ד”ר דפנה שיר ורטש
Managing Distress: Exploring the Hierarchy of Suffering in Israel
The proposed ethnographic research project is an investigation into suffering and legitimization in Israel. In this country beleaguered by war, placidity and turmoil go hand in hand, and conflict zones plagued by suffering co-exist with areas of calmness. The study will explore the ways suffering in three different areas of focus – Gaza, Sderot and Tel-Aviv – is socially perceived, acknowledged, and (de)legitimized by Israelis. It aims to describe the ways affliction structures not only peoples’ everyday experience, but also (re)-delineates their social relations in the broader context of Israel. The theoretical impetus for this research derives from contemporary research on social suffering and violence (e.g. Das 2007; Farmer 1996; Kleinman and Kleinman 1997; Kleinman, et al. 1997; Scheper-Hughes 1992e.g. Anderson 1998; Bhabha 1994; Green 2005; Tsing 1994). My goal is to demarcate underlying themes of abhorrence and intolerance in Israel, as well as explore emotions and modes of reaction and resistance among people that claim distress and abandonment.), integrated with recent inquiries on boundaries, borderlands and marginality (; Chatterji and Mehta 2007
This study is situated in the larger existential setting of Israel as a country ‘almost at war’. Beyond the seven wars Israel has participated in since its establishment as a country sixty-two years ago, it has partaken in many violent disputes, attacking or being attacked by adjoining militant groups, such as in the Gaza Strip. This almost-at-war readiness is integrated into the daily lives of Israeli and Palestinian citizens, creating a habitual tension between the normalcy of the everyday and the ever-present war-like atmosphere. The tension comes to the fore when the Palestinian and Israeli populations experience assaults on their towns and homes, continuing their daily routines but at the same time constantly conscious of the dangers to themselves and their loved ones.
The study will look into processes of marginalization and the hierarchy of legitimization that ensues: from the separation of Sderot from the ‘center’, and especially from Tel-Aviv, to the perceived disjuncture of Israelis in general from the Palestinian experience. It has been claimed that not all suffering is equal (Farmer 1996), and that suffering is in fact a social status that can be withheld (Morris 1997). This research addresses the role of national, ethnic, religious and economic marginality on the acknowledgement of Gaza and Sderot residents’ experience. It focuses on two completely separate, yet interlacing, dynamic processes towards change: that of the inhabitants of Sderot, appealing to be recognized as full-fledged Israeli citizens, and that of the residents of Gaza, pleading to be accepted as human beings with human rights. Both these populations are victims not only of war, but also of marginalization, petitioning to the International and Israeli public and governments by means of demonstrations and the media, not only for military action or protection, but also for acknowledgement. At the same time, they also epitomize the continual rivalry between Palestine and Israel. In this unique setting, their struggles, and the equivalent yet different social reactions they are met with in Israel and especially in Tel-Aviv, can mark out the hierarchical manifestation of intolerance and acceptance. By ethnographically investigating the tension between media and political representations, and everyday concrete life and local suffering in Gaza, Sderot and Tel-Aviv, I aim to examine the loud discourse of silencing in Israel.
This study thus considers these three fields of research as exemplifying multiple states of between-ness: concurrently epitomizing the Israeli ‘almost-at-war’ experience through frequent violent eruptions of the mundane, or “recesses of the ordinary” (following Das 2007:1); standing in the crossroads of being ‘put on the (militant/terrorist) map’; and feeling forgotten or discarded by the government and the citizens of central Israel. My approach is informed by issues of boundaries to an engaged anthropology of contemporary themes, as they surface in both concrete and symbolic forms, emotionally expanding into questions of violence, identities, and perceptions of marginality and peripherality.
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