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New Texts Out Now: Magid Shihade, Not Just a Soccer Game: Colonialism and Conflict Among Palestinians in Israel

[Cover of Magid Shihade, [Cover of Magid Shihade, "Not Just a Soccer Game: Colonialism and Conflict Among Palestinians in Israel"]

Magid Shihade, Not Just a Soccer Game: Colonialism and Conflict Among Palestinians in Israel. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2011.

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?

Magid Shihade (MS): One reason was personal. The book begins with a case study of a soccer game between two Palestinian villages: Kafr Yassif, with a dominantly Christian population, and Julis, which is a Druze village. The game ended with a fight between the fans of the two teams and resulted in the killing of two people, one from each village. This took place while the Israeli police, who were present at the game, stood idly by. Three days later, a group of people from Julis launched a much more organized armed attack against Kafr Yassif, killing another two residents, injuring dozens of people, and burning many houses and public buildings. Again, the Israeli police were present and did not intervene to prevent or stop the attack. It is a story that never left my mind, as someone who was present during the incident and who wondered why a fight at a soccer game should turn into an armed conflict between two villages that unfolded the way it did.

Second, it is my attempt to bring attention to a growing problem of internal conflicts and violence within the Palestinian community in Israel: that is, 1948 Palestinians who constitute twenty percent of Israeli citizens and who live as second and third class citizens in the Jewish state. These internal skirmishes take many shapes: fights between families, communal/sectarian conflicts, and tensions that lead to fights associated with local elections, among other forms of group violence. All of these incidents of violence have continued without any state intervention to deal with this problem affecting 1948 Palestinians, and in fact with an active state role in encouraging or helping create such violence, as the case addressed in my book illustrates (this is a phenomenon which is little known beyond the Palestinian community). These internal conflicts are not only harmful to the individuals who are directly affected, but also help to demobilize the community around common issues and interests such as opposition to Israeli policies of land confiscation, racial discrimination, segregation, and other forms of state repression.

I also think the case of Palestinians in Israel could be helpful in understanding the dynamics in the areas colonized by Zionists in 1967 and elsewhere where Palestinians live, where Palestinians turn against each other or are pitted against one another due to fractures and fissures and thus do not unify in collective mobilization.

Third, the book is my attempt to offer an intervention in, and a contribution to, theorizing within the field of violence and conflict studies. The work does this with the aim of countering Orientalist approaches, especially when it comes to studies of Arab society among other Third World groups. For example, the idea that violence must be explained through culturalist paradigms continues to influence much theorizing in the field of conflict studies and Middle East studies as well, and this, I felt, needed to be challenged. This approach is a reductionist and Orientalist approach to studying social relations—an approach which one would think would have disappeared by now given the decades-long critique of Orientalism. It also evades an understanding of the modern structures that shape conflicts and violence in all societies, including the role of the state.

J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does it address?

MS: The book addresses several issues, such as nationalism, colonialism, and the state in relation to questions of violence and conflict, including how the Arab Palestinian community deploys indigenous methods of conflict management, namely, sulha. It deals with the question of minority-majority relations, democracy and citizenship, indigeneity, the origins and formation of the Israeli state and its impact on the way certain groups within it are treated, processes of colonialism and settler colonialism, and the way each impacts state policies and indigenous groups. My research also addresses the question of undeclared or unofficial state policies that can be, as I suggest in the book, figured through the pattern of behavior by state authorities (such as the police): a pattern that in itself is indicative of the state's policy, whether it is formally declared or not. Thus, for example, as described in the book, the Israeli police consistently refuse to intervene to prevent or stop internal violence. At times they even participate in channeling and coordinating it. This issue is also relevant to other cases of conflict and other states, such as Iraq and elsewhere.

J: What are the kinds of theoretical and methodological interventions you are making in the book, and why are these significant?

MS: The work is part of my larger interest in the project of decolonizing knowledge and challenging Eurocentric theory in the US academy through indigenist knowledge production, without resorting to nativist projects of authenticity and origins. I designed the methodology and structure of the book drawing on the work and philosophy of the fourteenth-fifteenth century North African Arab and Islamic scholar, Ibn Khaldoun who outlined in his book, Al-Muqaddimah, a research method for the social sciences and humanities. I found his ideas of not taking official explanations of events at their face value, of doing field work that includes speaking to eye witnesses, and of doing archival work on the subject to be very interesting in studying human societies. In applying these ideas in my book, I hope that other scholars, too, would build on this to create a body of new work using Arab political philosophy.

The work is also related to my interest in 1948 Palestinian identities and histories that have not been given enough attention in the existing scholarship. I am interested in helping develop what is still a relatively small body of work on 1948 Palestinians given that much research—and also public discourse—has focused on the West Bank, Gaza, and the diaspora. Additionally, I am interested in carving out a new field that will be interdisciplinary, critical, and creative. This is not simply an intention to recover or reveal more about that community's history, but also to counter the prevailing paradigms and knowledge about that community that have been shaped largely by certain state-embedded, area studies research tied to imperial and Zionist state interests and Orientalist approaches. The case studied in the book can help us better understand the development of Palestinian history beyond the case of 1948 Palestinians to show continuity and similarities between what historical developments have taken place among the 1948 Palestinians, and similar patterns of developments among those who fell under Israeli colonization in 1967.

In other words, engaging in more studies about 1948 Palestinians is to highlight 1948 as a marker of history that is a defining case, not only historically but also as the origin of the longer Israeli settler colonial project. It is important to note how that origin not only shapes the lives of 1948 Palestinians but also the lives of the rest of the Palestinian community. If we look closely at the policies of the Israeli state in 1948 areas, we see much similarity in the pattern that has been developed by Israeli policy makers in the areas colonized in 1967. From this, one can understand the objectives of the policy makers in Israel and what their end goal is, but also what dynamics have been shaping the lives of all Palestinians, whether they live in the 1948 areas or beyond.

J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?

MS: I wrote the book hoping to have an impact on several audiences: the Palestinian community in Israel, which I hope will pay more attention to this issue of communal violence; the Palestinian community at large, so that it can learn some lessons from this analysis of internal fissures and violence that are divisive and destructive; scholars of Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East; researchers in violence and conflict studies; and anyone interested in indigenous studies and the decolonization of knowledge, including the larger public. Scholarship on Palestine is generally limited and needs to go beyond the narrow set of themes that are conventional or permissible, which is a shift that I would like to see in the field. I hope the book will challenge Middle East studies scholarship in the US that has been largely hostage to the Israel lobby’s policing, or that it will give Palestinian activists food for thought, given the need for greater unity in their organizing.


[Magid Shihade. Photo via the author.]

J: What led you to focus specifically upon the incidents surrounding this football match in 1981 as a way to discuss issues related to Palestinians in Israel? 

MS: I focused on a description of the soccer game and the subsequent violence as a starting point for the book because that is how the fighting between the two villages and communities started. I also focused on the game to demonstrate how such seemingly innocuous events lead to larger conflicts and are, ultimately, used to further divisions within the community. I also wanted to highlight how mundane issues such as sportslet alone more personal issuesare used to promote, encourage, and condone internal group violence, and consequently have a demobilizing effect on minoritized or colonized communities who are already marginalized and repressed.

J: What other projects are you working on now?

MS: I have been working on several projects, which will be the basis for my next book and forthcoming articles. The first project grew out of my evolving interest in Ibn Khaldoun's work. It focuses on the study of Arab and Islamic philosophy and thought, notably its relevance to current social and political questions. This is also part of  larger project of decolonizing knowledge, which is an important issue for all those who have been or are impacted negatively by "Western modernity", and without which it will be difficult to achieve other forms of decolonization (political, economic or cultural). Reading Al-Muqaddimah opened my mind to several linkages between knowledge production in the past and current theories in the humanities and the social sciences. Since Ibn Khaldoun’s work is much more holistic in its approach to studying human societies, it has shown me a different way to knowledge not confined by "Western" modernity or the framework of "modernity" itself shaped by "certainty" and "accuracy"too rigid a framework to understand the complexity of human society. "Non-western, non-modern knowledge" sees itself as part of a global contribution to knowledge accumulation. My approach in this project is also less focused on the certainty of knowledge and theory as shaped in the Western academy and by now dominating the globe, since the Western academy and its paradigms of knowledge have become dominant globally. This colonial regime of knowledge is not only misleading, but also dangerous. It leaves no room for other possibilities for thinking and being.

This project, I hope, will challenge several assumptions and deeply held beliefs in the West as well as in the Arab and Muslim worlds about, among other things, the "Dark Ages", a time that was actually rich in knowledge production and human social, economic,, and political activity. This "middle-age" period is the one I would like to explore by tracing its intellectual history. The project is also a challenge to the civilizational divide, a notion that even some in the Arab and Muslim world came to subscribe to. This position dismisses any relations to knowledge that are not Westerneven though many linkages exist between so-called Western knowledge and the knowledge produced by Arabs, Muslims, Berbers, and others, many centuries before. 

Another project that I am pursuing is a study based on the concept of the "present-absent": a paradoxical legal term created by the Israeli state to designate certain 1948 Palestinian individuals and thus exclude them from certain rights. I am interested in the significance that this concept has on the 1948 Palestinian community at large. I am also interested in how those designated as “present-absent” are seen and treated by the Israeli state, as well as the rest of the Palestinian and Arab world, as an ambiguous, often invisible category that is suspect due to a presence "inside” Israel while simultaneously being absent from the Palestinian/Arab nation.

The concept of the "present-absent" is also fundamentally linked to Western modernity, in my view.  I am interested in exploring how despite the claims and rhetoric of Western modernityrationalism, justice, equality, peace, and progressthe entire world has been an object of the "present-absent paradigm" that has allowed certain "races" or groups to enjoy certain privileges and rights, while others are excluded from or have limited access to these same privileges and rights. Thus, the notion of the present-absent, in my understanding, is the biopolitical condition of being present physically, as human life, yet absent from equality in rights and privileges—a regime in many cases created by the same modern state system that excludes or annihilates. In line with this, my project examines the extent to which Israeli ideology, policies, and practices are embedded in a western modernity, and are part of the lineage of Western history and colonialist practices, when it comes to dealing with lesser "races," groups, or individuals.

Further, as part of my interest in Palestinian identity, history, and politics, I am developing a book project that focuses on issues of space, mobility, and freedom vis-a-vis the ways the social and cultural life of 1948 Palestinians was shaped by Israeli state policies since 1948. A tentative, working title for this project is Not Just a Picnic: Space, Mobility, and Freedoms Among '48 Palestinians. I want to start with a story of how my family went on picnics only once a year, on Israeli Independence Daysomething that I did not understand as significant for subaltern histories of the state until many years later. This was due to the fact that some of my family members were not allowed to travel freely in the countryeven though they are citizensexcept for one day a year: Independence Day, that is the "independence" day of a state that was built by the destruction of their pre-1948 society, a state actively involved in their colonization and repression after 1948. These trips, like other social gatherings of that time, included people from different religious backgrounds. This mix in social gatherings has disappeared today due to different state policies, as well as changed regional and global dynamics. Also, the restriction on the movement of 1948 Palestinians continues to shape their movement today, even after a period of military rule (1948-1966) officially ended and at a time when citizens are supposedly free to travel anywhere in Israel/Palestine. This project will not only shed more light on the history of 1948 Palestinians but can also enrich our understanding of the impact of colonial policies on the cultural and social lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Excerpt from Not Just a Soccer Game: Colonialism and Conflict Among Palestinians in Israel

From the Introduction

On 11 April 1981, a soccer game took place between two neighboring Palestinian Arab towns in Galilee, in northern Israel: Kafr Yassif, with a predominantly Christian (fifty-five percent) population, and Julis, a predominantly Druze town. The match took place in Kafr Yassif, and it would have decided which team between the two would proceed to the upper soccer league in Israel. During the game, a fight broke out between fans of both teams, and a person from Julis was stabbed (with his own knife). In spite of that violence, the game continued, and the team from Julis won. The moment the game was over, fighting resumed between the fans, and a man from Julis threw a hand grenade at the fans from Kafr Yassif, injuring a few of them. That night, the man from Julis who was stabbed during the fight died in the hospital. Another teenager from Kafr Yassif, who was injured by the hand grenade, also died in the hospital….

During and after that evening, I spent time with family members, friends, and people in the village discussing the consequences of the soccer game fiasco. There was concern over what the people from Julis would do. We were aware of the arms they had because most of them, being Druze, served in the Israeli military….On Monday, 14 April, three days after the game, Druze from Julis attacked Kafr Yassif….In both incidents, the police stood idle, neither preventing the attack nor stopping it after it started….Many argued that the government must have been behind the attack….The multiple claims over the causes of the incident, and the role of the state, left many unanswered questions in my mind. The game that turned violent shaped my interest in a deeper analysis of issues of conflict and violence that drive my research.

My aim in this book is to answer questions that I and many others in Kafr Yassif had about the event. The official narratives of police and government were contradictory. On the one hand, they claimed they were surprised and overwhelmed by the events and did not intervene in order to prevent more casualties, and on the other hand, they posited that the event could be explained by the nature of Arab society as inherently violent. However…if Arab society was in fact essentially violent, then the escalation of violence during and after the game could not have been a surprise to the “experts” on Arab culture.

This book tackles the issue of state-society relations and the question of state policies and their implementations. It offers an alternative perspective to the top-down approach of historiography, in which state narratives and elite voices are dominant. The study contributes to the growing work of the subaltern studies school that complements the narrative of the state and allows for better understanding of the case study here….

Furthermore, as there has been little work on Palestinian Arabs in Israel, and none on Palestinian village histories, this work will be an essential addition to the existing studies on Israel, its Palestinian Arab citizens, their religious communities and history, and in particular their peripheral history rather than the relatively better-documented history of cities and larger population centers. Thus, this research can help us learn about the way these largely ignored groups and neglected issues can contribute to an understanding of the larger history of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel, the Palestinian Arabs in general, the state of Israel, and the Palestinian-Israeli question.

The book is divided into four substantive chapters in addition to the introduction and conclusion. Chapter one discusses the case study of the conflict in Kafr Yassif based on my fieldwork (interviews) I conducted and archival research. This chapter provides an overview of the event as narrated and perceived by the locals in Kafr Yassif. It discusses the process of sulha and also includes a brief summary of two other incidents of communal violence that took place in the Arab Palestinian community in Israel in order to offer a comparative synthesis of the phenomenon in the community as well as to examine state security and police behavior during these incidents. Thus, we will learn whether there is a pattern that can help explain more about the relationship between state authorities’ conduct and the internal violence among Arabs in Israel. The third part of the chapter discusses media representation of the incident by investigating how such events are portrayed by the media and what media reporting and analysis may add to the understanding of group violence.

Chapter two discusses the dominant theories explaining communal and ethnic conflicts and violence and suggests an alternative approach to the study of the phenomenon. In addition, each following chapter will return to one or more dominant theories to discuss their applicability or limitations. The discussion of the theoretical issues and debates in this chapter could serve as a pedagogical tool in the classroom as well as an aid to scholars doing research on other cases in different sites.

In chapter three, I provide a general history of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel and discuss historical and political developments beginning with the later Ottoman period, the British Mandate, and the establishment of the state of Israel. The chapter provides an overview of the social and economic characteristics of Kafr Yassif and Julis, the relationship between them, and also the Palestinian Arab community’s relationship with the Israeli authorities. I also briefly discuss the history of communal relations in the region between Druze and Christian communities and examine how historical, economic, social, and political factors shed light on the conflict in 1981.

Chapter four discusses the history and nature of the state of Israel, the general policy of the state towards its Arab citizens, and the policies affecting group identities. It explains the ramifications of the political structure for the relationship between different religious groups within the Arab community in Israel. This chapter also examines paradigms in the field of ethnic and communal conflict and violence related to theories of “weak states” and “peaceful democracies” to explain communal violence. It provides a discussion of the theories of the type of the state, weak versus strong, and political system, democratic versus nondemocratic, by explaining their impact on intergroup relations. Finally, the chapter examines how the origin, history, nature, political system, and policies of the state towards its Palestinian Arab citizens can help in explaining the event in Kafr Yassif and how the police behaved during that explosive incident.

Chapter five, the conclusion, summarizes the main findings of the book and discusses them in light of the larger theoretical framework through the lens of the case study and discusses the implications of the argument and findings for the field of ethnic conflict. The book suggests that the transformation of political structures is the most important solution for helping to contain the phenomenon of ethnic and communal violence and ends with a policy-oriented discussion, offering possible solutions that draw on the principles of sulha (an indigenous Arab conflict management method).

[Excerpted from Magid Shihade, Not Just a Soccer Game: Colonialism and Conflict Among Palestinians in Israel. © 2011 by Syracuse University Press. For more information, or to order the book, click here.]

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