Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Palestine-The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Palestine-The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years

Article excerpt

The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, by Norman G. Finkelstein. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. xv and 121 pages. Notes to p. 152. Index to p. 157. $18.95 paper.

Reviewed by Joost Hiltermann

This book, which purports to be "a personal account of the Intifada [Uprising] years," is based on four brief visits to the West Bank between 1988 and 1993, complemented by narrative excursions into the application of international law, the Gulf War and the fate of the Cherokee Nation. It can be read in at least two ways: as a polemic written by a Jew who is the son of Holocaust survivors, targeted primarily at fellow Jews; and as a chronicle of military occupation directed at a wider audience.

The book works best as an authentic account of a personal, though brief, experience in Palestine. The reactions Finkelstein elicits from his interlocutors are usually enlightening; Samira, an English teacher, comes off particularly well with her intelligent, nuanced and humane take on everyday life during the uprising. Finkelstein is also surprisingly effective in using the Holocaust parallel. Though often overused by Palestinians and antiZionist Jews, the comparison between the horrors of the Nazis and the Israeli military occupation works well when reduced to personal experiences, like those of Finkelstein's mother.

As a polemic, the text suffers from abrasiveness, righteous anger, hyperbole, distortions and unwarranted generalizations. Finkelstein commits the error of assuming that he saw everything there was to see during his trips to the West Bank, and that what he saw represented reality. This leads to absurd observations. He claims, for example, that "many Palestinians are fluent in English" (p. 4), that "many" homes he visited were "equipped with the latest, wide-screen, color models" of television (p. 6), and that "women wore bikinis at the beach" (p. 18). The west bank of which river did Finkelstein visit? The Hudson? These observations reflect his brief immersion into one of the wealthiest and most educated communities of the West Bank, Bayt Sahur. Despite visits to a couple of refugee camps, Finkelstein's Bayt Sahur-centered view of the Intifada dominates his narrative.

The misrepresentation also covers his view of Palestinians as good incarnate who, moreover, show no fear of the army (p. 6), have only disdain for Jordan's King Husayn ( p. …

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