My review of The Racket

An important new book which blows the whistle on the global system of capitalist control:

With this, his second book, Matt Kennard has announced his presence on the scene as the next generation’s John Pilger.

A former Financial Times investigative reporter, Kennard has spent years interviewing those intimately involved in running what he terms the racket, the corporations and their political servants that really run our world in their own interests, and that of their global hegemony. But he also talks to its victims. As he mentioned at his book launch earlier this month, The Racket has essentially been ten years in the making.


Read the whole thing over at MEMO.

My review of Shlomo Sand’s new book, “The Invention of the Land of Israel”

A fascinating read. Here is my opinion on it.

In 1897, the same year as the first Zionist congress, Israel Belkind (“the first practical Zionist”) drew a map: “ ‘The Jordan splits the Land of Israel in two different sections,’ asserted Belkind, whose assessment was subsequently adopted by most [Zionist] settlers of the period” (216).

For the future first prime minister of Israel David Ben Gurion, these borders “were too expansive and untenable, while the borders of the Talmudic commandment were too narrow.” In 1918 he gave his own take: “In the north — the Litani River, between Tyre and Sidon [in Lebanon] … In the east — the Syrian Desert. The eastern border of the Land of Israel should not be precisely demarcated … the Land’s eastern borders will be diverted eastwards, and the area of the Land of Israel will expand” (217).

Not for nothing were the borders of the new state unmentioned in its declaration of independence (233).

UPDATE: Someone has translated my review into French.

My review of Tony Lerman’s book

A great read and most interesting (and incidentally nice to see Pluto put out an affordable hardback edition). This positive review by me for EI will likely be grist to his enemies’ mill, but Tony doesn’t seem too worried about that any more. An extract:

What happens when a mainstream public figure within the Jewish community develops doubts about Israel and Zionism? Can the head of an important Jewish think tank who has come to reject his Zionist convictions sustain his position as a critical insider?

These questions are addressed in The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist, a new memoir by Antony Lerman.

Born to moderate orthodox parents in Golders Green (3), London, Lerman joined the Habonim labor Zionist youth movement in his teens. Along with its youth centers, Habonim owned a remote East Sussex farm known as the hachshara (“training”) where it prepared members for life in the kibbutzim, Israel’s collective agricultural colonies (31).

He eventually went on to become leader of the movement in the UK. Although after 1967 Habonim activists still saw themselves “as guardians of moderate and liberal socialist Zionism … the vast majority of us slipped so easily into a way of thinking that legitimized the occupation” of the West Bank, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights (34-5).

My review of “The Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Basic Introduction”

Here’s my review for EI. The found the book to be something of a let down:

At the root of such problems is Harms’ fundamental approach, which he spells out in the preface: “I have sought to present the history of the conflict in a balanced and actual light” (xv). The aim of imposing the prism of “balance” on the fundamentally imbalanced situation of a settler movement’s ongoing colonization of an occupied land is doomed to failure. This lies at the heart of much of what is wrong with the book.

Book review: how Israeli school textbooks teach kids to hate

I have reviewed Nurit Peled-Elhanan’s import study of Israeli school textbooks for EI. It’s been going viral online, especially on Twitter (sometimes I’m not quite sure why certain articles take off more than others). I previously blogged a video of her being interviewed too. Here’s an extract of my review:

In an important new book, Palestine in Israeli School Books, Israeli language and education professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan buries the second part of Livni’s myth once and for all.

Peled-Elhanan examines 17 Israeli school textbooks on history, geography and civic studies. Her conclusions are an indictment of the Israeli system of indoctrination and its cultivation of anti-Arab racism from an early age: “The books studied here harness the past to the benefit of the … Israeli policy of expansion, whether they were published during leftist or right-wing [education] ministries” (224).

Update: this article was pretty popular, probably my most popular book review. It has been translated into Flemish Dutch (I can’t vouch for the translation and know nothing about the website). I think it was translated into French as well, but I can’t find the link now.

My review of Norman Finkelstein’s new book

 My review of Knowing Too Much was published by EI yesterday. Here is a short extract:

The best chapter in the book is the one dedicated to giving Benny Morris a good kicking. Morris gained fame as one of the “new historians” who dived into the Israeli archives and reassessed old Zionist myths about the establishment of Israel. Morris’ exposure of the deliberate and calculated nature of Israel’s mass expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 remains significant.

If Knowing Too Much had come out in 2008 (as originally intended), the central argument may have been more controversial, but as Finkelstein notes it has by now almost passed into conventional wisdom (299). A more interesting question, though, is why this shift in liberal opinion has happened, and here Finkelstein is most unconvincing.

Review of Tom Hurndall’s first and last photography book

 Tom Hurndall, the British photography student and ISM activist was murdered by an Israeli sniper in 2003. His family and friends got together to put out a book of his photography and writing. Here is my review of it for Electronic Intifada:

The photography here is accompanied by entries from Hurndall’s diary, emails he sent back home and articles he wrote in a student magazine. There are photos from Iraq and Jordan, but half of the book is dedicated to his Gaza work. This high-quality glossy book has been lovingly curated and put together, and judging from the acknowledgments page, his family, friends and supporters even stumped up the money. The design of the book is beautiful, even though the subject matter is often brutal and stark. It is an almost-macabre artifact.

Read the whole review here.

Factual errors undermine new book on Hamas

Published by The Electronic Intifada and protected by copyright. Republished with permission.

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | 16 March 2012

There is no shortage of books in English about the Palestinian political party and Islamic resistance movement Hamas. This latest effort is by Italian journalist Paola Caridi, who has lived in the Middle East since 2001.

Continue reading Factual errors undermine new book on Hamas

Book identifies pressure points for boycott actions

Published by the Electronic Intifada. Protected by copyright and republished with permission

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | 17 February 2012

The idea of boycotting Israel has gained more and more currency in the West over the last ten years or so, and one of the most frequent requests from new recruits to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is for a “boycott list.” Just tell us the companies to avoid, they say.

Continue reading Book identifies pressure points for boycott actions

New Pappe book highlights plight of forgotten Palestinians

Published by the Electronic Intifada, 7 December.

Asa Winstanley| The Electronic Intifada | 7 December 2011

After the Nakba, Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing operations, only approximately 160,000 Palestinians were left within the borders of what became Israel. Their numbers grew to 600,000 by the mid-1980s (152), and to about 1.2 million today. They struggled for Israeli citizenship, and won the right to vote in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), but were kept under the thumb of strict military rule until 1966.

Thanks partly to the growing international notoriety of their representatives and activists (such as current and former members of the Knesset Haneen Zoabi and the exiled Azmi Bishara) in recent years there has been more attention paid to the situation of these Palestinians. But in the western solidarity movement, there is still a learning process to be had of understanding that “the Palestinians” includes more than the people of the West Bank and Gaza. As such The Forgotten Palestinians, Ilan Pappe’s latest work of popular history, is a welcome contribution.

Pappe contextualizes the book as almost a sequel to his most celebrated work: “this book continues my research on Palestine and Israel, which I began in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006). It is only through a history of the Palestinian minority in Israel that one can imagine the extent to which the long-lived Zionist and Israeli desire for ethnic supremacy and exclusivity has brought about the current reality on the ground” (11). This approach very much pays off. Through the prism of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, Pappe explores the general Palestinian condition.

The Forgotten Palestinians ably displays Pappe’s main strength: his ability to relate a strong historical narrative. He ties many threads together, giving some much-needed perspective.

The Nakba, continued

Pappe addresses the plight of Palestinians who remained in the new State of Israel following the Nakba. In urban areas, “cordoned off with wire and fences,” Pappe writes that there were Israeli “attempts to concentrate Palestinians who had lost their homes but remained within the boundaries of the hometown … supervised by Israeli officers, who called these confinement areas ‘ghettos.’” These “ghettos” would not disappear until 1950 (18).

Like the rest of the scattered Palestinian community at large, this was a deeply traumatized people. “If they lived in rural areas, they belonged to a hundred and so villages left intact out of more than five hundred whose inhabitants were evicted and in 1949 were wiped out by the Israeli tractors, turning them into either recreation parks or Jewish settlements,” Pappe states (19). The ethnic cleansing operations went on into the 1950s.

Characteristic of Pappe, there are plenty of challenges here to the idea of “left wing” Zionism, including: “the [Palestinian] people of Khirbet Jalami, who were evicted following a demand by the newly founded left-wing kibbutz of Lehavot Haviva in March 1950” (34).

In this early phase (1948-57), even the presence of the Palestinians in Israel was under threat: “the very existence of the community was in question. Their presence was regarded by important figures in the Israeli regime as ‘unfinished business,’ and quite a few of the politicians and heads of the security services still contemplated the removal of the Palestinian citizens from the Jewish state” (47).

This threat later receded somewhat, but it never truly went away, and has very much been revived during the rise of Avigdor Lieberman, arch-racist and current foreign minister of Israel, whose party Yisrael Beiteinu made electoral gains by calling for Palestinians citizens to be made to swear oaths committing to a Jewish state, with the slogan “no loyalty – no citizenship.”

In October 2010, Pappe records, “Israeli police simulated a scenario whereby parts of Israel in which Palestinians lived were appended to the West Bank — while the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank were incorporated into the Jewish state” (5).

Pappe says it was only in 1958 that the first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion “conceded in an official document that the option of transfer was not applicable any more” (31).

By 1955, Ben-Gurion’s second “advisor on Arab affairs” Shemuel Divon would have to concede that “There is no way the Arabs of Israel will be loyal to the state. It would have been advantageous if the state could either expel them or convert them to Judaism, but these are not realistic options” (31). Ben-Gurion seemed to agree (33). It is very interesting that Zionist leaders still entertained the delusion that Palestinians could be converted to Judaism late into the 1950s. This is also quite a challenge to the narrative of “secular” Israel.

All this goes some way to explain why the community’s struggle in this first phase was not for national or cultural rights as Palestinians, but simply to stay in their homes and to win citizenship.

The struggle for citizenship

In its propaganda, Israel likes to boast that it benevolently gave its “Arab Israelis” citizenship. But something that comes across strongly in this book is the extent to which this is not true: many had to struggle for even this basic right.

In 1953, the new Israeli citizenship law cynically declared that only those registered in the November 1948 census would be automatically given citizenship. Partly because Israel did not yet have full military control, “out of 160,000 Palestinians, 100,000 were not registered by November 1948.”

This was a racist law, because it did not apply to Jews (from anywhere in the world) who are still automatically granted citizenship under the “Law of Return.” The upshot of this was that a majority of the “Arab Israelis” were not benevolently “granted” citizenship as Israel likes to claim, but in fact had to struggle for it, often in the courts (35-7).

The military regime in the 1948 areas

Another key challenge to the Israeli narrative of democracy is that, until 1966 it kept its Arab citizens under a military rule similar to that now in effect in the West Bank. This is still a traumatic memory for people in the community until this day.

Making use of British Mandate laws, “the [military] governor had the right to arrest people without a warrant and detain them without trial for long periods; he could ban their entrance to a place or expel them from their homes; he could also confine them under house arrest. He could close schools, businesses, newspapers and journals, and prohibit demonstrations or protests” (49).

Amazingly, many of these laws are still on the books, and the army still has the power to declare parts of the country “closed military zones.” Since 1996 a legal change has required an annual renewal of the laws (264).

In the 1950s, a special committee met to coordinate military rule. At its first meeting, the Palestinian citizens were defined as a “hostile community” that needed to be closely watched, a “fifth column.” Members of the committee included agents of the Shin Bet (Shabak), the Israeli General Security Service; the prime minister’s advisor on Arab affairs; officials from the military rule unit and, interestingly, representatives from the Histadrut — Israel’s general trade union (which until 1953 banned Arabs from membership (69). This committee met until the end of military rule in 1966 (48-9).

The Palestinian citizens of Israel today

The book spans the complete historical narrative of the Palestinians of 1948, bringing things right into the present day. Pappe concludes that, although the 1950s threat to expel the remaining Palestinians from Israel was later backed away from, this thinking has returned. The head of the regional council of lower Galilee, Motti Dotan (from the “left-wing” Zionist Labor party) in 2008 said, “If we lose the Jewish majority in the Galilee this is the end of the Jewish state … I would like to imagine a Galilee without Arabs: no thefts, no crimes … we will have a normal life” (257).

If the book has a weakness, it is something about which I have criticized Pappe’s work previously: sometimes there is lack of direct quotes. One is left to trust in the historian’s judgment. This does make for a more readable, flowing narrative, but I would have liked more specifics at times. For example, he says that the Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua “famously invited [Palestinian novelist Anton] Shammas to leave the country if he was unhappy with the Zionist regime and the success of Jews in dispossessing the Palestinians” (190). I would have liked to have read the exact words of Yehoshua here.

Apart from this and a few other very minor quibbles, I have no hesitation in recommending this book. It’s a great read, especially for those new to the topic. Those more familiar with the situation will still learn new things, and gain some important perspectives on the situation and history of this neglected, but key part of the Palestinian people.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who writes about Palestine. He edited the new book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation and regularly contributes to The Electronic Intifada, where he also has a blog. His general website is

Pappe reassesses legacy of Palestinian dynasty

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | Thursday, September 8, 2011 – 15:51

Ilan Pappe is an Israeli historian and dissident living in semi-voluntary exile in the UK. He is most famous for The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, a seminal work which, although based on his own research, was more original for the sweep of its historical narrative rather than any groundbreaking new findings. It was a widely influential work in that it convinced people around the world that “ethnic cleansing” is the phrase that most accurately describes what Zionist militias did to the Palestinians in the course of the 1947-48 Nakba (Catastrophe).

Pappe’s latest book The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty, only appeared in this English translation last year; it first appeared in Hebrew in 2002.

The Rise and Fall is a political biography of the Husaynis: an aristocratic Palestinian family that dominated the Palestinian political scene in both the Ottoman and British Mandate periods. While Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the leader of the Palestinian national movement during the Mandate period, is probably the most famous, there are a host of other interesting figures here. They include Jamal al-Husayni, foreign minister in the “All-Palestine Government,” the first ever declared “state of Palestine” in October 1948 (340); Musa Kazim al-Husayni, Ottoman functionary and mayor of Jerusalem from 1918-20; and Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, the famous Palestinian guerrilla warfare leader and son of Muza Kazim.

In explaining the renown of Abd al-Qadir in Palestinian collective memory, Pappe quotes the following highly poetic account of his birth from a work in Arabic titled The Mother Palestine and her Noble Son Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini: “The sun entered the alleys of Jerusalem and lighted its streets, and in that month in 1910, in the neighborhood of the Husaynis, was heard the cry of a newborn baby. It filled the air of the holy city and blended with the ringing of church bells and the muezzins’ musical call — it was the voice of the heroic warrior Abd al-Qadir Musa al-Husayni” (145).

A primary strength of the book is Pappe’s fluency in Arabic, which allows him to make wide use of original sources, along with Palestinian and other Arab historiography — especially from the Ottoman era. The sections on the various Palestinian peasant uprisings against the Ottoman Empire (1824) and later Egyptian rule (1834) make for highly enjoyable reading (pp 60-77).

Effects of Zionism go unexplained

The pace sags somewhat during the account of the Ottoman reform period. A bigger problem here is a lack of explanation as to what Zionism meant for Palestinian peasant farmers (the fellahin) in practice during the late 19th century.

Pappe does analyze the duplicity of some of the notable Palestinians, including some Husaynis, who sold land to the Zionist movement (e.g. Rabah al-Husayni, 118). But the reader learns nothing about the all-too-common reality of such transactions. As Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi has described, the fellahin often had “long-standing traditional rights of tenure.” Yet the Zionists would often remove them by force (Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness, Columbia University Press, 1997, pp 98-9).

At the end of the 19th century, such Ottoman-Zionist collaboration led to the Palestinian fellahin embarking on the earliest protests and even armed uprisings against their displacement or disenfranchisement.

Pappe’s book is a history of the Husaynis, not a history of the Palestinians as a whole, but a passing mention of this reality would have improved the chapter. This lack of context diminishes later sections of the book. For example, Pappe writes of Palestinian demonstrations and armed resistance in the Mandate period: “Wherever young urban and country men were frustrated in their search for employment and housing, political bitterness came to the fore” (218). This begs the question of why they were unemployed in the first place. If he had pointed out the simple fact that many of the fellahin (in a predominantly agricultural society) were unemployed precisely because Zionism had displaced them from the land by force, this passage would have made a lot more sense.

Reconsidering Mufti’s legacy

The pace of Pappe’s narrative picks up significantly during the British Mandate period, reflecting the fast-moving regional events of the time. The Husayni notables, always primarily interested in maintaining their class interests, tried their best to cozy up to the new British occupier and to pacify the wider population. In contrast to the common Israeli demonology of the mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, Pappe makes this key point quite well: “The calm [of 1921-29] was achieved thanks mainly to the creation of the Supreme Muslim Council” (222). The British created the Supreme Muslim Council and co-opted Hajj Amin to lead it: “With an annual budget of 50,000 to 65,000 Palestine pounds (drawn mainly from the religious properties), al-Hajj Amin was able to increase his influence throughout Palestine” (223). It seems this was done partly to undermine the more nationalist Palestine Congress — based on the nationwide Muslim-Christian associations — to which 27 delegates were first sent in January 1919 (175).

Ultimately, the British were not enthusiastic about the old notables. As the late Palestinian writer and activist Ghassan Kanafani put it in his brilliant study of the 1936-39 uprising, the formal Palestinian leadership had in the past eulogized Ottoman imperialism and praised the way it had treated them as compared with British imperialism. They had been the bulwark of the Sultan, but British imperialism removed them as chief agent, because it found a more highly organized agent in the Zionist movement.” (“The 1936-39 Revolt in Palestine”, Committee for a Democratic Palestine, New York, 1972).

The Rise and Fall in general naturally shows that its original target audience was Israelis — Pappe was clearly seeking to provoke his society and make them rethink certain things. Often, figures and groups that would be familiar to an informed Israeli audience are dropped into the narrative with little or no explanation for the less familiar leader. For example, key Zionist leader (and future first president of Israel) Chaim Weizmann appears claiming to Kamil al-Husayni in 1918 that “the Zionists had no intention of taking over the country … Weizmann later wrote in his diary that Kamil had been polite but disbelieving — and for good reason” (173). Even the Balfour Declaration, under which Britain promised to set up a “Jewish national home” in Palestine, is dropped into the story without explanation.

History from below?

The Rise and Fall also suffers from a severe lack of direct quotes. The most damning evidence against Zionism often comes from their own archives, and critical Israeli historians like Pappe have been central in bringing these to light. But, for some reason, this book often lacks direct quotes, tending to prefer reported speech. For example: “[Menahem] Ussishkin was the paragon of the new Zionist leader. Unlike some of his colleagues, he openly discussed Zionism as a colonialist project and declared on more than one occasion that any indigenous resistance to the Jewish colonization of Palestine would have to be met with force, coercion and even expulsion” (172). Here, the reader would benefit from an example of what Ussishkin said in his own words.

One final point must be made. Since this book was likely being completed at the start of the second Palestinian intifada, Pappe’s aim to publish in Hebrew a more realistic historical approach to the extensive (and often hostile) literature on Hajj Amin was admirable. And his approach of looking at the wider family rather than an undue focus on the mufti alone is highly successful. However, compared to leftist Palestinian studies like Kanafani’s, I couldn’t help but think that his analysis is a little optimistic in places. He concludes the final chapter saying that at one point in history, notable families such as the Husaynis had “enable[d] social transformation in a moderate fashion” (341). For me, the wider findings in the book itself do no show that. That’s not to say Pappe is uncritical, by any means: there is a decent section on Hajj Amin’s failed attempt to work with Nazi Germany during the 1940s, when he was in exile and marginalized from the Palestinian national movement.

I do recommend this book to those interested in the topic, but as supplementary reading, alongside other more basic outlines of Palestinian history of the periods in question. Despite Pappe’s characteristic effort to orient the book as much as possible to a “history from below” approach (7), this is ultimately the history of the predominant aristocratic family in Palestinian history up until 1948: those who Kanafani refers to as the “feudal religious” leadership of the national movement.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is

New book exposes brutal treatment of Palestinian prisoners

First published by the Electronic Intifada

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | 5 August 2011

Shlomo Gazit, an Israeli general and the first “coordinator of government activities” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip apparently wrote a book in 1985 about Israel’s occupation policies there called The Carrot and the Stick. It is quite telling that such Israeli terminology relates to Palestinians as if they are animals. A new book about Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinians contains strong evidence that these policies have been a lot more about the “stick” of physical and psychological torture than about the “carrot” of persuasion.

Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel is a collection of essays from Pluto Press edited by Abeer Baker and Anat Matar. The contributors focus on different aspects of Israel’s system of political prisons. It is rare for such an anthology to be of such consistently high quality. Quite often essay collections can be a mixed bag but Threat is rarely less than interesting. Palestinian prisoners and the solidarity movements of their families and supporters have long been emblematic in the Palestinian liberation struggle. So the book is an important and welcome attempt to educate English-speakers on this neglected topic.

Consider, for example, this astonishing statistic: “almost half of all the prisoners held by the Israeli prison system are Palestinians who have been sent to prison by the military courts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)” (68). Furthermore, this share seems to have been consistently high over a long period: the figure stood between 45 and 60 percent during the first two decades after the 1967 occupation (72).

The contributors to this book are from a mix of Israeli, Palestinian and other backgrounds but most are lawyers, academics and professional activists for human rights groups in Israel such as Adalah (with whom Baker works as a lawyer) or B’Tselem. We can also read the words of Palestinian prisoners, recalling their own experiences.

We learn from Alon Harel and Yael Berda about what exactly “security prisoners” are. They are “deprived of many of the rights granted to non-security prisoners” (37). Yet the definition of “security prisoners” is not just those who engage in armed struggle — Palestinian political activists who do not use violence are also classified as such. Berda notes, “It is actually surprising how, under the harsh classification regimes of the security threat, many Palestinians have chosen nonviolent political and social action, even though it carries with it similar consequences to the violent actions” (54).

In reality, the Israeli secret police — the Shin Bet — decides who is a “security prisoner”. Known by its formal title the General Security Services (GSS), the Shin Bet runs a system that is “constructed and applied administratively by the GSS alone” (52). We also learn, in information relevant to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, that the closeness of Israeli universities to the Shin Bet has meant “merging the security apparatuses with bases of academic power” (52).

Apartheid behind bars

The prisoners are emblematic of the whole Palestinian struggle for many reasons, not least of which is the system of apartheid that they are fighting against. It is striking that this applied to the whole of historic Palestine, not just the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It applies to Palestinians living in Israel, too: “In January 2009, there were about 370 Israeli Arab citizens classified as security prisoners. A small number of Jewish prisoners are classified by the IPS [Israel Prison Service] as security prisoners but they are not subjected to the harsh conditions reserved for the Palestinians” (80).

Sharon Weill’s essay is a strong contender for best essay in the book. She proves that because of the separate and unequal legal systems for Israelis and Palestinians there — civil courts for Israeli Jews but military courts for Palestinians — the occupation of the West Bank is best understood as a system of apartheid. I was amazed to learn that “until 2004 the [Israeli military] judges did not need to have any legal background; they were just regular officers, usually very young” (147). She also includes a strong example of how Israeli apartheid applies to even its own (supposedly equal) Palestinian citizens: “While Israeli Jews have been excluded from the military courts’ jurisdiction as a matter of policy, Palestinians carrying Israeli IDs (especially those from East Jerusalem), committing an offense within the OPT, have always been tried there” (141).

Disturbing studies on torture and rape

There is a wide range of rich topics addressed. Palestinian sociology professor Nahla Abdo has a devastating critique of colonial feminism and the “Western Orientalist literature [that has since 2002] emerged to deal with the female military resistance” (59). Abdo shows how Western academics have tried to analyze female Palestinians fighters as a response to a supposed endemic misogyny in Palestinian society — to “wipe away the stigma of being female” as one has put it (59). She proceeds to convincingly dismantle this crude framework of assumptions. Abdo then moves on to sexism and racism in the Israel Prison Service and recounts disturbing case studies — from her own research and interviews with women prisoners — of sexual torture and rape by Israeli personnel.

If I have one reservation about the book it is its inevitable (considering the authors’ professional backgrounds) bias towards the “human rights” narrative, rather than the resistance narrative. For example, the failed case by the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din against the practice of transferring Palestinians to prisons outside the West Bank cited by Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard seemed in effect to be arguing for Israeli prisons to be rebuilt in the West Bank (197-198). The Israeli high court rejected the Yesh Din petition on patronizing and spurious grounds. But the fact that a liberal Israeli human rights organization was not instead arguing for all the political prisons to be emptied exposes the contradictions and limits of such legal activism within the system of apartheid Zionism.

The editors — and some of the authors — seem to be aware of this to an extent, and Palestinian prisoner Walid Daka’s essay concluding the book is a good antidote in this regard, since it critiques this tendency. Daka sees the Palestinian Authority as key to this transformation: “the ‘Palestinian Revolution’ was replaced by the ‘Palestinian Authority,’ the mobilization of these young people [in the PA armed forces] signals the replacement of struggle with the ‘rule of law’ and ‘resistance’ with the ‘prevention of armed chaos’ … These new slogans do not belong to a discourse of a liberation movement; they were invoked to make the movement disappear” (238-239).

I would have liked to read more from Palestinian prisoners in their own words: 8 out of the 22 contributions in the book are by Palestinians (including Palestinian citizens of Israel) who are often former or current prisoners. But to be fair, those included offer deep and insightful historical analysis as well as important and troubling eyewitness accounts of torture and ill-treatment in Israeli prisons.

Overall, there is a wealth of history, analysis, documentation and plenty of legal details in this book. And fortunately, the legal details rarely lead into dry or unreadable territory. Threat comes highly recommended.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is