Palestine Society 10th Annual Conference

Palestine Society 10th Annual Conference

When: Sat 17 Oct 2015 09:00 - Sun 18 Oct 2015 17:00
Where: SOAS


Book tickets here.

See below for full itinerary:




10th Annual Conference

Brunei Lecture Theatre SOAS

17-18 October 2015


Organised by the SOAS Palestine Society

Hosted by the Centre of Palestine Studies, LMEI, SOAS


With the Support of Al-Araby Al-Jadeed

Book tickets here.



In recent years, the focus of much media commentary has moved towards Israeli society and politics. Many speculate on the consequences of the rise of the settler right and the growth of Jewish orthodox religious movements. At the same time, the intensification of colonial practices in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on the one hand, and the state-sponsored targeting of migrant labourers and so-called infiltrators on the other, have led many to theorise a fundamental shift in the political trajectory of the Israeli state. This perspective has been strengthened by the seemingly uniform support these policies are receiving from all sections of Israeli society, whether in the media, academia, or the left of the Israeli political spectrum. However, a deep investigation into the institutions, culture, politics, religion and social relations at the heart of the Israeli state and the Zionist logic that guides it, offers different conclusions, deeply relevant and resonant to understanding the political landscape in which Palestine and Palestinians are structured and contained.

The Settlers and Citizens conference aims to highlight the continuities in Israeli politics both between different segments of Israeli society as well as between different epochs of the state’s existence. By focusing on specific political behaviours and trends, we hope to uncover longer term, more fundamental logics, which are based on the settler colonial nature of the state. The conference will discuss Israel’s relationship with different actors – Palestinian citizens, religious groups, non-Ashkenazi Jews, and non-Jewish residents;; academics and Journalists; the so-called Diaspora and Jewish organisations in the West – in order to understand Israeli politics as a totality rather than a collection of discreet actions and events.


Settlers and Citizens will build on the work of prior SOAS Palestine Society conferences, bringing academics, students, activists and panelists together in a critical conversation we hope will enhance academic enquiry, strengthen critical knowledge production, and encourage radical education on the question of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.



Specifically, the conference aims to:


?         Situate the Israeli state within the framework of colonial projects and settler colonialism in particular.

?         Explore the social, political, and economic directions Israel has taken in recent years.

?         Highlight the political continuity which exists between different segments of Israeli society, often presented as separate or contradictory.

?         Focus on the continued settler colonial policies directed at Palestinian citizens of the state.

?         Investigate and discuss racism as an underlying issue within Israeli political culture and institutions.

?         Interrogate the connections between inter-Israeli-Jewish racism and state policies directed at Palestinian citizens.

?         Assess the mechanism of legitimation and justification operating both within Israeli society and towards the rest of the world.

?         Discuss the role of the Zionist left, Israeli academia and cultural institutions in the normalization of Israel abroad.

?         Reflect on the connections between different sections of Israeli society and its military projects.


These themes will be elaborated on in six panels, and a final roundtable will attempt to synthesise and respond to the different discussion-points and arguments that evolve throughout the conference.


Registration: 9:00-9:30


9:30 Welcome and Opening Remarks

Dr Adam Hanieh



The Israeli Settler State: Zionism Between Triumph and Defeat

Prof Nadim Rouhana




10:45-12:15 Panel one: Production of Knowledge

Chair: Sai Englert


The aim of this panel is to conduct an in-depth investigation into the mechanisms of Israeli legitimacy and justification production. It will discuss the ways in which these have functioned internally, within Israeli society, and externally, in Israel’s striving to achieve international legitimacy. The panel papers examine the Israeli education system – including the academia – the cultural arena and the contradictory role of the media in this process, together with an in depth look into the discourses, apparatuses and institutions that assist the State of Israel to achieve and sustain this international image.


Palestinian Education in the Israeli Settler State: Divide, Rule and Control

Prof Ismael Abu Saad


This paper explores the multiple avenues through which the Israeli public educational system serves the Jewish settler state project and represents a colonial educational hegemony. It is legally mandated to promote the values of Jewish culture and loyalty to the Jewish state. Conversely, its policy and content systematically instill racially derogatory attitudes towards the Palestinian citizens of Israel among Jewish students, as a basis for fostering and perpetuating the deep-seated societal division between Jews and Palestinians. In addition, the public educational system effectively maintains the cultural, socioeconomic, and political subordination of Palestinian students through the substandard and discriminatory provision of resources, programs and services, and the imposition of aims, goals and curricula that alienate Palestinian students. Consequently, their levels of educational achievement are lower than that of their Jewish counterparts. As such, the Israeli public educational system plays an essential role in consigning Palestinian citizens to the social, economic and political margins of society.


Manufacturing normality: the Palestinian question in the Israeli media after the second Intifada

Noam Sheizaf

In my presentation, I’ll discuss the mechanism through which the question of Palestine and Palestinians is narrated in the Israeli media today, namely: The separation into sub-groups; the contextualization of political issues as problems of law and order; the treatment of the status quo as a permanent, agreed-upon arrangement; and more. I’ll emphasize the dynamic use of terms and names in Hebrew – from renaming Arab sites to Hebrew through to the ever expanding definition of “terror.” Finally, I’ll remark on the changes in recent years of the media landscape, the fragmentation of media and the rise of the ideologically-driven media. 


Beyond Mere Veneer: Zionism and Neoliberalism in Israeli Academia

Dr Hilla Dayan  

Conservative, undemocratic, self-perpetuating, subservient to neoliberal rationality and servicing corporate-military complexes -- these are some of the ills of global academia. They enfold in socially distinct ways in Israel and elsewhere. This paper examines the question of whether Israeli academia complicity with the occupation and social injustice makes it rather exceptional. Is it merely an extreme example, or is there something different about the way it sustains the co-hegemonies of both neoliberalism and Zionism as state-sanctioned ideology? In the paper I provide few examples to illustrate how this co-hegemony enfolds in the current academic context. Subject to widespread populist disdain, academia is nevertheless a vital organ of the normative state similar to the way Ernst Fraenkel analyzed it in his 1941 study of the function of the normative and the prerogative in a dual state. One indication for this may be the recent upsurge of concern with academic boycott as “strategic threat.” I argue nevertheless that the thesis that academia is a mere veneer outwardly projecting the normative state must first consider why academia is increasingly necessary internally to the secret service state, the anti-democratic state, the dispossessing state, the colonizing state. However, rather than dismissing Israeli academia for its complicity I also argue that we must not abandon it as a key arena in the struggle for the future of Israel/Palestine beyond the current regime, and for a post-neoliberal world.


Lunch: 12:15-13:15


13:15-15:15 Panel two: Law and Legal Realities

Chair: Dr Brenna Bhandar 


This panel on the mechanisms and productions of legal realities in Israel offers a critical investigation into the role of law within the Zionist project and the ways in which law and legal constructions are (ab)used for political aims within the Israeli state. The papers presented here will shed light on the importance of apparent adherence to the ‘rule of law’, in regards to both Israeli and international law, in order to preserve Israel’s legitimacy internally, within Israeli society, and internationally, to bolster Israel’s image.


The Legal Structures of Subordination

Dr Nimer Sultany


This talk examines the role of the legal system since Israel’s inception. I will argue that such an examination reveals that far from significantly challenging power structures, Israeli law effectively subordinated the Palestinians under its control: it advanced the occupation of the Palestinian Territories and created a hierarchy amongst Israeli citizens. At the same time, Israeli law granted the Israeli regime an aura of legitimacy by containing its practices under the “rule of law.” Ultimately, although the legal system has a moderating effect—because it often pushes the political system towards the political center—this center itself has been moving towards the right- wing continuum of the Zionist movement. 


The Israeli Supreme Court

Jamil Dakwar


[Abstract TBC]


Customizing Extreme Violence: A Critical Assessment of Israel’s War Record in Gaza

Prof Lisa Hajjar


One feature of international humanitarian law (IHL) is the role of state practice—particularly the practice of powerful states—in promoting what is or should be legal in the context of war and conflict.  Customary IHL, according to the ICRC, “derives from ‘a general practice accepted as law’….and that the international community believes that such practice is required as a matter of law.” This paper focuses on the Israeli record of legal interpretation and practice that function in tandem to expand the state’s right to deploy extreme violence against Palestinians. However, unlike states that just ignore legal rules, Israeli officials strive to make their violence appear “legal” and to promote their practice as “the new custom” for warring against stateless enemies. The targeting of civilians during the 2014 Gaza War and subsequent efforts to charge Israelis with war crimes before the ICC offer a vivid example of the high stakes battles over international custom. 


Myths and Misconceptions about the Israeli Legal System

Suhad Bishara


Most Israeli legal scholars argue that the constitutional doctrine of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” fits the Western model of a democracy by being a state that ensures the right of self-determination for the Jewish people, while at the same time protecting the civil rights of Palestinian citizens of the state, who constitute 20% of Israel’s population. This argument relies on constitutional principles set by the Israeli Supreme Court since the so-called “constitutional revolution” of 1992, embodied by the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and the Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation, and thus views the relations between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of the state through a majority-minority paradigm. My presentation will contest this conceptualization as one that misses and distorts its historical and political context, and will describe the legal dynamics that shaped the power relations between Israel and the Palestinian people, mainly those who became citizens of the state. I will suggest that the proper framework to analyze the Israeli regime and its policies towards Palestinian citizens is a settler colonial one, and will focus on the current policies of displacement against the Palestinian Bedouin citizens living in the Naqab to illustrate this. I argue that the case of the unrecognized villages in the Naqab serves as a microcosm and lens through which to understand the wider relationship between the Israeli legal system and the state’s settler colonial legacy.


15:30-17:30 Panel three: Mapping the Israeli landscape

Chair: Dr Sharri Plonski


To understand the fault lines of the settler-colonial state, in its relationship to its different populations, requires an investigation into its spatial policies, practices and habits; to understand how the practice of everyday life as well as the ordering of space, intersect with settler-colonial structures. These act as a window through which to analyse how the Israeli state is structured; how it constructs, contains and intersects with the communities that live within its elastic boundary lines; and how these are disrupted and reshaped in these interactions. The three papers, each anchored in a different ‘location’ of the Israeli political map, will investigate the multiple technologies and evolving relationships that produce the social, cultural, political and physical landscapes in Israeli and Palestinian space.


Land and Labor: Logics and Trajectories

Prof Zachary Lockman


Scholars and activists who have analyzed the course of the Zionist project in Palestine from its inception to the present day have sometimes done so in terms of a logic said to be inherent in it, which has been seen as having yielded specific visions and policies (including those bearing on land and labour, as well as space) along with a distinctive historical trajectory. Other analyses have foregrounded not so much logics as trajectories and the specific factors (again including land, labour and space/territory) said to have shaped them. These different approaches are also bound up with divergent historical periodizations. Giving some thought to these analytical frameworks and concepts may be useful for a better scholarly understanding of the phenomenon of Zionism, of what is (or is not) distinctive about it among settler-colonial projects and of contemporary Israeli state and society, but also for more effective political analysis.


The "Arab Village": Politics of Land, [Counter]Representation and Identity

Prof. Haim Yacobi


It will be impossible to discuss land and landscape without understanding the cultural and political meaning of the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages, yet, as this paper will argue destruction is just one side of the colonial saptio-politics in Israel\Palestine. As I will suggest in this paper, the landscape of Palestinian villages cannot be addressed singularly through the prism of Zionist society. My claim is that alternative architectural production mechanisms can be detected, counter products that transformed the Arab village from the enemy's landscape (which was obliterated or appropriated) to a national emblem in the eyes of the Palestinian society in Israel, the very same society that created the Arab village, and was not supposed to view it as an image, but rather as an obvious, natural, indigenous environment. In my presentation I intend to advance from the discursive to the concrete, providing a historical overview and a socio-political analysis of the Arab village's status, its transformations, its architectural interpretations and their implementation across the Israeli/Palestinian space. Specifically I will  refer to the following themes: (1) The  Arab Village as an object of colonial desire; (2) The destruction of the Arab Village; (3) Orientalism and the "re-discovering" of the Arab Village; (4) The political economy of the Arab Village; and (5) The Arab village as a site of resistance


Politics of Pleasure within the Politics of Violence: Affect and Agency of Zionist Settler Women

Akanksha Mehta


Women for Israel’s Tomorrow/Women in Green was established in 1993 as the first women-only organization under the Zionist umbrella in Israel. Committed to the security and Jewish heritage of the ‘Land of Israel’, the organization calls itself a ‘grassroots’ effort, building settlements, organizing public spectacles as well as events of ‘cultural’ and ‘educational’ importance. In this paper, I seek to examine the ‘everyday’ spaces of community-building that Zionist settler women from this organization create, configure, contest, and transform. In particular, I am interested in examining how spaces of pleasure and leisure nurture affective Zionist politics, intimate practices, and become sites of political agency. I argue that it is through these spaces that women experience ‘everyday’ socialization and build bonds of friendship, love, and care that nurture their immediate community and their larger political causes. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with women of the aforementioned organization in settlements in the Southern West Bank, I examine how these spaces of ‘affective’ politics further the settler-colonial cause and shape discourses of conflict, the nation, and the nation-state. I also seek to understand how joyful intimacies and emotions in times of pleasure and leisure stand alongside hatred and fear of the ‘Arab other’ to open new forms of female agency that allow the settler colony to flourish. Making a methodological/ethical intervention I ask –How can Middle Eastern feminist scholarship, methods, and ethics allow us to understand the politics of pleasure and liberation when they are nestled within the politics of divisiveness and violence? 


The Zionist Left, Settler-Colonial practices and the Nakba in Marj Ibn 'Amer, 1936-1956

Dr. Areej Sabbagh-Khoury


Critical historiography that focused on the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine used this year as a “zero point” to duplicate the juridical perception of sovereignty. Thus, Israelis could argue that “in war, as in war,” to imply that the expulsions and massacres happened exclusively in the context of battles between enemy forces. The establishment of the State of Israel replaced the war discourse with a post-1948 legal framework, effacing all that came before and severing year zero from all that came after. Based on archival material documenting the expulsions of Palestinians from 1936 to mid-1950s and the process of Zionist land accumulation, I will show that 1948 was neither the beginning nor the end of a process of settler-colonial expropriation. Instead I claim that the mid-1930s signaled an intensified process to expel Palestinian sharecroppers, which culminated in the Nakba. This paper offers in-depth investigation of Marj Iban ‘Amer (Jezreel Valley), a region where the Zionist movement bought the largest amount of land, and in particular, the kibbutz movement of Hashomer Hatzair – a self-described socialist, binational movement – to challenge many of the myths that veil the pre-1948 history of Zionist settlement. I will argue that the evacuation of Palestine and Palestinians before the Naqba was violent and direct, and essential to the production of Zionist territorial sovereignty after 1948.




Morning sessions: Material Realities

The aim of this two-part panel is to explore and investigate material realities on the ground, exposing the interrelations between Israel’s economy, its military industries, and its political elite together with the underlying racist assumptions, behaviours and institutions at the heart of the Israeli state and society.


10:00 – 11:30 Panel four: Material Realities on the Ground: part I

Chair: Dr Hagar Kotef


The first of this two-part panel will question how the relations between the military sector and the state function as the nexus of Israel’s image as a ‘high tech’ nation. Furthermore, panelists will discuss how this new reality has helped shape the state’s relationship with the rest of the world, as well as re-shape the Israeli elite in its own image.


The Night Watchman Becomes a Mercenary

Dr Shir Hever


In the latest stage in the neoliberal transformation in Israel, privatization has reached into the security sector. Privatization is heavily influenced by Israel’s close military ties with the U.S, which inspired the Israeli arms companies to assume the roles of for-profit corporations, and abandon their role as technical departments for the Israeli military. Over the last two decades, it is no longer clear whether Israel’s security industry serves the military and security policies of the government, or vice versa. The line between public and private becomes blurred as senior politicians, officials and military brass move into the private sector. The symbolic capital which being an Israeli military or police veteran is thereby transformed into material capital, in the form of marketable experience in the security sector. Rather than the emergence of a new elite in Israeli society, the old elite itself is changing into a new role.


The Political Economy of Israeli Defense: Homeland Security and High-Tech Industry

Mtanes Shehadeh


Since the early nineties, the Israeli economy has undergone significant changes. Since then, the economic growth in Israel continues to be primarily based on advanced industries, high technology industries, relationships with new markets as well as a significant increase in Israeli military and "Homeland Security industry" exports.

These three economic branches, originating from the Israeli defense industry, have become not only a major growth engine of the Israeli economy, but also a significant component of Israel's national strength and -power, playing a major role in Israeli foreign policy and a mechanism of influence in the international arena. Israel appropriates these areas to affect the positions of different countries around the world in order to support Israel in the international arena, to achieve legitimacy, and to normalize Israeli occupation. In other words, Israel uses the industrial and economic complex to achieve national goals. Military and security exports are intended to affect "Third World" countries, while the high-tech and "Homeland Security" industry is designed to normalize Israel in the advanced Western countries. This paper will explore the economic and diplomatic-political role of these industries in the last two decades, and their role in the Israeli political economy of war.


What is Left of the Israeli Left?

Prof Ilan Pappe


This paper will examine the nature and impact of the Zionist Left camp since Oslo until today.  It claims that the camp has nearly disappeared politically and disintegrated into the centre and the anti-Zionist political camps.  The paper analyses the reasons for this decline and assesses the impact it has, and will have, on Israeli politics. 


11:45-13:15 Panel five: Materialist Realities on the Ground: Part II

Chair: Adam Hanieh


In this second half of the two part panel, we will unpack the material links between the multi-layered racisms inside Israeli society. The panelists will discuss how the state wages a demographic war against its Palestinian citizens, and how the same logic which aims to preserve Israel as a ‘Jewish State’ is also mobilised against non-Jewish migrants and refugees. Finally, we will discuss the fate of the Mizrachim, North African and Middle Eastern Jews, and how the traditional labour and peace camp actively excluded them from power.


Race, Demography, and Settler Colonialism in Israel

Dr Mazen Masri


Since the 1920s, the leaders of the Zionist movement have been pre-occupied with what they called the ‘Arab question’: how to deal with the indigenous population who were a majority in Palestine, and who constituted an obstacle for the creation of a Jewish state. While the ethnic cleansing of 1948 helped partially ‘address’ this ‘question’, it persists in the form of obsession with demography and maintaining a Jewish majority. This obsession permeates almost every aspect of state policy related to the Israeli population. This obsession, which is part of the state’s raison d’etre as a Jewish state, exists in tension with the state’s need to grant citizenship to all its inhabitants in order to legitimate its existence and escape the label of apartheid. In this paper, I will address the question of demography and the associated laws and policies, and the impact of such policies on the Palestinians. The discussion will situate the question of demography in the context of settler colonialism, and will use theories of settler colonialism to assess Israeli policies and practices.


Enlightened Racism: How the Israeli Left's Gate Keepers Keep the Mizrahim Out

Orly Noy


For various reasons, one might have expected the Mizrahim in Israel – Jews from Muslim and Arab countries – to be an inherent part of the Israeli left. But traditionally, the Mizrahim have been the backbone of the Israeli right wing, while the left wing has remained almost exclusively Ashkenazi.What makes people from the lowest socio-economic layers support an ultra-capitalist line? What makes people whose cultural and historical heritage is Arab to support anti-Arab parties? The wish to prove their patriotism and not be mistaken for the "other" Arabs is only part of the story. The absence of the Mizrahim from the Israeli left has a lot to do with the implicit and explicit racism directed at them from the Israeli peace camp itself as well.


Zionism’s Anti-African Front

David Sheen


Although Palestinians are the primary victims of Israel’s efforts to buttress and entrench Jewish supremacy, other non-Jewish people who have managed to migrate to Israel in recent years are also persecuted by the state. To reduce its dependency on the Palestinian workforce, the Israeli government facilitated the migration of non-Jewish people from the ‘second world’ and ‘third world’ to fill low-paying positions. Their numbers were augmented by asylum-seekers running from dictatorial regimes and ethnic cleansing campaigns in sub-Saharan Africa. While these groups only amount to a tiny fraction of the total population, the government is determined to limit their numbers and to reduce them. It has incited racism and vigilante violence against the African asylum-seekers and has passed legislation authorizing it to round the refugees into detention centres, and from there back to the tortures they fled from in their countries of origin.


13:30-14:30 LUNCH


14:45-16:00 Panel six: The Jewish State & its ‘Diaspora’ (A Dialogue)

Discussant: Dr. Ruba Salih


This panel will offer a series of interventions on the tensions and ambiguities produced as part of both official and unofficial relations between Israel and its various Jewish ‘Diasporas’. It will engage in a discussion of the official Jewish organisations, and their open support for Israel and its policies; as well the mechanisms for limiting dissention among its members, as their leaders present and defend these positions as part of ‘Jewish life’ and the ‘Jewish community’. Our presenters will examine how much this constitutes a conscious strategy by the state of Israel and its supporters in the west, as part of the state’s so-called ‘demographic war’; as well as the political consequences of such an approach to Israel on the one hand, and to ‘diasporic’ Jewish communities on the other. Finally, this panel will discuss the ways in which Jewish emigration, as well as immigration, is approached by the state, and in particular, the many fold ways in which the state discourages its Jewish citizens from moving away. 



Audience, Partner, and Alibi: Israel and Western Jewish Organizations

Dan Freeman Maloy


Zionist settler colonialism has relied upon cross-continental support to pursue its policy of force in Palestine. The Jewish communities of the West have thus factored into Zionist strategy in contradictory ways. In principle Zionist ideology disparages Jewish life in ‘exile’ and lays claim to a Jewish allegiance most fully expressed by direct settlement. In practice Jewish communal leaders in the West have mostly rejected the demand for Western Jewish emigration. Israel could not afford to alienate Jewish communities living within those imperial states it aimed to secure as sponsors. Israeli demands on Western Jewish organizations therefore focused on other forms of support, especially fundraising and political advocacy. This had concrete implications, including in the build-up of Israeli military capacities, while lending a toxic legitimacy to Israel’s pan-Jewish pretensions. Israeli quasi-state structures today encompass key Western allies. This both corrupts Western affiliates and further removes Israel from norms of democratic governance.


The Israeli Emigration Anxiety: Israel’s Conflictual Relationship with the Israeli-Jewish Diaspora

Hila Amit


The negation of Jewish life in the diaspora has evolved as an integral part of the Zionist settler-colonial project, as part of its settler-recruitment programme in Palestine. To this day, the state of Israel is deeply invested in the numbers of inbound and outbound migration, and yet there are no direct laws or mechanisms that restrict travel and emigration. Instead, a fabric of fear and anxiety around migration is being produced to keep the population ‘in’. Manufactured through institutions, academia, and cultural texts, this discourse suggests an obsession with the topic of "yerida" – outbound migration. This paper looks at the gaps between declarations and policy, between the ‘clichés’ and the physical manifestations of this phenomenon, as a way to understand how the state constructs its demographic war and the social structures that seek to preserve the Jewish majority. Articulating the gaps and tensions that exist as part of this ‘discourse of migration anxiety’ will allow a critical engagement with Israel's relationship with Jewish and Israeli organizations in the diaspora.



16:15-17:30 Roundtable and Closing Remarks


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