Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Souvenirs of Conquest: Israeli Occupations as Tourist Events

Souvenirs of Conquest: Israeli Occupations as Tourist Events

By Rebecca L. Stein
Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology & Women's Studies,
Duke University

International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 40, Issue 4: 647-669

It is perhaps self-evident to suggest that military conquest shares something with tourism because both involve encounters with “strange” landscapes and people. Thus it may not surprise that the former sometimes borrows rhetorical strategies from the latter—strategies for rendering the strange familiar or for translating threatening images into benign ones. There have been numerous studies of this history of borrowing. Scholars have considered how scenes of battle draw tourist crowds, how soldiers’ ways of seeing can resemble those of leisure travelers, how televised wars have been visually structured as tourist events (e.g., the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq), and how the spoils of war can function as a body of souvenirs. These lines of inquiry expand our understanding of tourism as a field of cultural practices and help us to rethink the parameters of militarism and warfare by suggesting ways they are entangled with everyday leisure practices.

This paper considers the ways this entanglement functions in the Israeli case. To be more specific, I am interested in the workings of Israeli tourist practices and discourses during two key moments of Israeli military engagement: the 1967 war and subsequent onset of the Israeli military occupation and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. My analysis in both instances focuses on a reading of popular Israeli Hebrew and English language print media, with attention to the ways that Israeli newspapers represented the incursion, occupation, and/or conquest to Israeli publics in the immediate aftermath of the wartime victory (1967) and invasion (1982). Both cases have been largely overlooked within the scholarly writing on Israel, and both expand our account of Israeli militarism by considering the popular cultural avenues by which state military projects have been enabled and sustained.

Consider, by means of introduction, the 1967 case. The gradual dissolution of borders between Israel and its newly occupied territories in war’s aftermath generated numerous new possibilities for Israeli travel to places that had been inaccessible since 1948. What resulted was a tourist event of massive proportions, passionately documented by the Israeli popular media of the period through images of surging Israeli crowds in Jerusalem’s Old City, of the rush to buy souvenirs in Bethlehem and inexpensive appliances in Gaza City, and of collective wonder at sites that had been off limits to Israeli passport holders for nearly two decades.Given the nation’s preoccupation with the more pressing matters of the day—namely, the future of the newly occupied territories and the conditions for a peace settlement with Israel’s Arab neighbors—such coverage was typically relegated to back pages.Yet this relative marginality should not obscure the significance of such narratives or the cultural practices they described. As I argue in what follows, tourist practices and the stories they generated gave prosaic, cultural expression to the Israeli wartime victory. Tourism, and the rituals of consumption that attended it, was a crucial means by which many Jewish Israeli civilians came to know or reacquaint themselves with the newly occupied territories and confront their newfound status as occupiers. Indeed, one can make the case more pointedly: such tourist practices and accompanying narratives worked to displace the violence of the new Israeli occupation by recasting military conquest as a leisure opportunity. Through stories about tourism as they circulated in the Israeli popular media, the occupation was figured as an exercise in mass sightseeing. The violence that the occupation entailed and the political interests that it served were virtually invisible.

Read the full article HERE.

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