Israel is a nation that has thrived largely due to an image which is wholly a product of the fertile imaginations of many of its Jewish citizens, some Diaspora Jews and other true believers. The idea of a Jewish state as a uniquely moral actor on the world stage, like the image of Coca Cola, has been ubiquitously sold to many who swallow it like unknowing children, high on delusions brought about by the excessive intake of sugar, and encouraged by deceptive advertising and public relations. Occasionally, however, a journalist or historian attempts to temper the self-congratulatory ethnocentric orgy with a dose of reality. But like the dentist who lectures his hopelessly soft-drink addicted patients about the deleterious effects of sugar, the truth-tellers only briefly draw the attention of the afflicted; their admonitions are soon forgotten in favor of the pleasures of messianism, exceptionalism, tribalism, super-nationalism, or just not rocking the boat, all of which can be as seductive as sugar and just as harmful.
An activist friend of mine who recently returned from a tour of Palestine-Israel suggested I put together a reading list about the ongoing conflict there. What follows are brief descriptions of eight books, most of which are not included on short reading lists of this kind, but which I have found particularly compelling and enlightening. The entire list is at the bottom of the post. This annotated bibliography is my tip of the hat to seven writers who have spoken truth to believers in the Zionist narrative and to the still small but growing number of English-language readers who are discovering the realities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
If you have a book that is not all that well known, but is especially meaningful to you in terms of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, please add it with an annotation as a comment. Also, if you have any thoughts on the books that I mentioned, please add them as a comments. I would respectfully suggest that commenters refrain from talking about The Israel Lobby since it has been much debated here and elsewhere. My list:
Israel’s Border Wars by Benny Morris, covers the seven-year period after the 1948 War, when the Jewish State fought to keep thousands of mostly unarmed Palestinians from returning to their homes and lands. The book also documents the war between the newly formed Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the nascent Palestinian armed resistance movement then based in neighboring Jordan and Egypt. Border Wars is meticulously researched, using documents from government archives to present a most powerful argument refuting the myth of the of the IDF as "the world’s most moral army." This book is particular meaningful to me, since it was instrumental in opening the eyes of this American Jew who once volunteered for a summer with the IDF. Do not allow Morris’s recent political writings to dissuade you from reading this. You will not see Morris the right-wing polemicist here, I promise. It will make you wonder about what happened to him.
Walid Khalidi, a notable Palestinian historian and academic, was born in Jerusalem in 1925. He taught at Oxford, Harvard and the American University of Beirut. Professor Khalidi created All That Remains, a large format book of over 600 pages, with the assistance of 30 researchers. The volume is a compendium of information on more than 400 Palestinian villages that were destroyed or abandoned as a result of the 1948 War (al-Nakba). All That Remains contains photographs and descriptions of how these sites appeared in the early 90s, when the book was first published. It is a haunting and memorable document which was the inspiration for PalestineRemembered.com.
Tom Segev is my favorite Israeli historian. One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate is a history of the Jews, Palestinians and the British, in Mandate Palestine. The book employs diaries, letters, and memoirs of citizens not usually included in strictly political or military histories, to enhance this complex story of the early years of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among the fascinating portraits which run through this history are those of Khalil al-Sakakini, the Palestinian educator and writer, and the British soldier and religious Zionist (later to be Israeli icon) Charles Orde Wingate. As in all of Segev’s books, the historical realities are presented in a nuanced, complex and original manner that humanizes the many protagonists.
Lords of the Land by the Ha’aretz journalist Akiva Eldar and the Israeli historian Idith Zertal is the only comprehensive history of the Israeli settler movement. It is an indispensable tome for anyone who wanting to understand how Israel could move half a million settlers into the West Bank in violation of international and often Israeli law. It documents the clandestine complicity of Israeli politicians such as Simon Peres and Yigal Allon who are not generally associated with the settlers.
Once Upon A Country is the autobiography of Sari Nusseibeh, a scion of an elite clan who can trace his family roots in Jerusalem back to the Middle Ages. Nusseibeh is an Oxford-educated academic who presently serves as the President of al-Quds University. He has spent a lifetime involved in Palestinian politics and been associated with such notable political figures as Yasser Arafat, Faisal Husseini and Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad). This book provides an interesting personal perspective on 40 years of conflict with Israel, as well as a fascinating glimpse into Jerusalem upper class society.
The Israel Lobby by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt is probably the best-known work included here. It is essential reading for those who want to understand why it is so difficult for the United States government to act in a rational manner when dealing with the Jewish state. It is not ignorant, misinformed or anti-Semitic as many of Professor Walt’s colleagues at Harvard so vociferously and ludicrously proclaimed, thus proving the authors’ main claim: There are some powerful people in the U.S. who will do or say anything to promote Israeli interests. This courageous book has changed the American discourse about Israel in a significant way.
And speaking of the Israel lobby, I would like to mention Risa Miller’s debut novel Welcome To Heavenly Heights, which is a fictional glorification of the settler movement. It won a PEN award, was reviewed widely, including in The New York Times, and was praised on the covers by the well-regarded writers Elinor Lipman and James Carroll. All this despite the fact that Heavenly Heights is a not very well-written disjointed collection of a number of short sketches previous published separately in a magazine. This racist novel which idealizes the Hebron settlers, presents rebuilding the temple on the current site of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosques as a noble idea. The book was lauded as a moving and sensitive portrayal of religious American Jews seeking fulfillment in Israel. Even though this work of hyper-Zionist hate fiction is an outlier on this list, I include it since the book never received the notoriety and derision it richly deserves.
Hillel Cohen has written a damning book detailing the use of the Israeli security forces to suppress the civil liberties and cultural expression of citizens of Palestinian descent who the state thinks of as a potential fifth column and a security risk. Good Arabs describes the deep penetration of intelligence agencies into Palestinian society and its extensive use of Palestinian collaborators to intimidate and control the Arab population. Although the book is mostly about the military government imposed upon the Palestinian citizens of Israel until 1966, it contains much material relevant to the present-day. It is a real eye-opener.
Notes on availability: Good Arabs is due to be available in English translation in January 10, 2010. All the other books are in print and easily available except for Israel’s Border Wars. It is out-of-print and sold at exorbitant prices on the used book sites. However, the book can be readily obtained via the interlibrary loan service at any library. Used copies of Heavenly Heights are being sold at Amazon.com for one cent which in some sense, reflects its value. Risa Miller’s second book is due out in January. It is difficult to imagine how she will follow her "remarkable" debut.
List of the Books in the Order Mentioned
With Titles Linked to Amazon*
Israel’s Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War, Morris, Benny, Oxford, 1997, 488 pps., Soft cover.
All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, Khalidi, Walid, editor, Institute for Palestinian Studies, 2006, reprint of the 1992 hardcover edition, 636 pps., Soft cover. Available in English and Arabic at the palestine-studies.org. for $46 or at amazon.com for $49.
One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Segev, Tom, Holt Paperbacks, 2001, (trans. from Hebrew) 624 pps, Soft cover.
Lords of the Land: The War Over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007, Eldar, Akiva and Zertal, Idith, Nation Books, 2009, reprint ed., (trans. from Hebrew) 576 pps., Soft cover.
Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life, Nusseibeh, Sari, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007, 542 pps., Hardcover.
The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Mearsheimer, John and Walt, Stephen, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, 496 pps., Soft cover.
Welcome to Heavenly Heights, Miller, Risa, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2004, 240 pps. Soft cover. (Award winning pro-settler literature.)
Good Arabs: The Israeli Security Agencies and the Israeli Arabs, 1948-1967, University of California, Cohen, Hillel, Due out Jan. 2010, (trans. from Hebrew) 272 pps., Hardcover.
|*||The customer ratings for these books on Amazon should be largely ignored since most do not reflect the writers’ honest opinion of the work but rather his/her degree of agreement with the political point of view presented.|