The Peripheries of Palestine / Israel

A response to the following cluster of works: Singing the Homeland and The Homeland & Nationalism by Oren Yiftachel and Mapping Israel–Palestine: Review Essay of Atlas of the Arab–Israeli Conflict, Gilbert Martin, 1st ed. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. (1974). /The Routledge Atlas of the Arab–Israeli Conflict, Martin Gilbert. 9th ed. Routledge (2008). Atlas of the Conflict: Israel–Palestine, Shoshan Malkit. 010 Publishers, Rotterdam (2010). Subjective Atlas of Palestine, Edited Annelys de Vet (Ed.). 010 Publishers, Rotterdam (2007) by Helga Tawil-Souri in Journal of Political Geography.

If Milkat Shoshan’s “entire exercise becomes a fetishized one that does not overcome the fundamental problem of “writing geography” and the seeming neutrality and authority of cartography” (Tawil-Souri) and Gilberg’s is an exercise of “pushing Palestinians off the map” one is left to wonder whether neutrality in the “science” of cartography is ever possible. Between a satellite image from Google Maps slicing up Israel-Palestine with an unratified border and atlases that depict their own ideology and questions, isn’t the scientific “objectivity” of cartography trumped by an overwhelming unavoidable subjectivity laden with ideological significance? If indeed as Shoshan exhibits in the “critical cartography” of her atlas “no “right” way to “write-territory”, is the only way out the route of Dutch designer Annelys de Vet of the the International Academy of Arts in Palestine, in the shape of jigsaw puzzles: through the eyes of the beholder looking from the bottom up?

If the publishing world does continue on its current path and ink-on-paper renditions of biased takes on Palestine-Israel cease to exist, it is the way of technological determinism and those who subscribe to the dream of the digital utopia to assume that digital, web-based, technologically-aided, possibly crowd-sourced versions of the atlases may resuscitate the promise of a “neutral” atlas. Such an assumption, as compelling as it may be, will deliver perhaps even more detrimental blows to the scientific impartiality of cartography than the atlas-makers’ print editions. At the base level, it is expected that a crowd-sourced Google maps mutation may allow for people to tell their own stories and Palestine-Israel to be mapped by the voices that de Vet attempted to amplify in her Atlas and more. However, the digital divide, access to the Internet, broadband penetration, literacy, language barriers and other factors may prove to be an extension to the print edition of “pushing Palestinians off the map” this time by the perceived democracy of user-generated participation and not that of an agenda-driven atlas maker.

In Singing the Homeland, Oren Yiftachel raises important questions about the notion of “homeland” as quoted in many a song played in the opening sequence to the Zionist project. By laying out a trajectory of “homeland” conceptions and depictions, tangible or qualitative, through cultural symbols, Hebrew popular music namely, juxtaposed with the changes and the process of building a nation state, Yiftachel sets the stage for an understanding of Israel’s political culture. In a striking resemblance to Joseph Massad’s reading on the Arab resistance, revolution songs, what Yiftachel effectively does, is analyze the “etching tools” used to engrave, inscribe a picture, landscape, song and prose onto memory and aspiration in the face of all challenges, in this case, a “colonized homeland”.

Hebrew popular music has aided Zionism to claim the Israeli/Palestinian landscape as a sole Jewish property, and as a malleable territorial basis for realizing the goals of expanding Jewish nationalism” (Yiftachel) Zionism, aided by Hebrew popular music gained its momentum, according to Yiftachel, not by simply offering a limitless dream of a “Jewish homeland” through its poetic geographic reconfiguration but by showing up where it mattered most. By pushing onto the public stage performers and popular music that sung its praises so to speak, Zionism was deemed legitimate through the presence and repetition of the “normalizing” tunes to where the audiences, the publics, congregated most frequently.
“Hebrew popular music and communal singing served to implant Zionist values through the emotional musical experience. This was affected, in a ‘soft’ form, by a daily performance of these values in the Jewish-Zionist community in general and, more specifically, in sites such as youth movements, community centers and radio programs” (Yiftachel 17) In the context of Israel, combine the composed fluidity of the “Homeland’s” spatial bounds with the “normalizing” effect of the “expansionist” rhetoric repeated day in and day out over wavelengths and in concert halls, and you will start to hear a melody of the most sinister persuasion. By deeming the “homeland” exclusive to Jews, the music, like many a map or an atlas before it “pushed Palestinians off the map”. “the image of an exclusive Jewish homeland renders virtually impossible the meaningful inclusion of Arab citizens into the Israeli political community. Expansionist Jewish identity in Israel has created the infrastructure for an ethnocratic state that ‘belongs’ to the whole of world Jewry, but excludes local Arabs from the cultural locus of their own state” (Yiftachel).

Our sun will yet rise
On Jordan and Sharon
Where Arabs camp.
This land will be ours!
And you among the builders!
(Shaul Tchernichovsky, Shadows Stretch)

“Israeli curriculum, leisure time activities, political speeches, public rhetoric, literature and even military language all entrenched the sentiment that the and belonged to the Jewish people and to no one else” (Yiftachel The Homeland & Nationalism 20)

An atlas of sorts, Yiftachel’s The Homeland & Nationalism look at the concept of “homeland”,  is handy lexicon to be used by any prospective inquirer into issues of nationalism, homeland and specifically in the context of Palestine-Israel. Problematizing the “homeland” notion, Yiftachel introduces his coined term “ethnonationalism” to take an analytical lens to the way in which a “homeland” is constructed and centered around the idea of ethnicity. Examining the ways in which homeland “ethnonationalism” functions vis-a-vis self-determination and nation-state politics, Yiftachel argues that “an ethnic homeland” as the foundation for the modern nation state’s political spectrum and moral base, is the basis upon which ethnic and national groups are mobilized.  In Yiftachel’s broader more seemingly universal analysis, which spans the globe from Kurdistan to South Africa, the Palestine-Israel map emerges once again to illustrate the workings of homeland “ethnonationalism” in relation to its dealings with ethnic minorities and diasporas. Putting the three atlases, the music CDs and the encyclopedias back on the shelf, the Palestine-Israel map remains, unresolved, subjective and once again: in the eye of the beholder. I pull out my Sharpie and sketch, once again, this time attempting to humor the Google Maps, the PeaceNow group, Shoshan and all those fixated on the idea that “respecting” the green line would be the be all and end all of peace in Palestine-Israel. What would this “new” Palestine look like dangling from a chain around a newly activated patriot’s neck? Immersed in “respecting” the green line, I step back look to my imagined pendant, or two, rather and decide against presenting it to my patriot. Looking at the pieces before me, I fail to see and share the vision of many who hang their hopes on maps stroked with green lines claiming them to be the route to peace. In the images I see before me, I see the two alleged pendants for peace; one which requires a squint of the eyes to locate and the other sits there, an aborted fetus helpless at the hands of the surgeon.

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