In July, Mada al-Carmel organized a workshop on the ethnographic research on Palestine from the nineteenth century to the present time. The historical research, forthcoming in the Annual Review of Anthropology, was conducted by Dr. Khaled Furani and Professor Dan Rabinowitz, both of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University. The two researchers gave a joint lecture, “The Ethnographic Arrival of Palestine” on Western ethnographic research on Palestine since the Nineteenth Century. Dr. Amahl Bishara, of the Department of Anthropology at Tufts University in Boston responded to the lecture.
Furani and Rabinowitz divided the ethnographic research on Palestine into four periods: biblical, Orientalist, silent, and poststructuralist. The first ethnographic research on Palestine was conducted, the speakers explained, with an inclination and desire to gnaw away at the Ottoman Empire in Greater Syria and to legitimize Western colonialism in the Holy Land in Palestine. During this period, the Bible served as the primary legitimate source for research, from whose perspective researchers viewed then present-day Palestine. The speakers noted that this approach came to serve colonialism and the Zionist narrative.
The second period – the first four decades of the Twentieth Century – a scientific-secular-Orientalist approach replaced the biblical viewpoint. Researchers became more interested in Palestinian society and its development. Though cracks and splits appeared in Western theories, there was an accompanying decrease in ethnographic writings on Palestine.
This drop continued in the third period, during the decades following the founding of Israel. Palestinians and Palestine disappeared from Western ethnographic research. Western researchers took on the task of legitimizing the Zionist project in Palestine, viewing Zionism as a manifestation of modernism and ignoring the exclusion taking place in Palestine.
The fourth period, which began some 25 years ago, a new generation of researchers, following in the practice of Edward Sa’id, has shown interest in Palestinian nationalism and identity. Research on Palestine has grown, including on the issues of Palestinian memory and Palestinian refugees. The number of ethnographic studies on Palestine published during this recent period has continued to grow, even as difficulties in conducting research has increased.