On the Bookshelf
Integration, occupation, football nation
That European Jewish immigrants and Arab natives would struggle to play nicely together after the establishment of a Zionist homeland in the Middle East wasn’t too difficult to predict. Israel Zangwill—who, as playwright of The Melting Pot, would devote considerable attention to issues of assimilation and social integration in the following years—noted in a lecture at the Cooper Union on December 8, 1904, that the major obstacle to the Zionist project in Palestine was the unfortunate fact that “Palestine proper has already its inhabitants … so we must be prepared either to drive out by the sword the tribes in possession as our forefathers did, or to grapple with the problem of a large alien population, mostly Mohammedan and accustomed for centuries to despise us.” Grappling with that problem—whether through espionage or social coercion—is exactly what the State of Israel found itself doing after independence in 1948, as Hillel Cohen demonstrates based on his studies of declassified Israeli military documents in Good Arabs: The Israeli Security Agencies and the Israeli Arabs, 1948–1967 (California, January).
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Veteran French journalist René Backmann surveys perspectives on a more recent Israeli effort to manage its non-Jewish neighbors—the “security barrier” or “apartheid wall,” as its supporters and opponents, respectively, refer to it—in A Wall in Palestine (Picador, February). Translated from Backmann’s 2006 French original, the book remains more or less timely because, like many other civic construction projects, the building of the glorified fence has run way behind schedule.
Tamir Sorek, a sociologist at the University of Florida, meanwhile focuses on one of the pastimes in which Arabs and Jew do collaborate sportingly: soccer. Published in 2006 in Hebrew, in 2007 as an expensive English hardcover, and now in a more accessibly priced paperback edition, Arab Soccer in a Jewish State: The Integrative Enclave (February, Cambridge) considers the careers of Arab stars of the Israeli Football League, Arab boosters of Jewish teams like Maccabi Haifa, and the political usefulness of soccer in shoring up support of the government. Arabs cheering for Jewish players, and vice versa, may not offer a solution to the political quagmire—they may, in fact, enforce the status quo—but at least on the pitch and in the stands something other than nationalism matters.
Offering a broader consideration of how Israeli control of the Palestinian territories operates, as well as many harsh critiques of the exercise of state control, The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Zone, December) collects essays by leftist Israeli academics as well as Palestinian and Arab intellectuals. The problem Zangwill foresaw, in other words, has still not been solved a century later.
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In the acknowledgments to her novel Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury, February), Susan Abulhawa recalls being inspired by Edward Said’s lament “that the Palestinian narrative was lacking in literature.” Published as Scars of David in 2006, Abulhawa’s newly re-edited novel fills that gap, chronicling the development of the Jewish state and its consequences for local Arabs from a decidedly Palestinian perspective: her protagonist, Amal, grows up in the Jenin refugee camp, her family having lost its land in Ein Hod to conquering Zionists. Still, Abulhawa’s cast includes Jewish characters and she acknowledges, more than many Palestinian intellectuals have done, the promise offered to Jews by Israel, which one character understands as “a tiny haven for Jews in a world that built death camps for them in other places.”
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Whatever one’s politics, the strength of Israel’s military would be difficult to gainsay. Dima Adamsky’s The Culture of Military Innovation: The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Revolution in Military Affairs in the USSR, the US, and Israel (Stanford, February) examines the source of that strength and the culture that surrounds it. Security wonks abbreviate as “RMA” the post-nuclear transformation of warfare wrought by technological advances, and while Americans invented the crucial new technologies, Soviets were the first to theorize about them, and Israelis the first to wage the new form of war. Abramsky explains these developments as a result of variations in these nations’ “strategic cultures.”
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Some Middle Eastern conflicts involve even less territory than that occupied by the Jewish state (which is, for the record, a touch smaller than New Hampshire). One contretemps recently in the news concerns the ownership of a few old rolls of parchment and papyrus, also known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jordan calls them “stolen antiquities”; Israel says no way, habibi. Whether they’re preserved in Jerusalem, Amman, or Princeton, the vast majority of us will never get our grubby little fingers on them, but the forty-volume Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series offers up scholarly editions of all the texts and fragments with copious notes and full scholarly apparatus. The series reaches its conclusion this month, finally, with the publication of volume XXIII, The Isaiah Scrolls (Oxford University Press, January).
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Israelis and Palestinians aren’t unique in struggling to get along with their neighbors. The Gentrification Debates: A Reader (Routledge, February), edited by Loyola University Chicago sociologist Japonica Brown-Saracino, provides a collection of essays on the tensions that arise between newcomers and old-timers in urban American neighborhoods, and how they have been studied. In her own study, titled A Neighborhood That Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity (Chicago, January), Saracino-Brown discovers that some of the new urban gentry aim to preserve the local cultures into which they insert themselves, including a Chicago rabbi committed to maintaining the a neighborhood’s Vietnamese culture even if that means he won’t have the kosher deli he so badly wants. Brown-Saracino calls this impulse “social preservation” and notes that its practice “is predicated on the sense that one’s own culture in threatening rather than threatened” and, in another phrase that evokes the challenges of neighborly living common to American cities and the territories of Asia Minor, she notes that “residence in a place relatively inhospitable to one’s social group may encourage self-preservation, rather than social preservation.”
Rebecca Goldstein discusses Spinoza, the ‘New Atheists,’ and the biggest question of all