Academic journal article New Formations

Late Modern Subjects of Colonial Occupation: Mobile Phones and the Rise of Neoliberalism in Palestine

Academic journal article New Formations

Late Modern Subjects of Colonial Occupation: Mobile Phones and the Rise of Neoliberalism in Palestine

Article excerpt

Despite the abundance of research on Palestine, studies of Palestinian political subjectivity and agency tend to adhere to the dominant analytical frames of nationalism and/or Islamism. This is understandable, given the persistence of a colonial conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which tends to set up the agenda and objectives of research on Palestine and the Middle East conflict. The problem, however, is that an extensive focus on nationalist and Islamic frameworks has led to a neglect of a variety of socio-economic and political developments that do not fit these frameworks, but which are also shaping the political landscape in Palestine.

Working against the trend, the present essay attempts to understand Palestinian politics in relationship to wider changes associated with globalisation and late modernity, focusing, in particular, on the globalisation of neoliberal subjectivities and political sensitivities. How, I ask, has the encounter between neoliberalism and Israeli occupation translated in the context of Palestinian day-to-day life, and what implications does it have upon the conditions of possibility of Palestinian political subjectivity, or the prospect of collective struggle?

These questions are explored though a variety of discourses and struggles that have developed around mobile telephony in Palestine, and especially the first Palestinian mobile operator Jawwal, during the first years of the 2000s. Mobile telephony, it has been argued, epitomises a diversity of social processes and ideas that are connected to late modernity and the globalisation of neoliberalism. (1) In Palestine, however, the emergence of mobile telephony and the deterritorialising qualities associated with it have intersected with an ultra-territorial, colonial occupation, resulting in a largely unexamined space of multiple and clashing temporalities, spacialities and identifications. A study of these encounters builds an image of a late modern subject of colonial occupation, of a Palestinian subject that is increasingly individualised, hybridised and hard to represent within the dominant discourses of the Palestinians' struggle.

MOBILE LATE MODERNITY

Since the beginning of the Second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 and following Israel's repressive measures to quell down Palestinian resistance, the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories has become harder than it might have been ever before. After a decade of systematic siege, retaliatory violence and bitter power struggles between Palestinian factions and groups, Palestinian economic, political and cultural institutions are at the brink of a collapse and everyday life in the OPT appears increasingly difficult.

Despite this, the past decade has also been a decade of a veritable mobile phone boom in the West Bank and Gaza. Like almost anywhere else in the world, the access and usage of mobile telephones has risen almost exponentially, and today mobile telephony stands as one of the most vibrant sectors in Palestinian economic life. The first Palestinian mobile phone operator, Jawwal, was established in 1999. (2) Since then, Jawwal has taken on an increasingly ubiquitous role on Palestinian streets and inside people's homes, becoming one of the most successful and iconic Palestinian companies ever, and the most visible agent of the Palestinian mobile phone boom.

The importance of Jawwal as a social actor and an indicator of wider transformations within Palestinian society became particularly clear to me when I was conducting fieldwork on the politics of the Gaza beach between the summers 2003 and 2005. (3) One aspect of the beach that I was particularly interested in at that time were the variety of different beach camps and public tents that Palestinian political factions, including Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad, tended to erect on the beach. The purpose of these tents was to strengthen the popular base of each faction and exhibit their power publicly while offering a variety of summer camps and other activities for enthusiastic beach-goers. …

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