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Reviewed by:
  • Itineraries in Conflict: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Political Lives of Tourism
  • Glenn Bowman (bio)
Itineraries in Conflict: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Political Lives of Tourism, by Rebecca L. Stein. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. x + 152 pages. Notes to p. 178. Bibl. to 204. Index to p. 219. $79.95 cloth; $22.95 paper.

This is an intelligent and exciting book that maps the post-Oslo extension of Israeli tourism into the Arab world. The book uncovers logics of place, leisure, and consumption which ensured that this "opening" would rapidly collapse into closure and belligerent isolation. Based on Stein's anthropological fieldwork, Itineraries in Conflict focuses on changes in Israeli conceptions of nation, territory, and coexistence that, between 1993 and 2000, encouraged Ashkenazi Israelis to "view the Middle East as a unified geography of leisure" (p. 25). That perception was grounded on the assumption that Israelis could finally experience "authentic Arab culture without political threat" (p. 2). Stein shows through a theoretically sophisticated and politically informed analysis that Israeli tourism after Oslo (and before the al-Aqsa intifada) produced a fantasy version of the Middle East for Israelis in which they would be able to engage with Arabs and consume Arab culture (the book is rich with terms such as "edibility" [p. 99]) without either extending rights or privileges to Israeli Arabs (much less West Bank and Gazan Palestinians) or giving up on the desideratum of a "Jewish state." When the Israeli failure to respect the concessions made in Oslo brought the "peace" crashing down, "Jewish Israeli society … renounced the politics of coexistence, returning to the conflict paradigm that had characterized Israel's relations with neighboring states prior to the onset of regional diplomacy" (p. 150). Israel's brief courtship with its Arab neighbors, and with the Arabs resident within its own borders, was broken off by mutual consent, and Israelis returned to seeing themselves as enclaved residents of "a European nation-state out of place in the Arab Middle East" (p. 144).

While Stein looks briefly at Israeli views of Arab tourism to Israel as both a promise of business and a threat of cultural infiltration and illegal labor migration, the chief focus of the book is on the ways Jewish tourists and agencies conceptualized Arabs from surrounding countries and Israel itself as objects for touristic consumption. Here Stein uses the concept of "national intelligibility" —"that which is recognizable according to the dominant national script" (p. 3) —to good effect, analyzing in Chapter One the way Jordan, Egypt, and Syria were presented and perceived as "uncharted" (p. 31) territories that, while open to penetration by Israeli markets, were simultaneously so culturally distinct that they served to "stabilize the Israeli border as both a geographic and a cultural divide" (p. 37). It was only after tourism to neighboring countries took off (Stein notes that an earlier history of Jewish travel to these regions, some preceding the founding of Israel, was effectively "forgotten" in the post-Oslo period in support of the myth of the "new" Middle East), that Israelis turned their attention to Arab neighbors within Israel (the West Bank and Gaza, visited before the first intifada, never re-entered Israeli tourist itineraries). Chapter Three investigates Israeli tourism's quest for "authenticity" within Israeli Arab villages, noting that, insofar as "authenticity was palatable only in the absence of Palestinian-inflected politics" (p. 59), Palestinians desirous of attracting the cash and development that tourism brought into a systematically peripheralized economy were forced "not to be themselves but to be somebody like themselves" (p. 62). Here Stein discusses the state's post-1948 de-urbanization of Palestinians as a disavowed backdrop to tourists' orientalist recognition of the timeless authenticity of Arab village life; she also shows how Israeli projects of remaking Arab villages as tourist destinations emphasized "interiority" (p. 72), displaying Arab culture as taking place within the confined spaces of homes and courtyards. This "fix[ed] Palestinians in space, … diminishing their perceived threat in the era of a newly transnational Middle East" (p. 73) [End Page 499] and was structurally opposed to tourism to Israeli locales which "trafficked in exteriority and spatial expansiveness, stressing both outdoor leisure and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-3461
Print ISSN
0026-3141
Pages
pp. 499-500
Launched on MUSE
2009-07-23
Open Access
No
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