Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
The Cemeteries of Numbers: Post-Mortem Surveillance in Palestine/Israel

An estimated 241 Palestinian corpses lie in shallow, mass graves within restricted military zones in Israel, their cadavers having been confiscated and withheld by the Israeli army for decades. The majority of the remains belong to those who died on Israel's borders in the 1960s and 1970s and are revered as martyrs in Palestinian society for their sacrifice to the national goal of liberation. While the grave sites are not publicly acknowledged by Israel, they are referred to by Palestinians as maqaber al-arqam ("cemeteries of numbers") for the numbered placards marking the location of each corpse. Israel justifies this practice as a deterrence measure and has historically utilized the remains as bargaining chips to negotiate with Palestinians in times of political unrest. For Palestinians, the cemeteries constitute an important aspect of national memory as symbols of dispossession and dehumanization—ones that extend from life into death. This ethnographic research project investigates the Israeli state's necropolitical control over the the Palestinian dead within a settler colonial framework (Mbembe 2003, Shalhoub-Kevorkian 2014). I draw from anthropological work on funeral rites/rituals, settler colonialism and indigeneity, and surveillance studies to pose the following questions: (1) How do colonial geographies of surveillance work to control and criminalize the Palestinian dead? (2) How does one configure Palestinian dead bodies within the power landscape of the Israeli settler colonial project? (3) How have Palestinian burial rites transformed as a result of these policies? Through semi-structured interviews, participant-observation, and gathering archival data; this project will compile an archive of those interred in the cemeteries of numbers to examine the degree to which policing and criminalization of the dead is embedded in Israeli settler colonial expansion, and the various mechanisms of surveillance used to monitor the living through the dead.