"Rethinking Palestine..."

Rethinking Palestine: On the connection between scholarship and struggle, decolonisation and liberation, in the settler colonial context

Elian Weizman, CBRL trustee and former Deputy Director of CBRL’s Kenyon Institute, chaired a roundtable at this year’s BRISMES conference that took place at Kings College London in June. Here Dr Wiezman gives an overview of the discussion that took place.

The theme, “Rethinking Palestine: On the connection between scholarship and struggle, decolonisation and liberation, in the settler colonial context” was conceived as a public discussion and launch of a special issue of the Journal of Settler Colonial Studies that I edited alongside Yara Hawari and Sharri Plonski. Born out of the 2015 SOAS Palestine Society conference titled ‘Settlers and Citizens: a Critical View of Israeli Society’, the special issue interrogates the structures and mechanisms of settler colonialism in Palestine, by explicitly examining the Israeli state and society. The roundtable drew on key themes of the special issue as a way to respond to the deeper questions that organise this work, specifically its attempts to understand and connect framing and praxis, analytical paradigms and active mobilisation.

Participants of the roundtable included Toufic Haddad, Sai Englert, Yara Hawari, James Eastwood, Sharri Plonski and Mezna Qato. At some stage in our careers, we have all crossed paths at CBRL’s Kenyon Institute in East Jerusalem. This, and the fact that we are each involved in scholarship and activism that challenges settler colonialism in Palestine has fuelled our conversations over many years. The roundtable served as an opportunity to explore these themes together and to bring our thinking around them into public fora.

The roundtable asked participants to address the theme in two ways. Firstly, to reflect on their own research and how it fits into the scope of studying Israeli settler colonial practices and institutions. Secondly, to discuss the intellectual and political commitments that we, as academics, have or should have when engaged in the study of settler colonialism and histories of struggle against oppression.

An interesting conversation developed around the role that knowledge plays in consolidating systems of power, but also in subverting them. We discussed how academics produce knowledge with the potential to contribute to anti-colonial struggles on the ground and the responsibility we have to align our scholarship to movements for liberation, draw inspiration from them and feed back into them.

This commitment will not only stem from our spotlighting of modes of resistance and agency among colonised peoples, but in the rigour we apply to our understanding of settler colonialism – its holes, ambiguities and dissonances – and its particular operations and transformations in its penetration of Palestine.

The conversation then shifted to the importance of bringing the struggle to our own institutions, to take part in current campaigns that seek to transform the terrain in which we work. One such example is ‘the duty to refuse’ (to quote one of our participants) – to refuse participation in the epistemological erasure of the forms of knowledge produced by liberation movements and indigenous scholars/activists and in the scholarly practices and methodologies that sustain their marginalisation and neglect.

The discussion struck a chord with our audience – a packed room of BRISMES members, the majority of whom work on Palestine and the Israeli state and society. They shared stories of institutional challenges in researching anti-colonial and critical scholarship about Palestine. There was great enthusiasm in the conversations that our collective work instigates; a way of subverting the increasing pressures we face to disengage our scholarship from the movements that we investigate.

Over the next few months, the articles from the special issue will be published (online first) with the Journal of Settler Colonial studies. We hope that you read and engage with the arguments we present and we look forward to developing our research on these themes.

Elian Weizman is a lecturer in Middle East Politics. Before re-joining SOAS she was the deputy director of the CBRL Kenyon Institute in East Jerusalem (2015-2017). She completed her PhD on resistance to Zionist hegemony in the State of Israel in the department of Politics at SOAS in 2013. She is interested in the politics of knowledge production, and practices of resistance from within settler colonial societies, particularly in the case of Israel.

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