Palestine as Archive

By Sherene Seikaly
Submitted to Session P4521 (Archival Practices, Violence, and Memory, 2016 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Thinking of Palestine as an archive is one way to reflect on the conditions that inform the political economy of knowledge and power. In this political economy, in the case of Palestine and far beyond, access to capital is profoundly differentiated. This capital, this power, often takes shape in a spectral form: the ghost of objectivity. Who gets to claim the vaunted category of the objective? What does it mean to be “biased”?

It is this political economy of objectivity, of who gets to teach, think, archive Palestine that is at the core of our present. It is not coincidental that every Israeli invasion or attack on Palestine and/or Palestinians since 1948 has targeted a Palestinian archive. The story of Khalil Sakakini’s daughters as they entered the Hebrew University library in Jerusalem just after 1967 to find their father’s books, with his handwriting on the margins organized neatly on a shelf, is one example of many. The Israeli targeting of Palestinian archives is a state of siege, the evidence should anyone still need it, of an ongoing settler colonial enterprise.

But the targeting and confiscation of archives work in multiple other ways. They constrain who has what academic freedom to tell which histories. The shards of the colonized archive in their locations in Israeli institutions and libraries are the very material conditions that determine who narrates the past, who writes history, and who gets to don the warm robes of objectivity. Banishing the ghosts of surveillance, objectivity, and prohibited speech requires a vigilant attention to the realities of settler colonialism in Palestine, not least of which are the material conditions (and impossibilities) of writing, teaching, and archiving history.

This paper ponders how the dispersion of a Palestinian archive, and its immersion in various Israeli and British archival spaces, works. While the process of dispersal and dispossession is a violent, the reality of decentralized archives can work to offer new questions. In addition, various collectives take shape to forge their own archival collections that can transcend institutional constraints. By analyzing how historical accumulation works and the multiple ways archives can take shape, I explore and questions experiences of national memory and commemoration.