World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010

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· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 11.30 am-1.30 pm

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

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Nahla Abdo and 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 represent 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: Sophie Richter-Devroe (University of Exeter)

Discussant: Nahla Abdo (Carleton University, Canada)

Paper presenter: Riina Isotalo (University of Helsinki), "Evading the right of return? On the negative consequences of de-politicising return to security and peace-building"
This paper looks first at the issue of ‘return to the place of origin or not’ that has been among the central obstacles for not including the refugee right of return in official negotiations between the conflict parties. Drawing on a brief review of international return research, the first part argues that whether the destination of return is the refugees’ original place does not determine either the ‘sustainability’ or the politico-military consequences of the return. More important is the relationship between return and communality and whether potential returnees and their recipients are included in, or at least accept, the process of defining the terms of the return. Taking its cue from ethnographic material collected among Palestinian return migrants on their return strategies and experiences, the paper then highlights the consequences of the absence of any rights-based or political resolution to Palestinian refugee problem to Palestinian return migration in empirical terms: heterogeneity, structural invisibility and transnational lifestyles. In light of this schema, the paper finally brings together and discusses some reasons why avoiding the right of return, a core issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by central Palestinian, Israeli and international stakeholders has not enhanced security and peace-building in spite of their belief that pragmatism, as opposed to a rights-based solution in accordance to international legislation, would gradually lead to the disappearance of refugee problem as a political issue.

Paper presenter: Ruba Salih (University of Exeter) ‘Reconciling ''integration'' and the right of return. Rethinking Palestinian refugeehood’
The paper will present the preliminary results of a research project on how political contingencies and forms of sovereignties impinge upon diasporic political cultures and refugeehood in the Palestinian context. In particular, I would like to investigate how Palestinians reconcile the right of return with strategies of survival and demands that ask for them to be politically visible and effective. Palestinian refugees and particularly those in the West Bank, by virtue of their paradoxical position as displaced and rooted, insiders and outsiders, expression of longing and belonging, here and there, are amongst the most interesting actors of a new political culture that offers potentially emancipatory and radically transformative political thought.

Paper presenter: Taylor Long (American University of Beirut) ‘Governance and Governmentalities in the Palestinian Refugee Camps of Lebanon: Crisis of the Nation-building Project’
Based upon data collected from four focus groups, this paper examines life in the Nahr al-Bared, Beddawi, and ‘Ayn al-Hilweh refugee camps in Lebanon from a governance perspective. The authors contend that a lack of legitimate governance structures in the camps has inhibited the improvement of socioeconomic and living conditions for the residents and jeopardized the security of Palestinians and Lebanese alike. I will discuss the history of Palestinian governance in Lebanon, the securitization of the camps, and following Georgio Agamben, ‘the state of exception’ that prevails within them. Furthermore, the authors posit that, in the near-absence of legitimate government, Islamism and an ‘economy of morals’ has helped ensure the daily functioning of the camps. The space of the camps has four principal functions: a place of habitat, economic space, a space of memory and identity affirmation, and a space for exercising power. These functions render the camp a laboratory of Palestinian society/state-in-the-making, but also an experimental laboratory for control and surveillance, and a technical model of repression developed by its sovereigns’ know-how, implemented and deployed in other parts of the world that do not ‘behave.’

Paper presenter: Madalena Santos (Carleton University) ‘The heft of the racialized citizen’s other: The exclusion of Palestinian citizenship rights in Occupied Palestine’
In Origins of totalitarianism (1958), Hannah Arendt posits the notion of the ‘right to have rights’ as the ability to enjoy rights enabled only through formalized legal membership in a nation-state (298). Arendt’s assertion has been critiqued for its reductionist conception of citizenship and the limits it places on broader definitions of citizenship. Yet while Arendt’s conception is one that confines citizenship to the nation-state, I argue that it is only through the nation-state that citizens are currently able to enjoy both the three tiered concept of citizenship put forward by T.H. Marshall and the international conception of universal human rights as enshrined by the United Nations Declaration. Although outside of this context different imaginings of citizenship are possible, it nevertheless remains that the nation-state is the body which provides for the realization of rights. This is not a contentious claim; however it is necessary to discuss the significance of legal citizenship which is often taken for granted or glossed over in citizenship studies. In my research paper, I explore the importance of Arendt’s claim of the right to have rights in relation to Audrey Macklin’s (2007) notions of' ‘the citizen’s other’ and ‘the heft of citizenship’ through an examination of rights discourse and practice concerning Palestinians in occupied Palestine. Specifically, I examine the lack of security, mobility, land and entry rights for Palestinians and what implications the lack of formal rights have on this occupied people. In so doing, I reflect upon the theoretical issue of race-thinking as a political ideology put forward by Arendt in her seminal work, as well as the practice and process of creating a racialized ‘other’ (Abu-Laban & Bakan 2008; Mills 1997). I contend that beneath the international community’s disregard for the formal recognition of Palestinians to a non-occupied state and the consequent enjoyment of formal citizenship rests race-thinking. The failure of the international community to acknowledge its own race-thinking as the rationale behind the exclusion of Palestinian citizenship rights amounts to the acquiescence of such and further mirrors the interests and power relations of the colonial West. To complicate my study, I explore the significance of symbolic transnational citizenship in the political calls for boycott divestment sanction from within occupied Palestine and the international recognition and support for this call which may lead to legal rights to the state. Through this conversation, I make a case for a greater critical examination and discussion of rights for those who are not recognized under any state and the racialized basis for their exclusion.