- The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A People's War
There is an extensive list of books designed primarily for university classrooms to introduce readers to a broad historical overview of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Included in this long list are commonly used textbooks by Charles Smith, James Gelvin, Benny Morris, Ilan Pappé, Mark Tessler, and Avi Shlaim (among others).
Beverley Milton-Edwards' newest contribution to this literature has advantages and disadvantages when compared to its competitors. On the positive side, it is short (205 pages), accessibly written, and without major mistakes or problems. She focuses on how the conflict has impacted the lives of those who live it, and gives a bit less attention to discussing broad geostrategic debates. Milton-Edwards lived and worked in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory as a journalist in the late 1980s, and so has a great deal of empathy and insight for how the conflict has played out in people's lives. She has returned many times since.
The most significant shortcoming of the book is the lack of historical documentation, a regular feature of most classroom texts on the subject. Given her people-focused approach, this omission is perhaps not surprising, but does detract from the classroom usefulness of the book. There are no startling new revelations or novel analytical contributions in the book, but she does succeed in her goal of offering some alternative perspectives. The language can be too cute at times (e.g., "Sheikh, rattle and revolt").
The book is organized chronologically, beginning in the late 19th century as the Zionist movement was beginning to stake a claim to Ottoman Palestine. It ends with the ill-fated Annapolis conference in the waning months of the second Bush Administration. The British Mandate period, the creation of Israel, the birth of the Palestinian refugees, the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza following the 1967 war, both Palestinian uprisings and the Oslo peace process, tucked in between, are all covered admirably. Throughout, Milton-Edwards is more interested in domestic politics inside Israel and the Palestinian community than the high politics of Great Powers. She tackles issues that some authors avoid, such as the problems and tensions of Israel being a self-defined "Jewish state," or what Israeli scholar Oren Yiftachel has referred to as "ethnocracy." Her unblinkered analysis of the dynamics of occupation is spot on, probably because of her years of living it and reporting on it.
Milton-Edwards stresses that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is truly global in its reach. She discusses how it plays out in domestic politics in Europe and especially the United States. More important, she correctly notes how this conflict has been fundamental to the spread of radicalism in the Middle East. Too often the conflict is presented as though it is separate from domestic political currents elsewhere in the Arab world. We know from 9/11 and the rise of al-Qa'ida (as just one example) that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays a lead role in the radicalization and recruitment of young Arab men into violent politics, and in how they frame their resentments to the rest of the region and world.
This book is recommended for classroom use, primarily at the undergraduate level, and in particular for classes that focus on the human dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Glenn E. Robinson, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California