The Question of Hope in Palestinian Resistance

The Social Justice Series continued this week with guest speaker Irene Calis. Calis recently relocated to the DC area from Rhodes University in South Africa. She is an anthropologist concerned with issues of social justice and has focused much of her work on the ongoing resistance struggle in Palestine.

Calis’s talk “Hope against the evidence? The Underside of Resistance Politics in Palestine” explores the struggle of emancipatory politics through the reality of everyday life in an oppressive regime.  

Palestinians, particularly those in the Northwest region where Calis focused much of her work, face consistently harshening conditions. The confining reality of life within the Israeli state security apparatus means the continued loss of daily freedoms, limited access to water and land, and constant reminders of one’s own mortality.

Calis asks the question, “What does it mean to survive?” While many of the research and humanitarian narratives coming out of Palestine are imbued with a sense of hope and an optimistic stance on the power of resistance, Calis’s talk suggests instead that hope is imposed on those narratives by the researchers.

The Palestinian reality that Calis has recorded tells a much different story. While many of the participants in her research are involved in resistance efforts, they also struggle with chronic stress and collective despair. They are surrounded by constant threats of violence and death to themselves and their loved ones. The reminders of those they have already lost to the resistance are ever-present. Many of them, particularly those in the younger generation, wonder if they have any future at all.

What does it mean to fight for a more just tomorrow if you don’t actually believe tomorrow will come? What does it mean to build a resistance when you are uncertain of having any future at all? How do you keep surviving when survival doesn’t seem likely? These are the tensions that Palestinians in the fertile plains are constantly negotiating; and Calis is hoping to bring them to the forefront of resistance politics.

For those of us who plan on doing our own research alongside communities resisting and  suffering through structural violence, Calis’s presentation was an important reminder. The experiences we aim to capture are complex and nuanced. To imbue them with a false sense of hope could erase the reality of peoples’ lived experiences. If we are analyzing violent systems then we must acknowledge how that violence shapes people’s everyday lives. If we can’t recognize the despair and trauma that exist in these situations then we run the risk of not understanding the necessity of ending these violences.


Interested in learning more about social justice and public anthropology? We’d love to see you at our next event. For a list of future speakers please see the Social Justice Series. If you’d like to learn more about our program, please check out the Public Anthropology page.

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