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Remapping Palestine - Historical and Geographical Developments, Contemporary Implications and Prospects in the Middle East Conflic

Remapping Palestine

Over 60 years ago, as one of the greatest refugee tragedies of contemporary history unfolded in the shadow of the postwar era, the newly established United Nations drafted and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If nothing else, this document was a reaction against the crimes of National Socialism and the murderous consequences of World War II. At the same time, however, these very rights were being ignored, broken and violated in the former British colonial protectorate of Palestine.

For over 60 years now, Palestinians have been struggling for the self-evident: the recognition of their existence, the recognition of the injustice committed upon them, and the recognition of their basic rights. For decades their voices have not been heard, and Palestinian and Arab documentations, personal accounts, reports, and research related to the ethnic cleansing of 1948 have been marginalised, ignored or merely waved aside as a modern oriental fairy tale. Palestinian objections and appeals to the established interpretation of the founding of the state of Israel have found little or no consideration in Western discourse, whether it be before the United Nations, in the media, in scholarly activity or amongst the general Western public. It was only when, as part of the First Intifada in 1987, Palestinians in the occupied territories rose up and a year-long people's revolt against the occupation directed the eyes of the world to the existence of injustice, thus distressing Israel's economy, that the international community was finally forced to act. Over the course of the subsequent Oslo Peace Process, a critical school of historiography in Israel formed for the first time and its proponents became known as post-Zionist 'New Historians.' In Israeli military archives, then just opened for the first time, they found documents and evidence that proved that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were murdered, terrorised and expelled by paramilitary precursors to the IDF in the run-up to the founding of the state of Israel. Palestinian villages were raided, destroyed or annexed to the newly-established Jewish state as ethnically cleansed territories. Some of these historians were able to verify that systematically planned and implemented expulsions had been dealt. It was therefore first through the research results of these 'New Historians' - so it would seem - that these findings and historical interpretations found their way into the discourse of the Middle East Conflict. It was only through the confirmation and attestation of non-Arab scholars - more precisely, 'white' scholars - that the events of the Nakba, the expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians, the existence of occupation and the fate of Palestinian refugees penetrated the consciousness of the Western world.

The following questions thus arise: Under which conditions can displaced persons, refugees and those marginalised portray their own history? How and under which premises are their reports, their narratives and their historiography heard and recognised?

'The most demoralizing aspect of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict,' wrote Edward Said in 2000, is 'the utter polarity between the Israeli and Palestinian mainstream points of view.' According to Said, there was 'simply no common denominator, no common narratives, no possible scope for an actual reconciliation.' Said's suggestion that Palestinian and Israeli historians review history together seems impossible up to the present day.

With the symposium 'Remapping Palestine,' the Union for Antiracism and Peace Policy continues the event series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and invites Israeli, Arab and European scholars and NGO activists to discuss and deepen the analysis of historical and geographical developments as well as their implications and perspectives in the Middle East Conflict. Major topics will include, among others: the historical lines and structures of the conflict in Israel/Palestine; the present-day situation in the occupied territories, particularly in the West Bank; the reception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the West; the contemporary politics of investors and the prospects for a just and permanent peace settlement in Palestine/Israel.


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

18.00 - 18.45 | Opening and Welcome

19.00 - 21.30
The Ongoing Nakba - The History and Structure of a Century-Long Colonisation

Lectures and podium discussions with:

  • Joseph Massad, Lecturer of "Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History" at Columbia University, USA
  • Salman Abu Sitta, Founder and President of the Palestine Land Society, UK

The definiting self-image of hegemonic scholarship in Europe and the United States is the principle of objectivity. The 'historical establishment of the truth' in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hence unable to be fulfilled through the inclusion of Palestinian narratives - at least so the established discourses seem to suggest. As these narratives were 'biased' and 'subjective,' the Israeli narratives would meet the criteria of objective scholarship. The real expulsion of Palestinians and the military conquest first came into play as a result of the denial of the very existence of Palestinians. Herzl invented the myth of a 'land without people for a people without a land,' Golda Meir also said that there was not 'something like a Palestinian people,' and the incumbent Israeli foreign minister Lieberman demanded that all Arab representatives in Knesset be executed and that all Palestinians remaining in Israel be deported. Lieberman's suggestions are a striking example that the denial of the historical Nakba continues to this day, that unworked history overtakes the present, and that the continued Nakba is still threatening the Palestinian population.
Until today, the debates, especially those in Europe, have been informed by stereotypes with respect to the Palestinian position. To what extent do discourses shape facts and realities, and, inversely, how do realities shape discourses?

21.30 - 22.00

Thursday, 20 October 2011

14.00 - 16.00
The Construction of Orientalist Foreignness and Western Identity as Illustrated by the Middle East Conflict

Oliver Hashemizadeh, Dar al Janub

In the last decades, countless ambitious and noteworthy projects and initiatives for peaceful cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians have been introduced. Intercultural initiatives are especially effective as a possible bridge of understanding. With specific examples as our reference point, in this workshop we would like to work on the challenges and obstacles to intercultural dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis.

16.00 - 16.30
Coffee break

16.30 - 18.30
Lecture and workshop:
The Prospects and Obstacles of Memorial Work on the Nakba in Israel

Umar al-Ghubari, NGO "Zochrot"

With the means of sensitisation campaigns, since 2002 the Israeli NGO "Zochrot" has been working within Jewish Israeli society for a reworking of history in Israel/Palestine. Through activism, workshops and memorial work, Zochrot strives to raise awareness of the expulsions and the Palestinian Nakba in Israel. Their goal is to 'Hebrew-ise' the Nakba, and to bring the ethnic cleansings in Palestine into discourses within Israel and the larger Jewish community, therefore creating the first conditions for future peace. For more information, see: www.zochrot.org.

18.30 - 19.00

19.00 - 20.00
Mapping Palestine: for Its Survival or Its Destruction?
Presentation of the "Atlas of Palestine 1917- 1966"

Salman Abu Sitta

The Palestinian scholar Salman Abu Sitta has been researching Palestinian history for over 40 years, during and following the establishment of the state of Israel. In doing so he has not only documented the Nakba, but he has also depicted a comprehensive image of Palestinian society from the beginning of the last century up until the present. His most recent book, Atlas of Palestine, uses British, Zionist and Arab sources to document a country that still does not officially exist.

20.00 - 20.30

20.30 - 22.00
Podium discussion:
The Palestinian Right of Return from Different Perspectives

  • Salman Abu Sitta
  • Ali Hweidi, General secretary of the Palestinian NGO "Thabit", Lebanon
  • Umar al-Ghubari

More than 4 million Palestinian refugess are registered today with UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), and tens of thousands more are believed to be unregistered or so-called Non-ID refugees, who are barred from UNRWA benefits. More than one million Palestinians live in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The right of return is an existential question for many Palestinians, which epitomises the expulsions, disposession and historical injustice suffered in the 1948 war. Since 1948, the right of return has been certified in Resolution 194 of the United Nations General Assembly. Nevertheless, it has been omitted and deferred in all peace initiatives presented until now. Is the right of return a feasible option? Is it an obstacle or a prerequisite for a just and lasting peace in Israel/Palestine?

Friday, 21 October 2011

14.00 - 16.00
Lecture and workshop:
Zionism and Spatial Planning in Jerusalem/Al Quds

Viktoria Waltz, Architect, Expert in Spatial Planning, Germany

The creation of a state with a Jewish majority population - if not that of an ethnically cleansed Jewish state - was the goal of the Zionist founders of Israel. With the expulsions of 1948 and, as a further consequence, the occupation of the body of Palestine in 1967, this goal was realised to a certain extent. Yet a Palestinian minority lives in Israel as second-class citizens, and there are millions of Palestinians living in the territories occupied by Israel. The Israeli bureaucracy imposes countless sanctions through settlement buildings, the construction of the wall, and state building and planning laws in order to disposess Palestinian land and to continue the expulsions wtihin a 'legalised' framework. In her lecture and workshop, Viktoria Waltz, former Lecturer in the Department of Spatial Planning at the University of Dortmund and former governmental advisor to the Palestinian housing department in Gaza and Ramallah, will offer insights into spatial planning measures for naturalisation and expatriation by the Israeli state.

16.00 - 16.10
Coffee break

16.10 - 16.30
Statment from
Annette Groth, Member of German Bundestag/Party DIE LINKE (the Left)

16.30 - 18.00
Lectures and podium discussions:
"NGO-isation" in the West Bank and Palestinian Refugee Camps: The Politics of Selective Western Investors and the Role of NGOs


  • Fawaz Hammad - Lecturer for Health Economics at the Arab American University Jenin
  • Ali Hweidi
  • Viktoria Waltz
  • Annette Groth

Non-profit organisations and non-governmental organisations play an increasingly important role in order to compensate for, extend or simply to replace the lacking state agendas in many societies. In the occupied territories and in Palestinian refugee camps, the essential task of creating social benefits, education and empowerment opportunities, as well as socio-political projects and initiatives, falls to NGOs. NGOs often rely on money from public sources. In the case of Palestine, it becomes apparent that sometimes the American and European guidelines for the allocation of help funds for development policy result in a dubious outcome, and politically motivated influences frequently prohibit independent Palestinian projects. To what extent do the policies of Western investors reach their declared intentions, on which points do they miss their goal, and to what extent do NGOs pursue at times an interventionist Western policy in place of their governments?

18.00 - 18.30

18.30 - 20.00
Out of the Frame - The Struggle for Academic Freedom in the Middle East Conflict

Ilan Pappé (Israeli Historian, Author and Professor at the University of Exeter)

Hardly any other area of contemporary historical research is as fiercely contentious as the study of the events before, during and after the founding of the state of Israel. The concept of the Nakba is until today virtually unknown to hegemonic Western historiography. As an historian, Ilan Pappé belongs to the generation of Israeli scholars who have become world-renowned for their research results. In his most recent book, Scholarship as an Instrument of Rule, Pappé illustrates the difficult path of implementing new dynamics in a hegemonic production of academic knowledge, which could harbour the seed for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

20.15 - 22.00
Concert with Alp Bora
Dabka Dance Troupe

19 - 20 October 2011:
Exhibition of Palestinian Craftsmanship - presented by the NGO "Thabit", Lebanon

Conference languages: English, German

An event by: Dar al Janub - Union for Antiracism and Peace Policy

Sponsored by:
Austrian Development Cooperation
The City of Vienna - Vienna Culture

In cooperation with:
The Society for Austrian-Arab Relations
Pax Christi Austria
Anna Lindh Foundation Austria
Coordination Forum for the Support of Palestine


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