No Place for Grief: Martyrs, Prisoners, and Mourning in Contemporary Palestine

No Place for Grief: Martyrs, Prisoners, and Mourning in Contemporary Palestine

No Place for Grief: Martyrs, Prisoners, and Mourning in Contemporary Palestine

No Place for Grief: Martyrs, Prisoners, and Mourning in Contemporary Palestine


Westerners 'know' Palestine through images of war and people in immediate distress. Yet this focus has as its consequence that other, less spectacular stories of daily distress are rarely told. Those seldom noticed are the women behind the men who engage in armed resistance against the military occupation: wives of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention and the widows of the martyrs. In Palestine, being related to a detainee serving a sentence for participation in the resistance activities against Israel is a source of pride. Consequently, the wives of detainees are expected to sustain these relationships through steadfast endurance, no matter the effects upon the marriage or family. Often people, media, and academic studies address the dramatic violence and direct affliction of the Palestinians. Lotte Buch Segal takes a different approach, and offers a glimpse of the lives, and the contradictory emotions, of the families of both detainees and martyrs through an in-depth ethnographic investigation.

No Place for Grief asks us to think about what it means to grieve when that which is grieved does not lend itself to a language of loss and mourning. What does it mean to "endure" when ordinary life is engulfed by the emotional labor required to withstand the pressures placed on Palestinian families by sustained imprisonment and bereavement? Despite an elaborate repertoire of narrative styles, laments, poetry, and performance of bodily gestures through which mourning can be articulated, including the mourning tied to a political cause, Buch Segal contends that these forms of expression are inadequate to the sorrow endured by detainees' wives. No Place for Grief reveals a new language that describes the entanglement of absence and intimacy, endurance and everyday life, and advances an understanding of loss, mourning, and grief in contemporary Palestine.


My time in Palestine has left me with a sadness that flows from the experiences of the people I encountered there. the question of whether this influences my interpretation of words, human beings, and situations is at best rhetorical. Many times I did not know how to respond to the words, tears, or gestures of the human beings at the heart of this book. How could I reply? As a female researcher from one of the most affluent societies of the world. As a woman whose life is not imperiled by the systematic exhaustion of the Palestinian occupation. As someone who feels empathy with the people she meets without certainty that empathy is ever exhaustive or necessarily the pathway to knowledge.

A student in my Psychology in Anthropology course asked me after having read Chapter 2 of this book for class: “Do you understand these women?” To this question I replied with a qualified “Yes.” It is a yes only if we mean knowledge in the sense of acknowledgment, which I offer here. I have done my best not to simplify these women’s experiences, but I also know that I could not entirely avoid it.

I feel compelled to act upon what I know, but I am not sure of the consequences. I write. I tell. Who listens? Some do. Does it matter? I do not know. João Biehl once asked me what I thought was the most powerful part of my work. It took me an hour to dare to say that it may have been sitting down and listening to those women, so at least they knew that I had heard their stories. They knew, and I knew. Now you know.

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