Barcelona (Special to Informed Comment) – In 2003, Amahl A. Bishara, currently an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Tufts University, arrived in Palestine as a PhD student to conduct fieldwork. After only some weeks doing research in the West Bank, she visited her aunt in the Galilee, an area where some Arab communities were allowed to stay after the Nakba in 1948. Bishara was astonished when her aunt asked, “how things were, really, in the West Bank.” The aunt had spent her whole life in the Galilee, whereas Bishara had just arrived from abroad. The distance between Nazareth, the largest city in the Galilee, and Jenin, one of the main urban centers of the West Bank, is less than 20 miles as the crow flies.
In “Crossing a Line”, Bishara sheds light on how this gap between Palestinians was created and continues to be reproduced in the present, mainly by Israel but also by the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, the author introduces the reader to Palestinian efforts to bridge the divide. To do so, Bishara resorts to a varied array of resources, such as participant observation of public protests, the organization of a photography workshop, the analysis of media reports, or interviews with Palestinian activists and former prisoners.
Thanks to her US passport, Bishara had the opportunity to cross the Green Line, something denied to the majority of Palestinians. She used this relative privilege to attend numerous protests and demonstrations in Israel and the West Bank when, in the summer of 2014, the Israeli government launched a military operation against the Gaza Strip. Bishara witnessed how, despite constituting a reaction to the same events, protests inside the Green Line and in the West Bank were heavily dependent on their situational context and took different forms.
In Al-Lidd/Lod, the 1948 Palestinians — those Palestinians who remained in Israel after the Nakba and their descendants — organized through social media and demonstrated while chanting the adapted version of a poem commending Palestinian steadfastness. Under the watch of the Israeli police, counterdemonstrators proffered anti-Arab slogans at the Palestinian protesters. In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, protests largely consisted of clashes with the Israeli army. There was little space for speech, and the cursing and stone-throwing by Palestinian youths were answered with disproportional force. The stakes were much higher for protesters in Bethlehem than they were in Al-Lidd/Lod. The Israeli army would detain many participants in Bethlehem in the days following the protests, and only in July 2014, 13 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank, most during protests.
The death of Palestinians at the hands of Israel leads to what Bishara calls “Palestinian rituals of digital mourning.” The danger of falling victim to Israeli weapons is obviously higher for the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, subject to regular indiscriminate bombings by the Israeli air force. Even so, videos showing the killing of Palestinians by the Israeli army or the police contribute to creating a digital national community because they are simultaneously watched in Israel, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the diaspora. As Nadya Hajj argues in her book “Networked Refugees”, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), although not without their challenges, have greatly facilitated Palestinian global interconnectedness.
During the summer of 2014, Bishara organized a photography workshop with the participation of Palestinians from Jaffa and the Aida refugee camp close to Bethlehem. The project aimed at investigating how the two groups, coming from different sides of the Green Line, relate to each other considering that their political experiences and knowledge are mediated by different situational contexts. The participants graphically documented their daily environments, with a final exhibition of curated photographs in Jaffa. The Palestinians from Jaffa were often surprised about the difficulties faced by their counterparts to obtain the necessary Israeli permits to travel to Jaffa and participate in the workshop. When the exhibition was finally inaugurated — an event the Palestinians from the Aida refugee camp could not attend as they did not obtain the required permits — the project coordinator of the Jaffa group reflected on the whole experience in a succinct and insightful way:
“If you ask what ties these two places together, I would say one sentence: There is one thing that brings us together, and it is something that separates us also. It is the occupation.”
Israel’s settler-colonial project has in the prison system one of its essential pillars. According to statistics from September 2022, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) is holding 4,241 Palestinians, with an increasing number of prisoners being detained without charge or trial. In Rashid Khalidi’s words, Israeli prisons are designed to “control, confine, and dominate” the Palestinian population.
As with so many other aspects of Israel’s repression, 1948 Palestinians and Palestinians in the West Bank have a different relationship with political imprisonment. Whereas it is an uncommon experience for Palestinians in Israel, in the West Bank the shadow of Israeli prisons always looms large. And yet, when Palestinians meet in Israeli prisons, it becomes an opportunity to “smudge the Green Line”, in Bishara’s graphic terms. The prisoners, and their families, develop a sense of community that challenges their imposed separation outside of the prison’s walls.
Leiden University lecturer Sai Englert has written about the risk of taking for granted “the idea of a fragmented Palestinian people.” When following this narrative, “the divisions imposed on the Palestinian people by the Israeli state are reproduced uncritically, with each section of the population treated separately.” Bishara’s book approaches Palestinians as a whole while being fully aware that Israel’s power, and to a lesser extent intra-Palestinian divisions, have often succeeded in fragmenting Palestine. The author explains that she would have liked to extend her research to the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, she had to discard the idea as it would have required facing huge logistical challenges, coordinating with Israeli authorities, and a good deal of luck.
“Crossing a Line” is not a direct answer to the question posed by Bishara’s aunt. Instead, it is a necessary exploration of why such a question emerged in the first place. Connecting Palestinians living in Israel, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the diaspora requires a difficult and conscious effort to do so. The very structure of occupation promotes atomization, which severely undermines the Palestinian cause. Bridging the divide among Palestinians, as Bishara and many others seek to do, is a necessary step in the way to a freer Palestine.
 Amahl A. Bishara, Crossing a Line: Laws, Violence, and Roadblocks to Palestinian Political Expression (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2022), p. 256.
 Ibid., p. 179.
 Ibid., p. 168.
 Rashid I. Khalidi, “From the Editor: Israel: A Carceral State,” Journal of Palestine Studies 43, no. 4 (2014): 7.
 Bishara, Crossing a Line, p. 243.
 Sai Englert, Settler Colonialism: An Introduction (London: Pluto Press, 2022), p. 218.