Book concerning the origins of the Israeli state and it's conflict with Palestine
June 29, 2009 2:11 AM   Subscribe

What book should I read to get an understanding of the the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the history of the Israeli state?

My ignorance is unparalleled.

Where did Zionism come from (I understand it's a heading some pretty diverse ideologies fall under)? Why was Israel set up the way it was? Who thought it needed to be a separate nation to begin with? To what extent did religious belief inform the various actor's decisions in the early post-war days (including the nominally secular leaders of allied powers after the war)? To what extent is the current conflict about religious belief?

If at all possible, I'd like something unbiased and reasonably academic (though readability takes presence over the latter). The ideal text would take me from the earliest proponents of Zionism, through the founding of the state, through it's first several decades of existence.
posted by phrontist to Education (15 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Everyone's list is going to be subjective to some degree. Here's mine:

You should start with some primary documents. Theodor Herzl's Der Judenstaat and Altneuland are crucial. Also The Jew in the Modern World has an abundance of primary source documents with good commentary.

For analysis, I'd recommend looking through Essential Papers on Zionism to get a good overview of how historians treat the topic. Tom Segev's The Seventh Million is a more readable but still quite comprehensive historical account.

Finally, Benny Morris's The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem and his subsequent Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 will give a good sense for the political and social impact that the successive waves of aliyot had on the indigenous population. David Shulman's Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine gives an accurate and sober, if really depressing account of the present state of the Israeli peace movement.
posted by felix betachat at 2:40 AM on June 29, 2009

Almost forgot. One of the more important historians currently working on the topic is Idith Zertal. Her book Israel's Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood is probably right up your ally. I've had her new book Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 sitting on my bedside table for a while now. Haven't gotten to it, though, so I can't recommend it.
posted by felix betachat at 2:45 AM on June 29, 2009

On the more readable, less academic side, I found City of Oranges informative and it gave me a better picture of the conflict through individual's eyes.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:58 AM on June 29, 2009

A quick read that is very informative is Arabs and Israel For Beginners.
You can read it in a few hours, and get a solid over-view of everything.
posted by Flood at 5:10 AM on June 29, 2009

While you are considering which books to buy, have a look at:
posted by lungtaworld at 5:17 AM on June 29, 2009

Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer by Phyllis Bennis is an excellent and concise, yet quite detailed, introduction. It's not a historical narrative. Rather, it addresses the various aspects of the conflict through a question and answer format which makes the material both easy to understand and remember.

Aspects addressed: The Crisis; The Other Players: The Role of the US, the UN, the Arab States, and Europe; Recent History: Rising Violence; Looking Backward (1900-1991); The Future.
posted by jammy at 5:57 AM on June 29, 2009

Tom Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem might be a good start.
posted by mearls at 6:09 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

What is a good history of the Israel/Palestine conflict?
Looking for literature on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

I'd go with Mark Tessler's A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which got excellent reviews and is compelling, detailed, "resolutely fair-minded" and empathetic to both sides.

Benny Morris has a lot of political baggage, having taken a pretty sharp right turn after the 2nd intifada, including justifications for kicking out Israeli Arabs and preemptively bombing Iran's nuclear facilities.
posted by mediareport at 6:35 AM on June 29, 2009

Karen Armstrong's Jerusalem is a nice historical overview of the history of its namesake. Jerusalem's history =/= Israel's history, but it's helpful for understanding the reasoning behind the many different claims to the land.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:43 AM on June 29, 2009

Just to be clear, Morris' Righteous Victims is also a good choice; there's more detail in the previous threads.
posted by mediareport at 6:45 AM on June 29, 2009

odinsdream, in my opinion that book actually is an exception to the Friedman rule. He's since turned into a tool, but he did have one good book in him a long time ago.
posted by Killick at 6:55 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Although not a complete history by any means, you would probably enjoy the book Exile by Richard North Patterson.

It's the story of an American Jew who has an affair with a Palestinian woman in law school - years later the Prime Minister of Israel is killed by a suicide bomber while in the US, and the woman is accused of planning the attack. It's a great story, and explains a lot of the back story as to why there is so much turmoil in Israel/Palestine/West Bank.
posted by radioamy at 8:28 AM on June 29, 2009

Though this might not be a true answer to your question, you may just want to look through the discussions that the Blue has had:These will give you likely the most up to date feelings floating around regarding the conflict. Now more directly related to your question -> books:

In order of reading difficulty starting with the easiest...
  1. Stephen Zunes's "Tinderbox"
  2. William L. Cleveland's "A History of the Modern Middle East 3rd Edition (would not know about the 4th Edition)
  3. Ritchie Ovendale's "The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Wars" (this one really lays out the Zionist movement pretty well, at least from what I know...
These were the books I used in my class on the subject of the modern middle-east this past winter.

Bias: expect it and digest it. I would try and get an idea of the hard line from both sides of the issue (my opinion after digesting the class, recent current events, and meeting people with varying views).

Lastly, good luck. I was pretty ignorant before I started studying this and am probably still reasonably ignorant about the subject, with maybe a bit (just that much) more information than I knew before.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 7:22 PM on June 29, 2009

Seconding Jammy's recommendation of the Bennis book.

My ignorance is unparalleled.

I doubt it. After you read some of the widely divergent opinions on this topic, you will too :)
posted by Rykey at 10:28 AM on June 30, 2009

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