This is my question; perhaps it is my quest. I was inspired at last year’s first conference on Dialogue under Occupation by the incredible range of subjects and breadth of expertise. Presentations ranged through historical military occupations to the present-day, literal, metaphorical, and legal, across various communication technologies such as newspapers, propaganda films and weblogs. The attendees included peace activists, military personnel, and academics from many countries. We could have talked with each “better” last year, but we did – at least! – talk with each other enough to sustain the momentum for a second conference in a region where occupation is configured in every way one can imagine.
We are all occupied – by institutional discourses, political ideologies, spiritual passions – none of us is exempt from the talk and images of our time. Trying to hold such a conference in a setting rife with discourses that are in direct, deliberate, and overt competition with each other is an endeavor of great ambition (or huge insanity – time will establish the verdict).
How identities are established – how “you” come to understand yourself as (for instance) “American,” or “Palestinian,” or “Israeli” – is not much of a mystery anymore. Nationalistic identities are established by nationalistic discourses. Individuals (to the extent such subjective entities actually exist) absorb the attitude of nationalism from those who express patriotic sentiments. Individuals (you, me) give the attitude back – reinforcing and recreating it – to those with whom we interact, preparing our children to embrace a similar (if not the exact same) orientation-to-country to carry forth into the future.
We’re born into streams of discourse that carry us along; we learn to swim in them, sometimes against the current but more often with the flow – because going upstream or crosscurrent takes much more effort. Occasionally we even float. 🙂 To get out of a stream, to travel across a completely foreign and disorienting landscape until we are immersed in another stream, is a challenge. We might want out, but the power of the moving water sucks us back….we might be spit out, sprayed up into space and a different place over a fallen tree or partially-submerged boulder…ouch! Whichever way it happens, moving between streams is gonna have moments that are wicked uncomfortable.
Trying to do things differently is hard.
So, here we are, ten days away from the opening of Dialogue under Occupation II in East Jerusalem. There have been changes to the conference program, cancellation of a pre-conference event, periodic messages from participants informing everyone that, after all, they cannot attend. There was a brief email flurry of consternation about citizenship and checkpoints some time back. And now, this: an inflammatory article masquerading as journalism. The author of the piece is described by the Director of Middle Eastern Programming for Link TV as “associated with neo-con groups like Campus Watch led by Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz” and “is considered a joke by most academics and journalists in the Bay Area.”
I wish it was so easy.
I found myself uncomfortable in my skin to be accused of anti-Israel desire – just as uncomfortable, I might add, as I would be if accused of anti-Palestinian sentiments. I worried (not so much, but enough to acknowledge), that I do not know, as the conference organizer proffers, how to “protect yourselves if questioned about your destination and purpose for those colleagues having to cross checkpoints, for those entering from international locations, and for those who may suffer reprisals from co-workers.”
The most insidious aspect of the skewed (skewing?) op-ed by Kaplan is the triggering of distrust. He writes from a deep part of the river, using an already-established discourse. Culling the program for workshop titles and descriptions that can be interpreted in the way that fits his view, he presents a lopsided view of the conference – what profile is “left behind” or “left out” with all the presenters and sessions he does not name? The damn thing is, and I have been hedging my way toward actually writing it because I do not want “it” to be true – is that Kaplan’s assault makes me feel suspicious. Again, this is not a strong concern, but the doubt is present, the question has been evoked. “So, he is not writing about me, and I know what my intentions are, but maybe ‘those other conference people’ whom I do not know have other agendas?”
I choose to trust my colleagues who have made the commitment to attend this conference. I assume they did not make the decision lightly; I certainly did not. I want to emphasize that I am deciding to trust, I am setting my mind and will to resist the fears and insecurities which so readily turn us to various dis-courses.
I believe we can,
but we have to talk and live
to make it real.