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BOOK REVIEWS œ 139 Birthing the Nation: Strategies of Palestinian Women in Israel Rhoda Ann Kanaaneh. Berkeley: University ofCalifornia Press, 2002, xvii + 283 pages. $24.95 paperback Emily McKee, University ofMichigan Rhoda Kanaaneh's recent ethnography, Birthing the Nation, explores family planning among Palestinians in the Galilee. In each of the five chapters, Kanaaneh investigates how a different "field of meaning and power" is used, defined, and changed through talking about and making reproductive choices. Kanaaneh argues convincingly that Palestinians use what she calls the "reproductive measure" to negotiate meanings of the nation, the economy, difference, the body, and gender. In addition to exploring, in detail, the reproductive practices of Palestinians living in Israel at the local community level, Kanaaneh also situates them within a semantic context largely dominated by their relationship with Israel. In the introduction, Kanaaneh explains her position in relation to her informants and field ofstudy. She grew up in the Galilee, the daughter of a Chinese-Hawaiian-American Christian mother and an atheist Palestinian father who is considered Muslim by his fellow villagers. In a detailed discussion of the costs and benefits of her methodology, Kanaaneh deftly examines the implications of her hybridity and close relationships with the people she studies. She draws informants primarily from the social network of her family. In each chapter, she presents the dominant discourse concerning each field ofmeaning and then discusses counter discourses, arriving finally at an evaluation ofthe relative powers of the various discourses and explaining how Palestinians living in the Galilee use one or more in different situations. She focuses primarily on the choices ofwomen but also considers the role men play. The first chapter considers the reciprocal influences of ideas of the nation and Palestinians' reproductive choices. Israel's Zionist leaders, writes Kanaaneh, have historically viewed Arab fecundity as a threat. Through population counting, medicalization of the birthing process, and distribution offamily planning clinics, the state has urged a small-family model. These Israeli family-planning campaigns are largely opposed by Palestinians as invasive and domineering, but the modernist ethos attached 140 œ JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EAST WOMEN'S STUDIES to the idea of the small nuclear family does hold wide appeal. Kanaaneh demonstrates how Palestinians have adopted family planning, through a reproductive calculus that emphasizes quality over quantity, as a means of promoting Palestinian nationalism and opposing Israel. In the second chapter, Kanaaneh argues that although they manage to persist only on the outskirts ofthe Israeli economy, Palestinians have been drawn into a consumerist mentality. This consumerism has transformed what previously had been considered luxuries, such as owning a car and purchasing a computer for one's children, into today's necessities. Most Palestinians define the ideal family as small so that parents can afford to participate in the economy of consumption. Many Palestinians use imitation and competition, through buying material goods and using them "properly," to make claims about the relative modernity of themselves and others, thereby attempting to raise themselves on an economic hierarchy. "Fertile Differences," the third chapter, discusses how Palestinians use reproductive practices to mark differences along salient social boundaries—along a city-village-Bedouin hierarchy, and between clans, religions, and Jews and Arabs. In each case, Kanaaneh effectively denaturalizes the division by tracing historical and contemporary construction of the division; she offers the dominant discourse, examples contradicting this discourse, and the usually weak minority denial of difference. The fourth chapter demonstrates how science and medicine act as strong modernizing influences on the body among Galilee Palestinians , with a particular concentration on the female body. Sex education, though a cause ofembarrassment for parents, is seen as essential for raising a modern child because it gives the child knowledge and the means to restrict his or her sexuality to normative, reproduction-oriented behavior . Similarly, most Palestinians value knowledge and control exerted by women in choosing types ofcontraception, whether or not to have an abortion, and whether or not to use the more controversial technique of in-vitro fertilization. However, Kanaaneh insists, strong counter discourses deny the hegemony of modernist narratives by pointing to the potential health risks ofmodern contraceptive forms or portraying modern women's bodies as weak and less able to birth babies in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9579
Print ISSN
1552-5864
Pages
pp. 139-144
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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