Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The Struggle over Boundary and Memory: Nation, Borders, and Gender in Jewish Israel

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The Struggle over Boundary and Memory: Nation, Borders, and Gender in Jewish Israel

Article excerpt


The attachment of a nation to its ancestral homeland is indisputable. Yet, when the nation does not have a clear idea of the geographical parameters of its territory, the boundaries often get defined by others and through war. In the case of Israel, however, especially since 1967, the Jewish homeland has been defined and shaped not simply by war but by government policies that support the Settlement Project in the occupied territories of the West Bank. While Jewish men and women historically have had different roles in defining Israel's boundaries--men as defenders of borders and women as enablers and reproducers of the nation--it is Jewish men who have been perceived as central to the Zionist Project, not women. But as this article suggests, such perspective is simplistic, for women, especially settlers, as leaders and always as willing practitioners in the Settlement Projects, have helped shape the geographical and, more importantly, the psychological parameters of the homeland. With each attempt to settle all parts of the West Bank, even in the most remote outposts, and refusing to compromise over what the homeland includes, these settlers have challenged the memory of a "Smaller Israel" in favor of a "Greater Israel." In their actions therefore, they have been at the forefront of the struggle over the memory of boundary and, thus, are challenging the boundary of memory.

Keywords: boundaries, memory, gender, New Zionists, settlers


In the years since Israel gained statehood in 1948, significant resources have been directed at combating real and imagined existential threats from both Arab States and sub-state actors. These threats and the security-minded policies enacted by the Israeli government, along with the forces of globalization and Israel's policies regarding settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, have shaped Israeli society politically, economically, socially, and psychologically. The prioritization of security concerns and right-wing Zionist ideology has led to a further erosion of the already challenged Israeli social justice system and has negatively affected the relationships between the sexes, ethno-national groups (Jews and Palestinians (1)), socio-economic classes, and ethnic groups (European Jews and Jews from the Arab world).

The dialectical relationship between security and democracy, on the one hand, and security and nationalist Jewish ideology, on the other, has produced serious tensions among Jews and between Jews and Palestinians in Israel. In essence, these conflicts are intimately connected with national identity, and they have focused on boundaries, the homeland, and above all on collective memory. As the focus of these conflicts changes so does national identity and so too do its agents and its representations. Changes in national identity have brought about shifts in gender identity, and these shifts reflect the relationship of gender to nation, security, and boundaries. Because gender identity is inseparable from national identity (see Mayer, 2000a; Yuval-Davis, 1997; Yuval-Davis & Anthias, 1989), in this article I examine the connection of Israel's nation and borders to Israel's democracy and to gender. My contention is that, although the national project of Zionism--defining and defending the Jewish homeland--began as a masculinist and secular project aimed at solving the predicament of European Jews, (2) in recent years women, primarily religious women, settlers in the West Bank and until 2005 in Gaza have contributed greatly to the core mission of Zionism. Their efforts and those of their male counterparts to settle the Palestinian occupied territories and in so doing to articulate "Greater Israel" as the homeland, have deepened the schisms within Israeli Jewish society and pushed Jewish nationalism to the political and religious right. At the same time, for the majority in Israel, the Settlement Project erased the memory of "Smaller Israel's" boundary and created a new memory, thus challenging the boundary of Jewish collective memory in Israel. …

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