Some thoughts on Occupy Wall Street and Palestine

by Kareem Rabie, City University of New York

Like many members of the 99%, I’ve recently been preoccupied with Occupy Wall Street and the movements towards occupation of public space that are occurring across the US and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere in the world. Here in New York I have participated in actions, General Assemblies, and the student organizing that has emerged around OWS. As a student and researcher working on Palestine, I have watched the ways that Palestine has been mobilized, discussed, understood as a cause or as an opportunity for the expression of identification or solidarity, and excluded from the occupations. For my first few posts as a “Staff Reporter”, I’ll be exploring a small part of Occupy Wall Street, the occupations more generally, and the conversations that surround them: their relationship to Palestine and to solidarity with Palestinians. My dissertation research explores privatization, liberalization, and the question of the state in Palestine through ethnography of a new town development project in the West Bank. In general I will focus on Palestine, Israel, and the Middle East but for now I’d like use the issue of Palestine to try to think about the ways that Occupy is going to continue, how it will spread, how political solidarity might work, and the growing pains it might endure.

Although many occupations have by now been evicted, clearly this does not mean that the movement has been beaten. As Ahilan Kardirgamar and Prachi Patankar have written, “[t]he physical occupations of places like Zuccotti Park were symbolically important for what this movement stands for and what is possible. The movement may not have grown to the extent that it has without the inclusive character of the occupied spaces. Given the recent evictions, some worry that the decrease in occupied public spaces could mean setbacks for the movement; the absence of a rallying point makes it appear as if the movement is now left to a few diehards. However, the Occupy movement is certainly far from over; it is now characterized by a diffusion of general assemblies, vibrant local discussions and ongoing protests on a range of issues.” And it is becoming increasingly necessary to think beyond the local politics that are necessarily inflected in the tactic of occupation with the broader rhetoric of a global 99%. David Graeber argues that we are seeing the movement gain steam in part because these occupations are experiments in a new society based fundamentally on a refusal of the existing political and economic order; contingent movement towards true democracy. Somewhat less convincingly, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri suggest that Occupy Wall Street stems from a crisis in representation and makes demands towards “real democracy”.

By David Everitt-Carlson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsWhat falls out of this account and is somewhat underrepresented by local occupations is how – if we are part of the 99% of global inhabitants who are being dispossessed by a neoliberal class project – the movement ought to expand beyond North American cities. My aim here is not to critique the makeup of the movement or the forms and tactics that it takes (Jodi Dean and numerous others have already done so), nor is it to provide an exhaustive accounting of the writing and thoughts being generated about Occupy Wall Street. Instead, I hope only to raise some questions about the occupations through an examination of the ways that Palestine has been brought into the conversation. Palestine is unique in the amount of weight it carries for parts of the American left and the deep confusion it can cause in ordinarily clear-thinking people. Although I don’t hold the case of Israel/Palestine to be unprecedented in a world historical sense – Israel is, after all, a settler colony and the struggle for justice for Palestinians is in large part an anti-colonial one – the controversy that surrounds the topic in the United States can help to illuminate some issues about international solidarity, internationalism and localism in the Occupy movements, and the movements’ potential for further expansion. In my next blog post I will briefly discuss accusations of anti-Semitism and Occupy; a subsequent post will discuss the language of “occupation” and the critiques of that language; and a final post will deal with whether or not American policing has been “Israelified”.