IN 1988 EDWARD SAID WROTE, “the establishment of Israel as a state in 1948 occurred partly because the Zionists [. . .] had already won the political battle for Palestine in the international world in which ideas, representations, rhetoric, and images were at issue.”  For nearly a century, the Zionist project and its offspring, the State of Israel, have depended on military and technological prowess, combined with a sophisticated and subtle mix of violence, economic wherewithal, and intimidation, to seize complete control of Palestine from its native population. But underpinning the brutal colonial facts was always a broad mastery of academic, legal, diplomatic, literary, cultural, and media expertise that was skillfully utilized to seize the rhetorical high ground, and to frame Zionist actions and the response of the Palestinians in terms entirely favorable to a Zionist perspective.
This issue of the Journal examines aspects of Israel’s long-standing discursive hegemony via two different approaches. One, embodied in the article of linguist Terry Regier, looks at largescale linguistic datasets in order to assess quantitatively the development of trends in the debate over Palestine. His results, while tentative, are surprising. They indicate that since Said wrote over thirty-five years ago, long-term changes may have been taking place in the tenor of the debate. In a companion piece, anthropologist Julie Peteet examines the specific practices and strategies that make possible the continuing domination of key discursive fields that Said was referring to, both generally and from the perspective of her own discipline. Peteet, too, finds the beginnings of important conceptual shifts in the way the debate over Palestine is framed.
Whatever shifts may be taking place in the realm of discourse, Israel has not neglected the material preconditions of its power. At a time when leading Arab countries are manifestly enfeebled, ceasing to regard Israel as a matter of strategic concern, prioritizing Iran instead, and when some of them are apparently on the verge of being incorporated into a U.S.-Israeli antimissile defense system, thereby becoming dependent on Israel’s defense industries and technology, it is worthwhile examining how Israeli strategic planners assess their environment. The Journal does so by offering an English translation of a document laying out the strategic doctrine authored by Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot that was released in August 2015. It will be recalled that Eisenkot is the originator of the so-called Dahiya doctrine—the application of “disproportionate force” to “cause great damage and destruction” to “civilian areas” considered by Israel as “military bases” —which the general articulated in a 2008 interview after having put it into practice in the eponymous area of Beirut during the 2006 Lebanon war, and which he did again in Gaza, most recently in 2014.
This new document is less blunt than Eisenkot’s chilling 2008 pronouncement, but no less striking in its own way. Alongside “operations in the perception-shaping, economic and legal fields, as part of the effort to restrict enemy capabilities and legitimacy,” the document stresses “fully utilizing [the] potential for cooperation with moderate forces in the region” in an oblique reference to Israel’s successful efforts to benefit from the current state of Arab division and co-opt so-called moderates. It is further evidence that at a time when the Arab world is fragmenting in a fashion reminiscent of the disastrous muluk al-tawa’if (or factional kings) era in Islamic Spain, Israel retains a steely focus on maintaining its strategic hegemony in the region.
Two other articles in this issue of the Journal focus on the Palestinians themselves. One, by political economist Leila Farsakh, examines how analysis of the Palestinian economy has focused shortsightedly on the territories occupied in 1967, rather than regarding all aspects of Palestinian economic life. She suggests that the analysis of Palestinian economic development should be expanded to include those related to the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to the majority of Palestinians who live outside historic Palestine. Historian Leena Dallasheh provides a detailed history of the first years of Israeli rule in Nazareth, the largest Arab city left inside the borders of Israel after the ethnic cleansing of 1948–49. It is in that context that she provides a critique of the dominant collaboration/resistance paradigm for looking at how Palestinians adjusted to what to them was alien rule after their incorporation into the State of Israel.
Two important dossiers including essays, interviews, and reports complete this issue. The first, available only online at http://www.palestine-studies.org/jps, deals with the burning question of Jerusalem. It brings together testimonials by three close observers of the situation on the ground there, all of whom live in the city: archaeologist and architectural historian Nazmi Jubeh, lawyer Daniel Seidemann, and criminologist Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian. Each treats a different aspect of the crisis that has gripped the Holy City in recent months as long-simmering tensions have erupted into violence in which, as usual, most of the victims are Palestinian. Jubeh explores how al-Aqsa Mosque and the surrounding Haram al-Sharif area have once again become a flashpoint, primarily as a result of an aggressive Israeli effort to upset the precarious status quo there. Both Seidemann and Shalhoub-Kevorkian chronicle how perilous life is for the quarter of a million Palestinians of Jerusalem, and how they have reacted to and resisted the occupation authorities’ tightening web of casual brutality, daily violence, and systematic oppression.
The second, equally substantive dossier examines the well-being of the Palestinian people living under Israeli military occupation and control in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Brian K. Barber offers a report on a twenty-five-year longitudinal study documenting the conditions of Palestinians under occupation in all three segments of the occupied Palestinian territories. Unprecedented both in scope and length, the study is based on surveys and interviews, which provides a unique view of the circumstances under which Palestinians under occupation live. Dr. Eyad El Sarraj (who died of leukemia in 2013) was one of the principal investigators of the study, and he is the subject of an essay by longtime friend and colleague, Paul Gaston Aaron. In a meditation on the vision and practice of Gaza’s first trained psychiatrist, Aaron draws the contours of a man who remained ardently committed both to his people’s struggle and to the humanizing of their enemy in spite of everything. In the last part of the dossier, we publish an interview with Dr. Yasser Abu Jamei who inherited the mantle of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme from El Sarraj and offers a picture of the psychic effects on Gaza’s population of the ongoing siege and of Israel’s brutal and repeated assaults on the tiny territory.
This issue concludes on yet another sad note, the commemoration of the passing of accomplished Palestinian scientist Mujid al-Kazimi. The remembrance by Hani Faris and John Makhoul describes al-Kazimi’s distinguished MIT career as one of the world’s greatest experts on nuclear engineering and safety. This Jerusalem native was also a tireless activist for the welfare of the Palestinian people, devoting much of his energy to their betterment. Like El Sarraj, and others before them, he is an example of the level of distinction that many Palestinians have attained in spite of the circumstances that have afflicted their people for generations.
Rashid I. Khalidi
1 Edward W. Said, introduction to Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, ed. Edward W. Said and Christopher Hitchens (London: Verso Books, 1988), p. 1.
2 See, among others, “IDF Regional Commanders Speak Out in Press Interviews,” government cable, “Public Library of US Diplomacy,” WikiLeaks, 15 October 2008, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08TELAVIV2329_a.html; and Rashid I. Khalidi, “The Dahiya Doctrine, Proportionality, andWar Crimes,” Journal of Palestine Studies 44, no. 1 (Autumn 2014): pp. 5–13.