"Israelis Studying the Occupation" is a compilation of articles in the journal Critical Inquiry published by University of Chicago Press. The current edition was edited by Dr. Ariel Handel and Dr. Ruthie Ginsburg of The Minerva Humanities Center (MHC) at Tel Aviv University. Among the authors in this volume, Amira Hass, Dr. Hagar Kotef, Dr. Maya Rosenfeld, and Dr. Hilla Dayan, are known as staunch political activists.
MHC has been the subject of numerous IAM posts. In April 2016, IAM reported that Handel replaced Prof. Adi Ophir as an academic co-director at the MHC without going through the standard process of publicizing the position and seeking competitive candidates. To appoint Ophir's Ph.D student to replace him is quite unethical. Also troublesome is the fact Handel is a classic neo-Marxist, critical scholar, an approach which is overrepresented in the Israeli academy. Last November IAM reported on a MHC workshop series intended to "advance academic professionalization from a critical perspective" where IAM noted that critical theory is not accepted by mainstream academic journals.
MHC's Handler is a political-critical researcher according to his self description. This is attested by his latest publications. In his newest book, Occupation: The Politics of Everyday Life in the West Bank Settlements, co-edited with Marco Allegra and Erez Maggor, the authors provide the following acknowledgment, "We would like to commemorate the memory of our former colleague, Michael Feige, who was one of the four victims of the terror attack that took place in Tel Aviv on June 8, 2016. Michael, an admired teacher and a renowned scholar of Israeli society, was trained at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and taught at Ben-Gurion University, where he most recently served as the head of the Israel Studies program. A scholar of the national-religious settler movement and author of several key studies on Gush Emunim, Michael was among the most vibrant participants of the workshop held at the Minerva Humanities Center in 2014; his death came as a shock and represents a great loss for us all." But in essence, terrorism is what lies behind the dispute between the two Peoples, something the authors prefer to ignore.
In the introduction to the compilation the authors contend, "it seems that the very possibility of maintaining a relatively open and democratic regime in Israel in the 1948 borders is largely based on the fact that millions of Palestinians are deprived of civil rights like voting for parliament and freedom of speech and assembly. Willingly or not, the critical researcher is also part of the mechanism. The relative freedom of speech granted to the researchers by academia is part of the privilege granted to them as Jewish Israelis." The authors move on to describe how Israeli critical researchers stay in Israel in order to "criticise it from within," even when it means they too are to be blamed for the occupation. While the authors intend to show it as an act of heroism, one could argue it is an act of convenience.
The type of work Critical Inquiry has published concerning Israel illustrates a negative approach: "'Ethnocracy' and Its Discontents: Minorities, Protests, and the Israeli Polity" by Oren Yiftachel, Jul 2000; "Is There Anything We Might Call Dissent in Israel? (And, If There Is, Why Isn't There?)" by Daniel Dor, Jan 2006; "The Right to Refuse: Abject Theory and the Return of Palestinian Refugees" by Dan Rabinowitz, Mar 2010; "Declaring the State of Israel: Declaring a State of War" by Ariella Azoulay, Jan 2011; "The Post-Zionist Condition" by Hannan Hever, Mar 2012; "Potential History: Thinking through Violence" by Ariella Azoulay, Mar 2013; "Palestine as Symptom, Palestine as Hope: Revising Human Rights Discourse" by Ariella Azoulay, Jun 2014; among others. But missing from the list is criticism of the Palestinians, from over 40 items discussing Palestine and Palestinians none is a critical inquiry.
The neo-Marxist, critical scholarship dominates some social science departments. It is a convenient tool for political activists because it gives academic legitimacy to those who argue that Israel can do no right and the Palestinians can do no wrong. Tel Aviv University should be more alert to political activism advanced by MHC.
Allegra, M, Handel, A and Maggor, E (eds.). (2017). Normalizing Occupation: The
Politics of Everyday Life in the West Bank Settlements (Indiana University Press)
Special Journal Issues
Handel, A and Ginsburg, R (guest editors). (forthcoming, 2017), Critical Inquiry
special theme: "Israelis study the Occupation: Critical Perspectives"
Handel, A, and Maggor, E (guest editors). (2016), Theory and Criticism special
issue: "The Settlements in the West Bank: New Perspectives" (in Hebrew).
Articles in Refereed Journals
Handel, A and Dayan, H, (Forthcoming, 2017), "Multilayered surveillance in Israel-
Palestine: dialectics of inclusive exclusion," Surveillance and Society.
Handel, A and Ginsburg, R (forthcoming, 2017), "Israelis study the occupation:
politics, ethics, methodology, and theory", Critical Inquiry.
Allegra, M and Handel, A (forthcoming, 2017). "La fondazione dell’insediamento
di Ma’ale Adumim (1968-1978)", Passato e Presente.
Normalizing Occupation: The Politics of Everyday Life in the West Bank Settlements
By Marco Allegra, Ariel Handel, Erez Maggor
Controversy surrounds Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the radical national and religious agendas at play there have come to define the area in the minds of many. This study, however, provides an alternative framework for understanding the process of "normalization" in the life of Jewish residents. Considering a wider range of historical and structural factors in which the colonization of the West Bank developed it allows placing its origins and everyday reality into a wider perspective. The works collected consider the transformation of the landscape, the patterns of relationships shared by the region's residents, Palestinian and Jewish alike, and the lasting effects of Israel's settlement policy. Stressed in particular are such factors as urban planning, rising inequality and the retreat of the welfare state, and the changing political economy of industry and employment. In doing so, the authors collected here provide new insight into the integration and segregation processes that are an integral part of the broader historical trends shaping Israel/Palestine.
In January 2016, this flat in the Jewish settlement of Ma’ale Adumim was presented in the popular website Airbnb: “Amazing beautiful and spacious house, in a beautiful quiet suburban city 15 minutes to central Jerusalem. 4 big bedrooms, well equipped kitchen and large and cozy living room with panoramic view to the desert mountains.” Nothing in the advertisement hints at the fact that the Israeli town is located beyond the Green Line, in a territory that was occupied in the 1967 war. the controversial status of the location is obscured by a rather conventional description of the apartment, echoing that of tens of thousands of other Airbnb listings: the quality of the facilities available (at $60 a night) to guests, the beauties of the immediate surroundings, and the possibility of a fast, uncomplicated access to major commercial and touristic sites. the banality of the attributes listed by Airbnb hosts, however, illuminates some of the fundamental traits of Israel’s settlement project. As a matter of fact, most of the housing units built in the settlements are quite similar to the apartment depicted above and would therefore not appear out of place among the over two million properties in thirtyfour thousand cities that Airbnb lists in its website. the fact that the apartment in Ma’ale Adumim, as well as others in settlements such as Ariel, Karnei Shomron, or Efrat are presented on the website as being in Israel is also telling, as it points to the role that seemingly prosaic activities such as renting an apartment have in shaping the political and human geography of a contested territory. Indeed, the history of Israel’s settlement project has been by and large the history of the normalization of Jewish presence in the West Bank, a history in which the advent of Airbnb to the region represents just the latest episode. the process of normalization, i.e., the ongoing incorporation of the settlements into Israel’s social, economic, and administrative fabric underlying the development of Israel’s settlement policy is the topic of this volume.
Israelis Studying the Occupation: An Introduction
Ariel Handel and Ruthie Ginsburg