Intimate Enemies: Jews and Arabs in a Shared Land

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Intimate Enemies: Jews and Arabs in a Shared Land, by Meron Benvenisti. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1995. xiii + 234 pages. Notes to p. 236. Index to p. 260. $24.95.

Meron Benvenisti's Intimate Enemies is a haunting portrait of the connections linking Jews and Arabs and the grievances dividing them. The dispute between Israelis and Palestinians is intractable, according to Benvenisti, not simply because of conflicting claims to the same land but rather because the two people share the same symbols. For Benvenisti, neither battlelines nor borders between the communities can be drawn rationally or coherently. Benvenisti's West Bank Data Project, a careful record of how Israeli governments confiscated land for Jewish settlements and subordinated the economy of the people conquered in the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, provides Benvenisti support for his view, but this book is not a dispassionate analysis. Rather than present a convincing argument, the book, instead, casts an unmistakable spell.

Through the West Bank Data Project, Benvenisti has demolished the notion that the Israeli occupation was benign. Two aspects of Israel's occupation draw the most intense scrutiny: land ownership and employment. Benvenisti and his associates demonstrate how Israeli governments have discovered in both Ottoman laws and British mandatory laws justification for confiscating land. Paying close attention to formal records allowed Israeli governments to seize properties that had never been formally registered or that were declared vital for security. Whose security, Benvenisti asks?

The other significant issue for Benvenisti is work. The 1967 war brought Palestinians into contact with a dynamic economy. Thousands left their villages and found employment in the new Jewish settlements or in the newly built Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Many travelled to jobs in the cities spread along the country's coastal plain. Israel's occupation, particularly during its first decade, raised living standards for Palestinians. But the occupation had its ironic legacies, and these are the focus of Intimate Enemies.

Economic integration changed Palestinian consciousness. Instead of expressing gratitude for higher rates of employment, Palestinians began to challenge Israeli employers on the conditions of work and the unfair distribution of benefits between Arab and Jewish workers. As the proportion of land sold to speculators increased, Palestinians began to challenge the grounds on which Israeli governments allowed such sales, and they carried their objections before Israel's courts, requesting justice in accordance with Israeli legal standards. But it was unrealistic to assume that the courts could bear fully the burden of enforcing a concept of equality which had not yet been accepted by the political leadership.

As the Israeli appetite for land grew, Palestinians, with nowhere else to turn for redress, increasingly resorted to violence. Violence sometimes took the form of spontaneous outbursts of rage. At other times, attacks were organized against what Palestinians perceived to be the forces of repression. …