The events of October 7, when Hamas launched a violent and deadly attack upon Israel, sent shockwaves around the world and triggered an unprecedented air attack response by Israel on Gaza, resulting in the displacement of more than one million people within the enclave.
Tensions remain high and many readers will be searching for additional historical context to help them make sense of current events. Below we list eight books that may help. This is by no means an exhaustive guide, but the titles listed here should give readers perspective on some of the key historical threads at work in the region today.
The Question of Palestine (1979)
Written by Edward Said, a celebrated Palestinian-American academic, literary critic and political activist, this is an illuminating piece of literature that expands on the tensions between Palestinians and Israelis, while showing how the conflict is perceived and reflected in the West. The book was originally written in 1979, but was updated in 1992 to reflect on the way events like the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the intifada and the Gulf War impacted the Palestinian struggle.
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006)
Written by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine details the Nakba of 1948, when hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages were destroyed and more than 700,000 Arabs forcibly displaced, during the creation of the State of Israel.
Six Days: How the 1967 War Shaped the Middle East (2003)
A book by former BBC Middle East correspondent Jeremy Bowen. As the title suggests, Six Days highlights the events leading up to and around the war between Israel and several Arab nations in 1967. It breaks down the conflict hour by hour, examining decisions and military tactics of Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (2006)
In The Iron Cage, Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi explores the history of the Palestinian struggle for independence, starting from the aftermath of the Ottoman Empire, when British colonial forces took over Palestine. Khalidi begins with the British mandate period and the arrival of Jewish immigrants, through to the Nakba and the modern era.
I Saw Ramallah (1997)
An autobiographical work by the late Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti, I Saw Ramallah was first translated into English in 2000 by Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif. It follows Barghouti’s attempt to return to Palestine from Egypt after the 1967 war. He was barred from entering. It took him another 30 years to finally be able to return to the town he grew up in. It is a gripping first-hand perspective of the difficulties Palestinians face while trying to travel within the country or return to it.
In Search of Fatima (2002)
Written by Ghada Karmi, this autobiography offers a first-hand account of the events of 1948. Born in Jerusalem in 1939, Karmi travelled to the UK after the Nakba, spending formative years in a Jewish suburb in London. The book is a poignant and moving read, exploring the effects of displacement while major events shift the political landscape in the Middle East.
My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (2013)
Another book by an Israeli author, My Promised Land draws from archival documents, interviews, as well as private correspondences and diaries. At its heart is the story of author Ari Shavit’s family, beginning with Shavit’s great-grandfather, a British Jew who arrived in Palestine in 1897. Shavit’s book expands on the perspective of Jewish people who arrived in Palestine at the turn of the century and tries to offer a multifaceted perspective of the creation of Israel.
The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017 (2020)
Another work by Khalidi highlights a letter written in 1899 by the author’s great-great-uncle, Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, mayor of Jerusalem. In the letter, al-Khalidi addresses Theodor Herzl, the founding father of the Zionism movement, as the mayor was taken aback by the Zionist calls to create a Jewish state in Palestine. The book, as a whole, highlights a trove of archival materials, personal letters and multigenerational reports to show the continued challenges Palestinians face under occupation.