Not long time ago I was asked if I had ever seen the sea before moving to Denmark. I remember I couldn’t hold a silly laugh because that question took some time to filtrate through the bubble that my life is, as a citizen of a “first-world country”. The woman that asked me that question is a Palestinian friend of mine, her family lives in Ramallah but she fled to Denmark some years ago. We were talking about the Mediterranean Sea, and she was reflecting upon the fact that she had never seen the sea before moving to Denmark. Now, technically speaking, Ramallah is situated at 1 hour car drive from Tel-Aviv and in general from the coast of Israel. My friend’s family, nevertheless, and as a consequence her, is not allowed to have the permit that grants Palestinians the freedom to go back and forth through the perimeters of the wall. They don’t have this right because her parents were political activists in their university years and that “stain” has enshrined her family’s destiny not to see the sea. Now, I would like to spend a few words on the importance of stories. I imagine that who’s reading these words is aware of what has been going on in Palestine in the last few days. We have read articles about the missiles. We have read articles about the “clashes”. We have read articles about arrests. We have read articles about international meetings and calls to deescalate the situation. When it comes to the Palestinian question, most of the time, these are the information that reach our cosy and comfortable houses in critical times. The stories of people are generally deemed irrelevant and consequently left outside of the picture. I believe that stories are powerful means to foster the human capacity of empathy and knowledge. It is of course important to know what is going on, but there is no better way than stories to feel close to the ones narrating them. The level of disengagement and detachment of the western world we live in, protects us from putting us in relation to complex and hurtful feelings. Nevertheless, it is vital to acknowledge the existence and lives of others outside our comfort zone. The complexities of the Palestinian question are numerous, but sometimes, it should be as simple as listening to the story of a girl that has never seen the sea. That is the power of a story. Life under military occupation generates consequences in the lives of people. Everyday life struggles and hardships that don’t touch or reach us unless the situation becomes critical from a geopolitical perspective. We need to remember that even when this current situation will normalize, there will still be the stories of the people involved. Stories that won’t be served to us on a silver plate. We need to act on our empathic capacity and reach out to those stories, so that the next time we read about Gaza, about the West Bank, about dead people, in our heads we will draw the colors of the stories we have heard and we will take on our shoulders that pain and sufferance.
This work has a particular importance for me. My last-longing interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as my rooted belief in the Feminist cause, certainly contributed to render this thesis a valued and deeply felt contribution. Nonetheless, due to determined contingencies, the thread that links me to these topics became even stronger. During my travel to Palestine in the month of August 2019, I have experienced on my own skin the reality of occupation and the overall militarisation of the State of Israel: my entry in the country followed a rather troubled procedure, where I was interrogated, threatened and humiliated due to my willingness to collaborate with a Palestinian NGO for my Internship. These factors, and the following month that I had been able to spend travelling around Palestine and Israel, exacerbated my partisan vision of this conflict. When I was sent back to
Italy, having been refused the extension of my visa, I had a heavy emotional baggage. Nevertheless, the writing of this thesis, served to me as a healing process: it enabled me to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a more constructive eye. Thanks to this work, the research behind it, and the analysis conducted on the Political is Personal project, I managed to build my hopes again for a land that is as close to my heart as my own. And, especially, reading the stories of Palestinian and Israeli women, helped me to feel their struggle, their sufferance, and their strength. Coming from a more privileged situation, and knowing that my contribution will be contextualized in the academic world, my hopes are that my work would make the voiceless protagonists of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict heard and recognized.
Storytelling at the intersection between Peace and Conflict Studies and Feminist Theory
Much has been already written on one of the most peculiar conflicts of modern times, the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. Its “intractable” nature along with its high moral charge, make this conflict a very peculiar case in the tradition of Peace and Conflict Studies (PCS). Its complex and prolonged nature have triggered over the years the work of politicians, diplomats and scholars to unveil possible solutions in order to ease the livelihood of the populations involved. Nevertheless, strategies and plans have too often stemmed from the analysis of the situation through the lenses of statist intervention and institutional diplomacy, leaving more grassroots, bottom-up processes to be rather neglected. This concern, which has been tackled by scholars and practitioners of PCS, has been partly shared by Feminist scholars within the field. The input given by Feminist Theory to the field of PCS relates to the consideration of gender as an essential element to undertake in any analysis of conflictaffected societies. In this sense, the call for innovative methods to address intractable conflicts and their de-escalation and eventual resolution, operated by both PCS and Feminist scholars, finds an interesting, albeit often overlooked, element in the analysis of storytelling. The act of interpretation, that telling a story conveys, bears the multi-layered, complex and ambiguous nature of human experiencing. Therefore, a focus on storytelling as the production of meaning in a determined context, could unveil elements that would be lost in the background noise of hegemonic discourses. Acknowledging the militarized nature and the presence of hegemonic discourses on masculinity in both the Israeli and Palestinian societies, this works aims at focusing on women’s storytelling. To do so, the database of the project Political is Personal, will be analysed through a two-phased narrative analysis. The analysis of storytelling in this peculiar context, represents an innovative compromise between the need to use gender lenses in the analysis of wars, addressed by Feminist tradition, and the call to focus on the “everyday” and the relational experience of a conflict, posed by the last generation of PCS scholars and practitioners. Therefore, the aim of this work is to question whether to switch the focus on the micro level of analysis, namely on the lives of the people affected by the conflict rather than its underlying political processes, could yield a deeper understanding and a more layered knowledge of a situation that has been often doomed as intractable. In doing so, the adoption of gender lenses will question the monolithic division between a hegemonic masculinity and a devalued womanhood, proving that putting women’s voices out front, shows the presence of a more nuanced and less binary notion of femininity. Within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in a situation characterized by highly asymmetric power relations, dislodging the notion of femininity from its monolithic, stereotyped, and devalued depiction through a focus of storytelling shows the presence of common elements in the stories of Israeli and Palestinian women. Acknowledging the presence of a shared narrative and the value of narrative analysis in digging out hidden narrative 4 elements, represents the first step towards a more conscious and inclusive approach to gender and conflict resolution, that opens the doors for future research and initiatives on the topic.
The first entry of this project has this ambiguous, yet pretty emblematic title, “Voices”. What kind of voices am I talking about? Well, to begin with, I would like to spend a few words on the idea behind this blog. It all started while I was writing my MA thesis when I found myself struggling with the binomal gender/conflict. In order to contextualize what I am about to say, my MA thesis focused on the specific case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, analyzed from a bottom-up, narrative, gender perspective. Having always been passionate about communication, storytelling, Feminism, it came as a surprise for me, falling in love all over again with these topics. The peculiarities of modern conflicts find a very special way to be combined with the social persceptions and constructions of gender. The idea of victimhood perpetuated by the narratives on women in modern conflicts, not only tends to reinforce pre-existing patriarchal values, but it is itself reinforced by the circle of violence generated by the conflict dynamics, in a never-ending process. For these reasons, it becomes crucial when we talk about gender and conflicts, to focus on narratives. Our voices and the meaning they carry are a powerful tool. Storytelling, as a trait of mankind, can be considered the natural ability of human beings to report happenings, events, or emotions, within specific semantic boundaries, through the means of a story/narrative. Listening to women’s voices and their stories unties the official Westerncentric, male-focused, and hegemonic narratives from their staticism and monolithism.
I want to dedicate this blog to the voices of women. I want to use this space to connect with women from different backgrounds, countries, educations, in order to give space to the wonderful symphony that generates from sharing stories and voices.
The first entries following this one will be dedicated to the chapters of my MA thesis. Whether it might have some more technical parts, it nevertheless embraces the ideas and core of this project.