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A Reading List To Understand The Israel-Palestine Crisis

·6 min read

As the violence continues to escalate between Israelis and Palestinians, with the death toll — disproportionately comprising Palestinian people — mounting, there is no discernible end in sight. While there is no foreseeable conclusion either for this new wave of destruction or for the untenable existence of occupied Palestinian land, state-sanctioned Israeli settlements, and systematic discrimination against Palestinians, there is an urgent need for people who don't understand what's going on in the region to educate themselves on the topic, so they can take meaningful action. Many activists are hesitant to use the word "complicated" to describe the decades-long conflict; others still are even wary of the word "conflict," lest it be construed as implying that Israelis and Palestinians are on equal footing. But, the fact is that while there is nothing complicated about an occupation — it is immoral and inhumane — there is much about the history of the region that is not just misunderstood, but also unknown to countless people.

The following books are an illuminating beginning to understanding what is happening right now, and will hopefully be helpful for anyone who knows that challenging Israel's actions does not mean stoking antisemitic sentiments, nor does it mean conflating the actions of the Israeli government and right-wing extremists with the opinions and actions of Jewish people everywhere. Rather, it is a reading list for anyone who wants to fight for a future that means an end to occupation and state-sanctioned oppression, and liberation for Palestinians.

For further information, organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and Democracy Now are good places to start. Americans should also remember that this isn't just an international problem, but a domestic one thanks to this country's heavy influence in the region, and should reach out to their representatives today to voice their concerns.

<strong><em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Iron-Cage-Palestinian-Struggle-Statehood/dp/0807003093" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood</a></em> by Rashid Khalidi</strong><br><br>Khalidi's lucid, necessary examination of the quest for Palestinian statehood demonstrates the ways in which the Palestinian people were continuously thwarted in their mission by external forces, from the Ottoman Empire to the British Empire to the Zionist movement. Over and over again, Palestinians were not only denied the right to self-determination, but their future was also unjustly tied to that of Zionist settlers. What Khalidi makes devastatingly clear is that the oppression of Palestinians wasn't an unfortunate side-effect of establishing the state of Israel — it was a vital part of it. Also of note is Khalidi's <em><a href="https://bookshop.org/books/the-hundred-years-war-on-palestine-a-history-of-settler-colonialism-and-resistance-1917-2017/9781627798556" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017</a></em>, which makes clear the ways in which the Palestinian people — long before the Balfour Declaration, let alone the establishment of Israel proper — knew that their existence as a people and a culture were threatened by the Zionist movement.
Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood by Rashid Khalidi

Khalidi's lucid, necessary examination of the quest for Palestinian statehood demonstrates the ways in which the Palestinian people were continuously thwarted in their mission by external forces, from the Ottoman Empire to the British Empire to the Zionist movement. Over and over again, Palestinians were not only denied the right to self-determination, but their future was also unjustly tied to that of Zionist settlers. What Khalidi makes devastatingly clear is that the oppression of Palestinians wasn't an unfortunate side-effect of establishing the state of Israel — it was a vital part of it. Also of note is Khalidi's The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017, which makes clear the ways in which the Palestinian people — long before the Balfour Declaration, let alone the establishment of Israel proper — knew that their existence as a people and a culture were threatened by the Zionist movement.
<strong><em><a href="https://bookshop.org/books/sacred-landscape-the-buried-history-of-the-holy-land-since-1948/9780520234222" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948</a></em></strong> <strong>by Meron Benvenisti</strong><br><br>What's in a name? Only everything, as is made clear in this book by an Israeli writer who, as a child, traveled around the newly created country with his father, renaming Palestinian villages, ruins, and landmarks with Hebrew names. This is the perfect book for anyone who was ever under the misapprehension that Zionists came to Palestinian land and found nothing, establishing a country whose past was conveniently free of the people who had lived there for centuries. Benvenisti chillingly demonstrates how easy it is to erase generations of history when trying to create a new one, and makes clear the danger of looking at Eretz Israel/Palestine from a binary perspective; to him, there should be no split, no vanquishing of "signposts of memory," or there can be no future.
Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948 by Meron Benvenisti

What's in a name? Only everything, as is made clear in this book by an Israeli writer who, as a child, traveled around the newly created country with his father, renaming Palestinian villages, ruins, and landmarks with Hebrew names. This is the perfect book for anyone who was ever under the misapprehension that Zionists came to Palestinian land and found nothing, establishing a country whose past was conveniently free of the people who had lived there for centuries. Benvenisti chillingly demonstrates how easy it is to erase generations of history when trying to create a new one, and makes clear the danger of looking at Eretz Israel/Palestine from a binary perspective; to him, there should be no split, no vanquishing of "signposts of memory," or there can be no future.
<strong><em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Search-Fatima-Palestinian-Story/dp/1844673685" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story </a></em>by Ghada Karmi</strong><br><br>A profoundly moving memoir of one woman's experience of displacement, loss, and reclamation of a history; Karmi was just a girl when she and her family were uprooted from their home in Jerusalem during the Nakba ("catastrophe") in 1948, when thousands of Palestinians were removed from their homes and villages. Though Karmi lived through a period of intense global political crisis and conflict, her perspective is an intimate one, and the toll this conflict has caused on a human level is immediately apparent.
In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story by Ghada Karmi

A profoundly moving memoir of one woman's experience of displacement, loss, and reclamation of a history; Karmi was just a girl when she and her family were uprooted from their home in Jerusalem during the Nakba ("catastrophe") in 1948, when thousands of Palestinians were removed from their homes and villages. Though Karmi lived through a period of intense global political crisis and conflict, her perspective is an intimate one, and the toll this conflict has caused on a human level is immediately apparent.
<a href="https://bookshop.org/books/scars-of-war-wounds-of-peace-the-israeli-arab-tragedy/9780195325423" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong><em>Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy</em></strong></a><strong> by Shlomo Ben-Ami</strong><br><br>A fascinating perspective from a true insider — Ben-Ami was the Foreign Minister under Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and present at the 2000 Camp David negotiations — this book offers a critical, clear-eyed assessment of everything that has prevented peace between Palestinians and Israelis. No figure, no matter how prominent, is spared in Ben-Ami's evaluation of what was a critical time in the region's history. Of particular note is Ben-Ami's criticism of American politicians (namely, former president George W. Bush), who not only failed to promote peace, but actually fomented even more divisiveness.
Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy by Shlomo Ben-Ami

A fascinating perspective from a true insider — Ben-Ami was the Foreign Minister under Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and present at the 2000 Camp David negotiations — this book offers a critical, clear-eyed assessment of everything that has prevented peace between Palestinians and Israelis. No figure, no matter how prominent, is spared in Ben-Ami's evaluation of what was a critical time in the region's history. Of particular note is Ben-Ami's criticism of American politicians (namely, former president George W. Bush), who not only failed to promote peace, but actually fomented even more divisiveness.
<strong><em><a href="https://bookshop.org/books/to-the-end-of-the-land/9780307476401" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:To the End of the Land" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">To the End of the Land</a></em> by David Grossman</strong><br><br>Not a history book, but a novel rooted in the current crisis, Grossman's <em>To the End of the Land</em> is the story of Ora, who, after hearing that her son, Ofer, has been deployed on the front of a new zone of combat, sets off on a walk in the Galilee as a means of avoiding hearing any bad news. Grossman deftly explores what it means to live in a place of unending conflict, what effect that has on one's family, and one's own humanity. Grossman's own son was killed in 2006, while serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, but he and his wife have remained staunch advocates for Palestinian rights, and have been assaulted by police while demonstrating against the occupation.
To the End of the Land by David Grossman

Not a history book, but a novel rooted in the current crisis, Grossman's To the End of the Land is the story of Ora, who, after hearing that her son, Ofer, has been deployed on the front of a new zone of combat, sets off on a walk in the Galilee as a means of avoiding hearing any bad news. Grossman deftly explores what it means to live in a place of unending conflict, what effect that has on one's family, and one's own humanity. Grossman's own son was killed in 2006, while serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, but he and his wife have remained staunch advocates for Palestinian rights, and have been assaulted by police while demonstrating against the occupation.
<strong><em><a href="https://bookshop.org/books/1967-israel-the-war-and-the-year-that-transformed-the-middle-east/9780805088120" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:1967: Israel, The War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">1967: Israel, The War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East</a></em> by Tom Segev</strong><br><br>Segev is one of Israel's "new historians," who used once-sealed historical documents to challenge the country's foundational myths and offer a clearer picture of what actually happened. In <em>1967</em>, Segev tackles the war that changed the region forever, led to the extensive occupation of Palestinian land, and the way in which Israel's decisive victory defined a specific cultural blend of bravado and prickly defensiveness that persists to this day — and is wielded as a weapon and a shield.
1967: Israel, The War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East by Tom Segev

Segev is one of Israel's "new historians," who used once-sealed historical documents to challenge the country's foundational myths and offer a clearer picture of what actually happened. In 1967, Segev tackles the war that changed the region forever, led to the extensive occupation of Palestinian land, and the way in which Israel's decisive victory defined a specific cultural blend of bravado and prickly defensiveness that persists to this day — and is wielded as a weapon and a shield.
<a href="https://bookshop.org/books/hollow-land-israel-s-architecture-of-occupation/9781786634481" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong><em>Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation</em></strong></a><strong> by Eyal Weizman</strong><br><br>In order to be an occupying force, you need to have more than just an army — you need to have infrastructure. Weizman's examination of the many ways in which architecture — from tunnels into Gaza to militarized spaces on land and in the air to constant surveillance apparatuses — makes occupation possible is a must-read for anyone who needs to see how comprehensive a system is needed in order to maintain control over an unwilling population.
Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation by Eyal Weizman

In order to be an occupying force, you need to have more than just an army — you need to have infrastructure. Weizman's examination of the many ways in which architecture — from tunnels into Gaza to militarized spaces on land and in the air to constant surveillance apparatuses — makes occupation possible is a must-read for anyone who needs to see how comprehensive a system is needed in order to maintain control over an unwilling population.
<strong><em><a href="https://bookshop.org/books/i-saw-ramallah/9781400032662" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:I Saw Ramallah" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">I Saw Ramallah</a></em> by Mourid Barghouti</strong><br><br>This elegiac memoir recounts Barghouti's experience returning to Ramallah, the city of his youth, after being barred following the Six-Day War in 1967. Barghouti, a poet, spent decades in exile around the world, before returning to a home that he could no longer recognize as his own. This isn't just a lament for a lost state, but for a lost identity, one that others have tried to erase and redefine for not only Barghouti, but countless others like him.
I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti

This elegiac memoir recounts Barghouti's experience returning to Ramallah, the city of his youth, after being barred following the Six-Day War in 1967. Barghouti, a poet, spent decades in exile around the world, before returning to a home that he could no longer recognize as his own. This isn't just a lament for a lost state, but for a lost identity, one that others have tried to erase and redefine for not only Barghouti, but countless others like him.
<a href="https://bookshop.org/books/arabs-and-israelis-conflict-and-peacemaking-in-the-middle-east-2013/9781137290823" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Arabs and Israelis: Conflicts and Peacemaking in the Middle East" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong><em>Arabs and Israelis: Conflicts and Peacemaking in the Middle East</em></strong></a><strong> by Abdel Modem Said Aly, Shai Feldman, & Shalil Shikaki</strong><br><br>For a comprehensive academic look at the crisis in the Middle East, this textbook — written by Egyptian, Palestinian, and Israeli scholars — is a nuanced, thoughtful overview, which gives context to so many of the most explosive elements of the situation, and offers insight into the different perspectives, without devaluing any of them.
Arabs and Israelis: Conflicts and Peacemaking in the Middle East by Abdel Modem Said Aly, Shai Feldman, & Shalil Shikaki

For a comprehensive academic look at the crisis in the Middle East, this textbook — written by Egyptian, Palestinian, and Israeli scholars — is a nuanced, thoughtful overview, which gives context to so many of the most explosive elements of the situation, and offers insight into the different perspectives, without devaluing any of them.

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