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Witnessing and Testimony as Event

Israeli NGOs, Palestinian Witnesses, and the Undoing of Human Rights Bureaucracy

Omri Grinberg


This article shows that human rights NGOs sustain their relevance not by producing testimony texts and witness subject positions, but rather through the social and performative dimensions of events in which witnessing is transformed into testimony. The interactional dimensions between witness and documenter are usually omitted from textual representations due to NGOs’ rigid bureaucratic writing, and are also largely overlooked by scholars. Witnessing and testimony are analysed as spatiotemporal sites and occasions of contending with violence and colonialism. Through the peculiar case of Palestinian witnesses and Israeli NGOs’ sustained commitment to witnessing and testimony, despite shared acknowledgement of the failures of human rights, the event is theorized as malleable enough to be reshaped by its participants. These additional interactional layers may undermine the very logics of human rights witnessing and testimony.

Open access

Liana Chua and Omri Grinberg


This introduction sets the scene for the special issue through an overview of extant anthropological approaches to witnessing and a discussion of the collection's three main themes: truths, technologies and transformations. It lays the groundwork for a distinctly anthropological approach to witnessing in three ways. First, by drawing together disparate ethnographic takes on witnessing, it expands the anthropological analysis of witnessing beyond its conventional foci (e.g. legal or media settings). Second, it makes a case for attending not only to witnessing's semantics and subjectivities but also to its structural, relational, performative and material dimensions. Finally, it puts ethnographic analyses of witnessing in dialogue with reflexive discussions of anthropological witnessing, asking what each can bring to the other. In a ‘post-truth’ moment, when our interlocutors are producing their own testimonies and representations, it is vital to rethink what it means for anthropologists to (bear) witness – and who/what we do it for.