1One of the many transformations brought about by the Oslo Peace Process was the creation of Israeli-Palestinian projects that crisscrossed Israeli-Palestinian civil societies. At the time, these joint projects sought to establish a “peace from below” to complement and support the supposed “peace from above” that Palestinian and Israeli negotiators promised to their respective peoples. With the collapse of the peace process, the expansion of Israeli settlements, and the ever-growing polarization between Israelis and Palestinians, scholars and activists are now taking stock of such joint ventures. In her book Women, reconciliation and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Giulia Daniele tackles one particular sector of civil society—women’s political activism—with a complex set of theoretical tool and ethnographic work. The book raises the following questions: how have Israeli and Palestinian feminists responded to the ethno-nationalism of their respective national groups? How have Israeli and Palestinian feminists responded to their own internal heterogeneity? And how has Palestinian-Israeli joint women’s initiatives evolved since the beginning of the Oslo Accords and after its demise?
2Daniele elaborates her arguments at three levels: theoretical, historical, and sociological. In the first thirty pages, the book overviews a variety of theories ranging from narrative and dialogical conceptions of identity, theories of conflict resolution, settler-colonialism, feminism, orientalism, nationalism, and the politics of difference. Daniele’s displays a strong command of these theories, all of which are relevant to her research questions. For the reader, however, it is not always clear what the author intends to do with this rich conceptual apparatus. The theories are presented in summary form, leaving it mostly to the reader to guess how the book will use them or make contributions to them. This is a bumpy start, and the author could have trimmed down this section to emphasis the stronger chapters that follow.
3In chapters 2 and 3, Daniele offers a rich history of Palestinian and Israeli women’s activism separately. At first view, both seem to find themselves in a similar position: they are part of a larger national movement, and yet both find themselves excluded from a nationalist discourse that is predominantly masculine. One could think that this would create a common background for joint projects, but it does not. The history of these groups differ and so do their relationship to their respective nationalism. On the Israeli side, feminist responses to ethno-nationalism vary from (predominantly) liberal Zionists to a minority of anti-colonial feminists. This range is not mirrored on the Palestinian side. For Palestinian feminists, the struggle for women’s rights is inseparable from the larger project of national liberation. “The feminist consciousness is an integral part of the general national consciousness,” writes Palestinian scholar Rita Giacaman, “existing with it simultaneously in a constant dialectical change” (p. 44). As a result we have feminist groups interacting from different perspectives, with different motives, asymmetrical positions, and different consequences.
4But we cannot treat women’s movements as one block. Grounded in an intersectional approach, Daniele carefully examines the heterogeneity within Israeli and Palestinian women’s movements. “The aim,” writes Daniele, “is at reproblematising women’s political involvement established on national, ethnic and class divergences among and within Palestinian and Israeli women’s movements” (p. 3). The book does a good job in this regard. The sections on Israeli internal heterogeneity are comprehensive, unveiling differences and tensions along ethnic (Ashkenazi and Sephardi) and class based lines, all of which affect shape feminist activism with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The same internal heterogeneity is examined within Palestinian women’s movement, although not as comprehensively. Women’s groups within Islamic movements, for example, do not figure in the book. While Daniele acknowledges their growing importance, she does not delve deeper into an issue that requires closer scrutiny. This is potentially a problem, because it predetermines what counts as women’s activism, and imposes a western lens that premises feminism on secularism.
5For Daniele, stressing the heterogeneity within women’s groups and the critical distance these groups have with regard to their respective nationalism is crucial, because it sets the groundwork for the possibilities (and impossibilities) of Israeli-Palestinian joint projects. If reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians were to come, it would require that members on both sides engage in “transversal politics” that move both parties beyond the prisms of ethno-nationalism. Women’s movements, it would seem, are particularly well situated for such kind of transversal politics. Moreover, there seems to be a link between feminism and pacifism. For some Israeli feminists, for example, the militarization of Israeli society has reinforced male superiority (p. 61), so that both issues need to be addressed together. This relationship between feminism and pacifism, however, does not depend on clichés that reify womanhood and by the same token dispense with the colonial reality of Israel/Palestine. Rather, it is an approach that is sociologically informed and that is explicit about its political commitments to gender equality and a just peace.
6From Chapter 4 onwards, the book examines the joint activism of Palestinian-Israeli associations over the last two decades. These are rich in detail, and I will only focus on the main trends that stand out: the institutionalization/internationalization of women’s activism and the asymmetries of power in which this activism operates. The first trend is the growing institutionalization and internationalization of joint Palestinian-Israel projects. Compared to the more local and loosely organized activism in the Mandate period up to the First Intifada, women’s groups now operate within highly internationalized and institutionalized settings. They are internationalized because they work under the umbrella of international institutions (such as the UN’s Security Council’s Resolutions 1325 that incorporates gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts) and a global discourse on peacebuilding. This internationalization, for example, brings together the conflict in Israel-Palestine close to other conflicts, such as Northern Ireland and South Africa (p. 107) in an attempt to find common solutions. This activism is also highly institutionalized because it operates within the structured settings of NGOs.
7While such factors boosted joint women’s activism in the 1990s, Daniele argues, they had adverse effects. Palestinian feminist and scholar Islah Jad describes these processes as ones “through which issues of collective concern are transformed into projects in isolation from the (…) economic, social and political factors affecting them” (p. 53). In fact, the internationalization and institutionalization of women’s activism pro imposed frameworks of “coexistence” and “normalization” that are out of touch with the reality on the ground that is highly asymmetrical. Rather than empower women, writes Jad, this process “transformed a cause for social change into a ‘project’ with a plan, timetable, and a limited budget, which is ‘owned’ and ‘used’ by a small professional elite for the purpose of accountability vis-à-vis foreign donors”(p. 53). This resulted in growing frustrations and the growth of anti-normalization and boycott campaigns that are now common features of civil society activism in Palestine and beyond.
8Another theme that characterizes joint women’s activism and that permeates the book is the asymmetry of power between Israelis and Palestinians. At first, Daniele stresses the issue of asymmetry at the epistemological level. The book argues against what Jamil Halil and Ilan Pappe call the paradigm of parity that posit Israelis and Palestinians as symmetrical parties to the conflict (Hilal and Pappe 2010: 6). Applying parity to the Israeli-Palestinian scenario is an epistemological fallacy, because, as Sara Roy rightly observes, it is to impose balance on a situation “so profoundly unbalanced,” that it severs the analysis “from the local realities it is called upon to examine” (Roy 2007: xv). Instead of a paradigm of parity, Daniele adopts a paradigm of positionality that highlights the asymmetry of power and places itself on the weaker side of this asymmetry. Daniele then goes on to show how this asymmetry is political and plays out more specifically at the level of joint women’s association.
9Both trends—the growing internationalization/institutionalization and the asymmetries of power—are not necessarily new to the literature on Palestinian civil society or on the literature on joint civil society projects. Scholars like Amaney Jamal (2003) and more recently Tariq Dana (2015) have examined the evolution and structural changes brought about to Palestinian civil society since the Oslo Accords and how such changes altered and damaged Palestinian political life. Similarly, Nadim Rouhana and others have show how the asymmetry of power that characterize relations between Israelis and Palestinians played out in joint Israeli-Palestinian associations, reproducing power differentials at the informal level (Rouhana & Korper, 1997). Daniele picks up on these findings by showing, in detail, how they operated at the level of joint Israeli-Palestinian women’s activism.
10These trends are essentially negative, in that they mostly reproduce injustice rather than solve it. The book, however, does not end on this pessimistic note. Towards the end of the book, Daniele examines alternative trends within women’s activism that are fully aware of the asymmetry of power, for example, and that take it as their point of departure. Chapter 6 in this regard offers a glimpse of hope by delving into changing vocabularies within join women’s activism—a move away from dialogue and coexistence and towards solidarity and co-resistance.
11While the book is unequal, with some parts being stronger and more focused than others, it does a good job at tacking the issue of gender and nationalism from the perspective of joint activism. As such, it makes a contribution to research on these themes in the context of Israel/Palestine and beyond.