In Spite of Partition: Jews, Arabs, and the Limits of Separatist Imaginationby Gil Z. Hochberg
Partition--the idea of separating Jews and Arabs along ethnic or national lines--is a legacy at least as old as the Zionist-Palestinian conflict. Challenging the widespread "separatist imagination" behind partition, Gil Hochberg demonstrates the ways in which works of contemporary Jewish and Arab literature reject simple notions of separatism and instead display… See more details below
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Partition--the idea of separating Jews and Arabs along ethnic or national lines--is a legacy at least as old as the Zionist-Palestinian conflict. Challenging the widespread "separatist imagination" behind partition, Gil Hochberg demonstrates the ways in which works of contemporary Jewish and Arab literature reject simple notions of separatism and instead display complex configurations of identity that emphasize the presence of alterity within the self--the Jew within the Arab, and the Arab within the Jew. In Spite of Partition examines Hebrew, Arabic, and French works that are largely unknown to English readers to reveal how, far from being independent, the signifiers "Jew" and "Arab" are inseparable.
In a series of original close readings, Hochberg analyzes fascinating examples of such inseparability. In the Palestinian writer Anton Shammas's Hebrew novel Arabesques, the Israeli and Palestinian protagonists are a "schizophrenic pair" who "have not yet decided who is the ventriloquist of whom." And in the Moroccan Jewish writer Albert Swissa's Hebrew novel Aqud, the Moroccan-Israeli main character's identity is uneasily located between the "Moroccan Muslim boy he could have been" and the "Jewish Israeli boy he has become." Other examples draw attention to the intricate linguistic proximity of Hebrew and Arabic, the historical link between the traumatic memories of the Jewish Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakbah, and the libidinal ties that bind Jews and Arabs despite, or even because of, their current animosity.
"This new addition is a thoughtful, well-researched, and carefully constructed argument about the nature of the relationship between Arab and Jew, in its many apparitions and configurations. As such, it is an important addition to the progressive discourse around the future, as well as the past, of Palestine."Gil Anidjar, Journal of Palestine Studies
Read an ExcerptIn Spite of Partition Jews, Arabs, and the Limits of Separatist Imagination
By Gil Z. Hochberg Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2007 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Introduction Between "Jew" and "Arab"
Probing the Borders of the Orient
There was a time when I'd have said: I won't defile myself with this contemptible Orient, I'll relegate my ancestral home to oblivion [...] -Amira Hess, Keys to the Garden
In a short story entitled "Ummi fi Shughl" [Arabic for "My Mother Is at Work"], the Israeli writer Orly Castel-Bloom follows her protagonist-a self-identified paranoiac-as she leaves her apartment to sit down on a nearby bench and "reflect." The protagonist's stream of thoughts is suddenly interrupted when she feels a sharp sting on her leg. Terrified, she jumps and looks under the bench, expecting to find a spider or a scorpion. Instead, she discovers an old Arab woman who claims to be her mother. The two women quarrel for a while, the protagonist insisting that this is impossible ("my mother would never lie underneath a bench!"), the old woman repeating her claim: "I am your mother." Finally the protagonist turns to the old woman and asks: "so who are you really, some kind of a ghost?" At this point the dialogue shifts from Hebrew to Arabic, the old woman persistently claiming that she is the narrator's mother, and if not her mother then surely her sister, while the protagonistadamantly denies any such familial affiliations:
-Ana Ummik. [I am your mother.] -Ummi? Ummi mush huma, ummi fi shurl. [My mother? My mom isn't here, my mom is at work.] -Ana ukhtik. [I'm your sister.] -Inti mush ukhti, ukhti fi shughel. [You are not my sister, my sister is at work.] -Ana ummik. [I am your mother.] -Inti mush ummi, ummi fi shughel. [You are not my mother, my momisatwork.]
This dialogue, we are told, is repeated about twenty times, after which the old woman asks the protagonist to please take her home with her. When the latter refuses, the old woman grumpily mutters "Yasater yarab" [so help you God] and slides back down under the bench.
Who or what is this ghostly figure-this old Arab woman who emerges from beneath the surface, proclaiming familial ties, between the Israeli-Jewish protagonist and herself? Who is she, who switches their language of conversation from Hebrew and Arabic? Who is she, if not the embodiment of a haunting repressed memory: the memory of the proximity, indeed familial ties, between Hebrew and Arabic, the Arab and the Jew? Castel-Bloom's absurd representation, itself typical of her Kafkaesque poetic style, unleashes this repressed memory (which could be called the repressed memory of the Semite) by introducing it as an unexpected threat: a fleeting memory that might flash up at any given moment and "bite." It is a memory that emerges from underneath momentarily, only to be immediately pushed back under the bench, sealed in the dark abyss of national amnesia.
This book attends to this national amnesia and its haunting ghosts, namely, the Arab and the Jew, or more precisely, the inseparability of the two. We are all well familiar with the image of the Arab and Jew as two polarized identities. Often and regularly we hear about the two peoples' "centuries-old" fight over the same strip of land or about their long-lasting "sibling rivalry" dating back to the "legacy of their common father Abraham" (Charney, 1988). But little is usually said about the historical, political, cultural, and, above all, libidinal ties that bind these identities together, even today, under the horrid circumstances in Israel/Palestine. This book seeks to draw attention to these "forgotten" ties. It argues that "Jew" and "Arab," rather than representing two independent identities, are in fact inevitably attached, each necessarily configured through or in relation to the other. They are, to borrow Derrida's term, always already "traces" of the other when only one of them is addressed.
Historically speaking, my discussion is limited to modern times. I follow this "logic of traces" as formed under European colonialism and at a time when the so-called Jewish question was crystallized in Europe itself, to the more recent reality in Israel/Palestine, where we find that "Jew" is always prefigured in relation to "Arab" (Muslim, Palestinian, the Orient), just as "Arab" emerges, for better or worse, in relation to "Jew" (Israeli, Zionism). Exploring the meaning of this inseparability against the current polarization of the Arab/Palestinian and Jewish/Israeli societies, I suggest that the radical separation of the two people is itself attainable only on the basis of repression and active forgetting. While such forgetting has long been perpetuated by the West for the sake of promoting its own imperial, colonial, and economic benefits, it is today further promoted and secured by an ethno-national separatist politics of memory as manifested most evidently in the case of Zionism, and arguably also by the leading trends of Palestinian nationalism. My focus, as stated earlier, is literature. If there are plentiful publications on the relationship between Jews and Arabs, or on the various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these are predominantly historical, political, or social. Little attention has been directed so far to literary representation and to the manner by which it not only reflects historical and sociopolitical realities but further competes with them, introducing alternative actualities, which might find expression only at the level of cultural imagination, but which, as such, are nevertheless part of our times. My interest, then, lies in exploring the manner by which Jews and Arabs imagine and write about the relationships between Jews and Arabs, or about the relationship between the signifiers "Arab" and "Jew" (as well as "Palestinian" and "Israeli") in modern times, and most notably in the context of Zionism.
This is also the place to note that theology or religion, while certainly playing a growingly significant role in the construction of today's political reality in the Middle East, is not the focus of this study. Indeed, the literary texts I engage, whether written by Jews, Muslims, or Christians, all locate the question of the relationship between "Arab" and "Jew" within a cultural space that is primarily secular. Religion in this context functions as a component of one's cultural identity (along with, and in relation to, other components such as nationality, ethnicity, gender, class, and linguistic affiliation), but it does not amount to a privileged or a defined status, nor does it represent a divine order or a transcendental ideology. In other words, if the cultural space examined in this book is clearly secular, "secularism" itself must be understood not as the rejection of anything traditional or religious, but as a critical force through which familiar categories or names ("Jew," "Arab," "Muslim," "Israeli," etc.), used for mapping social belongings and classifying collective identities along national, ethnic, or religious borders, are liberated from their static positions and relocated in a cultural space articulated between and across such borders. The bulk of this book, then, is dedicated to close readings of literary texts, for which this introductory chapter provides a shared political, cultural, and historical context. This context includes, most directly, the legacy of partition as associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-a legacy that assumes and promotes a radical separation between the Israeli Jewish and Arab Palestinian communities-but it further expands to include the broader theoretical and historical debates concerning the possibility or impossibility of fully separating the Arab from the Jew, as reflected in the intertwined Eurocentric discourses of orientalism, anti-Semitism, imperialism, and colonialism.
A Stubborn History of Intimacy
[Both] Zionism and Palestinian nationalism have not amounted to the philosophical problem of the Other, of learning how to live with, as opposed to despite, the Other ... [the Other] who is always part of us, not a remote alien. -Edward Said, "What Can Separation Mean?"
The idea of partition has accompanied the Zionist-Palestinian conflict since its very early stages. It was first introduced by the British colonizers of Palestine in 1937 as Britain was losing its power in the colony, and it later gained the support of the United Nations in 1947. Finally, the Oslo peace negotiations revived this political legacy in promoting the "two-state solution": the idea that the answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in a territorial division that would allow the establishment of two separate neighboring nations, Israel as a Jewish state for the Jews and Palestine as an Arab state for the Arabs. But if this legacy of partition points at the continual attempts to separate Jews and Arabs, it also reveals the persistent conditions of inseparability that turn such attempts repeatedly into failures. Thus, despite the elaborate system of checkpoints, the numerous fences, walls, and roads, all set to police human traffic and separate Arabs from Jews, and regardless of how much most Israelis and Palestinians may wish to exist apart, the demographic, territorial, and economic reality in Israel/Palestine is such that the two people are forced to share an inextricably linked life.
That this "linked life," which has so far been governed by extreme inequality, reflecting the power dynamics between Israelis as occupiers and Palestinians as occupied, upholds alternative, latent possibilities for envisioning social emancipation achieved across national and ethnic differences, is exemplified in Sahar Khalifah's gripping novels Al-Tsubbar (1976) and 'Abbad al-Shams (1980). Both texts focus on the movement of young Palestinians from traditional working positions as farmers and peasants to new positions as daily workers in Israeli factories, following the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. While Khalifah surely alludes to the harmful effects of this transition, revealing the manner by which it reinforces the fragmentation of the occupied Palestinian society, she also points at the liberating effects this transition carries in terms of breaking "the privileged class's patriarchal control over [the land]" (Yazili 1996, 88-89). Indeed, by centering her narratives on the question of work "in the inside" (i.e., is it a form of national betrayal? a sheer act of individual opportunism? or, perhaps an act of transgression and defiance?), Khalifah draws attention to the limits of the Palestinian national narrative, which casts the conflict in terms of Israelis versus Palestinians. This representation, her novels show, fails to account for other, not less prominent, social injustices, which take place across national differences and territorial borders. Most specifically, Khalifah shows how, by rendering the question of the land in exclusively territorial national terms (does the land belong to Palestinians or Israelis?), the national discourse draws attention away from the oppressive and most concrete labor and property divisions between the rich and the poor, as well as between women and men-between, that is, those who own the land and those who work the land. To be sure, Khalifah's novels certainly emphasize the importance of the Palestinian fight against the oppressive Israeli occupation, but they also stress the fact that a meaningful social fight against injustice and oppression must take place against, rather than in compliance with, existing separatist ideologies. Both novels, then, replace simplistic notions of national liberation with extensive contemplations on the very meaning of "liberation," entertaining, among the rest, the possibility of an Arab-Jewish cross-national collaborative fight against the military occupation ('Abbad al-Shams) as well as a shared Arab-Jewish proletarian fight against unjust working conditions (Al-Tsubbar). Furthermore, Khalifah's daring exploration of the revolutionary potential imbedded in the growing daily interactions between Jews and Arabs, oppressive as they currently are, takes place not only thematically but also linguistically. As other critics have noted, Khalifah's language is a pioneering mix of classical Arabic and Palestinian vernacular, which is further enriched by her extensive use of Hebrew words and expressions (Muhammad al-Mashayik, Barbara Harlow, Muhammad Siddiq). But if her use of Hebrew has been described as a "semiotic guerilla warfare" (Harlow) and explained in terms of the need of the occupied to "know all sides of the enemy" in order to use this vital information "whenever the need arises" (al-Mashayik), such combative accounts, I suggest, overlook one of the most distinct characteristics of Khalifah's bilingual expression: the fact that, for the most part, she limits her use of Hebrew to words that sound very much like their Arabic counterparts. In so doing, Khalifah accentuates the phonetic similarity between Hebrew and Arabic, calling attention to the "familial" (Semitic) relationship of the two languages, and further implying, not unlike Orly Castel-Bloom, that the two Semitic people might in fact be closer to each other than they realize, or wish to realize.
I take this brief detour through Khalifah's writings not to suggest that the growing economic relationships between Israel and the Palestinians, or the new territorial proximity between Jews and Arabs (especially since 1967), in themselves carry a promise of social or political transformation. For anybody familiar with the devastating living conditions of Palestinians in the occupied territories, it is evident that this is far from being the case. But the point I wish to emphasize, and which I believe Khalifah's novels powerfully illustrate, is that these relatively new territorial and economic realities, while so far working in the service of separatist ideologies, nevertheless introduce a level of social and linguistic familiarity that furnishes our cultural imagination with "new-old ways," to borrow David Shasha's term, for envisioning the relationship between the two peoples in terms of proximity and affiliation. Above all, these new conditions intensify the so-called drama of identification between the Jew and the Arab, as new libidinal attachments join older narratives of familial intimacy, bringing Jews and Arabs closer together despite, or even due to, their current animosity. Such attachments follow the general principle of differentiation by which, to borrow Judith Butler's words, "that from which I am differentiated returns to me at the heart of what I am" (2000, 35), and are further contextualized by Said, who observes, in one of his earliest essays on the question of Palestine, that the more the two people seek to separate, the more attached they become:
Neither people can develop without the other [already] there, harassing, taunting, fighting; no Arab today has an identity that can be unconscious of the Jew, that can rule out the Jew as a psychic factor in the Arab identity; conversely, I think, no Jew can ignore the Arab in general, nor can he immerse himself in his ancient tradition and lose the Palestinian Arab and what Zionism has done to him. The more intense the modern struggles for [separate] identity, the more attention is paid by the Arab or the Jew to his chosen opponent, or partner. Each is the other. (1974, 1, my emphasis)
It is this "psychic factor" that interests me the most: the drama of identification that binds the Jew (or the Israeli) and the Arab (or Palestinian) together, making a clear differentiation between them impossible: "Each is the other."
Excerpted from In Spite of Partition by Gil Z. Hochberg
Copyright © 2007 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Gil Z. Hochberg is assistant professor of comparative literature at the University of California, Los Angeles.
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