Update II: May 29, 2011 – I’ve created a dedicated archive for my regular Israel/Palestine book recommendations on the Americans for Peace Now blog, a reading list that is frankly more useful than the following! It can be found under “Pages,” on the right, or by clicking here – Reading the Conflict: An Israel/Palestine reading list.
Update: January 5, 2010 – I’ve finally come back and done a little editing here, making the list a bit more informative, a trifle less annoying to the eye, and far less typo-y.
First, my bona fides/a list of caveats (depending on how you look at it):
I’m American-Israeli. I lived in Israel for the first 14 years of my adult life, got my BA in Political Science at Tel Aviv University, worked as a reporter for the local and foreign press — living through and reporting on both the Oslo peace process and various heinous waves of suicide bombings — and returned to the states in 1998 to pursue a Masters Degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. Said degree achieved in 2001, my Jerusalem-born and -bred husband and I initially thought we’d be returning (with our then-toddler son) to Tel Aviv, but the advent of the second intifada, and, more to the point, the Israeli response to the intifada led us both to understand that we no longer wanted to raise children in Israel. This was, for me at least, an excruciating decision, one I have never truly made my peace with, and which has driven me to focus much of my professional life on peace advocacy through the written (and occasionally spoken) word. The up-shot is that I have lived, studied, written about, and taught the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for a smidgen more than a quarter of a century (because, it turns out, I’m old). I started the journey a Protestant, but somewhere in there, before meeting my husband, I decided to convert and in the fullness of time took on dual-citizenship. (Among some supporters of Israel, this renders me less qualified to speak on the subject — not so among Israelis, for the most part).
Right. Now, to get on with it!
Books that are very good for anyone who wants to know more about the conflict, in no particular order. I go heavy on books about the Palestinians, because I feel that they are so under-represented in our collective knowledge base. The writing in some is more academic than others, but all are well-written and well worth your time. Each comes from a standpoint of recognizing the humanity on all sides (though each author draws his or her own conclusions), else it would not be included here. Needless to say, I don’t agree with every word of every book listed, but I found each to be fair, honest, and useful.
- City of Oranges (2007) – Adam Le Bor. Le Bor tells the story of the conflict through the social history of the city of Jaffa, with remarkable compassion for both sides and both national narratives.
- Palestinian Walks (2008) – Raja Shehadeh. Human rights lawyer and son of Aziz Shehadeh, the first Palestinian to call for a two-state solution (see: A Quiet Revolution [listed below], p 80), Raja Shehadeh offers an unusal memoir, an aching, lyrical, grieving report from the journeys he has taken on foot through the rapidly changing Palestinian lands.
- Sharon and My Mother-in-Law (2006) – Suda Amiry. Amiry wrote her account of living in the West Bank city of Ramallah from 1981-2004 based on her contemporaneous diaries and email correspondence, giving it a very immediate, intimate air.
- A Divided Paradise (2009) – David Lynch. Unlike many who report on the Palestinian people, Irish journalist Lynch actually lived on the West Bank for a time, attending classes and reporting on the occupation, and (again, unlike many) he never loses site of the humanity of either side of the conflict. An important addition to the many memoirs of kibbutz living, etc, that can be found scattered about the book store (and nicely written, to boot!).
- Palestine Inside-Out (2008) – Saree Makdisi. The best description is from the back cover: “[Palestine Inside-Out] reveals how the ‘peace process’ institutionalized Palestinians’ loss of control over their inner and outer lives…. Anyone surprised at Arab anger or the election of Hamas must read this book.”
- A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance (2007)- Mary Elizabeth King. I lived through the first intifada, and this book opened my eyes to the fact that, in essence, it began as a (largely) nonviolent protest.
- Separate and Unequal: The Inside Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem (2001) – Amir S. Cheshin, Bill Hutman, and Avi Melamed. Separate and Unequal is the be-all, end-all answer to anyone who thinks that Jerusalem is undivided, or that the occupation of East Jerusalem is benign, written by (respectively) a retired Israeli army colonel/former senior adviser on Arab Community Affairs to legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek; a former writer at the Jerusalem Post; and a former adviser on Arab Affairs to both Kollek and his successor, Ehud Olmert.
- The Lost Years (2007)- Charles Enderlin. An important, accessible account of the many, many ways in which the Oslo process went very badly wrong.
- The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace (2009) – Aaron David Miller. An excellent, impressively honest piece of diplomatic history, from the standpoint of someone who was at the center of American peace efforts for close to 20 years.
- Drinking the Sea at Gaza (2000) – Amira Hass. A devastating account of life in Gaza, by an Israeli journalist who lived there. She wrote the original Hebrew in 1996, and if anything, life in Gaza is even more difficult (much more difficult) today, but it’s still a critical piece of work. It’s also the source of this brilliant passage: “Israel’s misreading of Palestinian intentions is rooted in its own illusions, in Israeli society’s skewed grasp of reality whereby it fails to recognize its clear superiority in every sphere: military, economic, education, and technological. Inherited and manipulated fear, the perception of oneself as the perennial victim, and primordial Jewish dread of the gentile are projected onto the other people who live in the same country. In this light, all Palestinian behavior is explained in terms of past Jewish experience….”
- How Israelis and Palestinians Negotiate: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of the Oslo Peace Process (2005) – Tamara Cofman Wittes, ed. It turns out culture makes a difference in how people hear each other! Imagine!
- The Palestinian People (2003) – Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal. An absolutely remarkable history of the Palestinians from the mid-19th century through the post-Oslo era.
- Palestinian Identity (1998) – Rashid Khalidi. Anyone wanting to know anything about who the Palestinians actually are as a political entity (as opposed to what we imagine them to be) should start here.
- A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (2008) – Patrick Tyler. World of Trouble takes a broader view than just Israel/Palestine, but that’s a good thing. An excellent presentation of all the frailties, foibles and hubris that have helped create the mess we’re in today.
Update: I really should have put the whole of the followed post here. I’ll do it now!
I meant also to list the following this morning:
- David Grossman – pretty much anything he’s written, but certainly Yellow Wind and Sleeping on a Wire, and not least, his eulogy for his son Uri, killed in the last days of Israel’s 2007 war in Lebanon: “Uri, my dear son”
- The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 (2007)– Gershom Gorenberg. Full disclosure: I’m in the middle of it right now, but it is very good, and widely recognized as such — the definitive source on the topic. Over on my blogroll, you’ll find the blog he shares with Haim Watzman, South Jerusalem.
Update 3/23/11 – The Palestinian memoirs The Hour of Sunlight and I Shall Not Hate are both outstanding, and provide an all too rare insight into what it’s like to live under occupation. I reviewed them both here.*****************