Nefissa Naguib. Women, Water and Memory: Recasting Lives in Palestine. Women and Gender: The Middle East and the Islamic World Series. Leiden: Brill, 2009. xii + 173 pp. $87.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-04-16778-0.
Reviewed by Baruch Boxer (Stanford University)
Published on H-Water (November, 2010)
Commissioned by Justin M. Scott-Coe (Monte Vista Water District; Claremont Graduate University)
Water Reveries and Realities Among Palestinian Village Women
In this compact but carefully written volume, Nefissa Naguib assesses and interprets interconnected physical, social, and cultural aspects of household water provision and their expression in Musharafah, a small (ca. 250 people) West Bank Palestinian village in the foothills near Ramallah. She began anthropological fieldwork there in the early 1990s, and relates her findings about women’s roles against a carefully laid out picture of historical setting, geographic place, and external political and economic pressures. Technical engineering aspects of water supply, distribution, and quality maintenance, however, are not the main focus of the book. The author’s goal, clearly accomplished, is to show, with much insight and empathy, how women’s daily chores of water collection and distribution to households served both as metaphor and shifting context for a richly textured tale, through their own stories and songs and how a small village community of Palestinian women have coped with disruptive challenges to centuries-defined traditional roles and personal expectations and goals.
Naguib celebrates, commiserates, and interprets diverse aspects of social, economic, and cultural changes affecting women residents of the village from the early twentieth century to the present, reflected in ease of access to open source (spring) well and piped water. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century, individuals and families have had to cope with local and externally generated political disruptions from competing Palestinian economic and political factions, the stress of Jewish settlement, and the unequal benefits for some of remittances and local property investments by wealthy villagers who had returned from abroad. Threats to village stability and the continuity of village-anchored women’s water roles, moreover, were further intensified by the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 in response to military invasion by several Arab states’ armies. Since 1967, Palestinian villagers have also suffered extreme personal humiliation and severe community stress from Israeli military occupation along with the incursions and depredations of nearby illegal Jewish settlers on Palestinian land.
As an anthropologist, the author’s main goal is to convey and interpret women’s sense of themselves as nurturers and supporters of social cohesion and stability. The book is thus a rich ethnography of women’s roles in shaping and preserving the historical, social, and cultural cohesion of the village through their storytelling and sharing of gossip while fetching water from the village spring prior to the availability of piped water in 1985. Beyond this, the changing circumstances and ease of water supply, reflecting increases in some households’ wealth from relatives’ overseas remittances, nicely document adjustments to the challenges of economic development.
Over half the book, part 2, is an exploration of women’s experience, hopes, and challenges suggested by “Life Worlds” sections entitled “Women, Water, and Memory,” “Being in the World,” “Women and Places Outside,” and “Telling Stories.” Clearly, what makes the book of interest beyond the women’s studies community is Naguib’s having firmly anchored the women’s stories in the Islamic world and the Palestinian countryside from which they emerge, as well as the broader Middle East context. This is well served by a “Glossary of Arabic Terms Often Used by Women or Discussed in the Text,” as well as a highly informative introduction and a chapter on the village “Musharafah” and on “Palestine-A Contested Site.”
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-water.
Baruch Boxer. Review of Naguib, Nefissa, Women, Water and Memory: Recasting Lives in Palestine.
H-Water, H-Net Reviews.
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