In the Old City of Jerusalem a Palestinian majority forms a figuration with a minority of Jewish Israelis, wherein the latter are the established and the former the outsiders. The Palestinian groupings are exposed to and have to come to terms with unpredictable politics and oppression. Together with changing or insecure family relations as well as the requested commitment to religious and social principles this enlarges the burden on dwellers to help stabilizing symbolically loaded “communities” in familial, religious, social, and national regards – a critical role which makes the individual face manifold negotiations and obstacles.
Thus, political/communal activism for a national cause arises not only out of state-political oppression, but transcends the “big” conflict. It may also have a biographical function of tackling, fleeing, or surpassing other confining issues mentioned above; with political activism becoming a foil on which these are projected. This can for example be familial control, difficulties within one’s own life or with one’s family history, etc. Concentrating on the present or decontextualizing history from one’s own experiences serves to essentialize belonging to the Palestinian nation.
The biographers’ narrations about political activism, however, implicitly highlight these issues. For example, the discussion of various forms of resistance (e.g. of passive or active forms as “traditional” or “modern”) reveals conflicts between generations or political outlooks.
My paper is based on fieldwork in the Old City of Jerusalem, which is part of my PhD-project as well as a larger Israeli-Palestinian-German research project, funded by the German Research Foundation.