Muna Dajani, Munir Fakher Eldin and Michael Mason, The Untold Story of the Golan Heights: Occupation, Colonization and Jawlani Resistance (London: Bloomsbury, 2023).
Jadaliyya (J): What made you edit this book?
Muna Dajani, Munir Fakher Eldin, and Michael Mason (MD, MFE & MM): The book is the result of a collaborative research project, Mapping Memories of Resistance: The Untold Story of the Occupation of the Golan Heights, involving the Department of Geography and Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Israeli Studies MA programme at Birzeit University in Palestine, and Al Marsad—the Arab Human Rights Centre in the Golan Heights (Jawlan). This collaboration ran from September 2018 to April 2021, and featured Jawlani, Palestinian, and UK researchers. It studied the Syrians who remained in the Golan Heights after 1967, documenting their lived experience of, and resistance to, the enduring occupation by Israel.
We had not planned a book, but as the project developed, we had a growing body of original material that deserved publication in an accessible format. Even this book is not enough to capture all the important work carried out. As we look back over the edited volume, we are acutely aware of what remains missing or underdeveloped (for example, we could have said more on the politics of martyrdom in the Jawlan, and also on the larger Jawlan and its ethnic-cleansing in 1967); but we see the book as an invitation to further work—a collaborative, necessarily incomplete effort to speak truth to power about the Israeli occupation and to convey faithfully the ways of living of the Jawlanis.
Alongside this book, the project has also produced an online curriculum (in Arabic and English) for teaching about the Jawlan and is developing an online public database containing primary sources on the occupied Jawlan since 1967, including archival material, interviews, posters, photographs, and newspaper articles. So the book is one output of a research project that soon outgrew its initial parameters, but one that captures effectively, we think, the ethos and analytical insights of the wider project.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?
MD, MFE & MM: The book provides the first academic study in English on indigenous Arab—‘Jawlani’—politics and culture in the occupied Golan Heights. There are two conceptual themes informing the book—everyday colonization and the politics of the governed. Through the lens of “everyday colonization,” we examine the daily experiences of, and reactions to, the Israeli occupation as manifest in Jawlani society, culture, and land use. By “politics of the governed,” we mean the various ways in which the Jawlanis encounter the political field of settler colonial power.
Several contributions across the volume reach back to the start of the Isreali occupation in June 1967, but the empirical focus is on events since December 1981, when the territory was annexed unilaterally by Israel under the Golan Heights Law. This move from military to civil administration provoked wide-ranging Jawlani resistance, including a General Strike in 1982 that lasted six months; in its diverse and everyday forms, the resistance to occupation continues to this day. The community-based mobilization of the Jawlanis has barely been acknowledged by the scholarly literature on anti-colonialism, though some activist groups have picked up on it, notably Palestinian solidarity groups. We were encouraged by the interest generated by Muna’s 2020 Jadaliyya article addressing recent Jawlani activism against Israeli wind turbine development. Through the politics of the governed lens, we offer a broad understanding of Jawlani resistance, including solidarity networks with Palestinians, covering also the politics of Jawlani art, the politics of Jawlani youth and education, and a Jawlani political ecology. A consistent narrative—and graphic—thread in the volume is the idea of the Jawlan as a counter-geography, by which we mean the material and imaginative construction of an ethno-geographic community that contests the current regime of Israeli rule. The Jawlani counter-geography marks out or “remaps” an inclusive and just future, disrupting the oppressive gridlines of Zionist settler colonization.
Academic literatures we engage with include settler colonial studies and indigenous and (post)colonial scholarship, as well as particular research (in Arabic, English, and Hebrew) on the Golan. We offer the book as a major academic contribution to the understanding of contemporary settler colonial regimes and political responses to them, but of course that significance depends in large part on how it is received! We hope scholars and other readers are interested in, and discuss, the volume.
J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous work?
MD, MFE & MM: The book is a continuation of themes that we have developed, both individually and collectively, in other academic outlets. All of us have, in previous work, sought to understand the historical-geographic dynamics and patterns of Israeli settler colonization, including in the occupied Jawlan and Palestine. To be sure, we come from different disciplinary settings—the research of Muna and Michael is largely situated within critical geography and political ecology, while Munir has a background in history and Middle Eastern/Islamic studies. The book has allowed us to combine our various methodological and theoretical interests. We also have a shared interest in critical pedagogy, which is expressed both by the authorship and content of the book, as well as the curriculum development made possible by our research collaboration on the Golan Heights.
J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
MD, MFE & MM: The book is multi-disciplinary, so we hope it will be of interest to scholars across a range of academic fields—including Middle East studies, indigenous and (post)colonial studies, anthropology, cultural studies, and geography—as well as policy practitioners and other civil society actors seeking to understand the significance of the occupied Syrian Golan within wider Israeli-Arab politics. We had the intention also for contributors to write in a way that is accessible to non-academic readers. While that balance is not always easy to strike (including in Arabic to English translation), as editors we encouraged clear, engaging prose across the contributions to the volume.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
MD, MFE & MM: Muna is working on research projects concerned with traditional water infrastructure—including in Palestine—and their contribution to decolonial thinking and knowledge production. Munir continues to develop his research on the politics of landholding and the transformative impact of British colonial rule in Palestine, as well as his research on Jawlani popular politics and resistance to Israeli colonization. Following his recent work on water infrastructure politics in southern Iraq, Michael is working on a research project looking at transboundary water politics in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin. We also plan to do more work together!
J: The book has a novel format, blending chapters with shorter contributions, and incorporating archival photos, artwork, and poems. What is the reason for this?
MD, MFE & MM: We wanted a format that meaningfully included diverse voices from those subject to occupation/annexation in the Jawlan and Palestine. Much is being written about “decolonizing” research (and pedagogy), but relatively little seems to be breaking out of mainstream formats for academic publications, whether articles in scholarly journals or university press volumes. Even academic outlets publishing critical social science have tended to be conservative in their writing and citational practices.
Jawlani and Palestinian early career researchers were at the forefront of knowledge production for this book. At the start of the collaboration, five Palestinian Birzeit University students from the Israeli Studies MA programme, along with four Jawlani students, were involved in selecting and carrying out interdisciplinary research projects on aspects of Jawlani life under occupation. Their research training as co-investigators anchored the collaboration project, which then widened to include several other students and, through the generous interest and assistance of the Jawlani community, also encompassed the direct participation of activists, planners, and artists. True to the aim of inclusive knowledge production, much of the content of this book was originally written in Arabic.
So the innovative format—featuring shorter “reflections” by the early career researchers following longer chapters—was the means by which we could publish their work. This research remained subject to internal and external peer review, but the shorter format allowed more effective training and mentoring by more experienced project members. We then decided to mix up the format further to allow other means for conveying the imaginative geography of the Jawlanis; hence the use of archival photos, Jawlani artwork, and the powerful poetry (in Arabic and English) by Jawlani poet Yasser Khanjar. There is of course a cultural politics informing our editorial curation of this material—validating and valuing a way of life that faces systemic discrimination and marginalization. In this way, we also see the book as a social and political document expressing Jawlani self-determination.
Excerpt from the book (from 7. Conclusion, pp. 192-96)
Mapping Jawlani futures
How to map a landscape or territory that exposes relations of domination? That historicizes and therefore denaturalizes settler colonial spaces? Against the overwhelming geopolitical weight of ‘facts on the ground’ – the settlements and settlement enterprises, the territorial grip over land, water and other natural resources; the infrastructure systems and services locked into national networks of control; the forbidding military zones and their charged embodiment in a Zionist narrative of Jewish nation-building – the Jawlani communities uphold a survival culture. The stubborn refusal of the great majority of the population in the occupied Golan Heights to adopt Israeli citizenship, or to be classified only in religious terms as a ‘Druze minority’, speaks to their lived experiences of the injustices of occupation, which flare up as grievances and antagonistic protests directed at the Israeli authorities. In this way, their assertion of a Syrian Arab identity is, regardless of the violent breakdown and fragmentation of Syrian state sovereignty, fed by the unceasing denial by Israel of their self-determination and dignity.
A counter-geography is already present, therefore, in the myriad ways across everyday life in which Jawlanis embody and emplace their own sense of community, performing a society, culture and ecology against the grain of the Israeli occupation. Of course, these daily practices of living are invariably compromised and fractured by dominant settler colonial interests, and there is currently greater freedom for imaginative work rather than the material flourishing of a Jawlani community. Counter-cartography, the production of spatial imaginaries that make domination visible, is one means to disrupt sovereign cartographies of calculation and control. At a first level of critical reflection, this can use conventional geographic coordinates to map networks of settler colonial power, such as Jewish settlements in the Jawlan, which we counter-map (Map 1.2) within the boundaries of Syria’s Quneitra Governorate alongside more familiar borders. It can also, still with standard spatial projections, visualize the effects of settler colonial violence, such as showing the Syrian villages and farms destroyed by Israeli forces after July 1967. Al Marsad’s seminal work mapping all Syrian localities pre-1967 (Map 1.3) is another example of Jawlani counter-mapping of a settler colonial geography. As the Palestinians developed maps as a necessity only after Oslo and their nation-state-building endeavour, we argue that the Jawlanis embarked on an endeavour to mark their territorial dispossession and remaining presence through maps and mapping. Needless to say, in both cases, the lack of mapping does not imply a lack of knowledge of the land but rather the urgency of mapping as a result of settler colonial territorial and geographical transformation. Such cartographic representations, while exposing settler colonial elimination, rarely show how an indigenous Jawlani presence can remap itself onto the colonized landscapes of the Jawlan – to show, following Elspeth Iralu, how indigenous collectives can reclaim recognition, not on the terms of the settler colonial logic but in a remapping that privileges kinship and memory in the representation of their landscape. Remapping has to serve the futurity desired by the communities themselves based on justice and equality.
At a second level of critical reflection, indigenous activists and scholars have devised more subversive modes of mapping to deconstruct settler colonial geographies and reclaim those identities, place attachments and ecological relations erased or eroded by ethnic cleansing. These mapping projects seek to convey anthropological facets of the lived experience of a landscape rather than the abstract, objectifying gaze of a conventional state-centred cartography.
In her contribution in this volume, Jumanah Abbas shows some of the ways in which, counter to an Israeli cartography of spatial domination, there can be alternative visual representations of ordinary and insurgent Jawlani practices, including the mapping of memories. Jumanah draws from the extensive and rich experiences of Jawlanis, including their alternative educational practices to the ‘Druze curriculum’ imposed on their children. Counter-cartography can take multiple shapes and forms from oral history accounts to videos, murals, community events and actions with an objective of decolonizing cartography and spatial knowledge production. Can we produce a map that is situated in local knowledge, produced solely for collective purposes of documenting and narrating local histories and experiences and still deem it significant, relevant and useful to wider audiences? Figure 7.2 is an example of such a map, which moves to communicate a counter-cartography of Jawlani identity politics, both mixing Arabic and English and rightfully making demands on an Anglophone audience to make sense of visual iconography that may well be unfamiliar (e.g. ‘The March’ statue in Majdal Shams) – to have to learn more, with respect, to uncover the various layers of meaning that will be legible to a Jawlani audience.
Can we develop such emancipatory mapping, regardless of its legibility to outsiders and people less familiar with the Jawlan? Even at the risk of illegibility, the act of engaging with mapping, or unmapping indigenous spatialities, has in itself an emancipatory potential to challenge our perceptions on meanings and situated knowledges of indigenous existence in space, place and time. The Jawlan is a unique geographical formation that is rich in culture, political and social resistance embedded in quotidian daily acts of existing and persisting despite the ongoing settler colonial reality.
It also pushes us to go beyond mapping as geographically bounded and invites us to include experiences and stories of places, people and memories transcending those borders. Counter-mapping as an act of resistance is also carried out by those who were expelled from the geography of the Jawlan: for example, in Adam Shapiro’s compelling documentary, Al-Joulan: A Guarded Palace (2011), in which Rasha Elass, a Syrian journalist and a descendant of a displaced Jawlani, takes us on a journey of return to her father’s village of Jubatha al-Zeit. Can counter-mapping create inclusive narratives of homeland and belonging that serve not just the Jawlanis that remain but also the families of those that were forced to flee? We can only hint at the forms and practices of such collective imagining, which is anyway properly part of the self-determination by Jawlanis of their social and political futures. Our hope is that this volume at least provides a resource for understanding, and critically engaging with, settler colonial practices that, for far too long, have written the Jawlanis out of their own history and geography.