PALESTINE AND PALESTINIANS-Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement

By Salwen, Sarah F. | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

PALESTINE AND PALESTINIANS-Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement


Salwen, Sarah F., The Middle East Journal


PALESTINE AND PALESTINIANS Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement, by Wendy Pearlman. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 304 pages. $99.

Reviewed by Sarah F. Salwen

Wendy Pearlman's outstanding book Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement addresses a fundamental question in the study of politics, the answer to which is of tremendous importance to scholars and policy makers alike: when and why do some national movements resort to violence and others employ nonviolent strategies of protest? Though various explanations for social movements' use of violence have been proffered over the years, ranging from instrumental rationality in strategic interactions with the state to ideational explanations based on cultural norms or framing to intra-group competition, Pearlman demonstrates the shortcomings of these approaches - especially in explaining the use and timing of nonviolent protest - and suggests an alternative organizational approach. Tracing the evolution of the Palestinian national movement over 90 years, along with brief comparisons to South Africa and Northern Ireland, she identifies striking patterns in the relationship between a movement's internal organizational structure and its external strategies. In short, she argues that "a movement must be cohesive to use nonviolent protest, and fragmented movements are more likely than cohesive ones to use violent protest" (p. 11).

In the first chapter, Pearlman lays out her compelling, though complex, "organizational mediation theory of protest." She defines cohesion as "cooperation among individuals that enables unified action" (p. 9), and assesses it in terms of three variables: leadership (the extent to which it is unified and legitimate); institutions (the political rules of the game within the movement); and a population's sense of collective purpose (clear, agreed-upon objectives). Cohesion increases the possibility of nonviolent protest in several ways: it facilitates mass mobilization, enforces discipline among movement members, and improves a movement's ability to formulate and carry out coherent strategies. In contrast, fragmentation increases the likelihood of violent protest due to internal competition, outbidding, and weak constraints on escalation. It also leads to spoiling, which hinders attempts to end hostilities, and invites outside interference, further aggravating fragmentation. Pearlman's contention that only cohesive movements can successfully engage in nonviolent protest because of the coordination and restraint nonviolence requires is quite convincing; there are too many ways that efforts at nonviolence by fragmented movements can break down. Furthermore, the multiple mechanisms Pearlman identifies by which fragmentation can lead to undisciplined or internal violence are persuasive. However, none of this logically implies that cohesive movements should be less likely to employ violent strategies than fragmented movements; it is plausible that, given their unified leadership, strong decision-making institutions, and agreed-upon goals, cohesive movements might employ, and be quite effective in the use of, strategic violence. …

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