"Could a sharp-eyed observer of mid-nineteenth-century Palestine have detected hints of the future struggle between Jews and Arabs over this land? It seems unlikely. The fact is that none of the observers at the time foresaw the conflict that was yet to come." Thus does Dowty, professor of international relations and political science emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, open his book and set the scene. Why was the dismal future not visible, what changed over time?
Step by step, through meticulous scholarship and clear prose, Dowty shows how local problems over grazing and water rights expanded into self-aware national confrontations, how "muscle men" avoiding firearms evolved into organized militias. He convincingly concludes that "it is hard to see how the conflict could have evolved much differently" from the way it did, given the Muslim attitude toward these immigrants and the Zionist aspiration to leave the diaspora behind and live as independent actors.
Anyone following the news will be struck by continuities that go back nearly one and a half centuries to the very origins of Zionism. Just as local Muslim farmers then wantonly aggressed on Zionist farmlands, so Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad do now on Israeli ones. Just as Zionists responded then with a mix of punishing violence and hopes that material benefits would soften the hostility, so the government of Israel does now. Likewise, each party relied on a more powerful patron, then the Ottoman Empire and the foreign consuls, now Iran and the United States.
Indeed, Dowty's account strikingly vindicates the famous insight of American geographer Wilbur Zelinsky:
Whenever an empty territory undergoes settlement, or an earlier population is dislodged by invaders, the specific characteristics of the first group able to effect a viable, self-perpetuating society are of crucial significance for the later social and cultural geography of the area.
Dowty's excellent study prompts this reader to wonder what it will take to change that later "social and cultural geography"; can Israelis go beyond those now-archaic "specific characteristics" and develop new policies toward the Palestinians?