Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Columbia University
Politics (Re)incarnated: Syrians’ Struggle for Belonging in the Occupied Golan Heights

Since 1982, the Druze of the occupied Golan Heights (Jawlān in Arabic) have refused impositions of citizenship by the State of Israel. They do so, first, by invoking their political ties with another polity, Syria, and, second, by recalling past-life memories through their belief in reincarnation (taqammuṣ)—the human-to-human transmigration of the soul. In this project, I follow the daily lives of Jawlāni Druze to grasp how an occupied community comes to understand, realize, actualize, and transcend itself above a political condition to which, it insists, it does not belong. I propose to study the actions, speech, writings, and emotions through which Jawlānis, be they Druze theologians or radical leftist activists, mediate expressions of the past by paying attention to an array of practices from the sermonizing of Druze sacred scripts in prayer-houses to the burning of Israeli ID cards under a Syrian flag. Until 1967, Jawlānis were, quite simply, Syrian. They constituted a diverse population of Sunnis, Kurds, Armenians, Druze, and Alawites among others. In the aftermath of the Israeli occupation, the Jawlān transformed from a populous province integral to the Syrian nation-state into a sparse borderland in a settler-colonial landscape, mostly populated by Druze and incoming Jewish settlers. Refusing the modern promises of Israeli citizenship, these Druze have remained stateless at the heart of a state multiplicity. Underpinning this unfolding story of displacement and annexation lie complex modes of Druze dissent and belonging. Nationalist commitments and political dissent sit side by side with divine sensibilities such as religious visions and reincarnated memories saturate a social life steeped in resistance to Israeli occupation. This project unravels how previous-life memories, when marshaled in Druze reincarnation rituals, could be considered historical interventions in the present, and explores the entanglement between the political and the religious in Jawlānis’ acts of dissent.