What is a good history of the Israel/Palestine conflict
December 28, 2006 2:34 PM   Subscribe

I would like a definitive view of the Israel/Palestine conflict that doesn't take sides (even most of the factual histories I've read omit some facts to give a certain slant to one side or the other). This could come in the form of a book, website, documentay, torrent, .pdf, podcast, or miscellaneous other media forms I haven't thought of.

I keep getting drug into arguments about Israel with my activist friends (Israel is evil!) and my Jewish relatives (Palestine is evil!). I'd like to believe that neither side is correct and that both Israel and Palestine have done some serious good and bad, but I'm willing to believe that one side is more at fault than the other. I just don't know which one.

While I know that the smart thing would be to avoid these arguments. That's just about impossible.

I would at least like to be well (mentally) armed for my birthright trip in a couple weeks. I imagine the subject coming up and much loudness ensuing.
posted by elr to Law & Government (20 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Not to add-on, but I've been asked this same question -- where can I get a good "The Middle East Conflict for Dummies" summary, from friends who are only-recently interested but feel overwhelmed by the complex history and large cast of actors. Hard to blame them.

I've always come up dry, so I am watching this thread hoping someone has a new idea. A big bonus would be a good annotated timeline.
posted by rokusan at 2:59 PM on December 28, 2006

The Middle East for Dummies
posted by blue_beetle at 3:07 PM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

The BBC has a Lebanon timeline which you might find useful.

There's also the Encyclopaedia of the Orient which can help with some background or previous posts on the blue about Israel, Palestine and the Middle East.

I also had this tucked away in a favourites folder: How the Arabs see the Jews from 1947, as well as an Imperial History of the Middle East.

You might find some of it useful, you might not, but it's a starting point.
posted by Nugget at 3:09 PM on December 28, 2006

Israel and the Arabs, written by an Arab and a Jewish journalist. Great review of facts, non-judgmental. Very informative.
posted by micayetoca at 3:13 PM on December 28, 2006

"O Jerusalem"
posted by RavinDave at 3:23 PM on December 28, 2006

The BBC's page on it has lots of useful backgrounder stuff at the bottom of the page, including a timeline.
posted by ibmcginty at 3:53 PM on December 28, 2006

Considering that the crimes committed by the Palestinians are so well publicized in the west, and that you're going on a Birthright trip (so you know what side you'll be getting there), you might try something that tilts a little bit the other way.

I listened to a series of 24 lectures put out by the Teaching Company called "Palestine, Zionism, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict" by a UCLA prof (James Gelvin), that was a really good overview. On balance, it's clear that Dr. Gelvin skews towards the Palestinians, but he's pretty careful not to take sides, and does a good job putting it in its historical context.

It looks like the lectures are no longer offered on the Teaching Company website (maybe due to some controversy?), but you might be able to find them at a library, or... ahem... UseNet.
posted by cosmonaught at 3:55 PM on December 28, 2006

Just to add-on to my last post...

I know that doesn't really give you what you were asking for (a definitive and unbiased source), but the conflict is so complex, so much wrong has been done by all parites involved, and there's enough dissagrement about the facts to make it a truly informed and completely unbiased source next to impossible to find. Gelvin takes a scholarly approach in his lectures, it's just clear, in the end, what conclusions he's drawn from it all.
posted by cosmonaught at 4:05 PM on December 28, 2006

My wife swears by James Michener's The Source.
posted by jdroth at 4:30 PM on December 28, 2006

6 Days of War by Michael Oren is well-respected and Oren is a solid (if Jewish) historian.

I think that it will be hard to get a definitive view of every single event in the history of those few hundred square miles of land. I mean, do you want the history book to go from the Bible, through the Persians, Christians, Suleman, the Ottomans, Turks, Brits, through to the present day?!? That's a helluva book, if it exists. I mean, every book is going to have some kind of focus.

Oren's is on the modern history, starting in 1956. It skips over the war in 1948 (and the massacre at Dier Yassin, etc.) and all of the pre-statehood days. But for a good view of the modern issues and the modern war, it's great. It's got a good lead-up to the war, awesome accounts of the war itself, but stays political and doesn't fall into mere strategic / tactical details.
posted by zpousman at 5:44 PM on December 28, 2006


+ the folks at The Agonist are always balanced, Texan and precise in their information.
posted by Substrata at 6:01 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: Yeah, I know. A total history of the land is a tall order. What I really need is something that covers from 1900-2000, or from British rule on, with maybe just a timeline dating back to Biblical times.
posted by elr at 6:10 PM on December 28, 2006

People will quibble about everything but it doesn't get much more objective than simply counting and categorizing incidents:


and more generally


may be of interest.
posted by little miss manners at 6:20 PM on December 28, 2006

You might try some books by Benny Morris, specifically The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited.

He is a Jewish (Israeli) scholar whose views are somewhat controversial, and gives thoughts on both sides of the conflict.

You may also try Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999.
posted by stovenator at 6:21 PM on December 28, 2006

I actually find that the English-language Israeli press gives a much more nuanced, realistic, thorough, and interesting take on current events there than either "pro-Israeli" or "pro-Palestinian" sources in the United States. Ha'aretz is a good place to start.
posted by escabeche at 6:28 PM on December 28, 2006

Mark Tessler's very well-reviewed A History of the Israel-Palestinian Conflict is by far the best single work on the subject if you're not an insanely rabid partisan - it's the one that's most fair to both sides. Also, I'm surprised no one's linked this previous thread, which has lots of good info.
posted by mediareport at 9:59 PM on December 28, 2006

More: The movie Paradise Now is a gripping, suspenseful, smart, sharp look at the pressures and personal politics behind suicide bombings. Look for the quick but obvious moments when Palestinians opposed to suicide bombings get their voices and reservations heard; one bomber's girlfriend is particularly good:

The movie carries off two tricky balancing acts. One is to give the story a political context without bogging it down in essayistic debate and laborious historical background. The other is to maintain a balanced political perspective given the one-sided views of these all-too-human terrorists. It does this by shoehorning in a strong, alternative Palestinian point of view in the person of Suha (Lubna Azabal), an attractive young woman Said meets in the auto-repair depot where he and Khaled work. Romantic sparks fly between Said and Suha, who was born in Paris, brought up in Morocco and has only recently returned to Nablus. Although the terrorists regard her father as a martyr (presumably through suicide bombing; it's never spelled out), his daughter abhors violence.

In an emotional confrontation with both men, she articulates the arguments against suicide bombing. What happens to those left behind, she asks? Her question alludes not only to the grief of surviving loved ones but also to the political fallout from suicide bombing: the tragic pattern of revenge begetting revenge that will further oppress Palestinians. Her humane voice becomes the movie's moral and emotional grounding wire.

It's an amazing, provocative, humanizing movie, with plenty of complexity to go around. The scene where the potential bombers go through their ritual purification is one of the most simultaneously horrifying and humorous things I've seen on screen in years. Plus, it works surprisingly well as a suspense/action flick. Can't recommend it enough, really, as if that isn't obvious...
posted by mediareport at 10:19 PM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Personally I instinctively distrust anything that claims to be unbiased; the whole subject is hyper-sensitive to everything, not least language. Beyond the hoary old terrorist/freedom-fighter suicide-bomber/martyr choice, there are people on the each side who think that using the words "Palestinian" or "Israeli" involves taking a position. Unless you pepper a document with asterisks and excrutiatingly careful caveats you will offend or disagree with someone.

So my advice is read several different sources and opposing analyses including, ideally, opinions from people who actually deal with both sides day-to-day. (For entertainment, you might try reading Wikipedia's talk pages on related subjects, as they optimistically try to find a "Neutral Point of View" on the subject.)

And, as an example of what isn't necessarily unbiased;
I note that Israelis are either Military or Civilian, whilst Palestinians are uncategorised. I'm sure that there are valid reasons why it's been reported like that, but it does mean that one could argue about the bias of the presentation.
posted by Luddite at 3:34 AM on December 29, 2006

I found The Gun and the Olive Branch to be good, its the only book I've read on this particular subject but I would recommend it.
posted by Leud at 5:40 AM on December 29, 2006

Before friedman dissapeared up his own gaza strip, he wrote this, which was a damn good concise history of (part of) the middle east.

Bear in mind that the birthright trip will be run by Friendly Zionists who will POUND Aliyah on you IN A BIG WAY. You will be told lies (white and not so white), the Holocaust invoked, the Torah quoted, the sense of community (with your new found fellow-birthrightees) used by people whose job it is to convince you to immigrate to israel, or at least support the state uncritically.

Be careful not to let the wonder of the land and the vividness of the experience crush your critical thinking capabilities.

First time trips to israel under these auspices can be very rewarding, but only if you go with your skeptical armor up: everyone's got an agenda (conscious or not) and it would behoove you to prepare appropriately.

You're going about it the right way: just don't forget the complexities of the lessons learned from your book readin' when you encounter evangelists for one side or the other.
posted by lalochezia at 7:38 PM on December 29, 2006

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