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Ariel Handel of TAU Minerva Humanities Center: Political Activism Disguised as Scholarship

Editorial Note

"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 postsIn 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
Read preview
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
Ariel Handel is the director of the Lexicon for Political Theory and academic codirector of Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University. His research interests are critical geographies and political theory, including the politics of mobilities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, mapping and spatial representations, and the political philosophy of geography. He is the coeditor of Normalizing Occupation: The Politics of Everyday Life in the West Bank Settlements (2017).
Ruthie Ginsburg researches visual culture related to human rights, especially from a critical perspective. Her book And You Will Serve as Eyes for Us: Israeli Human Rights Organizations as Seen through the Camera’s Eye (2014) examines the practices of local Israeli human rights organizations working in the occupied territories. Ginsburg has also published several academic articles as a result of this research. She is currently leading a research project funded by Fritz Thyssen Foundation on “Citizens’ Photography: Knowledge Production in the Realm of Human Rights,” which focuses on nonexperts’ contribution to human rights politics. She teaches photography, visual culture, and visual testimony in the modern era.

Publications in this journal 
Jan 2018
Israelis Studying the Occupation: An Introduction - Ariel Handel, Ruthie Ginsburg
Renouncing Citizenship as Protest: Reflections by a Jewish Israeli Ethnographer - Irus Braverman
Writing about the Occupation - Amira Hass
Apartheid / Apartheid / [ ]  - Saree Makdisi
For Occupation Studies, To Cultivate Hope  - Hilla Dayan
Fragments  - Hagar Kotef
1967 Bypassing 1948: A Critique of Critical Israeli Studies of Occupation  - Amal Jamal
The Transformation around the Corner  - Maya Rosenfeld

Israelis Studying the Occupation: An Introduction

Ariel Handel and Ruthie Ginsburg
The idea for the present collection was conceived in the beginning of
2015, following a call for papers for the seventh International Conference
of Critical Geography that was held in Ramallah. As we were critical re-
searchers interested in the conference topics, this call raised an immediate
dilemma. On the one hand, we would be obviously happy to submit a pa-
per or organize a session in a conference that has a tradition of innovative
and fascinating thought, particularly when it is being held so close to our
homes in Tel Aviv. On the other hand, we weren’t sure that as Israelis, we
would be welcome at all in a conference being held in the occupied West
Bank. Beyond our interest in the conference topics, a question of etiquette
also came up: What is worse, inviting yourself to a party at which you may
be unwelcome or ignoring it completely? In other words, if the Israeli crit-
ical community shuns a major international conference held in the West
Bank, is not that problematic in and of itself?
We tried to think of this in comparison, for instance, to feminist con-
ferences. Men should not take over the event, yet it seems that they should
arrive and be part of the audience and perhaps even a modest part—ideally,
a self-aware part—of the speakers. Otherwise, the conference could be tagged
as a women-only, sectarian affair. However, the need to create a safe space
for the organizers, the speakers, and the audience is also clear, and the last
thing we would like to do is to extend the occupation by other means.
We decided to open up these questions and consult with the conference
organizing committee. A comprehensive correspondence developed, at the
Research for this essay was supported by Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University.
Critical Inquiry 44 (Winter 2018)
© 2018 by The University of Chicago. 00093-1896/18/4402-0007$10.00. All rights reserved.

Page 2
conclusion of which we decided we would offer to raise these dilemmas in a
special session in the conference titled “Israelis Studying the Occupation.”
Instead of concealing and deliberating, we would put the issue of occupa-
tion research in relation to the occupation itself on the table, and instead
of doing so in a conference in Tel Aviv or the US, we would raise the hard
questions where, as Israelis, we would have to contend with the sharpest crit-
icism—that is, in Ramallah.
Each one of the researchers participating in the session was supposed to
present one of their research papers on the occupation and dedicate part
of the presentation to reflecting on the political and ethical questions as
well as the methodological and theoretical ones that are raised by the sit-
uation in which the occupier researches the occupied and the situation of
occupation itself. The idea for the session arose from the understanding
that it is impossible to separate the subject of research from its politics and
the form in which it appears (including the conceptual and methodolog-
ical frameworks through which it is expressed) and that it is impossible to
separate the research we conduct from the place in which we live, certainly
as political-critical researchers.
The departure point was the problematization of the colonial/settler-
colonial/postcolonial situation in which critical research is made in a soci-
ety that purports to be relatively open but whose very openness to critical
research is founded on ethnocratic power relations towards entire popula-
tions. The questions raised for discussion were: What is the responsibility of
Ariel Handel is the director of the Lexicon for Political Theory and aca-
demic codirector of Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University. His re-
search interests are critical geographies and political theory, including the poli-
tics of mobilities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, mapping and spatial
representations, and the political philosophy of geography. He is the coeditor
of Normalizing Occupation: The Politics of Everyday Life in the West Bank Settle-
ments (2017). Ruthie Ginsburg researches visual culture related to
human rights, especially from a critical perspective. Her book And You Will
Serve as Eyes for Us: Israeli Human Rights Organizations as Seen through the
Camera’s Eye (2014) examines the practices of local Israeli human rights
organizations working in the occupied territories. Ginsburg has also published
several academic articles as a result of this research. She is currently leading
a research project funded by Fritz Thyssen Foundation on “Citizens’ Photogra-
phy: Knowledge Production in the Realm of Human Rights,” which focuses on
nonexperts’ contribution to human rights politics. She teaches photography,
visual culture, and visual testimony in the modern era.

Ariel Handel and Ruthie Ginsburg / Israelis Studying the Occupation
Page 3
Israeli academics in researching the occupation? Is it even possible to study
the occupation as Israelis? Perhaps political responsibility requires oppos-
ing the regime and emigrating from the country? What about methodo-
logical and linguistic issues? How should the gaps and obstacles created by
the occupation itself be treated when conducting such research? Is it mere
happenstance that most of the Israeli studies deal with top-down power
structures and population management, while most of those conducted by
the Palestinians emphasize the human dimension and the active agency of
life under occupation? In this period, should one strive for cooperation be-
tween Israeli and Palestinian researchers in order to better understand the
occupation and oppose it, or rather is it better to respect the boycott, even
at the cost of dismantling radical political partnerships?
During our correspondence on the subject, we realized that despite the
fundamental interest in the discussion we were proposing, we were putting
the conference organizers in a tight spot. We gave up on organizing the ses-
sion but decided to continue the discussion and raise these important ques-
tions in writing, through the current collection of essays.
Studying the Occupation as Israelis: General Outline
One must begin by acknowledging that the occupier has always studied
the occupied population and the occupied territory. This was so in the his-
tory of colonialism and also in the specific case of Israel/Palestine. A man-
ifesto published after the conference included the following:
Israel’s academic establishment is an intimate and complicit part of
the Israeli regime, by active choice. In particular, universities, colleges
and research centers, many built on Palestinian land, play a central
role in the occupation of Palestine through research and development
in the service of the Israeli Armed Forces; Israeli military training;
development of weapons and military doctrines deployed against
And indeed, Israeli academia participates in the existing power structures
in a variety of ways: development of new weaponry; elaboration of inter-
national law that validates Israeli army actions in the West Bank and Gaza
after the fact; laying the ethical-philosophical groundwork for military mea-
sures and the occupation in general; and the work of experts on the Mid-
1. “Forging Solidarity, Taking a Stand on Palestine,” International Critical Geography
Group, 15 Oct. 2015, iccg2015.org/resolution-english/
Critical Inquiry / Winter 2018

Page 4
dle East, geographers, sociologists, and anthropologists who study Palestin-
ian society directly on behalf of the power structure and for its purposes.
In addition, there is a relatively small group of critical researchers of
the occupation who do not act as part of the power structure but against
it. Yet, regardless of their wishes, they too are embedded in various ways
in the society in which they act.
While the political and civilian critique of the occupation began im-
mediately after the 1967 war, it seems that the birth of Israeli institutional
academic critique can be traced to the 1980s, to a series of publications au-
thored by Baruch Kimmerling and Meron Benvenisti. While the former
wished to present the occupied territories as an integral part of the Israeli
system of government (and therefore one must speak, accordingly, of one
unit of control and a contiguous controlled space), Benvenisti (alone and
with coauthors in the West Bank Database Project) concentrated on de-
scribing the most intimate details of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank:
water, settlements and urban planning, the labor market, demography, and
This distinction between those that examine the occupation as part of
a wider system that exists between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean
(hence, Israel/Palestine) and those that emphasize the events beyond the
Green Line alone (hence, the Occupied Territories) is a thread that runs
through critical research to this day, and as we shall see below, it is part of
the question that we must explain when we wish to discuss Israelis study-
ing the occupation.
The years of the first Intifada (1987–1991) led to additional studies of
Israeli control of the territories and the effect of the occupation on the Pal-
estinian population.3 In the middle of the 1990s, apparently inspired by
the Oslo Accords, which threatened to shift the study of the occupation
to the history departments, a certain decline in occupation research became
noticeable, except for a small number of radical researchers who had al-
2. See Baruch Kimmerling, “Boundaries and Frontiers of the Israeli Control System: Ana-
lytical Conclusions” in The Israeli State and Society: Boundaries and Frontiers, ed. Kimmerling
(Albany, N.Y., 1989): pp. 265–84. And see Meron Benvenisti, The West Bank Data Base Project:
A Survey of Israel’s Policies (Washington, D.C., 1984), 1986 Report: Demographic, Economic,
Legal, Social and Political Developments in the West Bank (Boulder, Colo., 1986), 1987 Report:
Demographic, Economic, Legal, Social, and Political Developments in the West Bank (Boulder,
Colo., 1987), and with Shlomo Khayat, The West Bank and Gaza Atlas (Boulder, Colo., 1988).
3. For example, see Ha’Intifada: Mabat Mibifnim (Intifada: A Look from the Inside), ed.
Shlomo Swirski and Ilan Pappe (Tel Aviv, 1992), and Juval Portugali, Implicate Relations: Soci-
ety and Space in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Dordrecht, 1993).

Ariel Handel and Ruthie Ginsburg / Israelis Studying the Occupation
Page 5
ready identified the problematic nature of the accords.4 Further on, in the
2000s, one can see a palpable rise in the number of studies of the occu-
pation in various fields: law, history, geography, planning and public pol-
icy, and more.5
Twenty-Five Years Ago
In order to better understand the current situation in occupation re-
search, we wish to go back to the early 1990s, to a self-reflection regarding
a field study conducted by Maya Rosenfeld, an Israeli researcher in the
Dheisheh refugee camp. In “An Israeli Researcher in the Dheisheh Refugee
Camp,” Rosenfeld offers a thought-provoking account of the place of the
researcher in the anthropological-sociological field and of the politics of the
study itself.6 Three points seem to us particularly important.
In the beginning, Rosenfeld discusses the issue of creating trust in the
researcher, writing that “Were I English or French or even a woman from
the Palestinian Diaspora, gaining people’s confidence and willingness to
share their experiences and thoughts would have been an ongoing busi-
ness.” In a manner that seems today incomprehensible, Rosenfeld points
out that her being an Israeli seems to create more (mutual) interest and
even trust in the Palestinian population. In the early 1990s, when the sep-
aration regime was in its infancy, nearly all the Palestinians knew different
4. See for example Oren Yiftachel, “Israeli Society and Jewish-Palestinian Reconciliation:
‘Ethnocracy’ and Its Territorial Contradictions,” The Middle East Journal 51 (Autumn 1997):
505–19, and Jeff Halper, “The 94 Percent Solution: Matrix of Control,” Middle East Report 216
(Autumn 2000): 14–19.
5. A very partial list would contain: Yiftachel, Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Is-
rael/Palestine (Philadelphia, 2006); Orna Ben-Naftali, Aeyal M. Gross, and Keren Michaeli,
“Illegal Occupation: Framing the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Berkeley Journal of Interna-
tional Law 23, no. 3 (2005): 551–614; A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture,
ed. Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman (New York, 2003); David Kretzmer, The Occupation of Jus-
tice: The Supreme Court of Israel and the Occupied Territories (Albany, N.Y., 2002); Elisha
Efrat, The West Bank and Gaza Strip: A Geography of Occupation and Disengagement (New
York, 2006); Neve Gordon, Israel’s Occupation (Berkeley, 2008); Shir Hever, The Political
Economy of Israel’s Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation (New York, 2010); Merav Amir,
“The Making of a Void Sovereignty: Political Implications of the Military Checkpoints in the
West Bank,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 31 (Jan. 2013): 227–44; Yael
Berda, Habirokratia shel hakibush: mishtar heterey hatnu’a bagada hama’aravit 2000–2006 (The
Bureaucracy of the Occupation: The Permit Regime in the West Bank 2000–2006) (Jerusalem,
2012); Ruthie Ginsburg, “Taking Pictures over Soldiers’ Shoulders: Reporting on Human
Rights Abuse from the Israeli Occupied Territories,” Journal of Human Rights 10 (Jan.–Mar.
2011): 17–33; and Ariel Handel, “Gated/Gating Community: The Settlement Complex in the
West Bank,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39 (Oct. 2014): 504–17.
6. See Maya Rosenfeld, introduction to Confronting the Occupation: Work, Education, and
Political Activism of Palestinian Families in a Refugee Camp (Stanford, Calif., 2004), pp. 21–27.
Critical Inquiry / Winter 2018

Page 6
types of Israelis: soldiers, employers, partners, clients, right- and left-wingers,
religious and secular individuals. According to Rosenfeld, she primarily
aroused interest in the residents of the refugee camp as to “what type of
Israeli is she.”7 According to her account, rather than foreignness, there
had been a sense of deep involvement between Israelis and Palestinians
(from a negative, skeptical point of view, of course, yet with mutual curi-
osity and potential for listening and getting to know each other).
A second point is related to the role of political theory and open dis-
cussion in mutual change. During her study, Rosenfeld found that the two
parties—the researcher and the researched—are pondering the same theo-
retical dilemmas (social change, the role of Marxism in national thought,
and more) and that this deliberation makes them partners in a journey
rather than participants in a hierarchical system of researcher vis-à-vis re-
searched. The shared theoretical background (mainly Marxist) should be
noted too. Years of sitting in Israeli jails served the Palestinians as an in-
cubator for theoretical thought and elucidation of social, economic, and
national issues, which arose from the same sources studied at the time in
the social science departments of Israeli universities.
A final, important point is that Rosenfeld never “went Dheishan.” She
constantly emphasizes that no matter how much time she spent in Dheisheh,
how much she ran away from the soldiers or adopted the local accent, she
did not make any pretense of blurring the difference between one who
returns to West Jerusalem at night and those who remain in the refugee
camp. Therefore, Rosenfeld is completely cognizant of the social/national
privileges accorded to her as a Jewish/Israeli researcher and of the fact that
these privileges are among the things that must be put on the table.
Critique of the Present
In conclusion, Rosenfeld notes that it is reasonable to assume that if
she were to conduct the same study two or three years later (in other words,
in the middle of the 1990s), she would not have enjoyed the same level of
openness, curiosity, and trust. This comment leads us to think of the his-
torical present and the problems that it poses for critical researchers of
the occupation in the year 2017—after the disappointment from the Oslo
Accords, after the second Intifada, after the construction of the wall and
the prohibition on Israelis from entering area A, after several military at-
tacks on the Gaza Strip that left thousands of civilian corpses, and in a pe-
riod that is witnessing an increasing separation at all levels, along with
new heights of suspicion, spontaneous and institutional violence, and rad-
7. Ibid., p. 21.

Ariel Handel and Ruthie Ginsburg / Israelis Studying the Occupation
Page 7
icalization in all areas of the discourse. What are the institutional con-
texts of occupation research today? What are its limits? What are the priv-
ileges accorded to researchers but not to the researched? What are the the-
ories shared by the two parties? What possibilities of cooperation can be
The most prominent difference from the 1990s is the almost complete
disappearance of daily contact between Palestinians and Israelis. In 1991
the general exit permit, which allowed nearly all of the Palestinians to daily
and freely cross the Green Line (the 1949 armistice line, which separates the
State of Israel from the territories occupied in 1967), was cancelled. Further
restrictions and obstacles were established after the wave of violent attacks
perpetrated in the middle of the 1990s, and with the eruption of the second
Intifada in September 2000, the closure was institutionalized as a perma-
nent method. The physical and cognitive distance increased further with
the construction of the separation wall in the 2000s and the ban on Israelis
entering the A areas. At the same time, importation of workers from East-
ern Europe and Asia decreased the dependence of the Israeli economy on
Palestinian labor and thus brought about a near complete disengagement of
the two populations in all areas of life. Therefore, contrary to the begin-
ning of the 1990s, there is a lack of human contact (language, public space,
daily encounters, trust) while physical and cognitive walls are on the rise.
One of the implications of the lack of human contact and the separa-
tion is a reduction in the number of ethnographic studies. The majority
of the papers written by Israeli researchers in the last two decades deal with
the occupation mechanisms: the systems of laws and regulations, the check-
points and separate roads, the violence and management of daily routines.
The British geographer Christopher Harker wrote, in direct criticism of the
title of Eyal Weizman’s Hollow Land and Jeff Halper’s term matrix of con-
trol, that “to employ only a geopolitical epistemology to encounter Pales-
tinian lives and spaces is to run the risk of abstracting these spaces and
subjects in much the same way as the practices of the Israeli occupation
Limiting the research to the mechanisms of control might turn the oc-
cupation itself (and by implication, the image of the occupiers and their
self-aesthetics, technology, and socialization and disciplinary mechanisms)
8. Christopher Harker, “New Geographies of Palestine/Palestinians,” The Arab World Ge-
ographer 13 (Sept. 2010): 203–4. See Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occu-
pation (New York, 2007), and Jeff Halper, “The Key to Peace: Dismantling the Matrix of
Control,” The Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, icahd.org/get-the-facts/matrix
Critical Inquiry / Winter 2018

Page 8
into the main issue, while blurring or obscuring the occupied.9 Not only
does the occupier become more interesting than the occupation, another
result is the obscuring of the agency of the Palestinian population. In other
words, this is not only an abstraction but also a double victimization. The
Palestinians, who are the subjects of the occupation regime, also become
passive victims of the discourse of the occupation.10 Thus, due to institu-
tional and lingual separations, some critical works might hold the risk of
becoming just another brick in the wall.
The Colonizer Who Refuses?
Where does this separation—personal, institutional, discursive—put
the critical researcher? In his book The Colonizer and the Colonized, Al-
bert Memmi characterizes some of the types of occupiers and occupied
alike. One of the chapters traces the “colonizer who refuses,” and it seems
that some of the described characters tell the story in its entirety: the good-
will colonizer, or the colonizer who crosses the lines. He concludes by ar-
guing that there is no future for the left-wing colonizer.11 According to
Memmi, the necessary discrepancy between the universalism of the leftist
and the nationalist ideology involved in decolonization not only leads to
a split in the personality of the goodwill colonizer but also makes him polit-
ically worthless. Whether he crosses the lines or remains as a critical voice
in the settler society, the leftist colonizer is destined to political sterility and
a lack of any influence in either society:
Hard-pressed, the role of the left-wing colonizer collapses. There are,
I believe, impossible historical situations and this is one of them. The
present life of the leftist colonizer in the colony is ultimately unac-
ceptable by virtue of his ideology, and if that ideology should tri-
umph it would question his very existence. The strict consequence
of this realization would be the abandonment of that role.12
9. See Gil Z. Hochberg, Visual Occupations: Violence and Visibility in a Conflict Zone
(Durham, N.C., 2015).
10. See Handel, “What Is Occupied in Palestine?” Political Geography 53 (July 2016): 86–
88. However, a contrary view is presented in the book Decolonizing Methodologies, according
to which the occupier should not conduct ethnography of the occupied but should investi-
gate mainly himself. This, out of a political, ethical, and sociological position that identifies
the power relations in the ethnographic research itself and is aware that research is often an
extension of the occupation by other means; see Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Method-
ologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (London, 1999).
11. See Albert Memmi, “The Colonizer Who Refuses” in The Colonizer and the Colonized,
trans. Howard Greenfeld (Boston, 1991), pp. 19–44.
12. Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized, p. 39.

Ariel Handel and Ruthie Ginsburg / Israelis Studying the Occupation
Page 9
In the case discussed by Memmi, it is clear that “abandonment of the role”
means leaving the colony. But what is the meaning of “abandonment of
the role” in the current case? And by implication, what is the “colony”?
Here too, the way in which the occupation has been framed is revealed
as an ethical and political issue at one and the same time. Is the subject of
interest 1948 or 1967? The nakba or the naksa? The settler colonialism in Is-
rael/Palestine or the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip?
1948 and 1967 are not only points in time or names of wars, they also in-
dicate geographical areas—the meaning of 1948 is all of Israel/Palestine; 1967
refers to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—as well as radical differences
in the conception of the political situation, its analysis and resolution.
The choice to study only the occupation, meaning the areas occupied in
1967, implicitly absolves 1948, discriminates between occupation and settler
colonization, and accepts the State of Israel in the borders of the Green Line
as an undisputed entity. Thus, it also neutralizes part of the problematics
indicated by Memmi. After all, none of the critical researchers lives in any
of the Jewish settlements built in the West Bank. From that point of view,
none of the Israeli occupation researchers in a situation of goodwill occupi-
ers, if only because they are not considered occupiers.
On the other hand, referring to 1948 as the framework of the research,
as most Palestinian researchers undoubtedly do, identifies the 1967 occu-
pation as but another link in the chain of settler colonialism in which the
motivating power is the same: complete Jewish control of the area between
the Jordan river and the Mediterranean. According to this view, the entire
Jewish population in Israel/Palestine is a settler population and therefore
the leftists among them, even the most radical, are no more than goodwill
occupiers. Furthermore, the choice to intentionally study the events in the
territories occupied in 1967 and thus by implication validating 1948 and dis-
tinguishing between normal citizens (Jews living west of the Green Line)
and settlers/colonizers (Jews living in the Occupied Territories) is part of a
rhetorical move intended to deny the lengthier occupation, the one that be-
gan with modern Zionism at the conclusion of the nineteenth century.
A third approach combines the previous two. On one hand, it identifies
the 1948 question as the framing question and understands that its iniqui-
ties are far from being resolved, but on the other, it identifies the differences
in the practices implemented in both areas. In other words, there is a clear
understanding that the framework of reference must be the entire territory
of Israel/Palestine but also that within this territory there is a difference in
the application of control in the different geographical areas and between
Palestinians with Israeli citizenship (who still suffer from obvious institu-
Critical Inquiry / Winter 2018

Page 10
tional discrimination, racism, and exclusion) and the noncitizens that live
in the occupied territories.13 The Gaza Strip and the West Bank (except East
Jerusalem) have never been annexed to Israel; rather they have remained
in a constant state of inclusive exclusion.14 The regime in Palestine/Israel
is based on a situation in which externalization is part of the mechanism
of inclusion, part of the system that produces power and conceals it at one
and the same time. In that case, where does it put the Israeli researchers
of the occupation, inside or outside the colony?
Indeed, 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 crit-
ical 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.
On the one hand, the dialectic of inclusion and exclusion puts the Is-
raeli researchers in a good position. Michael Waltzer argued that the best
criticism (in both meanings, effective and ethical) is internal criticism.15 His
example is the Jewish prophets, who criticize the people as part of the same
people and as part of its ethical system and language. Therefore, it seems
that criticism by researchers of the occupation must be heard first and fore-
most from Israelis within the Israeli system—and preferably in Hebrew.
Yet, on the other hand, in the current political climate, does not the very
fact of criticizing the Israeli regime remove the researcher from the group?
In other words, doesn’t the common Hebrew curse “go to Gaza” signify a
discursive deportation as much as a geographical one? And again, what does
this say about the concept of criticism itself when it is disconnected from
its intended audience? Is not the result precisely the goodwill occupier who
appears to be neither here nor there?
The dialectic of inclusion and exclusion thus puts the critical researchers
in a position where they find themselves being shunned by their own com-
munity, which is increasingly unwilling to hear criticism about its state or
policies, but also by the Palestinian community, with which they wish to
create solidarity and support in its rightful struggle.
13. See Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir, The One-State Condition: Occupation and Democ-
racy in Israel/Palestine, trans. Tal Haran (Stanford, Calif., 2013).
14. See The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestin-
ian Territories, ed. Ophir, Michal Givoni, and Sari Hanafi (New York, 2009).
15. See Michael Walzer, Interpretation and Social Criticism (Cambridge, Mass., 1987).

Ariel Handel and Ruthie Ginsburg / Israelis Studying the Occupation
Page 11
Conclusion: What Is Refusal? Refusal to What?
Beyond the specific case of Israel/Palestine, such issues of solidarity and
support raise some major questions regarding the relations between knowl-
edge, justice, citizenship, and objection. If until now the main question has
been that of the colonizer who refuses (that is, who is the colonizer and what
is the colony), we would like to turn now to the issue of refusal. What does
it mean to refuse?
John Rawls distinguishes between conscientious objection and civil dis-
obedience. According to Rawls, the core of the difference is to be found in
the appeal to the sense of justice of the majority.16 While conscientious
objection is subjective, private, and apolitical, civil disobedience is public
and political. While the first is personal, the latter is a means of commu-
nication: between the disobeying person and the government, on the one
hand, and his fellow citizens, on the other.
For communication to be successful, one must assume, firstly, shared
language and, secondly, that the speech can reach its audience. In the Rawl-
sian case, we may speak of two basic needs: a shared concept of justice, and
that everyone is able to communicate with each other—to affect as much
as to be affected. Both assumptions, however, fail in that case. In Israel/
Palestine nearly half of the population are noncitizens, as the Palestinian
inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are ruled by the Israeli gov-
ernment but have no influence on its decisions. Moreover, the language
and the conception of justice are radically unshared: while the state of Israel
suggests particularism (justice and democracy for Jewish Israelis only), its
critics appeal to universalism (justice and democracy for all inhabitants of
Israel/Palestine). In that case, the acts of criticism do not form communi-
cation. The lack of a shared conception of justice seems to push any act to
the corner of private justice—that is, apolitical conscientious objection. It
is a failure of the language to create a shared basis for discussion and ne-
On the other hand, we might think the act of objection not as a means
of communication, appealing to an imagined shared conception of justice,
but rather as its opposite: that is, an acknowledged refusal to use the ma-
jority’s language. In that case, what we should seek are ways to decolonize
language by appealing to critical inquiry. In the age of post-truth and alter-
native facts the most subversive act would be to make research, reveal facts,
and produce knowledge that governments can neither hide nor resist. When
16. See John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), p. 322.
Critical Inquiry / Winter 2018

Page 12
newspeak phrases rule, truth itself is political. We, therefore, believe that
beyond the double marginality of the occupation research, and beyond its
inherent problematics, it still has an important role in exposure and change.
The authors in the current collection deal with those questions of truth,
knowledge, citizenship, and justice from various angles. They discuss the
difficulties in choosing the occupation as a subject of investigation; the dy-
namic between the Israeli researchers and the subject of research, the Pal-
estinian residents, and the occupation situation; and they wish to delin-
eate the structural and epistemological system that is the basis of the studies
conducted by Israelis who are at the same time part of the occupying so-
Hagar Kotef suggests viewing the failures of the anticolonial activists as
reflecting the failures and obstacles of critical academic writing in Israel, yet
argues that failures may be productive and politically significant. Hilla Da-
yan reminds us that no one is born critical and focuses on the production
of academic knowledge as part of a politics of hope. Out of her numerous
years of experience as a journalist and researcher, Amira Hass presents an
analysis of the complexity of the production of knowledge in the media
field. Maya Rosenfeld discusses the unique conditions that enabled her to
conduct an anthropological study in a refugee camp after the first Intifada
uprising and the changes that have occurred since then. A structural anal-
ysis of critical Israeli research is offered by Amal Jamal, showing how re-
searchers are trapped in analytical patterns related to their conceptions
regarding the occupation. Finally, Irus Braverman asks how relinquishing
Israeli citizenship can constitute a protest against the policies of the Israeli
regime and how it has affected her as a researcher of the occupation.
As these lines are written, in February 2017, the mailing lists are gushing
around another conference: the Association of American Geographers’ (AAG)
annual meeting, falling just a few weeks after Donald Trump’s executive or-
der restricting entry to the US from seven Muslim countries. Discussions
regarding the responsibility of critical scholars lead to debates over aca-
demic petitions to the US government, plans to organize the next confer-
ence in Canada or on both sides of the US-Mexico border, and even sugges-
tions to boycott the conference altogether. As questions of ethics blur with
issues of political effectiveness, it appears that some of the dilemmas of Is-
raeli researchers are now relevant to wider fields of critical and political work.
What is the role of critical researchers in current societies? What is the rela-
tion between knowledge, criticism, and citizenship? What are the epistemo-
logical limits of the research itself? All these come up as central issues in the
following collection of essays but might as well be all too relevant to more
and more scholars around the globe.


About Critical Inquiry

Critical Inquiry is an interdisciplinary quarterly that publishes leading writers, artists, and scholars in the humanities. Embracing the disciplines of literature, history, philosophy, religion, and the arts, CI is widely regarded as the “journal of record” in the study of culture and the human sciences. Founded in 1974 by Sheldon Sacks, and published by the University of Chicago Press, CI has published special issues on race, gender and sexuality, politics and interpretation, narrative, psychoanalysis, “Things,” canons, intimacy, identity, the language of images, saints and sainthood, to name a few. (For a link to the books that came out of these issues, go to  http://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/).  Critical Inquiry is especially known for its hosting of the critical debates that have defined intellectual discussion in our time, including Jacques Derrida on Paul de Man and apartheid, Edward Said on Israel and Palestine, and everything from literary Darwinism to the place of theory in the humanities.

SEPTEMBER 12, 2011 · 4:53 PM

Welcome to the CI Blog

Critical Inquiry has gone digital.

For more than thirty-five years, CI has been at the forefront of critical thought in the Humanities. Associated with no single school of thought, tied to no single discipline, it has provided a forum for cutting-edge work in the humanities, arts and social sciences—recognized as  “One of the best known and most influential journals in the world” (Chicago Tribune), and “Academe’s most prestigious theory journal” (New York Times).

None of that will change.  Critical Inquiry will continue to appear as a quarterly print journal.  JSTOR subscribers—and people affiliated with institutions that subscribe—will still be able to access the contents of every issue as soon as it appears in print.  We will continue to challenge and provoke, enlighten and enrage.

Everything else, however, will be different.

Of course, CI has had a web presence for years.  But on our new site you will find web-exclusive content, including advance copies of articles that have not yet appeared in the print edition.  You will be able to watch CI-sponsored lectures and events, including the presentations of our distinguished Critical Inquiry professors (in 2011-12, Leo Bersani).  You will find readers’ responses to controversial articles—no more waiting for months to watch a conversation play out.  You will see multimedia become a feature of our essays (for instance, studies of film illustrated with clips instead of stills), along with a broader range of materials including original art.  You will find dossiers selected from our vast archive, classic articles selected for topical relevance and made available free of charge for a limited time.  Last but not least, you will find In the Moment—our blog, featuring postings from CI’s broad network of distinguished authors and advisors on matters of pressing interest.  With the world in crisis and the humanities under siege, informed and truly critical inquiry has never been more urgent—and CI has never been more timely.

We are still a peer-reviewed print journal.  But we are now much more than that.  On behalf CI’s editors, advisors and authors, we bid you welcome.  We invite you to explore the site, and to join our mailing list for bulletins and updates.

(Critical Inquiry would like to thank Everett Connor of the University of Chicago Press’ Journals Division for warmly supporting this initiative, and Andre Marques and Ben Koditschek of NSIT at the University of Chicago for designing the site.)


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