Re Centring Europe: Competing Israeli and Palestinian Narratives in the Shadow of Europe

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(Re)Centring Europe: Competing Israeli and Palestinian Narratives in the Shadow of Europe

Orli Fridman & Ziad M. Abu-Rish


In May 2008, as the international community attempted to come to terms with Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, the US-led disaster in Iraq, and a plethora of other issues, celebrations and commemorations were held throughout the world highlighting Israel’s sixty years of independence.1 While all these events could be subsumed within the broader category of international relations or current affairs, it is worthwhile to consider the nature of such events and the tensions arising from grouping them together. In the cases of Kosovo and Iraq, international power relations challenged the concept of self-determination in a variety of ways ranging from bureaucratizing the independence process to direct military invasion and occupation of one state by another. In the case of celebrating Israel’s independence, we find unrestrained applause for a specific case of self-determination. Represented as a testament to the Jewish people’s resilience in the face of centuries of anti-Semitism, which culminated in an attempt to eradicate them, these events included the participation of government officials, community leaders, and policy analysts in North America and Europe alike.2

Like other independence celebrations of settler-colonial states,3 this anniversary marked not only the consolidation and recognition of a particular nation-state (Israel), but also the history of an indigenous community’s displacement (the Palestinians). Both these processes are in fact one and the same: they constitute the driving force of the Zionist nation-state building project.4 Consequently, the event being marked in May of 2008 was not only the celebration of Israel’s independence but also the commemoration of the Palestinian Nakbah (catastrophe in Arabic). The creation of the state of Israel featured the displacement of over 750,000 indigenous Palestinian inhabitants of historic Palestine and the simultaneous destruction of over five hundred of their villages.5 While both the eradication of six million Jews from Europe and the ethnic cleansing of a majority of Palestine’s indigenous Arab inhabitants are historical facts separated by time and space, the narratives surrounding these events, their legitimacy as historical collective memories, and the appeal to them as discursive resources are strongly entangled.

In Jean-Luc Godard’s film Notre Musique,6 a young Haaretz Jewish-Israeli journalist interviews the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Set in Sarajevo, Darwish positions himself throughout the interview as the one history has defeated. “Do you know why we Palestinians are famous?” he asks, and goes on without waiting for the journalist to respond: “because you are our enemy, the interest in us stems from the interest in the Jewish issue. The interest is in you, not in me.” Such voices are not simple assertions of victimization on the part of Palestinians. Rather, they are reflective of a broader dynamic of competing narratives that is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such dynamics are part and parcel of all societies in conflict. What is particular to each conflict is the nexus of power relations that underpin the collision between the different narratives involved.

While current discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict focus on the role played by the United States, the role of Europe’s past and present in the conflict has been overshadowed. Nevertheless, the effects of this role play out in the everyday dynamics of the conflict, in the lives of both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, and in the planned, structured, and facilitated encounters between them. This paper seeks to explicate the place of modern European history in the dynamics of Jewish and Palestinian competing narratives of victimization. Reflecting on our work as educators in political education with groups in conflicts, we here analyze our experience of working with a group of Palestinian and Jewish university students from the United States, who came together for a comparative conflict study tour we initiated in the Balkans during the summer of 2006.7 This paper focuses on the intersection of narratives of victimization and processes of self-exploration in facilitated encounters of groups in conflict. More specifically, it seeks to explore, through reflective practice, the power relations that underlie the competition over the recognition of victimization. This struggle is in many ways a struggle that builds on competing narratives about the conflict and collective memories of the groups involved. Europe's relationship to the histories of Jews and Palestinians is crucial in defining the nature of these narratives and memories. We therefore discuss how Europe’s experiences with the Jewish Holocaust and its recognition thereafter plays a hidden, yet central role, especially given the physical and discursive distance of the Palestinian Nakbah from the borders of Europe.
Facilitated Encounters of Groups in Conflict and Group Dynamics

The idea of bringing together members of groups in conflict, in particular Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, is not a new one. Projects and programs to this end have been taking place in Israel for several decades and began to flourish and gain popularity particularly in the mid 1990s after the Oslo Agreements were signed.8 Some would even say that, at the time, such encounters became trendy.9 This flourishing has also taken place outside of Palestine/Israel, where various NGOs have expended a considerable amount of resources identifying and bringing together individuals from societies in conflict.10 The practice of such initiatives and projects has been well researched and discussed among scholars and reflective practitioners.11 However, such projects and the educators involved do not always share the same pedagogical underpinnings in their approach to working with groups in conflict. The main difference is between program practitioners who view encounters as an important means to social change and those who consider encounters as the means and the end itself.

The latter approach assumes that the act of simply bringing together people who belong to groups that are in conflict, cutting them off from their group affiliations, and introducing participants on a personal basis, can reduce both their hatred for one another and the pre-existing stereotypes they have about each other.12 Such an approach emphasizes what participants have in common and marginalizes and disregards controversial issues that are at the heart of the conflict. This approach, based on the contact hypothesis model, has been vastly criticized by practitioners who emphasize and utilize more critical models that go beyond merely breaking stereotypes and animosity; rather, these practitioners have strived to politicize any encounter and discussion between groups in conflict.13

By approaching our work as political education, we position ourselves as criticizers of encounters that are not designed to seriously challenge unjust realities. Particularly in the case of encounters and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, we claim that any interactions that do not oppose, challenge, and even condemn the asymmetry of power relations between the occupier and the occupied, can do more harm than good.

This paper draws its analysis from the broader literature on encounters between groups in conflict. The authors approach any encounter between groups in conflict not as an end in and of itself but as a means for raising the awareness of participants to the political and social realities of the conflict and to their roles in it. It emphasizes the asymmetry of power relations in the realities from which the participants come and assumes a different task for each of the groups in the context of the encounter and the social challenges in the real world.

More specifically, this paper reflects on the experiences of the authors in designing and implementing a summer program for Jewish and Palestinian US university students in the Balkans. While in the Balkans,14 the students were engaged in two interdependent processes. The first was a comparative study of the Balkan wars of the 1990s and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this component of the program, the goal was not to identify who played the “roles” of the Israelis and Palestinians in the recent Balkan wars. Rather, the goal was to discuss dynamics that occur across conflicts from a comparative perspective. While limitations to such comparative analysis do arise from the different natures of these conflicts (the dissolution of a socialist federalist state in the case of Yugoslavia and the construction of a settler-colonial state in the case of Israel), we believe that the particular themes highlighted in the program cut across both cases and the broader grouping of societies in conflict.15 These included topics such as competing narratives, nationalist mobilizations, state violence, and questions of guilt, acknowledgement, and responsibility. The second process of the program consisted of a series of open group-dynamics sessions facilitated by an Israeli and Palestinian facilitator.16 In these sessions, the discussions were participant-led; there was no particular structuring in terms of what topics would be discussed. Rather, students used this space to process their experiences in the program and explore how they related to their everyday lives outside of the program on both personal and collective levels. During this part of the program, participants brought in their own life experiences, those of their families and friends, as well as those that they had been raised hearing. Students discussed their political perceptions, and popular beliefs and images were exposed and openly processed; at times these beliefs and images even clashed.

The two processes that made up the bulk of the program were not independent of one another. They were designed to be mutually reinforcing. The comparative method, beyond being a more robust form of social analysis, was an opportunity for students to recognize dynamics that they were unable or unwilling to see when it came to their own roles in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the same time, the perspectives of the participants would very often be the catalyst for, or the resources in, a discussion about how these dynamics of conflict manifest in their own lives. One of the most interesting dynamics in these groups had to do with the issue of memory and its role in the conflict.
Collective Memory and Facilitated Encounters of Groups in Conflict

Collective memories and the process of memory formation or obliteration play an important role not only in the analysis of conflicts and societies in conflict, but also in the dynamics between members of groups in conflict, particularly in the process generated in facilitated encounters. In recent years, numerous studies have been written dealing with the subject of social memory and how social memory is created or obliterated.17 These studies have focused on how individual members of society remember and interpret past events, how from this process they construct meaning to their current realities, and how this becomes modified over time. Maurice Halbwachs, a noted French sociologist, was the first contemporary scholar to discuss the concept of collective memory and was the first to analyze the subject in a systematic manner.18

Collective memory, according to Halbwachs, is not a given but is rather a socially constructed notion. “While the collective memory endures and draws strength from its base in a coherent body of people, it is individuals as group members who remember. There are as many collective memories as there are groups and institutions in a society. It is, of course, individuals who remember, not groups or institutions, but these individuals, being located in a specific group context, draw on that context to remember or recreate the past. Hence, every collective memory requires the support of a group delimited in space and time.”19

The literature on facilitation of groups in conflict discusses the process that such groups go through as comprised of several stages that tend to repeat themselves in a variety of shapes and forms: from the initial stage of group formation, followed by a stage in which the dominant group insists on maintaining power and the status quo, to a possible change in power relations, when, for example, the subordinated group refuses to accept the status quo and manages to rebel against it. When such a change occurs in the group process, it can, at least in theory, allow the participants to explore an equal sharing of power among them. At this stage, the group may examine the consequences of such a demand to share power and the dynamic it generates. A more equal dialogue then begins to take shape between the groups.20

At the stage of the encounter when the groups engage in a struggle, quite commonly, the main issues around which the group dynamics revolve seem to focus on themes such as “who is more humane”, “who is morally superior”, and “who is the ultimate victim”. We see these questions, in particular, connected to the collective memories and narratives of the past that each group shares, at times in complete negation of the other.

Based on our experience, we find the competition over victimization in facilitated encounters between Jewish and Palestinian groups to be of particular importance and reflective of the reality as it exists outside of the room. Such competition brings up the Jewish Holocaust within minutes of conversation. In this process, there is usually a strong demand by the Jewish participants for the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish Holocaust as a unique incomparable historical event, as well as the exceptional Jewish suffering and fears of existence such a past has created. The Palestinians, however, demand not only recognition but acknowledgment of their Nakbah from those they hold responsible.

In this stage, recognizing each other’s pain and suffering is far from being a feasible choice for participants of both groups. Instead, they are more likely to engage in a competition over “whose suffering was/is greater.” The Palestinian participants either compare their suffering to that of the Jews in World War II or deny the Holocaust, either completely or with respect to population figures. One particular manifestation of the latter dynamic is seen through questions such as: “why did we [Palestinians] have to pay the price for crimes of others [the Nazis and Europe]?” The Jewish participants, on the other hand, do not recognize their direct role in or privileges deriving from the displacement of Palestinians from their native lands or their position of power within the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Group Process and the Competition over Victimization

The group of Jewish-Palestinian participants we worked with in the Balkans reached its height of the struggle phase while in Sarajevo, following its participation in the 11 July memorial ceremony in Potočari in memory of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide.21 One Palestinian student related to this stage of the group’s dynamic in her blog-entry:

Is it within human capacity to fully feel and understand complex and wretched histories of massacres, genocides, and destructions of entire societies? Today, July 12, 2006, was the first day our group spent in Sarajevo, Bosnia. We awoke to an intense group process discussion trying to absorb and sort our feelings about yesterday's Srebrenica memorial; however I can guess that many of us left our discussion more upset, conflicted, and confused than ever before. We as human beings seem to try to relate complex and uncomfortable issues to our own living condition so that we can attempt to sleep with some understanding of why such atrocities are repetitive in our human history. Is there a need to recognize each other's suffering and pain if all we think about in the back of our minds is how the other's suffering is more or less worse than our own? 22

Such competition over recognition of victimization and over who is more humane or who suffered more is prevalent not only between Jews and Palestinians but in the Balkan region as well. The competition emphasizes the need of each group to receive recognition and acknowledgment from the other – acknowledgments of their collective memories and their shared past. However, such acknowledgement can rarely be given at this stage, as the groups are still engaged in a struggle. The visit to Potočari, a site of memory and of genocide in the middle of Europe, in particular raised the issue of competition over victimization. At this point, some of the Jewish participants demanded recognition by the Palestinian group of the Jewish Holocaust as an incomparable historical event. While some of the Palestinian participants did acknowledge the Jewish Holocaust, they likewise demanded Jewish recognition of the suffering, victimization, and inferiority that Palestinians experience as a result of the Israeli occupation.

Srebrenica forces us, as outsiders, to face the horror that occurred there only a decade ago, in spite of and after the promise of "never again,"23 while Sarajevo and its very recent history exemplifies what evil can generate and destroy. As if mirroring the horrific events that took place in these European towns and cities, the group rejected all attempts at mutual recognition or acknowledgment. The Palestinian participants attempted to reach a more equal dialogue between the two groups, requesting that the Jewish group acknowledge their plea for recognition of the suffering of the Palestinian people, while the Jewish participants rejected such attempts, entrenched in their own fears and sense of victimization. By this rejection, they maintained their power in the room – i.e., the status quo. At this stage, activated and motivated by their own fears, neither group could see the other's needs, open wounds, and fears. As one Palestinian female wrote in her blog-entry after Srebrenica and the group process session that followed:

I believe today's events reaffirmed something in myself and in all of us. It reaffirmed the fear we all have of being wiped out, forgotten, and our rights to self-determination being denied. It reaffirmed the fear that we as Jews and Palestinians have no assurance that the world will interject if this type of atrocity was to take place to us. It reaffirmed my fears that after 56 years of Palestinians being oppressed, displaced, persecuted, occupied, and being denied their right to self determination, nothing will happen until my people are erased from human history. Then and only then will the international world look back and say how could we have let this happen?24

Power, History, and Collective Memory

The dynamics discussed above bring into relief a variety of issues related to the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the power relations that underpin it, and ways in which that history is remembered. The competition over victimization between Jewish and Palestinian participants was constructed around the Jewish Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakbah, respectively. Such competition occurred during the facilitated sessions, which as we explained above, were based on open group dynamics. These constructions, while rooted in the historical experiences of Jews and Palestinians, conceal a number of differences that nevertheless emerge as part of the encounter’s dynamics. In this sense, an analysis of the encounter’s dynamics requires “making visible” certain erasures and shifts while understanding their role in operations of power.25 This is precisely the approach the facilitators utilize in the actual sessions with the participants. The omissions, struggles, and underlying assumptions of the encounter between the participants can teach us as much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as does taking the content of their encounter at face value and cross-referencing it with historical facts. Such a project, not to mention the encounter of the participants, originates in and in fact reflects the overlapping unequal relations of power, between occupier and occupied, colonizer and colonized, white and non-white, Jewish and Muslim, and several other binaries of difference.26

This dynamic, as we analyze here, is related to the fact that the Jewish Holocaust is an event that occurred as external to the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations whereas the Palestinian Nakbah was an event constitutive of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite this dynamic, the two events are framed within a single time-space resulting in two effects: the erasure of European history as a central geographical and temporal field and the production of Palestinian history (read more broadly as Arab/Muslim) as the locus of this history. In the case of the former, the Jewish Holocaust is removed from the field of European history and constructed as a global dynamic.27 This allows for the subsequent localization of anti-Semitism and a supposed existential threat to Jews and Jewish Israelis in Palestinian/Arab/Muslim history, politics, and culture.28 Furthermore, such erasure of European history makes invisible the role of European powers in the colonial administration of the successor states of the Ottoman Empire as well as their varied, yet crucial role, in supporting the Zionist project.29 Such discursive effects have their roots in a number of political and intellectual practices, which will be discussed below. It is nevertheless important to highlight at the outset the fact that such a de-centring of Europe and the creation of a notion of symmetry vis-à-vis the Jewish Holocaust and Palestinian Nakbah as resources in the encounter between Jewish and Palestinian participants represents an important effect of international, regional and local powers relations.

A second difference related to the construction of the competition over victimization around the Jewish Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba respectively has to do with the nature of the historical events themselves. Whereas the Jewish Holocaust ended in 1945, the displacement of the Palestinian people as a product of Israeli policies is ongoing. The Nazi Party was dissolved, a series of cases were prosecuted and convictions were obtained against former Nazis and their collaborators, reparations were (and still are) paid to Jews that claimed them, and citizenship reinstated to those that sought to return to their countries of origin.30 In the case of the Palestinians, refugees continue to be denied their right to return or receive compensation for those that chose to do so, the Israeli state continues to expropriate more of the land of historic Palestine, and those Palestinians that live under Israeli rule (whether as citizens or as occupied populations) experience a variety of institutional arrangements designed to limit their equal access to natural, service-based, and political resources.31

These first two dynamics of the erasure of Europe and “historical versus ongoing” events set the stage for the other two differences related to constructing Jewish-Palestinian narratives around the Jewish Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakbah: the degree to which the collective memories of Jews and Palestinians, respectively, are consolidated and the degree to which the positionality of these narratives vis-à-vis one another is one of dominance and marginality.

Throughout the encounter, the Jewish narrative of the Holocaust is fixed, adhered to by all Jewish participants, and subjectively understood by the Palestinian participants. The Palestinian narrative, on the other hand, can be understood as a fragmented narrative in which Palestinian voices point to a common experience; however, each participant is able to recount the narrative only partially. The articulation of that experience, thus, is not standard. Rather, Palestinian participants share different parts of the narrative based on their level of political awareness.

The source of such a discrepancy in the level of consolidation of collective memories cannot but be understood within the context of overlapping power relations, best represented by the contrast between the “successful” building of an Israeli state—and therefore the Zionist project and its various affiliated institutions in the Jewish Diaspora—and the continued, yet incomplete, struggle for Palestinian self-determination. Writing on this very issue with respect to Palestinian popular memories of the 1936–1939 Revolt, Ted Swedenburg argues that:

The ‘truth’ of Palestinians’ memories of revolt was not to be found solely in ‘the field’ in which it was articulated. As Fredrick Jameson notes, one notable characteristic of the modern imperialist era is that ‘the truth of experience no longer coincides with the place in which it takes place.’ . . . Palestinians . . . are attempting to construct an ‘authentic’ identity for themselves in a relation of subordination and antagonism to Israeli repressive and ideological apparatuses. Those agencies are underwritten by the Western powers. . . . To begin to comprehend Palestinian memory therefore requires conceiving it in relation to the history of Jewish colonization in Palestine/Israel and to the history of broader Western support for that project.32

Like Swedenburg’s analysis of popular memories of the 1936–1939 Revolt, students’ collective memories of the Jewish Holocaust and Palestinian Nakbah represent not only asymmetry of power between Jewish and Palestinian students, but also the role of Western powers in the constitution of that asymmetry. The ability to discuss the Holocaust and Nakbah within the same geographical-historical field and the differences in the level of consolidation of collective memory is deeply implicated in the fact that Jewish collective memory vis-à-vis Palestinian collective memory is a relationship of dominance and marginality.

Here, we are less interested with the claim of the Holocaust being the ultimate form of oppression. We are more interested in the fact that the particular collective memory of the Jewish Holocaust has been sufficiently institutionalized such that both Jewish individuals and the broader society viewed them as common sense. The Palestinian narrative in that sense can be understood only as a marginal narrative (as referred to by Mahmoud Darwish, as quoted above). Denial or apologetic discourse regarding the ethnic cleansing of Palestine between 1947 and 1949 as well as the oppressive nature of Israeli policies towards the various Palestinian populations under its rule continue until this day within mainstream media, political, and academic circles. We here point to the fact that while the Palestinian narrative is constantly subject to denial, the Jewish narrative is constantly subject to assertion. The consequence of this discrepancy is the lack of an inter-subjective acknowledgement of the Palestinian collective memory. Consequently, the power imbalance structures the terms of the debate in the encounter between Palestinian and Jewish participants.

Much of the current discussion of the role of Western powers is focused on the United States and its policies of consistent political, economic, and military support for the state of Israel. While such attention to the present superpower is legitimate, it should not occur at the expense of a critical reflection on European powers’ historical and contemporary role in both the material (e.g., the colonization) and discursive (e.g., the privileging of one collective memory over another) aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian encounter. The recent critical scholarship on European history and activism in Europe itself has re-centred itself on the role of Europe. An important corollary to that would be to re-centre discussions of Europe’s borders on dynamics which implicate Europe. This would allow us to move beyond the limits of Europe’s physical borders to an understanding of the boundaries, material and discursive, that Europe has constructed and helps to maintain.
Concluding Comments

The preceding discussion attempted to highlight various issues related to facilitating encounters between Jews and Palestinians in the context of comparative conflict analysis. It is meant to serve as an initial reflection on what the authors of this paper view as a promising avenue for academic and practical engagement in questions related to societies in conflict, political education, and social change. Though tentative, some concluding comments are in order to both summarize the arguments of this paper as well as to propose further work on these issues.

What becomes immediately apparent from an analysis of the narratives deployed throughout the participants’ encounter is the role of Europe. While contemporary discussions focus on the triangle of Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States, it is clear that Europe’s history as well as its present is deeply implicated in the dynamics between Palestinian and Jewish communities. The role of Europe, however, is not fixed. Rather, this role can be flexible and dynamic. As we saw in the encounter between the Palestinian and Jewish students, Europe took on a double role in the group’s process. On the one hand, the history of the “centre” of Europe vis-à-vis the Jewish Holocaust and the Middle East plays a silent yet powerfully structuring role in the competing narratives and collective memories of Palestinians and Jews. On the other hand, “peripheral” Europe, more specifically the violent break-up of Yugoslavia and particularly the genocide of Srebrenica, allowed the group to become reflective about their competition over victimization and possibly find ways to break through it. This should not be viewed as an attempt to assign blame or guilt. This fluidity and movement serves as a call for action to fundamentally question the ways in which the European community is addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict including its past, present, and possible future role in the conflict. While the realm of negotiations, aid packages, and ceremonial events is important, further attention needs to be paid to questions of recognition, education, and institutionalization.

In addition to the political question of the role of Europe, a methodological question also presents itself. Clearly, we claim that encounters between members of groups in conflict, when facilitated appropriately, are a fruitful avenue of education and empowerment. Nevertheless, comparative conflict analysis has much to offer when the two approaches are combined. In the case of the encounter we discuss in this paper, the comparative method complemented the process the students were undergoing through their encounter. It assisted them in raising questions, the very ones they were struggling with, in a context completely different than their own. As such, the comparative method achieved two objectives. On the one hand, it de-exceptionalized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, allowing participants to understand oppression, violence, and change in multiple contexts. On the other hand, it allowed participants to see mirror images of themselves with respect to the roles they have taken up in their own conflict (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). This was not accomplished by seeking out the “Israelis” and the “Palestinians” of the Balkans. Rather, it was accomplished by seeking out dynamics of perpetrator and victim statuses, communal memory and collective denial, and the different ways our everyday actions are implicated in these dynamics.

Our final comment builds on our previous point: given the utility of comparative conflict analysis in the realm of facilitated encounters between groups in conflict, we wish to explore what possibilities exist in the development of a four-way encounter between two sets of groups in conflict. In this particular case, the argument could be made for a Jewish-Palestinian-Serbian-Albanian encounter. More specifically we pose the question: how would/can such an encounter, constructed with a comparative analysis component, deepen the utility derived from comparison and offer a space for the development of solidarity across conflict zones; a solidarity that goes beyond mere rhetorical support for peace but rather delves into the exchange of challenges surrounding questions of communal memory, collective denial, power relations, and social change?

1 See, for example, ‘Factbox: Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations,’ Reuters (6 May 2008) <>; ‘Israel marks 60th anniversary,’ United Press International (8 May 2008) <>; ‘Israel marks its 60th anniversary,’ BBC News (8 May 2008) <>.

2 See, for example, ‘Global leaders convene in Jerusalem to mark Israel's 60th anniversary,’ Associated Press (14 May 2008); ‘Bush opens visit to mark Israel's 60th anniversary and begins Mideast tour,’ International Herald Tribune (14 May 2008) ; ‘British PM: Israel`s creation one of the 20th century`s `greatest achievements,`’ Haaretz (5 May 2008) 'Pelosi leads congressional delegation to Israel for its 60th birthday,’ International Herald Tribune (16 May 2008)

3 For settler-colonialism, as both a historical phenomenon and an unit of analysis, see Caroline Elkins and Susan Pederson, eds., Settler Colonialism in the Twentieth Century (New York: Routledge, 2005); David K. Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires: A Comparative Survey form the Eighteenth Century (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966); George M. Fredrickson, “Colonialism and Racism: The United States and South Africa in Comparative Perspective,” in The Arrogance of Race (Middeltown: Wesleyan University Press, 1988): pp. 216-235; idem, White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981); Howard Lamar and Leonard Thompson, eds., The Frontier in History: North America and Southern Africa Compared (New Haven: Yale University, 1981); David Prochaska, Making Algeria French: Colonialism in Bone, 1870-1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Patrick Wolfe, “Land, Labor, and Difference: Elementary Structures of Race,” American Historical Review (2001): pp. 866-905.

4 For specific discussions of Israel as a settler-colonial state, and how the (discursive and physical) displacement of Palestinians is integral to its state-building trajectory, see Baruch Kimmerling, Zionism and Territory: The Socio-Territorial Dimensions of Zionist Politics, International and Area Studies Research Series (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983); Zachary Lockman, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1908-1948 (Berkeley: California Press, 1996); Gabriel Piterberg, The Returns of Zionism: Myths, Politics, and Scholarship on Israel (New York: Verso, 2008); Gershon Shafir, Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914 (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996); Gershon Shafir, “Zionism and Colonialism: A Comparative Approach” in Israel in Comparative Perspective: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom, edited by Michael Barnett (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996): pp. 227-244; Elia Zureik, The Palestinians in Israel: A Study in Internal Colonialism (London: 1979).

5 See, for example, Walid Khalidi, All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 (Washington DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 2006); Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Avi Shlaim, “The Debate About 1948,” International Journal of Middle East Studies (August 1995): pp. 287-304.

6 Jean-Luc Godard, Notre Musique, 2004.

7 A point about the make-up of the participant group and broader conceptualizations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are in order here. The authors of this paper wish to emphasize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that is between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. However, given the diasporic nature of the Palestinian community and the hegemonic nature of Zionism in the identity construction of many Jewish communities, there is justification for creating such a project around participants living in the United States. This is especially so given the high degree of political mobilization that has occurred on US university campuses since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada. The process of selecting the participants was premised on identifying students who self-identified as “parties to the conflict”; were part of political groups attempting to mobilize their campuses; and were connected by family to Jewish Israelis or Palestinians. In this sense, the project did explore the connections and intersections between power relations in Palestine/Israel and the power relations between participants in the US vis-à-vis the broader dynamic of Zionist-Palestinian relations.

8 Most of the work prior to the Oslo Agreements took place inside Israel between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel, while from the post-Oslo era until the outbreak of the second intifada, encounter projects were able to take place both in Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza. There were numerous challenges and obstacles during these years. See, for example, Mohammed Abu-Nimer, ‘Peace Building in Postsettlement: Challenges for Israeli and Palestinian Peace Educators’, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 6(1), 1-21, 2000. It is important to mention that many of those who facilitated encounters during these years could clearly foresee, manifested in the dynamics between the groups in such encounters during the late 1990s, the eruption of the second intifada in the West Bank and Gaza and the deteriorating relationship inside Israel between Jews and Arabs that culminated in the October 2000 events.

9 Haggith Gor-Ziv & Rela Mazali, Reflections on Encounter Groups of Jews and Palestinians from Israel, Report to the Ford Foundation, April 1998.

10 See for example, Seeds of Peace (; Building Bridges International (

11 See for example, Ysrael Katz and Maya Kahanov, ‘A Review of Dilemmas in Facilitating Encounter Groups between Jews and Arabs in Israel,’ Megamot, 33 (1), 1990, pp. 29-47 (in Hebrew); Muhammed Abu-Nimer, Dialogue, Conflict Resolution, and Change: Arab Jewish Encounters in Israel (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999); Rabah Halabi (ed.), Israeli and Palestinian identities in Dialogue: the School for Peace Approach (New Brunswick N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2004); Nava Sonnenschein, Dialogue Challenging Identity: Jews Constructing their Identity through Encounter with Palestinians (Haifa: Pardes, 2008) (in Hebrew).

12 Rabah Halabi and Nava Sonnenschein, ‘The Jewish-Palestinian Encounter in a Time of Crisis,’ Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 60, No. 2, 2004, pp. 375.

13 For a discussion of the different approaches and criticism see: Orli Fridman, ‘In Search of Equality: a Jewish-Palestinian Encounter in the Former Yugoslavia,’ unpublished manuscript, 2007.

14 More specifically: Belgrade, Prishtina, Mitrovica (north and south), Srebrenica, Sarajevo, and Mostar. For detailed description and analysis of the project and the group process, see footnote 12.

15 For an example of a comparative analysis of state violence in Israel and Serbia see: James Ron, Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence in Serbia and Israel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

16 The staff was a mixed staff of Israeli and Palestinian group facilitators and educators.

17 For literature on collective memory and social memory studies see: Jeffrey K. Olick (ed.) States of Memory: Continuities, Conflicts, and Transformations in National Retrospection (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003); Jeffrey K. Olick, The Politics of Regret: On Collective Memory and Historical Responsibility (New York: Routledge, 2007). For particular work as related to Israel and Palestine as case studies see: Yael Zerubavel, Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); Idith Zarthal, Israel's Holocaust and the politics of nationhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Susan Slymovics, The Object of Memory: Arabs and Jews Narrate the Palestinian Village (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998); Ahmad Sa’adi and Lila Abu-Lughod, Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007); Ted Swedenburg, Memories of Revolt: The 1936-1939 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003)

18 Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992).

19 Ibid, p 22.

20 Nava Sonnenschein, Rabah Halabi, and Ariella Friedman, Israeli-Palestinian Workshops: Legitimation of National Identity and Change in Power Relations, in Eugene Weiner (ed.) The Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence (New York: Continuum, 1998).

21 Srebrenica, previously a small unknown town in eastern Bosnia, has become a symbol of the return of genocide to Europe and for the failure of international politics. The premeditated murder of thousands of boys and men before the eyes of the “protective troops” of the United Nations raised challenges and moral dilemmas for the entire international community. The verdict against General Krstić of the Republika Srpska Army confirmed and named the horrifying mass killings in Srebrenica as genocide. Among those individuals in Serbia combating the official denial of these events, Srebrenica also became a symbol of the war crimes committed by Serbs, of the cruelty of the war, of the need to address questions of guilt and responsibility, and of the need to resist the neutralization of the Srebrenica massacre – to refrain from the tendency to equalize all crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. Today in the nearby town of Potočari there is a large memorial site where the remains of the victims found in mass graves are being buried in an annual ceremony on July 11th (Question for authors: is this event now in the past or do you mean this occurs annually?) (it occurs annually) Official Serbia up to this day denies responsibility for the genocide in Srebrenica, and the issue is still contested in the public space. See Orli Fridman, ‘Alternative Voices in Public Urban Spaces: Serbia's Women in Black’, Ethnologia Balkanica 10, (2007).

22 Student entry in program weblog.

23 As one student wrote in a short article she published in her school's online journal: "I was taught to proclaim ‘never again’ before I learned to locate Poland on a map. And yet before this past July, I had never heard of the massacre at Srebrenica. Eleven years ago, when I was eleven myself, about 8,000 Bošniak (Bosnian Muslim) men from the town of Srebrenica were brutally castrated, starved, shot, and killed by Bosnian Serb forces in about a week." See Yael Hammerman, ‘Bearing Witness in Srebrenica’, the Current, Fall 2006.

24 Student entry in program weblog.

25 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), pp. 170-71.

26 This is not to claim that any of these identities are fixed. Participants have multiple identities centred on a variety of axes such as nationality, race, gender, and class. Our point is to emphasize the imbalance of the particular power relations that are central to the encounter between the participants.

27 For analysis of the Jewish Holocaust as part of European history, see Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt, 1976); Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution (New York: Harper Collins, 1992); Saul Friedlander, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945 (New York: Harper Collins. 2007). For analysis on the erasure of Europe’s centrality to the Jewish Holocaust within its construction as a global phenomenon, see Norman G. Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (New York: Verso, 2003).

28 For critical analysis of this dynamic, see Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008); Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979).

29 See, for example, Toby Dodge, Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005); David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (New York: Holt, 2001); Usama Makdisi, The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon (Los Angeles, University of California, 2000); Weldon C. Matthews, Confronting an Empire, Constructing a Nation: Arab Nationalists and Popular Politics in Mandate Palestine (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006); Barbara Smith, The Roots of Separatism in Palestine: British Economic Policy, 1920-1929 (Syracus: Syracuse University Press, 1993); Elizabeth Thompson, Colonial Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege, and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).

30 See, for example, Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Peter Smith Publisher, 1994); Michael Bazyler and Roger P. Alford, Holocaust Restitution: Perspectives on the Litigation and Its Legacy (New York: NYU Press, 2005).

31 See, for example, Ronit Lentin (ed.), Thinking Palestine (New York: Zed Books, 2008); Zachary Lockman, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1908-1948 (Berkeley: California Press, 1996); Joseph Massad, The Persistence of the Question of Palestine: The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians (New York: Routledge, 2006); Edward Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Vintage, 1992); Gershon Shafir, Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914 (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996); Avram S. Bornstein, Crossing the Green Line Between the West Bank and Israel (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002).

32 Ted Swedenburg, Memories of Revolt: The 1936-1939 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003), p. 3.

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