Symposium Introduction

Exile and its Discontents: The Diasporic Politics of Return

Talking about Palestinian-Israeli affairs is very uncomfortable. It is a practical matter of grave significance for contemporary foreign affairs and a historical malaise of maddening perplexity; the lack of peace has tragically grave consequences as we all learned this last July when escalating violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza led to the deaths of over 2000 Palestinians in Gaza and 71 Israelis. The historical complexity of the political reality is redoubled when the issues therein are discussed as political-theological matters, mostly because political theology itself is inherently awkward. Political theology forces us to discuss topics that are gauche, uncouth, and imprudent: violence, sovereignty, God, rights, and money. And so, one can be forgiven for thinking that, if it is taken up as a political-theological matter, any further discussion of the distance between Jewish, Christian, and Muslim perspectives (not to mention the multiplicities therein) about how to organize and arrange—that is, to map—their collective futures, only promises to deepen the distrust, pain, and dispossession.
But Mapping Exile and Return argues that there is nothing more ‘political-theological’ than the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The conflict over sovereignty, reparations, claims to land and rights of return, and the ethno-religious organization of Jerusalem, is organized and regulated by an exclusionary theo-logic of the nation-state, unwelcoming to the religious multiplicity or ethnic heterogeneity of the region and its history. Alain Epp Epp Weaver argues forcefully that the political theology of exile can help map a shared, demilitarized, confederational future that brings an end to ‘Zionist’ occupation and exclusion. This argument comes not from the strength of ideational arguments, but rather the political force of his ethnographic research on the unique role that certain mapping practices (interpreted as liturgies, perhaps incorrectly, as Rachel Havrelock suggests) play in the efforts of Palestinian communities to reimagine their political arrangements and social attachments in the context of diaspora and exile. The end result is a theopolitical arrangement that is “shaped by the Jeremian call to seek the shalom of the city to which one has been dispersed.” In this way, exile is not negated by return, and return is not necessarily a repossession of one’s homeland, but a remapping of what ‘homeland’ means when galut is viewed as a theological vocation.

While the conflict is sometimes construed along Jewish-Muslim lines (even more problematically, along Israeli-Arab lines, a troublesome formation of the problem that Melanie Duguid-May traces out well) it also strikes at the theological heart of the Christian imaginary because of the sordid history between Christianity and its political appropriation of what Epp Weaver calls the “Zionist nationalist ideology.” This ideology calls for the erasure of ‘the Palestinian’ from a land they calls their own, an ethnocratic gesture that is politically enacted, but cartographically represented. This makes any sort of meaningful Palestinian return an impossibility, given that it cannot be interpreted in anything else other than a outright violation of Israeli sovereignty. The politics of displacement, enacted through estrangement of diasporic exile, is given a theological backing through its negation in “Zionist political theology,” a theme often celebrated by Christian treatments of the subject. If we are left with no recourse beyond crudely competing claims to land rights and sovereignty based on the binary of exile and return (‘one’s return is another’s exile’), peaceful return, like forgiveness, is impossible. As Melanie Duguid-May reminds, in the choice between “love or death,” death seems to win out every time. Duguid-May helpfully theologizes a solidaristic way beyond this false choice through a common belief in the sacrality of human being, but one is left wondering if it affords us any real political force.

To counter this, Epp Weaver argues that we must reimagine the future of displacement along the lines of a shared future, rather than the exclusionary maps of erasure that often accompany calls for return. The alternative ‘maps’ of exile and return that Epp Weaver envisions are both liturgical and political, theopoetic and arboreal. These maps are both theoretical and cartographical, acting as what Pierre Bourdieu calls a habitus, a socio-symbolic practice that embodies the structure of how one is to live and so is enacted into the lives of those who share in it. This habitus is pedagogical: it teaches actors and their communities – Palestinian and Israeli alike—how to think and live exilicly about return and landedness without abandoning the possibilities brought forth by mutuality, sharing, and cohabitation. This means both that the Palestinian maps of return involve and include a reimagining of exile as a landed modality, and so requires positive interpretations of exile: a way of life that Epp Weaver calls “accepting galut as vocation.” His reading of John Howard Yoder as a celebrated advocate of just such an idea leads him to conclude that exile must remain a primary theological category for a Palestinian political theology of return. Return cannot mean the negation of exile because if it does all that is left for us politically is volley after volley of mutually exclusive claims to land rights and rights of return for the sake of establishing discrete nation-states that necessarily involve the displacement, partition, and exclusion of the other. Epp Weaver’s liturgical counter-politics aims to reconfigure exile and return as mutually informing, rather opposed, ways of being connected to land that clears space for multiple belongings and attachments,

One question raised by this symposium is whether or not the Palestinian-Israeli affair calls for political-theological resolution. As our panelists note, at times, it appears as if political theology only make rapprochement harder to imagine. Can theology, or as Havrelock calls it, “appeals to transcendent reality”, offer more possibilities for binationalism than it does obstacles to shared success? Do the politics of theology really afford us ways of thinking exilic identity and the ‘returning dream’ that lead us out of identitarian or nationalist dynamics? Isn’t exile a theological problem at its core—that is, the theology of the nation-state as conceived by what Epp Weaver calls the “Zionist nationalist ideology”? Joshua Ralston is quick to point out that exile is having its own little moment, but mostly by those who do not actually suffer from it. He troubled by the theological attempt to refuse the negation of exile undermines the critical need to point out how deeply painful exile is.

With this emphasis, Najib George Awad reminds us, we risk missing the critical position that exile presents to us. It is not to be celebrated as a vocation, a theological reading that Havrelock rightly claims, risks becoming “yet another Christian figuration in which a Jewish form is hypothesized and then emptied of meaning.” For Awad, religion, not just demographic or political identity, matters. It matters whether one is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, for they all draw upon distinct imaginaries for thinking “the returning dream.” For many Palestinian Christians, their diasporic existence affords them a critical vantage which shows that “return” to their land may not be such a dream after all, especially when it comes to how one expects to be treated upon one’s return – and what kind of return is available to them. Melanie Duguid-May traces a history of solidarity between Jews and Muslims (on account of their shared history of being targeted by the genocidal Christian Europe), but recognizes that at the dawn of the Israeli state, any real alliance was made impossible by nationalist identity. All lasting solidarity and alliance must transcend borders, identities, and shared interests; it must be rooted in our common humanity. We are left with a stark political choice: love or death.

This same link between a broad humanism and a post-nationalist spirit is take up persuasively by Rachel Havrelock, who challenges or questions Epp Weaver’s insistence that the counter-cartographic efforts described in his book are indeed theological, liturgical even. Concerned about how Epp Weaver’s theological construal of binationalism seems to participate in a trend within theology whereby Jewish ideas are stripped of their particularity and repurposed for Christian ends—even if such ideas actively intend to avoid supersesssionist tendencies. Joshua Ralston is dubious whether Epp Weaver’s thesis is helpful for theorizing a shared future organized along the lines of heterogeneous space and multiple belongings for the city of Jerusalem. For many Palestinian Christians Ralston has encountered, exile is not what is celebrated in their political practices, but rather sumud: resilience, rootedness, and endurance. He points to examples of liturgies that symbolically refuse to submit to exile, rather than try to reimagine or remap it, and so creatively practice and enact forms of bodily arrangement that resists exilic orders, and stubbornly insists that they belong, that exile is indeed wrong, and the apparatus that enforces and police their bodies and the practice of their faith (checkpoints, barriers, fences) are the forces of exile.



Living in Place

THE EVOCATIVE TITLE OF Alain Epp Weaver’s book, Mapping Exile and Return: Palestinian Dispossession and a Political Theology for a Shared Future, promises to do many things: describe a range of Palestinian positions on statelessness and the right to return, frame these positions in light of political theology, and draw a map of sorts for how a liberated Palestine might emerge without the violent displacement of the State of Israel. Not one of these tasks is easy or without contentious reverberations in multiple directions. As visions of a shared future become all the more vital, they simultaneously become harder to articulate in public forums. It is therefore important to say at the outset that Epp Weaver’s book successfully delivers on its promises. Mapping Exile and Return is a wonderful study, careful in its ethnographic depictions and rigorous in its theorizing. By connecting the thought of Edward Said, Salman Abu-Sitta, and Elias Chacour with the activism of the Christian Palestinian exiles of Kafr Bir’im and the Israeli Jewish members of Zochrot, Epp Weaver maps a post-national terrain in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean and accounts for how groups already living together in a violent scenario of occupation and clash might recognize this bald fact and end the war. In fact, this would be no return to a pre-national or colonial political reality, but simply a system that dropped impassioned, oppositional myths of nationalist redemption in favor of access and more equitable distribution of resources.

My praise for this book is considerable and my own efforts of post-nationalist mapping will be advanced because of it. In what follows, I engage two specific aspects of the book—its accounts of post-nationalist activism and its proposed theology of diaspora—and express my abundant enthusiasm and some lingering discomfort.

Epp Weaver illustrates how return and exile might be reconciled as Palestinians engage in projects of restoring ancestral lands and Israelis accommodate the signs of Palestine in their present. His first example involves the descendants and former residents of Kafr Bir’im, a long-standing Arab Christian community, displaced from their land in 1948 not as the result of a battle, but an act of Israeli bureaucratic chicanery. Enduring a proximate exile in the nearby village of Jish, a large number of people from Bir’im witnessed the destruction of their homes and the development of Israeli communities and a national park in their place. After decades of appealing to the Israeli Supreme Court, petitioning the government, and refusal to relinquish their rights in a land swap, Bir’imites began organizing protest marches to draw attention to their internal displacement. In the 1970s, they gained “permission to use the church on feast days and to bury their dead in the village cemetery” (101). This led to regular family trips and pilgrimages to former abodes, as well as “roots and belonging summer camps” for youth to connect to the place and its cultures. Their connection to both the ruins and the current habitations, Epp Weaver argues, enables the Bir’imites to advance a vision of return in which the Israeli kibbutzim and moshav on Bir’im lands need not be razed in a manner of apocalypse presaging redemption. Instead, they appeal to return to the uninhabited parkland and to live alongside the Israeli communities. The Bir’imites submitted this proposal to an Israeli commission together with an accompanying map outlining the shape of such shared space. Although the map has not been realized in whole or in part by planning or development, Epp Weaver shows how it has initiated creative reimagining of the destroyed village, as well as preliminary negotiations between certain members of Kibbutz Baram and the leaders of the Bir’imite community. Epp Weaver effectively shows how more equitable, sustainable modes of inhabiting the same place emerge on a local scale and, in turn, can exert influence on state policies and formations.

Epp Weaver next highlights the work of the Zochrot Association dedicated to acknowledging Israel’s War of Independence as the Palestinian nakba or “Catastrophe” and enlarging Israeli collective consciousness to include Palestinian losses. Focusing on Zochrot’s efforts to create geographical markers of two destroyed Palestinan villages—Yalu and ‘Imwas—within the Canada Park forest, Epp Weaver shows the degree to which signage plays a determining role in the experience of landscape. In brief, Zochrot requested that the Jewish National Fund—in charge of the park—create signs acknowledging the sites of the villages. When the JNF declined, Zochrot erected its own makeshift signs that the JNF cleared. After a case presented before the Israel’s High Court, the JNF agreed to mark the sites of Yalu and ‘Imwas with two signs. In a kind of merger of signifier and signified, one sign disappeared and the other became defaced. Where some might construe this as a battle lost, Zochrot director Eitan Bronstein views the remaining sign covered in black paint as “an act of erasure” that “leaves its traces” (140). How the landscape is marked, of course, plays a crucial role in how humans experience it and Epp Weaver presents such campaigns for signage as “forms of spatial protest” that “map a binational landscape and chart new political possibilities” (134). These political possibilities include an Israeli embrace of the Palestinian right of return.

In highlighting Zochrot’s work, Epp Weaver makes available an alternate mode of inhabiting contested space. To me, it seems to speak for itself and to not necessarily warrant his definition in terms of liturgy. As reported by Epp Weaver, Zochrot participants describe their projects in terms of cartography, therapy, or testimony. They do not frame them as religious acts. For this reason, Epp Weaver’s insistence on the theological import of binational activism seems forced. Not unaware of this potential criticism, he is careful with terms, defining liturgy through political theorist Vincent Lloyd’s notion of “a practice that creates a space in which the hegemony of social norms is suspended, thus pointing to new political possibilities” (128). I have no doubt that Zochrot members would accept the definition, yet wonder how Palestinian and Israeli political activists in increasingly religious and usually reactionary settings would react to the construal of their work as theological. No matter the response of the activists, I am left unsure if redefining militarized landscape or leading tours of the Palestine that endures in Israel—vital efforts both—truly needs to be called liturgical. Must a post-national future be religious? Need it be universalist?

My discomfort with the insistence on a theological context for efforts of protest and deconstruction of the nation-state grows in the section entitled “Countering Shelilat Ha-Galut: John Howard Yoder’s Missiology of Exile” in which Epp Weaver applies the Mennonite ethicist John Howard Yoder’s “theological embrace of exile, or galut, as vocation” to the territorial disputes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (67). Epp Weaver is consistently clear about his own commitments, stating at the outset that his “theological cartography . . . is explicitly Christian rooted in Christian confession” and that he first came to Palestine as a representative of the Mennonite Church (9). He thus speaks, as most of us have been instructed, from his particular subject position. In articulating my critique, I will similarly identify my discomfort as likely a form of Jewish discomfort at yet another Christian theological figuration in which a Jewish form is hypothesized and then emptied of meaning. My problem then might be with a trend in Christian theology as much as with the most theological portion of Epp Weaver’s book.

Yoder sees “Constantiniansim” as a primal moment of loss when Christianity became severed from its “Jewish rootage” (67). As a mode of repairing this loss, Yoder recommends that Christians live a little like imagined historical Jews “not being in charge” of their political fate and a little like imagined biblical Jews “radically dependent upon God alone” (67). The imagined state of “not being in charge” reads here like a transhistorical Jewish choice, without cause or agent. The multiple Christian, imperial, and national agents of such a social position as well as the various Jewish theories and acts of navigating the situation or blatantly not living it become effaced. In other words, it might be difficult for Jews or, at least, difficult for this Jew to take an ethic of exile from Christian theology with its multiple complicities with colonial movements. I agree with Epp Weaver that Zionism over-privileges ancient histories of Jewish political sovereignty in the name of dispensing with models of Jewish diasporism as progenitors and alternatives, but to insist that Jews in particular did not or should not claim political sovereignty with its attendant abuses does not seem the best working premise for ending the Occupation. Has the nation-state failed in the Middle East? Certainly. Has the Jewish nation-state failed? Largely yes. But to level the charge alone at the portion of world Jewry with citizenship in a Jewish state while negating the larger role of Christian politics and Christian theology in creating and sustaining Middle Eastern nation-states seems an extension of a most troubling global historical power imbalance. As the premise of Jewish sovereignty is negated in Yoder’s theory, Judaism hangs around like an anachronistic vestige or a Christian mnemonic after it is fulfilled in the “covenant of grace” offered by Jesus Christ. In other words, Christians of the world seem to perfect both power and exile. This magnanimous Christianity, in turn, can accommodate those good Jews who “accept galut as vocation” (82).

Epp Weaver acknowledges the controversy around this theological turn and cites “four broad, interrelated critiques of Yoder’s position” (70). As I add my critique to the others, I want to pick up on another strain of the argument focused on the elision of different “theologies of land in the Bible” (71). Although I name these myths instead of theologies, I concur with Epp Weaver that notions of exile and return run fluidly through biblical accounts of territory rather than operating as a rigid binary.1 Still, this doesn’t lead me to invest hope in the redemption of a heavenly Jerusalem as does Yoder. Too often when people pledge “that the land belongs to God,” they subsequently rally behind God on the battlefield (76). Instead of appealing to an alleged transcendence that brings our petty controversies down to scale, I would recommend rolling back the myth of homeland to accommodate those present in the selfsame space.

If we would like to derive a model from Scripture, then one fitting is the book of Joshua split as it is between two visions of place. The first half of Joshua advocates military conquest by a unified People of Israel who dispossess the prior inhabitants of Canaan and settle on their land. Between the book’s rhetoric and its citation as a biblical warrant for numerous projects of ethnic cleansing and colonization, it is about the worst the Bible has on offer. However, should one turn to the second half—a rare move because it makes for boring reading—the very peoples said to have been exterminated reappear as neighbors. Israel doesn’t seem unified at all, but rather constituted by groups with different positions on the idea of alliance or confederation. The distinction between groups that acquiesce and groups that resist seems to be political, more than ethnic. In other words, we can arrive at a precedent for Epp Weaver’s desired federation of Palestine-Israel or Galilee-Israel-Palestine-Negev, or exiles from Palestine-internal exiles-Jewish exiles from Europe-Jewish exiles from the Arab world-exiles from God without the, to my mind, dangerous appeal to a transcendent reality.

Epp Weaver ends up where I, and many others, end up in the search for the end of Occupation and militarization—at the idea “of a federation or confederation of smaller, sometimes overlapping, communal units.” So perhaps it really doesn’t matter how he gets there. Perhaps we will all walk our own tribal paths to arrive at settled/non-settled co-presence and his is the path of the Mennonite. All the same, where appeals to the transcendent are likely to erect new partitions, the acknowledgment of water tables dropping dangerously low and high concentrations of toxins in “holy” land and water may best open the space to collective interdependence.

  1. Rachel Havrelock, River Jordan: The Mythology of a Dividing Line (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

  • Alain Epp Weaver

    Alain Epp Weaver


    Longing for the Land within the Land

    As Rachel Havrelock observes at the end of her generous response to Mapping Exile and Return, she and I converge at the same place in our writings on potential futures for Palestinians and Israeli Jews, namely, a hope for some form of consociational binationalism of confederated, often overlapping, communities that would overcome the current distorted binational reality.1 In today’s binational landscape, nearly four millions stateless Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank live without citizenship rights, while over a million Palestinians inside Israel face numerous forms of discrimination thanks to what Israeli geographer Oren Yiftachel has called the Israeli state’s ethnocratic policies.2 Israeli policies, practices, and peace processes attempt to wall off the Palestinian presence (be it inside Israel, the Occupied Territories, or Palestinian refugee camps across the region) with procedural, legal, and physical barriers, barriers aimed at maximizing territorial control while keeping the perceived demographic threat posed by Palestinians to the Jewishness (understood solely in demographic terms) of the Israeli state at bay. Advocates of binational political arrangements reject these strategies of separation as ultimately futile attempts to wall off the binational reality through militarized borders and discriminatory legal regimes, arguing that instead the binational character of the land must be welcomed as a promise rather than confronted as a threat.

    That Havrelock and I end up at similar places is no surprise, given how her work has inspired and shaped my thinking at many points. Unfortunately, I cannot luxuriate here in our agreements, but must rather attend to the probing questions and hesitations she raises about my study. Specifically, I will try to address Havrelock’s hesitations about what she views as my “insistence on a theological context for efforts of protest and deconstruction of the nation-state.”

    Havrelock’s worries first surface as questions about the appropriateness of my identification of counter-mapping actions carried out by the Israeli group Zochrot as liturgical actions (or, more specifically, as exilic vigils), actions that contest the hegemony of particular social norms by pointing to new future possibilities through actions in the present. My response here is be twofold. First, I readily acknowledge that liturgy is but one way to understand Zochrot’s actions. As Havrelock recognizes, I have discussed how Zochrot also describes its actions in testimonial and therapeutic terms. My aim is not a grand attempt to make political theology the master hermeneutical key for interpreting the actions of Zochrot or of other Israeli and Palestinian groups that contest militarized landscapes through embodied action in the present, but rather the more modest effort of offering a liturgical interpretation of Zochrot’s actions as a viable one. Second, I would contend that this interpretation is not an extrinsic interpretation imposed upon Zochrot’s actions, but rather emerges from within and is suggested by Zochrot’s own discourse, specifically by Zochrot’s repeated invocations of passages from Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” in Zochrot’s pamphlets and self-presentation.3 This repeated invocation of Benjamin by Zochrot, it seems to me, naturally suggests viewing Zochrot’s actions in terms of Benjamin’s notion of messianic time as a rupture of present hegemonies; I built on this dynamic present within Zochrot’s work and then used the works of political theorist Vincent Lloyd and Catholic theologian Jean-Yves Lacoste to develop a Christian theological understanding of and engagement with Zochrot’s actions. Would other Israeli Jewish and Palestinian groups actively contesting the present ethnocractic regime and working for a post-national future resonate with the Benjaminian spirit I see at play within Zochrot and with my theological engagement with that work? Havrelock is undoubtedly better positioned than I am to answer that question. But at least in the case Zochrot, I would contend that the engagement is productive and arguably flows from Zochrot’s own self-understandings.

    Havrelock’s other main concern with my argument is that the vision of exilic landedness I put forward risks being “yet another Christian theological figuration in which a Jewish form is hypothesized and then emptied of meaning.” She pointedly observes that a Christian exilic critique of Zionism, such as the one offered by John Howard Yoder that I build upon while also critiquing and modifying it, is difficult to take, given Christian theology’s “multiple complicities with colonial movements.”

    Haverlock’s concerns are serious and important. In response, I would first contextualize the Christian theological context for my argument. Theologians like Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas who have critiqued “Constantinianism” (as the church’s alignment with dominant social orders) have articulated missiological visions of the church as an exilic community or a community of “resident aliens” that arguably offer a Christian theological vantage point for critiquing colonialism and the church’s complicity with it. Yet, as I ask in the introduction to my book, what resources, if any, do such exilic ecclesiologies have for those dispossessed by colonial movements (Native Americans, Palestinians, and others) who properly insist on their rightful place on the land? What positive vision, if any, of landedness and return does an exilic theology make possible? Mapping Exile and Return attempts to answer that question by bringing Yoder’s exilic theology into conversation with Edward Said’s exilic criticism and various Jewish retrievals of exile and diaspora. The critique of Zionism that results should not obscure the fact that the exilic theologies of Yoder and Hauerwas should, if taken seriously, issue in an even more vigorous critique of the church’s complicity with colonialism.

    My second response to Haverlock’s concern that I am appropriating Jewish concepts of exile/galut/diaspora and draining them of meaning is to highlight that while Yoder’s work offers one source for my critique of Zionism’s “negation of exile,” I have been equally influenced by Jewish reworkings of exile/galut/diaspora to critique Zionism, such as those advanced by Daniel and Jonathan Boyarin, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Gabriel Piterberg, and Judith Butler. Drawing upon Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin’s analysis of Zionism’s “national colonial theology” (consisting of the three doctrinal pillars of the negation of exile, the return to the land, and the return to history), I examine how Raz-Krakotzkin and others recover an exilic perspective for a critique of Zionism.4 Piterberg, for example, contends that “galut as consciousness within a territorially oppressive reality is a prerequisite for decolonization and recognition of the binational nature of the country’s history and geography.”5 Butler calls attention to what she describes as “diasporic elements working within Israel to dislodge the pervasive assumptions of nationalism.”6 And Raz-Krakotzkin argues that recuperating an exilic consciousness will foster what the Palestinian novelist Emile Habibi described as a common “longing for the land within the land,” a longing that might become “a new starting point of all who dwell in the land, a basis for their partnership.”7 In building on the work of Raz-Krakotzkin, Butler, and Piterberg, I do not seek to make any claims about what “true Judaism” is or to argue that the proper essence of rabbinic Judaism is a radical, exilic dependence on God alone. (Yoder at points arguably succumbs to this error, as I discuss in my treatment of Yoder on exile.) Rather, I merely wish to underscore how Christian critiques of Constantinianism converge at points with (or at least bear a family resemblance to) contemporary Jewish retrievals of “exile” or “diaspora” in order to critique Zionism. The purpose of highlighting this family resemblance is not, as Havrelock acknowledges, to champion “exile” over “return,” or “exile” over “landedness,” but rather to name the restless, diasporic spirit that I would argue is at play among Palestinians and Israeli Jews striving for a just future in the land, a spirit that refuses to be fully “at home” in the land so long as the violent dispossessions of the present continue to hold sway.

    1. See, for example, Yehouda Shenhav, Beyond the Two-State Solution: A Jewish Political Essay (Malden, MA: Polity, 2013).

    2. Oren Yiftachel, Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006).

    3. For one among many examples, see Eitan Bronstein, “Mapping the Destruction,” March 2013, available at http:/C:/dev/home/

    4. Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, “A National Colonial Theology: Religion, Orientalism, and the Construction of the Secular in Zionist Discourse,” Tel Aviver Jahrbuch für deutsche Geschichte 30 (2002): 312–26.

    5. Gabriel Piterberg, The Returns of Zionism: Myths, Politics, and Scholarship in Israel (London: Verso, 2008), 95.

    6. Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (New York: Verso, 2004), 119. See also Butler, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).

    7. Quoted in Laurence Silberstein, The Postzionism Debates: Knowledge and Power in Israeli Culture (London: Routledge, 1999), 182.



On Mapping Exile and Return

Comments in relation to the Palestinian Diaspora

ALAIN EPP WEAVER’S Mapping Exile and Return: Palestinian Diaspora and a Political Theology for Shared Future, is a valuable and thought-provoking book. The author writes his monograph on a highly sensitive issue related to one of the most complicated and direly tragic human clashes in the twentieth century’s Middle East: the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The author writes with a sharp analytical mind and expresses his views in an admirably brave manner. In a courageous style reminiscent of Ilan Pappé’s in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Epp Weaver starts his book with statements like, “Zionism as an Orientalist discourse and practice, produced an ‘imaginative geography,’ a cartographic conceptualization as a land without a people for a people without a land,” and “within the Israeli ethnocratic regime, Palestinians are resident aliens to be controlled through legal, geographical and architectural practices of separation.”1 More courageously still, Epp Weaver, states,

The rhetorical embrace in principle of a two-state solution to the conflict by Israeli politicians of the center-left as well as the center-right, from Ehud Barak to Ariel Sharon to Binyamin Netanyahu, does not conflict with Israeli’s spatial strategy but rather represents its apotheosis: through the peace process, Israel seeks Palestinians acceptance of the ghettoized spaces to which they have been confined as the extent of the proposed Palestinian state. Not surprisingly, many Palestinians have begun to determine that new geographic realities have erased the territorial basis of a tenable two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.2

In an ideally free and normal intellectual world, the above-mentioned statements must be looked at as mere scientific analyses any scholar, from any background whatsoever, must be able to state without any problem. Yet, in a prevalently far-from-impartial and conspicuously biased Western intellectual and academic public square, what Epp Weaver states is a sign of bravery as he treads into the territory of critiquing (not even criticizing) the “favorite indulged ally” of the United States of America. I find this admirably brave because, though I, like Epp Weaver, am pro-peace and pro-two-states solutions, and never anti-Israel, in my stance on the conflict, a Syrian Arab scholar like me cannot dare to offer publically an appraisal similar to the one Epp Weaver makes in his above-quoted statements or in his book in general. I was strongly advised since I started my professional career in the Western world to avoidspeaking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in public, lest whatever I say be perceived and appraised as prejudiced—i.e., as an opinion given by someone who, by the nature of his own cultural and national background, is categorically “anti-Semitic.”

Lest my views fall into the potential aforementioned intellectual ghettoization, I shall be restricting my reflection on Alain Epp Weaver’s book to the relevance and implications of his thesis on the exile-return equation on the situation of the Palestinian Christians in specific. I am, anyway, far from an expert in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in Zionism, or in the sociocultural case of Palestinian diaspora in general.

If I may pick up one of the book’s main themes to comment on in particular, I shall be paying attention to a central inquiry Epp Weaver jots down on page 41: “How many Palestinian refugees would exercise the right to return if allowed to return by Israel?”3 Epp Weaver argues that the longing for return is always associated in the mind of the diasporagroups with a kind of nostalgic remembrance of the land—where one once lived and experienced rootedness in specific geography. This nostalgic imagination drives people in diaspora to reshape their own longing for return after a specific cartographic mapping of the land they seek returning to. Perceiving this is what motivates Epp Weaver to deem as central the following inquiries: “Might there be a form of return to the land that maps complex spaces in which difference is welcomed and disrupts and transcends the rigid boundaries of nationalist ideologies? If so, how might such a cartography of return be shaped by a political theology of exile?”4

Relating the phenomenon of return to the “nationalist ideologies” is probably relevant to the question of return in relation to the Muslim Palestinians and the Zionist Jews. Yet, it is my belief that the possibility of return is not the primary driving force behind the stance of the Palestinian Christians. Rather than the mere question of the geographical mapping of the land of the longed-for return, the Christians’ primary concern (which is no less theological in nature) is a question like: Who am I going to be in the land (any land) when I will return to it? And, how am I going to be treated in this land? These two inquiries are as crucial, if not far more crucial, to the Christians as the question of “to which form of land this return is going to be?”

Epp Weaver seems to have spotted a prioritization similar to the one I suggest here in Edward Said’s perception of the importance of such questions. Epp Weaver demonstrates this when he says: “Said refused the comforts of being easily ‘at home’ in any one culture or polity, convinced that it is the responsibility of the intellectual . . . to maintain a sense of being ‘out of place,’ inhibiting a liminal space from which to critique one’s own nation, culture, and people.”5 Said’s description applies to the Palestinian Christians in the diaspora, as I gathered and still glean often from the Christian Palestinians I meet in the expatriate lands. They do not just surrender to a nostalgic longing for return to their homeland. They do use their exilic situation as “a proper place of the critic”6 (a critical “out of place” vantage point, as Said states) and reflect upon whether their return would grant them a state of being and a national-belonging condition that will respect and acknowledge their own human integrity and distinction from both the Muslims and the Jews of the land.

Memory and the practice of memorization alike are not just about invoking emotions, stories and hopes from the past. They are also about reshaping these past memoirs after experiences, views and concerns that are rooted in, and generated by, the present context of the subject of memorization. The latter becomes the inevitable hermeneutic-key of the remembrance process. There is no neutral remembrance, thus there is no purely present-free memory. Within this epistemic framework, I do believe that the phenomenon of “return” in the mind of the Christians is influenced by the understanding of this notion in the mind of other Palestinians (mostly Muslim) and the Jews alike. On the side of the Palestinian Muslims, there are many exiled whose “returning dream” is associated with an imagination of going back to a land, the past glory of which is strictly found in Islam and Islamic civilization. They consider any past beyond or before Islam in the Middle East an “age of ignorance.” On the side of the Jews, there is among the Zionists a dream of returning to the land that is associated with an eager attempt at Judaizing the land, let alone the memory of every one on it as well, by means of unearthing archeologically, culturally and geographically the land’s pre-Islamic and pre-Christian past history. As if the memorable glory of that land should strictly be found in the ancient Jewish civilization and every un-Jewish past is also equally an “age of ignorance.”

The Christian Palestinians’ imagination of “return” is torn apart by these two extreme obliterating and reductionist ideological re-creations of past history and regeneration of memory after an “age of light vs. age of darkness” mentality. The Christian Palestinians in the diaspora do take the above-mentioned ideologization seriously because they witness how those Christians who are still in the land today suffer from living under the mercy of the clash between the “Islamic age of light vs. Jewish age of light” ideologies. In other words, the Christian Palestinian refugees do benefit from living in the expatriate lands and use their “out of place” position there as a “place of critique” to assess and appraise the life of those Christians who did not leave the land and who try to survive therein until this very moment. This diaspora tells itself: if my return to the land is going to make me live under the mercy of ideological obliteration, I do not then want to return to the land, even if this land was remapped in such a manner that gives me back what in my imagination is the exact geographical territory I left behind.

In my book And Freedom Became a Public Square, I touched briefly upon the situation of the Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land and tried to point at the above-mentioned ideological clash that pushes them eventually to leave their homeland. I showed there that the Christians not only face the challenge of coexisting with a rapidly growing Islamic extremism. They also confront a strongly influential, and no less fanatic, Jewish extremism as well.7 In the Israeli territories, the Christian Palestinians are discriminatively treated as “third-class citizens” (if not fourth-class); they are a mere “minority.” When the Palestinian Christians in the diaspora look at the conditions of the Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories alike, what they witness is a community striving to survive as a “double minority” existing with varying degrees of discomfort alongside two much larger religious communities who try to marginalize them.8 The drastic humanitarian consequences of the bleak and suffocating political ramifications that stem from such a situation lay heavily on the Christians and coerces them to seek more fulfilling circumstances for themselves and their families abroad. In their case, return is not just a dream. Under these circumstances, “return” and mapping it alike become a serious challenge and an expensive sacrifice.

The land is not just what I remember it to be when I was in it, and it is not just how I geographically remap, driven by my eagerness to return to it from exile. My longing for returning to the land is also conditioned by how I am going to be treated in this land and who am I going to be as a human being and a citizen in it. The answers to these questions color strongly the cartographical remapping of the land in one’s mind.

At one point, Epp Weaver perceptively states in his book: “One must also account for the role played by Palestinian refugees’ current living conditions as stateless refugees, denied basic rights in numerous contexts. Many Palestinian refugees understandably assert the right of return and map visions for such return in the face of political and legal regimes that deprive them of the basic protections afforded to citizens.”9 This is absolutely true. Yet, it is just one side of the coin. The other side of the coin of longing for return is the Palestinian Christians’ (and maybe also someMuslims’ and Jews’) concern about the denial of the recent land inhabitants’ basic human rights, without which no decent and integral life can be granted in the land. Understanding the driving imagination of the longing for returning to the land lies also in perceiving the driving forces that make people depart from the land or suffer while they are in it, as well. Epp Weaver’s book successfully lays out before us the map of the “return.” What is yet to be studied in depth and critical openness is the map of “departure,” which is not exclusively political in nature in the case of the Christians.

  1. Alain Epp Weaver, Mapping Exile and Return: Palestinian Dispossession and a Political Theology for a Shared Future (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), 5.

  2. Ibid., 6.

  3. Ibid., 41.

  4. Ibid., 7.

  5. Ibid., 45.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Najib George Awad, And Freedom Became a Public Square: Political, Sociological and Religious Overviews on the Arab Christians and the Arabic Spring (Berlin: LIT, 2012), 70 (70–74).

  8. Ibid., 71.

  9. Alain Epp Weaver, Mapping Exile and Return: Palestinian Dispossession and a Political Theology for a Shared Future (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), 29.

  • Alain Epp Weaver

    Alain Epp Weaver


    Return to What?

    In his gracious reflections on my book, Najib Awad rightly insists on the practical, concrete questions that shape Palestinian refugees’ imagined cartographies of return. To be sure, Awad acknowledges, memories of place and imaginative mappings of return can be and often are shaped by nationalist discourses that conceptualize return in nostalgic terms, as a return to an idealized, unblemished past. Awad also calls attention to what he calls the “returning dream” at play within some religious visions, be it Islamist visions of the recovery of the land as waqf and the “past glory” of Islamic civilization or Zionist dreams of return bound up with projects of “Judaizing the land” by digging down past Islamic and Christian geographies in order to unearth and recover Jewish civilization in and sovereignty over the land. In contrast to these visions of return, visions that Awad depicts as “obliterating and reductionist” recreations of the past captive to an “age of light vs. age of darkness” binary, Awad contends that some visions of return—visions he associates particularly with Palestinian Christians—are focused on more practical questions of future existence, questions such as “Who am I going to be in the land (any land) when I return to it?” and “How am I going to be treated in this land?” For exiled Palestinian Christians, Awad suggests, the question of return is less about a nostalgic recovery of the past and more about a forward-looking concern about what life in the land upon return would look like: would the human integrity and distinct particularities of Palestinian Christians be acknowledged?

    I resonate with Awad’s suggestion and find much to appreciate in his essay, even as I have some questions about how he has framed some matters. Awad is certainly correct, I think, to stress the practical, quotidian concerns that shape memories of place and imaginative mappings of return. Where I would want to nuance matters in a slightly different manner than Awad has done would be to contend that this understanding of return as focused on practical matters of current and future existence is not unique to Palestinian Christians, but is shared by many Palestinian Muslims.

    Take, for example, the poem “The Place Itself” by the Palestinian Muslim poet Taha Muhammad Ali with which I begin Mapping Exile and Return. Like many other internally displaced Palestinians (both Muslims and Christians) from the lower Galilee, Ali now lives in Nazareth, only a few kilometers away from his natal and ancestral home of Saffuriya (today covered over in large part by the Israeli National Park of Zippori). As the poet visits Saffuriya’s ruins he recognizes that “the place is not / its dust and stones and open space.” The people who had turned the “open space” into the “place” of Saffuriya—his childhood best friend Qasim; his early adolescent object of adoration, Amira; peasants in their fields—are nowhere to be found. The poet’s reflections on these absences drive home the realization that a restorationist return of the past to the present is out of the question. The poem ends with Ali remembering a peasant woman from Saffuriya yelling at a kite that has dived from the sky to snatch the woman’s speckled hen, crying “You, there, in the distance, I hope you can’t digest it.” The remembered place of Saffuriya may be gone forever, but the poet can, like the peasant woman, hope that the Israeli erasure/digestion of the Palestinian landscape will not be completely successful and will at least cause a serious case of heartburn or constipation.1

    For the poet standing amidst the ruins of his former village, in a landscape that has been “Israelized,” there are no illusions of a return that would be a recapturing of a prelapsarian past, a restoration of “the place itself”; rather, memories of “the place itself” serve as a protest against present forms of dispossession that continue to constrict the lives of Palestinians inside Israel. Imaginative mappings of return, for many Palestinian refugees, are less attempts to recapture a mythic past and more an insistence on a future not determined by dispossession and repression. Similarly, anthropologist Diana Allan has argued, based on her fieldwork in Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, that while Palestinian refugees in the camp (all of whom are Muslim) maintain a discourse of return, in their daily lives they are focused on negotiating and challenging the ways in which they as Palestinians in Lebanon are currently marginalized and dispossessed.2

    Awad’s essay helpfully focuses us on the question of “return to what?” As a minority community, Palestinian Christians have a particular interest in the answer to this question. What is the future landscape envisioned by Palestinian refugee calls for return? Is it a landscape marked by what Edward Said described as the “horrid clanging shutters” of Zionist return with its closed symmetry of exile and redemption, a landscape with no room for heterogeneity and multiple identities?3 Or might it be a landscape in which, in Awad’s words, the “human integrity” and distinctiveness of Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims, and Israeli Jews are affirmed and embraced, a landscape shaped by a form of return that does not mirror dominant forms of Zionist return with their practices of exclusion and dispossession? My book was written to give testimony to the witness of Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims, and Israeli Jews who are working for such a return and for such a future landscape, even as dominant cartographic visions and practices in Israel-Palestine map a bleaker future.

    1. Taha Muhammad Ali, “The Place Itself, or I Hope You Can’t Digest It,” in So What: New and Selected Poems, 19712005 (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon, 2006), 156–59. For an examination of the rootedness of Ali’s poetry in the place of Saffuriya and of Ali’s work within the broader context of  Palestinian poetry and literature inside Israel, see Adina Hoffman, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).

    2. See Diana Allan, Refugees of the Revolution: Experiences of Palestinian Exile (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013).

    3. Edward W. Said, After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 150.



Healing Land, Learning to Love

PALESTINIAN LUMINARY EDWARD SAID often observed that the dispossession of Palestinians cannot be made right by a dispossession of Israelis. My mother simply said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” This conviction takes us to the heart of Epp Weaver’s Mapping Exile and Return, which is his search for “the possibility of shared, heterogeneous space, a rhizomatic cartography of interconnections”1 for all the peoples who belong to the much-contested land. He is clear this cannot be a “return” or “a simple re-creation of the past, the recapturing of a lost paradise.”2 He begins his search with a finely conceived, critical engagement with theological and political thinking about exile and return, about the land and belonging to the land. In dialogue with Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, Epp Weaver revivifies the state of exile, and rejects a Palestinian “right of return” that would replicate the Zionist project of return—a settler colonial project that dispossessed a population. Instead, Epp Weaver envisions a shared, heterogeneous landscape, calling on the theology of Melkite archbishop for the Galilee, Elias Chacour—who “learned from his father that Palestinian Arab ‘lives were bound together with the other people who inhabited Palestine—the Jews’”—and on Jewish historian Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin’s inclusive binational model of statehood, and on Zochrot’s “cartographic performances” of remapping or counter-mapping, in order to uncover an already extant shared, heterogeneous landscape. This landscape, says Epp Weaver, is a “place in which Palestinians and Israeli Jews alike might together build and anticipate new futures as they [both] recognize themselves as exiles who must seek refuge with one another.”3 As he articulates this new way of seeing that affirms “co-presence,” Epp Weaver seeks to break the cycle of violence and dispossession, to rethink “sovereignty and self-determination,” and thereby to open a way forward for Palestinians and Israelis in the land to which they both belong.4

I find Epp Weaver’s perceptions and proposals compelling. Indeed, on one hand, my mind raced to ways in which he could elaborate his proposals about a co-presence in a heterogeneous landscape even more fully, by weaving historical traces together with the cartographical. For example, the work of Anouar Majid retrieves traces of “Jews’ pride in their Arab/Muslim identity,” pride now buried under the rubble of decades of destruction and dispossession. Majid identifies these traces in the Crusader-era “disdain for Christian culture [that] bound together Jew and Muslim in Christian Europe,”5 as a resurgent Christian anti-Semitism cast Jews as natural allies of Muslims. After all, Christian crusaders slaughtered Jews and Muslims alike when a blood-soaked Jerusalem was taken in 1099. Majid also finds traces of “the indissoluble links that bound Judaism and Islam together”6 in Muslim Spain, of course, and in the writings of nineteenth-century German Jewish orientalists, who reclaimed Moorish heritage as “a universal endeavor among Jews, Sephardim and Ashkenazim alike.”7 For example, Abraham Geiger, ardent defender of Jewish rights and severe critic of Orthodox Judaism, “saw in Islam, with its brand of monotheism, prophecy, and divine revelation, the purest form of Judaism, particularly the Reform Judaism he favored.”8 And, of course, Benjamin Disraeli, Britain’s prime minister and descendent of Sephardim who fled the Reconquista, understood himself and other Jews to be natural allies of Arabs, as is clearest in his novel Tancred; or, The New Crusade. Connecting Epp Weaver’s groundbreaking work on remapping a shared landscape to these and other historical traces of co-presence and, indeed, of a shared identity, could add compelling texture to his work. Indeed, reading Epp Weaver and Majid alongside each other renews my hope in the possibilities for a shared future of co-existence in the land.

But Majid also finds the fly in the healing ointment. He goes on to argue that, “as Jew and Muslim started out as Christianity’s Other in the Middle Ages,” so by “the very end of Europe’s genocidal impulse,” the Muslim “took the place of the Jew.”9 Here he cites Auschwitz survivor and Italian scientist Primo Levi, who recalled “the Musselmännerwas the “backbone of the camp, an anonymous mass, continually renewed and always identical, of non-men, who march and labor in silence, the divine spark dead in them, already too empty to really suffer.”10 The Muslim indeed “took the place of the Jew at the end of Europe’s genocidal impulse” whose tendrils are tangled in the earlier crusading impulse.

More than this, Majid makes it painfully clear that, not only did the Muslim—the Musselmänner—take the place of the Jew, but the Jew took the place of Europeans, and extended the “genocidal impulse” into what Ilan Pappe and other Israeli revisionist historians have called “the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.” Majid tells us about a popular German song during the Third Reich, “which associated coffee (a Turkish, and therefore a Muslim, drink) with weak nerves, paleness, and sickness, concluding with these lines: ‘Sei doch kein Muselmann, / der ihn nicht lassen kann!’ (Don’t be a Muslim / who can’t help it!).” Indeed, Holocaust historians such as Inga Clendinnen and Giorgio Agamben argue that the term Musselmänner identified Jews in their most vulnerable state, while Zionist thinkers glorified physicality having adopted this ideal together with nationalist aspirations from western European, particularly German, sources. A new Jew—the Israeli sabra—was to be raised out of the ovens of the Holocaust. The Israeli sabra—not a Musselmänner who had survived—embodied the new Jewish nation, now positioned to be a European outpost in a sea of the Arab Other. Ben Gurion was adamant: “We do not want the Israelis to be Arabs. It is our duty to fight against the spirit of the Levant that ruins individuals and societies.”11 Accordingly, the Mizrahim and Sephardim had to be de-Arabized; they had to erase their Arab cultures as the Western culture of their Ashkenazi coreligionists set the terms for a “purified” and strong Jewish nation.

Any Jewish/Muslim alliance that had been forged in the fires of Christian Otherness was thus sundered. Tentacles of tragic alienation spread out another sort of “rhizomatic cartography”: one that opens ruptures rather than confirms “interconnection.” Fault lines opened, not only between Jew and Muslim, but between and among Jews in Israel, as Epp Weaver himself notes.12 Within Israel, a Eurocentric racial hierarchy at once privileges all things Ashkenazi and directs the submerged ethnic rage of Israeli Sephardim and Mizrahim toward a Palestinian Arab Muslim target. Moreover, Eurocentrism—manifest as Christian privilege—drives wedges of alienation into the Palestinian community, as “divide and conquer” strategies are refined and field tested by those in command of the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories.

I wonder whether the postmodern preoccupation with difference, with heterogeneity, with hybridity—which is formative for Epp Weaver’s vision of a shared future—is in fact able to heal amid a landscape so deeply ruptured, ethnically and religiously, as well as physically by checkpoints, settlements built as defensive outposts in a conquered land, and the Wall. I wonder whether, in the end, W. H. Auden put the choice before us most clearly in his poem “September 1, 1939”: either we choose to “love one another or die.” This is to say, either we retrieve and recognize our common humanity—buried in these latter days beneath extremist rhetoric and apartheid realities—or our contested identities and spaces will ignite the genocidal impulse that, like Camus’ plague, simply bides its time, in our time. Somehow we must learn to privilege, not one’s ethnicity or one’s geography, but our human worth, our human sacredness, along with our human vulnerability and desperate need for one another. Somehow we must learn we are above all human—humus, creatures of the earth—and that a shared future depends upon a solidarity born of our sense of kinship, with one another and the earth.

Indeed, what hope I have for a shared future is most of all inspired by surging acts of global solidarity with Palestinians. This grassroots and multifaceted movement is making the dangerous connections between what is happening in Palestine and to Palestinians, and what is happening to all of us, as does John Collins, in his brilliant Global Palestine.13 Collins argues persuasively that processes operationalized and field tested by Israeli occupiers—colonization, surveillance, acceleration, militarization—are global processes that control the lives of all human beings more and more completely. Somehow we must learn that we—Palestinians, Israelis, Europeans and citizens of the United States, Africans and Asians, Muslims, Jews, Christians, all of us—are first and foremost—and last—human beings whose future hangs in the balance of today’s Deuteronomic choice: love or die. Choose love.

  1. Alain Epp Weaver, Mapping Exile and Return: Palestinian Dispossession and a Political Theology for a Shared Future (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), 113.

  2. Ibid., 114.

  3. Ibid., 129.

  4. Ibid., 153.

  5. Anouar Majid, We Are All Moors: Ending Centuries of Crusades against Muslims and Other Minorities (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 106.

  6. Ibid., 108.

  7. Ibid., 112.

  8. Ibid., 108.

  9. Ibid., 92.

  10. Ibid., 92–93.

  11. Ibid., 116.

  12. Epp Weaver, Mapping Exile and Return, 43–64, 81–82.

  13. John Collins, Global Palestine (London: Hurst, 2011).

  • Alain Epp Weaver

    Alain Epp Weaver


    Universalism, Particularity, and Solidarity

    Melanie Duguid-May’s essay productively extends my proposal in Mapping Exile and Return for a future cartography in Palestine-Israel of co-presence and heterogeneity by bringing it into conversation with Anouar Majid’s narration of pre-twentieth-century entangled histories of Jewish-Muslim solidarity and co-presence, a narration that complements and dovetails with Gil Anidjar’s parallel study of how Europe has historically constructed Jews and Arabs (or Jews and Muslims) as its internal and external enemies. I am grateful to Duguid-May for highlighting this project of historical retrieval as a complement to my own effort. Her response in turn reminded me of other recent efforts to unearth pasts of intertwined co-presence in West Asia, such as James Grehan’s account of the everyday religious lives of ordinary Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Syria and Palestine in the late Ottoman era (the late seventeenth century through the end of the nineteenth century), in which Grehan uncovers a shared folk religious culture that resists retroactive confinement into rigidly demarcated conceptual boxes of “Islam,” “Christianity,” and “Judaism.” In a present marked by zero-sum cartographic battles and defensive entrenchments of identity tied to practices of dispossession, projects to recover and map past landscapes of positive interconnection and shared existence like Majid’s and Grehan’s are urgently needed.

    The concluding chapter of my book makes the case that the past solidarity Majid and Grehan narrate has not been fully eclipsed. In that chapter I examine the efforts of Jewish and Palestinian activists in the Israeli organization Zochrot to commemorate destroyed Palestinian villages by posting signs in Hebrew and Arabic marking the ruins, arguing that these return visits organized by Zochrot performatively map new futures of a shared landscape. I could have also looked at other joint Israeli Jewish-Palestinian efforts to offer counter-cartographic alternatives to dominant mappings of dispossession and exclusion, such as the actions carried out by Ta’ayush. Describing itself as “Israelis and Palestinians striving together to end the Israeli occupation and to achieve full civil equality through nonviolent direct action,” Ta’ayush undertakes campaigns such as accompanying Palestinians in the south Hebron hills whose centuries-old presence is threatened by the Israeli military and Israeli settlers.1 Ta’ayush’s nonviolent direct actions not only bring together Israeli Jews and Palestinians to stand in solidarity against particular injustices, but also in so doing map in the present an alternative future to the politics of exclusion and dispossession.

    Duguid-May worries that my “postmodern preoccupation with difference, with heterogeneity, with hybridity” in Mapping Exile and Return may prove ultimately inadequate for the pressing task of fostering solidarity in order to resist ongoing and accelerating regimes of colonization and control in Palestine-Israel. As a counterpoint, she suggests the urgent need to “retrieve and recognize our common humanity” by learning the universal lesson of common human worth and sacredness.

    I am drawn to and nearly persuaded by Duguid-May’s argument on this score. Yet I also have some nagging hesitations that prevent me from being fully persuaded. Specifically, the appeal to a universal humanity threatens to obscure and forget how such purported universalist appeals can and have underwritten colonial denials and erasures of difference. On this issue I have found the work of Daniel Boyarin enduringly persuasive. In his study of the “radical Jew” Paul, Boyarin pithily claims that “the genius of Christianity is its concern for all the peoples of the world; the genius of rabbinic Judaism is its ability to leave other people alone.” While Boyarin readily grants that this genius of rabbinic Judaism has a potential shadow side of xenophobic insularity, he also insists that “Pauline universalism even at its most liberal and benevolent has been a powerful force for coercive discourses of sameness.”2 He continues, again granting that “Jewish difference can indeed be dangerous, as the Palestinians know only too well,” but then proceeding to argue that “Christian universalism has been historically even more dangerous, as Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, Africans, and others have been forced to demonstrate with their bodies. Insistence on genealogical identity and its significance,” Boyarin reminds us, “has been one of the major forms of resistance against such violence.”3

    Following Boyarin’s lead, I have sought in Mapping Exile and Return to offer a vision of human solidarity within shared space while also embracing particularity and difference. So, at the end of the book, I argue for a future of decentralized binationalism for Palestine-Israel, for a “politics of shared places that affirms co-presence while not effacing distinctions between Palestinians and Israeli Jews (as unitary, ‘state-of-all-its-citizens’ proposals threaten to do)” (153). But ultimately I am less wedded to the particular type of political arrangements in Palestine-Israel that could replace the current reality of military occupation, exclusion, and dispossession (two separate states? two territorially parallel states? one state? some type of binational federation or confederation?) than I am to an ethic of solidarity-amidst-difference. Such solidarity will inevitably and properly have its universalizing moments or tendencies; yet what Duguid-May views as my potentially problematic stress on difference and heterogeneity reflects my attempt to guard against universalism’s shadow side by suggesting that solidarity and co-presence can go hand-in-hand with a strong affirmation of difference.

    1. See, for example, David Shulman, Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

    2. Daniel Boyarin, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 232–33.

    3. Ibid., 235.

Joshua Ralston


Maps of the Eternally (Un)Divided City

TWO OF THE MORE complex issues that need to be addressed by advocates for a two-state solution are the right of return and the final status of Jerusalem. The Oslo Accords decision, or better indecision, to leave these two central disputes to a final peace agreement is to evade the most central questions about the future of the so-called Holy Land in the name of “a way forward in negotiations.” As John Kerry’s recent diplomatic foray illustrates, negotiations often only exist for the sake of themselves and the negotiators—with little to no hope of resolution or concern for the daily oppression and death that haunts too many in the land between the river and the sea.

In contrast to these diplomatic and political evasions, Alain Epp Weaver’s Mapping Exile and Return handles the right of return with focus, care, and creativity—seamlessly bringing together analyses of maps, trees, theologies, poems, and liturgies to offer a distinctive and particular political theology. Epp Weaver seeks “political arrangements in Palestine-Israel that are commensurate with a political theology of exile in which the task of inhabiting particular places is shaped by the Jeremian call to seek the shalom of the city to which one has been dispersed” (77). His is a theology deeply attentive to the importance of place and land, the decades-long oppression and occupation of Palestinian people that threatens to wipe them off the map, and also engaged with the moral power of Jewish and Israeli thought and practices. This is no generic policy suggestion or tepid political theological middle way, but a deeply imaginative reflection on the possibilities for Israelis and Palestinians to live and flourish alongside one another. The book presents, in my mind, one of the most compelling models for envisioning the possibility of a binational future marked by shared space and multiple belongings beyond the hegemony of either an Israeli or Palestinian nationalism.

And yet as much as I admire Epp Weaver’s work, the city at the center of the conflict—Jerusalem—is far less discussed in Mapping Exile and Return. This omission left me pondering how Epp Weaver’s project would map the city of Jerusalem? What insights might Epp Weaver’s vision allow us to see when we try to read the various mappings of this holy city through his paradigms of place, maps, liturgies, and exile? And second, how might the city itself—in all its complexity and controversy—remap Epp Weaver’s book? How would this cartographic political theology look if its drawings were primarily located in this holy and contested city and not in the Galilee?

The Unjust Maps of Contemporary Jerusalem

The question that Epp Weaver’s book presses is whether it is possible to imagine maps of Jerusalem that allow for multiple belongings and configurations. Can a “heterogeneous space” emerge in Jerusalem? Or do the city’s distinctive and overlapping narratives and concrete spaces necessitate a “cartographic conflict” (49)? Is it possible for Jerusalem to be a place where Palestinian and Israelis alike might “embrace the presence” of one another “as positive goods to be celebrated rather than as a foreign matter to be cordoned off and excluded through policies and procedures of separation” (77)?

Read from afar or through statistics alone, one could argue that the current configurations of the city possess at least the beginning of such a binational imaginary. Here is a city of Jewish Israelis (approximately 500,000) and Palestinians (approximately 250,000)—not to mention countless other tourists and pilgrims, journalists and priests—living and working alongside one another. Ritually, the status quo of the waqf and the kotel testifies to such shared possibilities, with Muslims and Jews worshipping nearby one another with minimal conflicts. Might, then, Jerusalem be read as a truly binational and international city?

The persistent and present realities in the city, however, indicate the many ways that the maps of Jerusalem are embedded within the exclusionary logic of a Nationalistic Zionism. The maps, both real and imagined, that dominate Jerusalem are too often marked by an exclusionary binary and a political attempt to make the facts on the ground conform to the Israeli claim that Jerusalem is the eternally undivided capital. As has been documented through numerous studies, the city of Jerusalem has increasingly undergone a (re)-Judaization, or as I would prefer an Israelization, since Israel’s victory in 1967 war. This process has occurred in ways both obvious and subtle.

The city policies toward Arab residents evidence a deeply unjust sharing of public resources. City funding for public resources such as schools, water, and garbage collection are disproportionately allocated to those on the West side of the Green Line. Housing and building permits are given at a much lower rate in East Jerusalem; over 7,000 Jerusalemites have had their identification cards are revoked in the past decade; houses are destroyed or stolen under the guise of legality in order to create new settlements.1


Beyond the settlements in East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, and the Mount of Olives, there are Jewish settlements that encircle greater Jerusalem—Gilo, Ma’ale Adumin, and Pisgat Ze’ev. These newly created planned communities are attractive to many Israeli Jews as they offer relatively inexpensive housing, safety, access to the Holy City, and a sense of security. However, these settlement cities are not only built in contradiction to international law, they also function to further map the future of Jerusalem. With these settlements, it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine any future two-state solution that would include al-Quds as the Palestinian capital. Moreover, these settlement cities displace Palestinians from the Holy City, even as they cut off the northern and southern parts of the West Bank from one another.

These systematic social injustices—a reality common to many urban environments—are accompanied by other maps of the city that serve to dislocate Palestinians. One commonly noted example is the way that the Arabic name of the city, al-Quds, is depicted in the various streets signs. As with most signage in Israel, streets signs include Hebrew, Arabic, and English. In many instances, however, the Arabic name of the location is replaced with the Hebrew term transliterated into Arabic script. Al-Quds becomes Yerushalem (picture). Language becomes a tool to be deployed for political power. As Yasir Suleiman has noted, Israel-Palestine is a “site of linguistic contestation in which Hebrew had to dominate and would eliminate Arabic through acts of suppression, erasure and self-inscription.”2


The claim that the city is now the eternally united Capital of Israel runs up against the harsh realities facing the Palestinian population. The annual celebration of Jerusalem Day in late May purports to commemorate the reunification of the city after Israelis victory in the 1967 war. Following Epp Weaver’s reading of Vincent Lloyd’s expansive account of liturgy as a theopolitical strategy, Jerusalem Day is best interpreted as an annual liturgical enactment of the Zionification of Jerusalem, which also entails the broader removal of Palestinian identity from the city. A prominent feature of the day is a parade throughout the city. Various Jewish groups from right-wing political settlements spend much of their time marching through major parts of the Arab section of the Old City, parading past Mosques in East Jerusalem, and dancing and waving Israeli flags at the Damascus Gate, the most prominent Palestinian entry point to the Old City. These are not the actions of lone protests disconnected from the official citywide sanction of the day. In fact, these groups are supported by the police and state security apparatus that force Palestinians from their own streets and souqs in the name of security and protection. A day that is meant to symbolize the unity of the city entails the forcible exclusion and arrest of its Palestinian residents.

As the Kairos Palestine Document notes, “Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.” The protests and violence that marked the city during the summer and fall of 2014—from the kidnapping and burning of sixteen-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Shu‘fat, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, to the vicious murder of four worshippers in a synagogue in West Jerusalem on November 18th—bring to light the persistent conflicts that constantly undergird the lived reality of Jerusalem. Against the oft-touted Israeli claim that Jerusalem is the eternally undivided city, the facts on the ground show that Jerusalem is nothing other than a deeply divided city. The much-discussed, but invisible, Green Line still demarcates West from East, Israeli from Palestinian.

Counter Mapping al-Quds/Yerushalem

“Jerusalem is,” in the words of Kairos Palestine, “the heart of our reality.” For many, the city has come to symbolize the injustices that decades of occupation have created. As Epp Weaver rightly notes, memories and stories of particular places and trees are prominent in much of Palestinian literary, poetic, and popular imagination. And yet while each of these narratives are distinct to the family or village, Palestinians are united around al-Quds. In fact, the movement to and from Jerusalem forms a deep longing that binds Palestinians—be they in Gaza, the Galilee, Ramallah or Rafah, Lebanon or Jordan. These longings for Jerusalem are often only realized through stories, ritual actions, and pictures; the security demands of the Israeli occupation create walls, fences, and checkpoints that keep most Palestinians (Gaza, the West Bank, or the Diaspora) from entering Jerusalem.

As such, Palestinians symbolically name their political theology through two primary symbols: the key (which represents the right of return) and pictures of the Holy City (often the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa for Muslims and various churches or holy sites for Christians). Even here in Richmond, Virginia, the local “Mediterranean” grocery store is clearly identified as Palestinian by those with eyes to see, by the old Ottoman key that hangs above the door and the pictures of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa that sit beside the cash register.

What binational future is imaginable here in this place, marked as it is by mutual longing and myths? How might Palestinians—Christians and Muslim alike—be connected to the city without forcing Jews and Israelis to be excluded from the city that is also so central to their history and tradition? How can these injustices be challenged without asking Jews to give up their own deep connections to Jerusalem? Must Palestinian longing deny Jews their own narratives and hopes of return after millennia of diaspora?

To address these sorts of questions, Epp Weaver’s book asks us to look for “counter-mapping efforts” that “disrupt the exclusivist logic of the nation-state” (39). There are innumerable examples of such counter-mappings in the Holy City. For instance, The NGO, Terrestrial Jerusalem’s maps include detailed studies of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, examinations of civil services (or lack thereof) beyond the Green Line, videos, and even apps that seek to bring attention to the injustices and deep longings of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Like Epp Weaver’s analysis of Zochrot, Terrestrial Jerusalem seeks to bring Palestinian realities to light for Israeli and American Jews, and thus to disrupt the hegemony of the occupation. Interestingly, Seidmann interprets the goal of his mapping to create the possibility of still finding a two-state solution that would include a shared Jerusalem. He seeks to interrupt the ongoing erasure or minimization of Palestinian presence in the city, not simply for the sake of Palestinian rights or binationalism but with the dreams of a liberal Zionism. There are numerous other counter-mappings on offer in Jerusalem: Bab al-Shams, the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, and Grassroots Jerusalem. Each of these offers models of resilience and imagination that refuse the logic of Jerusalem Day and instead look forward to and presently enact the possibility of a shared Jerusalem.

A Political Theology of sumud

The lived religious practices of Christians and Muslims involve a deep theological and spiritual connection to the city of Jerusalem. The weekly or daily rhythms invite worshipers into the city to pray at mosques and churches, both famous and anonymous. The holy seasons of Ramadan and Holy Week see floods of worshipers descend on the Holy City. In these daily and yearly religious rituals, multiple mini-pilgrimages occur. And yet, these ritual acts involve all the same movements and constrictions that mark Palestinian life in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and Jerusalem. Thus for Palestinians in Bethlehem, Hebron, or Nablus, there is no way into the city except by being granted a special permit. In fact, it is more likely easier for Christians from Spain, Italy, the United States, and Nigeria to celebrate Holy Week in Jerusalem than it is for a Palestinian Christian living in Gaza or Bethlehem. In the face of these security and political constraints, Palestinians practice a political liturgical theology that creatively bears witness to both their presence and ongoing exclusion.

On Western Christianity’s Palm Sunday of 2012, Palestinian Christians led me—along with people from nearly every tongue and tribe and nation—in prayer and procession. We marched singing hallelujahs and waving palm branches from Bethany down the Mount of Olives and into the Old City of Jerusalem. This yearly pilgrimage, however, was intentionally given a subtly disruptive political liturgical hue by the various Palestinian Christians present. The communities gathered with their parish and held up placards that read, in English, “Parish of Ramallah, just 15km away, Palestine” or “Parish of Bethlehem, just 9km away, Palestine.”3 The placards, and the bodies that held them, signified Christian presence in and connection to the city. Those who live only a few kilometers away are regularly barred by the permit regime from entering Jerusalem to pray. The signs marked the oddity of this reality, both to the authorities and to fellow Christians who had planned to celebrate the “religious” event of Palm Sunday, but found themselves caught in a theo-political march.


I tell these stories, not simply to raise attention to their courage and imagination or to map Jerusalem in ways otherwise, but also because I believe that they press Epp Weaver to question whether or not exile can and should function as the primary theological category for a Palestinian political theology. While West Jerusalem is marked by questions of return and the nakba (the framing that dominates Epp Weaver’s book), East Jerusalem raises other questions—both for the local residents and for the broader imagination of Palestinians. Jerusalem demands a theology of resilience in the face of displacement. Why exile, especially in a context so marked by attempts (real or perceived) to disroot the presence of Palestinians in Jerusalem?

While I appreciate Epp Weaver’s work to read Yoder’s theology of exile as intertwined with accounts of landedness, so that space is not exclusively possessed but shared in encounter, I admit to still being slightly troubled by this theological focus. Epp Weaver’s reading of Edward Said alongside Yoder challenges some of the more problematic appropriations of the theme of exile in recent political theology, particularly those who employ it while they underplay how they still carry the benefits of an American passport and white male privilege. And yet, I worry that Epp Weaver presses this theme beyond what it can bear, particularly given the millions of Palestinians whose lives bear the deep and painful imprints of exile. I cannot help but wonder if Epp Weaver has not fully escaped the temptation named in another of Said’s reflections on exile:

Is it not true that the views of exile in literature and, moreover, in religion obscure what is truly horrendous: that exile is irremediably secular and unbearably historical; that it is produced by human beings for other human beings; and that, like death but without death’s ultimate mercy, it has torn millions of people from the nourishment of tradition, family, and geography?4

I wonder what political theology would have emerged had Epp Weaver looked instead at Kairos Palestine or Michael Sabbah, the former Archbishop and Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, or Attallah Hannah, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastyia, or Mitri Raheb, the Lutheran pastor and theologian in Bethlehem, or the liturgical political practices within Jerusalem. Would exile and galut remain such a dominant motif?

My own inclination is to interpret Jerusalem and other contested Palestinian-Israel sites like Hebron, Bethlehem, and even Gaza less through the category of exile and instead as indicative of what Palestinians call sumud, which can be translated as steadfastness, resilience, or rootedness. What might a political theology of steadfast presence or sumud add to Epp Weaver’s theology of exile?

The aforementioned political and liturgical actions enacted in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, in Hebron, and in Gaza are a refusal of the logic of exclusion and thereby of exile. These liturgical political theologies are not only, or even primarily, exilic; they are enactments of sumud: steadfastness, resilience, and a refusal of dislocation. sumud is also present in the seemingly mundane work of developing just housing policy in Jerusalem or creating career opportunities in the occupied Territories. As Attallah Hanna has recently argued, “In Jerusalem, Israeli measures are trying to prevent us building and we need housing projects to enhance the Sumoud (steadfastness) of our people.” Through the category of sumud, houses built in East Jerusalem or the schools, colleges, and artistic offerings developed by Diyar in Bethlehem, should be interpreted as a call for a revolutionary politics of steadfast presence. These are not public theologies that maintain the status quo, they are hopeful imaginaries that, as Mitri Raheb writes, nurture “faith in the face of Empire” by putting hope into action today through “small, often undramatic steps.”5 These small undramatic steps of teaching, praying, protesting, remapping the city, creating art or poems, and crossing checkpoints are acts of Samūd that defy exile. One also sees this in the narratives that Epp Weaver describes of Christians returning to Iqrit for weddings and worship. It is resiliency that is seen in the counter-mapping of Israelis, who refuse to imagine that belonging to the holy land must come at the cost of Palestinian narratives and lives.

It is the sumud when al-Aqsa was closed or restricted last summer during Ramadan, and yet Muslims trudged through Qalandia to attempt to reach the Noble Sanctuary. Too often they would only reach Beit Hanina or Wadi Joz, and still they’d kneel to pray, even bowing in the face of the police—submitting to God and not to the occupation—imagining and enacting otherwise.


Sumud is what I saw at Palm Sunday or in the prayers at Juma’a during Ramadan. It is in some way a refusal of exile, a refusal in the face of continual constrictions, checkpoints, and age restrictions—and instead imagines, enacts, makes visible a resilience that the Palestinian people belong and remain rooted in the land. Maybe what I want from Epp Weaver is similar to what I hope for all dispossessed and exiled Palestinians—a little less exile and a little more sumud.

  1. See http:/C:/dev/home/

  2. Yuseir Suleiman, A War of Words: Language and Conflict in the Middle East (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 137.

  3. Interestingly, none of the parishes from within Israel proper, such as Nazareth or Haifa, carried such signs. I interpret this exclusion to be due to the fact that Christians in the Galilee, which is part of Israel proper, are able to travel to Jerusalem freely without permit.

  4. Edward Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 174.

  5. Mitri Raheb, Faith in the Face of Empire, 129.

  • Alain Epp Weaver

    Alain Epp Weaver


    Exile and Sumud

    “They scattered us on the wind to every corner of the earth, but they did not eradicate us.” This declaration from the Palestinian Roman Catholic (in Arabic, latin) priest, Manuel Musallam, which I use as an epigraph for Mapping Exile and Return, embodies the virtue of sumud, or steadfastness, that Joshua Ralston lifts up as a corrective to what he views as my overemphasis on the importance of exile for a political theology of land and return. The epigraph comes from a speech I heard Msgr. Musallam give in the Jenin refugee camp in 1993 after I had been living and working in the northern West Bank for a year, teaching English in a village in which Musallam served as priest and headmaster of the Catholic school. The Declaration of Principles, the first in a series of Israeli-Palestinian agreements that came to be known collectively as the Oslo Accords, had just been announced, and Yasser Arafat’s political movement, Fatah, had organized a regional rally in Jenin Camp in support of the agreement. Musallam was invited as the rally’s final speaker. In the opening section of the speech Musallam presented a vivid overview of Palestinian dispossession, from the nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 to the present, narrating contemporary Palestinian history as one of exile, only to conclude that section with the declaration of sumud quoted above. Musallam’s speech also connected Palestinian sumud with the exile’s insistent remembering of Jerusalem, concluding with a reworking of Psalm 137:5: “If I forget thee, O Palestinian Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning.”1

    Musallam’s Palestinian adaptation of Psalm 137:5 reflects the central place that Jerusalem holds within the Palestinian nationalist imagination. Ralston correctly highlights this centrality in his response, citing the strong affirmation of the 2009 Kairos Palestine document, produced by Palestinian Christian leaders from across the ecumenical spectrum, that “Jerusalem is the heart of our reality.”2 Jerusalem is the heart of Palestinian reality not only because of the key holy sites of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock (among others), and not only because of historical cultural, economic, and political connections that bind Jerusalem to the rest of Palestine, but also because, as Ralston argues, the city is emblematic of Palestinian dispossession. The walls that separate different parts of East Jerusalem from one another and East Jerusalem from the West Bank are emblematic of the walls, militarized fences, and checkpoint regimes that divide up the West Bank and constrict Palestinian movement. House demolitions in East Jerusalem are emblematic of house demolitions in the Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the Naqab (Negev) desert and elsewhere in Palestine. Jerusalem is also emblematic of the Palestinian virtue of sumud. The insistence of Palestinian Jerusalemites that they belong in the city in the face of a bureaucratic regime that marginalizes them and that actively works to reduce the city’s Palestinian population is emblematic of the more general Palestinian insistence articulated by Greek Catholic Archbishop Elias Chacour that “We belong to the land.”3 And finally, Jerusalem is emblematic of the hope for a binational future of mutuality and equality beyond the distorted binational reality of the present with its dividing walls of hostility. For those who assume that Palestinian calls for return and affirmations of rootedness must necessarily mirror mainstream Zionist forms of return and landedness, Musallam’s reworking of Psalm 137 will read as an exclusivist Palestinian claim on Jerusalem. Yet such an interpretation overlooks the possibility that Palestinian expressions of sumud, of their steadfast practices of attachment to the land, do not need to be bound to cartographies of exclusion, but can instead be part of a broader effort to strive for a binational landscape of mutuality in which Palestinians and Israeli Jews each sit secure under vine and fig tree.

    I trust that the preceding paragraphs make clear that I concur with Ralston on the importance of affirming Palestinian sumud. The Palestinian case points to the broader importance for theologies of land to take seriously the efforts of indigenous peoples uprooted by colonial movements to remain attached to and to reclaim a rightful place in the lands from which they have been alienated. In the third chapter of Mapping Exile and Return I analyze the role of trees in the steadfast efforts of internally displaced Palestinians from the northern Galilee village of Kafr Bir’im to stay rooted in the village from which they have been exiled. Poems about trees, protest camps held under village trees, tree-planting: like the prophet Isaiah, Bir’imites, who have witnessed the ruins and lands of their village taken over by an Israeli national park, two kibbutzim, and a moshav, look forward to a day in which exile will come to an end: “They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people” (Isa 65:22 KJV). Similarly, the olive tree operates as a potent symbol in Palestinian national iconography of sumud, of Palestinian rootedness in the land.

    Yet while an arboreal imagination like that expressed by Bir’imites and other Palestinians powerfully expresses a spirit of sumud, tree-planting and arboreal imagery can play more troubling roles. The Jewish National Fund, for example, supported the planting of trees on the sites of Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948, turning those sites into national parks and forests. This arboreal imagination of conquest also animates the psalmist’s image of a verdant rootedness bound up with the practice of clearing out a territory in order to implant another people: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land” (Ps 80:8–11 NRSV).

    Declarations of one’s rootedness and of practices of steadfast presence, that is, of sumud, are essential dimensions of Palestinian resistance to historical and ongoing dispossession. Here Ralston and I agree. And I concur with Ralston (and with Edward Said) that religious accounts of exile threaten to aestheticize exile and to minimize its material horrors. Yet I remain persuaded by Said that an exilic perspective is critical for shaping projects of return and theologies that insist on one’s rightful place in the land, so that Palestinian assertions of their rightful place in the land and any future Palestinian return do not end up mirroring the exclusivist Zionist visions and practices of Jewish landedness and return that occasioned Palestinian dispossession. Like Ralston, I want sumud for Palestinians who have been exiled in myriad ways from the land, even as Said’s discussion of exilic criticism convinces me that exile offers valuable lessons for political theologies of land and return.

    1. For a fuller description and analysis of the speech, see Alain Epp Weaver, “‘The Crescent and the Cross Are the Marks on My Hands’: The Performance of Palestinian Unity amid Political Fragmentation,” in Christians and the Middle East Conflict, ed. Paul S. Rowe, John H. A. Dyck, and Jens Zimmermann (London: Routledge, 2014), 137–51.

    2. A Moment of Truth: A Word of Faith, Hope, and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering (Jerusalem: Kairos Palestine, 2009), 1.1.8.

    3. Elias Chacour, with Mary Jensen, We Belong to the Land: The Story of a Palestinian Israeli Who Lives for Peace and Reconciliation (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001).