"Baleful Postcoloniality" and Palestinian Women's Life Writing

Article excerpt


This article considers two manifestations of "baleful postcoloniality" in the life writing of Subjects marginalized by nationality, ethnicity, religion, and gender. The first is the exertion of quasi-colonial regimes by putatively postcolonial states--Israel particularly, but also Jordan (as will be seen)--over the indigenous Arab inhabitants of the former British Mandate Palestine. This bald preliminary statement of terms requires some qualification. In the first place, Salah D. Hassan, one of the coeditors of this Special Issue of Biography points out, such cases constitute examples of domination which "cannot be represented adequately as imperialism or neocolonialism" (7) in their classical senses, as the expression of "First World" systems of power overseas. Moreover, the differences between the Israeli and Jordanian regimes vis-a-vis the Palestinians are as striking as their similarities. For example, at no point in its rule over "the West Bank of the Jordan" (1949-67) did the latter seek to transfer substantial elements of its own population to settle the territories it unilaterally annexed, as has been Israel's strategy in the Occupied Territories during the years that followed the 1967 War. Yet, as will be demonstrated, both cases bear witness to residual as well as emergent manifestations of imperialism and colonialism. Thus the security infrastructure, legal systems, and discursive practices of the former colonial power in Palestine--Great Britain--were used by both Jordan and Israel to legitimize and enforce their rule.

A further complication is that, strictly speaking, Palestinians are yet to experience some obvious manifestations of "baleful postcoloniality," notably the political disappointments which so often ensued upon successful decolonization struggles in other parts of the world. Rather, their struggles have been directed primarily against the unbroken continuity of modalities of colonialism (albeit ones imposed by putatively postcolonial states). However, in seeking to progress towards postcoloniality, the life-writers under consideration here face a second severe obstacle. This is the traditionally patriarchal bias of struggles to establish postcoloniality in Palestine, as elsewhere (see Loomba 215ff.). As will be seen, Palestinian women sometimes represent the "balefulness" of patriarchy as being almost as pernicious for subaltern women as foreign Occupation, and suggest that genuine postcoloniality cannot be achieved without the removal of both.

This article examines the work of Leila Khaled, Fadwa Tuqan, Hanan Ashrawi, Ghada Karmi, and Suad Amiry in relation to these issues. The group comprises five diversely-located Palestinian woman writers of different generations and sometimes contrasting class origin, religious orientation, and political/ideological affiliation. While I stress what is common to their representations of "baleful postcoloniality," partly in order to establish the category "Palestinian women life-writers," it is also important to note the differences of perspective deriving from the material variations just outlined--as well as the differences between them as writers and the ordinary Palestinian women whom they often seek to represent, in both the discursive and political senses of that term. Moreover, the writers concerned exist at different angles to the struggles against colonialism and patriarchy. Tuqan focuses primarily on the British period, while Khaled addresses the 1960s and 1970s, following the establishment of the PLO and associated revolutionary organizations. Ashrawi devotes considerable attention to the first intifada of the 1980s, and its effects on gender relations, while Amiry does the same for the second, which began in 2000. Such discriminations are especially important in order to avoid the construction of some abstract, transhistorical, Palestinian feminine essence which responds uniformly to the issues I will address. …