Accepted Paper:

Words for barriers: negotiating access and movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories  


Nancy Hawker (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

The terms used in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for military restrictions on movement are analysed for their changing ideological coordinates expressed in interviews and in the media; notably, the most common and integrated Hebrew loanword in Palestinian Arabic is maḥsūm, for 'checkpoint'.

Paper long abstract:

In the early 1990s, during the first Iraq war and during negotiations on the Arab-Israeli conflicts, Israeli military checkpoints were set up in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The Palestinians' term of choice to refer to these is a Israeli Hebrew loanword, maḥsūm. Ten years later, the Israeli government approved a military plan to build a fence and wall around Palestinian localities in the West Bank of the OPT. The term of choice to refer to that is from Modern Standard Arabic, al-jidār, at the expense of any available Hebrew or Palestinian Arabic lexical equivalents. The differences in the linguistic sources for these terms reflects and feeds into three contextual processes: firstly, the global political changes of the 1990s—the subsuming of neoliberalism into securitism; secondly, differences in the occasions arising around the two types of barriers—as researched by Cédric Parizot regarding the porosity of borders; and thirdly, the role of Palestinian institutions, as presented by Mandy Turner and Omar Shweiki.

Palestinian respondents interviewed and observed between 2002 and 2016 have presented patterns fitting with a fourth process: stoicism. Their perspectives on the checkpoints and the fence/wall are practically as well as ideologically committed to access and movement. Linguistically, the emphasis in Palestinian discussions is on how to make the passage easier, for instance by responding adequately to shibboleth-type questions. One of the mythological checkpoint shibboleths involves the soldier ordering: tagid po politika 'Say here is politics', with the phoneme [p] that Arabic speakers stereotypically find hard to pronounce.

Panel RM-LL06
Speakers on the move: displacement, surveillance and engagement [IUAES Commission of Linguistic Anthropology]