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  • California Dreaming: Ideology, Society and Technology in the Citrus Industry of Palestine, 1890–1939
  • Sandy Sufian
California Dreaming: Ideology, Society and Technology in the Citrus Industry of Palestine, 1890–1939, by Nachum Karlinsky. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005. 270 pp. $45.00.

In his book California Dreaming, Nachum Karlinsky offers a solid, detailed economic history of Jewish citriculture in Palestine. Karlinsky uses citriculture as a window through which to explore "economic realities, socio-organizational patterns, and ideological outlooks" that existed in the Yishuv before and during the Mandate period of Palestine (p. 220).

The ideological outlooks and economic realities the author examines include the predominantly private nature of the Jewish citrus enterprise and the sentiments of capitalism and entrepreneurship within that industry. Karlinsky's examination of this private enterprise offers us an important layer about the Yishuv economy that so often gets eclipsed in the scholarly literature by discussions of socialist, labor (Histadrut)-dominated endeavors. The author shows that private capital equally served nationalist ends. By concentrating on private enterprise, he supplements Gershon Shafir and Jacob Metzer's analysis of the role of the economy in the Zionist project and its interface with Arab labor. Somewhat similar to Beshara Doumani's analysis of the textile industry in late Ottoman Palestine (Rediscovering Palestine), Karlinsky writes the history of an industry (mainly the Jewish sector with some discussion of the Arab sector) that encapsulates the larger changes occurring in Palestine with regard to trade, land transactions, economic recession, and communal conflict. As part of this wider story, he includes the important element of British Mandatory involvement—albeit limited in this case—in the management of the industry.

Another important layer in the history of Palestine to which Karlinsky contributes is the gradual development of the infrastructure of Palestine. He links market demands, profitability margins, and the spatial distribution of orchards in the citrus industry to advances in transportation (roads, railroads, cars, location of ports) and technological change. He shows that the use of modern citrus technology (i.e., ploughing, pumping, irrigation techniques, etc.) depended upon the relative distribution and availability of other technologies like electricity. He also stresses the consideration by growers of non-human actors in adopting citrus technologies and changes to cultivation techniques; [End Page 172] non-human elements like groundwater levels, soil quality, rain, sun, tree growth, pests, and seasonal temperatures all enabled or constrained such innovation. He explains the centrality of the Shamouti orange (rather than other varietals) in Palestine as well as the place of other citrus, like grape-fruit, in the export market. In his discussion of the diffusion and adoption of technology, Karlinsky argues that "modernization" was not wholeheartedly embraced by the citrus growers; that profitability and price were the main concerns that determined the decision to adopt or reject certain technologies. Ultimately, technological improvements in the industry, however gradual, slashed production costs. In this way, Karlinsky's book is not only an economic history but one that could be favorably situated in the history of technology.

The reason for the first part of the book's title, California Dreaming, lies in its reference to the California model of citriculture thought suitable for the Jewish industry during the Mandate period. This former model was cast as the ideal, but as Karlinsky shows, it was not adopted wholesale and, in some respects, was not even applicable; the model was a dream, rather than a reality. As he states: "Jewish citriculture, then, fit into the space between the California model and the traditional Arab one" (p. 220). Karlinsky's limited discussion of this model in the book, however, raises the question: why is the book given this title? I'm not sure. The author addresses this model but doesn't spend considerable time on it, nor does he make it the fulcrum around which the entire topic is analyzed. Besides its potential appeal to a book buyer, it doesn't seem to deserve the focus the title gives it.

Another minor critique of the book centers around an examination of the role of changing notions of nutrition upon European consumption of citrus products. Although Karlinsky touches upon this issue in his chapter...


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pp. 172-174
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