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  • Shared Land/Conflicting Identity: Trajectories of Israeli and Palestinian Symbol Use
  • Rasha I. Ramzy
Shared Land/Conflicting Identity: Trajectories of Israeli and Palestinian Symbol Use. By Robert C. Rowland and David A. Frank. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2002; pp 416. $74.95.

The main argument of this book is that a balance of myth and pragmatism is needed for a stable human society. While pragmatism without myth lacks power, the development of Israeli and Palestinian symbol use illustrates how myth without pragmatism can lead to extremism. Robert C. Rowland and David A. Frank provide ample support for this view in Shared Land/Conflicting Identity: Trajectories of Israeli and Palestinian Symbol Use. The volume is an innovative exploration into an exhaustively explored and widely covered topic. Much of the work done on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict utilizes more traditional historical or purely political scientific approaches. The value of this work lies in how it merges history, political science, and rhetoric.

Rowland and Frank survey an extended set of speeches and official documents as well as a vast range of secondary sources. Their research provides the reader a nearly comprehensive account of the conflict with historical references, political tactics, and social and religious inspirations that contribute to and intensify the development of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They well evidence their claim that the use of symbols by both the Israelis and the Palestinians serves to rally internal support, create a common goal, shape a collective memory, and orchestrate a unified sense of purpose.

On first glance, the book's structure seems traditional and straightforward. Yet this volume was carefully constructed to evenhandedly trace the emergence of symbol use in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Each of the 13 chapters is further divided into sections that seem a bit fragmented at first encounter, but collectively provide clear and distinct points that will illustrate the authors' position. This organization is particularly useful in encouraging the reader to follow their logic and accept their argument.

The first chapter is dedicated to analysis of the Oslo ceremony speeches, which allows the authors to establish the significance of symbols in the formation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The critical framework for analysis and criticism of the Israeli and Palestinian symbol use is developed in chapter 2. Rowland and Frank argue that symbol use by Palestinian and Israeli political movements has dominated the conflict from beginning to present. They suggest that rhetoric, ideologies, and myths have evolved over time, bringing [End Page 509] the parties closer to peace at some points and further away from compromise at others. Key rhetorical terms in both camps coalesce and form ideologies defining the role for nations and individuals alike. The accumulating evidence culminates in the argument that consideration of the rhetorical, ideological, and mythic implications can create a better understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Beginning with the "Birth of the Symbolic Systems of Labor and Revisionist Zionism" and ending with "From Symbolic Stasis to the End of Revisionism," chapters 3 through 12 explore the rhetorical trajectories of Israeli and Palestinian discourse. Rowland and Frank trace the evolution of symbol usage by both sides of the conflict to complement and shape the political and social climate. They explore how symbol usage changed as Oslo neared and how (as they discover) a stable peace collapsed post-Oslo. According to the authors, because the symbol change was reversible, a sustainable peace did not result.

Three basic trajectories are identified in Israeli and Palestinian symbol use in relation to the "other." First, there is a prominent resemblance in the symbol systems used by both sides. Both Palestinian and Israeli symbol use help construct national identity. The authors identify the 1993 Oslo Accords as the official start of the second symbolic trajectory. As opposed to the "symbolic denial and vilification" characterized by the first, the Oslo Accords brought about a "symbolic recognition" in which each side adjusted its symbol system to acknowledge the other.

In the final chapter, the authors show how symbol use continues to play a decisive role in the conflict and recommend symbolic practices that balance pragmatism and mythicism to better reach solutions. Rowland and Frank agree that the...


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pp. 509-512
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