Aren't We Human? Normalizing Palestinian Performances

By Jawad, Rania | Arab Studies Journal, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Aren't We Human? Normalizing Palestinian Performances


Jawad, Rania, Arab Studies Journal


You see, there are two models of Arab governance. The old Nasserite model, which Hamas still practices, where leaders say: "Judge me by how I resist Israel or America." ...The new model, pioneered in the West Bank by Abbas and Fayyad is: "Judge me by how I perform- how I generate investment and employment, deliver services and pick up the garbage. First we build transparent and effective political and security institutions. Then we declare a state. That is what the Zionists did, and it sure worked for them."

Thomas L. Friedman, "The Ballgame and the Sideshow," The New York Times, 5 June 2010

Writing in support of the "two-state solution," Thomas Friedman contrasts what he calls two forms of Arab governance visibly present in the occupied Palestinian territories. The first is based on resistance to colonial, impe- rial powers; the second on establishing neoliberal economic and security institutions. As the resistance model directs itself to local Arab populations, the neoliberal model largely speaks to Western-dominated governing and institutional bodies. Both models gain legitimacy from how their audiences judge them, in effect, from how they perform. Regardless of Friedman's ideo- logical positioning, his articulation is revealing in that it grounds Palestinian political practices in a logic of performance.

Advocating for the neoliberal model, Friedman praises the performance of the US-funded and trained Palestinian National Security Force (NSF) under the direction of Lieutenant General Keith Dayton. With the aim of reforming Palestinian security forces to be in alliance with the Israeli military regime, the United States sees the NSF as a step forward to implementing the road map, which the Quartet (the US, UN Secretariat, European Union and Russia) issued in April 2003 in support of the two-state solution.1 Its full title, "A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli Palestinian Conflict," articulates a framework based not on end goals but on ongoing assessments. The road map serves as a clear example of the workings of a larger socio-political context that defines international legitimacy and political solutions as "performance-based."

In this article, I explore how Palestinian cultural production in the occupied territories is embedded within this context of performance-based politics, which in turn shapes artists' and scholars' understandings of how aesthetic performances can function as resistance. I draw on Friedman's articulation, and the underlining logic, of the road map to focus on the ques- tion of spectatorship-who are Palestinian cultural productions addressing and according to what criteria are they being evaluated? I focus on The Gaza Mono-Logues theater project, which its organizers shaped as a rights-based advocacy campaign, in order to highlight the relationship between specta- torship and a politics of recognition. The need to be recognized as human, I show, is connected with the ways performance, normalization, and resistance are entwined. Addressing "the world" as anticipated spectator becomes a logic of both resistance and performance. The notion of "cultural resistance" thus becomes a part of the underlying logic of performance-based politics.

Performance-Based Politics

While more than a decade has passed since the United States drafted the road map, it continues to serve as a model for subsequent "peace negotia- tions" and policies that have been implemented on the ground in Palestine. Although never realized, its underlying logic remains pervasive. The docu- ment's staying power is evident in the Palestinian Authority's (PA) official state-building discourse and practice,2 the discourse around the declara- tion of 2014 as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,3 and most explicitly in the Palestinian Accountability Act passed by the US Congress in March 2013.4 The short text of the road map suc- cinctly summarizes key elements in dynamics of power, normalization, and performance in contemporary Palestine. …

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