Apathy and the Politics of Resistance in Israel-Palestine

By Katherine Natanel
Submitted to Session Individual Submission, 2016 Annual Meeting
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
This paper considers the unexpected political effects of resistance as desired, imagined and pursued among Jewish Israelis who express opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. Based on twelve months of ethnographic research in among self-described ‘leftists’ in Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem, I argue that the embeddedness of resistance within multiple layers of power in part produces and maintains the very conditions targeted by these political actors.

Exploring a spectrum of actions taken and withheld, this paper contends that activism and apathy should not be understood as opposites, but rather as political practices that exist along a shared continuum. From ‘everyday resistance’ to mainstream political protests and radical activist initiatives, leftist Jewish Israelis indeed take action against practices of occupation, annexation and colonisation. However, individual narratives make visible how contestation obeys a range of limits constructed in correspondence with the values and aims of modern day Zionism. As such resistance produces surprising outcomes, from normalisation, to reverse resistance, to political passivity – which paradoxically function to secure domination.

Focusing on the gendered micro-politics of everyday life, this paper adds texture to ‘apathy’ as a theoretical concept and political practice. Rather than implying an absence or lack, in this context apathy emerges through patterns of investment, care and action, which result from a tense dialectic with resistance. Yet short of claiming that resistance always or ultimately reconstitutes power, this paper reveals how knowing embeddedness among leftist Jewish Israelis produces moments of both subversion and affirmation, with ambiguous political effect.