Academic Freedom in the Era of Trump

By Sunaina Maira, author of Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine

This guest post is part of the ASA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Chicago, IL Nov. 9-12—and as part of blog series of contributions by authors in the new series American Studies Now.


Something unthinkable happened in the United States in the last few years: hundreds of academics, senior scholars, graduate students, and untenured faculty came forth in support of an academic boycott of Israel. Beginning in 2013, the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions expanded rapidly with one major academic association after another endorsing the boycott and adopting resolutions in solidarity with the Palestinian call for an academic boycott.

But this movement emerged several years after Palestinian academics, intellectuals, and activists called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel in 2004—and after years of military occupation, failed peace negotiations, ever-expanding and illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, ongoing home demolitions, the building of the Israeli Wall, repression, and military assaults. All of these events and the military occupation of Palestine itself have been endorsed, defended, and funded by Israel’s major global ally, the United States. The academic boycott and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement are thus embedded in a significant aspect of the U.S. political and historical relationship to the Middle East, and in a particular, cultural imaginary of Palestine, Palestinians, and Arabs in general, that has become an increasingly central concern of American studies.

I consider this progressive-left academic solidarity to be a potential expression of academic abolitionism. The notion of academic abolitionism is not focused on redeeming the U.S. academy—just as it is ultimately not focused on redemption for the U.S. imperial state—as much as it is ongoing beyond the liberal discourse of academic freedom to highlight other kinds of freedoms, and un-freedoms. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions that are complicit with occupation and apartheid is only one component of a larger politics of refusal grounded in academic abolitionism. An abolitionist view challenges the complicity of the U.S. academy with global militarism, carceral regimes, and settler colonial circuits of power, in which Israel is a key player.

Indeed, the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Trump’s victory spurred more vigorous and vocal progressive mobilization on campuses and in communities, with solidarity campaigns binding together movements against police violence and militarization, and for racial justice, immigrant rights and sanctuary, gender and sexual rights, indigenous sovereignty, environmental justice, and freedom in Palestine. The historic Women’s March in January 2017, which mobilized masses of people to come out in the streets against Trump after his inauguration, was called for by prominent feminist activists such as Angela Davis and Palestinian American Linda Sarsour, who have advocated for BDS as part of a feminist politics. The International Women’s Strike on March 8, 2017, explicitly included a call for “the decolonization of Palestine” in its platform, and for the dismantling of “all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.” These campaigns build on the solidarities that were created in previous years as the BDS movement made linkages with Black Lives Matter, the antiwar and prison abolition movement, labor unions, faith-based activists, and feminist and queer groups.

As “White supremacy” became a term permissible in discussions on major cable news networks about Trump and his alt-right followers, there were also growing conversations about Zionism, the ways it can become imbricated with anti-Semitism on the right, and the need to challenge racial supremacy and White privilege. Palestine has become central to all of these major contemporary debates and resistance movements. Omar Barghouti writes about the struggle for liberation, equality, and dignity waged through BDS:

The global BDS movement for Palestinian rights presents a progressive, antiracist, sophisticated, sustainable, moral, and effective form of nonviolent civil resistance. It has become one of the key political catalysts and moral anchors for a strengthened, reinvigorated international social movement capable of ending the law of the jungle and upholding in its stead the rule of law, reaffirming the rights of all humans to freedom, equality, and dignified living.

Our South Africa moment has finally arrived!

There really is no turning back.


Sunaina Maira is Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Boycott! is available now as an e-book, and forthcoming in print.


“Sumud”—The Will to Resist

By Gary Fields, author of Enclosure: Palestinian Landscapes in a Historical Mirror

“Sumud” (صمود‎‎) is an oft-used term in Palestinian Arabic meaning “steadfastness” and refers generally to the resistance of Palestinians to Israeli takeover and settlement of Palestinian land. This idea of resisting dispossession is a major theme in my recently-completed book, Enclosure and I decided to celebrate its publication by spending ten weeks in Palestine this past summer. Unlike previous research trips, however, where I documented stories of steadfastness, my time on this trip was taken up by studying Arabic intensively at Birzeit University and visiting informally with Palestinians who had conveyed their stories to me for my study. Among Palestinians I have come to know, Mona and Fayez T. from the village of Irtah near Tulkarem are two of the most heroic practitioners of sumud I have encountered.

I met Mona and Fayez in December, 2004 when I stayed with them for five days on my first research trip to Palestine. The couple told me of three major shocks to their farming operation. In the 1990s an Israeli waste and recycling firm, the Geshuri Company, which had been in violation of Israeli environmental laws, relocated its plant across the border to the Palestinian West Bank – immediately adjacent to the farm Mona and Fayez and created untold problems by polluting the area with untreated wastewater runoff. In 2002, the couple received a second shock when the state of Israel decided to build the Separation Wall – Fayez and Mona refer to it as the Apartheid Wall – right across the middle of their farm. As a result, the family lost half of its farmland and had only 30 dunums (roughly eight acres) remaining.

Harvesting zatar on the farm of Mona and Fayez in the shadow of the Wall. Photo by Gary Fields
Mona T. Cultivating beans. Photo by Gary Fields

The following year, the Israeli army along with two large bulldozers came to their farm one day and informed the couple that their land was now a closed military zone. Protected by armed soldiers, the bulldozers plowed up all of the crops planted at that time which Mona and Fayez estimated at $350,000. During the next ten years, this plowing up of the couple’s farmland occurred two more times. Such instances of land confiscation and crop destruction are central themes in Enclosure.

When I visited this summer, I saw many changes on the farm of Mona and Fayez. They have implemented an intensive program of water reclamation, energy conservation, and heirloom seed preservation in an effort to transition their land to organic farming. As a result, Mona and Fayez are now two of the most celebrated organic farmers in Palestine cultivating a wide variety of fruits, field vegetables, and nuts. They also regularly host groups of people from all over Europe and the Middle East who come to see how they are utilizing scarce resources while supplying local and regional markets with organic produce. In addition they are also the main supplier for some of the most well-known restaurants in Ramallah. At their house this summer over dinner, Fayez and Mona emphasized to me that cultivating crops was the most steadfast form of resistance to the Israeli occupation. “When we cultivate crops, we plant ourselves in our land,” they told me. “We will not be moved.”

Picking Molokhia. Photo by Gary Fields
Taking a break from picking and packing peppers. Photo by Gary Fields

Gary Fields is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego.

His new book Enclosure marshals bold new arguments about the nature of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. Fields examines the dispossession of Palestinians from their land—and Israel’s rationale for seizing control of Palestinian land—in the contexts of a broad historical analysis of power and space and of an enduring discourse about land improvement. This comparative framework also helps readers in the United States and the United Kingdom understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the context of their own histories.

Read a sample chapter.


On the Anniversary of the Six-Day War, Recommended Reading for Understanding the Occupation

Fifty years ago this week, the Six-Day War transformed the Middle East. Fought from June 5-10 in 1967 by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, the conflict lasted just six days, yet its impact endures today. For Palestinians, this year marks fifty years of military occupation. During the war, Israeli forces captured east Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories — the West Bank and Gaza — as well as the Golan Heights and Sinai. In observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War, we’ve selected a list of recommended titles for understanding the nature of the occupation, the reasons for its longevity, and its impact on Israeli and Palestinian lives, with the following deeply researched titles.


A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict by Gershon Shafir

“An indispensable guide for anyone who wants to understand the occupation that has blighted Israeli and Palestinian lives for fifty years.”Peter Beinart, author of The Crisis of Zionism

In these timely and provocative essays, Gershon Shafir asks three questions—What is the occupation, why has it lasted so long, and how has it transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? His cogent answers illuminate how we got here, what here is, and where we are likely to go. Shafir expertly demonstrates that at its fiftieth year, the occupation is riven with paradoxes, legal inconsistencies, and conflicting interests that weaken the occupiers’ hold and leave the occupation itself vulnerable to challenge.

This excerpt from the book, just published in Mondoweiss, asks the question: Why has the Occupation lasted this long?

Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom by Norman G. Finkelstein | available January 2018

“An exceptional, singular work that will stand as a vital contribution to the literature on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while also securing an essential place in the fields of international and human rights law.”—Sara Roy, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University

Norman G. Finkelstein presents a meticulously researched and devastating inquest into Israel’s actions of the last decade, arguing that although Israel justified its violent assaults in the name of self-defense, in fact these actions were cynical exercises of brutal power against an essentially defenseless civilian population. Based on hundreds of human rights reports, Gaza scrutinizes multifarious violations of international law Israel committed both during its operations and in the course of its decade-long siege of Gaza.

This week in Mondoweiss, Finkelstein discussed the history of the Six-Day War, its impact on U.S. Jewish life, and its mythology, saying, “It’s arguable that Israel became a different place after ’67. . .  If not a qualitative, then a quantitative transformation occurred in ’67.  Still, it’s perhaps not too late for Israel to repair some of the damage done to the indigenous population, and itself. Look at Germany and Japan.”

Enclosure: Palestinian Landscapes in a Historical Mirror by Gary Fields| available September 2017

“An original and eye-opening argument which places the dispossession of Palestinians by Israel within the age-old system of land enclosure—a broader and deeper logic typifying the political geography of modernity.”—Oren Yiftachel, Professor of Geography, Ben-Gurion University 

Enclosure marshals bold new and persuasive arguments about the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians. Revealing the Israel-Palestine landscape primarily as one of enclosure, geographer Gary Fields sheds fresh light on Israel’s actions. He places those actions in historical context in a broad analysis of power and landscapes across the modern world. Examining the process of land-grabbing in early modern England, colonial North America, and contemporary Palestine, Enclosure shows how patterns of exclusion and privatization have emerged across time and geography.

Israel’s Occupation by Neve Gordon

“A powerful and convincing structural framework for explaining Israel’s changing methods of rule in the Palestinian territories from 1967 and until today. This book will change the debate on Israel and its occupation.”Yinon Cohen, Columbia University

This first complete history of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip allows us to see beyond the smoke screen of politics in order to make sense of the dramatic changes that have developed on the ground over the past forty years. Looking at a wide range of topics, from control of water and electricity to health care and education as well as surveillance and torture, Neve Gordon’s panoramic account reveals a fundamental shift from a politics of life—when, for instance, Israel helped Palestinians plant more than six-hundred thousand trees in Gaza and provided farmers with improved varieties of seeds—to a macabre politics characterized by an increasing number of deaths.

Yesterday in The Nation, Gordon wrote about this shift from “a politics of life to a politics of death” which he covers in the book. He says: “To really understand Israel’s colonial project, it is crucial to examine the mechanisms of control.”

One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States edited by Mark LeVine and Mathias Mossberg

“A coterie of bold, open-minded international academics offers a fresh paradigm for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. . . . A visionary approach so daring that it could actually work.”Kirkus

One Land, Two States imagines a new vision for Israel and Palestine in a situation where the peace process has failed to deliver an end of conflict. “If the land cannot be shared by geographical division, and if a one-state solution remains unacceptable,” the book asks, “can the land be shared in some other way?”

Leading Palestinian and Israeli experts along with international diplomats and scholars answer this timely question by examining a scenario with two parallel state structures, both covering the whole territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, allowing for shared rather than competing claims of sovereignty.


Sustaining Conflict: Apathy and Domination in Israel-Palestine 
by Katherine Natanel

“In chapter after chapter, Natanel records the relentlessness of a kind of detachment that allows for Israelis to live a ‘normal’ life while only miles away from them a brutal apparatus of occupation attempts to pacify Palestinians.”Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics, University of London

Sustaining Conflict examines how the status quo is maintained in Israel-Palestine, even by the activities of Jewish Israelis who are working against the occupation of Palestinian territories. The book shows how hierarchies and fault lines in Israeli politics lead to fragmentation, and how even oppositional power becomes routine over time. Most importantly, the book exposes how the occupation is sustained through a carefully crafted system that allows sympathetic Israelis to “knowingly not know,” further disconnecting them from the plight of Palestinians.

Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel edited by Mark LeVine and Gershon Shafir

“This wonderful volume illuminates the human dimensions of the complex and often painful history of modern Palestine/Israel by exploring how [individual] experiences have been profoundly shaped by the recurrent struggles over this land.”Zachary Lockman, New York University.

With contributions from a leading cast of scholars across disciplines, the stories here are drawn from a variety of sources, from stories passed down through generations to family archives, interviews, and published memoirs. This wide-ranging and accessible volume of personal narratives brings a human dimension to a conflict-ridden history, emphasizing human agency, introducing marginal voices alongside more well-known ones, defying “typical” definitions of Israelis and Palestinians, and, ultimately, redefining how we understand both “struggle” and “survival” in a troubled region.


The Occupation’s Universe of Alternative Facts

By Gershon Shafir, author of A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict

This guest post is published in observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War, fought from June 5-10, 1967 by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. During this time, Israeli forces captured east Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories — the West Bank and Gaza — as well as the Golan Heights and Sinai. For Palestinians, this year marks fifty years of military occupation.

In A Half Century of Occupation, Gershon Shafir asks three questions—What is the occupation, why has it lasted so long, and how has it transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? His cogent answers illuminate how we got here, what here is, and where we are likely to go. 


In the last essay of this book’s three essays, I examine the ways in which a half century of occupation has transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this short blog post I can only ask one big question: Is Israeli colonization irreversible? Has the implan­tation of Israeli settlers closed off the possibility of the territorial partition of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, so that, as many now believe, the crea­tion of one state for both Israelis and Palestinians has become the only non­violent alternative to continued conflict?

Mine is not a philosophical discussion of the merits and demerits of these political outcomes, but rather a much more modestly conceived feasibility study from the perspective of the social sciences. (In the rest of the essay I also evaluate the feasibility of shared state in either its binational or civic, that is, one-person-one vote, versions.)

When the Likud government put forth the Drobless Plan in 1981, it projected that by 2010, 1.3 million Jews would live alongside 1.8 million Arabs in the West Bank. In fact, in mid-2016 (according to the Civilian Administration), among the close to three million West Bank Palestinians 405,158 Jewish settlers resided in 126 settlements, making up 13.8 percent of the region’s population. Palestinians, in short, still maintain a crushing demographic dominance.

Continue reading “The Occupation’s Universe of Alternative Facts”


On Jerusalem: A Special Virtual Issue from the Journal of Palestine Studies

Few places in the world are enmeshed in as much tension and debate as Jerusalem: as a historical site, a symbol of national identity, and a modern city. It has been destroyed, besieged, attacked, built, and re-built many times over its long history. With the city’s complex status remaining central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Journal of Palestine Studies presents its Special Virtual Issue: On Jerusalem, a collection of curated articles and essays on the city’s historical transformation and the contemporary context in which East Jerusalemites are living.

READ THE SPECIAL VIRTUAL ISSUE

IncluSpecial Virtual Issue Cover - Jerusalem copy-1ding some introductory material by Rashid Khalidi (Editor, Journal of Palestine Studies) and Khelil Bouarrouj (Online Content Editor, Institute for Palestine Studies), this Virtual Issue features a dossier on Jerusalem, a triptych of essays penned by prominent Palestinian and Israeli Jerusalemites who analyze the impact of the latest wave of violence and heightened repression on the city’s Palestinian residents. The Virtual Issue also showcases seven pieces from the Journal’s archive that serve both as context and complement to the dossier and provide a comprehensive look at Jerusalem’s recent history. Lastly, we round out this Virtual Issue with documents from our primary Documents and Source Material archive specifically related to the status of Jerusalem.

The Virtual Issue is available free in its entirety for one month. Don’t miss the latest from the Journal of Palestine Studies: visit jps.ucpress.edu to become a subscriber or to sign up for the Institute for Palestine Studies’ free newsletter.