George Washington U. Lectures

Thursday, September 30th 2021 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. EDT | Via Zoom
A City in Fragments: Urban Text in Modern Jerusalem with Yair Wallach and Shira Robinson

In the mid-nineteenth century, Jerusalem was rich with urban texts inscribed in marble, gold, and cloth, investing holy sites with divine meaning. Ottoman modernization and British colonial rule transformed the city; new texts became a key means to organize society and subjectivity. Stone inscriptions, pilgrims’ graffiti, and sacred banners gave way to street markers, shop signs, identity papers, and visiting cards that each sought to define and categorize urban space and people.

A City in Fragments tells the modern history of a city overwhelmed by its religious and symbolic significance. Yair Wallach walked the streets of Jerusalem to consider the graffiti, logos, inscriptions, official signs, and ephemera that transformed the city over the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As these urban texts became a tool in the service of capitalism, nationalism, and colonialism, the affinities of Arabic and Hebrew were forgotten and these sister-languages found themselves locked in a bitter war. Looking at the writing of—and literally on—Jerusalem, Wallach offers a creative and expansive history of the city, a fresh take on modern urban texts, and a new reading of the Israel/Palestine conflict through its material culture.

Yair Wallach is Senior Lecturer in Israeli Studies at SOAS, University of London.

Shira Robinson is Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at the George Washington University.

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Thursday, October 14th, 2021 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. EDT | Via Zoom
The Colonizing Self Or, Home and Homelessness in Israel/Palestine with Hagar Kotef and Elisabeth Anker

Colonizers continuously transform spaces of violence into spaces of home. Israeli Jews settle in the West Bank and in depopulated Palestinian houses in Haifa or Jaffa. White missionaries build their lives in Africa. The descendants of European settlers in the Americas and Australia dwell and thrive on expropriated indigenous lands. In The Colonizing Self Hagar Kotef traces the cultural, political, and spatial apparatuses that enable people and nations to settle on the ruins of other people’s homes. Kotef demonstrates how the mass and structural modes of violence that are necessary for the establishment and sustainment of the colony dwell within settler-colonial homemaking, and through it shape collective and individual identities. She thus powerfully shows how the possibility to live amid the destruction one generates is not merely the possibility to turn one’s gaze away from violence but also the possibility to develop an attachment to violence itself. Kotef thereby offers a theoretical framework for understanding how settler-colonial violence becomes inseparable from one’s sense of self.

Hagar Kotef is a Professor in Political Theory and Comparative Political Thought at SOAS University of London.

Elisabeth Anker is Associate Professor of American Studies and Political Science at the George Washington University.

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Thursday, November 4th, 2021 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. EDT | Via Zoom
Screen Shots: State Violence on Camera in Israel and Palestine with Rebecca Stein and Imani Cheers

In the last two decades, amid the global spread of smartphones, state killings of civilians have increasingly been captured on the cameras of both bystanders and police. Screen Shots studies this phenomenon from the vantage point of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Here, cameras have proliferated as political tools in the hands of a broad range of actors and institutions, including Palestinian activists, Israeli soldiers, Jewish settlers, and human rights workers. All trained their lens on Israeli state violence, propelled by a shared dream: that advances in digital photography—closer, sharper, faster—would advance their respective political agendas. Most would be let down.

Drawing on ethnographic work, Rebecca L. Stein chronicles Palestinian video-activists seeking justice, Israeli soldiers laboring to perfect the military’s image, and Zionist conspiracy theorists accusing Palestinians of “playing dead.” Writing against techno-optimism, Stein investigates what camera dreams and disillusionment across these political divides reveal about the Israeli and Palestinian colonial present, and the shifting terms of power and struggle in the smartphone age.

Rebecca Stein is is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Duke University.

Imani Cheers is Associate Professor of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University.

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