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Occupation Magazine | January 3, 2008

The School of Occupation Studies

Over three years ago Yehuda Shenhav wrote in Ha-`Oketz about his impressions of a conference of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco. On that occasion Yehuda did a thorough stocktaking and found that of 133 Israeli sociologists in tenure-track positions (of whom 2 were Palestinian and 14 Mizrahi), there were maybe about two researchers who offered courses on the Occupation.

Yehuda explained that Israeli sociology for some reason still relates to the Occupation as if it were a temporary phenomenon and not a permanent one. Of course if we count not only sociologists but also other faculties and if we take into account those people, and especially the all too many women in the Academy who are not on the tenure track, it should be assumed that that grim statistic gets a little better. And we can also add the important research group that works within the framework of the Van Leer Institute (academic directors: Adi Ofir, Michal Giv`oni and Sari Hanafi). Still, the number of Israeli researchers who get their hands dirty is amazingly small.

One could cynically say that not many people choose to build academic careers on Occupation Studies and on the way in which the Occupation ( I prefer the term Apartheid Regime, but that?s for a separate discussion) shapes Israeli-Palestinian society. And again, especially now in connection in the context of the lecturers` strike and the situation in the educational milieu - the question `why` presents itself. Maybe it is a political stance - the position of Israeli researchers is problematic from the outset as individuals in an occupying society. Ethically, it is difficult for researchers to situate themselves in this context (even if they define themselves as critical researchers). It is much `cleaner` not to deal with it directly, to choose to make it somehow subliminal and to integrate the issue into subjects of research that only indirectly touch the thing itself.

And there are others who for the sake of their sanity distinguish between work (academy) and political involvement. The public activities that consciously occupy them on other levels are not made by them into an object of academic research. I presume that it is a pattern that is quite widespread. And of course there will always be other legitimate career considerations: work, advancement, livelihood. In addition to that, the Israeli Occupation produces social phenomena that are very specific to Israel/Palestine. In order to maintain a connection with the outside academic world, especially with the academic networks in the academic Mecca, the USA, people may think that a broader and less specific spectrum is needed; and in any case it is not pleasant to wash this laundry in public (to say nothing of the fact that if we were to count the American researchers who deal with Occupation Studies in connection to Iraq we would probably find that the statistics there are even grimmer than in Israel).

This can be looked at differently, not only on the level of individuals and their personal choices. It could be asked why the conditions do not exist in the framework of local academic life for the production of researchers and theoreticians of occupation studies, or more precisely, researchers and theoreticians of theory and practice of military dictatorships under the patronage of pseudo-liberal and neo-liberal democracies (a field that is presumably particularly relevant not only in the local context, but in the context of the military project of global democratization on the American model). I and Israeli colleagues of mine in the New School for Social Research (New York) have expressed in sorrow and anger our distress bout this intolerable pattern of studying-abroad-and-not-coming-home-because-there`s-no-work. With what did we invest and to whom did we want to return the investment if not the critical community from which we sprouted and that is so important to us in Israel, and which, to our dismay is always in danger of extinction; a species all of whose resources are invested in survival and in conserving what really exists only for very few scholars, and those are now fighting against the erosion of their salaries in the face of a government for whom education is at the bottom of the list of priorities. And we have also sadly joked among ourselves, that maybe when Ariel College receives the status of a university it will at long last be possible to set up the School of Occupation Studies that we dream of. The situation is so bad that even there we will be happy to get jobs (on the tenure track). Thus do we entertain ourselves with foolish thoughts `.

Yael Barda said that here best - the erotica of the Occupation has unlimited power of attraction, but also unlimited power of attrition. Who will want to invest years of thought and research on a subject if there is no framework (in Israel!) for such work to find expression. A framework that would allow such work to reach as many students as possible, to open their minds, to help them make the ultimate transition of totally separating themselves first of all from self-Occupation and from auto-indoctrination (as my first year in university with Tanya Reinhart, may she rest in peace, and Orly Lubin, long may she live, did for me). When will that ideal university be created which will not encourage and reward Occupation deniers and Occupation profiteers and will not nurture apologists for Occupation? How can we create that institutional and practical framework that can bring about and a change in consciousness from within Israeli society, a change without which the illegitimate and rotten institutions of the evil regime will not begin to break down? And maybe the most important question: where will the financing come from, and under what conditions can such a framework survive?

To all those who are already clucking their tongues and saying, here's another one who just wants to come back to Israel with a job, money and an academic career at the expense of the marginalized, the underprivileged and the impoverished whom she studies but does not teach, I have only two fairly banal things to say in conclusion. First, it is necessary to distinguish between problematic objectification of subjects of investigation and academic objectification of the conditions and the systems that create suffering, social disasters and marginalized people. Second: there is no need or reason to apologize for the desire that was expressed here at the outset. In view of the data that Yehudah provided and with which I began, it is a statistical fact that we are left without a framework that can absorb us. And that is to say nothing of the obvious fact that the Israeli Academy has a demographic and sociological profile that is homogenous, insular and un-dynamic.

http://www.kibush.co.il/show_file.asp?num=24376

Posted on 20-01-2008


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