Books to understand Palestine

A reading list built on understanding what exactly is going on between Palestine and Israel – without the Pro-Zionist media getting in the way.

Note: These lists have been curated from several sites, and each link below leads to those sites, where you can also purchase a copy of the book.

I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti

Barred from his homeland after 1967’s Six-Day War, the poet Mourid Barghouti spent thirty years in exile—shuttling among the world’s cities, yet secure in none of them; separated from his family for years at a time; never certain whether he was a visitor, a refugee, a citizen, or a guest. As he returns home for the first time since the Israeli occupation, Barghouti crosses a wooden bridge over the Jordan River into Ramallah and is unable to recognize the city of his youth. Sifting through memories of the old Palestine as they come up against what he now encounters in this mere “idea of Palestine,” he discovers what it means to be deprived not only of a homeland but of “the habitual place and status of a person.”

Six Days of War by Michael B. Oren

While it technically lasted only six days, the aftereffects of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War — also known as the Six-Day War — continue to ripple across the Middle East. Historian and politician Michael B. Oren (he served as Israeli Ambassador to the United States from 2009 to 2013) gives the definitive account of the Six-Day War and the ways it continues to shape Israeli-Palestinian relations.

In Search of Fatima by Ghada Karmi

Ghada Karmi’s acclaimed memoir relates her childhood in Palestine, flight to Britain after the catastrophe, and coming of age in Golders Green, the north London Jewish suburb. A powerful biographical story, In Search of Fatima reflects the author’s personal experiences of displacement and loss against a backdrop of the major political events which have shaped conflict in the Middle East. Speaking for the millions of displaced people worldwide who have lived suspended between their old and new countries, fitting into neither, this is an intimate, nuanced exploration of the subtler privations of psychological displacement and loss of identity.

Out of Place by Edward W. Said

From one of the most important intellectuals of our time comes an extraordinary story of exile and a celebration of an irrecoverable past. A fatal medical diagnosis in 1991 convinced Edward Said that he should leave a record of where he was born and spent his childhood, and so with this memoir he rediscovers the lost Arab world of his early years in Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt.

The Way to the Spring by Ben Ehrenreich

Over the past three years, American writer Ben Ehrenreich has been traveling to and living in the West Bank, staying with Palestinian families in its largest cities and its smallest villages. Along the way he has written major stories for American outlets, including a remarkable New York Times Magazine cover story. Here is his powerful work that has always been his ultimate goal, The Way to the Spring.

To the End of the Land by David Grossman

Through the story in this riveting novel, Israeli author David Grossman explores the strain of war on the families of deployed soldiers, centering on Ora, a divorced mother who is devastated by her son’s decision to voluntarily to return to military service. It is a shattering and unflinching enunciation of the very human toll of the struggle between Israel and Palestine.

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.

Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948by 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.

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.

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.

Stone Men by Andrew Ross

Drawing on hundreds of interviews in Palestine and Israel, Ross’s engrossing, surprising, and gracefully written story of this fascinating ancient trade shows how the stones of Palestine, and Palestinian labour, have been used to build out the state of Israel—in the process, constructing “facts on the ground”—even while the industry is central to Palestinians’ own efforts to erect bulwarks against the Occupation. For decades, the hands that built Israel’s houses, schools, offices, bridges, and even its separation barriers have been Palestinian. Looking at the Palestine–Israel conflict in a new light, this book asks how this record of achievement and labour be recognized.

The Balfour Declaration by Bernard Regan

A hundred years after its signing, Bernard Regan recasts the history of the Balfour Declaration as one of the major events in the story of the Middle East. Offering new insights into the imperial rivalries between Britain, Germany and the Ottomans, Regan exposes British policy in the region as part of a larger geopolitical game. Yet, even then, the course of events was not straightforward and Regan charts the debates within the British government and the Zionist movement itself on the future of Palestine.

The book also provides a revealing account of life in Palestinian society at the time, paying particular attention to the responses of Palestinian civil society to the imperial machinations that threatened their way of life. Not just a history of states and policies, Regan manages to brilliantly present both a history of people under colonialism and an account of the colonizers themselves.

Ten Myths About Israel by Ilan Pappe

In this groundbreaking book, published on the fiftieth anniversary of the Occupation, the outspoken and radical Israeli historian Ilan Pappe examines the most contested ideas concerning the origins and identity of the contemporary state of Israel.

He explores the claim that Palestine was an empty land at the time of the Balfour Declaration, as well as the formation of Zionism and its role in the early decades of nation building. He asks whether the Palestinians voluntarily left their homeland in 1948, and whether June 1967 was a war of “no choice.” Turning to the myths surrounding the failures of the Camp David Accords and the official reasons for the attacks on Gaza, Pappe explains why the two-state solution is no longer viable.

Twilight of History by Shlomo Sand

On its publication in 2009, Shlomo Sand’s book The Invention of the Jewish People met with a storm of controversy. His demystifying approach to nationalist and Zionist historiography provoked much criticism from other professional historians, as well as praise. Drawing on four decades in the field, Sand takes a wider view and interrogates the study of history, whose origin lay in the need for a national ideology. Despite his trenchant criticism of academic history, Sand would still like to believe that the past can be understood without myth, and finds reasons for hope in the work of Max Weber and Georges Sorel.

Return by Ghada Karmi

Having grown up in Britain following her family’s exile from Palestine, doctor, author and academic Ghada Karmi leaves her adoptive home in a quest to return to her homeland.  In her journey, she takes the reader on a fascinating journey into the heart of one of the world’s most intractable conflict zones and one of the major issues of our time. Visiting places she has not seen since childhood, her unique insights reveal a militarized and barely recognizable homeland, and her home in Jerusalem, like much of the West Bank, occupied by strangers.

A Child in Palestine by Naji al-Ali

Naji al-Ali grew up in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in the south Lebanese city of Sidon, where his gift for drawing was discovered by the Palestinian poet Ghassan Kanafani in the late 1950s. Early the following decade he left for Kuwait, embarking on a thirty-year career that would see his cartoons published daily in newspapers from Cairo to Beirut, London to Paris.

For the first time in book form, A Child in Palestine presents the work of one of the Arab world’s greatest cartoonists, revered throughout the region for his outspokenness, honesty and humanity.

The Girl Who Stole My Holocaust by Noam Chayut

The Girl Who Stole My Holocaust is the deeply moving memoir of Chayut’s journey from eager Zionist conscript on the front line of Operation Defensive Shield to leading campaigner against the Israeli occupation. As he attempts to make sense of his own life as well as his place within the wider conflict around him, he slowly starts to question his soldier’s calling, Israel’s justifications for invasion, and the ever-present problem of historical victimhood. 

Noam Chayut’s exploration of a young soldier’s life is one of the most compelling memoirs to emerge from Israel for a long time.

The Holocaust Industry by Norman G. Finkelstein

In his iconoclastic and controversial study, Norman G. Finkelstein moves from an interrogation of the place the Holocaust has come to occupy in global culture to a disturbing examination of recent Holocaust compensation settlements. It was not until the Arab–Israeli War of 1967, when Israel’s evident strength brought it into line with US foreign policy, that memory of the Holocaust began to acquire the exceptional prominence it has today. 

The Idea of Israel by Ilan Pappe

Since its foundation in 1948, Israel has drawn on Zionism, the movement behind its creation, to provide a sense of self and political direction. In this groundbreaking new work, Ilan Pappe looks at the continued role of Zionist ideology. The Idea of Israel considers the way Zionism operates outside of the government and military in areas such as the country’s education system, media, and cinema, and the uses that are made of the Holocaust in supporting the state’s ideological structure. 

How I Stopped Being a Jew by Shlomo Sand

A discursive yet polemical work that systematically undermines the claim that Jewishness is necessary – let alone sufficient – to justify the claims of the Israeli state to the territory formerly known as Palestine.” – Will Self, Guardian

The Invention of the Jewish People by Shlomo Sand

With this meditative and thoughtful mixture of essay and personal recollection, he articulates the problems at the center of modern Jewish identity.  How I Stopped Being a Jew discusses the negative effects of the Israeli exploitation of the “chosen people” myth and its “holocaust industry.” Sand criticizes the fact that, in the current context, what “Jewish” means is, above all, not being Arab and reflects on the possibility of a secular, non-exclusive Israeli identity, beyond the legends of Zionism.

The Invention of the Land of Israel by Shlomo Sand

Following his acclaimed and controversial Invention of the Jewish People, Shlomo Sand examines the mysterious sacred land that has become the site of the longest-running national struggle of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The Invention of the Land of Israel deconstructs the age-old legends surrounding the Holy Land and the prejudices that continue to suffocate the region. The modern concept of the “Land of Israel” came into being in the nineteenth century, he argues. It motivated the early Zionists to colonize the Middle East and establish the State of Israel, and today it threatens Israel’s political stability and continued existence. 

Blaming the Victims Edited by Christopher Hitchens and Edward W. Said

Since the 1948 war which drove them from their heartland, the Palestinian people have consistently been denied the most basic democratic rights. Blaming the Victims shows how the historical fate of the Palestinians has been justified by spurious academic attempts to dismiss their claim to a home within the boundaries of historical Palestine and even to deny their very existence. 

The Punishment of Gaza by Gideon Levy

Israel’s 2009 invasion of Gaza was an act of aggression that killed over a thousand Palestinians and devastated the infrastructure of an already impoverished enclave. The Punishment of Gaza shows how the ground was prepared for the assault and documents its continuing effects.  From 2005—the year of Gaza’s “liberation”—through to 2009, Levy tracks the development of Israel policy, which has abandoned the pretense of diplomacy in favor of raw military power, the ultimate aim of which is to deny Palestinians any chance of forming their own independent state. 

*Cover image from https://www.flagsonline.it/palestine

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