Getting by the Occupation: How Violence Became Normal during the Second Palestinian Intifada

Abstract

The second Palestinian intifada against Israeli occupation, which began in September 2000, saw Palestinian areas repeatedly invaded and shelled by Israeli forces. A long history of war and targeted cities is told along the thoroughfares of Palestinian towns; memories of past battles and defeats inscribed in street signs recall massacres in places like Tel Al-Za'atar and Deir Yasin. But recent events were more important than any official marker and formed the most relevant base by which Palestinians organized their lives. Commemorative cultural production and basic acts of physically getting around that became central to the spatial and social practices by which reorientation and adaptation to violence occurred in the occupied Palestinian territories. This article analyzes the spaciotemporal, embodied, and symbolic aspects of the experience of violence, and the political significance of cultural practices whereby violence is routinized. Such an approach provides a lens onto the power of violence in Israel's colonial project in the occupied territories that neither necessitates an assumption that violence is all determining of Palestinian experience, nor a championing of every act of Palestinian survival as heroic resistance. Memorialization that occurs in storytelling, in visual culture, in the naming of places and moving through spaces is one way in which this happens. The concept of "getting by" captures the many spatial and commemorative forms by which Palestinians manage everyday survival. The kind of agency that is entailed in practices whereby people manage, get by, adapt, and the social significance of getting used to it may be somewhat nebulous and unobtrusive as it develops in the shadow of spectacular battles and bloodshed. I demonstrate that this routinization of violence in and of itself, the fact of getting by, just existing in an everyday way, is socially and politically significant in Palestine.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a range of essays on Palestinians, the Palestinian territories, and continuing conflict in the region. See, for example, Rhoda Kanaaneh’s “We’ll Talk Later” (1995) and Ted Swedenberg’s “Occupational Hazards: Palestine Ethnography” (1989). For another account of “the everyday” within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, see Eyal Ben-Ari’s “Masks and Soldiering: The Israeli Army and the Palestinian Uprising” (1989), which queries how Israeli “army reservists interrelate, reconcile their experiences of serving in the territories during the intifada (the Palestinian uprising) with living their “normal,” everyday Israelis lives” (p373).

Cultural Anthropology has also published many essays that critically explicate dynamics and representations of violence. See for example, Bruce Grant’s “The Good Russian Prisoner: Naturalizing Violence in the Caucasus Mountains” (2005), Gregory Starrett’s “Violence and the Rhetoric of Images” (2003) and Erik Mueggler’s “A Carceral Regime: Violence and Social Memory in Southwest China” (1998).

About the Author

Lori Allen is a university lecturer in contemporary Middle Eastern Politics and Society at the University of Cambridge.

Editorial Overview

In the August 2008 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Lori Allen explores the spatial and social practices through which Palestinians adapted to violence during the second intifada. Her approach neither assumes that violence has been all-determining of Palestinian experience, nor champions every act of Palestinian survival as heroic resistance. Instead, she shows how,Palestinians demonstrated complex forms of agency better characterized as “getting by” than as resistance. Amidst multiple forms of violence mobilized to encourage, if not force, people to leave, the deflection of these pressures through adaptation and just getting by became crucial, Allen argues.

The essay cautions against over reliance on rubrics of resistance to understand how people respond to violence and conflict zones. Describing how daily life can require careful navigation of danger and safety zones, Allen demonstrates the multiple forms agency can take, and the way spatial constraints provoke continual improvisation. “Given the recent apparent shift in Israel’s political approach to Palestine,” Allen explains, “which some describe as a change from conflict resolution to conflict management in the midst of creeping apartheid, the adaptation by Palestinians to arbitrarily disordered space and spectacular destruction may represent some middle ground between quiescence and refusal, a ground that might sprout creative political potential”.

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