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  • Networks of Power in Palestine: Family, Society and Politics since the Nineteenth Century by Harel Chorev-Halewa
  • Itamar Radai (bio)
Networks of Power in Palestine: Family, Society and Politics since the Nineteenth Century, by Harel Chorev-Halewa. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2019. 332 pages, $99.

The scholarly historiography of the Palestinians tends to focus on a certain historic period, such as the British mandate, or the post-1948 era, or even the entire 20th century. Sometimes, books in the field concentrate even on short-term events, such as the 1948 war, or the 1929 riots. The studies that are dedicated to general Palestinian history are less than a handful. With this background, the current book is unique as a historical work of a longue durée, analyzing Palestinian history from the 19th century to the present.

This book focuses on the central highlands: the hills and countryside around the urban centers of Jerusalem, Hebron, and Nablus, mostly in the area known today as the West Bank, which have formed the backbone of Palestine during most of its modern history. It applies concepts from the interdisciplinary field of network analysis, which evolved since the late 20th century in convergence of exact, natural, and social sciences. Since the beginning of the 21st century, a growing number of scholars in humanities began adopting tools and ideas from network analysis, including several historical studies of the Middle East. However, the current book is the first pioneering work that applies this methodology in the research on Palestinians. As such, its main argument is what it defines as the "familial order" declined more slowly and less dramatically than the prevailing idea. Yet, author Harel Chorev-Halewa does not view this order as "traditionally" rigid and stagnant, on the contrary: "the familial order must not be regarded as a traditional phenomenon but as a dynamic one that develops in tandem with the changing realities" (p. 14).

The book engages in comparative analysis of the three highland centers mentioned above, their complexed societal structure and the variety of informal organizations and networks that have existed there. The study is based on careful analysis of a variety of sources: press, oral testimonies, and documents from British, American, and Israeli archives. The last is particularly important, due to the abundance of documents relating to Palestinian history in Israeli archives. These documents include thousands of Palestinian and Jordanian papers and correspondences in Arabic and transcriptions of intercepted telephone and radio communications. Israeli intelligence reports, since the pre-state period to the post-1967 era, are also an invaluable source, based in many cases on Arab informants and often showing keen interest in Palestinian society and politics. This book, like other publications in recent years, brings this plethora of sources to the fore.

The book unfolds chronologically, yet each chapter has a distinct thematic focus. Chapter 1 engages in the influence of the Ottoman reforms on Palestinian society and its institutions: urban and rural families, customary law, communal agricultural [End Page 674] lands (musha'), trade networks, Sufi orders, and alliances from the local to central government in Istanbul. Chorev-Halewa argues that despite changes, the "familial order" maintained its power, demonstrating through its networks flexibility and adaptability to change (p. 61). Chapter 2 examines the British Mandate period through changes in urban networks, urban-rural relations, migration networks, organizations, and alliances. The author makes here a bold argument, challenging the common view that Palestinian society under the Mandate had experienced disintegration due to factionalism that paved the way to its debacle in 1948. He argues convincingly that Palestinian social cohesion has in fact increased, despite suffering traumas, since small-scale networks did collapse but often larger and more efficient regional networks emerged (pp. 114–15).

Chapter 3 depicts the growth of regional networks in the West Bank under Jordan, mainly the powerful "Hebronite Alliance" in the southern West Bank, led by the Ja'bari family, and its rival in the northern West Bank, the Nablus-based network of the Masri family (pp. 152–61). Chapter 4 discusses the developments in the West Bank, from the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967 to the late 1970s. Chorev-Halewa, again...


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pp. 674-675
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