“Injustice, inequality and power relations were among the questions that intrigued me since I was a child” – 5in10 with Himmat Zoubi

Himmat Zoubi (هِمَّت زعبي) is a Palestinian researcher and feminist activist. Her dissertation at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben-Gurion University entitled “The Case of Haifa during the Israeli Military Rule” focused on surveillance and discipline of urban indigenous people in a settler-colonial context. She has completed two Master’s degrees, one in Criminology and another in Gender Studies. She is currently a EUME Fellow, with a project that focuses on “Culture Spaces and ‘The Right to the City’: Palestinians in Israel as a Case Study.”

Himmat Zoubi (Photo: private)

What was intriguing to you when you were a child? What is it that you always wanted to know about the world?

Injustice, inequality and power relations were among the questions that intrigued me since I was a child. I was born into a Palestinian family. My grandparents were among the Palestinian minority who succeeded to remain in their homeland (Palestine) after the Nakba and had become Israeli citizens. Since I was a child, I was busy with questions of why my mother’s family, who fled during the Nakba, was not allowed to return? Why do they have to live in a refugee camp and not back in their homes in Al-Sajarah village? Why can’t we go to visit them? Why we are not allowed to talk to them and about them, and why can’t we even send them letters?

At the same time, and I am also considering that I was born in Nazareth-Illit (a Jewish town overlooking the Palestinian city of Nazareth that was established as part of a “Judaize Galilee” policy in the early 1950s), I was occupied with questions of why we, Palestinian citizens of Israel, do not enjoy the same rights that our counterparts, Israeli Jews, do? Why do the Jewish settlements keep expanding – geographically and demographically – while Palestinian localities keep shrinking? Why Nazareth-Illit enjoys much better-quality facilities and infrastructure than Nazareth, where my family and I conducted our daily life activities, such as schools, work, health, banking services, and sport and youth clubs? Why don’t we have an Arabic school in Nazareth-Illit? Why is Arabic not respected in the Israeli public space? Why don’t we have theaters, cinemas or decent public libraries?

How do you explain your current research project to your students?

It depends on who those students are, as sometimes I need to begin with a basic introduction of who we are as Palestinian citizens of Israel. I explain, as I showed in my dissertation, how Palestinians in Israel became city-less, and how Zionist spatial policies and population management, among many other policies practiced immediately after the Nakba, de-urbanized Palestinian society. I then turn to my current project on how and why – seventy years later – alternative cultural and intellectual initiatives might be considered as part of the claims of a young generation of Palestinians to their “right to the city”.

Which stations of your academic journey were particularly formative to you?

There were many formative points in my academic career; one of them was my work in the Haifa-based Palestinian research center Mada al-Carmel – the Arab Center for Applied Social Research. There, it was possible to engage with research that generates critical analysis, and produces counter-knowledge to the dominant Zionist narratives about Palestine and the Palestinian experience in Israel. I experienced it as a place that enabled collaboration with Palestinian academics from the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Palestinian academics in exile; it made an engagement with critical thinkers from the south possible. This was particularly important for me as an opportunity to gain access to theoretical frameworks and personal academic encounters that were not accessible to me in the first years of my academic journey.

Do you think that academic mobility changes the way in which research projects are conceptualized? What are your personal experiences in this regard?

Academic mobility is extremely significant for widening any researcher’s perspectives. And in my case, being in Berlin while doing research on urbanization, “cultural cities” globalization and neoliberalism is a great opportunity. To be in a city that offers a large range of cultural and academic events, opportunities to meet international scholars, including scholars and academics from the Arab region, is, at this point, very valuable for me as a researcher and for my ongoing research.

Which publications or academic events (workshops, conferences, lecture series…) inspired you recently?

The fact that I am a EUME Fellow affiliated with Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), and particularly being part of their “Urban Studies Seminar”, was one of the most inspiring experiences of this year. The lecture series, which deals with critical reflections on the relationship between urban spaces and religion in the Middle-East, Africa and South-East Asia, brings together scholars working on a variety of places and times to explore the social production of space, was very enriching. For me, the discussion following my talk at the Seminar was notably inspiring.


Citation: “Injustice, inequality and power relations were among the questions that intrigued me since I was a child” – 5in10 with Himmat Zoubi, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 25.04.2019, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/18451.



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