Books to Read Before Visiting Palestine: As the birthplace of major world religions, the homelands of some of the world’s oldest civilizations, and the site of one of the longest running modern land dispute, Palestine has attracted the attention of numerous authors. Countless books, in the form of novels, historical anthologies, and academic works, have been written about the Palestine. This provides visitors to Palestine with numerous avenues with which to learn more about the country before their arrival. Here are some of the books we think are most useful to understanding Palestine.
The Lemon Tree
This novel by Sandy Tolan does what few books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict do, it tells both sides of the story and shows the common humanity of Jews and Arabs. The novel tells the story of a young Palestinian man, Bashir, who travels to his childhood home in Israel which he was forced to flee from in 1948. There he meets the homes new occupant, a young Jewish woman named Dalia. Dalia arrived in Israel as an infant after her family fled the Holocaust. Over the next few decades the two form an unlikely friendship that transcends politics.
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid
While his presidency is viewed by most Americans as unsuccessful, Jimmy Carter has earned the respect of humanitarians the world over for his work defusing conflicts in North Korea and Haiti, overseeing a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and combatting disease in Africa. Perhaps no U.S. President has done more to promote peace in the Middle East, which is why when he decided to write a book about the conflict, it attracted attention. His depiction of the separation of Israelis and Palestinians as a system of “apartheid” earned him praise from some and accusations of anti-Semitism from others. Nevertheless, the controversial book is an important read for those who want to understand a point of view that is influential in many circles.
This 1958 novel retells the story of the ship Exodus which ferried refugees from the Holocaust to the Mandate of Palestine where it was blocked from docking by British authorities. The novel goes on to tell the story of the passengers who settle in Palestine and work to found the State of Israel through conflict with British and Arab forces. A 1960 movie based on the novel starring Paul Newman was critically acclaimed and the story itself influenced the thinking of many in the United States. While heavily skewed toward the Jewish perspective it nonetheless will help readers understand the Israeli point of view in this conflict.
Our Last Best Chance
This memoir written by King Abdullah II of Jordan details the monarch’s vision for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as other conflicts in the Middle East. The King warns that hope for peace is fading quickly and that swift action is needed. He touts the Arab Peace Initiative in which the Arab League proposes normalizing relations with Israel in exchange for a withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee issue. As head of the nation which annexed the West Bank in 1948, and claimed legal authority over the region until 1988, King Abdullah is in a special position to defend the interests of Palestinians while calling for peace.
While not focusing on Palestine, this work attempts to explain the Islamic narrative of history to Western audiences. From the point of view of the author, an Afghan-American, Islam long seemed destined to become the dominant global cultural, religious, and political force. The slow political decline of the Muslim World however, coinciding with the European Enlightenment and the advent of colonialism, produced an intellectual debate among Muslims on what went wrong and how they could recover. Recounting historical figures from the Prophet Muhammed to Gamal Abdul Nasser, Destiny Disrupted charts the progression of history and recounts the conversations Muslim intellectuals are still having today.
While by no means a comprehensive list, reading these books will equip you with the knowledge to better understand the political, historical, and cultural background of Palestine.