Social Sciences Collegiate Assistant Professor Discusses Palestinian Economics

A Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences gave a talk on economic state building and “bubble language” in the West Bank Friday afternoon.

By Max Fennell-Chametzky

A collegiate assistant professor in the social sciences gave a talk on economic state building and “bubble language” in the West Bank Friday afternoon.

Kareem Rabie read from his upcoming article on Palestinian economics and “bubble talk,” the current dialogue concerning quality of life and capitalistic development centered around the city of Ramallah. Rabie was looking for feedback from the audience on the content, structure, and persuasiveness of the article.

Rabie began by outlining his intention behind the piece. “I tried to see what Palestinians are actually doing to shape Palestine, and where and how ideas about this place get generated. Ideas that I think contribute to a lot of the flat representations about Palestine on both left and right, and that reiterate modes of thought that come through histories written in terms of the occupation. That’s one of the threads I’m trying to pull through this thing.”

“Bubble talk” plays a big role in what Rabie wants to communicate about Palestine and in particular, Ramallah, a West Bank city, which Rabie sees as a preeminent example. This “bubble talk” is the idea that economic development in the Ramallah area is not sustainable, founded on falsehoods, and will eventually burst.

For example, even though the housing market is rising in Ramallah, it originates from projected numbers and not actual buyers’ demand. “The housing market has been fabricated to some extent. They’ve created a fictitious demand of 150,000 units. It has no basis in reality,” Rabie said. This kind of economics makes many believe that there is a “bubble” in Ramallah that will pop at some point.

“The bubble language is pervasive, but it is not coherent. Some argue the bubble is economic, poised to pop, and thereby destroy Ramallah’s boomtown economy. Others contend the bubble is an artificial force that encourages inorganic businesses and can’t survive the occupation,” Rabie said.

Regardless of the future effects of the Ramallah “bubble talk,” it has led to the creation of a capitalist society in Ramallah. “Whether or not it succeeds or fails, [the economic state building project] has organized a massive economic opening in Palestine,” Rabie said, even though he is critical of these ideas. “The form of investment that makes sense to the donors isn’t philanthropic giving or building a community center: it’s privatization. What the bubble language points to is the seeming contradiction between political instability and attempts to stabilize the West Bank through economic intervention.”

Much of Rabie’s talk covered the history of Ramallah, from its conception through the occupation under Jordan to modern occupation. Rabie drew heavily from the official histories for this portion, and most of it is uncontroversial, but when official history lacks coverage, Rabie contends that personal histories should be treated as official. Thus, parts of his history come from volumes of personal histories and the village histories of the area.

To end the event, Rabie listened and responded to feedback from the audience, jotting down important takeaways with the red pen in his ceaselessly moving hands. Audience members pointed to areas where Rabie could clarify terminology, incorporate talk of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, and discuss resistance politics through economic structures such as capitalism.