Maha Nassar


On her book Brothers Apart: Palestinian Citizens of Israel and the Arab World

Cover Interview of March 11, 2018

In a nutshell

When people hear the term “Palestinians,” they usually think of people living in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, or in refugee camps and small communities scattered around the world. My book focuses on a group of Palestinians, who remained within Israel’s borders after the end of the 1948 War, and are not talked about as much. Most of them were granted Israeli citizenship in 1952, making them a small minority (about 13%) in the new Jewish state. However, their citizenship was not of equal status to that of Jewish Israelis, and they faced a host of discriminatory measures.

While other studies have rightly placed these discriminatory practices within the framework of settler-colonialism, I focus on how Palestinians—especially intellectuals—linked their position in Israel to larger global developments. The 1950s and 1960s were a time when colonized and semi-colonized people in the Arab world and beyond were contesting the various forms of subjugation they faced, and these larger global forces had a distinct impact on Palestinians in Israel.

Brothers Apart places the cultural and intellectual history of these Palestinian citizens of Israel within this global landscape and examines their relationship with the decolonizing world of the mid-twentieth century. I adopt a transnational framework that de-centers the Israeli state and centers instead on these intellectuals’ own worldviews. In doing so, I show how they saw the links between their conditions and those of other subjugated peoples, as well as how they drew inspiration from decolonizing movements around the world.

One remarkable aspect of this intellectual movement is that it occurred at a time when Palestinian citizens of Israel were quite isolated geographically and politically. They could not travel to Arab countries, and they could not freely import newspapers or periodicals. Brothers Apart reveals several strategies of resistance that Palestinian intellectuals in Israel adopted in their situation of isolation, such as sneaking Arabic texts across the border from neighboring countries, then surreptitiously reading and exchanging them with one another. They also developed a small but increasingly vibrant local press scene that connected them and their readers to broader intellectual and cultural developments. The most active group in this period was the Communist Party of Israel, whose publications were also the most critical of Israeli policies. As a result, they faced a great deal of censorship, which they struggled to overcome.

On one level, readers will recognize Brothers Apart as a historical study that sheds new light on the history of Palestinians and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. On a broader level, I hope readers will also see in this book a fascinating case study of how marginalized intellectuals can use cultural and journalistic writings—including newspapers, literary journals, and poetry—to not only resist the oppression they face at home, but also to reach out to (and sometimes challenge) their fellow intellectuals abroad.