Despite the social, political and economic significance of the Middle East, past and present, this region remains poorly understood and often ignored within the geography discipline. By hosting the 7th….
Despite the social, political and economic significance of the Middle East, past and present, this region remains poorly understood and often ignored within the geography discipline. By hosting the 7th edition of the International Conference of Critical Geography (ICCG) in Palestine, the organizing collective and the International Critical Geography Group (ICGG) hope to contribute to redressing this neglect and to shed light on the convoluted realities of this context. In other words, we aim to place Palestine and the Middle East more broadly on the map of critical geography, academically and politically.
The choice of Palestine to host the forthcoming edition is not trivial. Palestine is a rich context for geographers and others to observe first hand, learn about, and engage with the human, political and economic geographies resulting from more than a century of European settler colonialism and US imperialism. Yet Palestine is much more than the ‘object’ of imperial, colonial and capitalist ‘forces’. It is a place that stands at the heart of the recent Arab uprisings as an inspiration to the popular struggles that have profoundly shaken the Arab World and beyond in ways yet difficult to anticipate.
Organizing an international conference in such a context is however not without consequences and limitations. For instance choosing Palestine as the setting for the next ICCG means that many Arab and Muslim colleagues and comrades (from Malaysia and Pakistan to Lebanon and Iraq) will not be able to attend the conference due to restrictions and racial profiling imposed at the borders by the Israeli occupation authorities, as well as to political considerations of refusing to normalise Israel’s settler colonialism. Equally, Israeli colleagues will have a hard time making it to the conference. This is especially so considering the Israeli Government’s ban on its citizens’ entry into Palestinian urban areas (so-called Areas A, in the language of the Oslo agreements) in the West Bank, including Ramallah, as well as the political tensions on the ground filled by Israel’s continued settler colonial expansion and dispossession. In spite of this and other constraints, we believe that organizing this conference in Palestine is a significant academic and political effort worth pursuing.
The power asymmetries and injustices that define this context entail difficult choices but also present a need to position oneself politically; Palestine is not an abstract geography where a conference can take place above politics. As such, everyone registering and attending this conference is considered as standing in support of three basic Palestinian rights, stipulated in international law. That is, ending the occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties. Endorsing these fundamental rights, we believe, is the minimum we can do as conscientious people in support and recognition of the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle. As Desmond Tutu reminds us, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”.
In recognizing these Palestinian rights and siding with the oppressed, the conference avoids giving a false impression of normalcy in a context defined by settler colonial oppression and racial discrimination. In so doing, the conference and the ICGG remain committed to push forth its purpose to developing the theory and practice necessary for combating social exploitation and oppression.