Project

PhD, English Rhetoric and Composition, University of Arizona

Program

ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships

Department

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Work Affiliation

New York University

PhD Granting Institution

University of Arizona

Position Description

"Israel/Palestine: Speculative Ecologies"

My dissertation, Israel/Palestine: Speculative Ecologies, probes the relationship between contemporary visual culture and the enduring legacies of environmental colonialism in Israel/Palestine. As one of the most internationally famous geopolitical conflicts, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also one of the most visually documented. Scholars of visual culture, particularly those who are invested in Palestinian solidarity, are increasingly critical of the spectacular visual rhetoric that characterizes the most widely circulated photojournalistic images of Palestinians under siege (Touqan, Atshan, Said). Attention- grabbing images of human suffering often risk dehumanizing their subjects as spectacles for visual consumption (Hesford). They are also less effective at conveying the effects of slow and pernicious processes such as environmental colonialism (Nixon). Subsequently, there is a scholarly and political exigency for visual rhetorical strategies that can expand international audiences’ awareness of settler- colonialism’s long-term effects on Palestinian life and land (Touqan, Hochberg).
Across three case studies, I analyze contemporary visual cultural productions that depict environmental colonialism. Here I am referring to the colonial processes and practices that affect Israel/Palestine’s natural environment with a disproportionately detrimental impact on Palestinians. I argue that these productions enact what I call “speculative image science.” I deploy a mixed-methods approach, contextualizing my visual rhetorical analysis with multi-sited ethnography, ethnographic interviews, and archival research conducted in several languages. Substantially reworking W.J.T. Mitchell’s term “image science,” I approach speculative image science as both an artistic practice and a scholarly method. Instead of documenting singular events, these mixed-media productions blur disciplinary boundaries between “art” and “science” and temporal boundaries between “past” and “present.” In so doing, they highlight how scientific expertise and ownership of Israel/Palestine’s natural environment have been categorized, produced, and distributed over time and to what ends. They demonstrate how the violent legacies of 19th and early 20th century imperial science and conquest in late Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine inform the settler-colonial present. By drawing attention to how transnational forces have historically shaped Israel/Palestine, these visuals challenge the presumptions of audiences who might otherwise understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as isolated and exceptional.
Each case study is oriented around a guiding concept, “invasion,” “extinction,” and “toxification,” respectively. As indicated by my use of the term Israel/Palestine, these case studies encompass the geographic totality of what is now Israel and the occupied West Bank. Chapter one, “Invasion,” focuses on the A.M Qattan Foundation art exhibit “Weed Control” (2020). Palestinian artists reenacted a British Mandate-era traveling exhibition on Palestinian flora. The artists addressed the cultural and ecological significance of flora that Mandate officials classified as invasive weeds. Chapter two, “Extinction,” focuses on an international political controversy concerning the ownership rights to a collection of taxidermized, now extinct Palestinian animals. The collection, which was created by a German Catholic priest at the turn of the 20th century, was housed in a Jerusalem-based German school for Palestinian girls until 2018 when it was transferred to an Israeli biodiversity institute. I analyze competing representations of “extinction” across exhibition materials and media composed by the German and Israeli institutions and also by Palestinian alumnae. Chapter three, “Toxification,” focuses on Inas Halabi’s series “Lions Warn of Futures Present” (2018). Building upon scientific studies that were authored by a nuclear physicist, Halabi combines fact and fiction to address the alleged presence of radioactive waste in the Negev Desert and occupied West Bank. In the concluding chapter, I argue that speculative image science can gesture towards an “arts of living” amongst human and nonhuman others (Tsing, Butler). This study contributes to the growing interdisciplinary field of the environmental humanities and especially the field of environmental rhetoric which until this point has primarily focused on issues in the United States.