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Anthropologist Peteet focuses on the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in her Landscape of Hope and Despair. Her treatise is identified as ethnography—traditionally an anthropological field study—and, indeed, Peteet effectively describes coping mechanisms in the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) camps. Dealing incisively with themes of placement, memory, and identity, she offers insight into the ways in which meaning and hope have been forged within the refugees' constrictive environment.

This, however, is not a traditional work: Ethnology, says the author, currently includes goals of "bringing … issues to public attention and … advocating." It is here that this book—focused to a considerable degree on historical and political context—falls short. Peteet acknowledges the dilemma: avoiding "nativism … without … denying the national project." But, acknowledgment aside, she has gone native, undermining her credibility.

Throughout, Peteet refers to Palestinians as an "indigenous" population dislocated by the "colonial" endeavor that is Israel. This is Palestinian narrative, not objective fact. Referring to Israelis as European and ignoring continuous Jewish presence in Palestine over the past 2,000 years, she dismisses out of hand the Zionist contention that many Arabs followed Jews into the land as it was developed. But credible evidence for the presence in Palestine of Arab migrant workers exists.[1] In fact, the UNRWA definition of refugee includes those who had been in Palestine only between 1946 and 1948 and were then dislocated.

Focusing on the durability of the Palestinian refugee character, Peteet maintains that their persistence in sustaining their identity in the present puts the lie to Zionist contentions that the Palestinians were Arabs without a separate national identity. However, she does not adequately consider the way in which UNRWA and the Arab nations, with full political consciousness, forged that Palestinian refugee identity. She writes that UNRWA "spatially constrained the refugees … maintaining them in a liminal state," yet she gives short shrift to the broader ramifications of this imposed dynamic of separation. She acknowledges that Palestinian refugees have been deprived of international protection (protection that would have been theirs under the aegis of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR) while failing to examine the fact that this protection would have included resettlement.

Peteet laments the limitations imposed on the refugees' opportunities by Arab states, which for reasons of political unrest or economic hardship have declined to absorb them, and by Israel, which will not permit their "return." But in fact, helping refugees to achieve citizenship and full lives is a priority for the UNHCR even if this necessitates movement to a third country. Provided with this option, as millions of other refugees have been, the Palestinian refugees Peteet writes about might well have fashioned a different meaning for their lives, leaving the refugee status behind.

[1] See Fred M Gottheil, "The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 1922-1931," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003, pp. 53-64.