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  • Introduction:Shifting Geographies of Knowledge and Power: Palestine and American Studies
  • Rabab Abdulhadi (bio) and Dana M. Olwan (bio)

In 2013 the American Studies Association (ASA) became one of the first academic organizations to endorse the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS).1 Through this historic vote, the ASA placed Palestine, and the US unconditional support for Israel that has undermined the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, at the center of the field of American studies. As the essays in this forum show, this investment in Palestine as a nexus of inquiry and activism was neither new nor coincidental. Other professional associations such as the Association of Asian American Studies (AAAS), the Critical Ethnic Studies Association (CESA), the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the National Association for Chicana/Chicano Studies, the American Historical Association, and the Peace and Justice Studies Association have adopted the BDS call either before, shortly after, or around the same time as the ASA.

The ASA vote comes out of a long and fraught history of and resistance to the United States as a settler colonial state. Historically and as Edward Said argued as early as 1979, “Palestine has always played a special role in the imagination and in the political will of the West,” including the United States.2 Said’s words draw our attention to the fact that Palestine is not a recently found node for analysis or critique in the US academy but a crystallization of radical theorizations of power, dominance, and resistance that have sharpened the field, broadening the definition of what constitutes American studies and transforming it from one that glorifies the “founding fathers,” the myth of US exceptionalism, and the American miracle, as scholarship led by Native American and Indigenous scholars show, to a space of radical critiques of US Empire and settler colonialism, as the essays in this forum argue.3 In response to anti-imperialist and anticolonial interventions and critiques, American studies deepened its analyses of colonialism and imperialism locally and globally, thus demonstrating how socially engaged scholarship can be self-reflexive, respond [End Page 993] to and contend with contemporary struggles for justice and liberation, and seriously engage the question of settler colonialism.

With this historical context in mind, this forum examines where Palestine fits in American studies today and what aspects of Palestine solidarity promise further radicalization of this scholarly field. Rather than situate this history of engagement with Palestine solely in the immediate past or romanticize solidarity with Palestine, the contributors to this forum excavate deeper histories, exploring tensions and contradictions in alliances and solidarities. Together, their work examines various sites of knowledge and intellectual inquiry that have paved the way for and contributed to situating Palestine in American studies. In so doing, this forum brings to the fore the consequences and implications of this historical conjuncture, exploring new and old contours of American studies as a key site of intellectual debate, inquiry, and contestation.

Israel’s Settler Colonialism and the Fracturing of American Consent

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel initiated by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations.4 This milestone also coincides with the one-year anniversary of two other relevant developments: the police killing of a black youth, Michael Brown, and the intensification of occupation-like conditions in Ferguson, Missouri, that Kristian Davis Bailey discusses, and the launch of Israel’s fifty-day assault on Gaza that left over 2,251 Palestinians dead and more than 11,000 injured, wounded, or disabled.5 Israeli strikes also destroyed more than 12,620 housing units, leaving about 100,000 people homeless in what the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs describes as the largest displacement of Palestinians since 1948. Combined with economic sanctions and land, air, and sea blockades that have been imposed since 2007, Israel’s war has strangled Gazans, cutting off their essential needs, such as clean water, fuel, medical supplies, and education.6

Israel’s attack on Gaza cannot be dissociated from its broader settler colonial foundation that is premised on the extinguishing of Palestinian life. The kidnapping and burning alive...


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