A lecture by Orit Gazit, Visiting Scholar, UCLA Anthropology Department
In May 2000 Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon overnight. The Israeli withdrawal had far-reaching consequences on Middle-Eastern regional politics as well as on Israeli national security, yet it also created an intriguing and unique phenomenon of a new Lebanese diaspora in Israel. This diaspora includes the former soldiers of the SLA, mostly Christian-Maronites, who collaborated with Israel for over twenty years within the Israeli 'security zone' in South-Lebanon, and then fled into Israeli territory in fear of Hizbullah's reprisal. While the Lebanese state is known for its many diasporic communities, the presence of a Lebanese diaspora segment within the Israeli state is an exceptional phenomenon, particularly a segment whose members collaborated with Israel and then found themselves in a position of 'double marginality' within Israel, pushed to the economic, social and political margins of Israeli society by the Jewish majority, who perceives them as part of the Arab minority, and by the Palestinian-Arab minority, who sees them as traitors and collaborators with the enemy. These circumstances created a diaspora whose members are caught in-between conflicting and overlapping circles of identity and belonging, and that its identity is shaped in the Israeli host-country through an ongoing play between narratives of loyalty and betrayal, past and present, remembrance and forgetfulness. The talk will focus on the processes of identity construction of the SLA members in Israel since May 2000, and will trace the perceptions of 'self' and 'other' that stand at the basis of their 'identity project'. It will argue that the identity of the SLA members in Israel is shaped by the inherent conflict between opposing centers of national belonging, Lebanon and Israel, while this structural position brings them to perceive themselves in Israel through an 'ethical discourse' of justification, constantly preoccupied with questions of betrayal and loyalty, blame and shame. It will also emphasize the ways in which the extreme case of the SLA members in Israel enables a clear and profound look into the processes of identity construction of diasporas vis-à-vis state formal and legal categories in general.
Orit Gazit is a Rothschild post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Anthropology, UCLA. Her present research focuses on identity construction processes of diasporic groups with conflicting loyalties, particularly in relation to legal and formal categories created by the state. She has studied the cases of the South-Lebanese Army (SLA) in Israel and of political exiles from Latin-America to Israel. Her recent publications include the article "Power and Examination: A Critique of Citizenship Tests" in Security Dialogue and the edited volume Collective Identities, States and Globalization – A Tribute to SN Eisenstadt (Jerusalem, Magnes Press).
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