World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010

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· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Carleton University (Canada) / University of Exeter (UK)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Nahla Abdo & Ruba Salih

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: People have different ideas of what constitutes a nation. For Palestinians the imagined community is not a monolithic entity or a fixed reality. There are various ''Palestines'' which are constructed differently according to geography, gender, history of dislocation, class, as well as in terms of Palestinians’ historical-political location. Living in Diaspora or Exile is one of the most significant and persistent aspect of Palestinians’ identity and the lived experience of displacement represents the main standpoint from which various Palestines are discursively constructed. Yet, all these various imagined nation(s) are firmly anchored in a material history of dislocation and disenfranchisement in which Palestinians firmly inscribe themselves. A central theme of this panel will be to analyse the ways in which Palestinians located across the world produce a variety of ‘nations’ and of ‘nation-building projects’. While there has been (and understandably so) a noteworthy amount of studies on the living conditions, imagined homelands, memory dynamics, reconstruction processes, aspirations, histories of dispossessions of Palestinian refugees whose lives are still caught, sometimes across three generations, in a limbo, their ‘precarious predicament’ a sacred reminder of the unresolved Palestinian question (Dumper, 2007; Aruri, 2001; Peteet, 2005; Masalha, 2003; Al-Hardan, 2008), much less has been written on Palestinian diasporas at large.After the Oslo agreements, a few studies have started to address the experiences of returnees (Isotalo, 2004; Hammer, 2005), and only recently some attention has been devoted to the role, experiences, transnational ties, political cultures and nation-building projects of Palestinian diasporas who are citizens of one or more countries and who have managed, through various strategies of resisting and challenging state exclusionary practices and political diffidence, to get access to their host countries’ citizenship (Schultz, 2003; Hanafi, 1997; Peteet, 2007; Schiblack, 2005). These diasporas, albeit standing for a wide variety of experiences, have begun to experience a simultaneous process of incorporation in their countries of citizenship and in Palestinian nation-building, experiencing their multiple political, social and cultural positioning in dynamic and productive relation, rather than in tension, with their transnational symbolic and material ties to Palestine. We are interested in analysing the emergence of new constituencies, political cultures and projects, variably located in the Diaspora, or moving transnationally, and to analyse the ways in which these contribute to challenge both traditional Palestinian political cultures and party boundaries as well as new forms of sectarianism, emerging in contemporary Palestine. At a moment of serious and dramatic political, geographical, cultural fragmentation within the Palestinian political landscape, the panel invites papers illustrating and assessing the emergence of new political and cultural subjectivities in the Diaspora and their ability to formulate new creative transnational alliances across Palestine and the various sites of the Diaspora.

Chair: Ruba Salih (University of Exeter, United Kingdom)

Discussant: Nahla Abdo (Carleton University, Canada)

Paper presenter: Ronit Lentin (Trinity College, University of Dublin),"‘Co-memory and melancholia: Israeli culture and Palestinian displacement"
All Israeli Jews exist in the shadow of the dispossessed Palestinians on whose land they live. This paper discusses the meanings of this shadow for Israeli Jewish identity against the near universal denial of the Nakba and its effects in terms of Palestinian dispersal and entitlement, a denial which, in recent years, is beginning to be challenged. The paper explores how and why some Israeli Jews choose to engage in co-memorating the Nakba in Hebrew and what are the limits of this co-memoration practice. The paper theorizes the psychic re-production of Nakba co-memory by Israelis as emanating from deep melancholia about the disappearance of Palestine and the dispossession of the Palestinians. I argue that Freud’s differentiation, in ‘Mourning and melancholia’, between mourning: a finite process of coming to terms with the loss of a loved object, and melancholia: an unresolved pathology that can often destroy, provides an explanation for the preoccupation of some Israelis with the loss of Palestine, through, inter alia, commemorating the Nakba in Hebrew. The paper quotes from writings by Israeli Jewish authors who speak about that unresolved melancholic nostalgia for the land they destroyed and its disappearing Palestinians. I conclude by suggesting, after Judith Butler, that co-memorating the Nakba in Hebrew is one way of assuaging Israeli Jewish melancholia, and that such co-memorative practices ultimately amount to a narcissistic devouring of the colonized subject by the powerful colonizer of the land.

Paper presenter: Safa Aburabia (Ben Gurion University), “‘Living the Nakba memory’: The Diaspora Identity of the Naqab Palestinian Bedouin”
The Palestinians Bedouins are the indigenous inhabitants of the Naqab. During the 1948 Nakba, the majority of the Naqab’s Palestinian Bedouin were expelled from Palestine. The remaining people were rounded up and spent the next 18 years under military rule in an enclosed zone. Today, approximately 75,000 Palestinians Bedouins live in 7 impoverished townships, which are listed as the poorest municipalities in Israel. Another 75,000 Palestinians Bedouins live in 45 unrecognized villages by the State of Israel, deprived from basic services, subjected to home demolishing, and ignored by official government maps. This paper describes the struggle of the Bedouin to revive their past memory as an inseparable part of their exiled identity, using local strategies to preserve their historical link to their ancestral lands. The research is based primarily on ethnographic visits and interviews conducted with men, who experienced the transition from one way of life to another, after the 1948 Nakba. The purpose of this paper is to examine the implications of Palestinian Bedouin's forcible removal from their ancestral lands, referring to the ways Palestinian Bedouins construct their identity as an exiled people. On one hand they strengthen their sense of place through their ancestral lands that became a memory founder, and on the other hand they resist the forcible removal objecting their current location by visiting their lands, reviving their past, and developing their sense of alienation (g'orbe) towards their lives today.
The main innovation of the research is that the Nakba among the Palestinian Bedouins is a central component of their current exiled identity and not just a memory amongst the 1948 generation. It has become the exiled identity of the second, third and fourth generations of the Nakba, shaping their struggle for their lands ownership and their right of return.

Paper presenter: Ghada Karmi (University of Exeter), “Palestinians in the Diaspora: A Uniquely Political Community”
Diaspora communities have been the subject of many sociological, anthropological, historical and political studies. In particular, the concept of a Jewish ‘Diaspora’ has played an instrumental role in promoting the idea of ‘return’ in Zionist thinking. Yet the concept is more accurately applied to the Palestinian diaspora, dispersed outside the original homeland in a variety of places as a result of a historically documented process. While some Palestinians left the homeland on a voluntary basis for economic or social reasons, for the vast majority this dispersal is the result of political forces which still operate today to maintain that state of exile. This paper will argue that the Palestinian Diaspora is almost entirely politically created and its political character continually reinforced by events in the original homeland. This has shaped its behaviour in exile, its social characteristics, aspirations and plans for its future. This state of affairs has led to a persistent interaction with the home community and shaped the Palestinian struggle in the occupied territories. The paper analyses the implications of this interaction for a future settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Paper presenter: Giulia Daniele (Sant'Anna School Of Advanced Studies (Pisa) and University of Exeter), “The Palestinian Diaspora and the Right of Return: Debates around Alternative Solutions”
Since the 1948 (known as the Nakba, the Catastrophe, by Palestinians and the War of Independence by Israelis), the exile has represented an essential key point of the identitarian construction within the Palestinian nation-building perspective. In the individual and collective narratives, the Palestinian refugees’ question has been the core of the main official negotiations between the two contrasting sides. After the failure of the Oslo agreement and the international revival of the current debate regarding the viability of one or two-state solution, the research paper deals with the centrality of the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees’ discourse about the alternative strategies for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Which political process suggests a just and permanent answer to the issue of refugee return? Considering mainly the historical two-state solution (that would imply the building up of a fully sovereign Palestinian state in all the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, alongside the Jewish state of Israel) and the one-state perspective (as bi-national or secular, democratic and egalitarian state for all its citizens), my contribution wants to put forward a comparative analysis about the different fulfilment of both solutions on the subject of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their native lands. At the present time, the so-called ?facts on the ground?, shaping the geographical reality of the potential future Palestinian state through more and more new Israeli settlements, cantons and barriers, reflect the need to reconsider the meaning of the most favourable criteria to implement the Right of Return according to the UN Resolutions and the international law. If the status quo does not change the basic conditions in order to make feasible the establishment of a Palestinian state, will the vision of a single state be the only viable future chance within a long-term project of co-existence? Yet, it represents a crucial challenge through which both Palestinians and Israelis could become equal citizens, without any ethnic or racial or religious difference, going beyond the nationalistic dynamics of both peoples.

Paper presenter: Hassan Husseini (Carleton University), “Diaspora Palestinians and the One-State Alternative: A Critical Assessment”
Peace negotiations and plans from Oslo to Annapolis have not resulted in ending the conflict, or even halting the ongoing violence. Rather, the two most important ''achievements'' of the peace process have been: the fragmentation of the Palestinian body politic; and the end of the myth of the two-state solution. Up until the creation of the Palestinian Authority, Diaspora Palestinians played a key role in the struggle against occupation and for self-determination. It is my contention in this paper, that the Oslo peace process has severely fragmented the Palestinian people, robbed them of a collective political platform and diminished their capacity to contribute to the overall project of liberation and state building. I will argue in this paper that a key element for the success of the one-state model rests in the hands of the Palestinian Diaspora, who are increasingly engaged in discussing, debating and articulating a new discourse grounded in the search for alternatives to their continued dispossession.

Paper presenter: Nahla Abdo (Professor of Sociology-Carleton University), "Home As Exile: Palestinian Citizens in Israel"
Most literature on exile, Diaspora and transnationalism is concerned with movements and phenomena across borders, the movement to different geographies, and the adoption of a new home, otherwise known as the ‘host country’. In such literature the relationships and dynamics are often focused on the new/old comers and the new state/society. Contrary to this state of being, this paper will discuss a case where exile and Diaspora occur within the same geography in their homeland, to which a state has migrated: Palestinian citizens of Israel who live at home and in exile at the same time.
Before the establishment of the state of Israel, Palestine was the national home of the Palestinians. After the expulsion of about 80 per cent of them, the remaining 20 per cent, now amounting to about 1.2 million people continued to live on their ancestral lands, considering the country home. However, officially declared undesired and unwanted by the state which self-identifies as Jewish, Palestinian citizens have been rendered exilic, Diasporic and alienated without a sense of belonging to the state.
With this dramatic shift in the meaning of exile and Diaspora, this paper will try to explore the difference and perhaps uniqueness in living at home and in exile simultaneously.