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Toward an Anthropology of Nation Building and Unbuilding in Israel

Toward an Anthropology of Nation Building and Unbuilding in Israel

Toward an Anthropology of Nation Building and Unbuilding in Israel

Toward an Anthropology of Nation Building and Unbuilding in Israel


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Toward an Anthropology of Nation Building and Unbuilding in Israel presents twenty-two original essays offering a critical survey of the anthropology of Israel inspired by Alex Weingrod, emeritus professor and pioneering scholar of Israeli anthropology. In the late 1950s Weingrod’s groundbreaking ethnographic research of Israel’s underpopulated south complicated the dominant social science discourse and government policy of the day by focusing on the ironies inherent in the project of Israeli nation building and on the process of migration prompted by social change.

Drawing from Weingrod’s perspective, this collection considers the gaps, ruptures, and juxtapositions in Israeli society and the cultural categories undergirding and subverting these divisions. Organized into four parts, the volume examines our understanding of Israel as a place of difference, the disruptions and integrations of diaspora, the various permutations of Judaism, and the role of symbol in the national landscape and in Middle Eastern studies considered from a comparative perspective. These essays illuminate the key issues pervading, motivating, and frustrating Israel’s complex ethnoscape.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803274136
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 01/01/2015
Series: Studies of Jews in Society
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 400
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Fran Markowitz is a professor of anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

Stephen Sharot is a professor emeritus of sociology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Moshe Shokeid is a professor emeritus of anthropology at Tel Aviv University.

Alex Weingrod is a professor emeritus of anthropology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Read an Excerpt

Toward an Anthropology of Nation Building and Unbuilding in Israel

By Fran Markowitz, Stephen Sharot, Moshe Shokeid


Copyright © 2015 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-7413-6


Living Together Separately

Arab-Palestinian Places through Jewish-Israeli Eyes

Efrat Ben-Ze'ev

In Living Together Separately (1991), Michael Romann and Alex Weingrod described the spatial segregation that characterized relations between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem. More than twenty years after the 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem, and despite the euphemism of a "reunited city" (ha'ir shehubra la yahdav), segregation was a glaring phenomenon, characterized by residential and commercial divisions. There was little social exchange between Jerusalemite Arabs and Jews.

This chapter reconsiders issues of segregation between Arabs and Jews twenty years on, with a view on the country as a whole rather than on Jerusalem. It focuses on the ways Jewish Israelis perceive "Arab places" and set them apart as distinct. Segregation, argue Romann and Weingrod (1991, 222), is often voluntary and maintained by both sides. What does "voluntary segregation" mean? How is it played out and interpreted? Analytically, there are two issues here. The first concerns knowledge and measures familiarity, asking which places are recognized by Jewish Israelis and to what extent. The second dwells on their reaction to and interpretation of "Arab places."

These issues are addressed by analyzing mental maps and spatial experiences. Jewish-Israeli students in higher education were asked to sketch their "country" (ha'aretz) and immediately afterward were interviewed. In the interview they were asked to contemplate the process of drawing the map, specifically with respect to their difficulties, as well as to reflect on significant spatial experiences in their pasts. While I briefly outline the commonalities of a large sample of maps in a short section, the bulk of attention here is dedicated to two cases. This allows for a three-cornered examination of the mental map, the interviewee's biography, and narratives of spatial encounters.

The generation highlighted here is the one born at the time when Weingrod and Romann completed their study. The members of this generation were born into the reality of the first intifada and grew up in the shadow of the second. They experienced increasing segregation between Palestinians and Israelis—a fortiori, between Israelis and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (Gordon 2008, 208–12). Moreover, borders have changed and shifted during their short lifespan. The Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) were dramatically altered through intensive Jewish settlement and the erasure of the Green Line, the internationally recognized border between Israel and the OPT. In addition, there have been more recent changes of boundaries, including the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000 and from the Gaza Strip in 2005. One of the questions asked here is, How does such fluid national geography translate into this generation's perception of its surroundings?

Not surprisingly, we find that the students' geographical knowledge is characterized by recurrent patterns of spatial selectivity and the presence of unknown places on the country's map, which we could call "black holes." Places identified as Palestinian Arab carry a negative ambience and are avoided when possible (Guy Debord, in Knabb 1981). Moreover, the land becomes a kind of memorial to the conflict's history by being associated with past acts of violence (those carried out against Jewish Israelis). Also evident is the students' confusion arising from the sense of fragmentation. I will first review some of the seminal studies on the selective perceptions of space, in the light of which I will attempt to point out their manifestations within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Partiality of Spatial Knowledge

"A group in a sense takes with it the form of the places where it has lived," wrote Maurice Halbwachs in his classic study The Legendary Topography of the Gospels in the Holy Land ([1941] 1992, 203). Yet no less powerful for a collective framework of the group's identity, argued Halbwachs, is the process that operates in the other direction—the construction of a landscape that would then be identified with the social group. Halbwachs chose to demonstrate his argument in the context of the Holy Land, as I do here, since it has long been the arena for competing social renderings.

Lewis Coser commented on Halbwachs's work, saying that the Holy Land should be considered as a place characterized by a lack of continuity. Each ruling group has aspired to erase the signs of previous presences; hence, the perception of the land has rapidly shifted in character through the ages (Coser, in the introduction to Halbwachs [1941] 1992, 28). Indeed, in the contemporary age, it seems that both fierce competition over the landscape's character and little tolerance toward diverse perceptions are still major issues.

The competition over the construction of the landscape, noted Halbwachs, is not merely a process led by a ruling apparatus. A landscape is often constructed from "below" by those who roam it. Halbwachs surveyed different Christian denominations whose pilgrims imposed their particular perspectives on the Holy Land's landscape (Halbwachs [1941] 1992). For instance, some Christian pilgrims strived to link the Old and New Testaments through certain places that they sanctified. Others established new sites in memory of sacred events despite their prior identification with sites elsewhere, a move that allowed for their exclusive control. Selectivity, Halbwachs showed, was indivisible from the process of a group's place making.

In a very different context, when analyzing visits to Auschwitz, Jonathan Webber (2011) alluded to a similar process. As the pilgrims to Auschwitz walk their path through the concentration and extermination camps, much of the landscape is turned irrelevant, noted Webber: "Each group tends to see its own experience as unique to itself and to its own history" and, therefore, is intolerant toward other narratives potentially embedded in the Auschwitz landscape. Auschwitz is molded to fit specific narratives and much remains "unseen." As an outcome, there is a struggle over the marking of the landscape, and there are disputes over such matters as the erection of crosses or Mogen Davids in memory of the dead. Each group demands exclusivity or at least priority (Webber 2011).

Pilgrims are perhaps more inclined than casual visitors to apply selectivity and exclusivity, for they are passionate about their voyage. However, a demand for exclusivity over the landscape is also common in daily lives. The school of mental mapping, which has prospered since the 1970s, has demonstrated these processes over a wide range of mundane contexts (Gould and White 1974; Kitchin and Freundschuh 2000; Downs and Stea 2011). In one of the early articles dedicated to mental maps, Yi-Fu Tuan (1975, 210–11) argued that mental maps are essential since they enable people to grasp spaces and rehearse a spatial behavior in the mind. The essence of this process of space categorization is sifting; there is a constant choice between the "relevant" and "irrelevant."

Contemporary conditions in Israel/Palestine are ideal for testing these practices. Arab Palestinians and Jewish Israelis share the same general space yet codify it differently. In one of the early mental map studies, geographer Stanley Waterman (1980) demonstrated the different paths taken by Jews and Arabs when traversing Acre. Many years later Portugali (1996) asked neighboring Jewish settlers and Arab Palestinians from the OPT, "Which is the nearest town?" He discovered a systematic distortion attributable to different organizational hierarchies of space. The national groups diverged in the routes and the towns they had in mind. "The individual," wrote Portugali (1996, 182), "internalizes the geopolitical order and uses it in the cognitive process of deciphering the surroundings."

This kind of a "nationalized worldview," argued Meron Benvenisti (2012), underlay the construction of landscape perceptions from the early days of the Zionist movement. One of its manifestations was an "addiction to the virgin physical landscape, the primordial," while the human component was disregarded (2012, 119). Elsewhere, Benvenisti wrote, "The Jews were, of course, aware of the Arab communities, but these towns, villages and neighborhoods had no place in the Jewish perception of the homeland's landscape. They were just a formless, random collection of three-dimensional entities, totally isolated from the Jewish landscape and viewed as if through an impenetrable glass wall" (2000, 56). Benvenisti nicknamed Arab places in the eyes of Jews ketem lavan, which he translated as "white patches" (2012, 117). However, ketem lavan can also be translated as a white stain, a tinting presence. Benvenisti further argued that Arab invisibility to Jewish eyes was no temporary matter; it continued well into the fifth decade of the Jewish state. As an example, he pointed to the absence of Arab patterns of settlement in contemporary Israeli geography textbooks (2000, 67). We are dealing here with a persistent pattern, which changes guise from one period to another.

Zooming out of the Israel/Palestine case, a contemporary study of Los Angeles neighborhoods adds the dimension of storytelling as a determining factor for spatial perceptions. Stories, argued Matei, Ball-Rokeach, and Linchuan Qui (2001, 431), accumulate to form a communicative foundation that underlies construction of spatial images. Their study showed that areas most feared are not necessarily those with the highest levels of crime. Rather, the exposure to media messages regarding these places, elaborated through face-to-face storytelling, is central to the construction of a sense of fear (432, 436, 454). They also show that one's "area of comfort" increases when people visit places that are supposedly threatening (452).

What do these studies bring to our current study of mental mapping? We see that there is no "neutral" landscape; it is constantly constructed to accommodate a narrative and feeds back into this narrative. The landscape, including that of Israel/Palestine, is tagged and categorized in a process fed by education, the media, personal communication, and personal experiences. We should look into family trips, school excursions, school curricula, and army experiences as contributors to this construction. By talking to this study's participants about their maps and their attitudes to Arab places, we may better understand the experiences that underlay the construction of their image of the land.

The Methodology

The data presented here are part of a broader study conducted with sociologist Mohamad Masalha among almost four hundred university, college, and high school students between 2009 and 2011, Jews and Palestinian Arabs, all citizens of Israel. This chapter will make a few brief comments based on the findings of a Jewish-Israeli sample of 107 university and college students and will later scrutinize four students and their maps in more detail. I begin here by considering the methodology that relates to the entire research sample of four hundred students.

The study's participants were asked to draw two maps: one of their "country" and one of "the Middle East." We chose the term "country" to neutralize possible connotations, as there is a political baggage attached to any terminology such as Palestine, Israel, or the conjuncture of Israel/Palestine. Most participants dedicated the bulk of their time to the "country" map, while the Middle East maps were usually given less attention and ended up as less elaborate. For the country map, we asked for specific details, particularly the whereabouts of cities and towns, both Jewish and Arab-Palestinian. The places requested were roughly the borders of Mandate Palestine, namely, today's Israel, the OPT (West Bank), and the Gaza Strip, with the addition of the Golan Heights.

Following the map-drawing exercise, we asked each student to complete a questionnaire that elicited information on difficulties posed by the task, as well as the participant's age, sex, degree of religiosity, parents' professions, and approximate income. The language of the questionnaire was that of the mother tongue of each participant, either Arabic or Hebrew. Roughly half an hour was dedicated to the map drawing and the short questionnaire. In addition, we conducted focus groups and interviews with some of the students, asking about their sources of geographic knowledge; their degree and type of acquaintance with maps, places, borders, and neighboring countries; and memorable trips they had made within the country—with whom, when, and to where. As the maps and interviews accumulated, we realized that this exercise, supposedly a repetition of work formerly done in school, posed a challenge to many and was a source of frustration.

In schools students are asked to fill in the missing names of places on a blank map. This practice contributes to a national indoctrination by defining the knowledge of certain places, boundaries, and names at the expense of others. In contrast, our aim was to grant the students more freedom by offering a blank page without predefined outlines such as national or local boundaries. The aim was to discover how these boundaries are imagined by the students, and we encouraged them to freely add information to the map.

The political context at the time of this study, 2009–11, found resonance in the students' maps. Two events were recurrently mentioned. One was the 2006 Israeli attack in Lebanon and the consequent warfare between Israel and the Hizballah. The other was the Israeli reinvasion of the Gaza Strip in December 2008–9, shortly before our study began. In the following section, which characterizes the major features of the corpus of 107 Jewish-Israeli maps, I will touch on the signs that these two events imposed on the maps.

General Characterizations of the Jewish-Israeli Maps

To sketch an overview of the Jewish-Israeli county-map sample, I codified a set of parameters and ran a simple statistical analysis. Some of these quantitative findings are discussed here as a preface to the qualitative analysis. The first conspicuous map trait, evident in almost half of the sample (fifty maps), was the disconnectedness of "the country" from its surroundings. The country was drawn as an island, "floating" in an empty space rather than sharing continental borders or shorelines (see, for example, Maya, Neta, Stav, and Rivi maps of the country). In Thongchai Winichakul's (1994) terms, we may say that the neighboring countries were not imagined as having a geobody—an outer line that defined their physical entity. This tendency was accompanied in the maps by a more general lack of knowledge regarding the neighboring states. Only 45 percent of the students named the nearby countries and their capital cities, although they were explicitly asked to do so.

Another recurrent challenge apparent in the students' maps was the difficulty they found in indicating the whereabouts of the OPT. We had asked the students to draw the Green Line. Only 15 percent of the students drew a rather accurate line, and another 13 percent got it recognizably if inaccurately. Eight percent drew the OPT as an island inside Israel, 2 percent got it totally wrong, and 50 percent chose not to draw it despite the request; they simply did not know how. A variety of official Israeli attempts have been made to erase this line, and indeed, these efforts were well reflected in our study (Fleishman and Salomon 2005; Leuenberger and Schnell 2010).


Excerpted from Toward an Anthropology of Nation Building and Unbuilding in Israel by Fran Markowitz, Stephen Sharot, Moshe Shokeid. Copyright © 2015 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
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Table of Contents


Introduction Fran Markowitz, Stephen Sharot, and Moshe Shokeid,
Part 1. Coexistence and Conflict,
1. Living Together Separately: Arab-Palestinian Places through Jewish-Israeli Eyes Efrat Ben-Ze'ev,
2. Landscapes of Despair, Islands of Hope: Social Working in the Unrecognized Arab-Bedouin Villages in the Negev Hagit Peres,
3. Performing the People's Army: The Israeli Military Manages Symbolic and Moral Boundaries Edna Lomsky-Feder and Eyal Ben-Ari,
4. Another Item in the News: Normalcy and Distress at Sapir College Dafna Shir-Vertesh,
5. From the Protest to Testimony and Confession: The Changing Politics of Peace Organizations in Israel Sara Helman,
Part 2. Migration, Ethnicity, and Identities,
6. From Engaged Mediator to Freelance Consultant: Israeli Social Scientists in the Service of Immigrant Absorption Moshe Shokeid,
7. A Different Mizrahi Story: How the Iraqis Became Israelis Esther Meir-Glitzenstein,
8. Living Separately, Loving Tragically: Cross-Ethnic Romance in Israeli Films Stephen Sharot,
9. Universalism and Particularism Revisited: Immigrant Physicians from the Former Soviet Union in Israel Judith T. Shuval,
10. Israelis of Ethiopian Origin: New Identity Constructs and Research Models Lisa Anteby-Yemini,
Part 3. Religion and Rituals,
11. Toward an Ethnography of a Mediterranean People: The Complex Culture of Southern Tunisian Jewry in the Early Twentieth Century Shlomo Deshen,
12. "With Us More than Ever Before": Making the Absent Rebbe Present in Messianic Habad Yoram Bilu,
13. How Do We Know When a Society Is Changing? Reflections on Liberal Judaism in Israel Harvey E. Goldberg,
14. More Dry Bones: The Significance of Changes in Mortuary Ritual in Contemporary Israel Henry Abramovitch,
15. "Where It All Began": Archaeology, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism in Silwan Michael Feige,
16. Vehicles of Values: Souvenirs and the Moralities of Exchange in Christian Holy Land Pilgrimage Jackie Feldman,
Part 4. Comparative Perspectives,
17. Reading and Redacting National Landscapes: Tales of Two Buildings from Israel and Bosnia Fran Markowitz,
18. "I Love a Parade": Ethnic Identity in the United States and Israel Abraham Rosman and Paula G. Rubel,
19. Middle East Studies in Israel, Europe, and the United States: Trends and Prospects Dale F. Eickelman,
Afterword Alex Weingrod,

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