The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is once again dominating the headlines in the wake of Hamas’s terrorist attack in southern Israel and Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza.
There is much that is unprecedented in this crisis, including the coordination and sophistication witnessed in the Hamas attack. But recent events fit into a long pattern of violence and mutual recrimination between Israelis and Palestinians. These peoples are also locked in a competing battle of narratives about claims to territory, the use of force, peace, and war.
We’ve selected five books that can help you put the events of the past week in their broader historical context and make sense of the rapidly unfolding developments in this complex region.
1. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter (2006)
President Carter has become a universally beloved figure in the United States as he gracefully departs from this world. But it wasn’t always so.
After securing a historic peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1978, Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 elections due to rampant inflation and a perceived weakness due to the Iranian hostage crisis. His post-presidential life would include a focus on peacebuilding across the globe, through the Carter Center.
But in this 2007 book, Carter dared to bring forward the A-word — apartheid — to describe Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. And for that, he was condemned as an anti-Semite. But leading Israelis, including former senior military officials, now warn that Israel is or may become an apartheid state
“Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” is a prescient book that fuses Carter’s own personal experiences as a peacemaker between Arabs and Jews with a rich study of the region’s history and developments since he left office. It is a very readable first-person account by a prominent American of his attempts to forge peace in the region and his prescription for how Israelis and Palestinians can achieve a lasting peace with two states living side by side.
2. The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine by Rashid Khalidi (2020)
For Columbia University history professor Rashid Khalidi, Palestine is more than a profession. It also runs through his veins. His ancestors include multiple Arab mayors of Jerusalem.
Khalidi’s “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine” is a detailed study of the conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Zionists, leveraging archival material, including from many Palestinian notables from within his own family.
It is these family archives that frame Khalidi’s gripping account of the tragic feud. His great-great-great-uncle, Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi, served several terms as Jerusalem mayor in late 19th century Ottoman Palestine. Al-Khalidi was an Islamic scholar who took the time to study Judaism and even the emerging Zionist movement. He opposed the persecution of Jews in Europe and empathized with their plight. But warned that Jewish settlement in Palestine at the cost of the rights of local Arabs would be “pure folly,” and pleaded for Palestine to be “left alone.”
Khalidi’s book examines six events that he says “highlight[s] the colonial nature of the hundred years’ war on Palestine” and the “indispensable role of external powers in waging it.” For those seeking a broader understanding of the roots of today’s crisis in Israel and Palestine, this book too is indispensable.
3. My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit (2013)
Like Rashid Khalidi, Ari Shavit — a long-time columnist for Haaretz, the left-leaning Israeli daily — begins his book with the account of an ancestor.
Herbert Bentwich, his great-grandfather, was among the first upper-middle-class British Jews who settled in Ottoman Palestine in the late 19th century. Up to that point, most Zionists were poor, oppressed Jews from Eastern Europe.
Shavit’s book is deeply empathetic toward his Zionist ancestors who fled persecution, but also critical. He puts himself in his great-grandfather’s shoes, as the pogroms of Europe flare, and has the courage to ask how he could not see “the Land as it is” — a land with a people.
This is a meditative, personalized account of the transformation of Jews “from a people of the Diaspora to a people of sovereignty” and the triumph and tragedy of that journey.
4. Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance by Tareq Baconi (2018)
For decades, Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) dominated the Palestinian national movement. In the late 1980s, a new organization emerged that would frame the resistance in a religious lens. Known by its acronym HAMAS, the Harakat al-Muqawwama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement), has emerged as a force in the Gaza Strip since the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.
Relying on deep archival research, including the study of Hamas’s monthly magazine, to tell the story of Hamas’s rise as a counterweight against the secular PLO, facilitated to some degree by Israel, its transition from a fringe movement to the main power broker in Gaza. Baconi contends that Hamas is locked into a deadly cycle of violence with the state of Israel, which he argues, has effectively contained the group’s push for sovereignty. His thesis is being tested by the ongoing war.
5. We Are Not One: A History of America’s Fight Over Israel by Eric Alterman (2022)
America looms large in Israeli foreign and security policy. The U.S. is home to the world’s largest diasporic Jewish population and a major benefactor to the Jewish state, including through the provision of arms.
Prior to last week’s attack by Hamas, the U.S.-Israel relationship had begun to show signs of change, with mainstream political voices beginning to criticize Tel Aviv and suggest restrictions on America’s generous assistance. Those changes in how Israel is discussed in the U.S. even extend to America’s Jewish community, where a post-Zionist movement has been gaining momentum.
Eric Alterman’s book “We Are Not One” is vital to understanding both the history and current state of the debate on Israel in the U.S. — in part because it may shape how this war ends. There are a number of books written on U.S.-Israel relations. This book stands out for not just being passionately written and deeply researched, but in its relevance to the conversations taking place right now among activists, friends, family, and members of Congress.
The Globely News team tracks the leaders, states, networks, ideologies, and technologies that are reshaping the world order. From AI and electric vehicles to the rise of China, we've got you covered.