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  • Sustaining Conflict: Apathy and Domination in Israel-Palestine by Katherine Natanel
  • Sa'ed Atshan
Sustaining Conflict: Apathy and Domination in Israel-Palestine, by Katherine Natanel. Berkeley University of California Press, 2017. 236 pages. $29.95 paper.

In Sustaining Conflict, Katherine Natanel explores "how things stay the same"(p. 201) in Israel-Palestine, with a focus on privileged Jewish Israelis who are on the left of the political spectrum. Natanel examines their everyday lives and their attempts to realize a sense of normalcy, which leads to "active disengagement" (p. 7) from the Palestinian question, even though Palestinians, to an extent, are in the midst and consciousness of Israelis. Thus, Israelis "can afford to allow themselves distance from conflict and [End Page 148] violence while Palestinians, both inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories, cannot"(p. 39). The book demonstrates how this reinforces the status quo: apathy, conflict, violence, and Israel's domination over Palestinians. Natanel approaches her study through interviews with Israeli leftists — mainly Ashkenazim (of Central and Eastern European descent), though also Mizrahim (of Middle Eastern and North African descent) — some of whom have become centrist over time.

The author augments these interviews with auto-ethnography, as she is an outsider to Israeli society who has married an Israeli and has raised a family and become immersed in the community in Israel. Natanel describes her fleeting encounters with Palestinians, which occur in the context of shadowing Israeli activists who resist the Israeli occupation; however, her engagement with Palestinians is superficial as a result. Natanel highlights the persistence of racism against Palestinians in Israel, which she self-reflexively describes, having internalized it herself. Nonetheless, Natanel's political orientation is clearly on the left, and she names Israel's system of oppression against Palestinian civilians as "practices of colonization" that "produce conditions of apartheid and sustain practices of ethnic cleansing that aim at total segregation, if not erasure" (p. 200).

Sustaining Conflict includes significant theoretical components interwoven throughout the text. Natanel offers a comprehensive synthesis of historical and contemporary scholarship on the history and politics of both Israeli and Palestinian societies. She also integrates a robust gender analysis in every chapter, challenging Israeli conceptions of "Jewish Israeli women as reproducers and men as protectors" (p. 48) that underwrite Israel's relationship to Palestinians as well. Particularly compelling is Natanel's theorization of "intersectional power" (p. 12) to draw attention to the conjoining of intersectionality and privilege, rather than intersectionality and marginalization, as the concept is usually framed. Readers will also appreciate her notion of "small worlds" (p. 104) and "microenvironments" (p. 116) in the context of the home and how women "meet politics head-on and set the terms of visibility and engagement" (p. 97). Women "regulate visibility, discussion, and engagement in the interest of normality" (p. 100). Natanel's argument that "intimate relations provide modes of 'escape from' and 'resistance to' wider political realities" is convincing (p. 116). While Natanel does recognize the despair and fatigue that Israelis experience, she also problematizes "popular arguments that 'fear' constitutes the pervasive political sensation among Jewish Israelis" (p. 38).

Natanel's discussion of the 2011 Israeli social justice protests in Tel Aviv is perhaps her strongest case study in the book. She describes this as "depoliticized" (p. 160), based on interviews she conducted and signs she observed among the protesters. She characterizes the protests as "carnivalesque" (p. 162) and points out the separation of politics from socioeconomics on the part of the Israeli protesters, particularly when it came to rallying behind internal Israeli socioeconomic issues and the eliding of the treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories in order to unify the Israeli protesters. In the Conclusion, Natanel adds nuance, commenting that "some Jewish Israelis do acknowledge the political, economic, and social conditions that make normalcy possible, and take action on broader levels in ways that aim to resist or contest conflict, occupation, and violence" (p. 193). She writes, "in their very apolitical framing, the summer of social protests succeeded in creating a world of belonging and hope made anew, mobilizing and galvanizing a formerly disillusioned and quiescent public" (p. 194). It is important to remember that some Israeli activists...


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pp. 148-150
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