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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 1 .

Grasping Land: Space and Place in Contemporary Israeli Discourse
Edited by Eyal Ben-Ari and Yoram Bilu.

(New York: State University of New York Press, 1997).
246pp. Index
Pb.: $17.95; ISBN 0-7914-3218-1.

Notions of space and place have figured prominently in the social science literature of the past decade. As geographers have been seeking greener pastures elsewhere, sociologists and political scientists have been discovering the discourse of space for the first time. Notions of space and place have always been central to an understanding of Israel as a society still undergoing its formative stages. This is reflected both in terms of the conflict for territory between Jews and Arabs, as well as the competition for resources between the diverse groups which make up Israel's increasingly heterogeneous society. The boundaries with which space is defined help determine the nature of inclusion and exclusion, the insiders and the outsiders, who make up this complex society. Notions of space, as understood by sociologists and political scientists, rather than the traditional spatial discourse of the geographers, has not received sufficient attention within the Israeli academic community. As such, this collection of nine essays written by sociologists, edited by Ben-Ari and Bilu, make a contribution to this debate. The contributions focus on micro, rather than macro and national, spaces. This is important inasmuch as most meaningful interaction between groups takes place at the level of the urban and municipal neighborhoods. Two major themes dominate the essays, the one relating to ethno-religious spaces of specific groups, such as Moroccan and Libyan Jews, the other to the social construction of spaces which have become part of the collective national tradition, as witnessed in pioneer settlement museums, military cemeteries and the hiking landscapes. The book displays a major deficiency in that it does not draw on the recent work of Israeli geographers, such as Portugali, Schnell, Yiftachel, Hasson and others. Notions of place, space and territoriality, both real and symbolic, have figured prominently in this literature during the past decade but are neither presented or cited in this collection. This is, to a great extent, indicative of the high degree of disciplinary compartmentalization and separation which continues to take place within Israeli academia, contrasting with the emerging postmodern discourse and the crossing of boundaries which is taking place elsewhere. All told, the book makes a useful contribution towards our understanding of the way in which spaces are imbued with meaning for different groups and cultures. This, in turn, helps determine the formative processes of both group and national identity, and the subsequent creation of "in" and "out" groups. Attempts to create dialogue between groups through the introduction of new and alternative narratives must take account of the way in which space and place are molded through history and the dissemination of the sense of place through processes of collective socialization.

David Newman, University of the Negev, Israel

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