Unsettled Heterotopias? Israel’s New Social History
Israel’s social history has long been overshadowed by accounts focusingon the Israeli-Palestinian conflictand privileging the state and state-like actors.This is understandable, yet in recent years, this perspective is being challenged by a surge of fresh research in a range of disciplines –history, historical sociology, and historical anthropology. The four papers of the proposed section all focus on localities—kibbutzim, transit camps,and towns, Arab and Jewish. In all of them, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains essential for comprehending local alignments and conflicts; at the same time,they all engage with the complex local dynamics, each showing how history was shaped not only from an omnipresent state but through complex interactions between state authorities and a range of local actors, ‘from below’, from the margins andon the frontier. The late Baruch Kimmerling, one of Israel’s distinguished sociologists, described in Israel in his last major book as a society shaped by immigrants, settlers, and indigenous. Taken together, the papers of this session seek to exemplify how a social history of Israel,which takes all of them into account might look like.
The presentation will focus on how three Zionist Socialist kibbutzim in Marj Ibn ‘Amer/Plain of Esdraelon discussed the fate of their Palestinian neighbors and their properties during the war of 1948 and after. For several years before the 1948 war, the three kibbutzim in question had cultivated relationship with the Palestinian villages in their vicinity. Already during the war, as their inhabitants became refugees, members of the kibbutzim began deliberating the fate of their neighbors’ lands, their homes,and their moveable properties. Such discussions throw some light on the nature of the relationship, from the settlers’ side, as they were shapedon a local level. Through painstaking excavation of the local archives’minutes, the paper will underscore how the commitment to “socialism and the brotherhood of people” played a significant role in legitimizing the appropriation of the refugees’home(land). The talk would further conclude with a brief discussion of the memories of members of these kibbutzim thirty years later, during the 1970s and 1980s, when issues of memory and historical representation arose in Israel.
After 1948, Palestinians’ social, political, and economic structures were devastated. Under these circumstances, Palestinians who remained within the borders of the new Israeli state found themselves as a marginalized, defeated minority, without its political class, most of whom had become refugees. This paper explores the strategies and practices which these Palestinians undertookto rebuild a political structure within Israel under the military regime that was imposed on them in its early years.
Hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants found themselves in Israel’s first years in ma‘abarot (roughly translated as ‘transit camps’). Some ‘transit camps’ were indeed transitory tent compounds, but others became the nuclei of towns and poor neighborhoods. Some immigrants spent a few months in a ma‘abara;others left after decades. Theseexperiencesshaped notions of statehood and citizenship, entitlement and identity. The paper offersa few glimpses of the complex microhistory of one such camp, lying right next to the armistice line between Israel and the West Bank. At its peak, it was inhabited by some 6000 immigrants from Iraq. How did poor immigrants come to have a voice of their own? How did the proximity of the frontier affect their lives?
Most studies of the history of kibbutzim in Israel focus on their internal dynamics as “utopian” or “intentional” communities. It is essential, however, to discuss the political economy and historical trajectory of kibbutzim also in a socio-historical perspective, as collectivist agricultural settlercommunities embedded in, and to a significant extent shaped by, the enduring conflict. This paper offers a different view, looking at collectivist practices in terms of their function in promoting Jewish control of land in IsraelPalestine. Since collectivist practices contributed to the capacity of agricultural settlers to confront security threats and economic losses, the state allocated considerable political and economic resources to the kibbutzim and their national organizations in periods of rapid expansion. Communal arrangements and modes of sharing resources in kibbutzim, therefore,changed in tandem with the state’s settlement policies. This will be shown focusing on several turning points in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.