Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry


Editor's Note

In the life of a scholarly journal there sometimes occur moments when radically different perspectives converge on a theme or argument. That is the case with the following group of essays. The first is written by Saree Makdisi, a Palestinian scholar who has studied the occupation of his country for many years and has attempted to analyze the institutions, languages, and political forces that sustain that occupation. The subsequent essays constitute a dossier of reflections by Israeli scholars writing from the standpoint of the occupiers, seeking to understand the history of the occupation and to reflect on the moral and political issues that accompany it. Organized by Ariel Handel and Ruthie Ginsburg, “Israelis Studying the Occupation” originated in the desire of a group of Israeli scholars to engage with Palestinians and international experts at a conference on Critical Geography that took place in Ramallah in 2015. As with so many attempts to find common ground in Israel/Palestine, this desire was frustrated. The present forum, therefore, is basically an attempt to name and locate that common ground as the occupation itself and to engage in reflection from the standpoints of both the occupied and the occupier.




Saree Makdisi - Apartheid / Apartheid / [   ]

“APARTHEID: by itself the word occupies the terrain like a concentration camp,” wrote Jacques Derrida in an issue of this journal thirty-three years ago. “This last-born of many racisms is also the only one surviving in the world, at least the only one still parading itself in a political constitution. It remains the only one on the scene to dare to say its name and to present itself for what it is: a legal defiance taken by homo politicus, a juridical racism and a state racism.” In reply to a critique by Anne McClintock and Rob Nixon, Derrida restated one of his central claims: “Apartheid designates today in the eyes of the whole world, beyond all possible equivocation or pseudonymy, the last state racism on the entire planet."


Ariel Handel and Ruthie Ginsburg - Israelis Studying the Occupation: An Introduction

The idea for the present collection was conceived in the beginning of 2015, following a call for papers for the seventh International Conference of Critical Geography that was held in Ramallah. As we were critical researchers interested in the conference topics, this call raised an immediate dilemma. On the one hand, we would be obviously happy to submit a paper or organize a session in a conference that has a tradition of innovative and fascinating thought, particularly when it is being held so close to our homes in Tel Aviv. On the other hand, we weren’t sure that as Israelis, we would be welcome at all in a conference being held in the occupied West Bank. Beyond our interest in the conference topics, a question of etiquette also came up: What is worse, inviting yourself to a party at which you may be unwelcome or ignoring it completely? In other words, if the Israeli critical community shuns a major international conference held in the West Bank, is not that problematic in and of itself?


Hagar Kotef - Fragments

How can a critique be formulated when its material conditions are the object of critique? One can criticize one’s state, to be sure—its violence, its wars. But how can one question the legitimacy of one’s own home; how can one point to the wrongs that are embedded into the very nature of her or his political existence? What would it mean for a Jewish Israeli not simply to write against the occupation but to recognize that her or his home is historically conditioned upon the destruction of Palestinians’ homes? What would it mean for her or him to recognize that her or his attachment to this place is founded upon a history—not such a distant history—of violence and conditioned, at least to some extent, on the perpetuation of this violence? (And since Israel has become a paradigm of a certain kind of leftist critique, it is worth noting that the only difference between Israel and other settler colonies such as the United States or Australia is temporal density.) Once we move to engage in such a critique, there is no more separation between the I who writes and her or his object of critique, that is, the state and its doings (military and police violence, planning policy, legal discrimination). The I itself becomes the object of critique and her or his voice—the place from which she or he speaks, her or his language, the dialogues available for her or him—can no longer pretend to assume a position which is simply and clearly oppositional to injustice.


Hilla Dayan -  For Occupation Studies, To Cultivate Hope

Can a settler society play any role in an anticolonial struggle? What is the role of knowledge produced in academia, and what is its relevance to the place where it is articulated? These questions were raised separately, yet both had to do with the Israeli left and more concretely the left in academia. In the company of different audiences and on two very different occasions doubts were cast as to its very existence and viability. The first question was raised at a conference organized by the Palestine Society at the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in October 2015, which brought Israeli and Palestinian scholars to reflect on Israeli society from within the settler-colonial studies framework. The second question was grappled with at a seminar titled “Knowledge in This Place,” organized by the Minerva center at Tel Aviv University (TAU), in January 2015. Remarkable in its deep sense of pessimism, the address at SOAS by the renowned scholar Ilan Pappe tapped into the audience’s common sense, underlining the harsh reality of the lack of significant opposition within settler society. His implicit answer to the question was that Israeli society is anyhow irrelevant to the anticolonial struggle. His advice for the handful few who are aligned with this struggle was to take their cue from the leadership of the resistance, in itself disappointingly lacking a vision for this settler society’s future. At the more intimate seminar at TAU, which was a unique and important event squarely addressing issues not commonly thought of in Israeli academia, the tone was equally somber. Many lamented the marginality, irrelevance, and futility of critical knowledge in the absence of any meaningful hope for change. Of particular concern was the drift of academia further in the direction of subservience to the state in its ultra-Zionist, technocratic, neoliberal vision for society. At London and Tel Aviv respectively the very source of despair seemed to be not so much the strength of the colonial state, the weakness of the Israeli left, or the irrelevance of critical knowledge, but Israeli society itself—a hard-edged object, immovable and frozen in time.


Maya Rosenfeld - The Transformation around the Corner

Mariam Abu Ghalous, one of my closest old-time friends in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp (immediately to the south of the West Bank town of Bethlehem), died in February 2015, succumbing to a series of fatal strokes she had suffered several months earlier. Even though I was well aware of her serious condition, the news of Mariam’s death hit me like a sudden, unexpected blow, straight to the middle of the chest. Mariam, the rebel, the fighter, the utterly generous and utterly impoverished homemaker, the totally dedicated and impossibly overburdened mother of nine, the nonorthodox, nonconformist believer, the progressive, knowledgeable conversation partner, the stubborn, resilient woman who kept a mischievous spark in her eye throughout, is gone.


Amal Jamal - 1967 Bypassing 1948: A Critique of Critical Israeli Studies of Occupation

The number of studies seeking to explain the technologies of Israeli rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) from 1967 has been on the rise in the last two decades, due in part to the persistent Israeli occupation and dwindling chances for a possible withdrawal from these territories. This possibility directly contradicts the Israeli government’s agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which opened up the possibility for a Palestinian state in these areas: in other words, the two-state formula, which aimed to separate Israel from millions of Palestinians and stabilize the status quo. However, the intensified settlement process vis-à-vis the future Palestinian state has led many Israeli scholars to admit that the Israeli presence in these areas is not temporary.


Irus Braverman - Renouncing Citizenship as Protest: Reflections by a Jewish Israeli Ethnographer

The events of summer 2014 and the painful realizations that they invoked have led me to consider renouncing my Israeli citizenship. Contemplating what may seem like a straightforward stance of resistance, I have come to realize how complex it actually is. This short essay considers renunciation as an act of protest from the standpoint of a Jewish Israeli legal ethnographer and geographer . . . . [The essay] foregrounds the following questions: aren’t all modern states founded upon bloodshed? And, if so, shouldn’t all citizens be renouncing their citizenship? Or from the opposite angle: why bother replacing one flawed citizenship with another? In my own case, how is my current US citizenship better than the Israeli one that I am considering renouncing? What, if any, is a citizen’s responsibility vis-à-vis her nation-state(s), and how far back does this responsibility go? As a citizen of the United States, am I now responsible for slavery? For the war in Iraq? For the continued oppression of people of color and the ongoing colonization of Puerto Rico? And does this responsibility change if I hold double or even multiple citizenships? . . . In any case, the renunciation of citizenship as protest cannot be a renunciation of responsibility to redress injustice, a shedding of liabilities; it is, rather, a taking on of enhanced responsibility, an act of care.