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Exploring the Politics of Dignity in the Spaces of Death

Thursday Lecture Series, Alternatives/Concessions

dateMarch 7, 2024 timeThursday, 12:15pm EST location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required.

Palestinian death, grief, and mourning are critical sites for exploring questions of Indigenous rights, sovereignty, and belonging in ongoing contexts of settler colonialism. Over the past seven decades, Israel has systematically confiscated and withheld the bodies of slain Palestinians as a form of punishment and control over the living. Israel has deployed this tactic in a multiplicity of ways, including through clandestine mass graves, withholding bodies in police morgues, and disappearing the dead altogether. As the families are left in limbo about the fate of their loved ones, they can not resolve the tremendous grief of being denied traditional burial rites. As such, Israel’s captive corpses policy represents the intergenerational dehumanization and criminalization of Palestinians from birth to death and a mechanism of collective captivity for those who remain.

Inspired by the families’ varied yet interconnected strategies to resist Israel’s corpse confiscation policy, Randa M. Wahbe argues that the Palestinian dead body is an interim space where the politics of anticolonial resistance plays out in the grand scheme of territorial sovereignty and self-determination as the political horizon of liberation. The diverse actions taken by the families to affirm the dignity of the dead are meant to defy Israel’s ability to claim control over death and by extension, sovereign control over Palestinians. Wahbe calls their defiance the “politics of dignity” to capture their actions as a collective practice that must be understood as both an anti-colonial expression of refusal and decolonial exercise in sustaining Indigenous rituals and practices against the grain of settler colonial erasure.


Randa M. Wahbe is a recent PhD graduate in anthropology at Harvard University. Her research focuses on how Palestinian dead bodies are exploited by the Israeli state to facilitate its settler-colonial expansion. She also holds an MPH in Epidemiology from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a BA in International Development from the University of California, Los Angeles. She serves as a policy member at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, co-editor of the Palestine Page of Jadaliyya online magazine, and is a member of the Palestinian Feminist Collective.

Please email [email protected] to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.