28 February 2019

Palestine and Rule of Power: Local Dissent vs. International Governance

A new volume published by Palgrave Macmillan addresses issues of resistance, steadfastness and mobilisation against settler colonialism and repression in Palestine. Alaa Tartir, affiliated with the Graduate Institute’s Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP) and Department of Anthropology and Sociology of Development, tells us more about Palestine and Rule of Power: Local Dissent vs. International Governance, which he co-edited with Timothy Seidel, Assistant Professor at Eastern Mennonite University, USA.

Your book considers expressions of the rule of power in two particular ways: settler colonialism and neoliberalism. Why did you choose this approach? And what is the relationship between the two?

Settler colonialism and neoliberalism speak to the realities on the ground that we see in occupied Palestine. On the one hand, power is expressed through the Israeli settler colonial present in Palestine, which is inherently eliminatory, violent and territorial. On the other hand, neoliberalism depoliticises the situation in Palestine in a way that obscures past and ongoing settler colonialism (as well as the resistance to it), allowing it to continue as if it is not really there because it has been depoliticised. In addition, (neo)liberal peace has always been made possible because of the violence and dispossession of colonialism.

Thus, what we observe in Palestine are a neoliberal logic, agenda and order with depoliticising effects, and varieties of resistance and local dissent with repoliticising effects. By excavating the claims of neoliberal institution-building and settler colonialism, the chapters in this book engage in acts of repoliticisation, revealing these agendas and institutions as very much contested issues subject to debate. This discussion leads us to interrogate international governance, liberal peacebuilding and development, the claim to politics, and the notion and practice of resistance, and this interrogation has an impact on our observations of the kind of local dissent that is occurring in Palestine.

Is Palestinian resistance weakening or strengthening? And is it changing?

James Baldwin once said, “nothing can be changed until it is faced”, and the Palestinian people know well that they have no choice but to continue their struggle to dismantle apartheid, decolonise, reject oppression and resist authoritarianism. Yet the journey to freedom is long and cumbersome, and this is why the expressions, intensity and endurance of Palestinian resistance vary and shift over the decades. In our book, resistance is seen as a way of living and being, under colonialism and apartheid, and it can be expressed through active mobilisation on the ground, through steadfastness and sumud strategies, through localised everyday resistance and resilience, even through claiming narrative, and much more. Resistance, in its broad meaning as a way of living and being, necessitates that it adopt different strategies and tactics that correspond to the different political realities and dynamisms of the struggle for human rights.

The volume shows that sustained daily forms of resistance that are locally embedded, supported by bottom-up leadership models and legitimised through their people-centric focus do strengthen and become more visible when the rule of power – especially when it is expressed violently – intensifies. The book also shows how the colonial rule, the problematic external intervention and the flawed process of state-building jointly aim to silence and even criminalise resistance under the pretext of security, good governance and peacebuilding.

What conclusions does the book draw from this study of “local dissent vs. international governance?

The book offers three main conclusions. First, settler colonialism and structures of apartheid will always be resisted and confronted, until they are dismantled. This resistance may take different shapes and forms since acts of mobilisation and expressions of contentious politics vary according to the different circumstances of Palestinian realities, but its presence is the constant element that faces the multiple expressions of the rule of power.

Second, the fundamentally flawed system of international aid and the problematic external intervention in Palestine over the last twenty-five years have entrenched and deepened the problems and solidified the existing structures of power; they have therefore become part and parcel of the detrimental status quo. Thus, reforming and reinventing the international aid system and ensuring effective and legitimate accountability mechanisms for external interventions could become part of the solution.

Third, securitisation will lead to further securitisation and will only strengthen the frameworks and modalities adopted by the colonial power. When the colonised engage in an externally sponsored process of state-building that is largely driven by a security agenda, this process mainly translates into further repression and authoritarian transformations within the overall context of the Israeli colonial rule. This in turn means that imbalances of power between the colonised and coloniser, which need to be tackled for any future meaningful peace, are left unaddressed and that resistance becomes the natural reaction to injustice and oppression.

Full citation of the volume:
Tartir, Alaa, and Timothy Seidel, eds. Palestine and Rule of Power: Local Dissent vs. International Governance. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

Interview by Marc Galvin, Research Office.
Front illustration by Jacob_09 /Shutterstock.com.