Are you confused about what led to the recent war between Israel and Hamas? Who ought you to trust when reading the volume of op-eds now being written about who did what when?

These are just two broad-based questions so many of us are asking. To understand what has happened and will likely continue to happen, it is important to self-educate. To that end I have listed a number of books that address the history of relations between Israel and the Palestinians, the history of Zionism, Jewish and Palestinian narratives of the conflict, and personal statements by a number of individuals about the meaning of Israel and Palestine in their lives.

What should you read first? It doesn’t matter. Start anywhere, but if you are serious about understanding as much as possible this seemingly intractable conflict of more than a century between two peoples that claim the same land as their rightful homeland, then keep reading. Here are my recommendations:


ISRAEL – A HISTORY – Anita Shapira – offers a breath-taking history of Israel from the origins of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century to the present day.

THE PALESTINIANS – Benny Morris – researches the development of the Palestinian national consciousness in response to the establishment of the State of Israel.

THE LEMON TREE – Sandy Tolana true story of the experience of exiled Palestinians who return to their home in Jaffa from which they had been driven out by Israeli forces in the War of Independence to discover Holocaust survivors as the new occupants. The book tells the story of the evolving personal relationship between the two families set in the historical context of the founding of the State of Israel.

TALES OF LOVE AND DARKNESS – Amos Oz – the autobiography of one of Israel’s greatest writers from his early years as the nephew of a prominent Zionist revisionist to his own evolution as a member of a left-wing kibbutz.

ONCE UPON A COUNTRY – A PALESTINIAN LIFE – Sari Nusseibeh with Anthony David – a personal memoir of the President of Al Quds University whose story dramatizes the consequences of war, partition, and terrorism.

A NEW VOICE FOR ISRAEL – Jeremy Ben Ami – a personal memoir and a political analysis of what American Jews need to do to advocate for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Washington to the administration and legislative bodies by the founder and President of J Street, a pro-Israel pro-peace political and educational organization.

PATHWAYS TO PEACE – AMERICA AND THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT – Edited by Daniel C. Kurtzer with a Foreword by James A. Baker III and Samuel Berger – a series of articles by experts on how to advance the peace process.

DEAR ZEALOTS – LETTERS FROM A DIVIDED LAND – Amos Oz – 3 essays on the universal nature of fanaticism and its possible cures, on the Jewish roots of humanism and the need for a secular pride in Israel, and on the geopolitical standing of Israel in the wider Middle East and internationally

LETTERS TO MY PALESTINIAN NEIGHBOR – Yossi Klein Halevi – letters that help to understand the painful choices confronting Israelis and Palestinians that will ultimately help determine the fate of the region.

WHY ISRAEL [AND ITS FUTURE] MATTERS – LETTERS OF A LIBERAL RABBI TO HIS CHILDREN AND THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION – Rabbi John L. Rosove – makes the case that American non-Orthodox Jews need Israel as a source of pride, connection, and Jewish renewal, and Israel needs them for the liberal values they bring to the Zionist enterprise.

THE WAY TO THE SPRING – LIFE AND DEATH IN PALESTINE – Ben Ehrenreich – a journalistic gathering together of the stories of Palestinians living under occupation and near Israeli settlers who want to drive the Palestinians from the land.

SIDE BY SIDE – PARALLEL HISTORIES OF ISRAEL-PALESTINE – Edited by Sami Adwan, Dan Bar-On, and Eyal Naveh – a dual narrative of Israeli and Palestinian history comprising the history of two peoples, set literally side by side, so that readers can track each against the other, noting both where they differ as well as where they correspond.

APEIROGON – A NOVEL – Colum McCann – an Israel father and a Palestinian father each lose a child in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and learn of each other’s stories, recognize the loss that connects them, and attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace.

CATCH-67 – THE LEFT, THE RIGHT, AND THE LEGACY OF THE SIX-DAY WAR – Micah Goodman – sheds light on the ideas that shaped Israelis’ thinking on both sides of the debate, and among secular and religious Jews about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

THE UNMAKING OF ISRAEL – Gershom Gorenberg – offers a penetrating and provocative look at how the balance of power has shifted toward extremism, threatening the prospects for peace and democracy as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict intensified.