Palestinian Organizing and the Academic Disconnect

By Jennifer Mogannam
Submitted to Session P4392 (Hey you, precarious worker: Are you afraid of BDS? Graduate students, untenured faculty, and the politics of political commitments, 2016 Annual Meeting
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The current repression of Palestine work in academia is reflective of a deeply entrenched love between the rapidly privatizing public university and US imperialism. Both academically and in regard to activism, Palestine is a severely repressed field. These institutions leave Palestinian students and scholars particularly vulnerable by promoting and even requiring normalization and hindering the scope of what academic freedom means. This is not disconnected from the state in which we currently live, a state deeply invested in repressing colonized communities of color and sustaining the “war on terror.” This in essence racializes certain bodies in particular ways and reprimands certain bodies that don’t conform to the status quo, literally destroying peoples’ livelihood. Disinvesting from the status quo and shifting what the university means requires structural challenging of what academic institutions and public space looks like. It also requires a reimagining of what social justice and transformative change means in this context.

This paper aims to offer commentary on the current state of academic activism on Palestine in relation to Palestinian grassroots organizing and Palestine research. It will offer historical context to the Palestinian struggle and various types of resistance as well as the materiality of the Palestinian condition and repression. By centering the pluralism of Palestinian experience ethnographically, as well as Palestinian aspirations historically, this paper aims to bridge gaps in the post-Oslo vacuum both academically and in activist/organizing spheres. In this regard, this paper aims to trace the relationship between Palestine research and Palestine organizing dialectically. This paper will argue that, while the current surge of academic activism on Palestine is important and groundbreaking, the reference point for this work is not sufficient. As an academic community, we need to do more to sufficiently engage with Palestinians who are mobilizing resistance in all its forms as well as their aspirations, both in Palestine and diasporically. I will draw on my experience as both a Palestinian scholar and community organizer to offer insight on how we can strengthen the connection between both realms. Ultimately, this paper will use a theoretical framework of decolonization and resistance to note the limitations of the current state of Palestine activism and will offer a framework of justice to move toward a more accountable activist current. Not only does this paper offer a lens for more justice-centered accountability, but it also aims to re-envision the structure of the university.