“Connecting with the Enemy: A Century of Palestinian-Israeli Joint Nonviolence” Book Review

An inspiring history of peace activism in the most hostile of circumstances

The narrow strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is home to perhaps the longest standing war in our world today: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Countless historians have detailed the intricate complexity of events and actors that have shaped the current situation. However, a new history has been written counter to the common narrative of military combat, occupation, terrorism, and ceaseless suffering on both sides.

Connecting with the Enemy: A Century of Palestinian-Israeli Joint Nonviolence” by Dr. Sheila H. Katz tells the untold stories of nonviolent initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians. For the first time, their shared history has been defined by the creative ways in which these two peoples have worked together rather than how they have been torn apart. The author’s academic background specializing in Middle East studies at Harvard University combined with six years of lived experience in Jerusalem where she founded a feminist group, gives her an intimate connection to and a unique perspective on the subject.

Katz offers a chronological account of the innumerable efforts for peaceful co-existence dating back to the Ottoman Empire through the two World Wars, the Intifadas, and the Oslo Accords to the present day. Through each era, she explains how these examples of joint nonviolent activism rose in response to the demands of their time.

While there are hundreds of organizations that work exclusively within Israel or the Palestinian Territories, Katz maintains balance by profiling only those that work collaboratively with people from both sides. Her book covers a wide range of tactics employed by a diverse group of participants including lawyers, scientists, religious leaders, medical professionals, students, educators, artists, musicians, environmentalists, farmers, feminists, soldiers, prisoners, parents, businessmen, journalists, athletes, etc. When the political peace process continually failed, these individuals did not give up on their commitment to nonviolence.

Every chapter begins with a powerful story of personal transformation or reconciliation. Bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents whose children have been killed come together to share and heal their grief. Arabs and Jews meet in secret to confront their fears and discuss taboo topics, resulting in lasting friendships. Students encounter the ‘other’ for the first time, exposing pain and guilt, teaching them to overcome prejudices and seek common ground. Participation in the arts and sports encourages children from opposing sides to communicate with each other and develop trust. Former combatants learn to take responsibility for their actions and exercise forgiveness to promote freedom for all. With each gathering, however modest or invisible to the public eye, the impact is felt in the acknowledgment of humanity in another and the restoration of dignity in oneself.

“Connecting with the Enemy” is hopeful and inspiring, and at the same time, honest and realistic. It squarely addresses the immense challenges faced by peacebuilders—from the physical dangers and barriers, to the fear of being seen as a traitor for “normalizing” relations with the enemy, to the perception that each nation holds of itself as the victim and the ‘other’ as the perpetrator. Despite these hostile circumstances, Katz highlights the significance of those Israelis and Palestinians who have chosen connection and dialogue as a practical alternative to the use of force. There remain many critical questions since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has yet to be resolved, but Katz gives us reason to believe that nonviolent co-resistance will persist as the path to enduring peace.

The lessons to be learned from this comprehensive account transcend the political boundaries where this history originates, offering models of healing wherever conflict and division may be found. In the words of Elias Chacour (a Palestinian priest), which open the text, “This land, this Palestine, this Israel, does not belong to either Jews or Palestinians. Rather we are compatriots who belong to the land and to each other. If we cannot live together, we surely will be buried here together. We must choose life.”

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