In considering the past, present and future paths of Palestinian studies, this panel asks what it means to center emergent theories and ideas in indigenous, ethnic, and feminist studies in our research and praxis on Palestine and its global diaspora. We explore how Palestinian studies continues to develop interdisciplinarily within fields like ethnic studies, literature, feminist studies, and indigenous studies and the political and methodological stakes and opportunities that have and will continue to accompany these developments.This roundtable considers the immanence of this kind of interdisciplinarity to Palestinian scholarship, and how new intellectual trajectories can build upon histories of anti-colonial transnational solidarity while forging new paths relevant for decolonial struggle today.
Participants will interrogate the distinct intellectual and experiential struggles they have faced in their select fields and research, and the frameworks by which they have attempted to liberate their research from colonial epistemologies and reactionary currents rooted in state and disciplinary formation. As a new generation of Palestinian thinkers, scholars, and movement practitioners, we build upon the rich legacy of Palestinian intellectual production rooted in and inextricably linked to Palestinian anti-colonial, decolonial, and liberation praxis. Key questions and topics we will discuss include: (1) What does it mean to be a Palestine scholar today and what are the responsibilities that accompany this position?; (2) How does our positionality as scholars indigenous to Palestine and arrivants to North America inform our epistemologies? And, how can our scholarship in/on Palestine create solidarities with Indigenous scholars in the U.S and Canada?; (3) What methodological and political contributions does an engagement with Palestine studies in interdisciplinary fields contribute to the study of Palestine? (4) How does Palestinian experiential knowledge factor into this research?; (5) How do we methodologically produce liberatory scholarship on Palestine in the context of the intersections of settler-colonial erasure, regimes of racial-colonial captivity, and the not-fully realized (but already failed) project of Palestinian statehood?, and (6) How do intellectual and political currents, that are reactionary to colonial and imperial power, pose distinct challenges to decolonial and liberatory methodological and intellectual approaches?
In this roundtable, I will reflect on Indigenous methodology, focusing foremost on what this means and how such methods are already embedded in a tradition of Palestinian research practices. Reema Hammami examines, for instance, how Palestinian “thuggish” creative ingenuity refuses the temporal and physical stasis of settler colonial carcerality. In so doing, she surfaces how the centralization of Zionist tactics of dispossession in settler colonial analyses threatens to undermine Palestinian practices of collective and individual resistance. In other words, that such analyses are prone to re-affirming settler logics of “progress” (what Rana Barakat has called a narrative of “settler triumph” and “native defeat”) if not countered by Indigenous practices, histories and narratives of continuity and resistance. Indigenous-centric critique, as such, is intrinsic to Palestinian epistemology and methods.
Comparative frameworks for trans-Indigenous analyses, however, also require acute attention to contextual particularities. Identifying pivotal points of convergence for the development of comparative frameworks that build solidarity while maintaining the distinct characters of Indigenous political, cultural and historical identities is an issue of considerable import. For instance, Brenna Bhandar examines the “political imaginary of property” in parts of Turtle Island (currently Canada), Australia and Palestine, locating crucial resonances across settler colonial power structures. This analysis advances a comparative framework vital to a textured understanding of colonial exploitation – that is, that there is not one model of colonialism that supersedes all others. However, even Bhandar’s analysis, by secluding the Bedouin as a distinct Indigenous category in Palestine, risks re-inscribing a colonial paradigm of authenticity. The Bedouin isolation from Palestinianess underscores what Lara Tatour calls that “culturalisation of indigeneity” in the attempt to define Indigenous identity as an authentic (“primitive”) cultural category in need of preservation by the settler state rather than a political category in a struggle to decolonize the settler state. I raise this example not as an indictment of Bhandar’s work, but to illustrate the challenge of producing scholarship that decenters colonial epistemology – as Bhandar argues, with the aim of producing a “radically different political imaginary.” I highlight the work of these scholars – from Hammami to Barakat to Bhandar – then, not as models of perfection or failure (“triumph” or “defeat”), but rather as constitutive of a necessarily ongoing process of epistemic decolonization.
“Is Palestine a place or a promise?” asks Amahl Bishara in her latest book Crossing a Line: Laws, Violence, and Roadblocks to Palestinian Political Expression. I find that this provocation invites an important epistemological crossroad in our role as Palestinians researchers within knowledge and artistic production. Perhaps, Palestine has always been both- a place and a promise: an ontology and an epistemology. While it may be redundant to say that Palestine is a place: a land, a story, and a home. For many Palestinians in Palestine and in exile, it raises the question of how important is it to affirm that Palestine is a place in a protracted promise (materially and poetically) of becoming and of returning to? My intervention will address this tension as it unfolds in front of many of us for whom Palestine is a lived form of relationality and for whom Palestine is a site of knowledge. For the past thirty years, and as many Palestinians have critically argued, scholarship about Palestine has been reduced by examining its failures of or proximity to the ‘state-building’ project. There is a push and pull between thinking and writing about Palestine as a place that is contained within the constraints of its conditions (like the state-building or international agreements), and Palestine as a place that exceeds and floods outside these constraints and leads us into the imaginary and the promised. The second requires us to move away from what Audra Simpson calls “ethnographic frame of failure”, and to think about shifting the playground on which the theatre of colonial knowledge production takes place. My intervention is informed by an epistemological entanglement shaped by my positionality and my presence on this land, as a settler living in the Kanien’kehá:ka nation territory in Tiohtià:ke. Inspired by Indigenous cultural and intellectual production in Palestine and Turtle Island, I ask: How might we move away from colonial, settler-colonial, or national modes of thinking and writing about Palestine? And, what does it mean to know Palestine through a radical politics of imagination?
Grassroots Accountability in Palestinian Knowledge Production
The Palestinian intellectual tradition is one that has grown and changed through different temporal and spatial contexts of Palestinian life and struggle. There have historically been strong linkages between Palestinian movement and research, each fueling the other. As Palestinians struggle to narrate our own realities, the erasure of our knowledge production falls in line with the greater systemic erasure of Palestine and Palestinians. As we have seen through the targeting and obliterating of the Palestinian Research Center archive in Beirut, or through repression, silencing, and criminalization of Palestine and Palestinians in the North American academy today, Palestinian knowledge production has been under Zionist colonial attack throughout its life. While different scholarly approaches to Palestine have had different historical roots, Palestinian knowledge production in all of its phases has been tied to or emerged from the movement project of Palestinian liberation and is a mode of resistance. While the Oslo Accords marks a stark shift in political aspiration and movement practice, its repercussions for the transnational Palestinian community have had implications on knowledge production as well. With the localizing of the struggle to just pockets inside of Palestine, the global liberation project was eclipsed by state-building. And so too was movement entrenched Palestinian knowledge production. Consequently, I argue for a recentering of both grassroots knowledge productions and accountability to the Palestinian grassroots in research praxis. As such, I argue for a knowledge production that is informed by a commitment or duty to the Palestinian liberation struggle, and knowledge that is produced through such an entrenchment. Part of this praxis is to engage people in their everyday reality and to emerge through active participation in movement spaces that work to build revolutionary processes of liberation-making. My accountable grassroots methodology is one that centers intergenerational, multi-pronged, and affective knowledge about Palestinian life and resistance. It is one that centers a commitment to people and struggle. Above all, it centers the act of doing, creating, upholding communal revolutionary spaces and aspirations as sites of Palestinian knowledge production grounded in a multiplicity of transnational Palestinian experiences. In this roundtable, I will bring my grassroots methodological proposal to the discussion to explore and engage in analyzing the struggles and tensions of rupture, to resist disciplinary disciplining, and to map possibilities for renewed grassroots accountability in Palestinian knowledge production through cross-disciplinary encounters.
I look to illustrate the embodied characteristics of language in revealing Palestinian sociality unconcerned with and in defiance of settler colonial logics of erasure, state-centered formations, and punitive power. Focusing on the works of Palestinian authors Adania Shibli (“Minor Detail” and “Touch”) and Suheir Hammad (“broken poems”), I reflect on how lived experiences captured in language offer tactile ways of being and knowing that offer a new grammatology of Palestinian subjectivity. These texts texture what it means to exist as Palestinian without responding to, in defense, the powers of the settler colony, the state, or punitive power. Such texts are characteristic of a decolonial feminist epistemology in their content and form, illuminating languages of resistance that not only de-center the state and its powers, but articulate new modes of expression and knowledge production embracing the complex intimacies of Palestinian life. An embodied grammatology invites a decolonial feminist epistemology grounded in what Cherrie Moraga calls, “a theory in the flesh.” Such assertions of knowledge animate a way of reading and writing on Palestine that privilege intellectual, theoretical, and embodied relationalities or “poetics” encouraging a sort of interdisciplinarity that is both attentive to the rich intellectual traditions informing Palestine studies while also laying the groundwork for new directions in and on the study of Palestine. A decolonial feminist epistemology on Palestine is a verb, expressing an engaged and engaging state of being and knowing, further underscoring a grammatology of lived experience. My commitment to elevating the works of Palestinian femme and female authors is inspired by their unapologetic present-ness in this embodied grammatology and such, I ask: what does it mean for us as scholars on Palestine to navigate the academy unapologetically and with present-ness? As scholars located on and engaging in this work on Turtle Island, the legacies of and continuing harms of this settler state serve as constant reminders of the intellectual and political commitments we make to our work on Palestine. In leaning on and building decolonial feminist epistemologies with Indigenous scholars, we can liberate ourselves from neoliberal academic frames which seek to limit, with punitive consequences, our contributions. It is my intention to engage in a conversation that asks us to consider the political, material, and intellectual implications of a decolonial feminist epistemology with resonance on the study of Palestine and beyond as we find ourselves navigating the ever-increasing hostilities of the neoliberal academy.
The scholar of Palestine attune to the material violence and deprivation of Palestinian land and people, is posited with a complex dilemma. On the one hand, writing of the pain, sorrow, and violence Palestinians endure is key to humanizing Palestinians who have for too long been configured as bloodthirsty terrorists and subhumans in Orientalist, Colonial and Zionist imaginations and discursive realms. By relentlessly centering Palestinian pain, the scholar committed to Palestinian freedom aims to expose the power-differential in the colonial context which is key to challenging hegemonic currents that disfigure the condition as colonial in the first place. A feminist intellectual tradition teaches us to center the real-lived emotional and spiritual injury incurred alongside a material experience of colonial expulsion, captivity, and violence as well and to temper an aesthetic fixation and impulse to portray Palestinians as unscathed heroes or exceptionally devout patrons of national struggle. On the other hand, by centering the material and affective violence Palestinians endure to tell an otherwise story, might the scholar of Palestine risk constructing Palestinians as an essentialized and homogenous people? What absences exist in this approach and how might it reproduce an evacuation of Palestinian agency, and an evasion of the critical insights of decolonial struggle that might emerge by examining collective Palestinian resistance visions and methods, intra-movement conflict and contradiction, and the complex everyday stuff of Palestinian life? For Palestinian scholars in the North American diaspora, whose lives and histories have been conditioned by the extant force of colonial violence, displacement, and captivity, and who experience the damage alongside their people, how does one shake the impulse to serve as a spokesperson of the Palestinian struggle, or to treat Palestine and its people, as a subject of study rather than a sight of critical theory on survival, resilience and resistance? This discussion explores the risks affiliated with writing of, through, and against the damage of Palestinian life by looking to past and present Palestinian, Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian American analytics and methodologies for insight. It proposes methods in establishing a careful calculus relevant for anti-colonial and de-colonial knowledge production that serves Palestinian liberatory objectives without erasing unsavory truths or evading contradictions.