- Connecting with the Enemy: A Century of Palestinian-Israeli Joint Nonviolence by Sheila H. Katz
In Connecting with the Enemy, Sheila Katz’s steadfast commitment to impartiality and evenhandedness all too frequently collapses into equivocation, occlusion, and even denial. The book, which is structured chronologically, explores the relations between Arabs and Jews from the Ottoman and British Mandatory periods to the present. Katz argues that contact and cooperation between Palestinians and Jews/Israelis has historical roots. Throughout the book, the author attempts to explain, in an even-handed manner, the reasons for the failure of such cooperation to yield positive outcomes. Connecting with the Enemy is ultimately the story of a struggle; a struggle in which the author attempts — ultimately unsuccessfully — to divest herself of deeply internalized, a priori assumptions and understandings.
Foremost among them is the belief that the answer must lie somewhere in the middle ground. This understanding has, of course, led numerous external observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict astray. Sustained by the belief that the conflict is reducible to two competing narratives, these observers fail to acknowledge that the issue is as much one of perpetual injustice and the sustained denial of essential human rights.
Facts rarely present themselves in their full immediacy but are instead refracted through a set of ideological filters. By virtue of this feature, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict become abstracted from its material realities. Katz inadvertently invokes this feature when, in her account of the 1948 war, she asserts that 750,000 Palestinian refugees “left homes, villages and assets” (p. 54, emphasis added). Many of these refugees did not, of course, leave but were instead forcibly compelled to leave their homes.
Katz’s treatment of more recent historical events is equally unsatisfactory. In engaging with the First Intifada, a broadly nonviolent popular uprising from the Arabic word meaning “shaking off,” Katz observes that “Hamas and Palestinians Islamic Jihad increased the number of civilian murders of Palestinians and Israelis” (p.101). She fails to acknowledge, however, that it was ultimately the Israeli army that was responsible for the bulk of the killing.1
Katz’s account of this historical event comes dangerously close to distortion when she presents Hamas as the Intifada’s revolutionary vanguard. Hamas was not part of the Unified National Leadership of the Uprising (UNLU), and it refused to coordinate its activities with the UNLU. Indeed, Hamas’s role was marginal to the extent that the Israeli authorities endeavored to provide it with a more elevated role, doing so in the belief that this would divide the Palestinian national movement. In focusing upon the role of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Katz also neglects to observe that nonviolent resistance was often a precondition for the engagement of Israeli and international activists.2 It was precisely this feature that distinguished the First and Second Intifada.
The virtues of Katz’s contribution are related to her genuine passion for the subject and for the pursuit of peace. Accordingly, she [End Page 312] endeavors to focus on issues that unite both peoples rather than on what divides them. It is clear throughout the book that Katz is mindful of presenting her argument in as balanced and objective a manner as possible. However, the book’s many virtues were often undermined by basic factual and referencing errors (see p. 101). One cited article suggests that an Israeli participant in the People-to-People (P2P) organization had been murdered by a Palestinian counterpart — an assertion that is, to the best of my knowledge, false. Upon later stumbling into one of the most well-known semantic minefields, Katz describes one Palestinian as a “former terrorist” while referring to Israeli counterparts as “former commandoes” or “soldiers” (p. 162). In this manner, she bestows an undeserved and unwarranted legitimacy upon the practitioners of state violence.
When introducing the peace-building and leadership development organization Seeds of Peace, Katz asserts that the group was founded in response to the 1993 World Trade Center attack, carried out by...