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Palestine and Constellations of Indigeneity

Panel X-20, sponsored byPalestinian American Research Center, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
Former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat once said, “Israel has failed to wipe us out… We are not red Indians.” This panel turns to Palestinian and Native American organizers, cultural workers, and critical theorists who refuse such foreclosures of solidarity without romanticizing the latter or evacuating it of the antagonisms that haunt it. Rather than frame solidarity as oppositional to critique, the panel embraces a radical tradition that considers critiques of imperial counterinsurgency (continental and overseas) indispensable to transnational anticolonial organizing. How does interrogating the historical relationship between Palestine and Indigenous North America help us understand the rise of terrorism as a social and political discursive category? Critical inquiries into coloniality are just as urgent as the aforementioned genealogies of colonialism. Put otherwise, transnational Indigenous solidarity demands examining the political-economic as well as onto-epistemological arrangements that undergird Native elimination. Doing so entails contouring the coloniality of anticolonial movements that pragmatically traffic in political grammars that aim (though fail) to extinguish Indigenous nations across North America. How, if at all, might those Indigenous to Palestine engage the epistemologies and ontologies of those Indigenous to North America without engaging in primitivist deracination? Such anti-imperial immanent critique of colonial macro-structures is a necessary though insufficient condition of internationalist struggle. Practicing and theorizing solidarity also demands an account of micro-processes of subjectification. How do reciprocal acts of solidarity across Indigenous movements shape the formation of political subjectivities? Challenging normative frameworks produced by settler states, this panel illuminates the intimacies of both imperial dispossession and transnational solidarity.
Political Science
  • This paper examines the conceptual work carried out by Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, “The Penultimate Speech of the ‘Red Indian’ Before the White Man.” Published a decade after Israel’s expulsion of the Palestinian revolution from Lebanon, the poem appears in Darwish’s Eleven Planets. This poetry collection refracts Zionism’s eliminatory and expulsive regimes through two 1492’s: the world-destroying crusades of assimilationist conversion targeting the Muslim and Jewish inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula and Christopher Columbus’s world-destroying “discovery of the Americas.” Darwish performs this refraction while refraining from extractive analogies between Indianness and Palestinianness even as the former has been laminated onto the latter in a transposition that empties out the material specificities of these categories as a means of emptying historic Palestine of its Indigenous inhabitants. In other words, Darwish does not reproduce the metaphors and commensurating logics that sublate difference so as to re/generate the capital relation. Just as crucially, Darwish complicates metaphorical readings of Indigenous cosmogonies as non-political or benign assertions of cultural difference: in this case, Duwamish Chief Seattle’s claim that “there is no death.” This paper examines how Darwish evades the coloniality of anticolonial discourses that epistemologically contain ontological claims like “there is no death.” This sort of containment has been inadvertently reproduced, for instance, by Edward Said in his crucial but problematic engagement with postcolonial studies via anticolonial theorists like Frantz Fanon. Such containment has also been reproduced by Palestinian political leaders—most notably, Yasser Arafat—whose statist conceptions of nationhood disregard or dismiss any potential insight from Native Americans. To this day, many Palestinians assume that Native Americans have been defeated, unlike, say, Algerians or the Irish who have managed to embody the nation-state form in their anticolonial struggles. Darwish refutes this civilizationist tragedy, which violently frames the settler-colonial extermination of “Red Indians” as a fait accompli. He does so without resorting, however, to the equally eliminatory primitivist romance that animates settler indigenization in North America and transnationally circulates across the Global South. Positioning Darwish’s anticolonialism in relation to the political and intellectual discourses articulated by Arafat and Said, this paper considers what theoretical insights might be gleaned from this case of Indigenous Palestinians thinking with non-Palestinian Indigenous thought.
  • The 2016-2017 Native-led Standing Rock Uprising brought people together from all over the world to confront continued U.S. colonialism. One of the most notable groups to show up–for both the Sioux nation and the U.S.–were the Palestinians. Their presence triggered increased surveillance from the U.S. government and its contracted mercenary firm, TigerSwan. One leaked TigerSwan memo details how Palestinian presence meant that, at the camp, “terrorist type activities… cannot be ruled out.” While this so-called War-on-Terror language may appear a result of Palestinian presence, there is a longer story to be told. This paper roots the Standing Rock uprising, a critical moment of Native U.S.- Palestinian solidarity, in the era of Third World internationalism, particularly when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) formed a relationship with the American Indian Movement (AIM). This paper looks at this time as a moment of crisis and opportunity: crisis for settler states, particularly the U.S. and Israel; opportunity for those fighting for liberation, like AIM and the PLO. As the U.S. entered into a crisis of accumulation, Israel began emerging as an imperialist power. The 1970s was also the decade that birthed the category of the terrorist as we know it today. This paper untangles these narrative lines by looking at moments of parallel between AIM and the PLO’s insurgency; and between the U.S. and Israel’s counterinsurgency. I ask, what can this history and these relationships tell us about how the category of the terrorist is connected to liberation struggles over land? By bringing together scholars of Native North America and Palestine, I argue that looking at this relationship can uncover not only how Indigenous insurgency provided the foundation from which the legal and social category of the terrorist would emerge, but also how the relationship between the PLO and AIM during this historical moment both shaped and contested the rise of colonial counterinsurgency that would eventually become what we know as the Global War on Terror.
  • This paper contextualizes the politics of recognition within anticolonial movements situated in settler colonial contexts. Building on postcolonial and indigenous scholars’ critiques of recognition coupled with Judith Butler’s view on subject formation, where recognition signifies existence and subordination simultaneously, a “tragedy” of recognition emerges where the failure of formal recognition for oppressed peoples becomes a necessary part to politically existing in the world. However, the tragedy should not be read as a form of sympathy towards formal recognition, which largely falls within the framework of Hegel’s “master-slave dialectic.” Simultaneously, the critique of the Hegelian tradition should not be read as an abandonment of recognition altogether due to its centrality in shaping political subjectivities and strategies. These dynamics underscore the need for a revised politics of recognition, which addresses the paradoxical effects of seeking recognition to alter the conceptual frames through which formal recognition operates. My contribution to this debate thus aims to look at recognition “from below” through the medium of transnational solidarity. Solidarity is a key site to examine through the lens of recognition, having been central to previous anticolonial struggles and recent rebirths of anticolonial transnational solidarities. By putting in conversation Indigenous scholars’, such as Glen Coulthard and Leanne Simpson, call for “self-recognition,” Judith Butler’s theory of “Subjection, Resistance and Resignification,” and testimonies of organizers from the Palestinian Youth Movement and the Red Nation Movement, I introduce the concept of transnational recognition as a practice of forging solidarities and a potential pathway out of the tragedy of recognition. In doing so I demonstrate that transnational recognition is central to the formation of political subjectivities in a manner that seeks to challenge normative frameworks produced by colonial recognition.
  • Significant scholarly attention has been paid to graffiti, murals, and resistance art on the apartheid wall in Palestine, and even in city centers and public streets. While the art in these public spaces offers us a lot in terms of politics and resistance, less has been written about the graffiti and art on the walls of resident homes. In this paper I argue that the graffiti and murals on the walls of resident homes, as well as the constant upkeep of them and documentation of the upkeep via social media, not only serve as a form of sumud (steadfastness), but also reconfigure common notions of sumud. Building on the work of scholars such as Craig Larkin, Julie Peteet, Jeyda Hammad, and Rachel Tribe–who have analyzed graffiti and resistance art in public spaces, and theorized forms of sumud and its many tensions– I instead focus my analysis on the art in/on the homeplace, as one that resists public/private binaries, thus theorizing a form of sumud that complicates common notions of it being covert, individual, “maintenance,” “coping,” or passive, instead coming to a more explicitly confrontational form of sumud that moves through both individuals and communities (drawing also on Christina Sharpe’s theory of wake work). Through my textual and visual analysis of social media posts by residents in neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah, I situate the residential graffiti and its constant upkeep (and its change over time) through community events as not only laying claim to the land itself, but also adding to the subversive value of the structures (drawing on bell hooks understanding of homeplace) through reconfiguring homeplace as simultaneously a refuge inside and outside, as the graffiti itself blurs lines of public/private and inner/outer. While many studies on graffiti and resistance art on the apartheid wall have begun to highlight a sense of hopelessness associated with such creative resistance as non-confrontational, residential graffiti and the act of documenting its upkeep offer us a more complicated narrative that depicts creative resistance as both a catalyst for confrontational resistance, and as something that also sustains tangible resistance– reconfiguring sumud to continue forging a path forward in the contemporary movement we are in today.