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Reviewed by:
  • Security and Suspicion: An Ethnography of Everyday Life in Israel
  • Murad Idris (bio)
Security and Suspicion: An Ethnography of Everyday Life in Israel, by Juliana Ochs. Philadelphia and Oxford, UK: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. 216 pages. $47.50.

Juliana Ochs' Security and Suspicion is an empirically rich, interpretively savvy, and compelling addition to a growing body of literature that examines security practices, materiality, fantasies, and discourses. Ochs takes up the pervasiveness and hegemonic status of security in ordinary Israeli life, by ordinary Israeli Jews. Based on ethnographic research conducted during the second intifada in Jerusalem's Israeli neighborhoods and settlements and in the Southern District city of Arad, it is a theoretically nuanced and sensitive treatment of the topic. She is a great reader of the ways in which language, aesthetics, and spatiality gesture to what remains unspoken and concealed. This is an excellent study of "security" in relation to Israeli-Jewish politics, identity, and society, analyzing how and with what effects security is, to use David Ben-Gurion's eerie reassurance in 1948, "'involved in all branches of life'" (p. 27).

In seven chapters, Ochs discusses the aesthetics and materiality of a previously bombed café; discourses and performances of fear, suspicion, resilience, and vulnerability; mental maps of secure routes; security as a commodity; the blurring of public and private spaces, particularly the home; her own experience as a volunteer in the Israeli Police; and three different tours of the Separation Wall. She demonstrates that "security" does not simply bring about basic safety, but generates state authority, reaffirms Israeli-Jewish identity, and is more likely to provide affective attachments than to proscribe violence. Because fear is uncritically accepted as the driving force rather than "deeply bound with an Israeli ethos of power and perseverance," security appears beyond politics (p. 72).

Ochs homes in on the tension between security and normalization. Security is manifested as a set of everyday practices and as a pervasive framework that reorganizes speech, thought, emotions, and space. But many Israeli Jews express a strong desire to carry on with their ordinary routines; they consciously act as if Israel is a "normal" place, ignoring the ubiquitous traces of security while performing securitized routines. She masterfully links these dynamics to the ways through which Israeli Jews' everyday security apparatuses reproduce the binaries of safety/danger, inside/ outside, and Jew/Arab. Indeed, Security and Suspicion is strongest when analyzing how subtle behaviors maintain the effacement and structural exclusion of Palestinians; seemingly apolitical behavior is quite intensely the opposite. Clear examples of this include circumnavigating Palestinian spaces while treating them as "empty space;" claims about having to "stay home," which place blame on Palestinians while rhetorically evading them; and even acting as though bombings are divinely preordained. She describes such instances as "part of a history of Israeli erasures of Palestinian presence," complementing state-sponsored attempts to eclipse Palestinian place names, history, culture, origins, and memory (p. 118).

Interspersed throughout are references to other cases, including Ireland, India, the United States, and South Africa. Although some quick parallels and contrasts seem underdeveloped and distracting, they help cast aside notions of Israeli exceptionalism and provide effective reference points. The questions they raise for future research might continue the focus on the ways that security manifests and interacts with different local contexts and sensibilities. After all, Ochs shows how various Israeli-Jewish sensibilities take different paths, but their effects are variations on a theme; frames grounded in religious, secular, consumerist, liberal, humanitarian, and analytic patterns, even when "critical," blur with state discourses and uncritically reaffirm that [End Page 680] "security is something that can be achieved in tangible and material ways" (p. 154). Future research might consider more varied segments of a population's interactions with security — Ochs focuses on at least third-generation Israelis, no newer immigrants — and their relationship to different parties and parts of the state. The latter would break down the state into parts, such that both it and "state notions" would appear less monolithic, more as effects of specific interests.

Little subtleties have big implications. To what extent does the pervasiveness of security transform or erode Israel's democratic ethos? How should everyday security...


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pp. 680-681
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