Ethnographies of Palestinian Futures

20-24 November 2019, Vancouver, Canada

A Panel at the annual meeting

This year’s Insaniyyat-sponsored panel at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting in collaboeration with The Canadian Anthropological Society/La Société Canadienne d’Anthropologie, “Ethnographies of Palestinian Futures”, convened a group of seven Palestinian scholars from throughout historical Palestine and the diaspora. The meeting took place in Vancouver, B.C., on unceded Indigenous land belonging to the Coastal Salish peoples- including the snohomish, slay-wa-tooth and musqueam nations.  Organized by Nayrouz Abu Hatoum and Sarah Ihmoud, participants were invited to reflect on the post-Oslo political moment, thinking past the impasse of hegemonic “state-building” and “peace process” narratives to take up alternative social and political imaginaries of Palestinian futures. Some of the key questions posed included:  How are Palestinians seeking to enact freedom and decolonization in modes or spaces that extend beyond the nationalist project as traditionally conceived? Alternatively, how do Palestinians accommodate or seek recognition from the colonial regime, and to what ends? What forms does sovereignty (or non-sovereignty) take in the absence of statehood or its impossibility within an ongoing settler colonial regime? Finally, how do Palestinian histories or imagined futures shape the cultural, social, and political claims of the present?

The panel began with an exploration of what Hadeel Assali calls indigenous "subterranean knowledge" in a journey through Gaza's tunnels. At the outset, Assali divulged a fascinating piece of information from one of her interlocutors in the field:  that Israeli security technologies, no matter how advanced, have yet to be able to detect underground tunnels. Through ethnography of Palestinians’ intimate knowledge of the land, she went on to pose larger questions about how Indigenous peoples subvert settler colonial surveillance logics and militarized technologies.  “If these Palestinians already knew the limits of the Israeli military’s powers,” Assali poignantly posed, “what else does the earth tell them?”

From below ground, the panel moved on to questions of housing and urban development, with a paper by Kareem Rabie titled “Housing, privatization, and planning today for the day after”.   The paper which analyzed relationships between the built environment of Palestine and the way futures are imagined and constructed.

From those living in occupied Palestinian territory, we shift to the experiences of Palestinian citizens of Israel, where Nadeem Karkabi examines the possibilities and limitations of cultural politics as a form of resistance.

Finally, Amanda Batarseh analyzes challenges posed by Palestinian and Israeli artistic production to hegemonic national teleologies; she offers the framework of "untelling" of the nation as a critical lens for exploring what it means to narrate the spectre of nationhood in contemporary Palestinian narrative practices

Due to the Canadian State’s failure to issue a visa in a timely manner, two panelists, Dina Omar (Ph.D. candidate, Yale University) and Dr. Ashjan Ajour of Warwick University in the UK, winner of this year’s AAA Israel/Palestine Award, were unable to present their papers.  Ajour’s paper explores the making and unmaking of "homeland" through the corporeal experiences of Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli prisons.

Next, the panel turns to the political possibilities forged in the U.S.-based Palestinian diaspora, through Dina Omar's ethnography of Palestinian institution building, drawing on the case study of the Palestine Museum-U.S.