PALESTINE AND PALESTINIANS: Confronting the Occupation: Work, Education, and Political Activism of Palestinian Families in a Refugee Camp

By Pedersen, Jon | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

PALESTINE AND PALESTINIANS: Confronting the Occupation: Work, Education, and Political Activism of Palestinian Families in a Refugee Camp


Pedersen, Jon, The Middle East Journal


PALESTINE AND PALESTINIANS Confronting the Occupation: Work, Education, and Political Activism of Palestinian Families in a Refugee Camp, by Maya Rosenfeld. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004. xvi + 318 pages. Notes to p. 345. Bibl. to p. 365. Index to p. 376. $60 cloth; $22.95 paper.

Maya Rosenfeld's book is a welcome addition to the meagre literature on an important issue: how people live and cope with the difficult conditions of occupation and conflict. An Israeli social anthropologist, Rosenfeldt carried out fieldwork in Dheisheh, just outside of Bethlehem in the West Bank, from 1992-1996. In the introduction, Rosenfeld confronts the question of how she, as an occupier, can lay claim to credibility, and contends that during the fieldwork Dheishehans - like people studied by anthropologists elsewhere - came to think of her as an individual rather than a symbol. This appeal to anthropological authority is underscored by the camp's inhabitants, who came to know of and respect her: one inhabitant that I spoke to pointed out that Rosenfeld had talked to everyone in the camp, and that her knowledge was deep. This is reflected in the book.

After having criticized both dependency theory and social practice theory for being circular - in the sense of easily explaining how social structures are being reproduced, but not how they are changed -Rosenfeld sketches out her framework for analyzing social change in the camp. It is based on three arenas: wage labor, acquisition of education, and political activism. All of these arenas are set within the household. Although Rosenfeld persistently describes the context of the households -implying that the actors are inscribed in different contexts of which the household is only one - the analysis tends to focus to a great degree on the household itself.

Much academic effort has been spent on explaining the low female labor force participation in the Middle East. In a contrarian move, Rosenfeld holds that female wage labor in the camp is extremely important. Her question is not one of the definition of work (e.g., in terms of the role of unpaid family labor), but the role of women's wage labor. seen in a lifetime perspective, nearly 40% of women in Dheisheh have been engaged in wage labor. Rosenfeld contrasts this with the typically low (15-20%) snapshot of female labor participation of the West Bank. Yet this difference is hardly surprising, given the distinct peak in labor participation at pre-marriage age (and sometimes recurring around late middle age) in Middle Eastern female age specific labour force participation rates. It is therefore natural that lifetime rates are higher than cross-sectional ones. …

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