Displaced at Home: Ethnicity and Gender among Palestinians in Israel

By Vivier, Elme | Journal of International Women's Studies, July-August 2012 | Go to article overview

Displaced at Home: Ethnicity and Gender among Palestinians in Israel


Vivier, Elme, Journal of International Women's Studies


Displaced at Home: Ethnicity and Gender among Palestinians in Israel 2010. Rhoda Ann Kanaaneh & Isis Nusair, eds. State University of New York Press, Albany. 264 pages. (Paperback). ISBN 978-1-4384-3270-0.

The establishment of Israel in 1948 involved a process of expulsion and displacement of 725,000 Palestinians in an event that has come to be known by Palestinians as the Nakba (Catastrophe). Those Palestinians who remained and now live in Israel continue to be marginalised and discriminated against as an ethnic, non-Jewish minority. Although eventually given citizenship status, Palestinian citizens of Israel still face restrictions in terms of economic and political participation and mobility, and are subject to land expropriation and home demolitions. They have literally become "strangers in their own land" (217).

Displaced at Home investigates the plight of Palestinians living in Israel and offers a rich collection of narratives and analyses by Palestinian woman scholars of Israel. It challenges tendencies to generalise Palestinian identity and practice and rather reflects the diversity of perspectives, attitudes and issues related to and significant in the Palestinian experience in Israel. It also problematises scholarship that presents Palestinian citizens of Israel "as passive recipients of history" (22).

The book is structured around four key themes, namely the state and ethnicity, memory and oral history, gendering bodies and space, and migrations. Across these themes and individual chapters, the authors carry the reader swiftly from the global to the local, teasing out issues regarding political activism and other forms of agency and resistance, space and mobility, and personal and family relations, amongst others. Many of the chapters are specifically gendered analyses that explore matters related to the double marginalisation of Palestinian women.

The first three chapters comprise the state and ethnicity theme. In Chapter 1, Leena Dallasheh examines the efforts of al-'Ard, a nationalist and pan-Arab movement established in 1959 by a group of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Members of al-'Ard demanded the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the return of confiscated land, the right to full and equal political, social and economic recognition of Palestinians by the Israeli state, and an end to military rule and all discriminatory laws. The movement was unique insofar as it utilised the legal mechanisms and institutions of the state to challenge its discriminatory policies, which it framed in terms of its Zionism. Dallasheh traces the legal battles between al-'Ard and the Israeli state and courts. After its attempts to acquire a license to publish a newspaper was denied by the Supreme Court, al-'Ard was not dissuaded but followed with an attempt to establish a company, then an association, and finally a political party. The Supreme Court decisions reveal, she argues, the repression and marginalisation experienced by the movement, based not in any threat of violence against the state, but its Palestinian-nationalist ideology and its illegitimacy in the view of the Zionist ideology and nature of the Israeli state.

The role of military service as a mechanism of dividing Palestinian citizens into ethnic minorities is the subject of Chapter 2. In it, Rhoda Ann Kanaaneh brings into question any proclaimed Arab loyalty to the Jewish state, and further problematises military service as a useful mode for Palestinians to achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the state. Military service, she argues, is a socio-political tool used by the state to divide Palestinians into ethnic minorities. This serves to both weaken the Palestinian nation and to strengthen the identification of certain subgroups (such as the Bedouins) with the state. The Bedouins in particular are "targeted as a special minority" (40), with military service deemed a worthwhile choice among them. Although military service is appealing due to the perceived social, economic and political opportunities that follow (further employment, public services, potential to lease land), Kanaaneh's research shows that, more often than not, military service does not necessarily counteract the predominance of the ideological and structural constraints of a system based on the Jewish/non-Jewish dichotomy. …

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