- Cultures in Conflict: The Arab-Israeli Conflict
Since the onset of the peace process in the early 1990s, the academic market has witnessed the emergence of a plethora of general books on the Arab-Israeli conflict designed for undergraduate use. Calvin Goldscheider (sociology and Judaic Studies, [End Page 183] Brown University) has provided us with another replete with a wealth of demographic and sociological information on Palestinian Arabs and, particularly, Israeli Jews. Unfortunately, the book is the second in a new series produced by Greenwood Press with the less-than-felicitous title of “Cultures in Conflict,” a series that apparently thinks that the complexities of both the American civil war and the Arab-Israeli conflict can be boiled down to mere ethnic conflict. Thus as the title suggests, Goldscheider’s ambitious work focuses on the entire Arab-Israeli drama as an example of cultural conflict that can best be portrayed through demography and ethnicity. To be sure, the author concedes that while the “. . . peopling of Palestine/Israel and ethnic differences are critical,” these are but one “ray” of the “prism” through which one can look at the Arab-Israeli conflict (p. xiii). Yet the feeling left with the reader is that the myriad political, military, and international relations aspects of the conflict are less important as explanatory devices than ethnic strife. The result is a good book for specialists who will appreciate the result of Goldscheider’s decades of sociological research but one that will leave generalists with an unsatisfactory and incomplete explanation of the causes of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The book is divided into three distinct parts. The first, and lengthiest, is entitled “historical and sociological contexts.” Here the author first offers a brief history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, of Israel, and demographic studies of Palestinians and Israeli Jews (as well as Jews outside Israel). The first two chapters in this section are the book’s weakest. Goldscheider’s historical account is more a unidimensional history of Israel than of the Arab-Israeli conflict in general. The author omits any discussion of why 726,000 Palestinians fled their homes in 1948 (he does briefly discuss this later, on p. 24, although his assertion that we really do not know what happened does not take into account relevant scholarship detailing the refugee flight). These chapters do not give the general reader an overall feel for the wrenching collision of contending national visions for exclusive control of the land that led to the violence of 1948, the exile of one-half of Palestine’s Arabs, and the subsequent bitter feelings among Arabs and Israelis. Once he switches from history to demography and sociology, Goldscheider is on more solid ground. Indeed, the rest of part one is the best part of the book, and shines with a host of details, data, and graphs on Jewish and Palestinian society (both within and outside Israel).
The second and third parts of the book are much different and clearly designed for pedagogical use. Part two, “documents,” offers a complete change of pace by presenting a series of personal stories about ethnic conflict in Palestine/Israel. These range from intra-Jewish strife to a sample of Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jewish voices. Goldscheider’s purpose here is to round out his discussion with a more personal touch. Once again, the specialist might be fascinated by the stories of Mizrahi-Ashkenazi tensions and Jewish immigrants from India, but this might distract the generalist who picks up the book to learn about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Still, undergraduates will find [End Page 184] these narratives helpful in allowing “real” people to emerge from amidst Goldscheider’s wealth of data. The final section, “Reflecting,” consists of a host of questions that can be posed to students for further discussion, as well as a short appendix offering a few useful documents and an annotated bibliography.
A few technical problems emerge. The chronology is seriously flawed. It states that the 1947 United Nations partition plan created an...