The Task Force on AAA Engagement on Israel-Palestine issued its final report today. It is a long and thorough report, so I won’t attempt to summarize the whole thing. (There is already an “executive summary” in the report itself.) But as someone who has followed the issue for a long time, both through the extensive coverage here on Savage Minds as well as on the blog of the Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, and who is therefore suffering from “BDS fatigue” from the repetitive nature of some of the discussions, I still found much that was new and interesting in this report. Even with regard to topics that I am already somewhat familiar with, the report provides examples from the daily lives of academics working in the region which bring these issues to life. Accordingly, what I have assembled below is a rather idiosyncratic selection of highlights from the report, based on what jumped out at me and got my attention, along with some comments and reflections of my own. I hope it will encourage more people to read the full report.1 Continue reading
[Savage Minds is honored to publish this essay by Partha Chatterjee, Professor of Anthropology and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University, and of the Centre for the Studies of Social Sciences in Calcutta. He is a founding member of the Subaltern Studies Collective.]
Having taught for a lifetime in Indian institutions and, alongside, about two decades in US universities, I have a position on this question that is somewhat unusual from the point of view of most American anthropologists. My political views were formed in the course of growing up in a country that was once the classic colonial possession of the British Empire, achieving its independence in the year of my birth. I grew up with the marks of colonial rule scattered all around me – equestrian statues of colonial governors and generals at street corners, all-white sporting clubs and swimming pools where native youngsters were shooed away by turbaned gatemen, rows of office buildings with names like McKinnon and McKenzie or Jardine and Henderson whose top officers, I was told, were still spotlessly white. I went to an elementary school run by an English couple whose son – I still remember his name, Stephen Hartley – was routinely awarded the top prize by our Indian teachers at every school competition. Ever since, no matter which country I have visited, I have rarely failed to recognize the signs of colonial superiority.
I first came to know about the fate of European Jews in a roundabout way. Sometime in my childhood, I came to hear the phrase notun ihudi – the new Jews. It was probably the title of a movie. It referred, I was told, to people like us, thrown out of our homes in the eastern half of Bengal which had now become part of another country called Pakistan. Both my parents came from there. Once every few months, I would wake up in the morning to find the house full of strangers – relatives from Pakistan who stayed with us for a few days and then moved to a more permanent dwelling. We were, I heard, the new Jews – refugees, forced to make a new life in a strange land. Continue reading
Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is pleased to present the latest in a series of essays reflecting on the decision to support the boycott until Israeli higher education ends its complicity in the violation of Palestinian rights (including academic rights).
Archaeology and the BDS/boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions: some personal fragmentary reflections
Reflecting on why I support the proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions, I found myself looking back through fieldwork diaries I made while I was an undergraduate student in the late 1980s. The first set dates from early July to late September 1988, the second from the same period in 1989: the early years of the First Intifada. My fieldwork was as a volunteer on a French-Israeli archaeology project in western Galilee. In 1988, the team consisted of a French director, a Palestinian assistant, and around 20 students, almost all European and one or two Israelis. In 1989, the situation was similar, with the addition of one Palestinian student. The project was mainly funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs/CNRS and the excavation license granted by, as with all archaeological projects in Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority. All archaeological licenses granted to a non-Israeli project director must bear the name of an Israeli co-director, despite that person not being an active daily member of the project team.
During those six months, the archaeological team lodged in the old youth hostel in the Arab area of the northern Mediterranean coastal town that Arabs call ‘Akka and Israeli Jews call ‘Akko. A Christian Arab family ran the hostel, and the town itself was part-Arab (the Old City), part-Israeli (the New City). At that time, I knew little about the Israel/Palestine situation beyond UK media reports, but clearly the recently announced Intifada (late 1987) was on everyone’s minds, especially in a town with Akka’s/Akko’s demographic. I befriended a local Arab café owner, who said he worked for “the labor party”. One evening, a few of us diggers visited his café to find it full of tourists of different nationalities – Japanese, American, British, French. The owner had gathered them together from a number of tour parties and had given them cold-water melon on this hot day. After talking with us all about the Intifada situation, he orchestrated an international chorus around his tables – “We want peace! We want peace!”, over and over. This was, I guess, my first “political” encounter with an Arab person, and one which has stayed in my mind because of the contrast I was seeing between (a) this spontaneous Arab-led international “happening”, particularly hearing the call for peace, and (b) the fairly heavy Israeli police and military presence that I had seen everywhere since my arrival in the country only a few days before. Continue reading