Middle East studies in the News
Academic Thesis Gone Wrong [on Nadia Abu El-Haj]
by Paula Sterns
When is a thesis not a book?
The answer is when professors like Nadia Abu El Haj produce a thesis to get a degree, and then twist and politicize it to push their political agenda. Following are several examples that demonstrate how Nadia Abu El Haj took a dissertation approved by the faculty of Duke University and transformed it into a highly polemical and unscholarly book.
See also, "Nadia Abu El Haj, The Thesis is not like the Book," http://www.solomonia.com/blog/archive/2007/09/nadia-abu-el-haj-the-thesis-is-not-like/
The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine stipulated that the territory would have three official languages, English, Arabic and Hebrew. The name was to be Palestine in English and Filastin in Arabic. This section deals with the debate over what the Hebrew name would be.
Thesis p. 83
‘Eretz-Israel' is the name by which Palestine is known to practically all Jews throughout the world whatever be their language; it means the ‘Land of Israel.' The official name of Palestine in Hebrew (will be) ‘Palestina' followed by the Hebrew letters ‘aleph' and ‘Yod' in brackets. These letters are the initial letters of the Hebrew words ‘Eretz Israel'…" (Government of Palestine)
The British were then not only respecting the rights and sensibilities of the Jewish people in this choice of names, but also the rights of the language itself. But, it was not an argument which was to fly on either count, or with either community. During the aforementioned debate, the High Commissioner heard the objections of representatives from both the Arab and Jewish communities of Palestine. Dr. Habib Salem, speaking on behalf of the Arab community, noted that there was "a general objection" on the part of many residents of Palestine to the use of the Hebrew letters following the word Palestina. Why refer to this land as the "Land of Israel" and not, for example, the "Land of Canaan" or the "Holy Land," he asked.
Book p. 82
As summed up in a memorandum prepared in 1937, by the Government of Palestine, regarding the Hebrew name for Palestine, Dr. Habib Salem, presented "a general objection on the part of many inhabitants against the use of the Hebrew letters ‘aleph' and ‘Yod' after the word ‘Palestina' in Hebrew on Palestinian stamps." He asked, why refer to the land as the "Land of Israel" and not, for example, the "Land of Canaan" or the "Holy Land." "If this land was called ‘Eretz Israel' over 2,000 years ago, it was also known as the land of Canaan and it is also known as the Holy Land. That choice of name was, in other words, arbitrary.
This section deals with Benjamin Mazar's excavations south of the Herodian wall of the Temple Mount, where remains of an Umayyad palace are preserved in an archaeological park.
Thesis pp. 231-2
The Omayyad Palace remains were not bulldozed through by the Mazar team. There are various interesting stories still circulating about this fact. First is a widely expressed concern over "who saved" the Omayyad palace complex. Several archaeologists I interviewed attribute this act of salvation to Meir Ben Dov – a far more "politically liberal" person than Mazar, they argued, it was because of his opposition that they were in fact not bulldozed. Second, the fact that they were not bulldozed is often used as proof that the archaeologists digging Jerusalem were/are first and foremost "professionals:" while interviewing Mazar, a second archaeologist in the room brought up the fact that Mazar had not bulldozed the Omayyad palaces. Mazar for his part intervened with a dismissive gesture of his hand, saying it was not even worth bringing up. The very fact, however, that there is even a debate over who saved the palaces or a concern with the fact as a sign of the professionalism of the archaeological teams, suggests the very deeply politicized context within which excavating , and saving, those palaces took place.
Book p. 153-5
Mazar's excavation on the slopes of the Haram al-Sharif precipitated far more political confrontation than did Avigad's. These conflicts were fueled by the fear that these archaeologists would quickly work their way down to those strata in which the Jewish (colonial-)national imagination is rooted. Given that they were digging in such close proximity to the city's most important Islamic site, many Palestinians )(professionals and lay people) worried that significant Islamic remains and sacred sites, those already standing and those buried within the land, were likely to be destroyed. Once this (originally) Umayyad period complex was unearthed, the apprehension only intensified. Such anxiety was based upon a widespread conception of Israeli archaeology within the Palestinian community as tending to systematically erase evidence of other (non-Jewish) pasts in the country's history in efforts to legitimize Jewish presence in this land. It was a fear exacerbated by specific acts of destruction that had taken place in Jerusalem's Old City since Israel's victory in the 1967 war. Bulldozers and excavations had already leveled several existing Islamic monuments, for example, the Afdali and Buraqmosques in the now demolished Maghariba Quarter, which had, until June 1967, abutted the Western Wall; and the destruction of the Fakhriyah Hospice and its adjoining moaque after its foundations were cracked during excavations (in the summer of 1967) that aimed to clear eighty-two meters of the Western Wall. Israeli archaeology was, from the perspective of many Palestinians, yet another act of conquest, which worked by creating facts on the ground through which the Israeli state would extend its presence within – and try to establish legitimate claim to – Jerusalem's Old City.
In the words of an archaeologist who had lived and worked in Jerusalem for a long time, those Old City excavations wee "definitely a Jewish secular culture dig. There was the problem of going down through the not very interesting stuff." While clearly they "left some Arab and Byzantine remains," he went on, those periods were "not very carefully excavated." One Israeli archaeologist (someone, it is worth noting, who would not identify himself as being on the Israeli left) confirmed this account, albeit his criticism was motivated by a distinctly different concern. The Mazar dig took place in that "borderline time between 1960's and 1970's." Thousands of volunteers, both foreign and Israeli, participated in them: "Their interest was not in archaeology but in the spiritual message of reunification of Jerusalem," in "the messianic meaning of the Six Day War." In this Israeli archaeologist's words, "It was one of the largest excavations and one of the worst" ; it was too large to "digest scientifically." It was too large to control: Somewhere in there are the complexes of the Palaces of Solomon," he insisted, "but they dug buildings with no sections and lost a lot of data that way."
Nevertheless, while certainly a Jewish secular national-cultural – and for others, a messianic – dig, particular Islamic remains were excavated, and they were not subsequently bulldozed through. How is one to account for this fact?
One series of accounts ascribes responsibility or blame to the two key (and often conflicting) personalities who ran the excavations themselves: Benjamin Mazar and Meir Ben-Dov (his assistant). Several Israeli archaeologists gave their (unsolicited) takes on who wanted to demolish the Umayyad period remains and who actually "saved" them. That act of salvation is most often attributed to Ben-Dov, a far more "politically liberal" person than Mazar. As one archaeologist said, Meir Ben-Dov was "the most liberal." Ben-Dov is "interested in Islamic archaeology." According to this archaeologist, Ben-Dov comes from one of the oldest settler families who came to the Galilee in the late nineteenth century. He speaks Arabic. His uncle fought in the underground against the Ottomans. As the archaeologist then pointed out, while Mazar wanted to remove the Umayyad remains to reach the Herodian and Judaic remains of the First Temple period, Ben-Dov saved them. In other words, this archaeologist understood archaeological work to be determined by broader social interests or individual political commitments. It was Ben-Dov's explicit liberal political commitments that determined the outcome of this dig. And, that liberal framework, guarded professional archaeologists against the dangers of nationalist zealotry.
According to one participant in those excavations, it was Yigael Yadin who wanted the Umayyad remains destroyed. Yadin had told this archaeologist that he did not want it to be known that these remainders were Islamic. "But, scientists shouldn't talk that way," the archaeologist insisted. "archaeology id full of politics – for Arabs and for Jews. But, stones are not an answer to politics." If one is working in archaeology, he argued, the question is simply "what happened? It's not about today." The domain of scientific inquiry is, in other words, distinct from that of political interests, the context of conquest and occupation that made these excavations possible – the question of colonialism – entirely eclipsed in this account.
Several other archaeologists I interviewed pointed to the very fact that the Umayyad remains were not bulldozed as proof that the archaeologists digging Jerusalem were, first and foremost, professionals. While interviewing Benjamin Mazar, a second archaeologist (also present in the room) brought up the fact that Mazar had not destroyed the Umayyad palace complex., as proof of his professionalism and objectivity. Mazar immediately intervened with a dismissive gesture of his hand, it was not even worth bringing up, he exhorted.
Final paragraph of the thesis
Because of its very importance as a cultural practice, the discourse of and arguments around archaeology in Israel have, in turn, become starting points from which one can analyze various aspects of and arguments over modern Jewish nationalism and Israeli national culture. As I have demonstrated in the second and fifth chapters, there is a particular understanding of the importance of "history" to "peoplehood" which has been reflected in and produced by the language and practice of archaeology from the time of the yishuv up to the present. Archaeology is important to the nation not only in order that the nation know the specifics of "its past," but also because of a more deeply held notion that a nation exists only in and through (its) History and a belief in and a commitment to it. Furthermore, the very fact that the right to control archaeological sites and finds has become a focus of conflict between "secular" and "religious" Jews in Israeli society illustrates the very perceived centrality of archaeology to the particular historicity of a secular, European, Jewish nationalism which came to define and to dominate modern Jewish/Israeli national culture in the time of the yishuv and which in many ways continues to dominate the society today. That historicity is perhaps best illustrated in the image and text of one Israeli tourist poster. It is a picture of an ancient urn, an archaeological relic, out of which there spouts a modern test tube filled with bright blue liquid. The caption above the image reads, in English: "Our future is where our past is." As depicted in this poster, the practice of Israeli archaeology embodies a particular "language" of nationhood and history, one with unearths the past in order to make the future. The practice of Israeli archaeology has been since its very inception, and remains until this day, a constitutive part of ongoing struggles for cultural hegemony and political power in Palestine and Israel.
Final paragraph of the book
While at one level archaeology was a colonial discipline practiced in the British Raj, colonial America, and Palestine/ Israel alike, it was not equally salient in each of these colonies. In the context of Israel and Palestine, archaeology emerged as a central scientific discipline because of the manner in which colonial settlement was configured in a language of, and a belief in, Jewish national return. In producing the material signs of national history that became visible and were witnessed across the contemporary landscape, archaeology repeatedly remade the colony into an ever-expanding national terrain. It substantiated the nation in history and produced Eretz Yisrael as the national home. It is within the context of that distinctive history of archaeological practice and settler nationhood that one can understand why it was that "thousands of Palestinians stormed the site" of Joseph's tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus, looting it and setting it alight in the fall of 2000 (Haaretz English Edition, 8 Oct. 2000). Joseph's tomb was not destroyed simply because of its status as a Jewish religious shrine. The symbolic resonance of it's destruction reaches far deeper than that. It needs to be understood in relation to a colonial-national history in which modern political rights have been substantiated in and expanded through the material signs of historic presence. In destroying the tomb, Palestinian demonstrators eradicated one "fact on the ground." Archaeology remains salient in this world of ongoing contestation. It is a sign of colonial presence and national rights, of secularism and science, as various groups in Palestine and Israel engage in struggles to (re)configure the Israeli state and polity and to determine its territorial limits.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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