World Book Day 2019 - 4 Books on Israel-Palestine That You Should Read

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By Laurence Conneely

There is a great proliferation of literature written about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Much of it is valuable, insightful, thought-provoking and eye-opening, whatever perspective you approach this issue from. Plenty of it is… not. But the same could be said for any important contemporary issue and as always its important to have an insight into what is worth reading - on the history, culture, contemporary situation and perhaps what the future might hold.

For World Book Day 2019 I’ve collected 4 books that have had a profound impact on members of the team here at SNS, and which helped us as we grappled with understanding this complex story. These books are not necessarily the ‘best’ books written on this subject - who are we to judge that? They’re also probably not the best place to start if you’re brand new to this topic - we’ll be creating a more fulsome list of books in the near future, so look out for that. But they are books that have had an emotional impact, and helped us better grasp the context in which we work.

Please feel free to send in your own recommendations in the comments below!

Literature and War: Conversations with Israeli and Palestinian Writers by Runo Isakson

Recommended by Lilly Cheslaw, SNS Intern

This book takes you below the surface of a conflict that so often feels like just a war of competing facts and competing media representations. Working on Israel-Palestine, this can feel exhausting and overwhelming. 

But this book took me on a different journey, one that focuses on the role of identity - what shapes how Israelis and Palestinians see themselves and, in turn, how they see the ‘other’. It tells a bleak tale of how little the two sides engage with or know one another (a reality that has only worsened since the book was published), but it gave me hope in the power of the personal story to open hearts and minds. The interviews are both personal and political, reflective and urgent, and both complicated and clarified my understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It left me with more questions than it did answers, which, to me, is a sign of a good read. 

Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco

Recommended by Laurence Conneely, SNS Media & Comms Manager

I first read this book many years before I began working at SNS, well before I thought much about the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think I picked it up because it was my first encounter with 'journalistic graphic’ art, a style and form of journalism that I have come to love, and as a comic book fan going back many years it seemed like a natural progression as I sought out what was possible in this medium.

It’s an intense, emotional and beautiful book examining two massacres in Gaza that occurred in 1956. The art is stunning, but what really struck me was that this was married to classic investigative journalism - Sacco burning shoe leather going door-to-door and speaking to ordinary people to record their experiences, before weaving this into a powerful historical record. At SNS we too seek to share the stories of ordinary Israeli & Palestinian young people with a wider audience than they otherwise would have the opportunity to speak to. This is exactly what Sacco’s book does, shedding light on two ‘footnotes’ that might have otherwise become long-forgotten memories.

This interview with Sacco is a great deep-dive into how the book was created.

Jerusalem: A Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Recommended by Sharon Booth, SNS Founder & Director

Jerusalem' by Simon Montefiore held particular attraction for me as a Theologian as it traced so thoroughly the thread of spiritual belief and belonging to the Holy Land. As with what we are trying to do in SNS, it gave the wider picture of the complex history the city of Jerusalem - from the ancient Canaanite and Israelite tribes through to the modern day, but focused in on an impressive level of detail in many sections of the narrative. The other thing that reminded me of what we offer in SNS, was the more personal perspective of telling the historical narrative through the experiences of actual characters - their lives and times, who they loved and how they died. Finally, the book did not shy away from depicting the sheer brutality of a lot of the events that have unfolded in the region. Whilst disturbing, it reminded me again of the urgency of ending such violence for good and establishing peace and stability in the region. Whilst not absolutely accurate in every detail, I would definitely recommend it!

A Mountainous Journey by Fadwa Touqan

Recommended by Poppy Hall, SNS Intern

I first read A Mountainous Journey by Fadwa Touqan in 2016 for a literature essay on Arab women’s resistance through poetry and prose. Despite it being a narrative autobiography she intersperses her poems, often romantic or confessional, throughout it. The book details Touqan's childhood in Nablus within a conservative family,  and being taught to read and write poetry by her brother Ibrahim, a famous Palestinian poet in his own right. As one of the most famous Palestinian feminist writers, this book struck me how writing can be an act of liberation and resistance. Moving to live in Nablus later that year, it was exciting to experience a city which I had only understood previously from Touqan's words.

Quite often in A Mountainous Journey, the fight for female and Palestinian liberation are compared and contrasted through metaphor, and since reading this I have been interested in the concept of writing down history and the importance of the Palestinian literature to national identity.  From reading Touqan’s work, it not only influenced how I viewed literature as social commentary and a form of protest, but also deepened my understanding and love of Arabic literature and poetics.