World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010

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PALESTINIAN DIASPORAS, POLITICAL CULTURES AND TRANS/NATIONAL BUILDING PROJECTS - 3/3: Transnational Activism and Research Agendas (231) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 2.30-4.30 pm

· 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: Dr. Ronit Lentin(Trinity College, University of Dublin.)

Paper presenter: Anaheed Al-Hardan (Trinity College, University of Dublin), "Palestine, Memory and the Right of Return Movement"
The Palestinian refugee community in Syria today is one that has been and continues to be shaped by the post-1948 Palestinian refugee experience, the Palestinian national movement and the community’s unique Syrian context. More recently, this locality of Palestinian refugees has seen the emergence of a Right of Return Movement (RoRM) whose visions, aims and goals all point to staking a claim in Palestinian national politics in order to reinsert the right of return back into the centre following its marginalisation after the Oslo Accords. Beyond this political claim making, the RoRM can also be analysed as a social movement; this allows for the examination of the movement’s local, rather than solely national, community context. To this end, in this paper I first examine debates on the nature of the Palestinian refugee communities in Syria and elsewhere. I move beyond these debates by examining this community’s unique experience in Syria which, I argue, is the basis for the simultaneous theorisation of the Palestinians in Syria as politico-legal, refugee, national and memory communities. I move the argument forward through a discussion of the Palestinian national institutional context in Syria and the way in which the RoRM in particular emerged out of this context. In the final section, I analyse the way in which the RoRM as a grassroots social movement mobilises Nakba memory in order to further its goals. The high currency placed on Nakba memory by this movement, I contend, points to its high currency within the community.

Paper presenter: Gabriella Rossetti (University of Ferrara), "Committed outsiders: new political cultures from shared meanings of 'Palestine'’
‘Palestine’ and ‘Palestinians’ are constructions which come to life always within relationships. The ‘imagined communities’ are shaped in dialogues not only between members of the diaspora and their memories and communities, but also in relation to non-Palestinians who, for different reasons, claim the right to share, as ‘involved or committed outsiders’, the symbolic energies of those meanings. Political cultures are produced by these encounters and produce, in turn, a variety of ‘imagined Palestines’ which might reinforce, weaken, hollow and transform the meanings established in the life experience of exiles and diaspora members as well as of resident Palestinians.Choices are made by the committed outsiders among the different facets of the cluster of meanings representing Palestine and Palestinians to their eyes; meanings are selected according to the life experience, affiliation and other deep individual motives which sustain actions of ‘solidarity’ and ‘activism’, experts' work in projects and programs (bridge builders/peace makers, development workers) and also academic research and individual and collective learning programs. The processes and the results of such encounters are worth an effort in in depth analysis which will show the trade offs, the obstacles and exchanges in stories of mutual recognition and sometimes ‘negative reciprocity’. The political cultures thereby identified shed some light on the tensions between sameness and difference, differently located ideas of justice, individual and collective labeling, empowering and disabling uses of ‘nation’ and ‘nationality’ along with their multifaceted symbolic and political energies. Based on a long experience of ‘committed participant observation’ in different programs (women''s mainly, but not only) which entail the establishment of links, common shared activities with Palestinian women, the paper will present some results of these researches and observations.

Paper presenter: Sophie Richter-Devroe (University of Exeter), "Thank You! I have my own anarchic situation here. I don’t need more anarchists or egos to come and interfere: Competing Political Cultures in and for Palestine"
The spatial dismemberment of the Palestinian community has resulted in the fragmentation of political action giving rise to new forms of more local manifestations of activism and resistance. Paradoxically, spatially divided localised political cultures at times expose closer links to projects and discourses outside rather than inside the West Bank; they are constituted by and themselves constitute diasporic and/or transnational political movements. For example, Ramallah, where most governmental, non-governmental and international organisations are based, has become increasingly oriented towards the global. Similarly, villages engaged in non-violent anti-wall protests have close links with international solidarity movements. While the impact of international donor agendas on local Palestinian agendas (and vice versa) has received intense academic attention, the interrelations between less formally organised transnational social movements and local (-ised) political cultures inside the West Bank deserves further study. My paper aims to contribute to this task. Focussing particularly on the gendered aspects of political culture, and based on ca. 70 semi-structured interviews, several focus groups and many informal conversations with mainly Palestinian women from the West Bank during 2007-9, I aim to shed light upon the impact and reception that transnational, and/or diasporic political projects for Palestine have on local political cultures in Palestine. I will show that some political projects, such as, for example, feminist non- (or even anti-) nationalist struggles or non-violent resistance activism, tend to have stronger constituencies outside Palestine. If they are adopted as a framework inside, they often remain isolated within localised, competing circles. Many Palestinians are sceptical of the multiplicity of political projects proposed for Palestine, fearing that these might further fragment and paralyze the Palestinian national struggle. Trying to cope with the some what ‘anarchic situation’ and the political, social and spatial fragmentations that dominate their everyday lives, some find that they ‘don’t need more anarchists or egos to come and interfere’ (Author Interview, ‘Hiba’, 2008). By tracing how political movements from without are received, negotiated and adopted within I hope to highlight some of the differences that exist between and among different local, transnational and diasporic political projects for and in Palestine.

Paper presenter: Isis Nusair (Denison University), "Crossing Boundaries: Local and Transnational Feminist Thinking and Practice on Palestine"
My paper will examine transnational feminist thinking and practice on Palestine. It analyzes how such discourses contribute to the emergence of new constituencies that challenge geographic and national boundaries as well as political affiliations. It also assesses the formulation of transnational alliances across Palestine and the various sites of the emergent diaspora. In particular, the paper analyzes the work of the Salma Network and the production of the first anthology on ethnicity and gender among Palestinians in Israel. These two cases illustrate how feminist scholars and activists are using strategies that are simultaneously locally and transnationally grounded, and the ways in which they are crossing boundaries and redefining the meaning of place, space, homeland and diaspora.

Paper presenter: Carmen Caruso (MA Student-University of London, UK), "Nationality: indetermined. Voices of the Palestinian diaspora in Italy"
Because of the rapid social and economic transformations that occurred in the 20th century, culture, locality and ethnicity no longer presuppose fixed boundaries nor are they neatly contained. They are rather unbound by circuits of people, commodities, capital, images, and ideas. At present, migrations are a structural factor of global capitalism and ‘diaspora’ has become an increasingly popular concept along with terms such as ‘transmigrants’, ‘deterritorialization’, forming a new lexicon of cultural globalization (cfr. Anthias, Kofman and Yuval-Davis, 2005; Appadurai, 1996; Glick Schiller, Szanton Blanc & Basch 1994).Within this framework, diasporas challenge the idea of cultural identity as something monolithic. The relatively stable representations of community and group memberships, by-products of nineteenth century nationalisms, are put into question. What is more, diasporas predate nation-states (Cohen, 1997).In this regard, the Palestinian exodus proves to be a peculiar case through which to look at those issues: not only it represents a specific case of migration but it also sheds light on the contradictions around the exclusive concept of citizenship and the supposed homogeneity of the nation-state (Schultz, 2003). The aim of this work is, therefore, to analyze possible forms of Palestiniannes (Sanbar, 2005) in Italy, according to the narratives of people that preserve and reproduce it. The work is developed through a sociological inquiry in order to analyse the Palestinian presence in Italy. In particular, qualitative methods of research have been used as a means to focus in depth on personal experiences and to give breadth to, if any, cultural and political claims. The scientific literature on diaspora is used to verify whether it is helpful to describe and comprehend this phenomenon and, accordingly, to raise more general theoretical questions. ltimately, this approach locates the Palestinian diaspora experience in Italy within a wider context, say, between the exodus from Palestine and the contemporary age of global migration (Castles and Miller, 1999). The analysis of the interviews, therefore, provide an opportunity not only to reconsider and widen concepts such as identity and diaspora as potential categories to bridge the gap between the global and the local, but also to combine the cultural and the political dimension of contemporary migrations.