theory and practice as it multiply manifests all over the MENA.

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