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'Facts on the Ground' and the Subversion of the Global in Israeli Activism

10th October 2011

CGHR Research Group paper

'Facts on the Ground' and the Subversion of the Global in Israeli Activism

Fiona Wright (PhD Candidate, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)

How do Israeli left-wing and human rights activists imagine the conflict in which they live and against which they struggle? Considering the concept of ‘facts on the ground’ – more commonly associated with the nationalist settlement enterprise in Israel/Palestine (El-Haj 2002) – as a lens through which to view opposition to the occupation and ongoing conflict, this paper will examine the spaces in and through which activists understand and struggle against their surroundings.

This research, based on ethnographic fieldwork with an Israeli human rights organisation and other activist groups, addresses the intersections of globalised vocabularies such as human rights with the particular concepts and experiences Israeli activists share with a reality they strive to contest. Part of a cosmopolitan elite and reflecting this in terms of their perceived detachment from the ‘Israeli mainstream’, Jewish Israeli activists also struggle with and against the discourses of victimhood, privilege and the desire to escape, of those around them. Through an examination of activist spaces – meetings, demonstrations, tours, conferences – as well as mundane experiences of everyday life in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, I present a picture of life in the liminal spaces of the victim – perpetrator – witness matrix in Israel/Palestine. Activists’ relations to transnational political discourses and networks are analysed both as a kind of subversion of the global – their situation within spaces of conflict leading to complex positions vis-a-vis the promise of a global political morality – and as a challenge to current manifestations of the Zionist project and the Jewish state.

Discussant: Dr. Glen Rangwala