Introductory books

A guide to some useful introductory literature on Israel-Palestine and the wider region

There are a very large number of good books and other literature relating to the history and development of Israel-Palestine. On this page there is a varied (and inevitably idiosyncratic) list of 10 useful introductory books suggested by various JfJfP signatories that would make a good starting point.

A wealth of material, freely available online, can be accessed in the Analysis and Background pages of the Resources section of this website.

Radwa Ashour. The Woman from Tantoura: A Novel of Palestine (American University in Cairo Press, 2014) (Fiction)
Publisher’s description: This novel is first and foremost a powerful human story, following the life of a young girl from her days in the village of al-Tantoura in Palestine up to the dawn of the new century. We participate in events as they unfold, seeing them through the uneducated but sharply intelligent mind of Ruqayya, as she tries to make sense of all that has happened to her and her family. With her, we live her love of her land and of her people; we feel the repeated pain of loss, of diaspora, and of cross-generational misunderstanding; and above all, we come to know her indomitable human spirit.

Avi Shlaim. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, 2nd edition (Penguin, 2014)
Publisher’s description: In the 1920s, hard-line Zionists developed the doctrine of the ‘Iron Wall’: negotiations with the Arabs must always be from a position of military strength, and only when sufficiently strong would Israel be able to make peace with her Arab neighbours. This doctrine, argues Shlaim, became central to Israeli policy; dissenters were marginalized and many opportunities to reconcile with Palestinian Arabs were lost.

Martin Bunton. The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2013)
Publisher’s description: In this accessible and stimulating Very Short Introduction, Martin Bunton clearly explains the history of the problem, reducing it to its very essence – a modern territorial contest between two nations and one geographical territory. Adopting a fresh and original approach, each section covers a twenty-year span, to highlight the historical complexity of the conflict throughout successive decades.

Gregory Harms & Todd M. Ferry. The Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Basic Introduction, 4th edition (Pluto Press, 2017)
Publisher’s description: Perfect for the general reader, as well as students, it offers a comprehensive yet lucid rendering of the conflict, setting it in its proper historical context. Harms and Ferry show how today’s violence is very much a product of recent history, with its roots in the twentieth century. This fourth edition includes recent events such as Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, developments between Fatah and Hamas, ongoing Palestinian resistance, and the entirety of the Obama years.

Emma Williams. It’s Easier to Reach Heaven than the End of the Street: A Jerusalem Memoir (Olive Branch Press, 2012)
Publisher’s description: In August 2000 Emma Williams arrived with her 3 small children in Jerusalem to join her husband and to work as a doctor. A month later, the second Palestinian intifada erupted. For the next 3 years, she was to witness an astonishing series of events in which hundreds of thousands of lives, including her own, were turned upside down. Williams lived on the very border of East and West Jerusalem, working with Palestinians in Ramallah during the day and spending evenings with Israelis in Tel Aviv. Weaving personal stories and conversations with friends and colleagues into the long and fraught political background, Williams’ powerful memoir brings to life the realities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  Understanding in her judgment, yet unsparing in her honesty, Williams exposes the humanity, as well as the hypocrisy at the heart of both sides’ experiences.

Jeff Halper. An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel, 2nd edition (Pluto Press, 2010)
Publisher’s description: Jeff Halper throws a harsh light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the point of view of a critical insider. While the Zionist founders of Israel created a vibrant society, culture and economy, they did so at a high price: Israel could not maintain its exclusive Jewish character without imposing on the country’s Palestinian population policies of ethnic cleansing, occupation and discrimination. An Israeli in Palestine records Halper’s journey ‘beyond the membrane’ that shields his people from the harsh realities of Palestinian life to his ‘discovery’ that he was actually living in another country: Palestine.

Saree Makdisi. Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (W.W. Norton, 2008)
Publisher’s description: Tending one’s fields, visiting a relative, going to the hospital: for ordinary Palestinians, such activities require negotiating permits and passes, curfews and closures, ‘sterile roads’ and ‘seam zones’ – bureaucratic hurdles ultimately as deadly as outright military incursion. In Palestine Inside Out, Makdisi draws on eye-opening statistics, academic histories, UN reports, and contemporary journalism to reveal how the ‘peace process’ institutionalized Palestinians’ loss of control over their inner and outer lives.

Raja Shehadeh. Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape (Profile Books, 2008)
Publisher’s description: When Raja Shehadeh first started hill walking in Palestine, in the late 1970s, he was not aware that he was travelling through a vanishing landscape. Six walks span a period of twenty-six years, in the hills around Ramallah, in the Jerusalem wilderness and through the ravines by the Dead Sea. Each walk takes place at a different stage of Palestinian history since 1982, the first in the empty pristine hills and the last amongst the settlements and the wall.

Sandy Tolan. The Lemon Tree (Black Swan, 2008) (Fiction)
Publisher’s description: In the summer of 1967 three young Palestinian men ventured into the town of Ramla in Israel. They were cousins, on a pilgrimage to see their childhood homes, from which they and their families had been driven out nearly twenty years earlier. One cousin had the door slammed in his face; one found that his old house had been converted into a school. But the third, Bashir, was met at the door by a young woman named Dalia, who invited him in… This poignant encounter is the starting point for the story of two families – one Arab, one Jewish – which spans the fraught modern history of the region.

Ilan Pappé. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld, 2007)
Publisher’s description: Ilan Pappe’s groundbreaking book revisits the formation of the State of Israel. Between 1947 and 1949, over 400 Palestinian villages were deliberately destroyed, civilians were massacred and around a million men, women, and children were expelled from their homes at gunpoint. Denied for almost six decades, had it happened today it could only have been called “ethnic cleansing”. Decisively debunking the myth that the Palestinian population left of their own accord in the course of this war, Pappe offers impressive archival evidence to demonstrate that, from its very inception, a central plank in Israel’s founding ideology was the forcible removal of the indigenous population.

Mike Berry & Greg Philo. Israel and Palestine: Competing Histories (Pluto Press, 2006) [A free PDF version is available; click here]
Publisher’s description: A concise guide to the Israel-Palestine conflict. There are many different, competing histories of the conflict, however, this book collects those which are based on the most considered historical research. The book covers key events in chronological order, in each case examining the varied historical accounts and presenting the beliefs of key thinkers across the ideological spectrum, from Edward Said to Binyamin Netanyahu.

Please contact us if you have any recommendations for other books that should be included in this list.

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