Inequalities: Fate or
This issue opens the second
volume of “Hagar: International Social Science Review”. We enter our second
year with satisfaction from the quality of the issues produced in the first
volume, which were well received by the scholarly community. However, much work
remains in defining and sustaining the interdisciplinary, critical, academic
niche, we hope to create for this journal.
But the critical niche of the
journal is also concerned with life beyond the confines of academia. This brings
us to the current atmosphere in Israel/Palestine, still thick with anger,
hostility and violent ethnic conflict. A new right-wing government headed by
Ariel Sharon was elected in Israel in February 2001. It has since maintained
Israel’s heavy-handed military reaction to the Palestinian uprising, while
deepening the occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
Without entering the
political debate about the future of these territories, we can note that the
current round of hostilities demonstrates a persisting and deep inequality
between Palestinian-Arabs and Israeli-Jews in Israel/Palestine. It has sharpened
the already wide gaps between the two communities in political and military
power, economic standards and national identities. The inequality between the
relatively developed state of Israel and the economically depressed, partially
ruined, Palestinian localities is, today, starker than ever.
The heart of this issue of
“Hagar” is devoted to inequality. The main section of which presents a
scholarly debate around a conceptual piece by Charles Tilly. Tilly presents an
abstract model of persisting human inequalities, based on deeply ingrained
stratifying mechanisms such as ‘queues’ and ‘conversations’. Tilly’s
model is an articulate, yet sober, abstraction of the structural inevitability
of personal and collective equality in human society.
The responses to Tilly’s
provocative account came from various scholarly and geographical directions.
Immanuel Wallerstein, a political scientist, Jeff Frieden, an economist, and
Ilan Talmud, a sociologist, principally accord with Tilly’s structural
account, while offering adjustments and additional insights. The three place
greater emphasis on economic dynamics and institutions, which shape markets and
flows of resources according to specific (unequal) sets of logics. The process
of globalization, with the associated retreat of the welfare state and
conventional politics are also discussed as additional ‘bricks’ in the
structural wall of human inequality.
David Smith, a geographer,
also in broad agreement, regarding the durability of inequalities, pays greater
attention to an aspect largely overlooked by Tilly: the geography of human
disparities. This illuminates the central role of place and identity,
underplayed by Tilly, and offers some rethinking about the inevitability of a
deeply stratified society.
This scholarly debate links
up with the story of Hagar/Hajr which shows that during ancient times, as today,
inequalities were deeply inscribed and performed, but, at times, also challenged
and breached. Similar to the perspective taken by Smith, the ancient stories of
Hagar, the Egyptian maid, are replete with references to identities and
places as major foundations of the logic-driving and legitimizing
inequalities. The passage below, from Genesis 16 (3-10), highlights the unequal
power structure between Sarah and Hagar. The asymmetry is challenged, with
Hagar’s bearings of Abraham’s first child, but is later reasserted, when
Sarah, a member of the dominant family/ethnicity, drives Hagar away into the
After Abram had dwelt for
ten years in the land of Canaan... Sarai... gave Hagar unto her husband Abram to
be his wife... and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived her
mistress was despised in her eyes... And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she
fled from her face...
texts differ on the exact origins of Hagar/Hajr. Some claim she was a Coptic
slave-girl, while others claim she was the daughter of a Pharaoh!
But the clear power relations in the family are still clearly presented by the Hadith,
which tells us about Ibrahim, in accord with Sarah, who dispose of Hagar at
will. For example, according to
Islamic texts, when Ibrahim decides to leave Hajr in Mecca, she asks him: “O
Ibrahim, to whom are you entrusting us?”; and he simply replies: “To God”.
impact on power relations and inequality, however, is not only a theme of sacred
religious texts, but also a bone of contention in today’s mass politics.
In the next article of the publication in your hand, Yasim Arat shows
well how religious matters, such as the wearing of the Islamic veil (mandil)
feature in contemporary Turkish debates. Arat analyses the political struggle
over the wearing of the mandil in public schools. She makes a strong case for
allowing the mandil, using the theoretical foundations of liberal-democratic
identity and inequality are never far from the surface in an analysis of the
other two articles in the issue. Ella Shohat presents a powerful account of the
construction of cultural inequalities between Mizrahi (‘Eastern’) and
Ashkenazi (‘Western’) Jews in Israel. Shohat demonstrates how the state’s
creation of a Zionist collective memory, history and present have ruptured and
marginalized the continuity of Mizrahi identity. Shohat is also interested in
constructing new ‘ways of knowing’ as a basis for arriving at
counter-narratives to the dominant Israeli-Western-Ashkenazi construction, and
brings forth the stimulating idea of a ‘Mizrahi epistemology’.
In the last article, Emanuel
Ottolenghi traces the evolution in the approach taken by Israel’s Supreme
Court towards the issue of torture. Ottolenghi
illustrates well the various pressures on the court, and its necessity to
constantly maneuver between political exigencies and the principles of justice.
The shifting powers of these orientations, according to Ottolenghi, lie behind
the recent groundbreaking decision to disallow torture in Israeli jails.
The issue continues to deal
with the evolving, difficult, circumstances of Israel/Palestine in the three
following pieces. In our “Open Space – Perspectives” section, Luise
Bethlehem weaves a reflective piece, where scenes from her own South African
past intermingle with events from the current Palestinian intifada, and with
observations on the nature of knowledge, body and theory.
Two in-depth reviews shed
further light on some unexplored aspects of Israeli society. First, Nurit Alfasi
describes and analyzes a recent exhibition on the “Israeli Project”, which
portrayed the massive construction of Israeli housing, towns and settlements,
mainly during the state’s first two decades. Alfasi explores the difficulties,
contradictions and inequalities embedded in the continuous attempts of modern
Israeli planners to fully control the built environment, and touches on the
implications of housing the masses of Jewish immigrants who poured into the
country during that period. Yossi Yonah takes us to tensions within Israeli
identity, by reviewing two recent movies that paint a different picture of
traditional Zionist narratives. The two movies account for the ‘underside’,
mundane and troublesome aspects of being an Israeli Jew, either when fighting a
bloody (and perhaps unnecessary) war, or by living on the social and
geographical margins of the Tel Aviv metropolis.
The topics of the papers, as
well as the events engulfing us these days, are constant reminders of the
centrality of inequality and conflict in human affairs. They also remind us,
however, that unlike biblical times, we cannot simply accept them as God’s
will, but understand the ways in which they are constructed, reproduced, and
challenged. I hope this issue of “Hagar” will give the reader new materials
and insights with which to fathom and encounter this reality.