by Mackenzie Landi

During this difficult time, here are some reading recommendations that bring to light Israel’s multifaceted and complex history.

Here in Israel, we are facing an unprecedented war. Never before have so many civilians been murdered and defiled on sovereign land in one fell swoop, and never have such huge numbers of people – young, elderly, mere babies –been kidnapped from their beds into enemy territory.

While abroad “contextualization” of the conflict seems often a little thin, at home the war’s historical context is understood in an entirely different way, and has mostly to do with the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and our very right to exist.

To understand the way Israelis are viewing and acting upon this war, we’ve compiled reading recommendations that bring to light this country’s multifaceted and complex history – its origins, landmarks, people and spirit.

Discover why we’re all immediately thinking of the Holocaust, the amazing entrepreneurial spirit and sense of comradeship that’s providing us with a glimmer of hope, and past wars that have shaped Israel’s place in the neighborhood.

We wish you all a pleasant read, and more peaceful days to come.

1. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert

The detailed tome by British historian Martin Gilbert is a classic. Gilbert starts his history at the beginning of the 20th century, when political Zionism began making waves, and ends it at the first intifada in the 1990s.

In between, he examines events such as Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, mass immigration, the growth the country experienced in the 1960s and the effects of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, all in great and nuanced detail.

2. Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore

British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore’s ambitious biography of Jerusalem is a most comprehensive account of the most famous city in the world: right back from the times of King David and all the way up to the Six-Day War.

He interviewed everyone from historians, archeologists and proud Jerusalemites of all sectors to the late Duke of Edinburgh and the then-Prince of Wales. The result is an impressive and engaging work that resonates a long time after reading.

3. The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land by Donna Rosenthal

Donna Rosenthal’s book on the way in which Israelis view themselves and their country has become a must-read for anyone trying to understand the often crazy, difficult and clashing realities permeating the land.

She interviewed Jewish, Muslim and Christian Israelis from all walks of life, giving a real sneak peek at communities and issues that don’t often make the headlines but which are newsworthy in their own right.

4. Chances for Peace: Missed Opportunities in the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Elie Podeh

Prof. Elie Podeh is one of Israel’s prominent Middle East historians, and his lengthy, academic yet readable research on Israel’s potential to reach peace with its neighbors over the past century makes for a fascinating book.

He explores episodes ranging from Arab-Zionist negotiations at the end of World War I and the Six-Day War up to the 2007 Annapolis Conference and the Abu Mazen-Olmert talks in 2008, giving a wide, comprehensive analysis of Israel’s relations with the region.

5. Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor and Saul Singer

Perhaps the most famous book on this list, Start-Up Nation addresses the ever-relevant question of how Israel became the entrepreneurial hot spot that it is.

Authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer explore themes such as persistence, order, chaos, immigration and opportunity, giving a well-rounded view of the way Israel pulled itself upward into the high-tech stratosphere.

6. The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust by Tom Segev

It’s a simple truth that no history or understanding of Israel is complete without the Holocaust. Israeli historian Tom Segev’s book deals with the tricky history of the Holocaust as viewed from pre-state Israel and the effects of the Holocaust on the country’s establishment, character and people.

While the book is not free of controversy, and is most definitely not a leisurely read, it is fascinating and thought-provoking and provides yet another important angle on Israel’s history.

7. Israel: A History by Anita Shapira

This award-winning book (by the same name as Martin Gilbert’s) was penned by Anita Shapira, one of Israel’s most prominent historians. Shapira examines the emergence of political Zionism in the late 19th century, immigration to Israel and the wars, political events and cultural shifts that brought the country to where it is today.

Her research is based on extensive archival work, and gives a detailed, thorough and nuanced explanation of Israel through the ages.

8. Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War by Micah Goodman

When Israeli author and philosopher Micah Goodman’s book was published in Hebrew back in 2017 it caused quite a stir – no surprise, perhaps, when considering it deals with the most hot-potato issue in Israeli politics: Israel’s military occupation of the territories it conquered in the Six-Day War.

Whether one agrees or not with Goodman’s assessment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its chances of resolution, his book makes for a detailed, thoughtful and well-argued read. Perhaps even more than it captures the situation on the ground, it also captures what Israelis try to make of it, which is a fascinating feat of its own.

9. No Room for Small Dreams: Courage, Imagination, and the Making of Modern Israel by Shimon Peres

Authored by the late Shimon Peres, one of Israel’s legendary presidents, No Room for Small Dreams gives a detailed account of the decisions and events that shaped the country.

As a statesman involved in the machinations of the state from the very beginning, Peres was uniquely positioned to give an insider view of the way Israel became what it is, discussing topics such the country’s nuclear power, the famous Operation Entebbe and the establishment of Start-Up Nation. Fans of the book include former US Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush.

10. The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi

Not a history book in any way, but one that all lovers of history should reach for. The fictional story of the multi-generational Armoza family in Jerusalem, spanning from the beginning of the 20th century all the way to decades later, touches upon so many things.

Author Sarit Yishai-Levi drew from her family’s personal history to touch upon subjects such as religion, race, gender, love and family in Israel, as well as what it was like to be living in the Holy Land under Ottoman and British rule and the nascent Zionist state. The novel was adapted into a super successful TV show streaming on Netflix, but we warmly recommend reaching for the book itself.

11. Enemies and Neighbors: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel, 1917-2017 by Ian Black

In a lengthy yet riveting read, former Guardian Middle East editor Ian Black tackles the complex, hundred-year-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

His historical and political analysis of the conflict draws upon archival research, oral testimonies and his own experience reporting from the ground. While his conclusions as to the resolution of the conflict can’t be called optimistic, this makes for an excellent read.

12. 1948 by Yoram Kaniuk

Yoram Kaniuk’s novel 1948 is a heart-wrenching account of his military service as a teenage boy in Jerusalem during Israel’s War of Independence. One of Israel’s most celebrated authors, Kaniuk tries to remember what happened to him and his friends in the frenzy and desperation of war, all while noting the blurred lines between reality, memory and oblivion.

While not a history book per se, it nonetheless gives a detailed real-life account of what life was like for the first Israelis and, indirectly, the war’s effects on the country all the way up to these difficult times.

Originally posted at israel21c.org


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