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Book Review: Refusing to Be Enemies by Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta

Refusing to be Enemies:  Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolent Resistance to the Israeli Occupation By Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta, 2010. Ithhaca Press, UK. $69.95 hardcover

Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta will be in London on May 3, 2010, 7pm at King's University College to speak about her book

Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta's new book offers us a compelling invitation to consider non-violent activism as a path to peaceful resolution in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In a series of interviews, essays and commentaries, and with contributions from notable peace activists such as Ghassan Andoni, Ursula Franklin, Jeff Halper, Starhawk and others, she explores many forms of creative non-violence and its powerful effects.

Refusing to be Enemies culminates Kaufman-Lacusta's extensive activism and experiences living in Jerusalem for seven years.  In their own words, activists share their hopes, experiences, challenges and dreams for the future.

In part one of the book, Kaufman-Lacusta asks the question, "Why nonviolence?  Why anti-occupation activism?"  Part two explores strategies and applications of nonviolent action through interviews with both Palestinian and Israeli organizations, notably focusing on the issues, attitudes about and challenges to Palestinians and Israelis working together and joining forces in the struggle.

The second half of this very readable book invites us to learn from the past and to build hope through concrete strategy for the future.  Successful nonviolent strategies and practices such as Israeli military refusal are explored.

Kaufman-Lacusta begins her exploration by sharing personal accounts of 26 Palestinian and Israeli activists who describe their political choice to engage in non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Interviewees poignantly describe their experiences with the struggle, and for many, the decision to abandon violence as a way to achieve justice.  One young Palestinian activist, Mustafa Shawkay Samha describes his feelings this way, "We, Palestinians and Israelis, are as if we are in a boat in the middle of the sea.  So we have the responsibility to protect this boat, to reach the beach.  And we cannot reach this beach by hating each other, by killing each other.  We can reach this beach if we feel deeply our humanity, if we believe that we have to live together and we both have the same right to be alive."

Furthering the idea that nonviolence is possible, Kaufman-Lacusta explores the historical and philosophical evolution of several Israeli organizations decision to engage in the joint struggle for the emancipation of Palestine.  Three campaigns that she describes as standing out as "examples of best practice in terms of participation by Israelis in Palestinian nonviolent struggle", are the Beit Sahour Tax Strike and the building of and Israeli support network via the PCR/Rapprochmement -Jerusalem dialogue, as well as the ongoing joint struggle in Bil'in by villagers and their Israeli and international allies against the expropriation of Palestinian land.

These are not soft stories about a desire for peace and justice based on unrealistic ideals. Rather, they elucidate the political edge of the conflict and make clear through concrete examples that non-violence is indeed the path to peace.  Through their personal narratives and lived experiences, we see how the joint struggle of Palestinian and Israeli activists is able to bring together people of diverse beliefs, faiths and cultures, uniting them in the common purpose of ending the occupation of Palestine by non-violent means.  The book concludes with thoughtful commentary by thinkers such as Starhawk, a Jewish activist who explores some of the unique challenges of Palestinian resistance by drawing on her extensive participation in the peace movement as well as her own personal story. 

This important book has not come a moment too soon.  Refusing to be Enemies is not only for activists, however.  Nor is it only for those of us who make a personal investment in the promotion of peace and justice for Palestine.  Refusing to be Enemies is for all of us as it pushes us to stretch beyond the easy path of violence, coercion and oppression and to instead imagine a humanity of peace, understanding and love.

As we continue to hear about and live through extremely violent and acts where lines of communication are delineated through the sights of a gun, as we continue to live in a world where innocent children are suffering and dying before they have had an opportunity to live their truth, as so many of us cling to the hope for peace but don't know how to achieve it, Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta, and contributors allow us to dream of another world of possibility.

Wendy Goldsmith is a Social Worker and Peace Activist who is active with local groups such as People for Peace London.

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