Post-Domicide Artefacts: Mapping Resistance and Loss onto Palestinian House-Keys

By Webster, Scott | Cultural Studies Review, September 2016 | Go to article overview

Post-Domicide Artefacts: Mapping Resistance and Loss onto Palestinian House-Keys


Webster, Scott, Cultural Studies Review


Home destruction and forced exile are long-running features of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli historians Ilan Pappé and Benny Morris have revealed their prominent role in cementing the nascent Jewish State during the First Arab-Israeli War (1947-49).1 Through the fighting over 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from within Israel's expanding territory and barred from ever returning-an exodus now known as al-nakba (Arabic for 'the catastrophe').2 Scholarly and mainstream debate argue over whether this exodus proves a deliberate ethnic cleansing campaign, yet its demographic outcome-a distinct Jewish majority in the State of Israel-remains clear.3

Pappé also identifies the relationship nakba-era home destruction had with 'memoricide': the vanishing of Palestine's material cultural landscape as a means of expunging memory of Palestinian presence.4 Five hundred and thirty-one villages were destroyed and the coastal cities of Jaffa, Acre and Haifa depopulated of their Palestinian majorities.5 Many of these villages have been planted over with public parks and artificial forests, rendering their cartographical erasure permanent.6 It is a literal effacement of Palestinian residential geography, of markers and signs that (can) act to preserve history and memory. Without prior research or some lingering material 'clues' on the surface, it would be difficult to know that Palestinian villages once stood there. The framing mechanisms for these parks-the websites, the signposts-do not indicate what lies beneath the flora.7

Alongside academic work are the studies and statistical monitoring of Israel's contemporary policies targeting homes by rights-based organisations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).8 Groups such as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Zochrot and Badil have been founded to address many of these practices and their effects specifically.9 This collective research recognises the widespread destruction and theft by Israel and deconstructs the bureaucratic, legal and military regimes enabling policies of demolition, eviction, expropriation and deportation. Home as a valid 'pressure point'-that is, leverage for disciplining Palestinians-features as a guiding principle for administering the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).10 This disciplinary purpose is also linked to familiar themes of expansionism and influencing demographic ratios.

While providing essential data and intellectual contributions, the research by rightsbased organisations is primarily concerned with the demolition or displacement act. In John Porteous and Sandra Smith's view, this research covers the deliberate destruction of home by human agency in pursuit of certain objectives.11 This alone does not constitute 'domicide'. It is the psychological hurt of losing home, different from equally important socioeconomic ruination or physical harm, that Porteous and Smith emphasise in creating the concept.12 What must follow, then, is an attempt to grapple with the whole affective dimension of being forcibly separated from home-including the means by which victims try to overcome its impact. This article examines the use of nakba-era objects-specifically house-keys-by Palestinians to convey hurt, memory and ownership. What do these practices and their symbolic filtration into various modes of cultural production reveal about domicidal suffering? What is their potential for combating the goals of domicide itself at a physical and temporal remove from the lost homes?

The vulnerable home

The pain caused by the loss of home is a complex phenomenon. This, in turn, is due to flexible interpretations of 'home'. It can bear a 'cluster of meanings' including multiple, simultaneous ones; as diverse spatialisations as a single room (or individual's psyche) to a country or region, even the planet and beyond.13 Literature has explored the meaningfulness of home with a view to its acute vulnerability. …

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