Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Occupational Hazards, Revisited: Palestinian Historiography

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Occupational Hazards, Revisited: Palestinian Historiography

Article excerpt

The following article is intended to pick up where anthropologist Ted Swedenburg leftoff23 years ago in his article on ethnographic research in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. Very little has been written on the same theme of hazards and problems faced by historians researching in the West Bank, particularly those who carry out archival research. For historians and other researchers it is important to know the problems of finding and accessing archival sources in both the West Bank and Jerusalem. Certain sources are easy to find and access, while a great many others are either easy to find and impossible to access, or impossible to find in the first place. At the same time, Palestinian researchers are barred from accessing much of their own documented history if those documents are located outside of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Foreign historians often take for granted the ability to use these archives, while their counterparts - the national subjects of the archive - are unable to do so in the same way. The general problems discussed in Swedenburg's 1989 article remain (some have intensified), and historians face these on top of others that are unique to our methods of research.

In 1989, the now-professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas Ted Swedenburg wrote an article about his experiences as a doctoral student doing ethnographic field research in the occupied Palestinian West Bank on the oral history of the Palestine Revolt of 1936-1939. He called his article "Occupational Hazards: Palestinian Ethnography."1 Today, some 23 years later, Palestine is still occupied, and researchers still face many of the same - or the updated versions of - occupational hazards of carrying out research in this particular region. It is time that the both updated and new occupational hazards for the non-Palestinian researcher of Palestinian history are explored, not only for others who have or will research in the occupied territories but also to shed light on some of the capsules that hold the historian's treasures: the archives under occupation.

From 1989 until now in 2012, the situation that researchers in the occupied territories face has changed drastically. The methods of control used by Israel in the occupied territories and East Jerusalem are different, the resistance to the now 45-year-old Occupation has changed, the security situation on both sides has been radically transformed (for example, the massive concrete separation wall which did not exist in the 1980s), and two life-altering intifadas have taken place. It is very difficult for researchers to travel to and work in the Gaza Strip due to the ongoing blockade of the territory by Israel. Although with the changes to the government in Egypt it is easier to enter Gaza from Rafah Crossing, one must have permission from the Israeli government to enter the Gaza Strip through Erez Crossing. At times, Israel only permits entry to individuals who are employed with international organizations in Gaza. Funding bodies often do not finance researchers traveling to areas that governments advise against travel within. Finally, the means of acquiring and disseminating information in 2012 are worlds away from what they were in the 1980s.

My own research situation is much different from Swedenburg's, although the occupation(al) hazards of any type of research in this location remain at their core the same. Those of us who work as historians research and acquire our information in a different way than anthropologists and ethnographers like Swedenburg. My research and the previous work of Swedenburg both analyze and discuss identity during the period of the British Mandate among non-elite Palestinian Arabs. Swedenburg found much of his material by speaking with Palestinians who were alive during the Mandate and those who fought against the British in the Revolt of 1936-1939. By 2011, when I did my fieldwork, this type of historical information-gathering on the Palestine Mandate - oral histories - is all but impossible, as many of the individuals Swedenburg spoke with are either no longer living or no longer able to tell their stories. …

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