A Palestinian graduate student perspective on the boycott
I wanted to write this statement over Israel’s system of apartheid and its effects on the career of myself as a Palestinian Jerusalemite anthropology student doing a PhD overseas and the far-reaching hands of this system that instills boundaries and hierarchies, that restricts, sometimes allows, but always governs. As I sat down to think about what to write, I was flooded by memories from as long as I can remember. Not knowing where or how to begin, which memories to bring forth to an audience of anthropologists, which ones to keep private and to safeguard. Anonymization is a practice I question in my own work. How and when to credit research partners for their ideas and time, and how and when to keep them anonymous for their own safety and well-being. I usually take these decisions with their help and guidance, based on the well-known ethic of “do no harm”. This time around, I follow the same practice I do in my research. As counter intuitive as anonymizing oneself may seem for most academics and writers, it makes full sense to be anonymous with regards to this statement, as I prioritize my safety and well-being, which may be jeopardized if I did otherwise.
I was born to Palestinian parents in Jerusalem who belong to different Israeli bureaucratic categories. One category is marked by a blue color, and the other by a green color, although at the time of my birth, it was marked by a bright orange color, that would become green only after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. Israel devised this color-coded system of governing the Palestinian population after occupying east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Each ID color refers to a different status of residence, the blue color stands for East Jerusalemite, the green color stands for West Bank and Gaza. Each of these ID colors, indicates varying degrees of restrictions placed upon their holders in regards to their rights, and their freedom of movement and residence in Palestine, as well as their right live and build a family together in any one place.
Having parents of this specific combination of colors, and having been born after Israel set in place a policy that further limited family unifications -a long and arduous bureaucratic process known to many Jerusalemite Palestinians- meant that I was born stateless, with only a hospital birth certificate to attest to what at the time had been a colorless existence, of belonging to neither of Israel’s color-coded categories. As time went by, and as my blue color parent fought year after year, and went through several trials, and court hearings, I finally became blue. My blue card that has to be renewed every few years, allows me to be in Jerusalem, the place where both my parents come from and where I was born.
Fast forward some years later to a short summer semester at Birzeit University, where I used to be a student. I took a class on international human rights and humanitarian law, so I decided to write a term paper on the blue ID holders. In it I cite Article 17 of the International Declaration of Human Rights; Articles 49 and 50 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions; Article 25 of the International Declaration of Human Rights and Article 21 of the same declaration; the Israeli Law of Absentees from 1950, their laws of family re-unification, and the ramifications of them thereof. I end that paper on this note:
…while these laws and policies are representations of structural violence against Palestinians, the results, whether it’s living in bad conditions and the consequential effects on the health and safety of the population, and their right to the city can be considered to be a form of direct violence. The Zionist ideology and the belief of Jewish supremacy in Palestine have put in motion an apparatus of laws and policies that undermine the lives of Palestinians and deprives them of their basic human rights granted under international law, therefore there is an urgent need to end this violence and to stop the on-going settler colonial project, and its system of Apartheid and military occupation.
Looking at it now, I am not sure who I was trying to convince. It seems to me now that I was committing a conscious act of betrayal, by using the discourse of the same international community, that on the one hand congratulates itself as the protector of human rights and on the other is fully immersed in the settler colonial endeavor that is Israel. I knew that framing the plea for freedom through this discourse was an act of betraying the teachings and lessons of Fanon, Mondlane, Lumumba, and of Audre Lorde; the master's tools–the international Instruments–will not dismantle the master's house–the apartheid settler colonial project, nor many others.
A few years later, I decided to step away from that discourse and undertook a PhD in Anthropology in Europe. In my second year, I went back to Jerusalem for a short fieldwork visit. I needed to sort out my “documents” as my blue ID had expired and needed renewal. Sitting in a little cubicle located inside a military checkpoint, I waited for hours, for an Israeli bureaucrat to make a decision on whether to renew my document or not. After providing my university credentials, and discussing and showing him the fact the I had only been away for one year, and that during that year I visited multiple times, the official told me that he would not renew my Jerusalem residency status.
That same document that my parents had to fight for years to get, now began to be taken away from me. This is what the beginning of the process of residency revocation looks like; the byproduct of which, if successful, is exile, or the complete loss of freedom of movement, to be an interminable prisoner in one’s home while an endless open-ended legal process plays out with the Israeli bureaucracy. Inhabiting the location marked by the blue ID therefore means that the system of apartheid follows one wherever one goes. Career choices, travel, fieldwork locations, writings and publications are all affected by the decisions of a bureaucrat sitting at a cubicle inside a military checkpoint, acting out the policies and the laws of an apartheid system.
To return to the juncture of self-betrayal, I find myself asking the same question I had asked earlier, who am I aiming to convince? Or am I simply asking colleagues to join me and others in taking on a principled position, one that supports BDS, and calls, advocates and stands for the end of this injustice? Anthropology and anthropologists have come a long way, and it’s about time to put what we have practiced, our reflexive and our critical engagements with the societies and communities we have written about and for into practice.
I would like to end on a note from a fellow Jerusalemite academic with the name of Edward Said, who once said: “Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position, which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced.”
In the hopes of not making this another act of self-betrayal.