The Rise and Fall of Human Rights: Cynicism and Politics in Occupied Palestine

The Rise and Fall of Human Rights: Cynicism and Politics in Occupied Palestine

The Rise and Fall of Human Rights: Cynicism and Politics in Occupied Palestine

The Rise and Fall of Human Rights: Cynicism and Politics in Occupied Palestine

Synopsis

The Rise and Fall of Human Rights provides a groundbreaking ethnographic investigation of the Palestinian human rights world-its NGOs, activists, and "victims," as well as their politics, training, and discourse-since 1979. Though human rights activity began as a means of struggle against the Israeli occupation, in failing to end the Israeli occupation, protect basic human rights, or establish an accountable Palestinian government, the human rights industry has become the object of cynicism for many Palestinians. But far from indicating apathy, such cynicism generates a productive critique of domestic politics and Western interventionism. This book illuminates the successes and failures of Palestinians' varied engagements with human rights in their quest for independence.

Excerpt

Lori Allen's The Rise and Fall of Human Rights opens with a double-barreled epigraph. She first gives us the famous—and often misquoted—passage from the American abolitionist Frederick Douglass in which the world-historical catastrophe of American plantation slavery grounds a simple observation with monumental implications: that the physics of oppression can be countered only with an opposite and equal reaction, a struggle with “words or blows, or with both.” These lines from Douglass have been used down through the decades as a reminder that structures of injustice do not just fade away; they must be confronted, witnessed, attacked, and if necessary burnt to the ground. Despite Douglass’s careful inclusion of “words” as a potential tool of resistance, there can be no doubt that words alone will not make a sufficient “demand” on the ravages of power, as history has shown us time and time again. That it is Frederick Douglass from whom we learn this lesson and not, say, Karl Marx—whose theories of history, power, and conflict also lead to robust and, potentially, violent theories of action—is revealing. Like the victims of the Nazi regime, the generations of enslaved Africans—and the ideological and economic systems that justified such an abomination—have come to represent injustice itself, something absolute that does not admit of reasonable qualification. In other words, there are times, our troubled history teaches us, when the only thing left to do is fight and fight hard, when endurance of suffering is no longer noble but a form of complicity.

The second epigraph is from Hannah Arendt and, like the first, its import hangs over the book like a dark and ominous shadow. The legacy of Arendt’s writings has troubled the life of human rights since the early postwar period, when human rights—as international law, as a form of politics, as a new transnational ethics—was deeply incipient, except for the coteries of international . . .

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