The Mobility and Use of Saints and Sanctuaries in Palestinian Historical, Folkloric and Political Narratives

By Marcela Garcia Probert
Submitted to Session P4515 (Between Folklore, Literature, and Politics: Circulation of Narratives in the Eastern Mediterranean, 2016 Annual Meeting
Rel Stds/Theo
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
From 1948 onwards, memories about saints in Palestine have deeply changed and acquired new shapes in relation to the political situation. The creation of the Israeli State, the establishment of new political boundaries, the different kinds of Israeli military control in the Palestinian territories and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, have all, impacted the mobility of pilgrims that carry out the visitations (ziyārāt) to tombs (maqābir) and memorials (maqāmāt). Many of the thousands of holy places that were visited by Palestinians prior to 1948 have been abandoned due to the impossibility of movement, demolished, or claimed and appropriated by non-Palestinian Jewish communities. The restrictions and threats that continuous Israeli land expansion pose in the West Bank have impacted in the way many sites have gained in importance as spaces of—and for—political mobilisation.
This paper will examine one such site, the maqām of Abū Laimūn in Bil’in. By exploring this phenomenon and its associated mechanics, this paper examines how the maqām's "recovery" in 2010, after a series of demonstrations, articulates the reformulation of the saint as an active participant against the occupation in stories that circulate among local inhabitants. Palestinian pilgrims combine their experiences with tear gas, military harassment, olive-tree burning, and unjustified arrests, with traditional-narrative elements such as the connection of Abū Laimūn with Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn al-Ayyubī, his own healing and protective power, and elements that highlight Abū Laimūn’s political involvement in the national struggle.
This paper offers new dimensions to the study of Palestinian ritual sites and expands our understanding of the "everyday" for Palestinians. It shows how the maqām of Abū Laimūn has acquired a role in the struggle against the occupation with the political dimension interplaying with individual and communal engagements in addition to folkloric, historical and political stories of the saint. These new stories play a role in the way believers engage with the saint and its associate sacred space, and how the saint becomes an agent for social and political activities organised by the Committees of Bil’in against the occupation.