WOMEN: Women and Gender in Early Jewish and Palestinian Nationalism

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Women and Gender in Early Jewish and Palestinian Nationalism, by Sheila H. Katz. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2003. xvi + 179 pages. Notes to p. 196. Bibl. to p. 207. Index to p. 224. $55.

Sheila Katz structures her study on the premise that early Jewish and Palestinian nationalisms were more similar than different, as were the gender problems women in both movements faced. Her text aims to avoid the "polarization and tensions" (p. xiii) of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is structured on the laudable goals of coexistence, peace and interconnection between what she views as reconcilable projects. Her historical focus is Palestine from the 1860s to the 1940s, and her data are secondary and published (English-language) primary sources.

Chapter 1 argues that the dominant historical narratives have perpetuated the conflict, which "depends at least in part on control of actual women and of women as symbols" (p. 4), by ignoring gender and women. Chapter 2 reviews feminist analyses of women and gender in nationalisms, women-focused regional social histories, and some more recent gender-focused studies of the conflict. Chapters 3 and 4 focus on Jewish settlement and state developments, as well as ideological, identity, organizational, and media trajectories in both movements during the late Ottoman and British Mandate periods, respectively.

Chapter 5 argues that men in the two movements viewed nationalism as a vehicle for proving or achieving their masculinities (p. 70) - for Jewish Zionist men through defense of the nation and for Palestinian nationalists through sacrifice for the nation. For the "new Jewish man" of political Zionism, the project was sold as an opportunity to end the "powerlessness" (feminization-emasculation) of minority life (p. 70). For Palestinian men, the manner in which Zionism exiled them and "usurped [their] rights" of sovereignty was similarly represented as degrading (feminizing-emasculating) (p. 77). In Chapter 6, Katz argues that in Jewish nationalist imagery and discourses, Zionism was presented as a reuniting of men (lovers) with land (bride), excluding women from the project (p. 87). Palestinian nationalist narratives similarly analogized sexual control over women with sovereignty over land, and feminized land and nation (pp. 82-83).

Chapters 7 through 9 examine how men in both movements discursively imagined and practically situated women's bodies so that they "became a symbol of the immutable and eternal national qualities of an ancient people, the daily producer of an authentic national culture, the reproducer of new citizens, and the way to measure progress, modernity, and legitimacy" (p. 95). Key to this national "contest" of legitimacy were mothering, hygiene, housekeeping practices, women's status and the education of girls. Chapter 10 argues that fictional representations by Arabs and Zionists relied on representations of women (as oppressed, sexually free, deceptive, corrupt, seductive, needing protection) and men (as rapists, protectors, sexual predators, pimps, belligerent, emasculated, lazy) to make the case "that there were irrevocable, irreconcilable, essential differences between the two groups" (p. …