Social Biographies in Making Sense of History
Gershon Shafir and Mark LeVine
Just as ordinary people live in the shadows, so their life stories commonly remain obscure. Yet their lives frequently reveal a great deal of humanity and wisdom, as well as the harshness and brutality of everyday life, which rarely take center stage within conventional historical narratives.
In the past few decades, the importance of life histories in the analysis and teaching of history has slowly grown. Still, it is unusual at the modern research university to teach and study social sciences through life histories or social biographies. These disciplines commonly focus on distant forces that shape individual lives; it is rare for social scientists to acknowledge ordinary men and women as actors in their own right.
But this emphasis on impersonal social forces periodically generates a profound unease, out of which emerge alternative approaches to studying human societies. These include oral history (Dunaway and Baum 1996; Portelli 1991), life course or cohort analysis (Barteaux 1981; Shanahan and Macmillan 2008; Weymann and Heinz 1996), greater reliance on ethnography (Burawoy 1991), and other methodologies aimed at getting to the details of human social interaction too often missed by the system-level analyses usually employed by scholars. Edmund Burke III's authoritative Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East, first published in 1993 and now in its second edition, has done more than most to bring the importance of life histories and social biographies to the attention of scholars, students, and the educated public alike. In this volume, we offer an anthology of Palestinian and Israeli social biographies inspired by Burke's seminal collection.
Moving beyond Noah's Ark
To anticipate a criticism that is likely to be leveled against this anthology, let us repeat Burke's forewarning in Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East: "Despite an energetic effort to cast the net as widely as possible, not all groups are represented within these pages." In fact, as he wittily concludes, given the diversity of the subject matter, "a kind of Noah's ark principle of coverage" is out of the question. Instead, like Burke before us, we have striven to assemble a "not entirely random selection of biographies [to] provide a set of core samples" (Burke 1993: 2) which highlight, in our view, the major social and historical processes at the heart of Palestinian-Israeli conflict and peacemaking and the myriad ways in which they have been experienced.
These pages offer a broad range of individuals' stories, from as many groups, subgroups, and subgroups of subgroups for which we could find an author able and willing to write. But although our anthology is extensive enough to illustrate diversity, it is insufficient to document the full range. If we have learned anything from collecting these stories, it's that the work of documenting the past and present richness and complexity of the two societies is still in its infancy.
There is another reason not to become despondent over our failure to assemble a comprehensive Israeli and Palestinian Noah's ark. One of the intriguing findings that cut across many of the life histories in this anthology is that individuals are rarely typical representatives of their respective groups (more about this below). While creating a representative sample was unworkable, it also does not appear desirable.
With three exceptions, the chapters contained here were prepared specifically for this volume by noted historians, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, and other scholars of Israeli and/or Palestinian societies. The contributors variously relied on verbally transmitted tales that have withstood the ravages of time, letters exhumed from old boxes or family archives, interviews with their subjects, and diaries or published memoirs. They transformed personal narratives into social biographies by exploring how the protagonists were embedded in but also empowered by their immediate as well as broader social and historical context.
We asked our contributors to choose as their subject an individual whom they encountered as part of their fieldwork or research and who left a distinctive impression on them. Most of the chapters tell the stories of ordinary people, people not reported on the pages of history. Three authors wrote the biographies of close relatives. We have also included the biographies of several individuals, such as S. Yizhar (see chapter 5), Tawfiq Canaan (see chapter 6), and Hillel Kook (see chapter 9), who at one point were well known but became less so as their convictions or the circumstances around them changed and their significance was forgotten.
In contrast to Burke's focus on individuals, several of our chapters are collective social biographies: the story of the village of Aylut in late Ottoman times (see chapter 1), the interlocking fates of the village of Burin and the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank (see chapter 18), and the account of the Handala Cultural Center at the Beit Jibrin refugee camp (see chapter 25). Two of the chapters follow the protagonist through their engagement with specific media. We get to know Ruth Shapira, the owner of an erstwhile Palestinian house in the Abu Tur neighborhood of Eastern Jerusalem, via her entanglement with material possession and dispossession (see chapter 16), and Mais, a Palestinian teenager, through her relationship with the medium of language-Arabic and Hebrew, as well as the languages of conflict and reconciliation (see chapter 23). These social and material biographies provide enrichment and nuance to an already complex narrative while offering insights into an expanded palette of methodologies and domains of contestation.
Redefining Struggle and Survival in a Broader Sociocultural Environment
Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East appeared just a few years after the publication of James Scott's seminal Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Scott's book built on the pioneering work of subaltern studies scholars to explore previously unrecognized ways in which peasants and other subaltern social groups resisted exploitation and oppression by states and more powerful social and economic groups within a capitalist and/or colonial environment. Yet if Burke's title evokes the kind of resistance theorized by subaltern studies scholars, his approach is less bound by the specific theoretical paradigms that define the parameters of resistance for them (Scott 1985). Though almost three-quarters of Burke's twenty-five chapters explore working-class or peasant lives, he also focuses on wider fields of power that allow "individuals [to] navigate amidst social structures, processes and cultural interactions ... in which terms are constantly shifting over time" (Burke 1993: 6).
Our volume extends Burke's field of vision ever wider beyond the "informal" and "hidden" modes of struggle that Scott explored. For a century in Israel/Palestine, struggle has been very much a public affair between the two national communities. Israeli Jews of either working or middle class, whether refugees, immigrants, or native-born, have been privileged by their citizenship rights in their state, whereas Palestinians, regardless of their socioeconomic status, have been marked out by the loss of their majority status in Palestine, by their group's dispersal, and by many forms of absence: the lack of citizenship for refugees even in the majority of Arab states, the curtailment of national life under military occupation in Gaza and the West Bank, and, in Israel, the relegation to second- or third-class citizens as non-Jews. For Palestinians, being defined by absence means that both survival and struggle have taken on distinct characteristics.
The fearful asymmetry in the relation of forces and in methods of struggle has powerfully inflected the life story and narrative of every Arab, Jewish, and other inhabitant of Palestine and Israel during the past century and a half.
And so, compared with Burke, we offer more life histories of middle-class individuals, all of whom are engaged in national affirmation and contestation. Life histories of struggle and survival neither need nor should be reduced exclusively to social class. Survival can mean mere physical endurance but can also encompass the persistence of identities and social relations in new contexts that are not always grounded in or defined by outright exploitation. In fact, focusing solely on the class dimension would obscure the fact that the survival of Palestinian national identity in the wake of exile and fragmentation is a central narrative thread of Palestinian history. Similarly, the attempts to forge an Israeli nation with the immigrants of many continents is a key axis around which the Israeli narrative revolves. The literary, psychological, political, and other dimensions of both struggle and survival warrant equal attention as they play out against the larger narratives of national conflict and economic struggle and exploitation. Yet in pointing this out, we are again reminded that however broad the spectrum of struggle within and between the two communities, any possible calculus will place the threats to the survival of even the most well-off Palestinians at a higher level than those faced by marginalized groups within Israel's Jewish majority.
Narrative and Agency
Even with this volume's inevitably limited scope, its individual and collective biographies make at least four contributions to the study of Israeli and Palestinian nationalisms: (a) the emphasis on human agency and the humanization of history; (b) the introduction of marginal and subaltern voices that broaden the larger narrative; (c) the recognition that people are rarely typical representatives of their groups; and (d) the observation that people usually view-and sometimes conduct-their lives as narratives, requiring that distinct attention be paid to the literary aspects of their histories.
These contributions focus on two themes, agency and imagination, both of which are particularly valuable in approaching what is frequently portrayed as the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the conflict has persisted, particular limitations of its study have rigidified into major analytic obstacles. The value of the four general contributions found in the study of life histories is that each matches up with and helps make visible one specific obstacle to a better understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have chosen to highlight the following four impediments to a nuanced, and therefore fuller and more satisfying, analysis of Israeli-Palestinian relations: (a) the often-repeated "myths of agency"-the assertion, on the one hand, that only in Israel have Jews recovered their sovereign and complete freedom of agency and, on the other hand, that Palestinians have lost their power and agency as a result of the Nakba and other scourges visited on them by Zionism; (b) the growing influence of those who seek to replace the view of the conflict as an interactive process with one that blames just one side or the other for its persistence; (c) the recurrent rigid sociological division of the contenders into two homogenous groups within a zero-sum conflict; and (d) the ongoing subjugation of personal narratives in order to legitimate public narrative plots.
Before proceeding to the presentation of each of these obstacles to analysis and understanding (in the next section), we wish to emphasize that while actors and researchers on both sides produce and reproduce them, it would be very unfortunate to think of Jewish Israelis and Palestinians as mirrors of each other. There are some oft-remarked parallels between them, and many more that are unexpected and therefore usefully explored. But at no time should we be oblivious to the fact that their vulnerabilities are of different types and magnitudes; for many decades Zionist and later Israeli Jews have had the upper hand in the conflict-an imbalance of power that began and was already exacerbated during the Mandate period-while Palestinians have suffered under the Mandatory regime, the State of Israel, and the devastating impact of the Zionist settlement enterprise during the long twentieth century and through to the present day. Indeed, the ever-widening inequality in power, life chances, and access to the tools of government between the two communities is the most important characteristic of their relationship and their "implicate" or "relational" histories during the past 130 years (Portugali 1993; Lockman 1996). Should our eyes wander for a minute, the life stories in this volume will remind us in no time of this profound disparity.
The asymmetry between Israelis and Palestinians is particularly pronounced in its interconnectedness: not only is their conflict presented as a zero-sum confrontation, but the stories of Israeli Jews by and large follow a redemptive arc, whereas most Palestinian lives traverse the same arc in reverse. Their repertoires of struggle and spans of survival clearly separate the antagonists, qua individuals, nations, and above all aspirants for an independent state. Having established a state, Israeli Jews possess both a wide range of options of struggle for their national goals and a tolerant international environment in which to achieve them. Palestinians, on the other hand, continue to find themselves in a political and legal limbo which has long constrained the tools of their struggle and the legitimation of these tools by the international community.
Our collection follows C. Wright Mills's dictum that "no social study that does not come back to the problem of biography, of history and of their intersection within a society has completed its intellectual journey" (Mills 1959: 6). We present this volume with the intention of telling good stories, and of helping to preserve them for posterity. At the same time, however, we hope to lighten the mythologization, homogenization, and essentialization of the contending sides which weigh so heavily on the understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In fact, given the limited attention paid by Israeli Jews to Palestinian lives and by Palestinians to Israeli Jewish lives, reading this volume is among other things an exercise in empathy-or at least the beginning of such an exercise.
Value Added by Social Biographies
What new explanatory value, then, does a study of life histories add to the understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? And how does a focus on biographies detour around the obstructions typically found in the historiography of this conflict?
The first contribution of social biographies is the restoration of human agency to history, in contrast to history written as the endeavors of countries, movements, parties, or organizations or as the unfolding of large-scale impersonal forces. Biographies are "the human heart of history" (Oates 1990: 7).
What does agency consist of? We used to hold a notion of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment subjectivity according to which the individual was a universal human subject who acts autonomously and is capable of making both ethically correct choices and rational political and economic decisions. We gave up on this sanguine view long ago. Anthony Giddens defines agency much more modestly, as the social actor's capacity to act or to "have acted differently" (Giddens 1984: 14), excluding a consideration of individual intentions. Even so, he does not provide a base line against which to measure the range of possibilities among which individuals make their choices or the capacities they can muster. Giddens's take, consequently, remains abstract and fails to inquire into what effective choice consists of, namely how much freedom individuals have when they engage with actual social forces.
The notion of agency in this volume builds on the recognition of the diversity and variation manifested in choices made by people over time. We will be well served by keeping in mind that even people in analogous conditions do not respond uniformly to large-scale social changes that throw their lives off kilter. Indeed, individuals commonly face painful dilemmas and embark on their course, sometimes under the immediate pressures of the moment and others times as part of self-conscious social movements, by choosing between alternatives. Manya Shochat started her political life as an advocate for Jewish social and cultural revival as part of a Russian revolution, only to become an early Zionist leader (see chapter 4). Majed al-Masri chose to forgo invitations to leave Palestine for safer shores and remained in the land of his birth (see chapter 19). Benni Gaon, who rose through the ranks of the Histadrut's cooperative socialist corporations, was a vocal and ideological champion of capitalist enterprise in Israel by the 1990s (see chapter 20). Each choice influences subsequent ones as individuals become who they are by making these very decisions.
The range of individuals' options is not fixed across time. By examining actual choices we will distinguish between historical eras when conformity is widespread and periods in which consensus ruptures, leading to greater variation across individual biographies (Burke 1993: 19). In focusing on the conundrum of agency we are asking not how individuals differ from some abstract notion of conformity but how they differ from other people in similar circumstances and how choices they make at one time differ from and potentially affect their subsequent decisions. Lest we forget, agency is also involved in attempts to reproduce familiar circumstances in the face of disruptive change.
Agency in this view consists not so much of freely determining one's life course through rational decision making guided by clear and unbroken preferences (see Frank 2006: 298) but of trying repeatedly to make the best of difficult situations in hard times. There is nothing left in this view of Max Weber's ideal of a life made well worth living through thick and thin by a value-driven vocation (Weber 1946a, 1946b). But although we view personalities as ambiguous, multiple, and fluid, our approach hardly means that people's choices are random and disconnected.
The very limited view of individual agency we encounter in studying Israeli-Palestinian relations originates in an equally circumscribed view of collective agency. The topic of agency occupies a particular place in the study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the metahistorical narratives of both sides revolve around what we call the myth of agency. Nationalists everywhere appoint their histories with the ambition of overthrowing foreign powers to become autonomous actors, but over time Jews and Palestinians have vested this purpose with singular weight and intensity. A focal point of Zionist historiography has been the assertion that the movement was formed to recover for Jews the agency provided by the sovereignty that they lacked during two millennia of Diaspora life. In this foreshortened history, the era between the kingdoms of Judea and modern Israel is rendered well-nigh insignificant and irrelevant. But historians, most successfully David Biale, have demonstrated that far from being powerless, medieval Jewish communities wielded influence through cooperation or alliances with the political authority of the time (Biale 1986).
Of course, Diasporic agency was more limited than the sovereign kind, but agency is always relative (Biale 1986). Similarly, it is commonly argued that Palestinians labor within the "iron cage" of the overwhelming pressure exerted by Zionism, the British Mandate, and later, pro-Israeli U.S. policies and, consequently, find themselves reduced to powerless objects. One of Rashid Khalidi's explicit goals in writing The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood was "to ascribe agency to the Palestinians[,] ... [who] had many assets, were far from helpless, and often faced a range of choices, some of which were better, or at least less bad, than others." By focusing on Palestinian decisions, Khalidi identifies failures but also "put[s] the Palestinians at the center of a critical phase of their history" (Khalidi 2006: xxx). Indeed, without agency there can be no choices, and without choice there are no failures from which lessons can be learned, only victims.
Agency, however, is never absolute-each side's agency constraints the freedom of action and agency of the other, and it is their interconnection, embedded as it is in asymmetrical power relations, that requires study. Preemption, displacement, and oppression as well as thwarting, delay, and steadfastness are all aspects of the continuum of agency. Biale and Khalidi's studies of agency examine broad historical events and potential turning points; our anthology of individual life histories gives more teeth to their effort.
The second contribution of social biographies to making sense of history and contemporary reality is in displacing, or at least limiting, the influence of easily available and elite points of view with a wider range of perspectives. One of the benefits of investigating the counternarratives of the marginalized voices of history is that they cast doubt on historical assertions that purport to be self-evident and therefore beyond dispute. Not surprisingly, many social movements have used storytelling to raise consciousness in people they wished to recruit. Slave narratives were an important tool of the abolitionist movement, "an instrument of liberation, when neither law nor society offered the same" (Blight 2007). The feminist movement encouraged women to tell their life stories to one another and the public to highlight their subjugation and their marginalization by mainstream historiography. Even more explicitly, coming-out stories served as fundamental catalysts in the rise of the gay rights movement. In all these cases, stories told as memories of empowerment revealed personal and group autonomy (Davies and Gannon 2006: 29).
The personal narratives told under such circumstances are usually forgotten or massively rewritten stories-forgotten because they do not agree with officially condoned political or academic truths and rewritten to fit into acceptable histories. They fill in the silences, elisions, and falsifications of public narratives and thus, side-by-side with real battles, produce a "battle of stories." Among such untold or rarely told stories we number Henya Pekelman's tragic attempt to turn herself into a female construction worker and, as such, a real-life pioneer of the Zionist ideology, in the face of severe gender discrimination and the indifference of the Labor Movement and labor unions (see chapter 7), and the story of generations of Bedouin women whose black skin, prior to 1948, meant servitude and, indeed, de facto slavery (see chapter 15). Admittedly, a potential downside of such battles is to assume that all stories are equally valid and therefore matter equally. But before we dismiss embattled stories, let us remember that what is considered a deviant or marginal version at one time or place might not be so at another. As long as there is a range of narratives written or recounted by storytellers, professional and amateur, to chose from, other storytellers-including historians-have to be more honest and careful.
Marginality takes on an added meaning in this conflict since many if not most individual Palestinian life stories appear only in the peripheral vision of the majority of Israelis, and vice versa. In one of his letters from a Fascist prison to his wife, who all but stopped corresponding with him, Antonio Gramsci famously wrote, "Misfortune commonly has two effects: the first is the extinction of all feeling towards those who endure it, while the second-no less common-is the extinction in the latter of all feeling towards those who do not endure it" (Gramsci 1973). Indeed, under the pressure to circle the wagons and to declare "my tribe-right or wrong," nationalists and others pursuing exclusivist ethnic and/or religious identities forgo the ability to walk in the shoes of the adversary. In so doing they lose the imagination that is necessary to think creatively, transcend oppression, and prevent continued violence. Among the many casualties of conflict is the sense of empathy for victims of the other side, and consequently, reading an anthology such as this offers an opportunity to experience a greater understanding of, and through it, empathy for, the other side. However, we remain acutely aware of Emmanuel Levinas's argument that empathy-literally being "in suffering" with someone else-can easily become a form of egoism, based on the problematic assumption that we can truly know or experience what someone else has undergone (Levinas 1998). The fact that Levinas, the philosopher of recognition par excellence, was famously unable fully to recognize Palestinian identity, rights, or suffering further clarifies the difficulty-and thus the necessity-of such a process (see Caro 2009). Empathy consists of sensitivity to others' vulnerability and need as well as, we believe, to the integrity of their biographies and to their sense of justice.
Looking at history from below also highlights the human cost associated with disruptive historical and social changes and "the ability of people to survive even under the most appalling conditions" (Burke 1993: 18). In this volume, the appalling loss of almost all of Yoshka Spronz's family members and his survival in Auschwitz are coupled with his desire to find a measure of closure by serving as a witness in the trial of one of the perpetrators, preserving the past by writing a memoir, and equally important, beginning life anew through the creation of a new family and emigration to Israel (see chapter 11). For their part, Palestinians are united by bearing the multiple burdens of displacement and suffering the profound insecurity of stateless refugees. The vulnerabilities of their shared situation, as so many of the chapters attest, led Palestinians from very different circumstances and through innumerable channels to become politicized. Their actions run the gamut from resistance, through petitions and search for legal recourse by the villagers of Aylut (see chapter 1), to armed resistance by Hajj Mohammad Abdul Rahim in the Arab revolt of 1936-39 (see chapter 8) and Majed al-Masri in the two intifadas (see chapter 19).
People not only survive but are also transformed by the conditions they endure-sometimes toward greater empathy, other times toward justifying appalling acts. Yitzhak Rabin's assassination by Yigael Amir, who hailed from Israel's ethnic periphery and at once sought to be accepted by the religious settler movement and to bring the Oslo peace process to an end, is one such example (see chapter 22). It is not our intention to romanticize or beautify such lives, Jewish or Palestinian; rather, we wish to show their richness and changeability, highlighting the issue of agency and spurring our imaginations to consider not solely lives and experiences we have heretofore ignored but solutions that presently have not penetrated our still-narrow consciousnesses.
Paying close attention to both sides and recognizing their internal diversity also allow us to put paid to stereotypes that proliferate in the literature on Israel/Palestine and give us what Burke termed "a misleading mastery" (Burke 1993: 8). This openness is particularly important now, when, strangely, the bilateral aspect of the conflict is being challenged. New schools of thought on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seek to replace the view that is produced and reproduced by the interaction of the two sides with the notion that all the "historical responsibility" rests with one side. According to these approaches, Israelis and Palestinians are not responding to one another's behavior but acting out their unchanging "essence," and consequently, in place of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there is only an "Israeli conflict" or a "Palestinian conflict." For example, acts of violence by Palestinians are commonly described without reference to the Israeli occupation under which they live, and the Israeli separation wall is equally frequently analyzed with little mention of prior Palestinian suicide attacks within the Green Line. In this volume, reporting on the Jewish victims of bomb attacks in Tel Aviv and elsewhere, the Russian-Jewish journalist Alexandra contends that Palestinians are insatiable in their territorial demands (see chapter 17).
So far we have examined the contributions of life stories to making sense of history; now we turn our telescope to the contribution of social biographies to the methods and metatheories deployed by other academic disciplines in analyzing their subject matter. Put differently, biographical narratives open the door to a renewed focus on human agency through an ant's-eye perspective, which also allows the rethinking of the methods used in the study of societies and their history.
The third contribution of social biographies is to suggest that the customary emphasis of social sciences on explaining individuals' behavior by their membership in groups is inflated and misplaced. In social science methodology, people appear primarily as representatives of the social categories from which they hail. The same holds even when the social sciences, among them most self-consciously survey research, sample individuals' opinions. The validity of their methodological individualism is predicated on the representative sampling of the population according to the membership of the individuals in broad social categories, and consequently, the findings of surveys are reported as correlations between clusters of variables such as class, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and political affiliation with educational level, status, income, and so on. Variation between individuals within groups, according to this approach, is negligible, since when samples are large enough, individual differences cancel out. Methods that focus on intragroup and intergroup processes, such as prejudice, have an even stronger tendency to analyze individual conduct in terms of group behavior. Ironically, while most social science theories teach us that identities are neither fixed nor one-dimensional, actual research methods violate both of these premises.
One of the findings we anticipated in gathering the life stories included in this anthology but whose pervasiveness still surprised us is the extent to which no one turned out to be typical. No one was a "good" or "average" representative of his or her social group or category. Groups, it seems, are much more diverse than sociologists imagine them to be. In fact, one of the most effective ways to operationalize agency is to understand it as the extent to which individuals become who they are by differing from their putative group. For example, Ruth Shapira (see chapter 16) gave up a comfortable and secure middle-class existence in the United States to pursue her aspirations toward an Israeli nationalist revival. A particularly cogent example of individual-group mismatch is S. Yizhar, the unofficial spokesperson of the first sabra (native) generation, winner of the Israel Prize for literature, and a member of the Knesset, who focused some of his most potent stories on the internal struggle between the self-serving military exploits of his generation and universal norms of conduct (see chapter 5). Abu Ahmad broke away from political activism in the post-Oslo years to found a community center that offers new hope to the children of the Beit Jibrin refugee camp (see chapter 25), while Jonathan Pollak, inspired by anarchist ideas, regularly confronts Israeli soldiers in defense of Palestinian land even as he is viewed as a traitor by fellow Israeli Jews (see chapter 24).
Groups, for their part, spend a great deal of time, and have specialized functionaries for, homogenizing their members. The effectiveness of these efforts, as in the case of Palestinians and Israelis who are heavily mobilized to their nationalist causes, is telling. But even within these groups, one will be wise to listen to many voices and when confronted with unanimity, to question its depth. The heterogeneity found in individual histories within groups and the variation in people's behavior over time also point to the potential for greater freedom in future choices.
Even when social scientists champion greater emphasis on individuals, as several well-known ones did in the middle of the twentieth century, they do not necessarily advocate the study of individual life histories. Dennis Wrong in "The Oversocialized Conception of Man in Modern Sociology" (1961), C. Wright Mills in the now iconic The Sociological Imagination (1959), and Herbert Marcuse in One Dimensional Man (1964) are united in taking the social sciences and humanities-and in Marcuse's case, even modern industrial society itself-to task for accepting and promoting conformity as natural. In their view, by accommodating the individualistic premises of the reigning American liberalism and formally democratic Western institutions, social science lost the potential to understand people's motivations and actions and could no longer enable individuals to comprehend the circumstances of their existence.
Mills suggested that to unsnare themselves from the trap of incomprehension, people need to learn the terrible but magnificent lessons of the "sociological imagination," which casts light on the circumstances of their unfreedom. Calling upon such imagination, individuals can understand the impersonal world-historical and socioeconomic forces that control their lives, putting them in a better position to "cope with their personal troubles in such ways as to control the structural transformations that usually lie behind them" (Mills 1959: 4). But while Mills sought "to define the meaning of the social sciences for the cultural tasks of our time" (Mills 1959: 18), he did not offer to study individual biographies. On the contrary, he sought to better explain the social causes of "personal troubles." Mills endorsed the sociological imagination to explain, in effect, how little the study of biography per se mattered.
In one of the best-known contemporary analyses, "Can the Subaltern Speak?," Gaytari Spivak similarly concludes that subalterns as a social category cannot express their collective experiences and aspirations, but she does not concern herself with individual voices (Spivak 1988). Like Mills, Wrong, and Marcuse, Spivak uses a method that falls within a fairly broad-based "social structure and personality" approach (Shanahan and Macmillan 2008: 21-41) but seeks to provide better social science explanations for the uniformity and conformity of individual behavior rather than analytic tools for differentiation between individuals.
Work with personal narratives requires epistemological and methodological assumptions that differ from those of the social sciences and consequently produce "a different type of knowledge." As selves and identities, people are unified and whole in ways in which they cannot be as members of groups, and the study of their life histories "provides evidence about individuals as whole persons." Studying whole persons and their history opens an important realm for us: the emotional tone of their accumulated experiences, among them overriding convictions and sentiments derived from feelings of humiliation and pride, revenge and justice, and a readiness to behave in ways and make sacrifices that, in other contexts, would be hard to account for. What we glean from individual life stories above all are their truth claims. These are different from other, let alone scientific, truth claims (Maynes et al. 2008: 10-11), but they teach us what individuals think is just or at least fair, what they experience as reasonable and acceptable.
Fourth, since the social biographies gathered in this volume are conventionally told as stories, they require us to consider the insights of literature for making sense of history. Whereas social scientists rarely report their findings in story form, narratives, as literary analysts such as Hayden White point out (1987), follow a plot, fall into particular genres, are told from a particular point of view, are held together and endowed with a moralizing significance, and address and interact with particular audiences. These requirements shape both life stories and lives and simultaneously empower and constrain their tellers or writers.
"Stories people tell about their lives," Mary Jo Maynes and her coauthors note in their magisterial Telling Stories, on the uses of narratives in the social sciences and history, "are never simply individual, but are told in historically specific times and settings and draw on the rules and models in circulation that govern how story elements link together in narrative logics" (Maynes et al. 2008: 3). To paraphrase Marx, individuals tell their life stories, but not in the way they wish. Enduring patterns of inequality in class, status, gender, and ethnic or race hierarchies constrain people's lives. These constraints frame and explain which biographic scripts are likely to be told and retold and thus endure. In addition, historical forces-in particular, radical or cataclysmic transformations-produce "critical moments," or "crossroads," which alter the social and personal resources on which people may draw to frame their biographies (Bagnoli and Ketokivi 2009: 318-19). In many Palestinian social biographies, 1948 serves as the marker which changed everything, especially for refugees like Matar 'Abdelrahim (see chapter 10)-as has immigration to Israel from Hungary by Yoshka Spronz (see chapter 11), from Morocco by Prosper Cohen (see chapter 13), and from Iraq by Rachel (see chapter 14).
While all social divides make their appearance in the life histories collected in this volume, the most self-conscious are the countervailing Israeli Jews' and Palestinians' nationalisms. One of the key questions in inquiring about nationalist narratives and their authority is just how wide a range of narratives they accept-in this case, for example, how much room they leave for the description of interaction between Jews and Palestinians. It is immediately noticeable that the range of narratives of interaction drops precipitously as we move from the Ottoman period to the Mandate to postindependence Israel: with the growing importance of nationalist narratives, members of the adversarial national group are increasingly relegated to the background of individual life stories. Whereas the merchant Haim Amzalak, from Ottoman Jaffa, had economic ties with Palestinian landowners (see chapter 2) and the musician Wasif Jawhariyyeh cultivated social bonds with individuals of varied backgrounds, including Jews, in Ottoman Jerusalem (see chapter 3), Mais, an Israeli-Palestinian and our contemporary, is likely to meet Jews either under duress, such as in checkpoints, or in deliberately created peace camp encounters (see chapter 23).
Events are linked in life histories not merely sequentially but as an ongoing narrative which "has as its latent or manifest purpose the desire to moralize the events of which it treats" (White 1987: 14). This is even more true of nationalist narratives aimed at a public audience. The genre of public narratives holds sway over the category of private ones among Israelis and Palestinians. Public narratives constrain private ones, but by providing a focus they contribute to making a life history appear whole or complete. In other words, the cultural and literary narratives which embed their subjects in broad nationalist narratives tie together in a meaningful and sympathetic way the subjects' disparate historical experiences. Nationalist frameworks have a clear teleological terminus for both Jews and Palestinians, but they appear to play a more significant role in Palestinian stories. Abdul Rahim's life, including his leadership of the Arab Revolt, as told in chapter 8, is a prime example of the uses of nationalist hagiography in establishing the tale of the unbroken continuity of Palestinian nationalist struggle.
Jewish Israelis take the State of Israel for granted as a central component of their identities and therefore are more likely to highlight their individual choices than are Palestinians, who rely on their nationalist narrative to produce and reproduce their interconnectedness in the absence of shared institutions. For example, in Rachel's life story, the agencies of the Israeli state provide resources for the assimilation of its Jewish citizens so they can realize the status aspirations deferred by their immigration-in her case, from Iraq (see chapter 14). Matar 'Abdelrahim, in contrast, as a refugee in Syria had to seek out and help construct a Palestinian community, which was able to provide moral support first for his and his family's survival and then for resistance to Israel (see chapter 10). Palestinian foregrounding of a collective past and present is not altogether different from Jewish narratives of their Diasporic age. Heinrich Heine, the Jewish German Romantic poet, perceptively viewed the Bible as a portable homeland for Jews. Until the modern era almost no Jewish autobiographies were produced, and those that were written less told a life story than "construct[ed] the boundaries of [an] imaginary homeland" to locate themselves in history (Bar-Levav, 2002: 45). Nationalist tales of Palestinian sumud (steadfastness) emerged to meet a similar need.
Among the Jewish life stories in this collection there is a remarkable portion that are riven by internal doubts. Of course, immigration is a particularly taxing identity reformation, but the self-questioning found in, for example, the stories of S. Yizhar (see chapter 5), Ruth Shapiro (see chapter 16), and Jonathan Pollak (see chapter 24) is striking in its intensity and diversity. As newcomers, as trespassers, as colonizers they struggled with the legitimacy of their presence in Palestine. In addition, as the side that repeatedly had the upper hand in the conflict, Israeli Jews are much freer to construct genres of biographies describing conflict between their private and the Israeli public narratives. Among these is the famed "shooting and crying narrative," in which professed beliefs in humanism and actual behavior toward Palestinians clash. The search for legitimacy, however, is absent among more recent immigrants, like Alexandra from the former USSR (see chapter 17), and orthodox Jews such as Yigael Amir (see chapter 22) and David Ariel, a young settler from the militant Yitzhar settlement (see chapter 18), and it appeared in the thinking of Hillel Kook only after his return to Israel from a long sojourn in the United States (see chapter 9). By replacing nationalism, religious certainties close the gap between private and public narratives and reduce the space available for this self-conflictual genre.
It is sometimes argued that whereas European autobiographies are rich in interior dialogue and self-analysis, their non-Western counterparts by and large lack these elements. The "individualization" thesis of Anthony Giddens (1984) and Ulrich Beck (1992) emphasizes the prevalence of choice, commitment, and negotiations in modern Western societies at the expense of emphasis on stable institutions, customs, and norms. This thesis, certainly exaggerated for most people even in late-modern Western societies, represents one end of the continuum of choice and fate. European individualism, however, as Dipesh Chakrabarty points out, is one of the historical accomplishments that lie behind the public domain of citizenship. Where the latter is absent, the former will also be lacking, and in particular, there will be a dearth of "autobiographies in the confessional mode." Without a sovereign political space-as the Palestinians have experienced-there is less room for private selves, and the limited availability of both encourages the writing of public autobiographies (Chakrabarty 2000: 35). Without national independence, there remains less room for subjectivities and genres of personal narratives, and authors pay more attention to nationalism as the force majeure of their life. As Palestinians are dispossessed of a nation-state, all their social biographies in this volume revolve in important ways around the axes of nationalism and national reconstruction.
The History of the Present and the Politics of Presence
Social biographies offer a particularly fruitful avenue for producing new knowledge about the historical and contemporary dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that reflects their deep complexity and implicate nature. Whether focused on individual life stories or sociospatial histories, they bring together the insights and methodologies of historical ethnography-which itself joins two disciplinary approaches that are often seen as incompatible (Haney and Horowitz 2006)-and historical sociology, which has a rich tradition of insightful macro-level analyses, as exemplified by the classic writings of Tönnies, Marx, and Weber, but whose component approaches separated with the institutionalization of sociology as a science and history as part of the humanities in the postwar era (see Orloff et al. 2005).
If the historical, anthropological, and sociological approaches are effectively triangulated, they may facilitate a more vivid presence for common or marginal and critical-in impact if not intent-individual and collective voices within the larger narratives of politics and identity in the Israeli-Palestinian context. The common denominator in these interactions is the historical dimension, or perhaps better, imagination, which when brought to sociological or anthropological analyses enables a more robust portrait of societies and the groups they comprise than can be achieved by the ethnographic gaze or sociological survey alone (see Comaroff and Comaroff 1992 for a seminal discussion of this trend, and MacFarlane 1977 for an example of the previously dominant trend of the more traditional use of history primarily to produce raw data for anthropological analysis).
To borrow a phrase from Nietzsche, like other actors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, historians "bear visibly the traces of those sufferings which ... result [from] an excess of history" (Nietzsche 1997: 116). These scars are the product of not only the physical and psychic suffering of Palestinians and Israelis during more than a century of conflict but also the victimization of historiography, which has too often been reduced to an essentialist, teleological, and (for Israelis and the West more broadly) triumphalist view of Israel's and the world's history, in both their recent narratives and the longue durée of Palestine's modern history.
To write a better history of Israel and Palestine based on this understanding is to write a "history of the present." By this we mean not merely a history that covers the present day but rather one that is grounded in a comprehensive reading of the country's history during the past century and more, which will allow us to see the "very conditions of possibility" of contemporary Israeli and Palestinian experience (Foucault 1973). The problem, as we have already alluded, is that most histories of Israel/Palestine are histories not just of the present but in the present; that is, they are inseparable from the power relations and political struggles surrounding the country and its history, including those regarding the representation of the conflict within academia and the media. And if history is problematic in this manner, so equally are the other disciplines which it informs and engages.
The seminal French philosopher Michel Foucault well understood how easily history, and through it almost every analytical methodology, falls prey to ideological and political agendas. He believed that to overcome such tendencies, history at least must "uncover the past to rupture the present into a future that will leave the very function of history behind it" (Foucault 1981). He sought to establish a more critical relationship between the past and the present, which was the sine qua non for imagining scenarios for the future that transcended the uncritical and teleological narratives offered by states and competing nationalist ideologies alike.
We believe that a significant portion of the biographical narratives in this volume contribute to this endeavor, most importantly by complexifying the various discourses of modernity which are defined by the kind of exclusivist and hierarchical imaginations-grounded in ideologies, whether capitalism, colonialism, or nationalism-that make understanding how the present situation has been produced and might be transformed, and the empathy such knowledge can enable, impossible to achieve (LeVine 2009).
In order to transform, marginalized voices must attain a significant degree of presence-discursively, politically, and equally important, physically-within the systems of politics and power that have invested heavily in excluding them. Benedict Anderson famously discussed the importance of "imagined communities" in the formation and spread of national identities (Anderson 1991), but if identities broader than those of face-to-face interaction have always been a product of the imagination, their political valence and power have always been tied to the ability of individuals to come together collectively in the same spaces.
One trend within political science to address this dynamic is the concept of a politics of presence. Traditionally in the political and social science literature, the debate over presence has focused on the continued marginalization of minority or other subaltern groups within otherwise democratic societies; specifically, whether members of the dominant political group-white people or men, for example-can successfully represent the interests of African Americans or women, or whether regardless of how sympathetic the dominant group's stance is, members of marginalized groups need to be literally present in the halls of power to ensure their political needs and desires are at least considered (Phillips 1995: 5-6). But the contributions here point out that a very different politics of presence must be applied to nondemocratic societies or those riven by long-term ethnic or religious conflict. In such situations the struggle for presence is not just about guaranteeing formal rights and political participation but equally about entering into the larger imagination that undergirds them, without which political power will always remain out of reach. When these forms of presence are denied, groups often make their presence felt through various forms of violence, both within and between the two societies. This, however, merely serves to exacerbate the modalities of exclusion that govern their relations in most regards.
Our contributions, by moving beyond-but by no means attempting merely to dethrone-collective narratives and the explanatory power of group affiliation that social scientists and historians commonly emphasize, help to highlight the interpretive, and possibly political, price we pay for being too single-minded in our customary pursuits. They point to the power of social biographies to bring into the heart of history a greater consideration of human agency, as volatile as it is at times and as determined at others, and open the door to recognizing a wider variety of behaviors than social sciences and history customarily do, thus encouraging us to be more imaginative in reporting the past and conceiving of the future.
The stories that follow help to humanize, renew agency, and reimagine the basic premises of Israeli and Palestinian identity, history, politics, and, through them, conflict. In short, they allow for the presence of each people within the other's narratives in a manner that, while no doubt unsettling to partisans of the still dominant, narrow, and mutually exclusive forms of the two identities, is crucial to forging a shared narrative and politics in the future.
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