MESA Banner
Geographies of Domination and Dispossession in Palestine

Panel VIII-26, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • In May 1948, war in Palestine redrew the British colonial-era boundary between Palestine and Transjordan creating a previously non-existent border between the newly established state of Israel and an enlarged Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Following a United Nations-sponsored armistice agreement between Jordan and Israel in April 1949, the United Nations addressed the needs of the vast Palestinian refugee population. UN General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV), “Assistance to Palestine Refugees,” of 8 December 1949 charged a new organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) with ensuring aid and works programs for Palestinian refugees now under its care. Subject to the armistice agreement, the Jordanian government became responsible for policing the armistice line and the territory it had annexed while the lives of Palestinians living in villages and refugee camps in Jordan’s new frontier zone were being re-shaped by post-war displacement, loss, and deprivation. Jordanian officers arrested citizens and refugees for a range of crimes, which appear in the sijillat jara’im (register of crimes) that I found for the Hebron District for the years 1951-1953. UNRWA set up 19 refugee camps on the Jordanian West Bank by 1965, two of which, al-Arrub and al-Fawwar, were established in the Hebron District in 1949 and are included in the register of crimes I analyze. Some of the arrest records indicate that the Jordanian Public Prosecutor tried cases on behalf of UNRWA against people accused of theft, buying and selling stolen property, forging UNRWA rations cards, and assault against Palestinian employees of UNRWA. Many excellent studies have been published over the decades examining inter alia UNRWA’s impact on Palestinians’ lives, life in the refugee camps, and on relief efforts. Legal analyses have focused on the structure of UNWRA within the international refugee regime that developed in the years following World War II, as the Palestinian Nakba came just a few years after Europe and the United Nations were grappling with the massive demands posed by displaced persons around the world resulting from hostilities, decolonization, and regional conflicts. Absent from the scholarly record is a history of the legal relationship between UNRWA and the Jordanian government. The current study concentrates on Hebron and its surrounding villages and refugee camps during the early 1950s while focusing on the history of UNRWA, its relationship with the Jordanian government, and on Palestinians’ lived experiences in the Hebron District, under the legal framework established between Jordan and UNRWA.
  • Chloé Chbat
    For this study, I operationalize the theory of “bodies as borders”, “border elasticity”, and “self-bordering” in a settler-colonial setting specific to Israeli / Palestinian relations though comprehensive field research. Bodies as borders refers to the idea that the borders follow Palestinian movement and their location and enforcement are based on Palestinian movement and residence, border elasticity refers to the constantly shifting borderings in and around Israel and the OPT based on the notion of elastic sovereignty, and self-bordering refers to instances and episodes where Palestinians have decided not to engage in a certain activity (go to work, go to a medical appointment, etc.) due to elastic borderings and interactions with the Israeli military. This research looks at seemingly disjointed episodes of categorization within Palestinian communities and evaluates how these categories reflect different degrees of spatialities of power. These episodes include the experiences of Palestinian laborers in the West Bank, Palestinian patients in Gaza, Palestinian Bedouins in the Naqab (Negev), and Palestinians from East Jerusalem who are met with the effects of Israeli settler colonial tactics in different ways, but demonstrate a similar pattern of bordering an indigenous community. The framework of analysis of “bodies as borders” identifies the importance of seeking answers in the liminal spaces that are created by the effect of settler colonialism on the bordering of an indigenous group in the production of state space. Through time Palestinian bodies have become shaped by their constructed existence within and around Israeli social relations. The settler colonial framework shapes our understanding of the concepts of bordering, elastic sovereignty, and self-bordering, but when combined with this case study, pushes us to see how the framework should alter our previous understanding of the border as a physical space in Israel and the OPT. The congruity of settler colonialism and bordering debates, joined with political, economic, social, and cultural factors in Israel and the OPT, lead to the understanding of behavioural and identity narrative alterations that shape the colonised existence of the indigenous Palestinian people.
  • Yair Agmon
    Drawing on extensive ethnographic field-work in East Jerusalem, this paper tracks the rapid Jewish territorialization of the Wadi Rababa neighborhood in Silwan—a valley considered ‘untouched’ by modern development and the figurative backyard of the city, serving in different historical moments as landfill, burial site, and dumping grounds. In 2020 Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) deemed the privately owned Palestinian olive groves at Wadi Rababa as an unkempt part of the Old City Walls National Park, prompting the Jerusalem municipality to issue “gardening decrees” in order to make the private lands useable for the public. The NPA turned control of the project to “revive” the barren landscape to the private settler organization Elad, who set out to “rejuvenate” the valley by building an ecologically focused educational park teaching biblical agricultural techniques. Over the past two years and under the auspice of conservation and environmentalism Elad has seized more and more land, and radically changed the visual and demographic makeshift of Wadi Rababa’s landscape. This paper argues that the century-long desire to “make the desert bloom” continues to mask colonial processes of elimination (Wolfe 2016), currently performed through an ecologically moralizing discourse that disavows Palestinian ways of life, relationship to land, and sovereignty. Indeed, notions of cleanliness and purity of landscape have long been mobilized by colonial powers to re-imagine Palestine as an uninhabited “wasteland,” absent of culture and peoples—an emptiness that justified settlement and denied sovereignty to a racialized colonial Other (Benvenisti 2000; Stein 2009; Long 2009; Baumann and Massalha 2021; Makdisi 2022; Kaminer 2022). More recently, Anthropologist Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins has suggested that the colonial logic of wasteland has been flipped. Since the Oslo accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, material waste has been used by Israel to lay siege to the everyday lives of Palestinians, who are inundated with Israeli trash, coerced to buy disposable cheap goods, and cut from the resources needed to manage their own waste (Stamatopoulou-Robbins 2020). Thus, it is the excess of waste and toxicity that are mobilized as evidence of mismanagement and the indigenous peoples’ inaptitude for self-governance (Baumann and Massalha 2021). This paper thus expands the notion of “waste siege” to demonstrate that the denial of sovereignty based on notions of an environmental discourse in the settler-colonial context is predicated on racial categories that are coded through a moralizing discourse of cleanliness and purity of the land.
  • In the summer of 1967, Israel occupied and ethnically cleansed the Jordan Valley, transferring the vast majority of its Palestinian population towards the East Bank of the Jordan River. This included tens of thousands of Palestine refugees who had settled in the Jordan Valley following the onset of the Nakba in 1948. At the time, this paper argues, Israel envisaged the Jordan Valley as an empty frontier, which materialised at the expense of Palestinians’ land and flesh; In the months that followed the occupation, Israel organised and implemented three intertwined strategies against the Palestinian population of the Jordan Valley: mass displacement, systematic denial of return, and the demolition of several longstanding communities, which together made way for establishing an expansionist settlement enterprise. Until today, this period of the Jordan Valley’s past remains overlooked by historians of Palestine, largely preserved in the memories of Palestinians. Hence, the absence of a comprehensive historiography of the Jordan Valley makes the oral history of Palestinians a valuable source to document and examine the experiences which they lived upon their exodus from the Jordan Valley. To do so, this work draws from oral history interviews recently conducted with Palestinians in the Jordan Valley and in refugee camps across the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, combined with materials from the archives of two pertinent organisations that were present in the Jordan Valley at the time: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The paper aims to construct a clear narrative of Palestinians’ lived experiences, especially the Nakba refugees, during and after their displacement from the Jordan Valley in 1967, with a focus on ensuing transformations in the area’s social and political histories. More broadly, the paper explores the constitutive role of using oral testimonies and archival sources in the context of settler colonial erasure, highlighting the advantages and limitations of combining oral, visual, and written records to document the narratives of the displaced Palestinians.
  • Mekarem Eljamal
    As space and place are constructed through affective relations to geographies and the social relations within them, urban planning interventions order people into place. Such orderings, though, are normative and political, and the ensuing urban planning interventions seek to alter the built environment in a manner that aligns with the normative values held by the individual planner and the larger institution. While planning is not reducible to government institutions, the official planning departments in municipalities hold significant rhetorical and policing power in shaping the city’s reputation. With such a central role, this paper aims to highlight how the Lydd municipal government understands and constructs the city’s “mixed” identity. At the national scale, the state thrusts a ‘mixed’ identity upon the city. Ambiguously defined as a city with a “significant” number of Jewish and Palestinian residents, the question though becomes how is a “mixed city” envisioned, emplaced, and enacted by the municipality. Incredibly malleable and unstable, spatial identity assertions and constructions are found in and produced by a variety of municipal materials. This research turns primarily to master and comprehensive plans and urban renewal projects published by the municipality as the foundation from which to build an understanding of how the City wants Lydd to be perceived. By taking together the language of the justifications for construction, preservation, and redevelopment enfolded within the project narratives alongside the geographies repeatedly denoted as needing intervention, ultimately, a pattern of Palestinian erasure and replacement emerges despite the generative opportunity for diverse encounters that mixity, which encompasses the physical proximity garnered through social mix projects and the rhetoric surrounding intercommunal encounters, theoretically espouses. This exploration into municipal interventions in Lydd asks how does mixity become a smokescreen to enact exclusion and erasure. While attention to the municipal enactments of identity over space is merely one side of placemaking, the focus on governing institutions underscores the political dynamics and circumstances within which Palestinians, as well as other informal and formal non-government institutions and collectives, are engaging to assert their own understanding of Lydd’s. Setting this groundwork then allows the opportunity for further research into the reactions and proactive attempts of others in shaping Lydd, especially the Palestinian residents as they too engage with and negotiation the city’s “mixed” identity.