Twilight Nationalism
Politics of Existence at Life's End
Daniel Monterescu and Haim Hazan


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Toward Twilight Nationalism
chapter abstract

The introduction sets the contextual and conceptual scene for the stories to come. It relates the story of a city, shared and shattered, complete with its divisions and encounters. The story of nationalism that emerges out of this alternative narrative to "methodological nationalism" is one of rift, betrayal, and strangeness. Jaffa's nickname, the Mother of the Stranger, is used as a metaphor for a host of relations between citizens, nation, and state. Paradoxically, the protagonists of this book manage to make a virtue out of reality.

1 Besieged Nationalism: Fakhri Jday and the Decline of the Elites
chapter abstract

In the first chapter, pharmacist Fakhri Jday wages an obdurate struggle grounded in his professional and national identity as one of the last remnants of the pre-Nakba urban elite. His story is one of betrayal by Arab leaders, corruption in the local community, and splendid isolation as a prophet of doom. In 1945 Jday traveled to study in Beirut, and upon returning to Jaffa in 1950, he experienced firsthand the catastrophe that befell his hometown.

2 Worn-Out Nationalism: Rabbi Avraham Bachar and the Community's Betrayal
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Rabbi Avraham Bachar, formerly the unofficial representative of Jaffa's Jewish community, is Jday's sociological counterpart. His story is that of the rise and fall of the Bulgarian immigrant community. The Bulgarian synagogue that Bachar established now stands empty and derelict, having been closed after Bachar's relocation to a senior citizens home, where he died in 2004. The chapter portrays his relations with the rabbinic establishment, the Jewish community, and his Arab neighbors as a saga of growing weariness.

3 Surviving Nationalism: Isma'il abu-Shehade and Testimony amid the Ruins
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Chapter 3 concludes Part I of the book with the tale of Ismail abu-Shehade (Abu-Subhi), which relegates the collective narrative to the background of the plot as it focuses on personal survival, a historical testimony to the destructive force of nationalism. A pump technician and a fisherman by trade, Abu-Subhi chose to work "with the Jews" and reflects on his life decisions with resignation devoid of demonization or idealization.

4 Circumventing Nationalism: The Hakim Sisters and the Cosmopolitan Experience
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Part II features four stories of women who for the most part dwell outside collective time; they shy away from public affairs and choose to critically observe them from the confines of their homes. The three Hakim sisters lead a transnational cultural life. They are scions of one of pre-1948 Jaffa's wealthiest families. Like Fakhri Jday's father, their father chose to remain in the city following the occupation and represent its Palestinian inhabitants in negotiations over the conditions of surrender in May 1948. His three daughters still live together in the family house. The wall that surrounds the villa marks a symbolic boundary that connects them to a cosmopolitan bourgeois cultural domain that is not defined in ethnic terms and from which they draw their identity.

5 Domesticated Nationalism: Nazihah Asis, a Prisoner of Zion
chapter abstract

Nazihah Asis was born in Aleppo to an indigent Jewish family. She made a living as a seamstress and in the evening played the violin and sang at functions. In 1967 Asis was arrested by the Syrian intelligence service for helping smuggle Jews to Israel, and she spent two years in prison without trial. In 1978 she immigrated to Israel with her family, was recognized as a Prisoner of Zion, and came to live in Jaffa. By virtue of her privileged status, Asis relates a story of successful immigration and personal autonomy supported by the state. Her husband, on the other hand, misses Aleppo and his former patriarchal stature. Nazihah displays an identity strategy in which nationalism shrinks into domesticity. She maintains that she left Aleppo because she was unable to marry off her seven daughters and notes that in Israel she "found a father and a mother."

6 Dissolved Nationalism: Subhiya abu-Ramadan and the Critique of the Patriarchal Order
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Subhiya abu-Ramadan married and gave birth to six children. After her husband's death, she remarried and moved to Lydda, where she bore five more children. When she lost her second husband, Abu-Ramadan returned to Jaffa and became religious. Hers is a fascinating story about the link between political upheaval and patriarchal oppression and about the prominent presence of the welfare state in the life of a strong-willed woman struggling to sustain her family. She blames the Palestinian national catastrophe on the pusillanimity and hypocrisy of Arab men. In the three opening stories to Part II, which commence with a nostalgic description of an epoch of exhilaration and culminate in a deep sense of loss and atrophy, Abu-Ramadan and Asis are antinostalgic. From the shelter of the domestic domain they relate the story of their liberation from the yoke of men thanks to state support.

7 Overlooking Nationalism: Talia Seckbach-Monterescu In and Out of Place
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Chapter 7 unfolds an outsider's perspective of a woman who, from the day she immigrated to Israel in the 1950s, deliberately chose to remain aloof from the Israeli cultural milieu. Talia Seckbach moved to Jaffa in the 1960s following her marriage to a local resident. She tells a story of gradual political awakening, culminating in an activist's life in a mixed neighborhood of Jaffa, whose decline she mourns. From a position of universal humanism and cultural alienation, Talia expresses trenchant criticism of nationalism as a dispossessing force that defiles and betrays both ruler and subject. The women's stories in Part II are posited in our model between the big place of collective myths and the small place of nonimagined community.

8 Suspended Nationalism: Moshe (Mussa) Hermosa and Jewish-Arab Masculinity
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Moshe Hermosa, or Mussa in his native Arabic, is a retired businessman living in an affluent neighborhood in north Tel Aviv. Everyday he makes his way to a café in Jaffa, where he hangs out with his friends. Hermosa's is a practical type of suspended nationalism: He relates a personal and financial success story of absolute control over the events of his life while eschewing any reference to myth or history. He focuses on his gender role as a normative man with a large family and an exemplary housewife. Hermosa is an Arab Jew, whom Jaffa allows to sustain his cultural Arabism without having to relinquish the religious Jewish component of his identity. He lives in two separate social worlds and thus suspends all potential contradictions in his multicultural milieu, which is closer in spirit to the Ottoman millet legacy than to the contemporary Israeli culture that he spurns.

9 Masking Nationalism: Amram Ben-Yosef on a Tightrope
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Amram Ben-Yosef grew up in Jaffa's notorious crime-ridden district and made a living from pimping. The authors call Ben-Yosef's strategy of self-presentation masked nationalism. Ben-Yosef is a truly marginal man who levels anarchistic criticism at the national and social order, thereby alienating himself from any unifying framework. Ben-Yosef is Hermosa's alter ego because he does not account for his personal survival in terms of the ongoing application of individual morality and cross-cultural fairness but rather as a series of tricks played on state agents of deceptive nationalism. In his singularly elusive and playful fashion, he rejects all forms of collective identity and any collective as such.

10 Speechless Nationalism: Abu-George on the Edge
chapter abstract

Abu-George Hamati represents the culmination of narrative withdrawal from the imagined to the urban community and from there to the domestic sphere and the space of play. He totally renounces the relevance of nationalism to his life, to the point of stating that "when the Jews conquered [us], I became an Israeli." Abu-George divested himself of every regime of representation and chose a personal and contextless existence. In the fourth age the regime of representation dissolves into a multitude of personal tribulations, and all that remains is the naked self. Without a cohesive narrative, Abu-George's autobiographical story turns into a kaleidoscope of random anecdotes. He doesn't belong to the place and occupies a disjointed personal time, such that the nation's and the community's history pass him by without him noticing it. His tale is devoid of identity, history, or future.

Conclusion: From Identity Politics to Politics of Existence
chapter abstract

The book concludes with a discussion of nationalism's narrative configurations. The authors discuss the dissolution of the modern subject, the absence of which precludes any narrative sequence and completely erodes any remnant of identity. They revisit the discussion of theories of nationalism, conceptualizing nationalism as a social resource that runs out in old age. They demonstrate how the ethos of nationalism becomes more flexible and adapts itself to the reality of the narrators' lives but nevertheless becomes a burden or a symbol at the end of the day. In their old age the interviewees unburden their mythic appendage. This offers a fresh theoretical perspective on the presence of nationalism in everyday life, anchored in symbolic and material relations of exchange, existential needs, and a profound sense of disillusionment in the face of the bereavement and failure experienced by those who were once trapped within it but are no longer.

Epilogue: Earth to Earth: Posthumous Nationalism
chapter abstract

The Epilogue provides a retrospective on the project and a contemporary contextualization. It positions the narratives of the elderly in the context of the urban present and the younger generations.