Housekeeping: Memorial Day, book recommendations, archiving, and adding links.

My dream house.

As I’ve mentioned on the last several Fridays, I’ve been writing a regular book column for the Americans for Peace Now blog. I decided it would be a good idea to create a dedicated archive for those posts, and so I have. Just over there to your right, under “Pages” – Reading the Conflict: An Israel/Palestine Reading List.

I also added the intensely brilliant and often rather funny (if occasionally in a painfully sharp way) Bernard Avishai — professor, speaker, essayist, author of The Hebrew Republic — to my Israel/Palestine blogroll. He doesn’t always focus exclusively on the conflict (today, for instance, he’s got a post up about the Chevy Volt — hence the blog’s tagline, I suppose: “Responses, mainly to rash opinions about Israel and its conflicts”) but he is a very important voice — sane, deeply informed, and passionate — on the topic. And I had no idea he had a blog! Very embarrassing.

And that’s it from me today! I have folks coming over to eat hamburgers and watermelon for the holiday and I have to get a move on (there are fewer potato chips available than there were earlier in the three-day weekend, but I’m sure I don’t know anything about that).

It being Memorial Day, though, I want to leave you with this: “Memorial Day’s New Younger Generation,” a post by Don Gomez, Jr, a spokesman with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), on what Memorial Day means for the veterans of those wars that this country is still waging.

For the quiet few who have shouldered these wars, Memorial Day is no longer an abstract holiday honoring a faceless mass of heroes from a history textbook. It’s a list of names of people you know, reluctantly accumulated and growing ever longer. It’s a reminder of the awkward long-distance phone call to tell a friend that his old squad leader and mentor was killed in an IED blast in Afghanistan. It’s the swirl of emotions felt when informed that a friend was just killed in Iraq, leaving behind a young wife and children. It is the unavoidable sinking feeling, deep in the stomach, of “Why me? Why am I okay?”

Please click through and read the whole thing.

Reading the Conflict: An Israel/Palestine reading list.

My dream house.

12/31/12 update: I just declared this the one book you should read if you read no others about Israel: The Unmaking of Israel, by Gershom Gorenberg. (If you click through, you’ll learn why!)


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.


July 26, 2011 A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance

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

What stands at the heart of both the Jewish and Palestinian national narratives? Land – the very land itself, the narrow space on the great green globe on which both peoples claim their home, and by which both define themselves. It’s no accident that in Jewish culture, Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) is Eretz Hakodesh (the Holy Land).
Yet over the course of decades of shedding each other’s blood over who has a stronger claim to the land in question, Israelis and Palestinians often find themselves virtually untethered from the very thing over which they battle, seemingly unaware of the impact that decades of warfare and politically motivated land use has on the land itself.

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.

June 17, 2011 How Israelis and Palestinians Negotiate : A Cross-Cultural Analysis of the Oslo Peace Process

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.

June 3, 2011 Separate and Unequal: The Inside Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem

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.

May 27, 2011 The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker

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.

May 20, 2011 A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East – from the Cold War to the War on Terror

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.

May 13, 2011 Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness

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.

May 6, 2011 Our Way to Fight: Israeli and Palestinian Activists for Peace

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.

April 22, 2011 The Lost Years: Radical Islam, Intifada and Wars in the Middle East

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.”

April 1, 2011 City of Oranges: An Intimate History of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa

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.

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…. (more…)

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