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Hebrew University
Research on Palestinian Martyrdom: from the Hebrew University to New Zealand University

07.03.19

Editorial Note

Mariam Abdul-Dayyem and Efrat Ben-Ze’ev, two researchers from the Hebrew University have published their findings on the concept of Shahid, in the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. Abdul-Dayyem, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, conducted the research while studying for an MA at the Department of Sociology. She previously studied at Birzeit University.  Prof. Ben Ze'ev is an associate fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace.

Shahid is the Islamic martyr who sacrifices his/her life. The concept is part of a collective heritage of Muslim communities, since the early stages of childhood, taught and discussed at home and school as an integral element of public life and space. The research is based on Abdul-Dayyem's two periods of fieldwork, first, a year-long at Birzeit University in 2007–2008 and second, in various locations in the West Bank, from May to December 2017. 

 

As explained in the introduction, before starting the research, Abdul-Dayyem was concerned that studying in a Jewish institution would be interpreted by the Birzeit students as a betrayal. Due to her hesitation, a Birzeit cafeteria worker, “known for his patriotism”, offered to assist her in locating interviewees. She was then confident to approach students, introducing her research topic and mentioning her affiliation with the Hebrew University. 

 

In the first period, Abdul-Dayyem interviewed students with diverse levels of religiosity, secularity, and conservatism.  Nine of them had no political affiliations, two were associated with Hamas, three with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one with Fatah and one with the Communist Party. All of them were studying for BA and ranged in age from 19 to 27 years. 

During her interviews, there was generally an admiration for the shahid’s willingness to sacrifice him/herself for the collective.  The subjects emphasized that the sacrifice was for "the people” and that "such a sacrifice makes for a more meaningful death.”  They even described it as “beautiful”. The researchers noted that the concept of Shahid is relevant for all Palestinians, secular and religious, Christian and Muslim.

 

The authors explored the concept of the Istishhadi, when, "he or she who commits a suicide attack against those viewed as invaders." The authors noted that the term is relatively new and appeared in the Palestinian public scene since the early to mid-1990s, following the Oslo Accords, when suicide bombing began.  While the authors admit the act was controversial, their interviewees were exploring its positive sides.

 

The authors revisited the topic in the second period of research, a decade later, to reassess the role of the Shahid as an icon. This time they focused on the use of new media and digital culture.  Thirty-six people were interviewed, both in cities and villages. Abdul-Dayyem's interviewees were activists, journalists, scholars, and students.

 

The authors noted the impact of major political changes that had taken place from 2007 to 2017. Attempt to gain independence failed; “the Palestinian Authority was still struggling to func'tion under conditions of a very limited level of sovereignty. The Hamas-Fatah divide grew deeper and the prolonged Israeli siege on Gaza, with intermittent incursions, attacks and killing, continued for an entire decade." Following the Arab Spring, the Middle East has transformed into civil wars, “attracting the media’s attention away from the Palestinian cause".

 

Only one interviewee was negative about some aspects of martyrdom. Salaam, a 26-year-old activist, and journalist from a village near Jenin was explicit in her rejection of the "veneration of a ‘death culture.’"  Salaam stated: "Historically, we promoted the death culture through funerals, through the glorification of the shahīd’s mother, through posters, through calling him a hero. I am against calling him a hero. He should be called a victim, especially if he was a child. They spread the idea of death and it is very ugly, even through the slogans in funerals and demonstrations—‘with soul, with blood, we sacrifice you, ya shahīd’. If someone wants to grieve, it is Ok to grieve; it is your right. It is normal to see someone crying if she lost her son. It is not normal to see her trilling. We spread the death culture. The struggle was used to spread a culture of death. It can be so until you are personally effected. Once you are effected, it stops being your culture. If I will lose my son, I will stop promoting this culture, I will stop yelling these slogans." 

 

The authors noted that Salam’s attitude is not necessarily embraced by the bereaved families. Salaam thought that "Palestinians should also re-think the representations they used because they address non-Palestinian audiences." Salaam stated "We do not have an awareness of social media conventions. We still post the blood and bodies’ images. It effected the Palestinian cause negatively. Israel has an electronic army and uses social media to deliver its messages in order to tell the Israeli narrative. We still post photos of bodies that make people turn away. Death, blood, bodies no longer arouse identification", Salaam's position, according to the authors, may indicate that "the shahīd and the istishhādī as icons have lost some ground."  Based on Salaam's account, the authors questioned if there was too much emphasis on blood scenes, part of the "death culture" which invading daily life, and particularly the media. And, that too little attention is being paid to individual choices as well as to the impact of death on bereaved families. For the authors, "the ideas associated with a culture of death may not be understood by a ‘foreign audience’, nowadays far more exposed to footage coming from the OPT." 

 

In their conclusion, the authors were not sure whether there was a decline in the role of the Shahid as an icon and were "hesitant to argue that the shahīd has lost its symbolic value altogether. We have witnessed the flexibility of this icon, which has taken on a variety of meanings that often seem incompatiable [sic]. Moreover, the shahīd was present in the early days of Palestinian nationalism, waned and re-emerged. It is likely that the shahīd will not disappear altogether, but time will tell what new forms it will acquire."

 

Conducting research on this matter with Palestinians could be more confusing than expected. 

 

When Ben-Zeev researched for her Ph.D. thesis in the late 1990s, one of her Palestinian interviewees told her: "Whoever comes to talk with us about our problems from the other side, is first and foremost from the other side. We suspect him and keep suspecting all the time... because this data, whatever is written down, will help the other side. Therefore, I mean generally, therefore, people will hide certain things. Certain people will hide things."  Strange as it was, Ben-Ze’ev, is a life-long pro-Palestinian activist. For example, she was a signatory to the statement in 2014 by Israeli academics, stating they “wish it to be known that they utterly deplore the aggressive military strategy being deployed by the Israeli government. The slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people is placing yet more barriers of blood in the way of the negotiated agreement which is the only alternative to the occupation and endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel must agree to an immediate cease-fire, and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement.” It said. 

 

Abdul-Dayyem is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Her topic is the impact of social media on social movements within the Israel-Palestine conflict. But New Zealand is not really detached from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

 

The NZ Palestine Solidarity Network is quite active. In May 2018 it hosted Palestinian author Dr. Ramzy Baroud, who spoke on "Reclaiming the Palestinian Narrative," about his work and his latest book The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story.  In similar veins, another lecturer questioned: "Are Palestinian people tangata whenua?" Explaining that "Tangata whenua is a peculiarly Aotearoa New Zealand term used by Maori to self-describe and by non-Maori to describe those whom they believe to be indigenous to the land."

Exploring the issue of Palestinian resistance and Sumud, Dr. Nijmeh Ali completed her Ph.D. thesis last year at the University of Otago, titled "The Hidden Potential of the Palestinian Resistance in Israel: A Grounded Theory Study on Resistance among Palestinian Activists in Israel". According to the abstract, 

After nearly seventy years of adopting the same tools of protest, either by taking part in the Israeli political system through participation in elections or practicing cultural resistance, Palestinian activists feel that they are at a critical juncture, questioning their choice of tools for protest and the efficacy of being an integral part of a political system that oppresses them, hoping to bring change from ‘inside’. The question of effective resistance methods seems to be more acute in the shadow of political, economic and social changes, both among the Israelis and the Palestinians in Israel. These dynamic contexts invite us to investigate the strengths and weaknesses of the Palestinians in Israel in their ability to bring about social change. After years of employing certain tools within the citizenship approach, and the tension between the most appropriate and the most effective methods of protest, it is timely to evaluate their effectiveness and to look to further possible scenarios. It also opens the door for examining the hidden potential of Palestinians in Israel in reshaping the political power structures in Israel. This project, therefore, influenced by resistance theory and constructivist grounded theory as research method, tracks the experiences of Palestinian activists in Israel, their understanding of Sumud and their potential in constructing Palestinian resistance and its potential in transforming the power structure in Israel. 

 

Ali is a former teacher of civics and pluriculturalism at the Hebrew University Gilo Center for Citizenship, Democracy and Civic Education which was founded and directed by Prof. Dan Avnon. 

New Zealand's University of Otago is becoming the center for terrorist sympathizers. Prof. Richard Jackson from the National Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies is the editor-in-chief of the Journal Critical Studies on Terrorism. The journal, "calls for critical reflection on the state and direction of terrorism research... [since] much of the new research – and much of the early research on political terrorism – fails to meet rigorous standards of scholarship. Related to this, it is also possible to discern a growing and deep-seated sense of unease about the progress and consequences of the global war on terror". Having this approach in mind, Jackson published a paper "Confessions of a Terrorist Sympathiser". Where he stated that "I am a terrorist sympathizer because I can understand how a young woman from Gaza might consider that she has no real future, nothing but daily humiliations, the continued threat of being shot by an Israeli soldier or firebombed by a settler, or being arrested and tortured by the police."

There is a question to ask, is New Zealand taking the Palestinian side? In December 2016 a United Nations Security Council resolution, co-sponsored by New Zealand, stated that Israel's settlement activity was a "flagrant violation" of international law and had no legal validity. Shortly after, a number of New Zealand's leading academics on conflict resolution and Israel-Palestine slammed the New Zealand government for "dangerous double standard," for not being harsh enough against Israel. 

 

Stephen Daisley, the renowned New Zealand novelist, wrote in October 2018, in his blog on the Spectator, that "The progressive West must stop fetishizing Palestinian extremists", referring also to New Zealand.

 

IAM shall report on these developments in due course.

 




Mariam Abdul-Dayyem & Efrat Ben-Ze’ev (2019): "The shahid as a Palestinian icon: negotiating meanings", British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies  

British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies ISSN: 1353-0194 (Print) 1469-3542 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cbjm20 The shahid as a Palestinian icon: negotiating meanings Mariam Abdul-Dayyem & Efrat Ben-Ze’ev To cite this article: Mariam Abdul-Dayyem & Efrat Ben-Ze’ev (2019): The shahid as a Palestinian icon: negotiating meanings, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, DOI: 10.1080/13530194.2019.1580184 To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2019.1580184 Published online: 20 Feb 2019. Submit your article to this journal Article views: 13 View Crossmark data Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at https://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=cbjm20  BRITISH JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES https://doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2019.1580184 ARTICLE The shahid as a Palestinian icon: negotiating meanings a Mariam Abdul-Dayyem and Efrat Ben-Ze’ev b a Sociology, Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand; b Social Anthropology, The Department of Behavioral Sciences, The Ruppin Academic Center, Emek Hefer, Israel ABSTRACT This study examines the meanings young Palestinians attribute to the shahīd as an icon. Our analysis is based on anthropological fieldwork carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank (from now on WB-OPT) between 2007 and 2008, with a follow-up in 2017. We begin our article by considering the shahīd against the backdrop of previous Palestinian icons, such as the sāmid and the child of the stone. We then show how the shahīd symbolizes contrasting connotations: It is both a religious and a secular icon, one standing for a hero as well as a victim and one understood to denote an active agent as well as a powerless person whose death was accidental. It is an icon of diverging interpretations and internal tensions. This implosion of meanings, alongside local, Middle Eastern and global influences within the WB-OPT, may have impacted what seems like a decline in the icon’s role. Introduction The shahīd ( ) is the Islamic martyr, repeatedly appearing in the Qurʾan and the hadith. Literally, the word is derived from the root sh.h.d ( shahida), meaning to witness; to see; to present; and to give evidence. In the Qurʾan, it is maily used to describe ‘a legal or eye witness’ and ‘only in extra-Qurʾanic traditions does it acquire the meaning of “one who bears witness for the faith,” particulary by laying down his life.’1 Put differently, the shuhadāʾ ( ) (plural for shahīd) are ‘chosen by God to witness Him in heaven, are given the opportunity to give evidence of the depth of their faith by sacrificing their worldy lives, and will testify with the prophets on the day of Judgement.’2 The concept is part of a collective heritage and accompanies members of Muslim communities from the early stages of their childhood. It is taught and discussed at home and school and is integral to public life and space.3 It is sometimes used as a ‘currency’ CONTACT Mariam Abdul-Dayyem mariam4ta@hotmail.com Sociology, Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work, University of Otago, 280 Leith Walk, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin 1 Asma Afsaruddin, ‘Competing Perspectives on Jihad and “Martyrdom” in Early Islamic Sources’, in Witness to Faith? Martyrdom in Christianity and Islam, ed. Brian Wicker (Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006), 25. 2 Harfiyah Haleem, ‘What is Martyrdom’, in Witness to Faith? (see note 1), 51. 3 Manochehr Dorraj, ‘Symbolic and Utilitarian Political Value of a Tradition: Martyrdom in the Iranian Political Culture’, The Review of Politics 59, no. 3 (1997): 489–522, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1408549 (accessed May 11, 2018); and Ayesha Jalal, Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2008). © 2019 British Society for Middle Eastern Studies 2 M. ABDUL-DAYYEM AND E. BEN-ZE’EV that can be politicized and one that becomes particulary prominant at times of political unrest.4 To die as a shahīd, argued Brunner, is a declarational and communicative action, carrying messages both for an ‘internal’ audience, the society to whom the shahīd belongs, and for outsiders, the enemy and the rest of the world.5 With the rise of political Islam, when state and society became intertwined with Islamic teachings, the term grew to encompass elements from the religious and as well as the national realms. While there are significant theological differences in the meaning of shahīd between the Sunni and Shiʿa, Iran is an interesting example for the use of the term as a Political-Islamic icon. Manochehr Dorraj, analyzing Iranian literature and political texts during the second half of the twentieth century, defines martyrdom as ‘a conscious attempt to embrace death for a personal or political cause.’6 Dorraj shows how the religious and political were united in their message of martyrdom, highlighting it as a means for regaining honour, a symbol of communal cleansing and moral regeneration. A cult of martyrdom was utilized politically in the period leading to the 1978–1979 revolution, during the revolution itself and throughout the Iran-Iraq War.7 Becoming a shahīd was a way for ‘self actualization through negation,’ associated with a ‘tragic aura and a romantic image surrounding the hero.’8 According to Pedram Khosronejad, the image of the Iran-Iraq War evolved into one of a struggle over ‘sacred values’ of (Shiite) identity and culture and thus the shahīd came to combine political- cultural-religious meanings.9 This powerful combination was disseminated throughout the Muslim world in the years that followed,10 and had a significant impact on the Palestinian national struggle.11 Due to the rise of Hamas ( Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya [The Islamic Resistance Movement]) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the shahīd epito- mized both a convergence between the political and religious as well as a ‘tool’ for organizational interests.12 4 Yasmine Dabbous, Khaled Nasser, and Farah Dabbous, ‘“Across the Bridge of Death”: The Culture of Martyrdom in Lebanon 1960s-1980s’, International Journal of Cultural Studies 13, no. 6 (2010): 593–615, http://journals.sagepub. com/doi/abs/10.1177/1367877910376578 (accessed May 11 2018); Jeffry R. Halverson, Scott W. Ruston, and Angela Trethewey, ‘Mediated Martyrs of the Arab Spring: New Media, Civil Religion, and Narrative in Tunisia and Egypt’, Journal of Communication 63 (2013): 312–32, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jcom.12017 (accessed May 13 2018). 5 Claudia Brunner, ‘Female Suicide Bombers – Male Suicide Bombing? Looking for Gender in Reporting the Suicide Bombings of the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict’, Global Society 19, no. 1 (2005): 29–48, https://doi.org/10.1080/ 1360082042000316031 (accessed May 11 2018). 6 Dorraj, ‘Symbolic and Utilitarian Political Value’, 490. 7 Ibid., 511–512. 8 Ibid., 513. 9 Pedram Khosronejad, ‘Introduction: Unburied Memories’, Visual Anthropology 25, no. 1–2 (2012): 1–21, https://wwwtandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08949468.2012.629593 (accessed November 4 2018). 10 Negar Partow, ‘Martyrdom and Legacy of Blood’, Contemporary Review of the Middle East 1, no. 2 (2014): 165–188, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2347798914532729?journalCode=cmea (accessed 13 May 2018); Mosa Zahed, ‘The Evolution and Ascension of Iran’s Terror Apparatus’, in Terrorism revisited: Islamism, Political Violence And State-Sponsorship, ed. Paulo Casaca and Siegfried O. Wolf (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2017), 57–82; Ravinder Kaur, ‘Sacralising Bodies: On Martyrdom, Government and Accident in Iran’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 3rd ser., 20, no. 4 (2010): 441–60, https://www.jstor.org/stable/40926237?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents (accessed May 13 2018). 11 Rashmi Singh, Hamas and Suicide Terrorism: Multi-causal and Multi-level Approaches (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2009); Laleh Khalili, Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: The Politics of National Commemoration (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2007). 12 Singh, Hamas and Suicide Terrorism; Khalili, Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine; and Neil L., Whitehead and Nasser Abufarha, ‘Suicide, violence, and cultural conceptions of martyrdom in Palestine’, Social Research 75, no. 2 (2008): 395–416. BRITISH JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES 3 While heroism dominated Palestinian resistance in its early days, Laleh Khalili pointed to a shift towards the incorporation of the tragic, beginning in the 1980s. Khalili, who analyzed shuhadāʾ stories as manifested in commemorative events, discovered that the macro-narratives emcompassed heroism alongside the cataclysmal.13 This change was influenced by a new human-rights’ discourse, highlighting calamities, framing them in a universal language of suffering (hence somewhat de-politicizing the Palestinian case).14 Another global trend was described by Bar-Tal, whereby a society caught up in an intractible conflict tends to develop a victim’s self-image, as well as a sense of being more right and more human than their rival.15 Thus, the icon of the shahīd featured an active, self-composed actor, alongside a passive and helpless victim. Altogether, it seems that the contemporary shahīd grew to encompass a dual nature. Achille Mbembe argued that at the basis of the contemporary image of the shahīd is an interplay between life and death.16 Building on Foucault, Agamben and Bataille,17 Mbembe developed the concept of necropolitics, which incapsulates the power of the sovereign to determine its subject’s fate to life or death. When the sovereign deems the subjects’ lives worthless, the latter’s body may become a weapon, thus leading to a kind of inseparable bond between survival and martyrdom.18 Palestinians of the OPT are described by Mbembe as another link in the chain that connects colonialism, slavery and the South African ‘townships’ and ‘homelands,’ all immersed in necropolitics. While Mbembe assumed that subjects are caught up in their sovereign’s necropoli- tical logic, our work shows that subjects are not automates. While they are surrounded by an environment dominated by the survival-martyrdom nexus, they also question it, especially when it comes to the istishhādī—the suicide bomber—the ultimate ‘body as weapon.’ At the same time, Mbembe’s theorization regarding the indivisibility of death from daily life is apparent under the WB-OPT conditions. Blurring the opposition between life and death is tangential to other issues related to the shahīd, which are supposedly contradictory yet coexist in the narratives that we heard. One is the tendency to describe the shahīd as meaningful both to religious muslims as well as to secular Muslims and Christians; another is the understanding of the shahīd as dying accidentally as well as choosing death; finally, going back to works mentioned above, is the portrayal of the shahīd as a helpless victim as well as a self- aware hero. The shahīd has come to encapsulate these seemingly contradictory 13 Khalili, Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine. 14 Ibid. 15 Daniel Bar-Tal, Intractable Conflicts Socio-Psychological Foundations and Dynamics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013). 16 Achille Mbembe, ‘Necropolitcs’, trans. Libby Meintjes, Public Culture 15 no. 1 (2003): 11–40, https://read.dukeupress. edu/public-culture/article/15/1/11/31714/Necropolitics (accessed November 4 2018). 17 The quote is from Mbembe 2003 page 16 and based on Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, vol. 1, Consumption, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Zone, 1988); and Erotism: Death & Sensuality, trans. Mary Dalwood (San Francisco: City Lights, 1986). 18 Whitehead and Abufarha follow a similar logic to that of Mbembe (although they do not refer to his work), arguing that the Palestinian body becomes a metonym of the nation and hence the sacrifice is justified: “The performance of every ritual of sacrifice by Palestinian martyrs in the land of Palestine repeats this process of transforming microcosm to macrocosm, shifting imagination from the sacrificed body of the martyr to the cultural landscape of Palestine, sustaining a Palestinian life with Palestinian characteristics, over and against the disappearance of Palestinian signs from the landscape of Israel. Whitehead and Abufarha, ‘Suicide, Violence, and Cultural Conceptions’, 395–416. 4 M. ABDUL-DAYYEM AND E. BEN-ZE’EV meanings, a multiplicity that may have marred its virtues. There are indications that its role as an icon is declining among young Palestinians living under the prolonged Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Location, subject and the nature of fieldwork The contradictions inherent to the term shahīd surfaced during a year-long fieldwork conducted by author A at Birzeit University. Birzeit is a leading institution of higher education located in north west of Ramallah. It has long been a center for political activism, and events within the university are often a litmus test, reflecting changes taking place within Palestinian society as a whole.19 During the First Intifada, which broke out in late 1987, the university was often shut down by the military authorities. However, during the period of this research, 2007–2008, it operated more smoothly. The choice to study university students has a long history, not merely due to their availability to researchers but also to their transitional status, embodying the move into the world of adults.20 As students crystalize their ideas, their deliberations reveal multi- ple and competing interpretations.21 Moreover, in the context of political struggles, and specifically the Palestinian one, students and youngsters are the echelon of resistance, and martyrhood has become integral to their daily lives.22 Over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel since the First Intifada in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, with a majority of youngsters.23 Our qualitative research placed an emphasis on processual interviews, conducted with sixteen students, nine men and seven women. The interaction allowed both sides— interviewer and interviewee—to unpack the issues attributed to the term shahīd in a gradual manner. The interview first explored the associations that the term triggered, and the emotional response to them, and only later moved on to an intellectual and ideological discussion, seeking to understand the connection between the personal and the conceptual. This kind of probing occasionally brought about a sense of satisfaction for the interlocutors, who noted that they had reached new insights through the discussion. Most interviews were conducted at the university but two of them, with women, took place in the students’ homes. While women were perhaps a little more open and straitforward when being interviewed by a woman, and hence also willing to invite the interviewer to the privacy of their homes, there were no significant differences between the narratives of women and men. The students represented diverse back- grounds: secular and religious; urban and rural; Christian and Muslim; female and male; 19 Imad Gayatha, Al-haraka Al-tullabiyya Al-Falastiniyya: Al-mumarasa wa-l-faʿaliyya [The Palestinian Student Movement: Practice and Activity] (Ramallah, Palestine: Nadia for Printing, Publishing & Advertising, 2003). 20 Chaim Adler, ‘Mered Hastudentim: Giluy Myuhad shel Tarbut Hano ʿr [The Students’ Revolt: A Distinct Exposure of Youth Culture], Magamot 18, no. 3 (1972): 314. 21 Lauren Erdreich, ‘Strategies Against Patriarchy: Sexualized Political Activism of Palestinian Israeli Women on Campus’, Israel Studies 11, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 35–58. 22 Muhammad Masalha, ‘The Bubble Generation: Lifestories of Veterans of the First Initifada’ (PhD diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2004). 23 The figure given by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics for Palestinians killed during the al-Aqsa Intifada (2000–2016) is 10,396 people. http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_Rainbow/Documents/Mart_3e-2016.htm (accessed 13 May 2018). Between the years 2000 and 2009, 3,858 of 7,235 killed were between the ages 18 to 29 years old. http:// www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_Rainbow/Documents/Mart_2e-2009.htm (accessed 13 May 2018). BRITISH JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES 5 activists in the student council and those not active; as well as coming from differernt geographical regions—the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. While we allude to some bonds between individual students’ background and the interpretation they offer, this is not our prime purpose. Rather, we wish to highlight the multiplicity of images that emerge when talking of the shahīd. The students were diverse in their levels of religiousity, secularity and conserva- tism—while nine did not affliate themselves with any political party, two were associated with Hamas, three with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one with Fatah and one with the Communist Party.24 All of them were studying for their BA and ranged from those in their second year to those in their fifth, ages from 19 to 27. Author A is a Palestinian who grew up in East Jerusalem and was previously a student at Birzeit University. While conducting this research, she was studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and was concerned that her move to a Jewish institution would be interpreted by Birzeit students as a betrayal. This was an inner sense of discomfort since she never was accused by any of her interlocuters. Due to her hesitation, it was significant that a Birzeit cafeteria worker known for his patriotism initially offered to assist her in locating interviewees. Thanks to this support, author A was more confident to approach students in a straitforward manner, introducing her research topic and mentioning her affiliation. In the course of the interviews, she found herself in a reciprocal exchange, answering interviewees’ questions regarding the differences between the Palestinian and Jewish universities, as well as the techni- calities of studying for a BA in a Palestinian university and continuing to advanced studies at a Jewish-Israeli one. As a kind of ‘East Jerusalem hybrid,’ neither a ‘West Banker’ nor an Arab-Palestinian citizen of Israel, ‘crossing the lines’ between Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli society, she represented yet another impossible Palestinian way of life. In her approach to research and as an anthropologist, this position encouraged her to try to make the familiar strange while at the same time try to make the strange familiar. All interviews were conducted in Arabic. Some common terms in colloquial Arabic call for attention. One is the word ‘al-qaḍiyya’ ( ), which roughly translates as ‘the issue,’ and refers to the Palestinian issue. Interviewees often simply said ‘al-qaḍiyya,’ indicating that its meaning is evident. Another term is al-sirāʿ ( ), meaning the struggle, used _ to describe Israeli-Palestinian relations. Sirāʿ ( ), from the root s.r.ʿ ( saraʿa), _ _ meaning to throw down, is the common word to describe the conflict, impliying emotional engagement and a legitimacy for the struggle. Translating, therefore, is also about contextualizing, and even when one contextualizes, some meaning may be lost to the English reader. Before moving to the interviews and their analysis, and in order to understand the shahīd within a wider framework of Palestinian iconic figures, we offer a short historical overview. 24 On Palestinian political parties see: Michael Bröning, Political Parties in Palestine: Leadership and Thought (New York: Palgrave Macmilliam, 2013), https://link.springer.com/book/10.1057%2F9781137296931 (accessed 1 March 2018); Talib Awad and Sameeh Shbeeb, Al-ʾAhzab Al-siyasiyya Al-Falastiniyya wa-l-dimuqratiyya Al-dakhiliyya [The Palestinian Political Parties and the Internal Democracy] (Ramallah, Palestine: Muwatin, the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, 2006). 6 M. ABDUL-DAYYEM AND E. BEN-ZE’EV Prominent icons in Palestinian history Iconic figures are central constituents in national struggles, often associated with particular periods. We follow Cambridge Dictionary that defines iconic as ‘very famous or popular, especially being considered to represent particular opinions or a particular time.’25 For our purpose, what matters is that within a given time, a typical figure becomes iconic, and its role is that of a social compass. The venerated icons become integral to daily life through social institutions and practices such as storytelling, ritual and the refashioning of public space. Cinema and poetry also play a major role in the propagation of icons,26 perhaps in the Palestinian case more than elsewhere, due to the latter’s cultural eminence.27 Often, when one icon gains fame, another is relegated to the backstage.28 We briefly survey Palestinian icons of the past half century, with special reference to those which were prominent in the OPT. We argue that their rise to dominance as well as their decline were intertwined with the change of sentiment on the street. While we sketch the appearance of icons within a certain chronology, we would also like to note that an icon does not necessarily disappear when another dawns; icons can co-exist and/ or reappear in a cyclical manner. In the 1960s, a predominantly secular ethos prevailed among the Palestinian intellectuals and fighters, and the prominent icon was that of the fidaʾi ), literally translated as ‘he who sacrfices and redeems’. The fidaʾiyun ( plural of fidaʾi) were the fighters who emerged in the refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordan, men and women who formed an armed resistance.29 They were willing to sacrifice themselves, often recklessly, for Palestine and the Palestinians.30 The new message of the fidaʾi was of self-salvation, after Palestinians lost faith in the leaders of Arab states and other ostensible supporters.31 Another Palestinian icon, which emerged almost two decades later, was that of the sāmid ( ), meaning ‘he who is steadfast,’ referring to the Palestinians who resist uprooting. Being a sāmid meant clinging to the land and the community, in spite of daily tribulations and displacement pressures.32 The sāmid was perhaps a first indication to a shift away from the 25 Cambridge University Press, Cambridge English Dictionary, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/iconic (accessed January 6 2019). 26 Rasha Salti, ‘From Resistance and Bearing Witness to the Power of the Fantastical: Icons and Symbols in Palestinian Poetry and Cinema’, Third Text 24, no. 1 (2010): 39–52, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/ 09528820903488893?journalCode=ctte20 (accessed May 13 2018). 27 Hanan M. Ashrawi, ‘The Contemporary Palestinian Poetry of Occupation’, Journal of Palestine Studies 7, no. 3 (1978): 77–101. 28 Dean Allen, ‘“National Heroes”: Sport and the Creation of Icons’, Sport in History 33, no. 4 (2013): 584–94, https:// www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17460263.2013.850782?journalCode=rsih20 (accessed May 13 2018). 29 Rosemary Sayigh, Palesinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries (London, England: Zed Press,1979); David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East (London, England: Faber and Faber, 1977); and Dina Matar, What it Means to be Palestinian: Stories of Palestinian Peoplehood (London, England: I.B. Tauris, 2010), https:// trove.nla.gov.au/work/38623840 (accessed May 13 2018). 30 Rana Salti argued that the role of the fidaʾi in Palestinian poetry and cinema persisted long after the 1970s. 31 Antony Best and others, International History of the Twentieth Century and Beyond, 2nd ed. (London and New York: Taylor and Francis, 2008). 32 Raja Shehadeh, The Third Way: A Journal of Life in the West Bank (London, England: Quartet Books, 1982); Jamal R, Nassar and Roger Heacock, eds. Intifada: Palestine at the Crossroads (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1990), 28, https:// www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03612759.1992.9949579?journalCode=vhis20 (accessed May 13 2018; Ibrahim Dakkak argued that in fact there were two kinds of sumūd (gerund of sāmid)—the static one and the dynamic one. The ‘resistance sumūd’ developed in the Palestinians Occupied Territories as a static sumud to maintain the Palestinians on their land. This static type of resistance transformed into a dynamic one in times such as the intifada; and See Ibrahim Dakkak, ‘Development from Within: A Strategy for Survival’, in The Palestinian Economy: Studies in Development under Prolonged Occupation, ed. George T. Abed (London, England: Routledge, 1988), 287–310. BRITISH JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES 7 active hero toward a more passive one; the mere existence within the refugee camp implied resistance. Although the dwellers of refugee camps were previously relocated, the camps became symbols of adherence to Palestinianess, and a space for collective action. While one aspect was the affiliation to different Palestinian parties and organizations, another was the choice to stay together within the same confined space.33 If the sāmid tended to be associated with refugee camps, so was the figure of the children of the stones ( atfāl-l-hijāra), which emerged in the late 1980s, with the outbreak of _ the First Intifada.34 As if the scepter of resistance was handed down to the children, here was an icon of a boy whose face at times was shrouded with a kaffiyeh or a mask. As if the scepter of resistance was handed down to the children, here was an icon of a boy whose face at times was shrouded with a kaffiyeh or a mask. In the boy's hand was a stone, and sometimes a sling. These two artefacts seemed to echo the biblical David. This image’s implicit message was the reversal of the biblical—David was the Palestinian facing Goliath—Israel, with its tanks and troops.35 This image lost some of its potency as the First Intifada faded away. In the above changes, we can detect a shift described by Laleh Khalili away from heroic icons. Among the Palestinians in Lebanon, argued Khalili, Palestinian heroism became far more tragic; battles, the symbols of the fidaʾi, were substituted by massacres.36 Khalili tied this change to a universal trend whereby national struggles became couched within a humanitarian discourse, influenced by the growing role of non-governmental organizations37; suffering was placed within a trans-national context and encouraged universal sympathy.38 This humanitarian/tragic discourse became more evident in the OPT after the Oslo Accords, with the growing involvement of foreign governments and NGOs.39 In parallel, the OPT saw the rise of political Islam, manifested in the rising popularity of the Hamas. New icons emerged and the shahīd came to prominence. We should bear in mind that the shahīd played a social role already in the early days of the Palestinian national struggle, long before the Hamas rose to power. It was used for ʿIzz ad-Din al-Qassam, the religious-military leader who was killed by British forces in 1935. In fact, ʿIzz ad-Din al-Qassam was a precursor of religious-nationalism in Palestine.40 On his gravestone he is described as the virtuous scholar shahīd ) al-shahīd al-ʿālim al-mifḍāl). Not long after his death, poet Ibrahim Touqan of Nablus published a poem in his memory, under the title, The Shahīd.41 Also 33 Leonardo Schiocchet, ‘Palestinian Sumud: Steadfastness, Ritual, and Time among Palestinian Refugees’, Palestinian Refugees: Different Generations but One Identity. (Birzeit: Bir Zeit University, 2012); Anna Johansson and Stellan Vinthagen, ‘Dimensions of Everyday Resistance: The Palestinian Sumūd’, Journal of Political Power 8, no. 1 (2015): 109–39, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/2158379X.2015.1010803 (accessed May 13 2018); and Ted Swedenberg, Memories of Revolt: The 1936–1939 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past (Fayetteville, NC: The University of Arkansas Press, 2003). 34 Marouf Jr. Hasian and Lisa A. Flores, ‘Children of the Stones: The Intifada and the Mythic Creation of the Palestinian State’, Southern Communication Journal 62, no. 2 (1997): 89–106, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10417949709373044 (accessed March 7 2017). 35 Ibid.; Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal, Palestinian People: A History (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: Harvard University Press, 2003); and Matar, What it Means to be Palestinian. 36 See note 13 above. 37 Ibid., 185–6. 38 Laleh Khalili, ‘Heroic and Tragic Pasts: Mnemonic Narratives in the Palestinian Refugee Camps’, Critical Sociology 33, no. 4 (2007): 742–4, https://doi.org/10.1163/156916307X211017 (accessed March 27 2018). 39 Lori Allen, The Rise and Fall of Human Rights: Cynicism and Politics in Occupied Palestine (California; Stanform University Press, 2013). 40 Singh, Hamas and Suicide Terrorism, 20. 41 Ibrahim Touqan, Al-Aʿmal Al-shiʿriyya Al-kamila Ibrahim Touqan [The complete works of poetry Ibrahim Touqan], 2nd ed. (Beirut, Lebanon: The Arab Institution for Studies and Publication, 1993). 8 M. ABDUL-DAYYEM AND E. BEN-ZE’EV prior to the death of al-Qassam, a song was composed and sung by Ibrahim Nuh ( Min Sijin ʿAkkā) in memory of the three shuhadāʾ who were hanged at Acre’s prison by British authorities in 1930.42 The term shahīd served non-Palestinians in Palestinian history as well. The 1948 Iraqi army cemetery in Jenin was named the Al-shuhadaʾ Cemetery ( ) and the nearby junction took on the name Mafraq Al-shuhadaʾ ( ); The 1967 War Memorial for the Jordanian army, located east of Jerusalem’s old city, was named Nasb Al-shuhadaʾ ( Al-shuhadaʾ Memorial). It can be inferred that the term shahīd has long been associated with fighting and dying for a communal cause. Yet it was not until the 1990s that the shahīd became far more widespread, alongside the tangential istishhādī, refer- ring to a person who initiates his death in order to kill others. In the next section, we explore diverse meanings attributed to these icons. A negotiated icon During our interviews there was generally an admiration for the shahīd’s willingness to sacrifice him/herself for the collective. The students emphasized that being a shahīd was about sacrificing for ‘the people’ ( ash-shaʿb) and that such a sacrifice makes for a more meaningful death. It was even described as beautiful ( hilū): ‘There is a meaning _ and beauty in a shahīd’s death,’ said Fatin, who was a business management student in her second year. At the same time, it was also evident that not all sacrifices weigh the same. Dying as a shahīd, she noted, is better than dying a regular death: It’s not necessary that every shahīd should be a fighter ( monāḍil). His death as a shahīd may happen accidentally, yet nevertheless, he is considered a ‘shahīd’. The shahāda ( [mar- tyrhood]) is a beautiful matter and everyone wishes it for himself; it is more beautiful than a regular death. And if the shahīd is a monāḍil, it is even more beautiful. In this short paragraph, Fatin outlined two types of hierarchies. Death as a shahīd is better than other deaths, and death as an active shahīd, who has chosen such a path, is superior to that of a regular shahīd ( shahīd ʿādī), who did not choose death. However, other interviewees argued that there is no control over death in Palestinian lives; it looms behind every corner. Rana’s argument was that for her fellow Palestinians in the OPT, life is not about living, but rather being on the verge of death.43 Death for us has different forms: The first is the istishhād ( ). Beside istishhād, there are all the things that Jews do to us. For example, arrests that happen everyday [. . .] In addition, there are the check-points that stifle us on every road we take. Yes, for me, this is considered death, a psychological death, though not a physical one [. . .] The Palestinian exists in spite of the situation. He sacrifices [in order] to serve his homeland—in his work, in his education. From my point of view, every Palestinian is a shahīd; he does not have to die [to become one]. Our life is a struggle. Everyone can sit and suddenly be shot by the Jews. Rana, who was a second year student in Media Studies, grew up in al-Bireh, in a middle- class family of refugee origin. Her attempt to define herself as a shahīda ( female of 42 David, A. McDonald, My Voice Is My Weapon: Music, Nationalism and the Poetics of Palestinian Resistance (Durham; London, Enlgand: Duke University Press 2013), 52. 43 Rana’s argument draws a closer bond between the sāmid and the shahīd. The ability to stick to one’s place and face daily life under occupation is interpreted by Rana as a kind of istishhād. BRITISH JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES 9 shahīd), and apply it on the entire community, implies that from her point of view, Palestinian society is constantly serving the cause. In that sense, the term shahīd is close to the sumūd ( )—everyone participates in the struggle and the everyday survival. Rana spells it out saying:” Shahāda is not achieved merely by death; it is also achieved by resistance.” Rana was not the first to allude to the proximity between life and death in the OPT. In an interview conducted with the Palestinian national poet Mahmud Darwish, he said: ‘We are not alive; we are neighbours of life.’44 This argument finds resonance in Achille Mbembe’s theory of nacropolitics (2003), as well as in Hunaida Ghanim (2008) work on thanatopower—the power of death in the OPT.45 Ghanim highlights the fact that death and suicide are forms of regaining control over life. While Mbembe makes the more general argument that the sovereign is master of death and uses it to oppress and control, Ghanim argues that the choice of how and when to die allows for Palestinian agency. Yet we should note that Ghanim was preoccupied with those who choose death, while Rana argues that in Palestine, life and death are tied together no matter what. Religious and non-religious interpretations Shahīd is such an impregnated concept that it is relevant for all Palestinians—secular and religious, Christian and Muslim—and most interviewees felt that they have a right to use it. Perhaps it was also this widespread usage that made for such a multivocal icon. At the same time, some interviewees found it difficult to tolerate others’ interpretations. Some Muslim students felt that they had propriety over the term, such as Hassan, who stressed its religious componants, arguing that dying as a shahīd draws you closer to God. Dying as a shahīd, for Hassan, was equal to a blessing from God. Yet death was of no importance but rather the act of jihad. Hassan, a practicing Muslim, a fifth year engineering student from a village near Jerusalem, noted: When I hear the word shahīd, the first thing I think about is: Sahtīn [meaning what a good thing he achieved, literally meaning a double blessing of health] for him on this shahāda. [. . .]. For sure, he will have rewards from God for this shahāda. Everyone wishes for himself to be a shahīd. Everyone strives for this shahāda even if he also clings strongly to life. For me, I wish this shahāda for myself. Shahāda is not just the jihad for the sake of the land but shahāda is done as jihad for God; [It can be carried out] in education, in everything, in war, in every way. There is an ambiguity in Hassan’s argument. On the one hand, he looks up to the person who chose jihad and wishes he could be one. On the other hand, jihad can also be carried out by way of education, and not through mortal self sacrifice. Like Hassan, Samih viewed the term as belonging to the religious realm. Since he is not religious himself, he hesitated when expressing his opinion, saying: ‘Someone from Hamas can tell you everything about the shahīd, far better than I can’. The reason, he explained, is that ‘the origin of the term shahīd is religious. It is something that comes from 44 Mahmud Darwish, interview with Meron Rapoport and Gidi Weitz, The Seven Days Supplement of Yedioth Ahronoth, June 20 2006. 45 Honaida Ghanim, ‘Thanatopolitics: The Case of the Colonial Occupation in Palestine’, in Thinking Palestine, ed. Ronit Lentin (London, England: Zed, 2008). 10 M. ABDUL-DAYYEM AND E. BEN-ZE’EV religion. They [religious people] definitely have all the information’. The shahīd, for Samih, should not be ‘confiscated’ and used within a non-religious discourse. However, other secular students, both Muslim and Christian, associated the shahīd with the national rather than with the religious. Violette, a Christian social activist and a fourth year student of English literature and translation, emphasized the shahīd’s ideological commitment, which is expressed through an active pursuit of death. Violette: He gives his soul. His aim is to fulfill the ideology in which he believes in. If he is a shahīd, that means he believes in a certain ideology. He is totally aware of the fact that he is giving himself for the sake of his homeland, land and country. Like other secular students with a national-secular worldview, Violette tried to disen- tangle the term from its origins, portraying it as closely bound to the struggle over the homeland. By doing so, she had hoped it would become overarching, connecting political factions and consolidating solidarity. This was also Tahrir’s opinion. Tahrir, a secular Muslim, was a fourth year sociology student, an activist with the leftist Popular Front (PFLP) and a member of the students’ council. She is the daughter of a PFLP leader and grew up in a family of 1948 refugees. Even her name, here a pseudonym similar the original (tahrīr means liberation), was symbolic. When Tahrir was asked about the possible difference between a national and a religious shahīd, she answered the following: The national always contains the religious; it contains all the groups of society; Shiite, Sunni and all these things are included under something big. [In contrast], the religious dimension is exclusive. The national, for me, is a guatantee to achieve the goal, and not the religious. The national can contain a lot: The Christian, the Muslim, while the religious cannot. If I want to to go and work with Hamas, they will not include me because I am a non-believer ( kāfira) in their opinion. However, I can contain the Hamas people because they are a partner in the national struggle. But I and Hamas are different in the ideological aspect and we can only agree politically to resist the occupation and to collaborate for the national unity and for the protection of the Palestinian home and homeland. We agree on all of this. Tahrir’s secular approach seemed to undress the shahīd of its religious components. Along a similar vain, Edward, a Christian student, noted: The shahīd is the citizen who wishes to carry out a suicide operation for the homeland, for its liberation, in order to create a proper environment for others. The shahāda is a kind of sacrifice, and no more. I don’t think the shahīd will have virgins in heaven or any of the other descriptions regarding the Garden of Eden, which encourage people to become shuhadāʾ. It’s the opposite: the shahīd establishes his prestige not because of his wish to reach heaven but because he dies for a particular cause, for the Palestinian one. Edward wished to identify the shahīd as part of the secular national movement. If Edward and Tahrir posited that the religious contradicts the secular, some students tried to draw this seeming opposition into a single category. Such was Karim, who studied management administration, a member of Hamas and the president of the students’ council. He was searching for a definition that would incorporate a variety of opinions, saying: ‘There is a level of truth in the person who died as a shahīd and went in the way of God or the homeland. This makes me feel a kind of pride that I belong to the Palestinian people that gave all these shuhadāʾ and sacrifices.’ BRITISH JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES 11 In Karim’s narrative, dying for God and dying for the homeland are almost inter- changeable, manifesting a commitment. Perhaps the fact that Karim was the head of the students’ council influenced his inclination to downplay the disagreements between secular and religious conceptualizations. Hero and victim Karim further elaborated on the kind of sacrifice engrained in the act of dying as shahīd. When I hear the word ‘shahīd’, I hear about someone who is better than me. I hear about a person who gave much to the people, a sacrifice. This is an ideal for me. How wonderful! He sacrificed himself for the sake of others. I can’t express enough my admiration for the shahīd and his sacrifice. Karim presented the shahīd as a figure who is unlike regular people due to his sacrifice. However, while at times he is portrayed as a hero, at others he is a victim. This emerged from Suhad’s narrative, who initially associated the term with the killing of children in the OPT. She expressed her confusion over the question of the shahīd as both hero and victim. Suhad is a Palestinian who grew up in Dubai and came to Palestine to study Media at Birzeit. She said: I saw the children who die [relating to her time in Dubai when she would watch the events in Palestine on TV] and I was saying to myself: “They are shuhadāʾ. Shuhadāʾ are sacrificing themselves for the homeland and they were victims. My thoughts were confused regarding the shuhadāʾ and those victims. It was at that time that I became aware of our shuhadāʾ. At first, I thought that the shahīd is a hero. That he has the power and courage to do something; to die. However, those victims [on the television] were innocent. They died without holding a weapon, without holding anything. Yet they are also considered shuhadāʾ. This was confusing for me. If harmless children, who were not involved in violence in any way, are shuhadāʾ, noted Suhad, then the image of a powerful hero is ‘contaminated’. For Suhad, the issue was how cognizant the shahīd was concerning his or her approaching death, saying: One of them [the person who died] was aware of what he did when he died, and aware of the Palestinian qaḍiyya, while the other does not know anything, and does not know why he died. Suhad described how her father would hang the pictures of child shuhadāʾ on the walls of their flat in Dubai. It was these pictures that left a lasting mark on her, and particularly that of Muhammad al-Durrah. The death of Muhammad al-Durra was made famous because it was captured on camera. Al-Durrah, a 12-year old boy from Gaza, was killed while his father was trying to protect him from crossfire. Suhad was not the only student who raised the topic of al-Durrah’s death. Violette did so as well: When I heard the word ‘shahīd’ I was a little girl. I did not know what it meant. I thought it is simply someone who dies. This is what I thought. When you grow up and look around you, you become part of the society and al-qaḍiyya. [. . .] With time, and with what we endured from invasions and the occupation, and even from the [Oslo] agreement, all these events have strengthened the presence of the term shahīd. The al-Aqsa Intifada, and the death of Muhammad al-Durrah influenced me very much. You know the scene! This scene awakened me to be aware and more curious; to know more, to want to see and search. The video scene that documented the death of Muhammad al-Durrah left a long- lasting impression on viewers. In it, one first sees a father and son hiding behind a 12 M. ABDUL-DAYYEM AND E. BEN-ZE’EV cement block, terrified from the shooting. The father waves his hands, possibly calling for attention, and tries to lean foreward to protect his son. The video is missing parts yet shortly thereafter we see the boy lying on his side, lifeless, and the father in shock. The vulnerability of a father and the loss of his son struck a cord within a very wide audience of viewers, reverberating a wider sense of Palestinian helplessness. Mohammad al-Durrah would fit into Nils Christie’s definition of the ‘ideal victim’— weak, very young, who cannot be blamed for being where he is, killed by a perpetrater unknown to him.46 As noted earlier, Bar-Tal claimed that almost every society caught up in an intractible conflict develops a self image of victimhood. Rana justified Palestinian adherence to the istishhād when the enemy ‘broke the rules that everyone deserves rights,’ saying: ‘If he [the enemy] seized my right, I should seize his [. . .] an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth [. . .] istishhād for me is a method to defend myself.’ This self-presentation as victim is also important for the relations with the international community. The victimized society feels entitled to respond to violence with violence, and still receive moral, political and material support, because of the unequal power relations.47 As we see, some Palestinians created a narrative whereby heroism and victimhood could co-exist. This complexity was exceptionally evident in the ways the suicide operations were being discussed. The istishhādī The istishhādī ( ) is he or she who commits a suicide attack against those viewed as invaders. The term is constructed of the gerund with a suffix indicating a person who performs it. It is a relatively new word and appeared on the Palestinian public scene when acts of suicide bombing began in the early to mid 1990s following the Oslo Accords. Our interviewees were preoccupied with this special type of shahīd. While the act was controversial, many were, nevertheless, exploring its positive sides, pointing to the bond between the shahīd and the istishhādī, while also attempting to clarify the distinction between them. Rana, for example, used the term shahīd to address the istishhādī: The shahīd is someone who gives to his homeland. I consider this patriotism. When I hear the word ‘shahīd’, I see it as connected to patriotism. The shahīd thinks that he gave himself, or, as they say,’committed suicide’. He thought that is the only way to express his patriotism, his love for his homeland. That is the way for him to be beneficial to his homeland. He did not find another way other than this one. Rana implied that the istishhādī feels that he has no other option. The act is interpreted as imperative, uniting self and nation. She added: Not everyone can do that. Not everone has the courage to do that. Patriotism can come before love of life. Patriotism causes people to forget themselves; the goal is to serve the homeland. He 46 Nils Christie, ‘The Ideal Victim’, in From Crime Policy to Victim Policy, ed. Ezzat A. Fattah (Basingstoke, England: Macmillan, 1986), 19. 47 Daniel Bar-Tal, Intractable Conflicts Socio-Psychological Foundations and Dynamics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013). BRITISH JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES 13 connects his humanity to his patriotism. He cannot separate the two. He presents himself for [the primacy of] patriotism. For Rana, the istishhādī overcomes a primordial, selfish love of life. It reveals an altruistic persona that is willing to sacrifice for the collective. Not everyone can achieve this level of morality. She did not side, at least publically, with Hamas, but she did express her affirmation of the istishhādī. Yet elsewhere during the same interview, she was also critical, contemplating the fact the istishhādī is a choice that can be substituted: Perhaps I am not opposing the istishhādī but I think that one can find other ways of action. For instance, stay alive and serve society. This is preferable. It depends on his patriotic urge. Most of those who opt for the istishhādī operation are motivated by the urge. For Rana, the istishhādī is motivated by an impulse that perhaps cannot be resisted. She appreciates the istishhādī’s contribution yet nonetheless portrays it as somewhat irrational. Tawfik’s position was also ambiguous. He was a third year accounting student affliated with Fatah. At the time of the interview, he wore Yasir Arafat’s image on his t-shirt. Unlike those who blurred the distinction between the shahīd and the istishhādī, he elaborated on the difference, while trying to explain how he imagined the route leading up to the moment of the istishhādī’s death. The istishhādī prescribes the end of his life (bursum hayātu). Namely, once he turns twenty, he _ chooses a certain date, and now he has been recruited. This means that he wants to commit to an operation. One organization or party recruits him. Within a single hour, he goes to an Israeli place and ends his life. He decides to end his life with his own hands. He is capable of picking up a rifle, or an M16, and he travels to Tel Aviv to confront [yishtabak (the enemy).] I am certain that when he goes, he knows that he is not coming back. He knows that it is the end of his life. This is how I imagine the istishhādī. He knows that he is ending his life in his own way. This means that he holds his soul on the palm of his hand.48 In his other palm, he has his shroud (kafan, the white cloth with which Muslims wrap the dead before burial). It means that he is going. He thinks that things will not be difficult for him. He goes. I think that few people, not more than one percent, could withdraw in the last minute [from such a decision]. Tawfik first expressed respect for a person who actively seeks the time of his death, walking towards it eyes wide open, using the metaphor of someone who has prepared his shroud in his palm. Yet he also qualified himself by noting that the istishhādī binds himself in a manner that is irreversible; by the time he goes to action, he is already committed to an organization, and very few can withdraw at such a point in time. Altogether, Tawfik’s tone seems to respect the active choice of death, and the readiness to carry it out, while at the same time suggesting that the decision may have been undertaken at the spur of a moment, but once you embark on this path, it cannot be revoked. As we see, the very same interviewees who expressed admiration for the istishhādī, also articulated their reasons for opposing it. 48 This image of holding the soul on the palm of the hand is a common Palestinian image that symbolizes readiness to die. The image appears in a 1937 poem titled, The Shahīd by the poet Mahmud Abd al-Rahim who was killed in 1948 and was called, The Shahīd Poet. During the First Intifada, his poem was transformed into a popular song. 14 M. ABDUL-DAYYEM AND E. BEN-ZE’EV A major reason for venerating the istishhādī was bound to its agency and willingness to sacrifice.49 Under the difficult circumstances of occupation, whereby Palestinians have so little control over their lives, the istishhādī chooses when and how to die. The unknown moment of death becomes one which is planned and anticipated. Amal, who was affiliated with Hamas and wore a head cover and jilbāb (the Muslim overcoat), elaborated on this readiness for death: What may add to the istishhādī’s prestige (martaba) is the fact that he is about to die and he knows it. Imagine a person who knows that he is about to die at this moment?! What are the feelings that would overcome him at that moment? There is a significant difference between the shahīd and istishhādī. Namely, I go and I know that I am about to die. In contrast, some shahīd goes but it does not occur to him he would die as a shahīd. In other words, you cannot tell in advance whether he is a shahīd or not. Yet the istishhādī knows his situation—he goes knowing that he is about to die as a martyr. Khalas [enough], there is no escape (khalas, fish majāl). _ _ Amal engages us with the rare moment when someone walks in full consciousness towards death. He undertakes a decision, and Amal is fascinated by it. She describes it as a moment of exceptional courage, taking us back to the issue of hierarchy noted earlier—dying accidently as a shahīd does not compare with dying knowingly. The discourse on the istishhādī was rarely simple. On the level of emotion, students tried to identify with the istishhādī, as when Tawfik described each and every moment leading to the suicide act. Yet students were also reserved, wondering how one can undertake such a decision. At the intellectual level, there were justifications accompa- nied by doubt. Some suspected that it is done for reward, while others thought that it expressed the highest commitment to the nation. It was not always clear from the narratives whether the speaker supported or opposed the istishhādī. The duality expressed towards the istishhādī, and the occasional convergence between the shahīd and the istishhādī, can perhaps be further elaborated through Mbembe’s argument on necropolitics. Mbembe traces a logic of martyrdom which operates alongside the logic of survival, with ‘terror and death at the heart of each’.50 At times, resistance and self destruction are synonymous, as the body is being trans- formed into a weapon.51 The logic of death and the logic of life and survival can become interchangeable. It is a similar interchangeability we encounter in the students’ con- templation; a dialectic of living and dying, or in Mahmoud Darwish’s terms, life as neighbouring death. Mbembe himself sums up this entanglement by noting that ‘under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred’.52 Yet at the same time, some Palestinians noted that this blurring of distinction leads to an erosion of the shahīd ’s role. Interviewees noted that too many people are defined as a shahīd, and as a result, the icon loses its power; it has been routinized. ‘When someone hears the term shahīd,’ said Violette, ‘it seems almost ordinary (ʿādī): Shahīd one, Shahīd two, Shahīd three, and Shahīd four.’ While Violette articulated this deterioration of stature, she also hastened to balance her argument: 49 Mbembe, ‘Necropolitcs’; Ghanim, ‘Thanatopolitics’; and Whitehead and Abufarha, ‘Suicide, violence, and cultural conceptions.’ 50 Mbembe, ‘Necropolitcs’, 36. 51 Ibid. 52 Ibid, 40. BRITISH JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES 15 On the other hand, I am still happy that there are people that have awareness towards this matter; towards the Palestinian issue (al-qaḍiyya al-Falastiniyya), in which we live. How is it, I wonder, that they are ready to sacrifice what is precious to them in order to get the land and the homeland back? Violette, who was a member of the leftist PFLP, was frustrated because she felt that the shuhadāʾ are not respected as they should be: ‘I Sometimes say [to others] that we have many shuhadāʾ and no one does anything to glorify them; they go off and die, sacrifysing themselves, mustashhidīn (dying shahids).’ If earlier we heard Rana arguing that all Palestinians in the OPT are shuhadāʾ, Violette outlines a schism that has opened up: Most Palestinians continue their daily lives and grow indifferent towards the sacrifices that others make. Like her, Husam, a business management student in his second year, spoke of a change in the public sentiment: In the present, there is less appreciation for the shahīd. In the past, when I heard the word shahīd, I felt awe, I felt that something significant happened. Nowadays it has become a regular matter (ishī ʿādī); it happens daily. Every day there is a shahīd in Gaza. [. . .] The people stopped feeling it. In the past, when the people said shahīd, whether it was in Gaza or Ramallah, there were many [commemorative] activities to respect the shahīd. Look! I appreciate the shahīd and everyone wishes for himself to be a shahīd, but its value has diminished. This dullness of feeling, Husam suggests, may be an outcome of the ongoing struggle and its many accompanying deaths. Perhaps he is also hinting that so many sacrifices did not reduce Palestinian suffering. The general public is less inclined to acknowledge the sacrifices. Perhaps it is not merely the accumulation of shuhadāʾ that created this erosion. Husam points to the fact that the shuhadāʾ are more associated with Gaza these days, and that makes them seem more distant. Indeed, in a situation whereby govern- ance is in the hands of Hamas in the Gaza Strip since 2007 and in the hands of the Fatah- led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the distance between the two territories may be growing in the minds. 2017, West Bank: the decline of an icon So far, we presented the discourse which was prevalent among students between 2007 and 2008. We revisited the topic a decade later to reassess the role of the shahīd as an icon and to cross check whether the trends that we had witnessed continued. This was possible since author A conducted fieldwork once more in the WB-OPT, this time focusing on the use of new media and digital culture.53 This second stint of fieldwork lasted from May till December 2017. Thirty-six people were interviewed, both in cities and villages. The interviewees were activists, journalists, scholars and students. Two focus groups were conducted, one comprised of six students from the city of Hebron (al-Khalil) and the other with three activists (in their twenties) from the city of Qaliqilya. Fieldwork included participant observa- tions, attendance of lectures and events, participation in online platforms, and 53 The topic of the study is ‘An Exploration of the Digital Culture of Contention among Palestinians in the West Bank’. The study uses a qualitative approach, utilizing semi-structured in-depth interviews, with activists, journalists, scholars and students to sheds light on digital culture and contention among Palestinians. It explores the ways in which this culture reconstructs Palestinians’ reality and social change. 16 M. ABDUL-DAYYEM AND E. BEN-ZE’EV mundane conversations. Some of the interviews were with people who roughly ten years earlier were students, while others were with those slightly younger (in their twenties) and slightly older (in their forties). Major political changes had taken place from 2007 to 2017: The Second Intifada no longer held a promise; the attempt to gain independence failed and no Palestinian State materialized54; the Palestinian Authority was still struggling to fun'ction under conditions of a very limited level of sovereignty.55 The Hamas-Fatah divide grew deeper and the prolonged Israeli siege on Gaza, with intermittent incursions, attacks and killing, con- tinued for an entire decade. The Middle East in general transformed following the outbreak of the Arab Spring and the insueing civil wars, attracting the media’s attention away from the Palestinian cause. A major change during this period was the growing role of social media in protest, when smartphones, chat groups and Facebook communication were integrated into Palestinian daily lives.56 A decade earlier, the streets still served as major sites for collective action and commemoration, but by 2017, public space in the WB-OPT lost some of its character as grounds for political action. The Palestinians interviewed in 2017 testified that the shahīd icon was still part of the discourse but seemed to be on the decline. Amani, a 29-year old journalist living in Hebron, argued that now that it is possible to follow the rough numbers of TV viewers via monitored websites and journal- ists’ Facebook pages, she could detect a loss of interest: Before, when I made a report on a shahīd, 90,000 people would be watching it, whereas now it is down to 30,000–40,000 people. [. . .] This is evidence that people feel boredom ( malal) toward the daily political issues; everyday there is a shahīd, a prisoner, everyday there are eviction orders, everyday there is a demolition. This becomes habitual (‘ādī) for people. and you, as a citizen, or a researcher or an academic, when you see the blood for the first time, it is very ugly, and you are affected. But when you see it everyday, you will care less and will not react as you did in the first time. Amani listed the shahīd alongside prisoners, evictions, demolitions; the shahīd no longer stood separately even in her speech. One of her explanations was that Palestinians have grown tired, especially of blood scenes, an argument we heard in a slightly different form a decade earlier. ‘Imad, a 28 years old journalist from a village near Tulkarem, criticized the media’s focus on the shuhadāʾ’s forms of death. He thought that it would make more sense to speak about the shahīd’s life: Why not take a photo of the shahīd as someone with hope, someone who had a life, who was supposed to get married, who was beloved? What were the reasons that caused him to do that? This would expose what the occupation does in reality. But to say a ‘heroic 54 Julie M. Norman, The Second Palestinian Intifada: Civil Resistance (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2010). 55 There was the achievement of the UN 2012 declaration, upgrading the Palestinian Authority from the status of an observer to a non-member state. 56 Sanjay Asthana, ‘Youth, Self, Other: A Study of Ibdaa’s Digital Media Practices in the West Bank, Palestine’, International Journal of Cultural Studies 20, no. 1 (2017): 100–17, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/ 1367877915600546 (accessed May 13 2018); Eugenia Siapera, ‘Tweeting #Palestine: Twitter and the Mediation of Palestine’, International Journal of Cultural Studies 17, no. 6 (2014): 539–55, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10. 1177/1367877913503865 (accessed May 13 2018); Wulf and others, ‘Fighting Against the Wall: Social Media Use by Political Activists in a Palestinian Village’, Preceeding of the SIGCI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, eds. Wendy E. Mackay, Stephen Brewster, and Susanne Bødker (New York: ACM New York,2013), 1979–88, https://dlacm.org/citation.cfm?id=2466262&dl=ACM&coll=DL (accessed May 13 2018); and Miriyam Aouragh, Palestine Online: Transnationalism, the Internet and the Construction of Identity (London, England: I.B. Tauris, 2012). BRITISH JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES 17 operation’. That is Ok, I know it is a heroic operation. I do not deny this right [for considering them heroic operations] but there is an internal human side to this person that caused him to do this thing; to say ‘no’ and to stop everything, that is human. I need to go beyond [the mere act], to the reasons of occupation. Representations of the [dead] shahīd are very bad. Yes, they create reaction, but they are not right. These are very stupid representation. We only sing our glories but don’t bring the stories correctly in order for the world to see what is happening. ‘Imad called for a change of representation. The shahīd must be re-contextualized, first by explaining the act within the wider picture of life under occupation; it is the terror of occupation that should be highlighted. Second, and tangential, was his wish to repre- sent the shahīd’s life in its entirety. ‘Imad called for a more individualized shahīd, begging for an exposure of his/her ‘internal human side.’ He sought to present a unique death, not a generic one. Salaam, a 26-year-old activist and journalist from a village near Jenin, was even more explicit in her rejection of what she defined as a veneration of a ‘death culture.’ Salaam: Historically, we promoted the death culture through funerals, through the glorification of the shahīd’s mother, through posters, through calling him a hero. I am against calling him a hero. He should be called a victim, especially if he was a child. They spread the idea of death and it is very ugly, even through the slogans in funerals and demonstrations—‘with soul, with blood, we sacrifice you, ya shahīd’. [. . .] If someone wants to grieve, it is Ok to grieve; it is your right. It is normal to see someone crying if she lost her son. It is not normal to see her trilling. We spread the death culture. The struggle was used to spread a culture of death. It can be so until you are personally effected. Once you are effected, it stops being your culture. If I will lose my son, I will stop promoting this culture, I will stop yelling these slogans. Salaam is highly critical of the situation. She feels that her society is saturated by a culture of death but this attitude is not necessarily embraced by the bereaved families. According to Salaam, the reasons to reject this culture are not merely internal. Palestinians should also re-think the representations they used because they address non-Palestinian audiences. Salaam: We do not have an awareness of social media conventions. We still post the blood and bodies’ images. It effected the Palestinian cause negatively. Israel has an electronic army and uses social media to deliver its messages in order to tell the Israeli narrative. We still post photos of bodies that make people turn away. Death, blood, bodies no longer arouse identification, according to Salaam. Her position may indicate that the shahīd and the istishhādī as icons have lost some ground. Summary and discussion Before further contemplating this possible decline, let us go back and ask what have we learnt about the shahīd? Defining the term was not an easy task for our interlocutors: Some wished to downplay its religious component, highlighting it as an icon uniting the nation in its struggle (such as Tahrir, the PFLP activist, Edward, as a Christian and Karim, the Muslim head of the students’ council). Others adhered to its Islamic origin, stressing the divine sacrifice as a cental essence within the political struggle (as when Hassan noted that death as a shahīd is part of jihad or when Samih noted that only religious 18 M. ABDUL-DAYYEM AND E. BEN-ZE’EV Muslims are entitled to explain what the term means). Metaphorically speaking, the icon grew heavy with interpretation. One could become a shahīd by mere accident. Children, and particularly Muhammad al-Durra, embodied this reality. Coincidence was also linked to the description of life under occupation as one verging on death or what Mbembe called death-in-life.57 At the same time, the shahīd was also venerated as someone who is the ultimate actor, willingly sacrificing for the cause. Suhad wondered aloud concerning this mismatch: Can the shahīd be both a hero and a victim? Even the ultimate agent, the istishhādī, was described by Tawfik as a person who at some stage loses control; someone on the path of no return. The divide between the passive and active shahīd, the agent and the victim, was blurred. The duality was often made evident within single interviews or even single passages. For example, Rana conveyed her sympathy for the shahīd yet added that there are other ways, perhaps better ones, to express one’s patriotism. This was also true when discuss- ing the istishhādī. On the one hand our interlocutors strived to offer explanations and justifications for choosing to die while killing the enemy. On the other hand, many were also critical, whether explicitely or implicitly. This seems to tap into Singh’s (2009) argument that the istishhādī was popular from the mid 1990s till the mid 2000s and has since lost its appeal in the Palestinian territories.58 This change of sentiment is stated more bluntly in our recent set of interviews, conducted in 2017. It was mainly then that we came across arguments that seemed to indicate that the icon of the shahīd is losing ground. The issue of public apathy came up; there was a sense that the multiplicity of shuhadāʾ erodes their significance. Another argument was that there is too much emphasis on bloodscenes, part of as a ‘death culture’ invading daily life, and particularly the media. This was accompanied by yet another disapproval, that too little attention is being paid to individual choices as well as to the impact of death on bereaved families. Finally, the ideas associated with a culture of death may not be understood by a ‘foreign audience’, nowadays far more exposed to footage coming from the OPT. If indeed we are witnessing a decline in the role of the shahīd as an icon, let us contemplate some of the possible explanations. As Khalili noted (2007), the ruling apparatus in the West Bank has grown more institutionalized. Other symbols of state are being advanced such as a flag, an anthem, a national museum and a cult for Arafat.59 The shahīd was the street hero of resistance and some of the revolutionary spirit once associated with it may have disappeared. A second possible reason is the fallout between Hamas and Fatah. Following the 2006 elections, Hamas came to power in Gaza and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority took control of the West Bank. Under these circumstances, will the Fatah-led WB-OPT adhere to an icon associated first and foremost with the Hamas? It would be worthwhile to conduct research into the meanings currently attributed to the shahīd in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, during the internal Palestinian clashes between Hamas and Fatah, those who were killed were named ‘shahīd-l-falatān al-ʾamnī’—the shahīd accidently killed for 57 Mbembe, ‘Necropolitcs’, 27. 58 See note 40 above. 59 Khalili, Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine, 191. BRITISH JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES 19 security reasons. The use of the term in relation to an internal conflict may have contributed to its decline as a uniting icon. Third, an international agenda affected the Palestinian context. As already noted, a humanitarian discourse became more dominant within the WB-OPT through the involvement of foreign governments and non-governmental organizations.60 Finally, and tangential, the advance of social media meant that the values of the ‘outsiders’ (going back to Brunner’s terminology, 2005), primarily European and American audi- ences, should be taken into account. The idea of the shahīd, and especifically the istishhādī, may have lost sympathy outside of Palestine due to its association with Radical Islam. Nevertheless, we are hesitant to argue that the shahīd has lost its symbolic value altogether. We have witnessed the flexibility of this icon, which has taken on a variety of meanings that often seem incompatiable. Moreover, the shahīd was present in the early days of Palestinian nationalism, waned and re-emerged. It is likely that the shahīd will not disappear altogether, but time will tell what new forms it will acquire. Acknowledgments We thank Asher Kaufman, Lisa Richlen, Hillel Cohen and the anonymous reviewers for their useful comments. Disclosure statement No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors. ORCID Mariam Abdul-Dayyem http://orcid.org/0000-0003-0505-3235 60 Allen, The Rise and Fall of Human Rights.


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