Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict by Sara Roy; Palestine Refugee Repatriation: Global Perspectives edited by Michael Dumper
Peace Pessimism - and the Unfailing Optimists

Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict by Sara Roy. London and Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2007. 379 pp. Paperback, $29.95.

Palestine Refugee Repatriation: Global Perspectives edited by Michael Dumper. London and New York: Routledge Studies in Middle East Politics, 2006. 338 pp. Cloth, $120.

A Violent World: TV News Images of Middle Eastern Terror and War by Nitzan Ben-Shaul. Lanham, MD, and London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2006. 166 pp. Cloth, $69.

The Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism and the Origins of the Israeli Right by Colin Shindler. London and New York: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, 2006. 282 pp. Cloth, $74.95.

Sol Gittleman

Sol Gittleman, former provost of Tufts University, Massachusetts, is now the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor at Tufts.

Man plans, and God laughs. Each of these scholarly books reflects the earnest efforts of their authors to address critical issues that are part of the intransigence representing what seems to be the eternally irreconcilable Palestinian-Israeli conflict; and each, in its turn, demonstrates why there seems to be an increased pessimism among even the rational observers of the Middle East conflict.
As an American, I look at the current state of dialogue in my country among scholars in Middle East studies - and despair. Most civility seems to have disappeared; web sites and bloggers destroy reputations, make visceral attacks on anyone taking a different position and accuse each other of anti-Semitism or anti-Americanism, among the endless stream of charges. Candidates for tenure at small, regional colleges become the center of a national storm; senior scholars being considered for appointments at other schools cannot escape the scrutiny of electronic vigilantes who keep their eyes peeled to prevent the spread of what they consider ideological heresy. They survey foundations to see if any of their enemies are funded, then blast away at the awardees and the awarders. Faculty motions are made to bar visits from Israeli scholars, while visiting Arab researchers are routinely denounced on web sites.
Sara Roy is no stranger to this current atmosphere, and she makes it clear from the cover of her book, Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, that this is where she wants to be, even at the risk of her credibility. In the academic world, it is somewhat unusual to have a plug for a book appear on the front cover, yet there it is, by Edward Said: "Unique … No one has reported more accurately and scrupulously on the economic devastation attendant on the Oslo process."
Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard, a political economist who has written extensively on Gaza economics.
Perhaps no one knows more about economic development in Gaza; yet her influence will be limited. She will be alternately denounced, praised, vilified and cheered by her detractors and supporters, because she is viewed to be on one side of the chasm. In her conclusion, she quotes Said and Noam Chomsky, both names no less than kerosene poured on the fire of pro-Israeli advocacy among the "other" camp of American scholarship on the Middle East.
This is not an exclusively academic study; it is a compilation of her writings over the past two decades and as much memoir as it is scholarship; at times the personal journey overwhelms the detached interviewer - who is unable to separate herself from the plight of the Gazans. In a chapter titled "Living with the Holocaust: The Journey of a Child of Holocaust Survivors," Roy states: "The Holocaust has been the defining feature of my life." Her experience living among the Palestinians after 1985 has clearly defined her later life and her current ironic position as a pariah among those unabashedly pro-Israeli scholars in America. Read Roy's book, then read the reviews; and you will weep for the future of American scholarship in this field.


Yet there are unfailing optimists. No problem seems as intransigent as the issue of Palestinian refugee repatriation. After nearly 60 years and generations living in dozens of squalid camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, these outcasts exist with a crushing problem no closer to a solution. Yet Michael Dumper, reader on Middle East Politics at Exeter University in Britain, has edited a collection of global perspectives that emerged from an international workshop in 2004 that sought solutions, best practices and examples of success in international refugee issues.
Dumper asks: Have there been solutions to problems that seem as insoluble as this one? What are the points of similarity with other refugee plights? Why do we think this refugee plight is unique? Part I is an examination of past practices in refugee repatriation and a look at the key issues in the Palestinian situation; Part II consists of a broad series of case studies involving refugee repatriation from Guatemala, the Horn of Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq. At the front end of every discussion is the question: Can this work in the case of the Palestinian refugees? A dozen scholars, among them Michael Kagan, Menachem Klein and Laura Hammond, face the hard issues of "dream and the reality of return." In the concluding Part III, Dumper offers a "toolbox" of suggestions taken from the previous two parts. At the end of the day, there is a glimmer of hope.


Ever since the images of the suicide attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City raced around the world, scholars from a broad range of academic interests have turned their attention to the news media and how they deal with the polarizing issues of coverage. Nitzan Ben-Shaul is senior lecturer in the Film and Television Department at Tel Aviv University and well known as a cinema critic. In this slender volume he turns his well-trained eye on television news and visual coverage of the Middle East conflict.
If you are not conversant with the Gramschian Marxist paradigm and the language of post-Fordist globalization theory, you may get lost. This is not an easy book to read. Yet, in his analysis of CNN, the Israeli Broadcasting Authorities' Channel 1 and Channel 2, and the Palestinian PATV, Ben-Shaul brings to bear his considerable intellect to examine the dominant ideologies of the media.
The reader has to wade through the swampy waters of historical and theoretical background to get to the high ground of analysis: how the different national news organs, each with its own agenda, manages to cover the same events and present the horrors of war in a way guaranteed to satisfy their customers and to advance a particular national view. Terrorist attacks, suicide bombings, the tapes of Osama bin Laden and the images of war as the modern world has come to explore them: Ben-Shaul possesses all the skills necessary to parse the images for the viewer and to help us understand how this medium has become another weapon in the conflict.


Colin Shindler's The Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism and the Origins of the Israeli Right is a convincing analysis of how Menachem Begin manipulated the ideas of Ze'ev Jabotinsky to create the Likud philosophy of biblical inevitability in creating a militant Jewish state in the image of King David.
Here is the main distinction between the two that Shindler underlines: Jabotinsky's militancy emerged from his understanding of the French Revolution and rejected rabbinic Judaism for the Jewish state. Begin, on the other hand, turned to the Bible for his inspiration of the state, and along the way convinced his followers that Jabotinsky also saw it this way. Shindler has turned Jabotinsky and Begin into Danton and Robespierre, battling over the future of their revolution in political meetings and conventions. Ultimately, the acolyte Begin took what he wanted from his mentor and made the Jewish state in his own image after Likud came to power.
Shindler is a first-rate historian writing about the Zionist right. His analysis of these two most charismatic figures during the formative evolution of Zionist militancy sheds light on the ultimate triumph of Begin's faith-based vision and the defeat of Jabotinsky's secular nationalism. Anyone who has seen the fire in the eyes of the settlers in the West Bank will understand Shindler's thesis.