Theses Doctoral

Prophecies of Palestine: Geology and Intimate Knowledge of the Subterranean

Assali, Hadeel

This dissertation examines the narratives deployed to produce space(s) and how they become imbued with the authority to do so. The narratives-as-knowledge considered here are grounded in a specific place: the Mediterranean Basin, within which the site of analysis, Palestine, sits. How, in this particular place, has the earth been read and translated into different narratives of the past and the present, how does one gain the authority to do so, and how does this authority enable prophesizing the future? I argue for the importance of understanding the foundations of the earth sciences, namely geology, which remains steeped in colonial and capitalist roots and the ideological logics of extractivism as opposed to mutuality.

Geology governs much of our understandings of the earth, space, and time. Archival research reveals that in Palestine, Biblical and geological narratives emerged concomitantly; both read the history of earth and mankind through its translation of the strata of the underground, which in turn granted the authority to prophesize the future. The local, intimate knowledge of the land, and thus the narratives of the land, are in contest in colonial contexts – colonial knowledge depends on and exploits local knowledge. The development of the modern-nation state enfolds the holders of this knowledge within its institutions as it seeks to make nature legible for extraction. In settler-states, however, the holders of intimate knowledge are excluded from the state.

This, I argue, can help us understand the impasse between Gaza’s tunnel diggers and the Israeli military and offers us a case study of the potential of subterranean knowledge to rethink the Earth Sciences and their colonial capitalist paradigms. Place matters, and I focus on the dueling narratives in Gaza that reproduce it. Through a combined methodology of historical research and ethnography with the local population, I first argue Gaza should be unmapped from “the Gaza Strip,” and counter-mapped (through history and ethnography) as Southern Palestine. After redefining the geography of Gaza, I focus in on daily life on the surface of a vibrant Gaza filled with unexpected relations. The dissonance of mainstream humanitarian discourse on Gaza is shorn of historical context of colonialism and prophesizes certain death, whereas the anti-colonial narrative of local resistance promises a liberated future. I then move underground to the tunnels of Gaza, where smuggling and the logics of capital accumulation – which per local analysts had only the certainty of social deterioration – butt up against the underground resistance’s liberatory discourse and reality on the ground. I detail how the “purity” of resistance and its intimate knowledge is contained and captured in the different nation-states dividing the region of southern Palestine, namely Israel and Egypt and the quasi-state status in Palestine – but not entirely.

Back above ground, social deterioration and state violence is mediated through conspiracy theories prophesizing an uncertain future for Gaza, namely the Deal of the Century that threatens to redraw the map of Gaza. Meanwhile, Egypt and Israel continue to deploy local knowledge for extractive industries. However, I argue, something fugitive remains that cannot be contained even by their powerful militaries. The dominant mainstream narratives of humanitarianism, climate catastrophe, the Deal of the Century, and so on only lead to catastrophe, whereas looking to local, intimate knowledge that is fugitive from containment or erasure offer a different reading of and relationship with the land and hence different, even liberatory possibilities for the future. Following assertions that we are a storytelling species and should re-write our origin stories and hence our prophecies, I conclude with a reflection on different subterranean poetics and land-human-animal relations to imagine what a critical geology might look like as a contribution toward new, all-inclusive theories of earth.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Mamdani, Mahmood
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 16, 2021