Books! I got your books!

Image may or may not represent author's idea of heaven.

I’ve finally realized that I really should be crossposting the weekly book column I’m writing for Americans for Peace Now! (Me and synergy — we’re not all that well acquainted).

ANYhoo: I post there every Friday, essentially creating a rolling reading list for people who might want to delve a little more deeply into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the lives lived in its shadow. Today I’ll start with this week’s post, and then catch you up on the previous five weeks. From here on out, I’ll do a weekly crosspost.

Read on!


The Palestinian People: A History

It’s an unfortunate truth that when people who have long been at each other’s throats begin to try to find peace, they often know very little about each other.
This week’s announcement of a unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah revealed just how true this is for Western, Jewish and/or Israeli observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We deal in headlines and sound-bites, with very little information that goes back more than five years – unless it goes to 1948. The vast expanse of years before Israel’s founding, and between that war and the most recent, often get very short shrift.

Thus, today I’m recommending The Palestinian People: A History, an absolutely remarkable history of the Palestinians stretching from the mid-19th century through the post-Oslo era, by Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal.

A people is always more than its most recent headline, and here, Kimmerling and Migdal delve deeply and compellingly into all that has brought the Palestinian people to 21st century, from a little-known proto-nationalist revolt against Egypt in 1834, through the 1936-1939 general strike against the British (which ultimately weakened the Palestinians far more than anyone else), to 1948 and what the authors call “the shattering of the Palestinian people,” through the new reality of Palestinians living in Israel, and in those lands occupied by Israel in 1967.

The occupation quickly became the defining characteristic of Palestinian life, and Migdal and Kimmerling parse what this meant socially, economically, and politically for millions of people attempting to move ahead with their lives in circumstances almost entirely beyond their control. The first intifada erupted in response to these pressures, powered by a never-defeated sense of peoplehood, growing since the 1834 revolt. (to read the rest of this recommendation, please click through to Americans for Peace Now)

And now, please join me in the way-back machine for….

Reading the Conflict (The first post, with which I introduced the column – April 1, 2011)

The daily flood of information from Israel/Palestine can leave one feeling both overwhelmed and, paradoxically, under-informed. Background is often thin or lacking all together, and in the rush of details, meaning can be lost.This, of course, is where books come in handy!

I’ve been involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace and co-existence efforts since the first intifada (1987), and easily the most frequent question I’m asked concerning the conflict (well, second to: “Why hasn’t that ended yet?”) is: “What books should I read?”

And so, this column.

I’ll be here once a week – on Fridays, in the hope that your weekend might allow you to go to the library or bookstore – to recommend books concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

These won’t necessarily be brand-new books (though some will), and I certainly won’t be trying to suggest that I agree with every word in every one of them. But they will be good, useful books, books that provide the kind of context and nuance that’s hard to find in the 24 hour news cycle.

“But why,” you ask yourself, “should I trust you?” Excellent question!

Let me introduce myself. (to read the rest, please click here)

I Shall Not Hate (April 8, 2011)

When I undertook this regular feature last week, I explained what I hope to do and why I feel qualified to do it (if you want to catch up, you can do so here). But there’s one more thing I need to explain.

I’ve advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for most of my adult life, and during all those years, I’ve been struck, time and again, by how little non-Palestinians actually know about the Palestinian people.

Thus, when I recommend books on the conflict, I tend to lean more toward works that emphasize the Palestinian narrative – certainly not exclusively, but, let’s say: 60:40. Anyone who’s been to Hebrew school, or grown up in Israel, or even turned on the nightly news a time or two, has heard the Israeli narrative. They’ve likely even heard a variety of opinions, and calls for peace.

But very few have heard Palestinians speaking for themselves.

It’s very hard for American Jews to get to know Palestinians in the Palestinian territories, if only because Israel/Palestine is so far away, and for Israeli Jews it’s not much easier. Indeed, between the Gaza blockade and the various laws and physical obstacles controlling travel in the West Bank, it’s increasingly difficult.

So: Books.

And this week’s recommendation.

I Shall Not Hate is a memoir that is as lovely as it is heart-rending, by a life-long proponent of Israeli-Palestinian co-existence, Gazan physician Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. (to read the rest, please click here)

Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (April 15, 2011)

Last week, just as violence was raging again between Israel and Gaza, I recommended I Shall Not Hate, a memoir by Gazan doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish, whose niece and three daughters we killed by Israeli forces during 2009’s Operation Cast Lead.I don’t know that I’ll consistently tie all my recommendations in with current events, but this week, as we in the Jewish community finish our Passover cleaning and prepare to celebrate our freedom, it seems painfully appropriate that we consider the ways in which freedom is systematically denied, in our names, to another people, the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Today, I recommend Saree Makdisi’s Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.

UCLA professor Saree Makdisi, an American of Palestinian and Lebanese descent, does with this book what few in the West have managed: he successfully conveys the daily, grinding reality of Israel’s occupation, its weight and omnipresence in the lives of all Palestinians.

“Because the destruction is routine, it generally takes place outside of the view of the global media,” Makdisi writes. (to read the rest, please click here)

The Lost Years: Radical Islam, Intifada, and Wars in the Middle East 2001-2006 (April 22, 2011)

Last week, APN’s Noam Shelef called on President Obama to “get peace unstuck,” referring to the new Americans for Peace Now policy recommendations for the President. These come as the Obama Administration appears to be trying, like so many Administrations before it, to manage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict toward some kind of murky solution, rather than genuinely grapple with it, in all its complexity.

Which in turns makes this a particularly good time to remind ourselves of the disasters of past inaction and American missteps – because if President Obama is going to get the peace process right, it will only be by not allowing the past to repeat itself.

In The Lost Years: Radical Islam, Intifada, and Wars in the Middle East 2001-2006, French-Israeli journalist Charles Enderlin thoroughly details the conflict and the failed peace process at their most disheartening. Though his earlier book, Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East, suffered from a strikingly ineffective translation from the original French, The Lost Years is both compelling and accessible to the non-expert.

The disastrous failure of the 2000 Camp David negotiations led Israelis to elect as their prime minister Ariel Sharon, a man who had (Enderlin reminds us) fought the peace process since its very inception, shared much of his worldview with American neoconservatives, and had also learned (along with his advisers and political cohort) a particular kind of discretion: “It is easier to let talks stagnate,” as Enderlin writes, “than to oppose them.” (to read the rest, please click here)

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

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