Developing my Research: Part 2

Man, it's been a while! I hit a little bump in the data analysis of my dissertation data, and have since had to kind of revamp the literature review, and somehow the weeks just flew. But I'm back!

Way back in April, I wrote part 1 of what was intended to be a 2 part series about developing my research focus, specifically my dissertation topic. I planned on updating part 2 in the early summer, but then, well, the world fell apart. The inevitable outcome of the simmering tensions in the Palestinian Territories, peaking in the harsh collective punishment of the West Bank following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli boys, was an all out assault of Gaza. I though things would quiet down after that, with the exception of a few announcements about donor conferences, ceasefires talks, and border closures (the usual). In the fall, several Palestinian youth were killed by Israeli forces (including an American citizen), and an Israeli baby died as a result of a Palestinian driving his car into a Jerusalem light rail (a terrorist attack, say Israelis- an accident, say his family). A few weeks ago, a right-wing Israeli activist was allegedly shot (but survived and is currently recovering) by a Palestinian who was later killed. Al Aqsa was subsequently closed for a time, as other restrictions increased throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, further raising tensions. Just this week, two Palestinian cousins attacked worshippers at a synagogue and killed five. The family homes of most of the Palestinian perpetrators have been destroyed, despite no evidence that this practice serves any possible security purpose or deterrent (and is indeed solely collective punishment). The phrase "third intifada" is being thrown around like crazy, and the region seems poised for even more tragedy.

In an odd way, this segues into the completion of this post. So many people tried to discourage me from pursuing Palestine as a topic for research- it's unfixable, untouchable, impossible. But, as a Palestinian, one who genuinely wants a peaceful, just solution in the region, one who has grown up and studied in the United States, I feel it is, in a way, my responsibility to do something. At this point, I'm not the one sitting in the room with Abbas or Netanyahu. But I do feel as though I have the capacity to add a voice to the chorus made up of some amazing scholars and others who have dedicated their life's work to studying some aspect of Palestine or the conflict. There are so many fascinating questions to be asked about this region, from food and language, to culture to history, to, of course the conflict and politics. The tough part is deciding which of these questions you feel compelled to ask. There are a lot of things that interest me- the idea of "circles of exile" in the Palestinian diaspora, the human rights discussion, the idea of food sovereignty and the many other ways in which the entrenchment of the occupation impacts Palestinian life. But for my dissertation, after a lot of reading, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of feedback, I came to a decision. 

What does war do to people? It's a really broad question. But one I felt compelled to answer. There was so much devastation and chronic stress among the Palestinian population- countless studies have found high rates of PTSD, anxiety, insecurity, heart disease, and multiple other physical and mental indicators that show that there is something about living in war that changes you. If your house is bombed or demolished, if your family member is killed or arrested, if you have to spend hours of your life stuck at roadblocks and applying for permits (that are often denied), if you feel a constant squeeze on everyday life- what does that do to you? What's unique- and tragic- about Palestine is the time span of the conflict. Entire generations have grown up remembering nothing but occupation, war, displacement, and injustice. The potential effect that had on the psyche- well, I don't think it's hard to imagine that it would be significant. So often, in talking about wars, and especially Israel/Palestine, it is easy to get caught up in the politics of it all. This leader said this, that leader did that, this proposal is being considered, etc. What gets lost in the conversation is the people that are currently, as politicians stall, hide and/or incite, living in the situation. Experiencing the policies that are discussed so abstractly in rooms lined with bottle water and name placards. They are still trying to get to work, trying to go to college, trying to get married and start families. There are enough voices screaming about the politics. I wanted to get at the truth of the real people, trying to live.

And that's really where I am today. I still have more general interests, like aid and aspects of health policy, that I am still exploring and working on. But in terms of what I want my legacy to be, of where I want to contribute my voice; it is in giving a platform to those that are oppressed. Injustice is just about the most tragic thing I can imagine. I think those in a position to shed light on it without fear of retaliation or retribution should recognize their privilege and do so.