Twilight Nationalism
Politics of Existence at Life's End
Daniel Monterescu and Haim Hazan



Toward Twilight Nationalism

“Me or him”—
That’s how the war begins. But it
Ends in an awkward encounter:
“Me and him.”

Mahmoud Darwish, “State of Siege”


Performing Identity: Narratives of Disenchantment

Since the 1990s, Gabi ‘Abed, social worker, amateur dramatist, and Jaffa Arab activist, has been staging a one-man show: the story of an elderly Palestinian called Samed ‘abd al-Baqi al-Maslub (literally, “the crucified who remains steadfast”).1 The old man is dressed in a traditional Arab robe, with his head covered by a large skullcap and his chest bearing a wooden cross. He waves a stout walking stick as he addresses the audience: “Once we were landlords, and now we are no more than protected tenants.” The personal testimony he shares with the audience in both Hebrew and Arabic offers a glimpse into the tragic annals of the entire Palestinian community.

I remember that in 1948 our peace of mind vanished all at once. There was shooting and bombing all around us. . . . They began to scare people; they gave out pictures of rape, of murder, of blood. Mayhem broke out; people didn’t know what to do. . . . They wanted to escape and didn’t know where. The Arab leaders came [laughs sardonically]—Arab leaders, my foot! They told the people, “Brothers, fear not. These are only a handful of Jewish gangs. We shall eliminate them. Leave Jaffa, only for a fortnight, no longer.” The people trusted them; they were naïve. They abandoned everything . . . and took the key with them [laughs bitterly]. They keep the keys to this day . . . and fifty-five years have now passed and they still hope to return.2

Dwelling on the past glory of Jaffa, ‘Abed’s character binds past and present together as he proceeds to lament:

Jaffa, Yafa, was Palestine’s cultural, political, and commercial center. Is there anyone who doesn’t know the Jaffa port? They used to call Jaffa umm al-gharib, which means “Mother of the Stranger,” because foreigners of all places and religions would come there to work. When the Jews came [in 1948], they made us share houses with them. We lived together, but the Jaffa of old is no more. When Jaffa was built up, they called her ‘arus al-bahr, “Bride of the Sea.” She really was very beautiful. Not as you see her today, but nonetheless, she remains enchanting.

The street actor personifies the ethos of Palestinian Jaffa’s collective memory, portraying its people as the innocent victims of the perfidious Arab elites, Jewish violence and cunning, and historical and economic forces that they could not control. Palestinian Jaffa of the dramatic ethos is an earthly paradise, the Fertile Crescent’s crown jewel. But no more. This mythical, romantic, utopian Bride of the Sea is inaccessible to the young audience, who are fed only secondhand reports and rumors. ‘Abed, the old witness, offers a momentary glimpse into the memory zone that is Jaffa, at once close at hand and illusive.

The choice of an old man is of course no coincidence. The Palestinian elder is traditionally considered an agent and a guardian of memory capable of providing a firsthand testimonial. The old man appears as the ultimate victim, yet he is also Samed—a survivor who clings to his town and heritage. To this cultural bedrock, ‘Abed adds a further layer of Christian iconography, portraying the elderly witness as the bearer of the collective cross.3 Sumud, or “persistence,” however, is hard to live by. As a principle of steadfast communal survival, it paradoxically evokes “fortitude in the occupied and frailty in the occupier . . . a tragic sensibility that claims an ethical form of power (and freedom) through powerlessness.”4 This tragic irony could account for the popularity of ‘Abed’s play in Palestinian communities in Israel, Palestine, and beyond. The power of the play thus derives from the shadow that memory casts over the hardships of the mundane. The momentary solace and acute identification it offers to its audience accentuates the gulf between the dreamt-of and the lived-in, thereby safeguarding Palestinian national memory. However, in a city marked by the copresence of the political Other, how can the lived experience of Palestinian Jaffa residents be reconciled with that transcendental image? How does one cope with such irreconcilable tension between the memory of past life and the exigencies of everyday living, between myth and reality?

The binational city forges a shared arena of interaction, communication, and conflict far removed from the ideals of what Edward Said dubbed “the myths of imagination.”5 The following vignette invites the reader to get acquainted with such an encounter. Safiyya Dabbah and Hanna Swissa, two elderly neighbors living in the Jaffa C (Yafo Gimel) neighborhood, meet daily over breakfast. Safiyya, a Muslim woman in her 90s, was widowed thirty years ago and today lives on her own in a dilapidated shanty only a few steps from the apartment building where Hanna lives. Hanna is a Jewish Moroccan woman in her 70s who has been widowed for twenty years. Despite the class differences between Safiyya and Hanna, which are metaphorically embodied in the buildings they inhabit—a ramshackle hut on the one hand and a tidy apartment building on the other—the two elderly women have found a common ground that they use to nourish their symbiotic friendship. Aside from living in geographic and functional proximity to each other, both women came from strict patriarchal families (Safiyya’s husband used to forbid her to leave the house, and Hanna’s husband was jealous and violent), and both gained considerable personal freedom after their husbands’ deaths; both speak Arabic and share a common cultural background; and both are going through the experience of aging. Although Hanna, aided by her welfare-funded housekeeper, shows concern for Safiyya, whose means are more limited, by supplying the food for their daily rendezvous, Safiyya keeps Hanna company and makes this pleasant morning routine possible.

The political and social reality in Jaffa that brought Safiyya and Hanna together constitutes an unexpected “contact zone” of contrived coexistence,6 a social medium that both separates and relates the city’s Jewish and Arab inhabitants. In this book we focus on this ambivalent encounter between strangers through the analysis of life stories recorded by twelve of Jaffa’s elderly residents—Arab and Jewish, male and female, rich and poor. Between the dreamt-of vision that Gabi ‘Abed projects and the lived-in pragmatism that binds Safiyya Dabbah to Hanna Swissa is a space of friendship and alienation in the shadow of nationalism.

In the agonistic landscape of Palestine/Israel, no place has been more continuously inflected by the tension between intimate proximity and visceral violence than binational milieus, such as the city of Jaffa. The dangerous liaisons of urban cohabitation between Jews and Palestinians set the scene for a personal and political encounter that allows individuals to challenge dominant notions of nationalism.

Against the backdrop of a century-long conflict between the Jewish and the Palestinian national movements, the everyday experience of lived space and neighborly relations in the politically and culturally contested urban setting of ethnically mixed cities reenacts both connectivity and hostility.7 Although most scholars conceptualize both Palestinian and Jewish national collective identities as separate and antagonistic projects—indeed as independent ideologies of autochthony defined only by the negation and exclusion of the other—we throw into relief instead the relations of mutual determination between these communities, relations that are often rendered invisible in nationalism studies.8 Even though the notions of nation and person in Israel/Palestine have been reduced to collective narratives of conflict, revenge, survival, and redemption, we propose to view the political through the personal to reveal the correlation between life trajectories and the construction of cultural identities.

The protagonists of this ethnography unravel the violence of coexistence by reflecting on a century of life in Jaffa. From their perspective of generational marginality, they radically grapple with notions of both Palestinian and Jewish nationalism. Individual figures rather than abstract sociological categories voice personal strategies of engagement with nation, narration, age, and ethnic violence. Echoing the medieval adage “City air makes free,” Jews and Palestinians slip through the shackles of hegemonic memory and find ways to liberate themselves from the tyranny of territorial nationalism. The stories they tell about themselves reveal a perspective that has often been silenced by both Jews and Palestinians. The narrators thus operate as allegorical types along an itinerary of dissipating frames of hegemonic national identities. Thematically, they bear the scars of a deep sense of betrayal by political leaders, the local community, the state, and the grand narratives they represent.

Jaffa as a Binational City

As Palestine’s major port, pre-1948 Jaffa was a cosmopolitan Arab metropolis.9 It was also the gateway through which Zionist settlers entered the country.10 In fact, until the early 1920s Jaffa was the capital of the Zionist national community and, at the same time, a symbol of the birth of Palestinian modernity. In 1909 Jaffa begat Tel Aviv, and in 1948—like the sorcerer’s apprentice—this Jewish suburb of Jaffa turned its ancient mother city into the dilapidated “District 7,” with no independent municipal status to speak of. After a period of martial law, during which the Palestinian residents were confined to a ghetto (in ‘Ajami), in 1950 Jaffa was annexed to Tel Aviv, transforming its Arab community into a national minority in a Jewish city. Out of a pre-1948 population of 70,000 Arabs, only 3,900 remained. Because of the calamity that befell the Palestinians in the wake of the 1948 war—commonly coined the Nakba (catastrophe)—Arab Jaffa lost its entire intellectual elite, middle class, and political leadership. Tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants quickly poured into the emptied city, but soon enough the more prosperous of them left Jaffa, which remained home to a working-class population with a 30 percent Arab minority. Nowadays Jaffa is home to a heterogeneous population from various backgrounds and social classes: a Palestinian community numbering 20,000; a Jewish population of 40,000 that includes a growing number of wealthy gentrifiers; and hundreds of migrant laborers and Palestinian collaborators who have been relocated from the Occupied Territories for security reasons. The ambivalence and complexity associated with Jaffa and its residents ever since its annexation to Tel Aviv gave rise to numerous political and sociocultural dilemmas, which we address in this book.

The relationship between Zionist settlers and the Arab indigenous population was already charged under late Ottoman rule (1517–1917) and even more so during the colonial British rule (1917–1948).11 The early twentieth century was a time of land purchases, dispossession of peasant populations, and struggles over territory, but it was also a time of cooperation in business ventures, class-based coalitions, mixed residential areas, and municipal partnerships.12 Before 1948 Tel Aviv and Jaffa were major foci for the molding of the Zionist and Palestinian national collectives, which evolved alongside each other in a series of intertwined processes.13 Despite emanating from blatantly unequal starting points, the national and local identities shaped one another through relationships of contradiction, confrontation, and mimicry.14

Jaffa’s history has produced a fragmentary geographic and social space, creating Jewish spaces within Arab places and Palestinian spaces within Israeli ones. Unlike nationally homogeneous cities such as Bat Yam or divided cities such as Jerusalem, Jaffa’s social boundaries (between Arabs and Jews and between rich and poor) are not commensurate with its spatial boundaries (between neighborhoods). The city’s demographic structure is a product of the haphazard events and the consequences of the 1948 war. The mixed city with its Arab minority remained an underplanned and incomplete spatial fact. Lacking any clear social center, each interest group in Jaffa crystallized its own ideology and political outlook around local issues and particular identities, without explicitly addressing the sociopolitical whole.

In public discourse it is hardly surprising that the term mixed city triggers resistance and intense emotions. It is both intriguing and enticing, for it holds promise and contention alike. Some scholars and activists reject the notion of urban mix, because they view urban space as predominantly divided along lines of various politics of identity.15 The term mixed city is nevertheless used by both Jews and Arabs, conservative and critical residents, activists, NGOs, and state institutions.

Three main sociological groups can be currently identified in Jaffa: the Palestinian community; the (relatively) long-standing Jewish population; and the growing group of new Jewish residents, the outcome of a rapid gentrification process that began in the 1990s. Each group promotes a political-cultural project of localism as it attempts to justify its claims in relation to the other groups and in relation to municipal and state authorities.

Jaffa’s Palestinians: Identity Bereft of Community

The communal organizing principle of Jaffa’s Palestinian residents crystallized out of a profound sense of discrimination and a demand for equality combined with a reformulation of an indigenous Palestinian identity. This identity framework has proved to be stronger than the sectarian and political schisms between Muslims and Christians or between religious and secular groups. Indeed, even the many Palestinians who migrated to Jaffa from other parts of the country after 1948 frequently perceive and present themselves as Jaffaites (abna’ al-balad), and their descendants tend to remain in the city. Their absorption is both economically and culturally feasible because the city offers opportunities that are lacking in Arab villages and because Jaffa’s image is one of an open city.

In Palestinian discourse, Jaffa, the Mother of the Stranger, is an urban hub for labor migrants and travelers from all over the region.16 This ideology of indigenous belonging is imbued with a nostalgic taint of a glorious past. Notwithstanding a deeply divided social and political structure, this discourse of belonging allows the Arab minority to present a united front of social solidarity. A Jaffa Palestinian intellectual summed it up as follows: “Jaffa is an identity bereft of a community.”

Three key terms constitute Jaffa’s Palestinian image: Bride of the Sea (‘arus al-bahar), which locates it in a Mediterranean setting; Bride of Palestine (‘arus falastin), which links Jaffa to the national liberation movement; and Mother of the Stranger (umm al-gharib), which portrays Jaffa as a vibrant urban center that welcomes every foreigner. In 1948, however, the Nakba deprived Palestinian Jaffa of its urban centrality. Following this colossal trauma, the meaning of umm al-gharib was turned upside down, such that it now signifies Jaffa’s plight and alienation within Israeli space and state; Jaffa’s Palestinian population is unable to prevent armed collaborators from entering or to halt the process of gentrification (read “Judaization”). An elderly Jaffaite remarked, “Jaffa is the Mother of the Stranger. . . . It welcomes him [the Jewish stranger] and feeds him, while it neglects its own sons and leaves them to starve.”17

In local Palestinian discourse Jaffa is perceived as a peripheral space; it is excluded from Jewish centers of power, from the Palestinian national project in the Occupied Territories, and from the decision-making circles of the Palestinian minority in Israel.18 To the Arab residents this pronounced marginality is apparent in their status on the national level as second-class citizens and at the municipal level as an urban ethnic minority. Hence the concept of “double minority” is widely used by the city’s political activists to describe their predicament.

The Long-Standing Jewish Community: Dismembered Identity, Remembered Community

Jaffa’s longtime Jewish residents arrived in the city as it was licking the wounds of the Nakba. In the 1949 Jaffa Guide issued for this immigrant population, the postwar city is likened to an “empty shell” that needs to be filled with substance.

Massive immigration (‘aliyah) brought about the creation in Jaffa of a Jewish settlement (yishuv) of 50,000 or more—the largest urban community created by the current ingathering of the exiles. This new-old Jewish city is like a sealed book—not only for most Israelis living elsewhere but also for those living nearby. Jaffa has already become an Israeli city but not yet a Hebrew city. . . . This is not the normal process of building a new city. Here, the empty shells—the houses themselves—were ready-made. What was left to be done was to breathe life into this ghost town. . . . Materially and externally, Hebrew Jaffa is nothing but the heritage of Arab Jaffa prior to May 1948.19

The Jewish immigrants succeeded in establishing a vibrant community of petty traders and artisans, even though they were subjected to harsh material conditions and came from a position of inferiority in relation to Tel Aviv, whose leaders were reluctant to annex Jaffa. And they maintained utilitarian neighborly relations with the remaining Arabs. At the height of its prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s, the Jewish community numbered 40,000 inhabitants. The largest and most prosperous ethnic group was the Bulgarian community, to such an extent that Jaffa was nicknamed Little Bulgaria.20 Yet because the Jewish residents enjoyed social and spatial mobility, beginning in the 1960s Jaffa gradually became a transit city, a stop on the way to new housing projects in neighboring towns. Most second- and third-generation residents did not remain in Jaffa. This led to the gradual disintegration of Jewish community life and a perceived loss of control in relation to growing Palestinian influence. An aged Bulgarian resident thus expressed her frustration: “Jaffa was once a Bulgarian city, but what the Jews took by force, the Arabs now take by money.”

Apart from their self-definition in relation to the Arab inhabitants, the Jewish immigrants also differentiate themselves in terms of social class and ethnicity from the prosperous and mainly Ashkenazic Jews who began moving into Jaffa in the 1990s. These gentrifiers are seen as “north-siders” (tzfonim), that is, representatives of the alienated upper class from northern Tel Aviv.21

The New Jewish Residents: A Community in Search of Identity

Largely made up of bourgeois bohemians, the new Jewish resident population segment is politically driven by a liberal ideology of coexistence and, at the urban level, by romantic nostalgia for authentic Mediterranean neighborliness. Many of these newcomers are artists and professionals, and they stand out in the Jaffa landscape in terms of their Ashkenazic origin, higher class status, and hipster lifestyle. They are well organized as a social community and interest group, with significant clout in town hall, but they are engaged in a complex quest for a local identity that would merge the Tel Aviv bourgeoisie with the alleged authenticity of Jaffa.

In this book we enlist the testimonies of the Palestinian and long-standing Jewish groups; they are the products of the post-1948 jointly generated urban space. Our principal line of inquiry focuses on the subjects’ attitudes toward community, city, nation, and state, in particular, their ambivalence toward the space in which they live. As a sociological perspective on alterity, Jaffa enables us to articulate the dilemmas generated by life in the mixed city in dialectical terms of belonging and alienation without reducing Jaffa to the stereotypes of a colonial city or a liberal space of (wishful) coexistence.

The tribulations of diversity and adversity in Jaffa paradoxically facilitate the emergence of a nascent form of a social world where steadfast categories of nationhood, community, gender, and age are revisited and reshuffled. This communicative experience renders the mixed city an enabling milieu for alternative imagined and actual communities.

Jaffa is a city of strangers, for good or ill. Its unique profile is predicated on the mitigating effect of cultural and functional proximity between rival social types and disparate trajectories. Ordinary citizens, under conditions of contrived coexistence and enabled by the pragmatics of utilitarian transactions with the state and their neighbors, rewrite their place in the national order of things and reformulate hegemonic scripts of nationalist subjectivity. From this relational perspective, the mixed urban space can be seen as an enabling environment that produces social dispositions and cultural imaginaries that would otherwise be impossible in mononational cities or villages by virtue of ethnic monitoring and spatial segregation.

Methodological Nationalism Revisited

Much of nationalism studies is trapped in a vicious circle that condemns its scholars to uncritically reproduce their own categories of analysis. This self-sustaining perspective, often dubbed methodological nationalism, replicates the logic of normative nationalism, thus rendering the concept of collective identity infertile and defunct.22 Methodological nationalism notoriously privileges primordial consciousness over the dynamic of situations and interactions. By default, it obfuscates practices and ideas that defy the hegemonic homogeneity of the imagined community. More than a choice of unit of analysis, methodological nationalism dovetails a predisposition that regards all nonnational things as marginal and epiphenomenal. For ethnographers of nationalism it is the foremost risk of anachronism, essentialism, and reification.

The historiography of relations between Jews and Arabs in Palestine provides a clear example of methodological nationalism. The functionalist school founded by S. N. Eisenstadt portrays Jews and Arabs according to the dual society model; the Jewish and Palestinian societies are presented as two disparate entities and as separate movements that have failed to maintain reciprocal relations.23 Relational historian Zachary Lockman blames this paradigm for a fundamental misconception.

The Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine are represented as primordial, self-contained, and largely monolithic entities. By extension communal identities are regarded as natural rather than as constructed. . . . This approach has rendered their mutually constitutive impact virtually invisible, tended to downplay intracommunal divisions, and focused attention on episodes of violent conflict, implicitly assumed to be the sole normal or even possible form of interaction.24

Methodological nationalism shackles social agents to preset binary historical roles, thereby dismissing any pattern that fails to conform to the nationalist logic that generates them. A similar bias informs both Palestinian and Jewish critics,25 whose writings presuppose a perfect correspondence between the collective narrative and the personal story and between the national and the local spheres. According to this perspective, social relationships are dictated by a single cultural axiom that postulates a primary nationalist bedrock from which both politics and lived experiences sprout.

Because methodological nationalism equates societies in general with nation-state societies and views states and their national ideologies as the cornerstones of social-scientific analysis, the concept has become the ruling paradigm in urban studies as well. This methodological stance is a deep-rooted epistemological position that cuts across the spectrum of both Palestinian and Israeli political viewpoints and operates by fixating social agents as independent oppositional actors (settlers versus natives, colonizers versus colonized). Under its spell, urban scholars have conceptualized social relations and cityscapes in mixed towns in dualistic terms, namely, as historical anomalies or as segregated ghettos.26

The standard narrative of this approach is premised on a functionalist convergence of variables, which results in systemic geopolitical effects. Thus, for neoconservative geographer Arnon Soffer, Israel’s wealth, combined with structural demographic disadvantages in relation to the growing Palestinian population, will eventually result in Israel’s annihilation unless drastic measures are taken to ensure a Jewish majority and to “decrease” (read “transfer”) the Palestinian population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.27 Conversely, the critical theory of ethnocracy postulates a systemic effort by the Israeli state toward ethnic discrimination, domination, and subordination of its Palestinian citizens, and this effort hinges on the territorial segregation of the two populations.28 By conceptualizing nationalism as a top-down and state-centric process, both theories turn a blind eye to the unresolved tensions among the constitutive elements of the urban sociospatial order (ethnonationalism, capitalist logic, and modern governance) and to the quotidian relations between majority and minority groups in Israel.

Methodological nationalism, however, is not merely a distinct scholarly position. It transcends disciplinary boundaries and encompasses the whole gamut of the culture of memory regarding the historical antecedents of communal identity. The agents of the new politics of memory generally justify their methodological nationalism and its ensuing strategic essentialism29 by asserting that a remedial measure is called for to enable the Palestinians to make their voice heard and thus sustain a sense of identity in the face of the dominant, oppressive Zionist narrative.30 Thus, despite the intention to reach postnational reconciliation, criticism of Jewish nationalism freezes alternative memory as an antithesis of Zionism and maintains the nationalist discourse it seeks to undermine. Indeed, despite being couched in postcolonial terms, promoting the new discourse reproduces the old politics of memory. This nationalist gaze on mixed cities turns neighbors living cheek by jowl into people who are culturally and politically alienated foes. Jews and Arabs are constructed as ultimate Others, too distant to share the same symbolic space of trust, interests, and values. The common space is torn apart by two distinct timelines; in one, the Palestinian is tossed out of history and unwillingly drawn into a national myth, whereas in the other, the Zionist takes up a position within a hegemonic history that is conducting a convoluted dialogue with its foundational myths.

Indeed, there can be no national movement or resistance to nationalism without a collective memory, and there can be no collective memory without a unifying narrative. Thus, throughout the evolution of both the Zionist and the Palestinian national movements, stories have been assiduously crafted about the historical bonds between the people and the land that justify the mutually exclusive existence of these movements. These self-contained, metonymic links are inherent to the project of modern nationalism. They rest on symbolic violence that represents an unyielding attempt to establish an identity and a history within territorial boundaries while stressing “the impossible unity of the nation as a symbolic force.”31 Elites use the modernist linear narrative to carve out a story of origin, which, as Homi Bhabha maintains, should be exposed as a compulsive project destined to fail because of its inherent ambivalence. This instability emerges from a growing awareness that, “despite the certainty with which historians speak of the ‘origins’ of nation as a sign of the ‘modernity’ of society, the cultural temporality of the nation inscribes a much more transitional social reality.”32

How, then, do everyday social situations throw this ambivalence of nationalism into greater relief? We grapple with this key question in this book. The perspective of subaltern studies offers a useful critique of nationalism as a product of bourgeois-patriarchal metanarratives that trickle down from power centers to imagined publics and personal demeanor.33 In stark contradiction, the stories presented in this book spring from below, from the everyday lives of real people, namely, the residents who maintain a troubled relationship with the imagined communities to which they are assumed to belong. Personal narratives are entrenched in the local context of each storyteller within the broader nationalism-saturated environment. All the narrators have managed to free themselves of nationalism’s tethers to some extent, each in their own way but not always to their advantage. How, then, does the notion of nationalism operate in tales of everyday life and in different social contexts? The circumstances under which the personal story of life in Jaffa contends with hegemonic representations of identity unravel a bargain with nationalism, which either affirms or renounces it.34 Can the “awkward encounter” between the foes whom Mahmoud Darwish writes about generate a novel insight into the understanding of nationalism?

Evolving modes of nationalism display an autobiographical drama that reveals the intricate and fraught relationships between the personal and the political. In the process the individual voice liberates itself from the clutches of methodological nationalism, reveals the symbolic violence inherent to it, and thereby highlights the identity-sustaining strategies that serve to reinforce or repudiate it. The city of Jaffa facilitates (and at times imposes) an encounter between Palestinians and Jews: They live as diachronic and synchronic neighbors35 and do not meet solely within the formal spheres of work, study, police checkpoints, and political gatherings.

Furthermore, the elderly provide a vantage point predicated on their assumed marginality, which frees them from the constraints of normative cultural performance. Thus, unlike Gabi ‘Abed’s play, which offers a monolithic story in which nationalism dominates all, the twelve protagonists in this book are immersed in the business of living, which involves ongoing and spontaneous production of discourse rather than pilgrimage to public sites of memory.

At first glance, Palestinian and Jewish elderly people in Jaffa inhabit two parallel and incommensurable existential planes. The Jews’ national story unfolds from Diaspora to immigration (aliyah) and from Holocaust to nation building, whereas the Palestinian collective story is one of traumatic passage from the golden “days of the Arabs” (ayyam al-‘Arab) to the national defeat of the Nakba in 1948. Their ensuing civil exclusion and economic marginalization is represented as resistance (muqawama) and steadfastness (sumud).

On the one hand, these collective narratives tell a success story of settlement, progress, and return (shivat tzion); but on the other hand, they illustrate a story of dispersion (shatat), decline, and struggle. This is the official narrative, which has been produced and reproduced by the social institutions in charge of maintaining the national collective memory. Indeed, on this collective level the main relationship between the Israeli memory and the Palestinian memory is that of negation and mutual exclusion.36 This frame of reference creates a one-sided paradigm of liberation versus victimhood that nourishes the biographical narrative, which in itself can either adopt it, reject it, or alter it to suit its own needs.

Notwithstanding collective representations of the nation, a close examination of personal life stories unravels a whole universe of contradictions. Some of Jaffa’s Arab residents reject major chunks of the Palestinian national narrative, and some Jewish residents do not see their own trajectories as the metonymic celebration of the “predatory” nationalist project.37 Often, they personally identify with the predicament of the Palestinians. The result is a fascinating set of multilayered personal histories that differentially reposition citizens in relation to the state and the nation. The discrepancy between the top-down collective memory and local biographical memories reveals a lifeworld of tensions and tribulations. These tensions give voice to private experiences that have been systematically censored by the hegemonic national register.38

We present our argument for dismantling the dichotomous totality of nationalist categories through an analytical scrutiny of three main themes that present themselves in the recorded life stories: (1) nation and community, (2) gender and family, and (3) liminality and old age. Rooted in specific religious, ethnic, and gender- and class-based positions, the interviewees delineate the binational relational field in Jaffa, exposing it as a stratified web of cultural meanings and informal social relations. In revisiting the collective doxa of both Palestinian and Jewish national essentialisms, these narrators invoke the twilight zone surrounding the margins of the collective self as a much wider and muddier quagmire than we may have been led to believe. These ambivalent stories, which are constantly in dialogue with the national narration, illustrate that the Israeli and the Palestinian narratives do not consist of a proverbially single nationalist, antinationalist, or postnationalist narrative but are a mosaic of memories and reminiscences. Thus, rather than act as a monolithic script of self and Other, aligned along imagined communities and myths of redemption, these narratives interweave political violence (uprooting, immigration, and imprisonment) with an experience of social proximity and cultural intimacy. Disabling a flat image of the Other, the critical narration of the nation enables residents to redefine contrived coexistence and escape the mythscape.39

Metanationalism and the Biographical Illusion

The human being is a storyteller, or Homo narrans.40 Indeed, as Victor Turner notes, “Culture in general—specific cultures, and the fabric of meaning that constitute any single human existence—is the ‘story’ we tell about ourselves.”41 The tale “certifies the fact of being and gives sense at the same time.”42 Facing the existential themes of life and death, national pride and defeat, continuity and finality, the life stories of Palestinian and Jewish elderly people in Jaffa tease meaning and identity out of their memories and experiences.

The documentation of life stories in Israel/Palestine poses a challenge that is both theoretical and methodological. The conundrum is best put in negative terms: How can we analyze personal narratives of Jews and Palestinians, who are steeped in economic and political power relations, without overlooking the complexity that at times dismantles the same power relations? In the following discussion we draw on the insight that both apolitical narratives and politicizing tactics are the product of identity politics; this insight applies to the hegemonic nationalist discourse and subordinate discourses alike. Instead of rejecting the validity of these narratives or, conversely, accepting them at face value,43 we position them inside the Jaffa force field to decipher the tension between the personal and the political.44

Reflexively treating these narratives as stories “is not to reduce them to fictions made up out of whole cloth and therefore false.”45 Thus, rather than treating them as a “Rashomon tale, a multi-stranded set of equally plausible claims,” we “recoup the inconsistencies of these narratives, to explore how subaltern inflections entered these stories . . . tangled by multiple meanings that could not be easily read.”46 We address these concerns by resorting to an analytical approach that can be characterized as metanationalist. Like metaphysics (which can be defined as second-order thinking about the phenomenal world), metanationalism is a second-order reflexive unpacking of national narratives through and of speech.47 This inquiry necessitates a systematic mapping of the life stories and their embedded representation of collective memories. As a response to the critique of methodological nationalism, metanationalism is first and foremost a call for ethnographic sensibility as a means for dealing with this bias. Conceptualizing the elderly Palestinians as a minority “trapped between nation and state”48 prevents their stories from being subordinated to a stance that reduces them to either stories of resistance or fanciful tales of coexistence.

An additional challenge concerns the tendency of the life story narrative genre to superimpose coherence where there is none.49 The aged person’s life story is often presented as an evolving internal myth whose elements unfold sequentially to create unity and purpose.50 The myth—from the Greek word mythos, meaning “word and story”—is arguably a coherent framework constructed by the narrator to arm her- or himself with a telos—destination and meaning. However, as a mode of symbolic interaction, one’s identity is forged by the story one tells oneself and one’s significant others in the ethnographic present. Often this story is told, especially in a situation of a life story interview, as an orderly and meaningful chain of events. Pierre Bourdieu terms this tendency “the biographical illusion” and calls it into question as a trajectory within social spaces: “To produce a life history or to consider life as history, that is, as a coherent narrative of a significant and directed sequence of events, is perhaps to conform to a rhetorical illusion, to the common representation of existence that a whole literary tradition has always and still continues to reinforce.”51

The discontinuity that defines Palestinian experience and the drama of Jewish immigration renders such “coherent narratives” barely sustainable. Thus, like the difficulty in maintaining a cohesive collective community discourse in times of enduring crisis, it is difficult to maintain the biographical illusion in the generational context of old age. The analytical challenge is therefore to follow the dynamics of narration in a mixed cultural environment and to capture its significations at the crossroads of gender, ethnicity, age, and nationality. If the epistemological status of the life story is that of a nonreferential “text,”52 then we take it as present-bound reflections on the past and read it against the context of its production. In telling the story of their lives to themselves and to the interviewer, the protagonists navigate between different frames of reference and identity—rewriting in the process the relationships between self and Other.

The category and the experience of aging are of crucial importance in understanding the mutual constitution of biographic reminiscence, collective memory, and life history as mediated by the narrators’ experiential interpretations of nationalism and the state. The limbo position of the elderly enables them to raise criticisms that do not surface in earlier stages of the life cycle.53 In contrast to middle-age adults, the elderly—Jews and Arabs alike—are situated on the margins of society and on the edge of their life careers and therefore are less reluctant to reflect out loud on the complex facets of their personal and political condition and the “tyranny” of the younger majority that excludes them. Their invisibility marginalizes them to a point beyond normative culture, from which they can observe life in an unconventional, often evocative stoic manner.54

Apart from the freedom from conformity it affords, the “unbearable lightness of retirement”55 brings with it departure from rigid and predetermined timelines. Senior citizens’ perception of time does not necessarily correspond to the mythical-historical time of the collective narrative but rather generates a present-progressive story of survival and everyday tasks and chores. Because they do not idealize or adhere to the collective rituals of nationalism, their stories are filled with calamity, dissociation, betrayal, and cantankerous criticism. This social critique finds its way into their life stories and their poetically reflexive insights into the passing of time and the experience of old age. Following Theodor Adorno, Edward Said called this cognitive orientation “late style.”56 Said, however, applied his insights to renowned creative figures in Western culture, whereas our subjects testify to this style’s presence among ordinary folk as well.

In addition to the presumed national divide (Arabs and Jews), the gender dimension places women and men on opposite sides.57 The tales related by most of the men start with nostalgic recollections of the Palestinian heyday before the Nakba or the bustling period of Jewish community building in Jaffa after 1948, and they end in personal loss and communal atrophy. The women’s stories, on the other hand, frequently begin with a critical portrayal of adolescence under the patriarchal yoke and culminate in their present liberation, which owes much to state support. The transition of Palestinian women from an inferior status of poverty in a patriarchal society to the official status of citizens eligible for social benefits independent of their men, alongside their experience as a subordinate minority in a mixed city over a period of seventy years, has engendered in most of them a complex perception of the Jewish Other. The tales of Mizrahi Jewish widows from Syria and Morocco echo a similar transition from life under patriarchy and communal isolation to personal autonomy supported by state institutions.

The unexpected structural similarity of the Jewish and Palestinian women’s stories, which contrasts with the shared pessimism of the men’s accounts, suggests that these life stories should be read also or primarily in terms of gender rather than exclusively through the lens of ethnicity or nationalism. These seemingly paradoxical narratives facilitated by Jaffa are the historical product of an ambivalent subject position,58 such as that of elderly Palestinians who are also citizens of the state that occupied their villages and towns and brought about their national ruin. The stories reflect and effect intimate yet tense relationships between the generation of Palestinian survivors and the generation of Jewish immigrants who lived side by side, quite often in the same building or even the same apartment.

The existential position of our elderly interviewees determines the manner in which their stories are manufactured as memory. Memory thus operates not as a set reservoir of experience from which the narrators draw the validity of their version but rather as the direct product of the ethnographic continuous present and of the contingent interaction between interviewer and interviewee. The narrators generate memory as they engage in the act of remembering while talking about the experience of remembering. The narration of reminiscing is a speech act. It locks the narrator into a historical trajectory as an indigenous auto-ethnographer. In the absence of a unifying metanarrative and common frame of reference, memory in Jaffa—as a cultural-political category of practice—is dismembered into memories and recollections that maintain the narrative act.

Thus, without resorting to the technical apparatus of semiotic and linguistic anthropology,59 we study the narratives as a product of both the historical urban context and the interaction between researcher and interviewee. To do so, we use an open interview that confronts the narrators with their own identity categories. Our interview approach can be characterized as “participant conversation” (in addition to the canonical participant observation), which enables us to unveil the story as a “situated narrative.”60 From a pragmatic perspective, the narrators reveal their own strategies of engagement with the national order through their presentation of self. The life story of the mixed city’s elderly residents reads like a performance of nationalism in both senses of the term: as a re-presentation of the discourse of nationalism and as a speech act.

By drawing on the multifaceted phenomena found at the crossroads of gender, ethnicity, age, and nationalism, we investigate the epistemology of the mixed city as an enabling community. Our aim is to offer a fresh assessment of this community’s narrative products, which represent and generate social fragmentation, spatial division, and cultural alienation. This apparent curse is converted into a tangible blessing, because these discontinuities and deficiencies of identity are turned into existential resources of survival.

Sunset, Dusk, Nightfall

This book is indeed an ethnography of a concrete and yet symbolic urban encounter between the researchers, the interviewees, and the city in the shadow of the nation. Relying on our previous acquaintance with the city’s inhabitants, we chose to interview articulate and critical individuals cast in Jaffa’s image. In Smadar Lavie’s terminology, these are allegorical types who tell personal stories that reflect and deflect the public context from which they emerge.61 The allegorical type is neither an abstract ideal type that purports to represent the collective nor a unique and exceptional type in its immediate social environment. Each allegorical type manifests a coping strategy—one among many—with the events of the past and personal choices. Whereas the poetic attributes of these stories are frequently dramatic, their primary force lies in the prevalent discourse that criticizes and interprets the locale and the epoch.

The stories’ allegorical nature came into sharper focus after we had collected the material between 2003 and 2006. As we proceeded to sort through it, we discovered that it not only facilitated a different perspective on the elements of nationalism in our subjects’ identity but that it also covered the range of theoretical possibilities in the study of nationalism. To illustrate this range, we have arranged the stories according to their growing distance from the elements of the classical model of territorial nationalism. The complete collection generates a relational overarching scheme that we propose as an alternative to methodological nationalism.

The narrated life stories do not support the description of nationalism as an ideology that mobilizes individuals by way of sentiment, belief, and uncompromising identification with the collective body.62 Nor do they support an institutional system, that is, a legal or territorial generative order.63 Rather, nationalism emerges as an acted narrative that mediates between temporal trajectories and spatial positionings, thereby revealing a gamut of social interpretations, manipulations, and cultural choices. A variety of strategies of self-positioning thus unfold within the dynamic matrix of intentions and possibilities embedded in representations of nationalism. Each storyteller embodies a phase on the continuum between adherence to the classic discourse of nationalism and its unreserved repudiation. In between these poles lies a plethora of intermediate stages. Among these are withdrawal from the utopian territorial-political foundation that supports classical nationalism with subsequent movement toward a system that embraces intimate ethnic or religious community (i.e., individuals do not think in terms of national collectives but in smaller scale terms, such as their own ethnic group);64 renunciation of the foundational patriarchal hegemony65 by turning inward to the family, which has always served as a key metaphor for nationalism;66 and, finally, a position of existence, per se, that is devoid of design, essence, or purpose and is disconnected from any nationalist framing.

Rather than an imagined community67 or an invented tradition,68 nationalism defines a possible type of order, but one that does not determine any definite and absolute identity. The dependent variable in our study is a structural one: the relations between the narrators’ identity components. In each narrative strategy these constituents become a part of a distinct layout, from which each narrator’s perception of nationalism and identity is drawn. According to this conception, a narrative is a dramatic sequence structure of statements about oneself and the world, and one’s national identity or its renunciation is an outcome of this sequence structure.

Old age as an existential category facilitates this range of critical outlooks. In the local context, even though the storytellers’ heyday paints their lives in the glaring light of nationalist presence—the Nakba for most Palestinians and immigration for most Jews—old age dims it and presages its fading into sunset, dusk, and ultimately nightfall—three metaphors used here for the receding presence of hegemonic nationalism in our interviewees’ stories.

In Part I, “Sunset,” we trace the contours of nationalism through the eyes of three male pillars of the community who grapple painfully with the trauma of betrayal and failure meted out by their community. The idealized notion of the nation is driven by the power of the imagined community. Circumstances, however, often subvert such imagination. When this happens, how do private citizens uphold their faith in the utopian nation when reality punches them in the face? Both the imagining subject and the imagined object are likely to be transformed in the process. We thus expect that these storytellers, whose imagination has been fired by the imagery of the ideal national community, will adjust their narratives to the changed circumstances, to the disparity between desire and reality.

The three stories are adduced to demonstrate the coping strategies of aging men who nevertheless insist on clinging to the hegemonic image of nationalism and are compelled to take issue with it and hence reluctantly to adjust their way of life to the change forced on them. In our conversations with these three men, we sought to comprehend the nature and function of their concept of nation and to ponder their strategies of self-presentation and the shades of interpretation to which they resort. Whereas most of their kith and kin abandoned both the image of the national community and the community of its faithful supporters, these three still retain their mythic national imagination. They are thus suspended in an existential state of dissonance between imagination and reality, between past and present, between who they want to be and who they are. Unwilling or unable to adjust their conceptions of nationalism and identity to the present, they are trapped between faithfulness to the traditional image of the nation and the reality of its crisis. The physical and symbolic paths that shape their current identities pass through landmarks where they are able to retain something of the image of what should have become of the national community and of them as a part of it, and other sites where national yearnings are no longer relevant. In a city devoid of community leadership, the guardians of the national ethos are left in a quandary. These male narrators live in a twilight zone in which the remnants of nationalism continue to glimmer in the impending darkness of extinction.

In Part II, “Dusk,” we attend to a body of narratives used in identity building that revolve around the axis of gender. Whereas the men portrayed in Part I are engaged in justifying their identity as collective time erodes around them, the women whose stories are presented in Part II live in the continuous present and often willingly step outside collective time; they tend to focus on the domestic and the local domains, observing the public sphere critically from within the confines of their home.

In the constructed narrative spectrum that we propose, the women occupy an intermediate position of power and autonomy: between the big place of collective myths and political affairs and the small place of quotidian life in a nonimagined community.69 Safely ensconced in their private domain, they actively shape time and control the meaning of space, thereby also playing a transformative role that emasculates the collective. Contrary to the men in Part I, who are constantly at loggerheads with the myth, these women live in historical time and in the family present, sometimes releasing themselves from the imagined national community. The dusk of nationalism is thus a strategy of functional partitioning that enables them at times to separate the private from the public realm and the personal from the political. These women’s accounts are redolent with peace and empathy, which are perhaps sustained by this compartmentalization and optimist agency.

In Part III, “Nightfall,” we mark the total meltdown of nationalism’s frame of reference. We present three storytellers who position themselves in a disjointed and fragmented timeframe, foreshadowed by the already constricting temporality of the women portrayed in Part II. Yet the temporality of these men, like the contours of their life stories, is neither collective nor communal. This part marks the utmost stage of the national order’s dissolution as a master narrative. The stories presented here are personal tales that are unrelated to any nationalist metaplot and, in the most extreme case, that lack any plot or structural narrative whatsoever.

Part III points to a distinct existential sphere of possibilities that plays out in the shadow of the national order. The storytellers who embody the decline of nationalism do not resist it but simply suspend its solidifying power; they juggle a variety of alternative identities that are embedded in their individual worlds of meaning. Here, too, the sociological categories of class, ethnicity, and gender are vital to understanding the biographical and contingent context, both within and beyond the conversation setting. In this instance, however, masculinity serves to express a patronizing patriarchal identity rather than a communal metaphor, class mobility is no more than an individual achievement, and the ethnic group serves as an idiom of cultural intimacy that resists translation into identity politics terms. Either free or bereft of history and myth, the three men celebrate or lament their own existence without taking politicians to task for their misdeeds or wistfully wishing for historical justice. This position entails no ideological moral but is a part of an organic urban, cultural, and gendered fabric that unapologetically refuses to be harnessed to the nationalist wagon.

The stories in Part III suggest a trampled subjectivity devoid of the nationalist agency that shapes reality by providing meaning and mission. The shrinking existential space inhabited by those lost in the obscurity of collective memory underpins a narrated experiential sphere that transcends the modern subject. Inside the fissure that emerges between the personal and the public spheres, and at the crossroads of nationality and ethnicity, East and West, memory dissolves into decontextualized fragments. The plot thus decomposes into anecdotes, identity becomes a carnival, and the story turns into a fable. In dismembering collective memory, this incoherent story turns into a maze of nebulous memories. The very act of bearing witness becomes unbearable.

We close the discussion of nationalism’s narrative configurations in the Conclusion. Having commenced with the territorial form of nationalism that requires a well-defined political subject, our journey ends with the dissolution of the modern subject, the absence of which precludes any narrative sequence and completely erodes any remnant of identity. We revisit theories of nationalism, conceptualizing nationalism as a social resource that loses viability in old age. The ethos of nationalism becomes more flexible and adapts itself to the reality of the narrators’ lives but nevertheless remains a burden or a symbol at the end of the day. In their old age the interviewees unburden their mythic appendage. The stories offer a fresh theoretical and political perspective on the presence of nationalism in everyday life, anchored in existential, symbolic, and material relations of exchange. Faced with a profound sense of disillusionment, bereavement, and despair, those who were once trapped in the iron cage of nationalism are no longer imprisoned.


1. Samed is the active participle form of sumud (steadfastness, particularly in the context of holding on to one’s land), a major theme in the ideology of Palestinian indigenousness. See Shehadeh (1984).

2. The performance cited here took place on Nakba Day (May 15), 2005, in the building of the Association of Jaffa’s Arabs, of which Gabi ‘Abed is a leading member.

3. In The Crucified Nation, Alan Davies (2008) reveals the roots of posttraumatic national discourse in the Christian discourse of sacrifice. Roger Abrahams uses the term dolorism to indicate a major component of the politicization of suffering: “Projections of nostalgia become politically potent when the story of loss is converted into narratives of victimization . . . supporting and justifying our cause by retrospectively enlisting the dead” (Abrahams, 2003: 215).

4. Furani (2012: 3).

5. Edward Said, quoted in al-Jarrah (2001). Addressing the search for adequate concepts that describe the Palestinian experience, Said explains: “In Arabic I use the word shatat (dispersion) despite my continuing caution and criticism of many terms based on myths of imagination. I naturally reject the term “diaspora.” But nothing can prevent the term being used. The Jews used it to fulfill their own imagination, but we are talking about a different situation for the Palestinian. The Palestinian situation and the society Palestinians desire is peculiar to that nation” (Jarah 1999, n.p.).

6. See Pratt (1991) and Monterescu (2015).

7. The term mixed cities was first coined by the British colonial regime in the Peel Commission (1937) and subsequently became part of the Israeli and Palestinian post-Nakba discourse. Some Palestinian critics reject this term and propose instead targeted cities (mudun mustahdafa) or the more optimistic shared cities (mudun mushtarka). On the evolution of the discourse and ethnic relations in these cities, see Rabinowitz and Monterescu (2008).

8. See, for example, Gur-Ze’ev and Pappé (2003), Massad (2005), Rotbard (2015), and Yiftachel (2006).

9. See Tamari (2008) and LeVine (2005).

10. See Ram (1996).

11. See Rabinowitz and Monterescu (2008: 202 and 218) for an analysis of the effect of Ottoman and British rule on urban mix. Urban spaces in the Ottoman Middle East during the early modern era were predicated on the logic of religious communalism. Although some public spaces were ethnically neutral, residential patterns corresponded by and large to the administrative millet system of patronage and classification. Under Ottoman administration, communities, which were vertically subordinate to regional Ottoman rulers and, through them, to the metropole in Istanbul, conducted their affairs largely independent of one another. People living in these communities had neither a common municipal organizational framework of which they were subjects nor a coherent concept of local identity as or affiliation with a unified body of local citizenry. This is understandable once we recall that this era had yet to see territorial nationalism as a defining element of identity and that communities of natives and immigrants alike were defined along ethnoreligious lines. The late nineteenth century saw the old millet-based correspondence between spatial boundaries and social grouping blurred; a new form of public space emerged that was exceedingly informed by a new national, rather than denominational, awareness. Ethnonational competition between Jews and Arabs was clearly feeding an exclusionary demand for spatial segregation. Before World War I, urbanism in Palestine was thus exhibiting patterns of modernization and spatial differentiation that clearly diverged from patterns that had guided the old sectarian Ottoman towns. Resonating with an ever-growing logic of nationalism, politicized urban space was about to assume a dramatic role under British rule. In the first half of the twentieth century, a new heteronomous urban form emerged from the collusion of the old Ottoman sectarian urban regime and the new national, modernizing, and capitalist order (both Palestinian and Zionist). Bearing traces of the old system, the new one was in fact a fragmented amalgam of various city forms.

12. See Goren (2004), Bernstein (2007), de Vries (2007), and Monterescu and Rabinowitz (2007).

13. Portugali (1993).

14. LeVine (2005); Monterescu (2015).

15. For example, Yacobi (2009) and Yiftachel and Yacobi (2003).

16. The term “Mother of the Stranger” (umm al-gharib) was historically assigned to Jaffa because of its liberal cosmopolitanism, which characterized it as a flourishing city that hosted labor migrants and other foreigners from the region during the heyday of Palestinian urban modernity in the first part of the twentieth century. The term is now used either nostalgically or with bitter irony by local Palestinians who lament the sense of strangeness the city evokes. For instance, in an interview after the release of his 2009 Oscar-nominated film Ajami, Skandar Copti said, “Jaffa is called Umm al-gharib, the ‘Mother of the Stranger,’ and people are indeed strangers to each other. Almost nothing brings them together” (quoted in Monterescu, 2015: 93).

17. Minns and Hijab (1990: 156).

18. The High Follow-Up Committee for the Arab Masses in Israel (Lajnat al-Mutaba‘a al-‘Ulya lil-Jama‘ir al-‘Arabiyya fi Isra’il) was established in 1982 as an extra-parliamentary umbrella organization to represent Arab citizens of Israel at the national level. It is consistently criticized for excluding Arab communities in mixed towns, such as Lydda, Ramle, Jaffa, Haifa, and Acre.

19. Madrikh Yafo (1949: 41). All translations of Hebrew and Arabic are mine.

20. Haskell (1994).

21. See Birenboim-Carmeli (2000).

22. Sociologist Ulrich Beck regards methodological nationalism as one of the greatest threats to critical sociology: “Much of social science assumes the coincidence of social boundaries with state boundaries, believing that social action occurs primarily within and only secondarily across, these divisions. . . . Methodological nationalism assumes this normative claim as a socio-ontological given. . . . To some extent, much of social science is a prisoner of the nation-state” (Beck, 2003: 453–54).

23. Shamir (2000).

24. Lockman (1996: 12).

25. See, for instance, Rotbard (2015), Yiftachel and Yacobi (2003), and Kanaaneh (2002).

26. Soffer (2004); Yiftachel and Yacobi (2003); Zureik (1979); Rotbard (2015); Yacobi (2009).

27. Soffer (2004).

28. Yiftachel and Yacobi (2003).

29. For example, Spivak (1996) and Herzfeld (1996).

30. The most prominent example of this trend at the national level is the founding of the association Zochrot in 2002, whose aim is “bringing knowledge of the Nakba to Israel’s Jewish public.” Zochrot (which means “remembering”) seeks to restore the repressed Palestinian memory and place it on the contemporary political and cultural agenda. Its political project is couched in narrative terms. Through projects such as tours in destroyed Palestinian villages and towns (including Jaffa), the Nakba Map, and the iNakba application, Zochrot seeks to reveal a voice that speaks of Nakba and return, “a voice that seeks recognition for injustice and new paths toward change and redress” ( Another, more local project that offers narrative redress is Autobiography of a City. This organization was started in 2000 “as a direct response to the events of October 2000” and promotes “multicultural public discourse [on] the untold story of the various sections of the population, as part of a future process of reconciliation and healing. . . . The complexity of memory and narrative and the manner in which they are constituted are among Autobiography of a City’s major areas of interest” ( See also (accessed November 7, 2017).

31. Bhabha (1990: 1).

32. Bhabha (1990: 1).

33. For a critique of this trickle-down effect, see Comaroff (1990), Colvin (2008), and King (2007).

34. For a comparable “bargaining with patriarchy,” see Kandiyoti (1988).

35. Weiss (2011); Monterescu (2015).

36. Gur-Ze’ev and Pappé (2003); Slyomovics (1998).

37. Appadurai (2000).

38. Trouillot (1995).

39. Bell (2003).

40. In Number Our Days, an ethnography of a Jewish American senior citizens’ center, Barbara Myerhoff characterizes the human species as a storyteller (Homo narrans) (1978: 272). As an existential category of being, old age is a lens through which the interviewee relates time and meaning (271). See also Niles (2010) and Bruner (2003).

41. Quoted in Myerhoff (1978: xv).

42. Myerhoff (1978: xv).

43. See Swedenburg (1995) and Schely-Newman (2002).

44. See Trouillot (1995).

45. Stoler (1992: 183).

46. Stoler (1992: 184).

47. In semiotic anthropological terms, metanationalism can be defined as an array of metapragmatic statements that address the context in which nationalism is presented by the interpreting subject. In this context nationalism as an ideology is merely one component in the field of the creation of political meaning, alongside interaction, position, and the actors’ narrative. See R. Bauman (1986) and Silverstein (2001).

48. Rabinowitz (2001).

49. Bourdieu (1987); Ewing (1990); Gubrium et al. (1994).

50. For Dan McAdams, a personal myth is an “act of imagination that is a patterned integration of our remembered past, perceived present and anticipated future” (McAdams, 1993: 12).

51. Bourdieu (1987: 2).

52. Vincent Crapanzano highlights the performative and creative nonrepresentational aspect of a life history as a result of a complex self-constituting negotiation: “The life history is usually constituted from a transformation—the transformation from an oral production to a written product. It becomes text and carries with it all the ontological and epistemological burdens of the text” (Crapanzano, 1984: 957).

53. Hazan (1994).

54. Shield and Aronson (2003).

55. Savishinsky (2000: 43).

56. See Said (2004): “What of the last or late period of life, the decay of the body, the onset of ill health (which, in a younger person, brings on the possibility of an untimely end)? These issues, which interest me for obvious personal reasons, have led me to look at the way in which the work of some great artists and writers acquires a new idiom towards the end of their lives—what I’ve come to think of as a late style.”

57. Kassem (2011); Hasan (2009).

58. Bhabha (1994).

59. Silverstein (2001); Parmentier (2016).

60. Holstein and Gubrium (1995).

61. In The Poetics of Military Occupation, Smadar Lavie writes: “Precisely at that moment of decomposition, the moment of recomposition through emergence became possible. Each character, while still just a plain person, rose up and, by temporarily fusing him- or herself with his or her folkloric persona, became the interlocutor, in the fold genre, between the tribal collective memory of the past and its present circumstances. When these characters transformed themselves from ordinary persons into dramatic personae, they conjoined their living selves with the tribal pantheon . . . as allegorical types belonging to tribal folkloric genres that differentiate the history of the tribe from the histories of its occupiers” (Lavie, 1990: 330).

62. Handler (1988); Kapferer (1988).

63. Brubaker et al. (2006); Portugali (1993).

64. Eriksen (1993).

65. Parker et al. (1992); Yuval-Davis (1997).

66. Thaiss (1978).

67. Anderson (1991).

68. Hobsbawm and Ranger (1992).

69. Zali Gurevitch writes: “The big place is more than a particular site and even more than all the sites put together; it is the idea itself. The place (‘the land’) is a notion that precedes the actual location. The precedence of the notion with regard to the location means that the two are not identical. This is the dialectical element within the Jewish notion of location, which is a source of constant ambivalence because the precedence of the notion impedes the process whereby the place becomes something that is taken for granted, or indigenous as it were” (Gurevitch, 2007: 25).