Wendy Pearlman is the Martin and Patricia Koldyke Outstanding Teaching Associate Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University. Her research focuses on the comparative politics of the Middle East, social movements, political violence, refugees and migration, and the lived experience of conflict. In addition to more than a dozen academic articles or book chapters, Pearlman is the author of four books: Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement (Cambridge University Press, 2011), Occupied Voices: Stories of Everyday Life from the Second Intifada (Nation Books, 2003), Triadic Coercion: Israel’s Targeting of States that Host Nonstate Actors (co-authored with Boaz Atzili, Columbia University Press,), and We Crossed A Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria (HarperCollins, 2017). We Crossed A Bridge is based on interviews with more than 300 displaced Syrians that Pearlman conducted across the Middle East and Europe from 2012-16. Called “essential reading” by the New York Times, the book has been praised in the New Yorker, the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, and Chicagoan Magazine, among other outlets. It was longlisted by the American Library Association for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence. Pearlman holds a BA from Brown University, an MA from Georgetown, and a PhD from Harvard. A former Fulbright scholar and current Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellow, she has studied or conducted research in Spain, Germany, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Israel, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Middle East & North African Politics
Conflict Processes & War
In the post–Cold War era, states increasingly find themselves in conflicts with nonstate actors. Finding it difficult to fight these opponents directly, many governments instead target states that harbor or aid nonstate actors, using threats and punishment to coerce host states into stopping those groups. Wendy Pearlman and Boaz Atzili investigate this strategy, which they term triadic coercion. They explain why states pursue triadic coercion, evaluate the conditions under which it succeeds, and demonstrate their arguments across seventy years of Israeli history. This rich analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict, supplemented with insights from India and Turkey, yields surprising findings. Traditional discussions of interstate conflict assume that the greater a state’s power compared to its opponent, the more successful its coercion. Turning that logic on its head, Pearlman and Atzili show that this strategy can be more effective against a strong host state than a weak one because host regimes need internal cohesion and institutional capacity to move against nonstate actors. If triadic coercion is thus likely to fail against weak regimes, why do states nevertheless employ it against them? Pearlman and Atzili’s investigation of Israeli decision-making points to the role of strategic culture. A state’s system of beliefs, values, and institutionalized practices can encourage coercion as a necessary response, even when that policy is prone to backfire.
Against the backdrop of the wave of demonstrations known as the Arab Spring, in 2011 hundreds of thousands of Syrians took to the streets demanding freedom, democracy and human rights. The government’s ferocious response, and the refusal of the demonstrators to back down, sparked a brutal civil war that over the past five years has escalated into the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our times. Yet despite all the reporting, the video, and the wrenching photography, the stories of ordinary Syrians remain unheard, while the stories told about them have been distorted by broad brush dread and political expediency. This fierce and poignant collection changes that. Based on interviews with hundreds of displaced Syrians conducted over four years across the Middle East and Europe, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled is a breathtaking mosaic of first-hand testimonials from the frontlines. Some of the testimonies are several pages long, eloquent narratives that could stand alone as short stories; others are only a few sentences, poetic and aphoristic. Together, they cohere into an unforgettable chronicle that is not only a testament to the power of storytelling but to the strength of those who face darkness with hope, courage, and moral conviction.
Why do some national movements use violent protest and others nonviolent protest? Wendy Pearlman shows that much of the answer lies inside movements themselves. Nonviolent protest requires coordination and restraint, which only a cohesive movement can provide. When, by contrast, a movement is fragmented, factional competition generates new incentives for violence and authority structures are too weak to constrain escalation. Pearlman reveals these patterns across one hundred years in the Palestinian national movement, with comparisons to South Africa and Northern Ireland. To those who ask why there is no Palestinian Gandhi, Pearlman demonstrates that nonviolence is not simply a matter of leadership. Nor is violence attributable only to religion, emotions, or stark instrumentality. Instead, a movement's organizational structure mediates the strategies that it employs. By taking readers on a journey from civil disobedience to suicide bombings, this book offers fresh insight into the dynamics of conflict and mobilization.
As the Middle East peace process disintegrates and the second Palestinian Intifada begins, Wendy Pearlman travels to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a quest to talk to ordinary Palestinians. A remarkable narrative emerges from her conversations with doctors, artists, school kids, and families who have lost loved ones or watched their homes destroyed. Their stories, ranging from the humorous to the tragic, paint a profile of the Palestinians that is as honest as it is uncommon in the Western media: that of ordinary people who simply want to live ordinary lives. As Pearlman writes, "the personal stories and heartfelt reflections that I encountered did not expose a hatred of Jews or a yearning to push Israelis into the sea. Rather, they painted a portrait of a people who longed for precisely that which had inspired the first Israelis: the chance to be citizens in a country of their own."
On-stage interview about "We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled."
Interview on "Israel, the Palestinians and the 2-State Solution"
Interview about events in Syria and experiences of Syrian refugees
Commentary on events in Syria and "We Crossed A Bridge and It Trembled"