• Boundaries of Displacement

    Shakeel Anjum

    August 1, 2018

    Following is an extract from the chapter Return, Presence, Absence of Shakeel Anjum's book, Politics of Space and the Question of Palestine. The work is an attempt to look at the problematiques of the spatial representations of violent geographies in the autobiographical works of Israeli and Palestinian writers— Amos Oz, Raja Shehadeh and Mourid Barghouti.

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    Writing and Resistance: Cartographies of Becoming

    The Palestinians do realize the fact that the Zionist project of building a state only for its Jewish diaspora by excluding the Palestinians is a failed project. Upon his arrival in Palestine after thirty years of exile, Barghouti witnesses that ‘the others are still the masters of the place’ (Barghouti 2003: 38); there is no change even after the signing of the Oslo Accords. In their everyday lives Palestinians face the checkpoints, their identity cards checked, permits given and withdrawn, all at the mercy of the Israeli colonial practices. The Palestinians as a community and nation as Barghouti writes, are used to ‘waiting’. The continued building of the illegal settlements doubled, especially after Oslo peace process as witnessed by Barghouti in I Saw Ramallah, adding another dimension to the internal displacement. The illegal settlements build by Israel as Barghouti writes, are not

    children’s fortresses of Lego or Meccano. These are Israel itself; Israel, the idea and the ideology and the geography and the trick and the excuse. It is the place that is ours and that they have made theirs. The settlements are their book, their first form. They are our absence. The settlements are the Palestinian Diaspora itself (Barghouti 2003: 29-30).                

    Each settlement built in the occupied territories is conceived by Barghouti as the displacement of the Palestinian community. There is an inherent dialectics of presence/absence in the Barghouti’s powerful statement. On the one hand, Barghouti sees the presence of the Palestinian diaspora in the ghostly architecture of the settlements themselves; on the other hand, he sees their absence which makes a very powerful claim between the presence of the absence and the absence of the presence. Bugeja (2012: 62) notes that the presence of the Palestinian diaspora and landscape is inherent in the space created by the Israeli colonial practices which have left a mark of Palestinian expulsion. The Palestinian landscape which has been transformed into an alien space by use of myths and machines by Israeli architecture, keeps the landscape from ‘returning to nature,’ and it is ‘perhaps the general mode of presence or absence of the thing itself in pure language’ (Derrida 2001: 4).

    I Saw Ramallah is also a strange connection between displacement and writing. Barghouti conceives the idea of writing as displacement, a displacement from all sorts of power. Barghouti links his writing of exile and displacement to a cartographic practice much like Shehadeh does in his memoirs. For Shehadeh whose parents witnessed the al-Nakba of 1948 and displacement thereafter, writing became a tool to subdue the anger of displacement and dispossession. ‘More than anything else,’ writes Shehadeh, ‘it was writing that was helping me overcome the anger that burns in the heart of most Palestinians’ (Shehadeh 2008: 171). On a similar texture Barghouti writes,

    Writing is a displacement, a displacement from the normal social contract. A displacement from the habitual, the pattern, and the ready form. A displacement from the common roads of love and the common roads of enmity. A displacement from the believing nature of the political party. A displacement from the idea of unconditional support… If a person is touched by poetry or art or literature in general, his soul throngs with these displacements and cannot be cured by anything, not even the homeland (Barghouti 2003: 132-133).

    For Shehadeh and Barghouti, writing in the form of memoirs became a strong tool against history’s attempts at erasing the geography of their country’s past, present and future. It is through their writings that they break the boundaries of displacement. Here writing attains a form, firmly rooted in defaced geography.


    Written by Shakeel Anjum, 'Politics of Space and the Question of Palestine' was published by Adroit Publishers in March this year. This extract has been republished here with the permission of Shakeel Anjum.

    Shakeel Anjum is a PhD student at the Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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