The city of Acre is a microcosm of Israeli society. Its citizens include veteran Jewish settlers and newer Jewish immigrants from both western and Arab backgrounds; indigenous Palestinian residents and newer internal Palestinian refugees; large Jewish and Palestinian working-class populations and a smaller Jewish and Palestinian elite. These various groups hold competing interests and visions of what it means to be a resident of Acre and how Acre fits into a broader Israeli national identity.
Rebecca Torstrick's study focuses on the conditions that promote and hinder coexistence between Acre's Jewish and Palestinian citizens. Using a historical survey based partly on municipal archives, interviews with residents of a mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhood, a study of how children are educated about Jewish-Arab relations, and a look at local elections, the author explores the ways in which people jockey for power in this community.
One of the main findings of the study is that Arab-Jewish coexistence in Acre works best when the national state does not intrude. State-controlled institutions promote particular identities for Israelis (both ethnic/racial and national) and attempt to use these constructions to limit the social relationships that develop within local communities to those that serve national interests. Thus the book argues that identities are not "free floating" fragments; they are embedded in institutional structures that channel the possibilities for social relations in particular directions.
This book will be of interest both to a general audience and to scholars in political science, sociology, Middle Eastern area studies, anthropology, and cultural studies, as well as to analysts of conflict resolution.
Rebecca L. Torstrick is Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University-South Bend.