In the heart of the Middle East lies a land considered holy by millions, yet the battleground for one of the most protracted and complex conflicts in modern history: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This blog post delves into the narratives, pain, and perspectives of both Israelis and Palestinians through the lens of three pivotal works. Each book offers a unique viewpoint, from the ground realities faced by individuals living amidst the conflict, to the historical and political analysis of its origins and evolution, and finally, to a defense of one nation’s right to exist amidst widespread misunderstanding.

Through these books, we aim to present a comprehensive view of a land torn by conflict, yet rich in history and significance. Join us as we navigate the narratives, understand the disputes, and explore the possibilities for peace and reconciliation in a land revered by many as holy, yet scarred by an unholy war.

Holy Land, Unholy War:
Israelis and Palestinians

“Holy Land, Unholy War: Israelis and Palestinians” by Anton La Guardia, published in 2001. La Guardia is currently the foreign editor at The Economist magazine but at the time of this book’s publication, he had been writing about Israel and Palestine for British media for two decades, living mostly in the region.

In reality, this was the first field data that had tried to write with an equal view towards Israelis, Palestinians, and other minorities of this “Holy Land.” La Guardia is curious and a good listener who had sat down with many people from Israel and Palestine and then tried to present the viewpoints of both in a way that could bring one closer to understanding the reality of this long-standing conflict and war.

In one section of the book, La Guardia says that the peoples of Israel and Palestine cannot achieve peace until they accept each other’s suffering. He cites the example of two children, one Palestinian and the other Israeli, both of whom died from the bullets of this long-term war. He says that Palestinians should accept the truth of the Holocaust, the suffering of people for their religion, and Israelis should understand the suffering of the Palestinian people who have been driven from their land and have no place either in the occupied territories or in neighboring countries.

In this book, for the first time, we learn that apart from Jordan, other neighboring countries of Israel and Palestine do not grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees. La Guardia’s example was a camp in the area controlled by Hezbollah in Lebanon, which over the decades, its population had quadrupled, but its people, although mostly born in Lebanese territory, do not have citizenship rights and almost have nowhere to work and live outside of this camp.

Israeli Criticism:
Ilan Pappe and “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”

Ilan Pappé, who now lives in Vancouver, Canada, was born in 1954 in Haifa, Israel. His main expertise is in history and political science, but he has also spent some time as a politician. He was a professor and the director of the University Center for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter in the UK. He has written several books on the subject of Israel and Palestine, including “Ten Myths About Israel” (2017), “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” (2006), and “A Modern History of Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples” (2003).

This book focuses on a part of Israel’s history that many in the country prefer not to mention. With the help of the United Nations, Israel declared its existence in 1948. The UN divided Palestine into two parts, giving the larger portion of the land to the Jews. What the current right-wing government of Israel does not like to remember is the expulsion of Palestinians from early Israel.

The expulsion of Palestinians is the subject of this book. During 1947 and 1948, nearly 720,000 out of the 900,000 people living in early Israel were forced out of their homes, most at gunpoint. Pappé identifies this expulsion as “ethnic cleansing” and draws on various documents, including parts of David Ben-Gurion’s – the first Prime Minister of Israel and leader of the Zionist movement at the time – diaries that were censored at the time of publication.

Pappé, with his historical documents, says that two paramilitary groups, Haganah and the Irgun, under the management of the Zionist movement and in an organized manner, by creating terror mainly through bombings or shootings and killing locals, expelled the entire population of about 500 Arab villages and the majority of the population of large cities. Most of these populations went to neighboring Arab countries, hoping to return to their land once the crisis was over.

However, Israelis cleansed any sign of the indigenous people’s presence, including centuries-old olive trees.

The book is full of details that will be new to readers. One example is the creation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in 1949. Pappé explains that at that time, there was a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whose one of the missions was to try to return refugees to their homeland, but UNRWA’s goal was simply to help refugees continue their lives in their camps.

“The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” was welcomed by some Israeli historians and remains among the most-read books on the subject of Israel and Palestine. Pappé advocates for a single land for the peoples of Palestine and Israel, where they can live in peace and friendship.

Palestinian Perspective:
“The Hundred-Year War on Palestine”

Rashid Khalidi was born in 1948 in New York City, USA, to a family with Palestinian and Saudi Arabian origins. He holds the Edward Said Professorship of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York City and served as the editor of the “Journal of Palestinian Studies” for two decades. His family is known for its cultural and political figures in the Arab world.

Rashid Khalidi’s father, Ismail Raghib Khalidi, was born in Jerusalem, obtained his PhD from Columbia University in the USA, and served as a political officer in the United Nations’ political affairs division. Khalidi often mentions his father and his memories in his most famous book, “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017,” published in January 2020. Amazon describes the book as a valuable history of the hundred-year war against the Palestinians by a prominent American Middle East historian, conveyed through an exploration of significant events and family history.

In the Khalidi family, the father was engaged in political efforts, Rashid became a history expert, and his son Ismail Khalidi focused on art and culture as a poet and playwright. His uncle, Husayn Fakhri Khalidi, served as the mayor of Jerusalem (1934 to 1937) and was the 13th Prime Minister of Jordan in 1957.

“The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine” goes beyond historical and family documents to focus on the most significant events that have shaped the history of this land:

  1. The first declaration of war, from 1917 to 1939, following the “Balfour Declaration” issued by Britain, which considered “Palestine as a national home for the Jewish people.”
  2. The second declaration of war, in 1947 and 1948, focuses on the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland.
  3. The third declaration of war, in 1967, focuses on the war of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria against Israel, which ultimately led the United Nations to extend Israel’s borders with a new resolution without mentioning Palestinians and their rights.
  4. The fourth declaration of war, in 1982, focuses on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and the prolonged civil war in that land.
  5. The fifth declaration of war, from 1987 to 1995, focuses on the First Intifada and the disputes among various Palestinian groups.
  6. The sixth declaration of war, from 2000 to 2014, focuses on the Second Intifada, Israeli violence in the occupied territories against the indigenous people, and the Israeli assaults on Gaza in 2008, 2012, and 2014.

“The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine” chronicles a hundred years of internal conflict between indigenous people and settlers. For the author, this is a colonial process, reminding that Western countries, instead of resolving their internal conflicts with Jews, transferred the entire crisis to Palestine, becoming the instigators of current killings.

The Zionism Defense:
About the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth

Noa Tishby, born in 1975 in Tel Aviv, initially became known for her presence in Hollywood. She is a model, actress, and producer, most notably recognized for the series “In Treatment,” which was based on an Israeli series with a similar theme. Tishby has sold several Israeli series to Hollywood for American adaptations.

In 2021, she published a book in full defense of Israel: “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth.” Following the release of this book, the Netanyahu government hired her for one year (2022 to 2023) as a “Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism and the Delegitimization of Israel.”

Tishby says she decided to write the book after being repeatedly surprised by the lack of knowledge her American friends and acquaintances had about Israel. The book is written simply and clearly and remains one of the most-read books on the subject of Israel.

Part of the book reiterates common Israeli slogans: that the country is the only democracy in the region, where human rights, including for LGBTQ+ individuals, are respected. She also believes that the Nakba, referring to the expulsion of Palestinians, initially signifies the defeat of Arab states against Israel and their humiliation.

However, some aspects of the book are noteworthy. For example, one of her main questions is why Palestinians have not officially established the State of Palestine. She believes that in 1948, when Israel was formed, indigenous people could have declared their own country but did not. Responses to some of her criticisms can be found in other books reviewed here.

Tishby also believes that if a Palestinian state were formed and Palestinian refugees were asked whether they wanted to go to Israel or Palestine, they would definitely choose Israel—to live freely in the only democracy in the Middle East, echoing Israeli government propaganda.

She admires Zionism and Ben-Gurion. Her parents’ parents were among the early immigrants to Israel, who, in her view, transformed a backward land into an economic and military power. Tishby has also worked with the Israeli military’s intelligence section to understand social networks and promote Israel. If readers want to explore a modern Israeli perspective, this work could be the best book for that purpose.

My journey in creating this space was deeply inspired by James Baldwin’s powerful work, “The Fire Next Time”. Like Baldwin, who eloquently addressed themes of identity, race, and the human condition, this blog aims to be a beacon for open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable discussions on similar issues.

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