Brothers Apart
Palestinian Citizens of Israel and the Arab World
Maha Nassar



As Rashid Husayn (Rashid Hussein) boarded the plane, he was full of nervous excitement. In July 1959 the twenty-three-year-old poet-journalist embarked on his first overseas trip to attend the Seventh World Festival of Youth and Students in Vienna, where seventeen thousand leftist activists from around the globe were gathering to celebrate “brotherhood and peace.” He was especially eager to meet some of the thirteen hundred delegates from Arab countries since, as a Palestinian citizen of Israel, he had been cut off from the region for more than a decade.1 The ongoing hostilities between Israel and the Arab states meant that Israeli citizens—Jewish and Palestinian alike—were, with rare exception, forbidden from traveling to Arab countries. International gatherings in Europe and the Soviet Union provided a rare opportunity for politically connected Palestinians in Israel to meet face-to-face with their Arab counterparts.

But attending the festival was also fraught with dilemmas. Husayn and his fellow Palestinians were going as part of a formal Jewish-Arab delegation that Israeli government officials hoped would reinforce their portrayal of Israel as a beacon of progressive democracy, complete with a content Arab minority accorded their full rights. Yet many of those same Palestinians were at the forefront of an ongoing struggle against the state, in particular its harsh military government that controlled their movement, confiscated their land, restricted their political expression, and hindered their economic development. At the same time, it was unclear whether the other Arab delegates would even be interested in meeting Husayn; they were, after all, some of Israel’s most vociferous critics. Four years earlier, at the Sixth Festival in Moscow, Arab delegates passed out pamphlets denouncing Israeli policies and calling for the state’s elimination.2 Would Arab delegates condemn the Palestinian minority as traitors to the Arab cause, as they had in Moscow? Husayn also faced tensions within his own delegation. Although he was politically independent, Husayn wrote regularly for the Arabic publications of Mapam (Mifleget Hapoalim Hameuhedet; United Workers’ Party), a leftist-Zionist political party. But several of the other delegates belonged to the Communist Party of Israel (CPI), a strong critic of Mapam. Three months earlier, Husayn and CPI members debated in their respective journals how to view the recent Arab revolutions. Would Husayn have to fend off attacks from within his own delegation?

Most of Husayn’s concerns were allayed on his arrival in Vienna. Members of his delegation put their differences aside during the festival, while the other Arab attendees were receptive to learning about the expressions of anticolonial solidarity taking place in Israel. When Husayn and his fellow delegates eagerly showed their Algerian counterparts photos of a demonstration in Nazareth calling for Algeria’s independence and the release of prisoner Djamila Bouhired, the Algerians thanked them for their support.3 Several of them also discussed eagerly the latest developments in Iraq with some of that country’s six hundred participants who were themselves in attendance for the first time. One Iraqi intellectual hailed the periodicals that Husayn and his colleagues distributed as meeting “the highest standards for Arabic journals.”4

While heartened by the expressions of support from most of his fellow Arabs, Husayn was disappointed by the reaction he received from some members of the Lebanese delegation. They were so incensed at seeing Palestinians walk behind the Israeli flag during the festival’s opening procession that afterward they marched over to Husayn and other Palestinian members of the Israeli delegation, loudly accusing them of being traitors to the Palestinian cause and to the Arab world. Later that evening, Husayn overheard a couple of delegates, with their distinctive Lebanese accents, chatting at the hotel bar where he was having a cup of coffee. He ordered a couple of cups for them, but before taking a sip, they asked where he was from. When Husayn replied that he was an “Arab from Israel,” they cursed him as a traitor and stormed off.5

In reporting the incident to his readers back home, Husayn made it clear that “we would be mistaken to take the Lebanese delegation as representative of the Arabs as a whole.”6 But he was nonetheless troubled by what he had encountered. After returning to his office in Tel Aviv, Husayn published an open letter to “my brothers in Lebanon” in the local Arabic monthly, al-Fajr (The dawn). In it, he urged the Lebanese to recognize that, despite his Israeli passport, he and his fellow Palestinian citizens of Israel were Arabs too. “It is shameful,” Husayn wrote, “that we have to swear and give oaths of allegiance in order to prove to you our Arabness. We are the remainder of the Palestinian people, your neighbors in tents.” Husayn also insisted that he and his fellow Palestinians in Israel were still deeply connected to the Arab world. “Your delegation called us ‘traitors,’” he recalled ruefully. “If only you knew how much these ‘traitors’ cheered during the heroism of Port Said, during the Iraqi Revolution, and during your revolution—yours, O Lebanon! If only you knew, dear friend, how we danced and gave candy to children after every victory of the Arab people against the enemies of our people.”7 Tellingly, Husayn affirmed his solidarity with the Lebanese and Arab people, not by recalling their common language or heritage but by invoking a set of shared experiences that Arabs throughout the region—including in Israel—had hailed as recent triumphs in the Arab struggle against Western hegemony.8 And he did so on the pages of an Arabic literary journal, published in Israel, that he hoped would eventually reach the hands of his fellow Arabs.

Husayn’s affirmation of solidarity with the major Arab causes of the day and his plea for understanding from his “brothers” in Lebanon speak to the central questions that drive this study. How did Palestinian citizens of Israel attempt to foster cultural and intellectual connections to the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s, during a time of profound political and geographic isolation? How did Arab intellectuals and political leaders in the region respond to these attempts, and how did their responses change over time? How did regional and global political developments, particularly during the heady days of decolonization, reverberate back into Palestinian communities in Israel? More broadly, what do these dynamics tell us about the transnational circulations of decolonizing discourses produced and consumed through written texts, and what role do these texts play in creating new political vocabularies and solidarities? In this book, I argue that a critical examination of Palestinian and Arab writings, found in newspapers, journals, poetry, literary collections, and memoirs, sheds light on these important questions. In doing so, I locate the cultural and intellectual history of Palestinian citizens of Israel, including their resistance against state policies and the Zionist logic that underpinned them, within the larger context of Palestinian, Arab, and international struggles for decolonization.


The making of the Palestinian minority in Israel was a direct, if unintended, consequence of the tumultuous events of 1947–1949, a period that has become known in Palestinian collective memory as the Nakba (catastrophe). Over several months of intense fighting, the well-organized military forces of a relatively small Jewish population (about 650,000) in British Mandate Palestine overwhelmed the forces of an Arab population more than twice its size and subsequently defeated the armies of several Arab states. As a result, the Palestinian Arab community was dramatically altered from one that constituted more than two-thirds of the population of Palestine to one that was defeated, dispersed, and dispossessed.9 More than half of the nearly 1.4 million Palestinian Arabs were driven or fled from their homes,10 including nearly all of the political, intellectual, and cultural elites; most of the urban population;11 and the rural inhabitants of more than four hundred villages.12

But not everyone left. About 160,000 Palestinians remained within the 1949 Armistice Lines, forming a small minority (about 13 percent) within the newly established state. Often separated from family members during the chaos of the conflict, many of them were internally displaced while others were briefly exiled out of the country before making their way back into the self-declared Jewish state. Israeli leaders, seeking to minimize the number of non-Jews in the country, nonetheless recognized that expelling the remaining Palestinian population en masse was untenable given the international pressure they were already facing to repatriate the refugees.13 Therefore, they were eager to create a mechanism that would distinguish those Palestinians who were to remain in Israel from those who had left and therefore would not be allowed to return.14 Initially only some Palestinians residing within the 1949 Armistice Lines (the so-called Green Line) obtained citizenship. Following passage of the 1952 Citizenship Law, a majority of Palestinians living in Israel received the status of citizen, though it was not of equal standing with that of Jewish Israelis.15 And as the porous borders between Israel and its neighbors grew more impermeable,16 the dislocations, separations, and military rule that Palestinians had thought were temporary wartime measures became entrenched.

In describing the dramatically altered circumstances of the Palestinians in Israel, famed novelist and literary critic Anton Shammas wrote, “The state of Israel put us in isolation.”17 This isolation took two forms: First, Palestinians faced physical and cultural isolation within Israel. In contrast to Jewish citizens who could travel freely throughout the country, until 1966 Palestinian citizens of Israel were under the watchful eye of a military-run bureaucratic regime that limited where they could live, work, and travel.18 On the cultural front, the authorities sought to cultivate “Arab Israeli” subjects who were divided internally along political and sectarian lines, cut off from their Palestinian Arab heritage, and solely dependent on the state for their cultural nourishment. The second type of isolation they faced was physical and cultural isolation from the Arab world. In the wake of Israel’s establishment, the Arab League enforced a boycott of all Israeli goods and citizens,19 while Israel banned its own citizens from traveling to Arab countries and restricted Palestinian citizens’ access to textual material from the Arab world, citing fears of incitement.20


To blunt the effects of this internal and external isolation, Palestinian intellectuals, party organizers, and cultural producers adopted several distinct, yet overlapping, strategies of resistance that drew on strategies developed during the Mandate period. In the immediate aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the first strategy that CPI members in particular adopted was simply bringing people together, whether for protests or for cultural festivals. But such physical gatherings were difficult to hold given the tight restrictions on movement that Palestinians faced, so the CPI simultaneously adopted a second, more discursively centered strategy: utilizing local Arabic newspapers and journals to challenge Israeli stereotypes, to acquaint readers with Arab civilizational heritage and international literature, and to comment on major events at home and abroad from a decidedly communist viewpoint.

In the second half of the 1950s, revolutionary fervor in the Arab world led Palestinian intellectuals inside the Green Line to cast their gaze toward Egypt and Iraq. Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s defiant stance during the Suez Crisis and his immensely popular radio broadcasts, coupled with Iraq’s overthrow of the pro-Western Hashemite monarchy, ushered in a brief period of hope and camaraderie throughout the region. This buoyant spirit reverberated in Israel as Palestinian communist and pan-Arab nationalist intellectuals put aside their differences and adopted a third strategy: establishing nonpartisan organizations to speak against the state’s isolating policies with a united voice. To accommodate the growing range of political viewpoints emerging at this time, intellectuals also established new Arabic newspapers and journals to comment on the local, regional, and international news of the day. While the subsequent fallout between the communists and nationalists in the Arab world led to sometimes acrimonious exchanges on the pages of their respective publications, their shared political vocabulary stressing cultural emancipation and dignity for all linked them discursively to the region and to the broader decolonizing world.

This linkage worried Israeli officials, who feared that allowing Palestinian citizens to acquire regional Arabic print material could incite the “Arab minority.” But those Palestinians also recognized that access to such material was crucial to sustaining their shared discursive formations with the region. Thus, they adopted a fourth strategy: sneaking regional Arabic newspapers, literary journals, books, and poetry collections into the hands of the growing Palestinian intelligentsia. These texts were crucial for exposing a younger generation of Palestinians educated in the Israeli school system to alternative viewpoints that celebrated their cultural heritage and political outlook. As a result, despite the difficulty of establishing direct contact with Arabs in the region, many Palestinian citizens of Israel nonetheless followed intensely wider global debates through the consumption and circulation of Arabic print material. In the mid-1960s this strategy was reversed, as texts produced in Israel were increasingly smuggled out to neighboring countries, where they played a key role in acquainting Arab intellectuals with the struggles of Palestinians inside the Green Line.

A central question being debated throughout this period was the role that literature should play in mobilizing people to the cause of justice at home and abroad. The rise of socialist realism, literary commitment, and platform poetry in the Arab world inspired several Palestinian writers in Israel to turn to a fifth strategy: composing, publishing, and reciting politically themed poems. The CPI publications were central in promoting such poetry because they published local, regional, and global voices that spoke of a shared solidarity. Meanwhile, poetry festivals became occasions for Palestinians in the country to challenge their physical isolation from one another and from the region. Performers and audience members alike often had to defy travel bans and circumvent police cordons just to attend the events. Once there, poets often recited verses that positioned their community within a wider Palestinian, Arab, and global decolonizing milieu. As younger Palestinian poets such as Mahmoud Darwish and Samih al-Qasim came to dominate the literary scene in the 1960s, their poems not only played an important role in fostering a shared national consciousness among Palestinians in Israel but would later emerge as a central means of alerting Arabs in the region to the conditions—and to the defiance—of their community.

Darwish and Qasim were part of a younger cohort of Palestinian intellectuals who were eager to reach an audience outside the Israeli state. Some of these intellectuals had previously made contact with their Arab counterparts through a sixth strategy: attending international conferences and festivals. But their main interlocutors were other Arab leftists who were themselves often marginalized or persecuted in their home countries, limiting the overall impact of those gatherings. By the 1960s, some of the more nationalist-oriented Palestinian intellectuals adopted a seventh strategy: sending memoranda to international bodies describing their conditions in Israel. The 1964 Ard memorandum received especially wide attention, thanks in large part to a growing body of Palestinian nationalist organizers in exile who were eager to raise awareness about this beleaguered—and overlooked—community.

Despite these efforts, until 1967 the Palestinians in Israel went almost entirely unnoticed in the Arab world. Most Arab intellectuals deemed them to be passive victims of Israeli tyranny at best and traitors to the Palestinian cause at worst. But the June 1967 War, with its massive, humiliating defeat of Arab forces and Israel’s occupation of the remainder of historic Palestine, altered that perception. Arab intellectuals now turned to the Palestinians in Israel, especially the image of the poet-resister, for a glimmer of hope. The 1968 World Youth Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria, where Darwish and Qasim met face-to-face for the first time with their Arab contemporaries, proved to be an important turning point in this Arab “discovery” of Palestinians who were actively resisting their oppression inside the Green Line.

This discovery came at a time when the Palestinian armed resistance movement was reaching new heights, leading Israeli leaders to worry about the growing connections between Palestinians in Israel and the Arab world. As a result, state security apparatuses stepped up their efforts to prevent contact between Palestinian intellectuals in Israel, in the occupied territories, and abroad. Ultimately this led to some intellectuals and political organizers being banished to neighboring Arab states; it also led to the self-imposed exile of Darwish, who moved to Cairo in 1971. Thus, an eighth and final strategy (albeit not always a freely chosen one) was to physically leave the country. Yet even after their discovery and celebration in the Arab world, and even after several of them took up residence in Arab capitals, Palestinian citizens of Israel often found that they still had an uneasy relationship with their Arab counterparts. This tension continues to some extent to this day, and it is part of what makes this story so important for comprehending the transnational dynamics of the region.


Despite the deep, multilayered engagements that Palestinian intellectuals in Israel had with developments in the Arab world and beyond, scholars have largely examined this group through the analytical lens of the nation-state. Early studies focused on economic and social transformations among rural Palestinians, often presuming the Israeli state was a modernizing force for good.21 In the late 1970s, a new wave of scholarship began to situate this community more clearly within Israeli matrices of control. Elia Zuriek argued that Palestinians in Israel faced a form of “internal colonialism,” while subsequent studies, grounded largely in social science methodologies, determined the means by which Israeli policies effectively controlled, marginalized, and excluded the Palestinian minority.22 As Palestinian citizens stepped up their oppositional political activities in the 1970s, some social scientists grew concerned with whether this group identified more closely with Israel or with the Palestinians, and the implications of this identification for the Israeli state.23 Even sociological works that take seriously the more nuanced and complex worldviews of Palestinians in Israel have tended nonetheless to gloss over the historical period before and immediately after 1967.24 Yet without a thorough analysis of the intellectual and cultural transformations that I lay out in the following pages, there can be little accounting for how or why these contemporary worldviews emerged.

A number of recent historical studies have shed light on forms of Palestinian resistance against Israeli systems of oppression during the early years of statehood, attending more explicitly to Palestinian subjectivity.25 While these works have made important contributions to the historical record, they, too, examine this community largely within the framework of the Israeli state. My study builds on these works, but it also departs from them by focusing on the perspectives of intellectuals and cultural producers in order to understand more fully their relationship not only with the Israeli state but also with each other and with intellectual developments in the Arab region and the decolonizing world. This analytical lens takes heed of what Palestinian American scholar Ibrahim Abu-Lughod warned regarding the “pitfalls of Palestiniology”: that is, viewing Palestinians’ historical development primarily through the lens of their struggles against the Zionists and the British. While conceding that scholars must take into account the “entanglement” of Palestinian and Zionist societies, Abu-Lughod cautioned that such an approach not only narrows the range of historical questions deemed worthy of study but also risks occluding Palestinian voices.26 This book ameliorates some of these imbalances in the scholarship by demonstrating how Palestinians in Israel turned to written texts, both to contest the state and its dominant Zionist paradigms at home and to reach out to (and sometimes challenge) their ethno-national brethren abroad.

Applying a transnational analytical framework to the study of Palestinian writings during this period requires a creative approach to procuring sources. This is especially true since Palestinians have no fully functioning national archive of their own;27 their main documentary repositories have been shut down, seized, or destroyed;28 and the postwar files of Arab state archives remain largely inaccessible to researchers.29 Moreover, official Israeli state and party archives have tended to define members of this community within the parameters of the state, often obscuring their agency and worldviews.30 As a result, the newspapers, journals, poetry collections, memoirs, and other documentary sources examined here come from an amalgam of collections held in libraries and by individuals in the United States and the Middle East, reflecting the ongoing Palestinian condition of dislocation and exile. In addition, interviews conducted with several key figures from this period shed light on the political and material conditions that gave rise to the production and consumption of these texts.


To analyze these texts in ways that can shed light on larger historical processes, I pay close attention to what Edward Said termed the “worldliness” of texts, keeping in mind that they “are always enmeshed in circumstance, time, place and society.”31 I also heed Raymond Williams’s call to examine the “conditions of practice” that go into producing a piece of art or literature.32 As a result, I devote considerable attention to the material conditions in which these texts were produced, including the political events that gave rise to them. Doing so allows me to undertake an analysis on multiple spatial and temporal scales to highlight their role in the strategies of resistance elucidated previously.

Such an analysis also sheds light on the multiple audiences these texts had over time and space. Prior to 1948, members of the Palestinian Arab intelligentsia were deeply integrated into the broader Arab cultural and intellectual milieu. Their engagement with the anticolonial discourses that circulated throughout Beirut, Damascus, Cairo, Baghdad, and beyond resulted in the production and consumption of texts that were part of an imagined pan-Arab audience. The profound dislocations that resulted from the 1948 Nakba, even among Palestinians who ultimately became citizens of Israel, attenuated to some degree this pan-Arab horizon. Intellectuals focused initially on reaching out to their fellow Palestinians in Israel and to government officials to secure their position within the new state while still affirming their Arab heritage and identity.

During the second half of the 1950s, as a buoyant pan-Arab nationalism took hold in the region, Palestinian intellectuals in Israel embedded within their cultural and political writings a more expansive spatial and temporal horizon that, while still accounting for their isolation, was aimed at possible future audiences beyond the borders of the state. Their cognizance of this futurity can be seen in the eagerness with which Palestinian delegates in Vienna distributed back issues of their publications to Arab delegates and reported to readers back home the positive reception those publications received. Husayn’s open letter to his “brothers in Lebanon”—knowing full well that they were unlikely to read his plea immediately but might do so sometime later—is another example of this future-oriented temporal horizon. With the rise of the Palestinian national movement in the 1960s, Palestinian intellectuals and cultural producers in Israel were more cognizant of their position within a broader Palestinian milieu and thus developed a discourse that was aimed more specifically at their fellow Palestinians. After the 1967 war these multiple audiences came together as Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line were able to physically reconnect with one another and as Arab intellectuals paid greater attention to the Palestinians in Israel than they had before.


In accounting for the worldliness of these texts, I also attend to the backgrounds of the authors that produced them. Most of the figures I discuss in this book functioned in society as Gramscian “organic intellectuals,”33 who came from working-class backgrounds and/or were deeply invested in improving the lives of the working class and peasants (who were the majority of the Palestinians in Israel at this time34). My use of the term “intellectual” to describe these individuals also reflects their own self-identification as muthaqqafun (intellectuals). Like them, I use this term to refer to high school and college graduates, teachers, writers, journalists, attorneys, and party organizers who wrote poetry and prose aimed at improving the conditions of their society. The close etymological link in Arabic between “intellectual” (muthaqqaf) and “culture” (thaqafa) further underscores the need to examine their intellectual and cultural writings together. To be sure, “traditional intellectuals” could be found among the Palestinians in Israel, mainly in government-run institutions. But their textual output was much more modest and less influential than that of their more critical counterparts.35

Despite the shared interests of these organic intellectuals, clear distinctions existed between an older generation who came of age during the pre-1948 period and a younger generation who came of age in the Israeli state. Members of the older generation hailed largely from Christian (primarily Orthodox) working-class or middle-class family backgrounds and grew up in relative material comfort in urban or town settings. They were also among the few Palestinians who were able to obtain a high school degree and, in some cases, went on to college in neighboring countries. These opportunities led them to develop a strong connection with the regional intelligentsia, often resulting in the development of a pan-Arab nationalist orientation with a leftist bent.

The younger generation of intellectuals was more diverse, with members hailing from Muslim, Christian, and Druze families and often from working-class or rural peasant backgrounds. They generally came of age under Israeli rule, which, on the one hand, expanded educational opportunities for Palestinian citizens in rural areas but, on the other hand, restricted their access to regional Arab discourses. Because they were unable to travel to neighboring countries, this generation’s engagement with Palestinians and Arabs beyond the Green Line was mediated almost exclusively through texts, whether produced locally or smuggled in from abroad. And as these texts increasingly questioned widely held truisms about internationalism and pan-Arab nationalism—while still championing Third World solidarity and Palestinian liberation—cleavages emerged between the older and younger intellectuals about how best to alleviate the burdens their community faced.

In short, members of each generation inhabited what historical anthropologist David Scott terms a distinct “moral-political location” that informed the conceptual and practical questions they sought to tackle.36 Building on sociologist Karl Mannheim’s conceptualization of generations as social forms, Scott calls on contemporary observers to step outside the “epistemological privilege of the present” and to recognize that earlier generations of intellectuals were proposing specific answers to moral, political, and social challenges that reflected the particular temporal location that they inhabited.37 Not only does this approach help us uncover how shifting political and material circumstances influenced the writings of these specific intellectuals, but it also sheds light on how we may understand the ways in which ideas are shaped and reworked across generations more broadly.

Despite these generational shifts, both the older and younger Palestinian intellectuals at this time shared a preference for producing cultural texts in Arabic rather than Hebrew. While many politically engaged intellectuals, particularly in the CPI and Mapam, communicated with their Jewish colleagues in Hebrew and composed political tracts for their respective party’s Hebrew press outlets, they used Arabic for the vast majority of their culture work, especially when reaching out to Palestinians and other Arabs.38 Their use of Arabic also signaled their engagement with the Arab modernist project in the 1950s and 1960s, which was in many ways quite distinct from its European counterpart. As intellectual historian and literary scholar Yaseen Noorani notes, Arab modernists excoriated the colonial underpinnings and neocolonial conditions of the mid-twentieth century while also critiquing those Arab social values they deemed to be in the service of the status quo. As a result, they developed a literary and artistic aesthetic that stressed visual autonomy and self-sacrifice, viewing the production of creative work itself within the context of revolutionary nationalism.39 The writings I examine here were certainly influenced by the broader Arab modernist project, but they were not merely derivative of it. Rather, Palestinian intellectuals and cultural producers in Israel made significant contributions to Arab modernism in ways that have not yet been appreciated fully. Darwish and Qasim were but two of a host of writers who contributed to a literary aesthetic that stressed cultural emancipation and pride in their identity and heritage. Understanding the local, regional, and global conditions that gave rise to these texts can therefore shed light on these larger processes of cultural decolonization.


Some readers will be surprised by my positioning of these works within the context of decolonization, arguing that Palestinians in Israel are citizens of a postcolonial state and as such are accorded basic rights—including the right to vote and hold political office—that colonial subjects are typically denied.40 Some may also object that the individuals I examine here rarely, if ever, referred to themselves explicitly as colonial subjects. Both points are correct. An explicit invocation of colonial subjectivity was beyond the pale of acceptable political discourse in Israel, and not all Palestinian intellectuals were comfortable with the colonial analogy. Some fully accommodated themselves to Zionist narratives, portraying themselves as part of a loyal minority grateful for the benefits bestowed on them by a relatively liberal democratic state. Even those organic intellectuals who saw parallels between their conditions in Israel and those of other colonized populations by and large rejected the prevailing decolonizing logic of the time, which called for armed struggle to achieve national independence in the form of a sovereign state.

However, by introducing the conceptual framework of the “liberal settler” state, historian Shira Robinson calls on us to broaden our understanding of colonialism to account for the fact that modes of liberal thought can and did coexist with colonial practices, as demonstrated by Israel’s policies toward its Palestinian citizens.41 It then follows that we should also embrace a more expansive conceptual framework of decolonization that accounts for the various ways in which marginalized groups sought to make sense of their political, cultural, and material conditions. As the following pages reveal, Palestinian intellectuals in Israel turned frequently to the struggles of decolonization then taking place in the Arab world and beyond to make legible their own conditions and seek out an effective path for improving their lives and their community, even if they did not call for national independence or secession from the Israeli state.42

In adopting this broader concept of decolonization, I build on a recent body of scholarship that pushes our understanding of decolonization beyond the grip of national liberation. Drawing on the cosmopolitanism and universalism found in the writings of Négritude cofounders Leopold Senghor and Aimé Césaire, historical anthropologist Gary Wilder calls on scholars of decolonization to “inquire into the range of political forms that were imagined and fashioned” in the postwar era.43 While these imaginings often included national independence, this was not always the case. Expanding our understanding of decolonization beyond national liberation also accounts for the varied forms of supranational imaginaries, most notably Third Worldism, in which politically engaged peoples living under a range of colonial, semicolonial, and nominally independent legal statuses still considered themselves to be part of a larger struggle for full decolonization.44 This analytical approach also extends our periodization of the decolonizing era well past the attainment of formal independence to show how the transnational circulation of literary texts from the 1930s through the 1950s impacted the decolonizing discourses of the following decade.45 Moreover, by attending to the writings of this period, I demonstrate that Palestinian intellectuals spoke back to concepts of decolonization long before the recent emergence of scholarship that foregrounds the settler-colonial paradigm in discussions of Israel-Palestine.46

Examining these texts within the context of decolonization also helps us comprehend the evolving debates about what term best describes this community. For decades, the terms “Arab Israelis” and “Arabs in Israel” had been the most common appellations, reflecting both the official Israeli designation of this group as a fully integrated minority and the pan-Arab inclinations of the intellectuals themselves. More recently, growing numbers of Palestinian citizens of Israel have preferred the terms “Palestinians in Israel” and “Palestinian Arabs in Israel,”47 viewing the term “Arab Israeli” as one that denies their Palestinian national affiliation and functions as a form of settler-colonial erasure.48 Many of the more nationally conscious intellectuals and activists refer to themselves (and are referred to by other Arabs) as “Palestinians Inside/Inside People” (Filastiniyun fi’l-dakhil/ahl al-dakhil) or “48 Arabs/48 Palestinians,” both of which refer to those Palestinians living on land inside the Green Line, which became part of the Israeli state in 1948. While the term “Arab Israeli” is still commonly used in Israel, recently scholars have preferred using a combination of these other terms that take into account this group’s own subjectivity and outlook.

In short, I argue that despite the double erasure that Palestinians in Israel faced from the Israeli state and the Arab world, intellectuals within this community insisted that they were a part of the global projects of cultural and political decolonization. By shedding light on these overlooked vicissitudes of Palestinian history, I establish the role that the production and circulation of written texts play in developing new political vocabularies that transcend multiple spatial and temporal planes. In doing so, I hope to deprovincialize the Palestinian citizens of Israel and write them back into Palestinian, Arab, and global history.


1. Rashid Husayn, “The Exaggerations of the Lebanese Delegation,” al-Mirsad, August 13, 1959, 3; Latif Duri, “We and the Arab Delegations in Vienna,” al-Mirsad, August 20, 1959, 3.

2. Latif Duri, “With Members of the Arab Delegations in Vienna (2),” al-Mirsad, August 27, 1959, 2.

3. Ibid. Djamila Bouhired was a fighter in Algeria’s war for independence against France. News of her captivity and torture by the French had recently made international headlines, and Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine’s popular 1959 biopic Jamila Buhayrid made her a household name in the region as a symbol of Arab anticolonial resistance. Khouri, Arab National.

4. Duri, “With Members,” 2.

5. Husayn, “The Exaggerations of the Lebanese Delegation,” al-Mirsad, August 13, 1959, 2.

6. Ibid.

7. Rashid Husayn, “Letter to Lebanon,” al-Fajr 1, no. 11 (August 1959): 6.

8. Husayn was referring to the Egyptian military and popular resistance against British and French paratroopers who landed in Port Said during the 1956 Suez Crisis, the July 1958 revolution in Iraq that overthrew the pro-Western Hashemite monarchy, and the May 1958 nationalist uprisings in Lebanon against a pro-Western president. For more on their significance in Arab imaginaries of decolonization, see Louis and Owen, Revolutionary Year; Louis, Ends; Yaqub, Containing.

9. For population figures, see McCarthy, Population, 37.

10. The precise number of Palestinian refugees has been a point of dispute since 1948. Benny Morris draws on Israeli archival material to give an estimated figure of around 700,000 (Morris, Refugee Problem Revisited, 602–604), while Rashid Khalidi, drawing on UN reports from that period, argues the number was likely well over 750,000 (Khalidi, Iron Cage, 225n3).

11. Tiberias, Safed, Beisan, and Beersheba were completely depopulated of their Arab population, while Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, Ramlah, and Jerusalem saw the number of Arab residents decrease dramatically after the war. Kamen, “After the Catastrophe I,” 459–461; Pappé, Ethnic Cleansing, 91–103.

12. Khalidi and Elmusa, All That Remains.

13. Peretz, Israel, 33–44.

14. Robinson, Citizen Strangers, 68–90.

15. Ibid., 96–112.

16. Morris, Israel’s Border Wars.

17. Anton Shammas, “The Morning After,” New York Review of Books, September 29, 1988.

18. Robinson, Citizen Strangers; Jiryis, Arabs in Israel.

19. Feiler, From Boycott, 24–34.

20. Kamen, “After the Catastrophe II,” 101–103.

21. For an overview and criticism of this scholarship, see Pappé, Forgotten Palestinians, 276–280; Sa` di, “Modernization”; and Rabinowitz, “Oriental Othering.”

22. Zureik, Palestinians; Lustick, Arabs.

23. Smooha, Orientation; Reiter, National Minority; R. Cohen, Strangers; Peleg and Waxman, Israel’s Palestinians; Haklai, Palestinian Ethnonationalism.

24. Abu-Baker and Rabinowitz, Coffins; Rouhana, Palestinian Citizens; Ghanem, Palestinian-Arab Minority.

25. Robinson, Citizen Strangers; H. Cohen, Good Arabs; and Pappé, Forgotten Palestinians. These works build on the earlier, groundbreaking work of Joel Beinin, particularly Beinin, Red Flag.

26. Abu-Lughod, “Pitfalls.”

27. The Palestinian Authority’s Cultural Ministry has founded a national archive in Ramallah, but its holdings are still quite slim.

28. In September 1982 Israeli forces seized the extensive archival collections of the Palestine Research Center (PRC) in Beirut and shipped the holdings to Tel Aviv. Five months later the PRC building was heavily damaged by a car bomb that killed eight employees and wounded several others. As part of a 1983 prisoner-exchange deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Israel returned an unknown portion of the archives, which was shipped to Algeria. Once the PRC was reestablished in Cyprus in 1985, several attempts were made to transport the archival material from Algeria to Cyprus, but they failed. The material is now presumed to be lost. See Samih Shabib, “Palestine Research Center: The Lost Memory,”, June 13, 2005, Shabib headed the PRC’s documentation office from 1981 to 1993.

In August 2001, Israeli police forces raided the Orient House in East Jerusalem, confiscating a significant portion of its archives. As of this writing, the Orient House remains shut down. While many of its documents are currently housed in the Israel State Archives, the fate of its remaining archival collection is unclear. For more on the current status of this and other Palestinian archival and library collections, see Librarians and Archivists with Palestine,

In addition, during the 1948 war an estimated seventy thousand books were seized by Israeli forces from the personal collections and libraries of Palestinians, along with an untold number of their private papers. A significant portion of this material made its way into the holdings of the National Library of Israel with the call number AP (“Abandoned Property”). See Brunner, Great Book Robbery.

29. See El Shakry, “History without Documents.”

30. An added challenge is that that many of the records in the Israel State Archives pertaining to the 1948 war and to the Palestinians were declassified in the late 1990s and early 2000s but have since been reclassified. Recently scholars have grown concerned that as the Israel State Archives digitizes its collections, it may further reclassify previously declassified material. See Hazkani and Gratien, “Politics of 1948;” Di-Capua, “Intimate History;” and Hofstadter and Yavne, “Point of Access.”

31. Said, World, 35.

32. Williams, Culture, 49.

33. Gramsci, “The Intellectuals,” 5–23.

34. About 80 percent of the Palestinians who remained in Israel were villagers who had been engaged in agriculture prior to 1948. Because of ongoing Israeli land confiscations, large numbers of farmers (and their children) would become part of Israel’s labor class. See Kamen, “After the Catastrophe II,” 90.

35. Gramsci defines traditional intellectuals “of the rural type” as including priests, lawyers, notaries, teachers, and doctors who mediated between peasants and the state (“The Intellectuals,” 14). Yet several of the lawyers and teachers discussed in the pages that follow identified more closely with the organic intellectuals than the traditional ones.

36. Scott, “Temporality,” 173.

37. Ibid. Scott elaborates on these ideas in Refashioning and Conscripts.

38. This trend began to change only in the mid-1970s as subsequent generations of Palestinian writers in Israel increasingly shifted to Hebrew. Notable writers include Siham Daoud, Sayed Kashua, Atallah Mansour, Salman Natur, and Anton Shammas. See Shakour, “Arab Authors.”

39. Noorani, “Redefining Resistance,” 83–86.

40. Historian Derek Penslar, for example, places Israel’s first two decades of statehood firmly within a postcolonial context, though he acknowledges that some early state policies toward Palestinian citizens shared elements with colonial rule. See Penslar, Israel, 90–111.

41. Robinson, Citizen Strangers.

42. Nassar, “My Struggle.”

43. Wilder, Freedom Time, 4.

44. Prashad, Darker Nations; Dubinsky et al., New World Coming.

45. On these earlier circulations, see Polsgrove, Ending; and James, George Padmore.

46. See also Bhandar and Ziadah, “Acts and Omissions.”

47. Ghanem, “Palestinians in Israel,” 139.

48. Makhoul, “Ha ezrachim.”