Transcending Violence: The Geeks and New Stalwarts of Palestinian Identity

Benjie Jackson, MSc Violence, Conflict and Development

In occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), namely the West Bank and Gaza, new social phenomena are materializing. In recent weeks, I have been struck by stories of remarkable agency: in particular, a young tech generation in Gaza are transcending the physical barriers (such as limits to trade) which come with living in oPt. Thousands of twenty-somethings — the geeks — are joining technology startups, and subsequently securing high-quality jobs as software developers.

The coding initiative, spearheaded by Gaza’s first tech hub ‘Gaza Sky Geeks’ (GSG), was developed by the international NGO Mercy Corps. Young Palestinian entrepreneurs are flocking to the hub to demonstrate their skills. It has received international backing: Google has sponsored the initiative; Microsoft, Uber, SoundCloud, and other startups based in London have all provided pro bono support.

It is most impressive because of the very conditions it is blossoming in. By definition, the Israel-Palestine conflict is an ‘active’ conflict, yet those in oPt must also tackle structural violence. The Gaza strip is notoriously precarious; travel in and out scarce. It faces frequent barrages from the Israeli military. It also has limited water resources and frequent electricity shortages, whilst access to capital is limited and unemployment rates are high for ethnic Arabs and Palestinians.

Transcending armed conflict and structural violence enables Palestinians to construct new political identities and subjectivities. Much as causes and acts violence are being theorized by scholars as having symbolic meaning and subjectivity – symbolic responses to violence, rooted in the locale, are equally important. The ‘geeks’ are apt ethnographic subjects for understanding violence subtleties in oPt. Why study the soldiers and political figures of Hamas, when those who are forging meaningful lives for themselves are a purer representation of the Palestinian predicament?

The geeks are exponents of the fact that Palestinians can no longer be portrayed as objects of their political surroundings.

Rather, they are subjects wrought from the existential practices they are employing to preserve hope and optimism. This signifies a departure from the armed struggle usually attributed to Palestinian political identity. In this discourse, Palestinians are presented as flagbearers of historical nationalism. Whilst the creation of a sovereign Palestine state remains the overarching goal, Palestinians are asking important questions: What about my present? What about my raison d’être? Through technology, they are able to forge meaningful lives for themselves and be active in the present.

Another positive of the technology sector in Gaza and the West Bank is the level of gender parity and subsequent agency demonstrated by young women. Over 50% of attendees at GSG events in 2015 were women. It has even been claimed women are better represented at GSG and other startups in oPt than in Silicon Valley!

On this theme, the only concert piano in Gaza was also recently restored. The piano had been abandoned in a theater damaged in the 2014 war with Israel. Listening to the piano being played is both moving and politically significant: a symbolic performance of resistance to the Israeli government and the blockade of the strip by Israel and Egypt. Much like colonial subjects resisted the colonizer’s attempts to become ‘civilized’, Palestinians resist the mandates of the governments who seek to restrict their very identity.

Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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