Finding Palestine in America: The Impact of the Arab-Israeli Conflict on Arab-American Identity and Activism
Makdisi, Ussama S
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation investigates the ways in which the issue of Palestine nurtured a spectrum of Arab-American identities across three waves of Arab immigration to the U.S. Departing from much of the existing scholarship on Arab-Americans, this project traces activism related to Palestine on regional, national, and transnational scales. The first two chapters analyze activism and discourse about Palestine in segments of the Syrian-American press and intellectual diaspora circles from 1924 to 1948. Although early Syrian-American attempts to influence mainstream American perceptions or policy failed, I argue that advocating for Palestine helped unify elements of the fragmented Syrian immigrant community in the U.S. and laid a foundation for the development of an Arab identity. The effects of the establishment of an Israeli state in Palestine in 1948, including the rise of the Palestinian refugee crisis and the expression of new forms of nationalism, reverberated across the diaspora. Thus, chapter three interrogates how Arab immigrant communities in the U.S. engaged with the question of Palestine from the 1948 nakba, or “catastrophe,” to the 1967 War. In particular, it analyzes the ideologies and activism of two groups – members of different waves of Arab immigration – to investigate how Americans of Arab descent and Arabs studying in America conceived of themselves in relation to the U.S. Cold War project, the Arab nationalist movement, and the question of Palestine. Finally, chapter four focuses on the extensively politicized immigrant generation after the Arab defeat to Israel in the 1967 War. By surveying the work of new activist institutions and their ties to the Third World, it argues that the Arab-Israeli conflict fostered the creation of an Arab-American intellectual generation. Exploring both the experiences of Arab migrants in the U.S. and their return and engagement with the Middle East challenges traditional assimilationist narratives of Arab-American identity construction and contributes to scholarship on the intersections between politics and migrant identity formation.