Looking for literature on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
April 17, 2005 5:27 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for literature on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict...

I am an undergraduate student in political science and currently have to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What should I read to get a general overview and a detailed analysis of the current situation? I am currently reading Baylis & Smith: The Globalization of World Politics in a wider context and I like its straight style (english is not my native language).
posted by tcp to Education (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
For pre-1948 background, I highly recommend Tom Segev's One Palestine, Complete.
posted by languagehat at 6:52 AM on April 17, 2005

Not a book, but PBS made a five-hour documentary called The 50 Years War: Israel and the Arabs a few years ago. Comprehensive, well-regarded. You can probably get a copy at the library.
posted by airguitar at 6:55 AM on April 17, 2005

For a specific overview of the 1967 war, Michael Oren's book Six Days of War : June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East is very highly regarded.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:42 AM on April 17, 2005

Great question, and a real thicket to navigate. What I've read leads me to recommend Benny Morris' Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999 is, as the best book by an Israeli "new historian" - the group that first began questioning Israel's heroic Zionist narrative in the 1980s. (This NYT review calls Morris' 1988 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, "one of the cornerstones not only of the 'new history' but of all serious inquiry into the Israeli-Palestinian question," and says Righteous Victims offers "the best moment-by-moment, battle-by-battle explanation of how the Zionists won the 1948 War of Independence, known to Palestinians as the naqba, or disaster.")

Morris has long angered the Israeli right and also has its angry critics on the left who see it as standard "jewish supremacism." Here's a very informative review of his work that ultimately recommends his books as "an excellent starting point for anyone who wishes to be an informed observer of Israeli/ Palestinian politics" even as it analyzes Morris' more questionable personal political evolution. Here's a long excerpt from the end:

Not surprisingly, Morris's research did not endear him to the ultrapatriotic Israeli right, and he has been cited (selectively) by pro-Palestinian propagandists. Indeed, Morris's identification with the left extends beyond his professional work: he was jailed for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories during the First Intifada. The 1999 Righteous Victims, despite its clearheaded account of Muslim Arab society and its occasional appreciation for figures like Jabotinsky, reflected these politics. But the breakdown of the 2000 Camp David and Taba negotiations and the new, far more brutal Intifada have caused Morris, along with much of the rest of the Israeli left, to become far more pessimistic about the possibility of an acceptable compromise with Palestinians.

In 2002, Morris joined the defeated Barak in declaring a belief that the Palestinian leadership had never been serious about peace, and advocating unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank and the annexation of the remainder behind a defensible barrier (the strategy Sharon is now following). In 2004, while remaining committed to openly discussing the historic wrongs committed by the Zionist side, Morris has gone further in his move to the right: citing Ben-Gurion as a positive precedent, he now sees a new forcible transfer as thinkable in the next few years, and talks of Israeli Arabs as a "fifth column" that must be regarded with suspicion...

As demonstrated by his revelation of hitherto undocumented atrocities by the Haganah, Morris's political evolution has not affected his historical work in any simple way. But the indiscriminate rage of the suicide bombers has brought to the surface of Morris's work the latent ambiguity in the proposition that Israel originated with conscious acts of ethnic cleansing...

In 1948, both the mainstream Zionist movement and the "international community" concluded that Jews could be secure and self-determining only through the partition of Palestine. But that solution, in turn, required that some Palestinians be encouraged to leave their homeland and properties, so that Jewish immigrants could have land and could constitute a stable demographic majority on their side of the partition line.

Today, a much more isolated Israel faces an existential threat from the suicide bombers. Its mainstream, including longtime supporters of accommodation with Palestinian nationalism like Morris, have concluded that the only solution is to unilaterally redraw a line of partition by withdrawing from Gaza and unwanted portions of the West Bank and thereby place its internal enemies on the outside. But now, since the threat is not from armies or states, but potentially from every Arab teenager, the logic of externalizing the threat may ultimately require a more thoroughgoing "cleansing" than BenGurion was prepared to contemplate half a century ago.

posted by mediareport at 11:45 AM on April 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

That would depend on which side you want to take... Palestine Information with Provenance, though certainly leaning toward one side of the conflict, tries to give background information on everyone who's written about the topic. It may be helpful in deciphering authors' ideological motivations.
posted by greatgefilte at 12:18 PM on April 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yes, a strong second for Mark Tessler's book. Had I not gotten hung up on finding a "new historian" account, that would have been a better single-book recommendation. You can get a flavor of Tessler's work by scrolling halfway down this Bill Moyers transcript from 2002.
posted by mediareport at 12:36 PM on April 17, 2005

Not as scholarly as these other books, but an extremely accomplished piece of journalism is Joe Sacco's excellent graphic novel "Palestine." Even if it doesn't wind up being of use to you, it will sure be of interest.
posted by Dr. Wu at 3:12 PM on April 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

From Beruit to Jerusalem is Thomas Friedman at his best... which was a long time ago. It closes with the begining of the first intifida and basicly covers his tenure as a reporter starting off in Beruit, it getting to crazy up there with assassination attempts and bombings, and him moving south to the relative peace of Israel.

Avi Shlaim's War and Peace in the Middle East has an excellent point - counter-point presentation style written by some of the heavy-weights.
posted by trinarian at 4:20 PM on April 17, 2005

Bitterlemons.org is often rather interesting. One topic a week - with two Israeli, and two Palestinian, responses. Israeli responses tend to be from Israel's left wing - while Palestinian responses tend to mirror the official PA party line pretty closely.

Other than that, the Benny Morris recommendation is a good one. As far as the Tom Segev book, while I hate to disagree with languagehat, I've heard it's not particularly good.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:50 PM on April 17, 2005

Speaking of Benny Morris, there's an interesting interview with him that's worth reading (originally from Ha'aretz, but not available on their site anymore).
posted by greatgefilte at 9:33 PM on April 17, 2005

I've heard it's not particularly good.

You heard wrong. Yeah, he pisses off a lot of Israelis, but that's a good thing -- it means he's not repeating the same simplistic pap. And of course he pisses off the New Republic, which has been a worthless rag for years. I mean, after all that nitpicking (that must be the longest review the book got), she winds up with this zinger:

"He punctures every sentimental balloon, and the result is that the spirit of the era has eluded him."

Sorry, but that doesn't particulary impress me. But read the book and judge for yourself.
posted by languagehat at 7:04 AM on April 18, 2005

Jeremey Bowen's Six Days is a very readable account of the Six Day War which gives the backstory well and addresses today's questions.

Written by a former BBC journalist it's been praised by left and right - I can't recommend it enough.

Do ignore the idiotic single Amazon review.
posted by dmt at 8:23 AM on April 18, 2005

greatgefilte, that interview with Morris is very sad. I hadn't realized just how awful his move to the right had become. What a shame to see a historian fall prey to such small-minded thinking. I guess terrorist attacks will do that, but still, what a disappointment. Anyone who could assert a measuring scale like this has gotten really, really afraid:

We are the greater victims in the course of history and we are also the greater potential victim. Even though we are oppressing the Palestinians, we are the weaker side here.

More than ever, I would recommend the Mark Tessler book over Morris' work.
posted by mediareport at 3:42 PM on April 18, 2005

You guys are great. I'll post a follow-up as soon as I have some time...
posted by tcp at 1:28 PM on April 19, 2005

Tessler's book is available in my library, thank god (I have to hold a presentation on the 26th...).

I will have to focus on the nation-state level of international relations (and intentionally leave out everything above), so I have to analyze the foreign policies of the countries involved. BBC has quite good material, any other suggestions besides wikipedia?

You all just made my day.
posted by tcp at 1:40 PM on April 19, 2005

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