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Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel

Mark LeVine
Gershon Shafir
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 472
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  • Book Info
    Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel
    Book Description:

    Too often, the study of Israel/Palestine has focused on elite actors and major events.Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israeltakes advantage of new sources about everyday life and the texture of changes on the ground to put more than two dozen human faces on the past and present of the region. With contributions from a leading cast of scholars across disciplines, the stories here are drawn from a variety of sources, from stories passed down through generations to family archives, interviews, and published memoirs. As these personal narratives are transformed into social biographies, they explore how the protagonists were embedded in but also empowered by their social and historical contexts. This wide-ranging and accessible volume brings a human dimension to a conflict-ridden history, emphasizing human agency, introducing marginal voices alongside more well-known ones, defying "typical" definitions of Israelis and Palestinians, and, ultimately, redefining how we understand both "struggle" and "survival" in a troubled region.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95390-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Edmund Burke III

    It is with great pleasure that I welcome Mark LeVine and Gershon Shafir’sStruggle and Survival in Palestine/Israelto the library of works in the emerging genre of social biography. At a time when many are frozen in place by fear of change and outdated ideologies, this book offers a wealth of portraits of individuals—Jews, Muslims, Christians, others—caught in the talons of history. The more we focus on individual lives, I believe, the less convincing the standard narratives of the Israel/Palestine drama become and the more the common humanity of all of the participants is evident. How and...

  4. Introduction: Social Biographies in Making Sense of History
    (pp. 1-20)
    Gershon Shafir and Mark LeVine

    Just as ordinary people live in the shadows, so their life stories commonly remain obscure. Yet their lives frequently reveal a great deal of humanity and wisdom, as well as the harshness and brutality of everyday life, which rarely take center stage within conventional historical narratives.

    In the past few decades, the importance of life histories in the analysis and teaching of history has slowly grown. Still, it is unusual at the modern research university to teach and study social sciences through life histories or social biographies. These disciplines commonly focus on distant forces that shape individual lives; it is...


    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 21-26)

      It is commonly argued that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been a dispute over territory—which community had the stronger historical claim to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea; who between them was better equipped physically, ideologically, politically, and financially to bring Palestine into the “modern world”; who, in the words of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, had the greater right to “rule the country.” But the very notion of territoriality and understanding of land, its uses and value, changed greatly in the nineteenth century under the Ottoman Empire—not least in Palestine, among the...

    • 1 “Left Naked on the Beach”: The Villagers of Aylut in the Grip of the New Templers
      (pp. 27-38)
      Mahmoud Yazbak

      The village of Aylut is five kilometers to the northwest of the city of Nazareth. Most of the houses in the village are on a small hill and near the villagebayader(threshing floors). Victor Guerin, who visited Aylut in 1876, estimated its population at two hundred people. In 1886, Gottlieb Schumacher put the figure at 350. The members of the British-based Palestine Exploration Fund described Aylut in 1881 as “a small village in the woods.” Travelogues and journals penned by European pilgrims who toured Palestine in the nineteenth century, as part of a growing movement of interest in the...

    • 2 The Sephardi Entrepreneur and British Vice-Consul Haim Amzalak
      (pp. 39-50)
      Joseph B. Glass and Ruth Kark

      Haim Amzalak awoke on the morning of December 12, 1916, in a villa in Alexandria and prepared for his audience with the Egyptian sultan Hussein Kamel, the son of the khedive Ismail Pasha. This was an important honor for him. Before he got out of bed that morning, his thoughts roamed through different events of his lifetime spent in Palestine. For the past two years, he had lived in exile after the Ottomans had deported subjects of enemy nations from their territory. Haim and his family, subjects of the British crown, had found refuge in British-controlled Egypt.

      Amzalak’s life may...

    • 3 A Musician’s Lot: Wasif Jawhariyyeh’s Old Jerusalem
      (pp. 51-62)
      Salim Tamari

      Conventional narratives about the modernity of Jerusalem regard the city in the late nineteenth century as a provincial capital in the Ottoman hinterland whose social fabric was basically communitarian and confessional. Ethnicity and sectarian identities were identical, as confessional consciousness was defined in ethnic-religious terms, and the boundaries of these identities were physically delineated by habitat in the confines of the Old City quarters. The quartered city corresponded, in these narratives, to the ethno-confessional divisions of the four communities: Muslim, Christian, Armenian, and Jewish. In these quarters social nodes were more or less exclusive, physically defined, and reinforced by mechanisms...

    • 4 Revolutionary Pioneer: Manya Shochat and Her Commune
      (pp. 63-76)
      Gershon Shafir

      The opening sentence written by her main biographer states that “among the founding fathers of the Jewish Labor Movement in Palestine during the Second Aliya a special place is reserved for Manya Wilbushewitz-Shochat,” who, as he continues, “was undoubtedly one of the most famous, and maybe the most famous, women of that era.” Such gender confusion would be laughable if it were not so indicative of the limited range of roles available to women during the most formative era of Zionist settlement in Palestine—the period of the Second Aliya (wave of immigration)—and for long afterward.

      Manya Wilbushewitz was...


    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 77-84)

      If the roughly four-decade period from the 1870s through World War I in Palestine witnessed the planting of the seeds of national identities and the conflict between them, the region’s subsequent three decades under British rule saw the struggle over territory and identity erupt into full bloom, culminating in a war that resulted in the division of Palestine into three units, the creation of a Jewish state, the exile of upward of three-quarters of a million Palestinians, who were effectively replaced as the majority population of the new Jewish state by an influx of hundreds of thousands of Jews from...

    • 5 Hero or Antihero? S. Yizhar’s Ambivalent Zionism and the First Sabra Generation
      (pp. 85-103)
      Nitsa Ben-Ari

      Since his first story in 1938, “Ephraim Goes Back to Alfalfa,” Yizhar Smilansky has been considered the first Israeli writer, indeed the first sabra (Israeli-born) Hebrew writer to use modern, sabra Hebrew as a literary language. From him onward, a Hebrew writer was almost by definition Israeli. Not that there had not been other sabra writers, but this was how Yizhar was acknowledged by his contemporaries, be they younger writers, some of whom adopted him as a model, or young readers who admired him for speaking their language and expressing their innermost feelings. For them he was the new Brenner,...

    • 6 “A Son of the Country”: Dr. Tawfiq Canaan, Modernist Physician and Palestinian Ethnographer
      (pp. 104-124)
      Philippe Bourmaud

      Just a few months before the death of the Beit Jala–born physician Dr. Tawfiq Canaan, on January 15, 1964, the German journalZeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereinspaid homage to its many-times contributor by publishing an extensive, if incomplete, list of his writings. The bibliography of about a hundred books and articles, short and long, published in European languages, was an appropriate tribute to the book-loving Canaan. For thirty years or so, he would remain hardly more than a footnote in Palestinian history, in spite of Palestinian ethnographers’ acknowledged indebtedness to his works. Yet from the 1970s onward, he would...

    • 7 The Ordeal of Henya Pekelman, a Female Construction Worker
      (pp. 125-140)
      David De Vries and Talia Pfeffermann

      Henya Pekelman was born in 1903 to a Jewish lower-middle-class family in the small town of Marculesti, Bessarabia (today part of Moldova). Most of the Jewish residents in Marculesti were farmers who lived off the land, but Henya’s large family engaged mainly in minor commerce. Henya studied in a cheder, a Jewish religious preschool, finishing her schooling at the age of eleven on the eve of the First World War. She was a mischievous and inquisitive child, beloved by her warm and supportive father. But relations between her parents were poor, and family quarrels, slanderous exchanges, and ugly gossip were...

    • 8 “A Nation in a Hero”: Abdul Rahim Hajj Mohammad and the Arab Revolt
      (pp. 141-156)
      Sonia Nimr

      When the First Intifada against the Israeli occupation started in the occupied Palestinian territories, in 1987, one could hear the older generation of Palestinians drawing comparisons with the Great Revolt of 1936–39. “It is the same,” said those who were old enough to witness the revolt, which saw the Mandate period’s biggest challenge to British rule, Zionist colonization, and the Palestinians’ own increasingly feckless elite. “The people defied the authorities and took matters into their own hands.” More comparisons were made between the national committees of the thirties and the popular committees of the late eighties, tactics of civil...

    • 9 Hillel Kook: Revisionism and Rescue
      (pp. 157-170)
      Rebecca Kook

      Hillel Kook’s life defies easy political categorization. He transversed the boundaries of set political identities, opting for Left at some points, Right at others, and more often than not rejecting such labels and categories altogether. He began his political life as a founding member of the Irgun (from the HebrewIrgun Zvai Leumi), the underground military organization that fought the Arabs of Palestine and led the military campaign to drive the British out of that region. During the Second World War, he lobbied the Roosevelt administration to pursue rescue plans for the Jews of Europe in the face of opposition...


    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 171-178)

      It is impossible to exaggerate the consequences of the 1948 war in Palestine. For the Palestinian people, it meant utter disaster: the loss of well over 70 percent of the territory of Mandate Palestine, the destruction of more than five hundred villages, the scattering of upward of three-quarters of a million refugees across at least six countries (in fact, the world), and the decimation of their political life. For the newly established State of Israel, it was a veritable miracle: out of the ashes of the Holocaust, against the invading armies of five countries and a Palestinian population that outnumbered...

    • 10 Matar ‘Abdelrahim: From a Palestinian Village to a Syrian Refugee Camp
      (pp. 179-195)
      Rochelle Davis

      This chapter consists of selections from two autobiographical volumes written by Matar ‘Abdelrahim, a Palestinian refugee from the village of Nahaf, in the district of Acre, and selections from a short interview I conducted with him in 2005. ‘Abdelrahim’s autobiographies were published under the titles Udfununi hunaka: sira filastiniya yahlum bil-watan (Bury me there: the story of a Palestinian dreaming of the homeland; Damascus: Dar al-Shajara, 1995, 361 pp.)and Shadhaya min ‘omri(Shards of my life; Damascus: Dar al-Shajara, 2004, 206 pp.). The covers of the books describe them as novels, likely to avoid the censors as well as...

    • 11 Joseph Spronz: From the Holocaust to a Safe Shore
      (pp. 196-220)
      Gershon Shafir

      As the sun rose high over Óbuda, Budapest’s oldest and poorest neighborhood, on June 28, 1914, the Spronz family sat down for its lunch. Besides the father and the mother there were their five children—a sister and four brothers—as well as an additional boy and girl who had been taken in from poorer relatives in the Hungarian countryside. Joseph, known by his nickname Yoshka, then nine years old, was the fourth youngest of the siblings. The father, even as he said the blessing over the bread, trained his ears to the store that adjoined the two-bedroom apartment, in...

    • 12 The Trees Die Standing: A Story of a Palestinian Refugee
      (pp. 221-238)
      Ramzy Baroud

      For most historians of Palestine, Palestinians as well as Israelis, the village of Beit Daras warrants at best modest mention in the larger narrative of 1948. For Palestinians, its fall and destruction in May 1948 were not unique; the town was one of nearly five hundred Palestinian villages that were evacuated and then completely flattened during the war years of 1947–49, leaving some eight hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs as refugees. For Zionist Jews, Beit Daras was just another hill, known by the battle code name Operation Barak, to be conquered and re-created as an Israeli space, free of its...

    • 13 The Brief Career of Prosper Cohen: A Would-Be Leader of Moroccan Immigrants
      (pp. 239-255)
      Yaron Tsur

      In November 1948, about half a year after the establishment of the State of Israel, a thirty-eight-year-old attorney landed at Haifa’s airport: Prosper Cohen, a former secretary of the Zionist Federation in Morocco. Married and the father of a young girl, he nevertheless arrived alone—the plan being that his wife and daughter would join him within months. In time, he described his arrival as follows: “It was the Sabbath. I was choked with emotion. Around me, I heard Hebrew, police, porters, women, children, everyone was turning to one another, shouting in a language I did not understand, though I...

    • 14 A Tale of Baghdad and Tel Aviv
      (pp. 256-270)
      Aziza Khazzoom

      A project of cultural westernization is built deep into modern Jewish history. During the Enlightenment, in framing the “Jewish question,” western European Christians presented western European Jews as Oriental, and as backward because they were Oriental (Voltaire called ancient Jews “vagrant Arabs with leprosy”). In response to this stigma, western European Jews sought to westernize, modernize, and become more similar to western European bourgeois Christians. As they westernized, French and German Jews turned to other Jewish populations that had not undergone the cultural changes, and tried to help them “progress.” Such help ranged from Yiddish literature written by westernized German...

    • 15 Is Slavery Over? Black and White Arab Bedouin Women in the Naqab (Negev)
      (pp. 271-288)
      Safa Abu-Rabia

      “The whites would buy the ‘abed, let me tell you.”

      “They wouldn’t buy him, it wasn’t a purchase . . . they would steal him, bring him by stealing, not buy him, steal him, yes.”

      Thus begins the argument between the mother, a woman in her late sixties, and her daughter, in their house in Rahat, the Bedouin city in the northern Naqab (Negev). Both women are black, both are engaged in constructing their past identity, and each asserts something different about their origin. The second-generation women of theNakba(the Palestinian Catastrophe of 1948) emphasize that they were the...


    • [PART FOUR Introduction]
      (pp. 289-294)

      The six day war of 1967 saw the reuniting of Palestine under one jurisdiction, only now it was the Israeli state, rather than the British Mandatory government or the Ottoman Empire, that was in control. For Israelis the victory was almost as miraculous as that of 1948: not only were its main frontline enemies decisively defeated, but the territory under its control—including the biblical heartland of Judaism—increased severalfold. The situation was radically different for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, for whom the Israeli conquest meant direct occupation and soon thereafter systematic expropriation, creeping annexation, and increasing colonization.


    • 16 Of Possessions and Dispossessions: A Story of Palestinian Property in Jewish Israeli Lives
      (pp. 295-305)
      Rebecca L. Stein

      The dispossession in 1948 of nearly half of Palestine’s Arab population, placed a massive body of Palestinian property into circulation within Jewish-Israeli economies. While vast tracts of agricultural land represented the bulk of Palestinian material losses, such losses also extended to a wide array of goods at smaller scales that had been left by the populations that fled in haste: tools and livestock, furniture, jewelry and children’s toys. Property that remained in the wake of looting by Israeli soldiers and civilians was seized by the state under the legal rubric of “absentee property” and was eventually redistributed within Israel or...

    • 17 The Rise and Fall of the Russian-Speaking Journalist in Israel
      (pp. 306-317)
      Nelly Elias and Julia Lerner

      Alexandra was born in western Ukraine in the 1950s, in Chernovtsy, a town known for its large educated Jewish population. Like many Jewish girls there, she went to university, taking general arts subjects—philology and foreign languages—and was directed to the familiar career offered to graduates, to be a literature teacher or a translator. Neither option was tempting for Alexandra. It was only when she moved to Georgia with her mother a year after finishing university that she decided upon a clear career path.

      Alexandra lived in Georgia for the next fifteen years, a period she defines as formative...

    • 18 The Village against the Settlement: Two Generations of Conflict in the Nablus Region
      (pp. 318-336)
      Moriel Ram and Mark LeVine

      For years, if not the majority of their lives, Youssef Najjar and David Ariel, plus their families, lived only a few hundred meters apart; their locations at different altitudes relative to the same mountain represent the vastly different levels of power and freedom enjoyed by each. Yitzhar, David’s settlement, sits atop the hill; the village of Burin, where Youssef’s farm is located, is in the valley. There was a time, in the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s, when the two might have passed each other roaming through the fields and olive groves that lie between their two communities, although...

    • 19 Majed al-Masri in Two Intifadas in Nablus
      (pp. 337-350)
      Lætitia Bucaille

      Majed al-Masri was born in 1971 in the Balata refugee camp, next to Nablus. His grandparents were peasants in the village of Fajja, near Jaffa, who left their homes during the 1948 war. The family settled down in the camp and established a new life in the West Bank, working for the notable families of Nablus at their factories or in their homes.

      The relations between the refugees and the townspeople were not easy. Nablusis felt invaded by the flow of refugees; for their part, the refugees felt the disdain directed against them and in return complained of being exploited...


    • [PART FIVE Introduction]
      (pp. 351-356)

      The oslo peace process, which began officially with the signing of the interim accords on Palestinian self-government in September 1993, was supposed to bring an end to the century-long conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Jews. Seven years later almost to the day, what remained of the negotiating process ground to a standstill with the eruption of the al-Aqsa Intifada. Many factors contributed to the failure of the peace process, including those highlighted in the introductions to the previous sections of this volume. The core of the problem lay in a simple calculus that was already recognized by the settlement movement...

    • 20 Benni Gaon: From Socialist to Capitalist Tycoon
      (pp. 357-369)
      Michal Frenkel

      From the final years of Ottoman rule through the 1970s, the socialist Labor movement was the dominant social, political, and economic force within Zionism, the Jewish community of Palestine, and the Israeli state. Cracks in its hegemony began to appear in the 1970s, and the 1977 victory of the Likud Party, heir to Labor’s historic nemeses, the Revisionists, shattered the movement’s historic dominance. The arrival in power of Likud accelerated a long-term process that—somewhat similarly to events in the United Kingdom—by the mid-1980s saw the replacement of the state-coordinated socioeconomic regime with a neoliberal, market-oriented ideology and policy....

    • 21 From Religion to Revenge: Becoming a Hamas Suicide Bomber
      (pp. 370-383)
      Bader Araj

      The second Palestinian intifada, or “uprising,” triggered by the visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, or Haram as-Sharif, on 28 September 2000 and lasting until 2005, was far deadlier than any other confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 1967. It started two months after the failure of a serious attempt to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Camp David, where the Israeli government had been willing to make the biggest concessions ever, so from the Israeli perspective it presumably showed that the Palestinians were trying to force them...

    • 22 Yigael Amir: The Making of a Political Assassin
      (pp. 384-398)
      Michael Feige

      Yigael Amir was born to Shlomo and Geula, Israelis of Yemenite origin living in the town of Herzliya, ten miles north of Tel Aviv along the coast. His parents were not merely religious but believers in the Kabalistically inspired mystical popular religion. They thus chose a name for their son with extra care and earnest seriousness. Geula wanted to name the boyEhud, after a biblical judge. Shlomo insisted onYehuda, the name of a son of Jacob. Each relied on biblical verses, believing that the choice would predetermine, or at least influence, the future of their son. In the...

    • 23 Mais in the War of the Words
      (pp. 399-412)
      Erin F. Olsen

      Mais is a beautiful young woman in scarves—not a veil but wisps of fabric that catch the wind and the attention of her college co-eds, as if her penetrating black eyes were not enough. She is at the end of her studies in the United States and at a point of thrill and despair. How will she use her education, which has taken her from her people and her family, to benefit the common good of a region in struggle? Will she be more than a statistic, more than another Arab caught in the vacuum of Palestine—never able...

    • 24 Jonathan Pollak: An Anarchist “Traitor” in His Own Society
      (pp. 413-426)
      Neve Gordon

      On a chilly February day in 2004, military bulldozers began destroying the agricultural lands of Beit Surik to prepare the terrain for the annexation barrier. Hundreds of Palestinian villagers from the town, along with a few Israelis and international activists, tried to reach the bulldozers in a hopeless attempt to stop the destruction. Armed soldiers and border police stood in a column pushing the demonstrators back. Tear gas filled the air, and the explosions of stun grenades diffused the whistling sound of rubber bullets.

      Jonathan Pollak, one of the few Israelis in the demonstration, heard his cell phone ring. The...

    • 25 Abu Ahmad and His Handalas
      (pp. 427-444)
      Ala Alazzeh

      Abu Ahmad, forty-one years old, is a political activist and the founder of a small grassroots community center. He lives in the Beit Jibrin refugee camp in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) with his wife and two children. The Beit Jibrin camp is the smallest West Bank camp in terms of population (1,700) and covers only .02 square kilometers. Its original residents came from the destroyed village of Beit Jibrin. Forty-one percent of the camp population is under the age of fourteen and 59 percent under twenty-five years old. Almost a quarter of the camp’s people live below the poverty...

  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 445-450)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 451-460)