Stories on the Fault Lines in Israel/Palestine

Exploring the transmission of histories through storytelling among Israeli and Palestinian youth who live in areas of high friction.

This research was inspired by a story I stumbled on by chance as I was working in a creative arts centre in Bethlehem in 2011. During the Second Intifada, when Bethlehem lay under military curfew and schools faced frequent closures, a high school literature teacher set her students controversial homework: to read The Diary of Anne Frank. The girls initially refused to touch the text. When they did read it, it sparked a conversation about Holocaust memory that took place as Israeli tanks rumbled in the streets. How had this forbidden history managed to pass the separation barrier encircling Bethlehem at a time of increased violence and repression, when data suggests that heightened violence leads to a further hardening of attitudes? This question was the beginning of a long-term project involving approximately fifty young people from communities across a fractured and polarized spectrum: Palestinian refugee camps, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, bilingual peace-orientated schools, and a neighbourhood split by a segregated street. Through creative storytelling workshops and ethnographic fieldwork, I analysed how stories are transmitted across and influenced by these different boundaries, which I have termed fault lines; and the impact that the storytelling process has on young people's understanding of community, belonging, and exclusion.

Some Findings

  • Young people’s stories are many-layered and ambivalent, a fact that is not easily captured by quantitative research or one-off interviews. Survey data and interviews with conflict-affected youth should be interpreted with sensitivity and caution.
  • Boundary spaces are often fertile ground for the transmission of story and forbidden memory, despite their association with division and segregation. Israelis and Palestinians who lived in settings of high friction were often more attuned to the stories and experiences of the 'other' community than those who had little direct personal experience of the violence.
When you live near to someone, you – first of all, I believe that I will know more and I will understand more...There will be less hatred and people who can’t talk to each other. So I try to know things. I don’t know when I knew it – about the Nakba, but it’s the chance for attacks or something like this, and I live [in a settlement] and someone might attack me, so it is more obvious from in here.
— Yuval, a 17-year-old Israeli boy living in an Orthodox Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
  • Historical trauma is central to the young people's self-concept and understanding of community. The Holocaust and the Nakba recurred through the stories, with young people frequently associating these dark histories with their own births.
  • Figurative language, metaphor, and fairy tale were important. Young people were more likely to approach forbidden histories or other challenging topics through these means than to tell straightforward auto/biographical stories.
1948 is an important date, of course. It’s not going to be something that I can ignore. I didn’t live at that time, a refugee I’ll always go back to that date. So. The Nakba. Then I think I’m going to go to 1995, the day I was born, the year I was born. Yeah, it’s the beginning of my life.
— Amal, a 19-year-old Palestinian girl from Dheisheh refugee camp.

Publications from this research

Language and Conflict in Israel-Palestine: Young People, Contested Space, and the Politics of Memory. (Forthcoming book.)