The Politics of Intimacy: An Ethnography of Illegalized Migrant Women and Their Undocumented Children in Tel Aviv, Israel
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This study of migrant women and their undocumented children in Tel Aviv, Israel is based on 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork spanning 2009 to 2011. It draws upon participant observation, as well as interviews and informal conversations, in order to describe and analyze the social and political patterns that emerged when migrant women from the Global South, who were employed as caregivers for the elderly through Israel's Foreign Worker Program, chose to become pregnant, give birth and settle in the city to which they migrated as so-called temporary workers. Using a public debate over the proposed deportation of 1,200 Israeli-born, but undocumented, children of migrant workers as a point of departure for this investigation, I asked how illegalized migrant women and their children were situated in political, economic and cultural terms in Tel Aviv despite the fact that they were never supposed to permanently live there. I found that far from existing on the margins of Israeli policies, laws, bureaucratic practices and social expectations, as may be assumed of people without legal status, illegalized migrant women and their undocumented children were, in fact, embedded in their very core. I use the term "politics of intimacy" to describe the daily interactions of illegalized women and their children with Israeli government offices, medical facilities, social and legal welfare institutions, employment agencies, popular media and individual citizens, arguing that intimacy is not just an interpersonal condition, but a socio-political one that encompasses the possibilities ofboth empowerment and exploitation. Following from Stoler's observation of the "tense and tender ties" (Stoler 2001) of colonial rule, I describe the paradoxical conditions that are generated when marginalized individuals are brought into an intimate relationship with the structures and ideologies of the place in which they live. Specifically, illegalized migrant women and their undocumented children in Tel Aviv live in states of "permanent temporariness", "visible invisibility'' and "inclusive exclusion" as they come to constitute a "privileged underclass" that is simultaneously dependent on, and vulnerable to, intimate engagements with Israeli society.