Most conflicts seem very complex; the origins are rooted so deep in time that resolution is akin to staring into an abyss and engaging in a dialogue with something vague and furtive staring back: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The Middle Eastern conflict seems especially difficult with religion permeating the already explosive mix of what Martin Luther King called the evil trinity of militarism, racism and consumerism. As usual in economic and existential crises both real and fabricated as political necessity, the issue of gender and women is quickly subordinated to a broader discussion that turns slowly on its rusty axis, the Delta bluesman’s broken down engine. Like the suffragette movement in England prior to WWI, armed conflict always delays, and extinguishes any meaningful and profound dialogue. In many respects we are still infants, not even children of which to grow into would be a monumental step; at least a recognition of the basic identity issue seen in the late medieval paintings of Giotto, – who are we? and where are we going?- and a response such as Bosch in The Haywain. It seems fear is the incentive for governments to pursue very definite policies that serve to undermine the transformative potential for reconciliation.
The political and social climate is within our own control and society as a whole has failed miserably in imposing a sane and healthy reflection onto the public discourse. Almost all creative and liberal thought has been stymied in fundamentally altering our relationship to assets, money, banking, distribution and what we have witnessed is a through integration into neo-liberal borderline fascist systems of what could be called administered societies yawing from one self induced crisis to another. Women in part have also been seduced into this toxic stew, grabbing at straws, rewards, for being socialized . One might surmise that as a social group, women would invoke an interest in the transformation of both the hierarchical, patriarchal gender order and its relation between social sectors. The demands for profound social change are still being unmet in what seems to be a tactic of attrition by the entrenched order, and the middle east is a good litmus test of the human condition at its most raw and explosive level where equilibrium and renewal flirts dangerously with nihilism and messianic violence…
GRACE LEE BOGGS: And what we tried to do is explain that a rebellion is righteous, because it’s the protest by a people against injustice, because of unrighteous situation, but it’s not enough. You have to go beyond rebellion. And it was amazing, a turning point in my life, because until that time, I had not made a distinction between a rebellion and revolution. And it forced us to begin thinking, what does a revolution mean? How does it relate to evolution? …from the other things that Martin said. He was talking about a radical revolution of values. And that radical revolution of values has not been pursued in the last forty years. The consumerism, and materialism, has gotten worse. The militarism has continued, while people are going around, you know just using their credit cards. All that’s been taking place. And so, would he have continued to challenge those? I think he would. But on the whole, our society has not been challenging those, except in small pockets.
BILL MOYERS: He said that the three triplets of society in America were; Racism, consumerism or materialism and militarism. And you’re saying those haven’t changed.
GRACE LEE BOGGS: I’m saying that not only have those not changed, but people have isolated the struggles against each of these from the other. They have not seen that they’re part of one whole of a radical revolution of values that we all must undergo.
Lentit: Kassem’s perceptive and ground breaking book can be read in several ways. On one level I want to read it as a triumph of the feminist life story methodology, aiming not to reproduce gendered power relations in Palstinian society but rather to dismantle these structures , enabling both researcher and researched to embody the tensions between acquiescence and resistance, living as they do as colonised subjects in a patriarchal society. Although Kassem tells her family story, this is not really an auto-ethnography, but rather a perfect example of what feminist writers call ‘situated knowledge’. The end result is also what Foucault calls the ‘insurrection of subjugated knowledges’ – ‘insufficiently elaborated knowledges: naive knowledges, hierarchically inferior knowledges, knowledges that are below the required level of erudition or scientificity…’ (Foucault, 2003: 7-8)….
…As active agents, the quoted narratives of the women Kassem interviewed make a valuable contribution to knowledge, ‘specifically in terms of the ways in which they remember and seek to commemorate historical events’, despite their absence from most Nakba histories ). But it is not only the women, but also Kassem herself who makes a crucial contribution to knowledge not only through steeping her own family in Nakba memories, and through straddling between citizenship and outsiderness, but also through her commitment to what Les Back calls ‘sociology as the art of listening’ (2007), assisting her in excavating the women’s life stories for a multiplicity of meanings.Read More:http://www.ronitlentin.net/2011/09/05/review-of-palestinian-women-narrative-histories-and-gendered-memory-fatma-kassem-london-zed-books-2011/#more-446
Thus on another, perhaps more crucial level, the book must be read for the astute analysis of the narratives of these elderly women, first generation to the Nakba, living in what Kassem calls the ‘contested’ rather than ‘mixed’ cities of Lyd and Ramleh. Carefully mining her narrative data, Kassem excavates the women’s stories around three main themes. The first focuses on the use of language, which, in its quotidian use (the women are mostly illiterate or of low levels of education), provides gendered meanings, spanning the private, the political, and the subversive. The second theme is the focus on the body. Here women speak of the vulnerable, victimized male body, hanged, expelled, imprisoned, killed, and ultimately signifying failure in the public sphere, not being able to protect families and gain access to the political arena. The female body, on the other hand, is spoken about as a site of memory and resistance, a strong body of survival, even though none of the women spoke explicitly about rapes during the 1948 Nakba, also silenced by the Israeli side, though for different reasons. This is a particularly fascinating chapter – as the women memorise historical events through ‘body times’ – maidenhood, pregnancy, childbirth – charting feminine patterns of memory and denoting both suffering and strength. The third theme is home, which the women speak of in complex and sophisticated ways, linking home and homeland, loss and at time re-gaining. To me Kassem;s analysis of her data is always compelling, perpetually surprising, evoking multilayered meanings which illuminate the gendered experiences of the Naka….
…Through providing both a detailed and painful account of the ‘migration’ of 1948 – the women resist using terms such as expulsion, refugees, or Nakba, more commonly used by the men – and an explicit analysis of these first generation women’s strategies of resistance to Israeli governmentality, Kassem enacts her own resistance, providing more than an adequate response to her university’s attempt to silence her.
Finally, I read this book as a potent illustration of the paradoxical gendered positioning of Palestinian women citizens of the state of Israel. Nahla Abdo (2011) rejects claims by Israeli scholars that Palestinian women are oppressed mostly by (Palestinian) culture, religion and patriarchy, arguing that their subordination emanates from living in a settler-colonial state, where they not only experience repression through house demolitions and land confiscations, but also become boundary markers as Israel’s ‘demographic anxieties’ target Palestinian women in gender-specific ways. Kassem, however, does not shirk discussing Palestinian patriarchy, particularly, but not exclusively, in discussing ‘honour killings’, more prevalent since the loss of the vatan in 1948. While Palestinian patriarchy seeks to control women’s bodies, the Israeli state often forgives the perpetrators, exposing the women to two types of violence, from Palestinian men and from the state of Israel.Read More:http://www.ronitlentin.net/2011/09/05/review-of-palestinian-women-narrative-histories-and-gendered-memory-fatma-kassem-london-zed-books-2011/#more-446
As New Profile stated: ‘The militarisation of Israeli society harms the sacred principles of democracy, freedom of speech, and political freedom. For people who thought that only Israeli-Arabs were being framed for criminal political activity, this raid was proof that none of us can be sure of the permission to express ourselves freely regarding the failings of Israel’s society and regime’.To those who say that this police raid is the result of the new Netanyahu / Lieberman right wing government, I would say that this, rather, is what life in a racial state is about – it begins by targeting the state’s occupied subjects and second class citizens, and goes on to control its own citizens for (legally) opposing its sacred security cows. Read More:http://www.ronitlentin.net/2009/04/30/the-israeli-racial-state/#more-10