For a time, I wrote a weekly Israel/Palestine-themed book recommendation for the Americans for Peace Now blog in a column called Reading the Conflict.
It struck me that it would be a useful thing to give those recommendations a dedicated archive, and so I did that here. They’re in reverse-chronological order – name/author, a brief excerpt, and a link to the post on the APN site.
You’ll find my bona fides for creating such a list, and an earlier list with a few books I didn’t get to on APN, by clicking here.
I can say with all honesty that it wasn’t until I read Mary Elizabeth King’s 2007 A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance that I understood that those stone throwers [of the first intifada] could have responded with arms and ammunition, but that their grassroots leaders chose not to. That, indeed, the entire intifada was rooted in notions of nonviolence.
July 19, 2011 Palestinian Walks
July 8, 2011 Jewish Terrorism in Israel
Among the topics that Israeli Jews and supporters of the Jewish State are often uncomfortable discussing is terrorism. Not Palestinian and/or Muslim terrorism – that gets discussed at the drop of a hat.
No, what is usually swept under the rug is the fact that the Jewish people itself has produced a fair number of terrorists, from ancient times up through the modern day. And so today, I recommend Jewish Terrorism in Israel, by Ami Pedahzur and Arie Perliger.
Today, I recommend a slim and eminently readable volume that should be required reading for anyone who ever plays any role in Middle East diplomacy, in either the American, Israeli, or Palestinian governments: How Israelis and Palestinians Negotiate: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of the Oslo Peace Process.
June 13, 2011 The Process: 1,100 Days That Changed the Middle East
Anyone who wants to understand the roots of the current status of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship – both the basis for the assumptions as to what “a two-state solution” will entail, and the beginnings of much that has gone wrong over the last two decades – needs to start by understanding Oslo, and a great place to start understanding Oslo is The Process: 1,100 Days That Changed the Middle East.
Israel’s discrimination against Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents has been systematic, entirely intentional, and designed to create and hasten a mass exodus of Palestinians, from the earliest days of Israeli control.
Al-Jundi offers a glimpse into a life most Jewish visitors barely see as they rush past Arab shops and schoolchildren in the Old City. He writes of being raised by two blind parents, about neighbors and childhood pranks, and through his eyes, we see the constant, oppressive, and confusing nature of the conflict, even within Israel’s eternal and undivided capital. We see his mother reduced to tears by Israeli soldiers, and his aunt asking for figs from her home village of Deir Yassin – site of a horrifying 1948 massacre by Irgun forces, and today Givat Shaul, at Jerusalem’s western entrance, and site of a furniture factory at which al-Jundi gets his first job.
Author Patrick Tyler, a veteran journalist (New York Times, Washington Post), brings a reporter’s sensibility to events that stretch out across decades, allowing him to cut through the fog of history, wars, and enormous egos to get at the heart of [American involvement in] the region’s story – and it’s not a particularly encouraging journey.
Palestinian Identity was the first book to present the history of the Palestinian national movement through critical examination and analysis, putting forth the then-controversial notion that Palestinian nationalism was not a knee-jerk reaction to Zionism, but a national movement in its own right.
Author Michael Riordon essentially upends the zero-sum game paradigm, simply by presenting portraits of nonviolent activists from both sides – and, crucially, including the oft-forgotten Palestinian-Israeli community in the conversation. The efforts to get around Israel’s occupation, heal wounds, and reach out are diverse, from theater work to draft refusal, legal appeals to traveling health clinics. The separation wall, meant to keep Israelis and Palestinians apart, often serves as a unifying factor, as people on both sides and up and down its length do what they can to oppose its presence in the heart of the land they share.
April 29, 2011 The Palestinian People: A History
The authors don’t absolve anyone of their guilt in the violence, but by writing an entirely accessible, fascinating work that posits the Palestinian people as a fully rounded society – an actual people, not the figment of someone else’s romantic or angry imagination – Migdal and Kimmerling provide an invaluable service, both to the Palestinians themselves, and anyone who might one day want to live with them in peace.
What becomes abundantly clear is that a handful of Sharon-supported military thinkers guided Israeli government policy, and no quarter was given, or even honestly offered, to Yasser Arafat — or even his Prime Minister (now President) Mahmoud Abbas, who publicly opposed armed resistance. Israeli military and civilian intelligence agreed that Arafat was incapable of controlling the violence (in part because Israeli restrictions and military operations severely checked the Palestinian security services’ efficacy), but Arafat refused to admit as much, thus freeing Israel (with American backing) to blame the Palestinian Authority for endless failures to achieve a ceasefire.
April 15, 2011 Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation
Originally published in 2008, Palestine Inside Out was revised a year ago, but little has changed since Makdisi first traveled the region, gathering facts and figures, tales and memories. From capricious rules at hundreds of West Bank road blocks, to the economic and health care disasters caused by the blockade of the Gaza Strip, little has changed for the millions of people living under Israeli control, where even the simplest of acts – grocery shopping, going to school, visiting loved ones – are routinely made difficult, if not impossible, by the mechanisms of the occupation.
April 8, 2011 I Shall Not Hate (the memoir of the Gazan father to whom President Obama referred in his Middle East speech on May 19, 2011)
Two days before the 2009 ceasefire, Abuelaish’s home was targeted by an Israeli tank; a shell smashed through a bedroom wall, and his niece and three of his daughters were killed instantly…. His life shattered by horror, it would hardly have been surprising if Abuelaish had reversed his old [co-existence advocacy] convictions, or at the very least, withdrawn from the struggle for co-existence. What is perhaps the most astonishing thing, then, is that he did not – and is able to write about “the potential good that could come out of this soul-searing bad,” of the possibility that the sides “might bridge the fractious divide that has kept us apart for six decades.”
In this, my first column, I largely introduced the feature and presented by bona fides, but also recommended City of Oranges:
Le Bor tells the story of the conflict through the lens of the social history of the city of Jaffa, and achieves what is (in my reading experience) the highly unusual feat of consistently showing compassion for both sides and both national narratives. I really like this book because it relates the history of a bloody clash of nationalisms as a human tale — and, of course, that’s what it is.