Palestinian Citizens in an Ethnic Jewish State: Identities in Conflict

By Katz, Sheila H. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1999 | Go to article overview
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Palestinian Citizens in an Ethnic Jewish State: Identities in Conflict


Katz, Sheila H., The Middle East Journal


Palestinian Citizens in an Ethnic Jewish State: Identities in Conflict, by Nadim N. Rouhana. London and New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997. x + 231 pages. Appends. to p. 243. Notes to p. 273. Bibl. to p. 288. Index to p. 300. $30.

Reviewed by Sheila H. Katz

In the summer of 1997 in Jerusalem, a meeting took place in which lawmakers, judges and academics discussed the contradictions between Israel as a Jewish state and Israel as a democratic one. Hours of Orwellian "doublespeak" produced only ethereal platitudes. When the meeting ended, the main problem was that there was no longer any problem.

In contrast, Nadim Rouhana's Palestinian Citizens in an Ethnic State elaborates clearly and precisely the critical elements of the problem. The book focuses on the Palestinian Arabs who stayed in Israel after 1948. It examines the national component of the collective identity of the Arab Israeli minority and the forces that have shaped it: Israeli policies. regional developments and changes within the group itself. The book's conclusion discloses both the sharp differences and the common ground between the majority Jewish and the Arab minority populations of Israel,

Identity is a slippery subject of study. When one pins down the historical aspects of the development of identity, the psychological aspects beg examination. When one dissects the psychological dimension, the neglected economic elements plead for attention. Furthermore, all individuals and groups have many distinct and overlapping (even opposing) badges of identity. From a poststructural constructivist perspective, using the methodology and theoretical framework of social psychology, Rouhana isolates and analyzes the national aspect of collective identity.

The author's research and observations expose the nuances of, and challenge beliefs about, the spectrum of Arab and Jewish "left" and "right." Relying on interviews with political leaders and professionals, Rouhana questions the Arab and Jewish Israelis about their positions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and their views about the inequality of Arabs and Jews in Israel. In particular, he explores whether they define Israel (1) as the State of the Jewish people, but not of Arab citizens; (2) as the State of the Jewish people and Arab citizens; (3) as the State of Jewish and Arab citizens; or (4) as the State of Arab and Jewish citizens. and of Palestinian people.

Rouhana finds that, in certain respects, there is a national consensus among Arab Israelis. as there is among Jewish Israelis. The latter's concerns are focused on preserving the State's Jewish character, democratic attributes and security. In contrast, Israeli Arabs' concerns are focused on establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, ensuring equality between Arabs and Jews in Israel, and gaining legal protection to conduct protests and participate freely in other political activities in Israel.

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