IRC Guest Lecture: Culture and Power among Palestinians in Tel Aviv

The IRC Guest Lecture series kicked off last week, with journalist and anthropologist Andreas Hackl’s talk on “Culture and Power among Palestinians in Tel Aviv: An Intercultural Perspective”.

With his natural flair for storytelling, Andreas took us on a journey to modern-day Israel, where the Palestinian citizens of Israel have taken part in an ongoing struggle to preserve identity, culture and a national identity while at the same time living in the midst of Israeli society.

Making up some 1.3 million or 17 percent of Israel’s population today, the Palestinian citizens of Israel are the descendants of those Palestinian Arabs who did not become refugees in 1948 – when Israel was created – but were incorporated within the boundaries of this state that continues to define itself as Jewish (and democratic). What is important is that the Palestinian or Arab citizens of Israel are not a minority that immigrated into a majority-society, but rather an indigenous former majority to which a foreign colonial project and a state had forcibly immigrated. Palestinians in Israel are then dealing with the condition of ‘exile at home’ in their everyday lives. This includes the complex and difficult balancing of power and culture by individual members of this ‘marginalized minority’.

The everyday political and cultural dilemmas are specifically severe among Palestinians in Tel Aviv, a city often imagined to be an exclusively Jewish-Israeli place. Here, Palestinians’ historic luggage and their national and cultural identities often stand in sharp contrast to the social and cultural environment in the city and Tel Aviv’s own discursive identity. The result of Palestinians’ opportunity-oriented inclusion into Tel Aviv – whether in search for work, education, or an urban lifestyle – is often the uneasy coexistence of everyday struggles with power and culture on the one hand, and the often innovative and empowering tactics of individual Palestinians on the other.

For Palestinians in the city of Tel Aviv, conflict and peace, or resistance and cooperation, coexist.

Andreas’s talk raised some serious questions on the issues of plurality but at the same time partiality of identity. The ‘exile at home’ takes the traditional anthropological view of liminality to new levels. Important questions were also raised on multilingualism in modern-day Israel. As a journalist and a researcher he relied on interviews and ethnographic engagement to capture and convey the ‘voice’ of the community he was studying. As the Palestinian citizens of Israel often switch between languages depending on context, he too had to be sensitive to the special requirements of each situation – Arabic, Hebrew and English intermixed in many ways. You could write a whole paper about the dynamics of these interviews based on the language used for communication, before you move on to the more crucial power dynamics examined in his work.

Andreas is also a member of the International Doctoral Programme Transformations in European Societies, a collaboration between the universities of Munich, Murcia, Tel Aviv, Graz, Basel, Copenhagen and Heriot-Watt and is one of the editors of the Transformations blog. He is a PhD student in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh and DOC-fellow of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

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