Identity Conflicts: The Construction and Selection of Narratives in Israel/Palestine

AHA Session 7
Thursday, January 7, 2016: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Salon C (Hilton Atlanta, Second Floor)
Jeffrey C. Herf, University of Maryland at College Park

Session Abstract

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to take place not only in physical confrontation but also in the public arena where intellectuals, scholars and polemicists use words and narratives to argue for supremacy.  This panel interrogates the key narratives of this contentious academic and public discourse.  We will examine their historical accounts recorded in ancient texts still held sacred by Christians, Moslems and Jews, and more recent events like the 1948 War that led to the State of Israel and the Naqba of the Palestinian people.  We hope that our presentations will inform perspectives of participants in the AHA meetings and beyond.

Donna Divine of Smith College examines the foundational stories that emerge from the 1948 War in “The Middle East Conflict: A Struggle for Land and for Meaning.”  She explains how the language, memory and identity generated by that moment have come to shape and define subsequent political encounters, and interrogates why an initial hope that ties to the same land, the experience of Diaspora, and centuries of non-violent coexistence would augur for reconciliation and compromise has not been realized. Jacob Lassner of Northwestern in “Modern Biblical Scholarship and the Evolution of a Palestinian National Narrative” reviews foundational moments three millennia or so ago when shared texts that describe events in the land both Israeli Jews and Palestinians now claim are interpreted in contrary ways.  Furthermore, Lassner demonstrates how selective readings of the wealth of modern Biblical scholarship are used to privilege competing contemporary political agendas. Ilan Troen of Brandeis charts when and how the concept of “indigenous rights,” developed by the international community for peoples in the Americas and Australia, came to be applied to the Israel/Palestine conflict.  In “Identifying the Indigenous Peoples of Israel/Palestine: contradictory historical claims and contemporary polemics” he shows that the claim of priority is used to privilege the indigenous and analyzes how the contested connection to an imagined Canaanite identity can be marshaled to advance both coexistence and rejection of the other.   Elie Rekhess of Northwestern outlines the growth of Islamic fundamentalism and the significance of its displacement of secular political concepts among Palestinians inside and beyond Israel’s 1967 borders.  Examining the fluidity and competition among Palestinians as they draw upon secular or religious ideas, Rekhess analyzes the roots and consequences of this change of emphasis in collective identity.

The panel highlights the nature and role of competing identity narratives in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and how they may serve facile appeals that mask extraordinarily complex issues deeply rooted in variant historical memories of both the ancient and recent past. 


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