PALESTINE AND PALESTINIANS: Palestinian NGOs in Israel: The Politics of Civil Society

Article excerpt

Palestinian NGOs in Israel: The Politics of Civil Society, by Shany Payes. London, UK and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2005. xi + 237 pages. Map. Notes to p. 276. Bibl. to p. 315. Appends. to p. 322. Index to p. 331. $75.

Palestinian NGOs in Israel by Shany Payes addresses all dimensions of the Palestinian civil society in Israel and includes a detailed discussion of the different aspects of Palestinian civic action and civil society. The book is intended as a comprehensive work on Palestinian NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and their role in contributing to the transformation process at the internal societal level as well as at the level of relations with Jewish Israelis and international actors.

In discussing the role of Palestinian NGOs in contributing to social change, this study is outstanding in many respects. Nevertheless, Payes neglected to examine in depth, or at any rate, she showed too much sensitivity in discussing the general framework within which these NGOs were established. In light of this, perhaps the following points might contribute to future research on the Palestinian community in Israel and on the theoretical aspects of Palestinian civil society.

First, institution building, including the establishment of NGOs, is done within the framework of the state regime. These organizations are usually established as facilities that are compatible with the democratic system as well as an extension of that system. At best, the author tactfully evades addressing this issue. In some instances, the author adopts the view that Israel is in fact able to reconcile its democracy-related commitments and its ethnic commitments so called ethnic democracy (p. 234). Yet, in uncritically embracing this view, Payes avoids explaining the Israeli system. That system is based on ethnic racial discrimination for the benefit of Jews, and thus not an ethnocratic, democratic, or ethnic-democratic system.

Second, the author's view of the role of Palestinian NGOs derives from a misconception about the political effects of nongovernmental organizations that developed following the experience of the Solidarity Movement in Poland. In fact, Solidarity was established as a civil society institution before being transformed into a political party. The Solidarity Movement basically took political action against a communist regime that prohibited political pluralism. This required giving the appearance of being a civil society organization. The particularity of the Polish experience should be noted. So, too, should the fact that political change is the duty of political parties and clubs, while the duty of NGOs is to cultivate the ground and pave the way for political change through societal development and social change.

Third, a large number of Palestinian NGOs in Israel assume roles that aren't made for them. …