Collective memory is a weapon: Ilan Pappe, ‘The Uses and Abuses of Collective Memory’, Anthropological Quarterly, 90, 1, 2017 pp. 255-266


Excerpt: One of Michel Foucault’s enduring scholarly legacies is his formulation of biopolitics as a potent force in our lives. What he had in mind, among other issues, was the pervasive and comprehensive power of states and industries to affect all aspects of life. Power, for Foucault, could insinuate itself into all microphysical social and physical contact and thus disciplined bodies and minds alike. Ever since his death in 1984, we are looking for ways of shaking off his gloomy observation that rings true and yet we wish to resist (Foucault 2003:242–243).

Quite surprisingly, Foucault did not relate the concept of biopolitics, or biopower, to racism and colonialism as Robert Young observed already in 1995. For Foucault this was the domain of the modern nation state and its particular mode of domination (although he inspired one of the most important work on colonialism, Edward Said’s Orientalism [1979]). However, what happens if the modern state is a settler colonial state? Are we allowed to apply this micro domination to such a case study? I think we can, as the two books under review—without committing them to this paradigm they have not chosen—indicate the usefulness of this possible departure point for discussing the relationship between the settler colonial state of Israel and the native Palestinian population.

The first book, Palestinian Commemoration in Israel: Calendars, Monuments, and Martyrs, by Tamir Sorek examines the commemorative culture of the Palestinian minority in Israel through formative events in their national lives (beginning, of course, with the 1948 catastrophe, the Nakbah). For Sorek, these commemorative spaces empower the minority within the Jewish state, but also indicate its willingness to dialogue with it. His approach is multidisciplinary and he provides us with a very thorough and comprehensive view on this culture in various manifestations since the inception of the Jewish State.

In Colonial Jerusalem: The Spatial Construction of Identity and Difference in a City of Myth, 1948-2012, Thomas Philip Abowd roams the streets of Jerusalem with local friends and tries to share with them the harsh reality of colonization. His focus is the urban reality as a scene of colonialist erasure and counter commemoration by the colonized. The book moves in and out of history, covering some of the most known acts of urbicide that Israel committed in Jerusalem as well as less known instances of the colonization as a project of the de-Arabization of the city. He gives much space to the people themselves and conveys not just their thoughts, but their emotions and aspirations as much as he can.

There are still today quite a few students of Israel and Palestine who find it hard to append the adjectives colonial, or settler colonial, to the Jewish State. However, recent scholarship is quite adamant that this is the appropriate paradigm for analyzing the past and the present of Israel and Palestine.1 This paradigm was applied by scholars to review the events of 1948; the Judaization policies in the south of Israel; the economic policies of Israel in the occupied West Bank and the industrial relationship during the Mandatory period, to mention but few of the major works in this area of inquiry (Lloyd 2012, Nasara 2012, Hever 2012, Mansour 2012). Major works in the field are those by Patrick Wolfe (2006), Lorenzo Veracini (2006), and Gaby Piterberg (2008).

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