Sunday, December 9, 2012

Israel/Palestine by Alan Dowty

I'm more of a 'casual' reader when it comes to the Middle East and questions of Israel. I have a wide interest in the topic and have read quite a few books on it. I'm no expert, but I've read enough to know what merits being called 'original' and 'intriguing' and what is can simply be termed 'sensationalism'. Alan Dowty's efforts definitely deserve to be labeled 'original' and 'intriguing'. Unfortunately, because this is written by a political scientist who is interested in an objective look (if such a thing is even possible) at the region under investigation, much is left out that could and should have been included. The most interesting part of the book for me were the initial chapters that detailed the rise of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. That's not something you get too much of, in the same objective sense as offered here, in other works.

It was fascinating to see the roots of Zionism and their evolution, put into proper European context, as well as the impact of European nationalism on the Arab world. Here, although, I would say there are some problems. I saw mention of the 'Palestinians' as a people to date from before the 1948 war, but there was less analysis and history offered here when compared to Zionism. It seems the author presents some evidence but it is hard to classify it as 'objective' when compared to what he offers in terms of Zionism. If the author's job is to convince me that the claims of both sides are equally valid, I can't say he was successful. In other instances, however, there is more evidence presented. For instance, I never paid much attention to the fact that both Jews and those who came to call themselves Palestinians were fine having the other live among them as long as they did it on an 'individual' basis and not as part of a larger 'nation' in the making. It's once Palestinian nationalism or Zionism enters the picture that each side begins to worry. Now, here is where 'objectivity' begins to cause problems. While someone can try to objectively analyze the situation from both sides, as the author attempts to do, there is that missing additional objectivity in comparing both sides to a third. That is, comparing ideas on governing, civil rights, laws, justice, etc., that Jews wanted to implement to those of the Palestinians (meaning taking each side on their own merits is one thing, comparing each side's merits to the 'modern world' is another).

Taking a look at the Middle East in the early twentieth-century means understanding the divergent ideas about not only who should live on what land but how governing in general was to take place. That is, Israel wanted a European style 'democracy' while Palestinians were fine implementing...what? Is there a lesser of two evils? Can they be equally valued/judged? Thus, once more, there is objectivity between two sides but there is also objectivity that is missing, that of either side compared to a greater ideal being exercised and implemented throughout the rest of the world that has a direct impact on how the future of the Middle East will unravel. And that objectivity, unfortunately, is missing here.

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