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  • Clash of Identities: Explorations in Israeli and Palestinian Societies
  • Zachary Lockman
Clash of Identities: Explorations in Israeli and Palestinian Societies, by Baruch Kimmerling. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. 431 pp. $55.00.

In the 1980s a diverse group of young Israeli scholars who eventually came to be called the "new historians" began to publish work that, drawing on recently opened archives in Israel and elsewhere and putting to good use the graduate training they had received in universities outside Israel, effectively challenged [End Page 179] many key elements of the much-mythologized narrative of Zionist and Israeli history that until then had been hegemonic in Israeli scholarly circles and among the Israeli-Jewish public. They were joined in this endeavor by non-Israeli historians (including a growing number of Palestinians) as well as by scholars from a range of other disciplines and fields, among them sociologists and specialists in cultural and literary studies. The cumulative outcome of this evolving project of sociohistorical critique and research over the past two decades or so has been not only the demolition of the old Zionist narrative but the elaboration of a much more complex, nuanced, empirically rich, theoretically sophisticated, historically grounded, and (perhaps most important) non-nationalist understanding of Zionist and Israeli history. This understanding has among other things been characterized (or so I would argue) by an explicit or implicit recognition that neither the character and trajectory of the Zionist project in Palestine nor the development and contours of Israeli society can be adequately understood unless one takes into account how both were profoundly shaped by their interactions (including of course conflict) with indigenous Arab society in Palestine.

Baruch Kimmerling played a key role in launching this critical trend. Born in Romania in 1939, Kimmerling immigrated to Israel with his family in 1952 and, despite having to contend with the cerebral palsy he had contracted in childhood, went on to complete a doctorate in sociology at the Hebrew University, where he subsequently spent most of his academic career; he died in 2007. As a young academic Kimmerling grew increasingly dissatisfied with the dominance of modernization theory in academic Israeli sociology and with his former teachers' and mentors' lack of interest in exploring how the ongoing Arab-Jewish conflict over Palestine had helped shape Israeli society. As he notes in the autobiographical preface to Clash of Identities, his first two books—Zionism and Territory: The Socio-Territorial Dimensions of Zionist Politics and Zionism and Economy—did not draw much attention when they appeared in 1983. But they were in fact ground-breaking for their use of the paradigm of the "frontier" to analyze Zionist land acquisition, land use and economic policies and practices in Palestine, and their sociopolitical consequences for Israeli society. More broadly, these two books helped open up important new avenues for research by showing how much one could learn by not treating Israeli society as utterly sui generis or as simply the product of the dynamics of Diaspora Jewish history. Instead, Kimmerling productively compared Israel with other places in which the societies established by settlers of European origin were deeply marked by their complex encounters and interactions with indigenous peoples and societies, including North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Algeria, and South Africa. In many [End Page 180] respects, then, Kimmerling's early work helped clear the ground for much of the critical scholarship that would follow, and his own later research would prove equally important in advancing Israeli sociology.

Clash of Identities brings together a selection of the very wide-ranging work that Kimmerling published between 1983 and 2005, and in so doing it demonstrates the great breadth and depth of his contribution to his field. Chapters address the formation of Jewish society in Palestine, the development of a Palestinian national identity, contestation about Jewish identity in Israel, militarism in Israel, the impact of conflicting conceptions of national security, peace and citizenship on Israeli politics, society and culture, and much else. Along the way, but especially in the Oslo and post-Oslo years, Kimmer-ling frequently drew on his academic expertise to intervene in, and illuminate, political debates in Israeli-Jewish society, in the hope...


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pp. 179-181
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