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Middle East Near You

Palestinian Citizens of Israel. Power, Resistance and the Struggle for Space

Book Author(s) :
Sharri Plonski
Published Date :
December 2017
Publisher :
IB Tauris
Hardcover :
384 pages
ISBN-13 :
978-1784536565

Israel’s colonial violence against Palestinians has produced several trajectories encroaching upon the indigenous population and their geophysical space. As a result, Palestinian resilience and resistance has been diverse, a uniting factor operating against what Sharri Plonski describes as “Zionist erasures” in her book “Palestinian Citizens of Israel: power, resistance and the struggle for space” (IB Tauris, 2018).

Early in the text, Plonski states that the Palestinian struggle is perpetually “in contention” with Israel. The struggle against Israeli colonialism is not only a reflection of Palestinian activism. As the author writes, “Land becomes integral to the subaltern community’s sense of survival.” Hence, the book strives to impart the dynamics associated with land and how borders manifest different forms of weakness. Zionist erasure, which is a recurring reminder throughout the book, exposes not only the Palestinian restrictions but also colonial fears. As Plonski describes succinctly, “A system which locates its dominance and legitimacy in its erasures of Palestine is likewise vulnerable to this grout and its counter claims to the same space, territory and history.”

Borders are a departure point for Plonski’s studies. While Israel seeks to normalise its appropriation of Palestinian territory, Palestinians have activated different forms of protest, challenging the state by asserting their right to reclaiming their space and their memory. Taking Jaffa, the Galilee and the Naqab (Negev Desert) as her specific focus, Plonski shows how Palestinian citizens in Israel challenged the hegemonic order, despite the ramifications of geographical and political boundaries imposed upon them by the colonial project. There are distinct differences, which the author discusses from the context of borders, which make each struggle unique and yet complementary. The protest takes place within territory colonised by Israel, yet the divisions experienced in the communities have produced forms of resistance which engage and disengage with the colonial state.

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The book describes Palestinian protest as serving the wider struggle: “together, they engage in the larger collective project to push back the state and to reclaim and hold on to Palestinian spaces, each in their own way.” Borders, the author reminds us, define the resistance activities and how Palestinians organise collectively. Colonisation and the replacement of the indigenous population with settlers activate a different resistance from that of Palestinians whose space is exclusive yet controlled from the outside by Israel.

Plonski engages in extensive research and devotes an entire chapter to each of the mentioned areas, which are then analysed comparatively.

Jaffa is described as the epitome of dispossession. Israeli colonialism sought to remove and replace Palestinians. The struggle for the remaining Palestinians in Jaffa took place within constant attempts at erasure, thus bringing the need for survival to the fore. As Israel infiltrated Jaffa, Palestinians sought to confront the state directly through collective mobilisation. However, resistance also required a degree of engagement with the state. Plonski recounts the Housing Intifada, when Palestinians, through Al-Rabita, mobilised collectively to take over empty buildings and reclaim space as their own. Jaffa’s resistance is ingrained in the Palestinian historical right to land, yet resistance also went through an evolution that sought to negotiate within the restricted space.

Resistance in the Galilee operates through a different space and paradigm. Plonski refers to Land Day as “the culmination of long years of survival, personal and community development, Sumud and resilience.” In this case, border politics unravelled a different scenario; unlike Jaffa, anti-colonial resistance in the Galilee comes from a Palestinian space that is surrounded by settlement expansion. Israeli violence, in this case, is more about control, restrictions and surveillance that create an efficient exclusion of Palestinians. Hence, the author states, resistance is about rights to live a better life. Return, in this case, has experienced a shift borne out of necessity. To combat the normalisation of development plans which are a form of control over Palestinian space, resistance has evolved into a chain of actions that focus upon the issues at hand, as opposed to borrowing from cultural resistance. The neutral language employed by Israel is employed by Palestinians who link Judaisation of the Galilee to control of Palestinian space.

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Bedouin resistance in the Naqab, on the other hand, challenges the fabricated Zionist narrative of the empty land. Their persistent return, exemplified by Al-Araqib being rebuilt more than 120 times, is an overt act of defiance against the Israeli colonial state. Plonski describes how plans to urbanise the Bedouin were countered with resistance on various levels. Land and the struggle for space, in this context, provoked multiple responses from the Bedouin which the author categorises as struggles for indigenous land rights, against hegemony, state erasure and the right to development. The Regional Council for the Unrecognised Bedouin Arab villages (RCUV) also joined forces with Israeli human rights organisations which seek to articulate rights from a legal perspective.

The final chapters provide meticulous analysis regarding the struggle for land and space and the exclusive flexibility which Zionism has applied to its colonial expansion. Plonski elaborates upon the specific types of borders imposed upon Palestinian citizens in Jaffa, the Galilee and the Naqab, all of which are subject to different forms of colonial violence. Palestinian struggle is defined by the dynamics of space, and permanence is contested constantly. As Israel exerts its power, the Palestinian struggle becomes rooted in permanence; in Jaffa, by mobilising the community against “the state’s construction of the Palestinian as subaltern, transient and disconnected.” In the Galilee, Plonski points out that the borders are mutually entrenched by both Palestinians and Israel, as colonialism is achieved from the outside by Israel through restrictions and surveillance. The Naqab has also articulated its own struggle for space by developing the means through which the RCUV “cultivates an alternative political landscape to that imposed by the state.”

This detailed study is by no means an easy read. Yet Plonski’s attention to detail encourages perusal of the subject. In particular, it encourages alternative scrutiny and invites rigorous attention to detail which is routinely generalised to the point of misunderstanding the intricacies of Palestinian resistance. Most importantly, it exposes the weak points of the Israeli settler-colonial state which can be seen in its aggressive policies against Palestinians. It is unquestionable that Palestinians have suffered under Israel’s colonial violence. Yet it is also paramount to remember, as Plonski rightfully states, that Israel’s attempts to throttle resistance, as well as its constant appropriation of space, are colonialism’s particular vulnerabilities.

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