Sunday, July 6, 2014

6 Academics Who Can Help Explain The Violence In Israel

Here are six academics whose work can help policy analysts make sense of this month's violence in Israel and the West Bank. Obviously there are more than six relevant academics, and every academic has their own go-to books. For example, a non-Western scholar may list a completely different set of authors than these. Nonetheless, such lists can help scholars and policy makers bridge the gap between them and hopefully do some good.


Jessica Stern's 2003 book Terror in the Name of God is based on interviews with militants and includes a chapter on Jewish extremists. Catapulted to fame as one of the first post 9/11 works on why terrorists commit attacks, the book is a bit dated and was controversial at the time, but brings the reader face-to-face with the ideology of extremists on both sides of the conflict.

Aviad Ruben's work between 2009 and 2012 on religion and state formation includes concise but detailed explanations of Zionism's interaction with the Israeli state. The points of conflict are important for understanding the resurgence of religious Zionism over the past decade or so.

Wendy Pearlman's 2011 book Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement explains why Palestinian resistance is sometimes violent and sometimes not. Based on extensive field work in the West Bank, Pearlman explains the importance of institutional cohesion in restraining violent actors. The book also has a clear account of Palestinian nationalism since the early 1900s.

Nadav Shelef's 2010 book Evolving Nationalism is an historical account of the Zionist movements, including religious Zionism. The book is based on field work in Israel and explains that Israeli nationalist claims have evolved over time rather than remaining constant.

Paul Brass' 1997 book Theft of an Idol is a book about India. However, it explains clearly how "ideal entrepreneurs" use violent incidents as an opportunity to mobilize larger-scale ethnic violence. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't only ethnic but Brass' description of entrepreneurs is a helpful framework to think about this week's revenge killings.

Lee Ann Fujii's 2011 book Killing Neighbors is based on field interviews with perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide. Fujii shows how perpetrators followed "scripts" in carrying out their gruesome killings. Genocide is an extreme form of political violence, far far more extreme that what is happening in Israel at the moment. However, the book's theoretical model is useful in explaining how regular people can commit gruesome attacks. Given that a 16 year-old Palestinian was likely burned to death this week, this explanation is a particularly relevant insight.

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