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Inside the Intifada : INTIFADA The Palestinian Uprising--Israel's Third Front by Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari (Simon & Schuster: $42.95; 337 pp.) : INTIFADA by Don Peretz (Westview: $38.50, cloth; $14.50, paper; 205 pp.) : BEHIND THE UPRISING Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv (Greenwood Press: $39.95; 255 pp.) : INSIDE THE PLO Covert Units, Secret Funds, and the War Against Israel and the U.S. by Neil Livingstone and David Halevy (William Morrow: $18.95; 288 pp.)

April 29, 1990|Helena Cobban | Cobban is working on the second edition of her book, "The Palestinian Liberation Organization: People, Power and Politics" (Cambridge University Press)

The outbreak of the Palestinian insurgence in December, 1987, introduced a new Arabic word to the Western political lexicon: intifada (uprising). This acceptance of Palestinian semantics may be a small victory--many literate Americans still are uncomfortable pronouncing the word--but it reveals that the uprising has changed certain dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And now, here are the books--two of them titled "Intifada"--to prove it.

The story has at least two significant human dramas. The first is the transformation of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza from a community waiting passively for outside forces to relieve them of Israel's lengthy occupation to a vanguard force battling for its own liberation. The second is Israel's struggle to respond to a deep-seated challenge that for the first time in its history is not being posed primarily in military terms.

Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari's book deals superbly with this second drama. Their conclusions are realistic, humane and sobering: "By their uprising the Palestinians have smashed the status quo beyond repair . . . (N)ot only has the uprising gravely affected Israel's internal security, it has changed the country's very perception of what security means. The territories, long viewed by Israelis as a defensive belt providing their country with strategic depth, have now become a woe to be reckoned with. . . . For the first time since 1967, the uprising has seriously forced Israel to consider the effect that the occupation has had on the occupiers: their ethos, their image and their democratic way of life." The solution these longtime veterans of the Israeli scene propose is a large-scale Israeli withdrawal in the context of "a confederative arrangement that will include Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian entity to be constituted in the West Bank and Gaza."

"Intifada" is less successful, it must be said, at evoking the Palestinian side of the drama. Apparently having failed to interview Palestinian activists themselves, the authors merely seem to cull background information from Israeli intelligence reports. This poses an ethical dilemma: Should writers and their publishers really gain scoops from the censors' table, which seems to be the provenance of the private Palestinian correspondence quoted on pages 104 and 282? How about the developing conventions of copyright law? (It is worth recalling that in September, 1982, all Israel's major academic research institutions refused to accept the files of the PLO's Research Center, after the Israeli military pillaged them during its ill-fated move into West Beirut. Are the ethics of publishing so different from those of academe?)

The security-service-derived material used in this book is inherently non-credible. In Chapter 3, for example, the authors unquestioningly cite a survey made by Israeli interrogators in the intifada 's first days, which concluded that those detained for participation in demonstrations "were unable to repeat the most common slogans used in the PLO's routine propaganda, and even the central concept of Palestinian struggle-- the right to self-determination-- was completely alien to them." From these, Schiff and Ya'ari concluded that the demonstrators' grievances against Israel were economic rather than political.

Schiff and Ya'ari's book nevertheless commands our attention because of the unrivaled authority and intimacy with which it treats the Israeli half of the drama. The second "Intifada" book, by Don Peretz, lacks these rich Israeli dimensions. Peretz's book does document the uprising's first two years more systematically, but for a book covering the Palestinian drama as thoroughly as Schiff and Ya'ari cover the Israeli, one will have to await another--probably Palestinian-- author.

Hitchhiking slightly uneasily on the intifada bandwagon is Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv's "Behind the Uprising: Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians," which reads as though it was hastily recast and retitled from something else to ride in the intifada 's tail wind. Centering on the clandestine contacts between Israeli and Jordanian leaders since before the foundation of the state of Israel, the authors, two hard-burrowing Israeli journalists, provide a wealth of detail about these contacts, mainly using leaks from Israeli participants.

But the fact that direct, high-level Israeli-Jordanian contacts have taken place over the years should come as no surprise to those familiar with the region. More intriguing are the authors' details about how Israeli leaders in the late 1960s decided which policy to pursue toward the Palestinian-populated West Bank area seized from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast War.

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