Nablus conference imagines life in ‘glocal’ Palestine

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Originally published by Ma’an News Agency on October 5, 2014.

The Palestinian experience of mobility has long been defined by seemingly irreconcilable contradictions.A global community of millions is increasingly well-connected and mobilized even as internal fragmentation by Israeli settlements and checkpoints have made it difficult for Palestinians in the homeland to move more than a few kilometers in any direction.

This contradiction has resulted in a Palestine that could be defined as “glocal,” a topic explored in a recent academic conference at An-Najah University in Nablus, “Living, Consuming and Action in Glocal Palestine.”

The conference, which took place from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, offered a space for Palestinian and foreign academics and activists alike to critically imagine how the globalization of commerce and social life has been experienced by a people whose physical world is one of the most restricted on Earth.

Exploring topics as diverse as urbanism under occupation and responsible consumerism, participants examined how globalization and neoliberalism in Palestine have been received and refracted through the Israeli occupation.

Palestinian agriculture took center stage at a number of panels throughout the conference, particularly in light of the massive growth of boycott campaigns targeting Israeli goods that have emerged across the West Bank since the devastating summer offensive on Gaza.

During one panel, members of Palestinian agricultural committees, a permaculture farm, agronomists, and BDS activists discussed the challenges facing consumers hoping to be responsible in their purchases. In occupied territory where Palestinian agriculture is under intense pressure by Israeli land confiscation — while the market is flooded by Israeli products, often cultivated on illegally confiscated land — the options for resistance can seem quite limited.

Another panel, meanwhile, focused on agricultural knowledge among farmers in the West Bank and how traditional systems of production were being progressively dismantled.

Researcher Julie Trottier from the French National Center for Scientific Research examined how Palestinian agriculture in the West Bank is at once embedded within settler agriculture on confiscated land as well as within the larger system of control imposed by Israeli agricultural authorities.

Discussing the case of a series of agricultural settlements in the northern West Bank, Trottier highlighted how they had become sources of income for local Palestinian families — many of whom had been previously displaced from the land by Israeli authorities.

At the same time, the settlements’ relationships with kibbutzes in Israel itself allowed them to skirt anti-settlement boycott campaigns abroad while simultaneously helping them avoid Israeli minimum wage laws and thus pay workers far less than living wage.

At the global level, meanwhile, contracts signed by Israeli producers with buyers abroad contained stipulations, including the use of pesticides and the banning of child labor, that ignored local conditions and in turn had negative effects.

As Palestinian agricultural in the region was generally a family enterprise with children joining after school and the extra income gained by families spent on school supplies, the categorization of this system as “child labor” undermined children’s abilities to study and families’ abilities to make ends meet, she said.

Trottier’s work revealed the complex layers governing the lives of Palestinian agricultural workers, while also highlighting the interplay of settler, Israeli, and international control that undermine local autonomy and decision-making.

The contradiction between an increasingly globalized Palestinian present and the acute failure of Palestinian leaders to strengthen political self-determination also emerged in a panel focusing on urbanism under occupation.

Speakers highlighted that beside the obstacles to Palestinian agriculture in achieving self-sufficiency, the rise of neoliberalism and the idea of capitalist peace promoted by Palestinian Authority leaders had pushed development to focus on urban centers and neglect the periphery.

This “pacification by cappuccino” has proven a major stumbling block to political activism there in major cities, and has compounded the fragmentation of Palestinian society that Israeli restrictions on movement had sought to achieve.

Despite the challenges, panels on activism and art offered glimpses of hope and resistance.

One panel included Gaza-based artist Muhammad Musallam, who spoke via videoconference from the besieged coastal enclave. Musallam explained to participants in the panel how artists in Gaza banded together to reuse and recycle trash to create works of public art, beautifying urban space and injecting hope in an atmosphere too often defined by bombardment, death, and siege.

Musallam’s participation in the conference via Skype — unable to reach Nablus due to Israeli restrictions that prevent Gazans from traveling — underlined the confinement faced by Palestinians even as the world seems to grow smaller for many others.

But for the audience, enthralled by the images of beauty and art in a landscape they rarely associate with either, the participation of Gazan panelists in the conference only confirmed the possibility of triumph for “glocal” Palestine.