‘This is ordinary behaviour’: Categorization and culpability in Hamas leaders’ accounts of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict


Dr Andy McKinlay, Department of Psychology, The University of Edinburgh, 7 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ, UK (e-mail: a.mckinlay@ed.ac.uk).


The present paper examines the talk of three senior figures from the Palestinian Hamas political movement. Data are drawn from a series of journalistic interviews that were conducted in the months leading up to the invasion of Gaza by Israel in December 2007. Using membership categorization analysis, we explore the membership categories and category-bound attributes that interviewers use in questions about responsibility for potentially culpable actions and the ways that these are taken up, challenged, or reworked by interviewees in presenting their own versions. The analytic findings show that interviewers deploy categories bound up with terrorism while interviewees develop alternative categorizations of resistance. Interviewers construct Palestinians as victims of Hamas’ actions while interviewees construct them as victims of Israeli aggression and international indifference. In warranting these alternative constructions, the interviewees contrast current behaviours of the international community with those of the past and align current Palestinian actions with those previously taken by Western nations in resisting illegitimate occupations. Through these descriptions of categories and actions, the interviewees attribute to the wider international community responsibility for addressing the events of the ongoing conflict.