Academic journal article Shofar

Deconstructing Post-Zionism: Review Essay

Academic journal article Shofar

Deconstructing Post-Zionism: Review Essay

Article excerpt

Deconstructing Post-Zionism: Review Essay

Does a substantial imbalance in military power provoke the outbreak of violence between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East? Or is it fear and a pervasive sense of insecurity which triggers the terrible assaults that have killed and wounded so many across the generations? Are battles driven primarily by ideological principle or by material interest? The twentieth century has not produced a monolithic story about the Arab-Israeli conflict -- different political perspectives are so ingrained that the wars are as much justified as interpreted by the scholarly work. Although recent contributions to the literature on Arab-Israeli wars have become increasingly sophisticated particularly in mining newly opened archives, they have not yet developed a workable set of conceptual links explaining the relationship of culture to the decision to go to war and to the adherence to an unvarying stance of embattlement. Even when relationships between culture and politics are asserted, they are too fuzzy to explain how such ordinary human activities as bearing children become incorporated into official calculations as security threats or how the standard political practice of forging alliances is often read by adversaries as subversive.

If we reflect upon these issues, we are impelled to ask a set of questions about the relationship of culture to politics. To what extent does the experience of prolonged conflict and war shape a community and society? Or is conflict, instead, the product of long-held values and norms? Does a struggle over land imbue people with a sense of national unity that is inevitably accompanied by particularly deep and uncompromising feelings of hostility? Does making peace, then, not only demand a modification of a myriad of official public policies but also require a rupture with all previously held traditional categories for understanding the world? By ignoring these questions, most scholarly studies of the Arab-Israeli conflict provide little sense of its meaning for the large numbers of people caught in its wake who live through and with this violence. Almost every textbook focuses on wars as watershed events and touchstones for the emergence of wide-ranging shifts in policy and on the decisions of elected officials and military leaders, as if personal views were formed without institutional constraints. Implicit in the conventional scholarship is the assumption that policies are made by individuals whose intentions are freely formed and are central to the unfolding of events.

As we have been told over and over again, however, the bitter, prolonged conflict between Arabs and Israelis is not simply over a contested land. The confrontation is interpreted as well as a matter of life and death, with land and power construed as the foundation for national survival. Murderous violence is triggered by visions of civilization drawn by the most humane of cultural norms and religious values. Conquest and defeat, possession and dispossession of the land are thus intense multi-cultural experiences which have yet to be subjected to closely reasoned analyses.

Arguably the most original research program within this body of literature has been a succession of studies, largely undertaken by Israeli scholars, that deal with the specifics of military and diplomatic developments during Israel's establishment and first years. These works share three basic components that significantly affect their utility for understanding this conflict. First, these works rely primarily on Zionist or Israeli archives and not on comparable primary source material from the Arab states. There are many reasons for this heavy reliance on Hebrew rather than Arabic documentation, but nonetheless the data available for assessment is necessarily limited and skewed. Second, this body of academic literature tends to frame the analysis it presents in essentially personalist terms. Despite their clear intention of moving away from the conventional interpretations, revisionist scholars end up by giving considerable weight to the rationales and motivations of individual leaders in explaining specific events. …

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