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Reviewed by:
  • Palestinian Citizens in an Ethnic Jewish State: Identities in Conflict
  • Sammy Smooha
Palestinian Citizens in an Ethnic Jewish State: Identities in Conflict, by Nadim Rouhana. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997. 300 pp. $35.00 (c).

In this book Rouhana, a political psychologist, presents a thoughtful study of Israel’s Palestinian minority and a devastating social critique of the Jewish state. It is a well- written analysis with a clear mission: Israel should be transformed from an exclusion ary, ethnic to a civic, non-Jewish state in order to render its treatment of the Arab citizens politically and morally tenable.

The book has four parts. The first part sets forth the theoretical background: a social-psychological model of collective identity which is the organizing theme of the whole book. Collective identity is conceived of as a multi-layered structure, glued by an affective core. It is a basic human need that must be satisfied fully. Multiethnic societies successfully mitigate their internal divisions by fostering an overarching, inclusive, civic identity, superimposed upon the particularistic group identities.

The second part details the three major forces shaping Arabs’ collective identity. The first and foremost is Israel’s policy guidelines: Jewish state, democracy, and security. Israel takes the worst of all possible forms—a constitutionally exclusive ethnic state. It not only serves and prefers Jews but also discriminates and excludes Arabs. Israeli “democracy” is weak, formal, not liberal, granting political and civic rights to all but at the same time instituting inequality between Arabs and Jews. Israeli “democracy” is just a “guideline,” and Israel as a whole is not a democracy because it fails the ultimate test of full equality of all its citizens. National security is real only in the sense of a threat felt by the Jews, driving them and their state to curb Arab citizens. Tensions among these three “guidelines” are explored, but the conclusion is inescapable: the ethnic nature of the state carries an overwhelming weight. The second force relates to regional developments, shifting Arabs in Israel from isolation after 1948, through pan- Arabism until 1967, to Palestinian nationalism in the 1970s. The third force consists of internal developments, which have made the Arab minority a critical mass, better educated, enhanced by a middle class and elites, and politically conscious and active.

The third part is devoted to the components of collective identity, based on attitudinal survey data and interviews with Arab political leaders. The nucleus is the label of self-identification, emerging to be “Palestinians in Israel,” neither Israeli Arabs nor Israeli Palestinians. The Arabs feel neither belonging nor sentimental attachment to Israel because of its exclusionary nature. In terms of the author’s “accentuation model,” the Arabs are unduly Palestinian and marginally Israeli in their identity. This [End Page 120] model is further elaborated upon by uncovering a rift in the political consensus of Arabs and Jews, reflecting mirror image narratives and making certain developments (e.g., the formation of a Palestinian state, an Israeli air raid on Lebanon) as assets for one side and liabilities for the other.

The last part of the book presents various options for Israel, including voluntary or forced transfer of the Arabs from Israel, disenfranchisement, secession, tinkering with the status quo (including institutional autonomy), and genuine change that can take the form of integration of equal citizens, transformation of Israel into a democratic civil state, or full binationalism. It is concluded that a liberal democracy in which Arabs and Jews are fully equal and attached to the state as Israelis can satisfy Arabs’ fundamental need for complete collective identity and stabilize their relations with the Jews.

Rouhana’s analysis and ideology, elucidated in this volume and in more recent publications, raise several objections. First, the thrust of the approach is the radical conception of Israel as a non-democracy. The view of Israel as a constitutionally ethnic and exclusionary state misses the essence of its makeup—the inherent tensions and contradictions between the democratic and Jewish nature of the state. These genuine conflicts generate irresolvable dilemmas ignored, underplayed, and distorted by an analysis that regards Israel as a non-democracy or as an “ethnocracy” (a term Rouhana has switched to...

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