Israel's West Bank separation barrier Israel's West Bank separation barrier [Montecruz Foto/Flickr]

The massive upsurge in protests and activity against Israel’s devastating assault on Gaza has widened the audience interested in understanding the oppression of the Palestinians. Alex Snowdon recommends a selection of books for anyone wanting to deepen their understanding

1. Ten Myths About Israel, Ilan Pappe (Verso, 2017) is one of the best general introductions to the history and politics of Palestine and Israel. It is eloquent, concise, factually rigorous and infused with deep empathy for the Palestinians.

Each chapter takes a myth promoted by apologists for Israeli apartheid – and completely dismantles it. Left-wing Israeli historian Pappe does this by drawing on his vast historical knowledge to concisely explain the truth on each topic, from the pre-history of Israel – such as the Zionist movement and the role of British colonialism – to the present day. It concludes with a succinct case for a one-state solution rooted in justice, freedom and equality for all. 

2. Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine, Ghada Karmi (Pluto, 2007) takes its title from an old story. After the first Zionist Congress in 1897, two rabbis visited Palestine to consider its suitability for a future Jewish national home. They reported back: ‘The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man’. This is the core paradox in the origins of Israel as a settler-colonial state. Zionism proposed a ‘land without people for a people without land’ but the land was in fact already inhabited by a substantial Palestinian population.

The book returns to the pre-history and origins of Israel to make sense of the terrible history of dispossession, violence and exile endured by the Palestinians. But she also has chapters covering the major developments since 1948, including the relationship between Israel and imperialism (one excellent chapter is called ‘Why does the West support Israel?’)

3. The Balfour Declaration: Empire, the Mandate and Resistance in Palestine, Bernard Regan(Verso, 2018) is an unmatched history of the Balfour Declaration and its aftermath. The UK government’s declaration was a pledge to the Zionist movement to support its aspirations to a ‘Jewish national home’ in historic Palestine – a shameless and cynical act that suited British colonial interests, while ignoring the needs of the Palestinians.

Regan doesn’t merely provide an account of the declaration’s history but documents the events that took Palestine from the Balfour Declaration in 1917 to the Nakba of 1948 that established Israel through massive ethnic cleansing. Crucially, this includes paying a lot of attention to the Palestinian resistance to growing settler-colonialism, especially the strikes and other revolts of 1936-39. 

4. Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel, David Cronin (Pluto, 2017) is also very strong on the context and ramifications of the Balfour Declaration. David Cronin demonstrates the close links between British colonial interests and developments in Palestine up to 1948.

The book has a much longer historical reach than this though. Cronin subsequently documents the ongoing complicity of the UK in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, with 5 out of 9 chapters covering events since 1948. These chapters focus on political, military and business relations, exposing how consistently supportive UK governments have been towards Israel. It is particularly damning about the history of Labour governments.

5. The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation: Repression Beyond ExploitationShir Hever(Pluto, 2010) tackles the complex topic of the economics of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. Hever, a left-wing Israeli economist, takes a long view, going back to 1967 when Israel occupied new territory including Gaza and the West Bank.

It is the kind of scholarly research that supports the efforts of activists by providing a wealth of facts and insights. Hever shows how Israel has strangled efforts at Palestinian economic development, as well as examining the relationships between Israel and the wider world, especially the US.

6. War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification,Jeff Halper (Pluto, 2015) is also concerned with economic and business relationships between Israel and the rest of the world. The focus is on revealing how Israel exports its hi-tech weapons, drone technology and security and surveillance systems to other countries, using its status as a market leader in violent repression to make profits and boost its international standing.

Halper analyses these technologies of control both in relation to the oppression of Palestinians and in terms of their wider use elsewhere in the world, showing how Israel plays a central role in the worldwide suppression of human rights. It is a chilling and disturbing book, via its focus on the cold, hard facts of how Israel both controls the lives of Palestinians and profits from its leading role in the global arms trade.

7. Bad News from IsraelGreg Philo and Mike Berry (Pluto, 2004) is a classic study of how the media mis-represents Israel’s ongoing war on the Palestinians in terms of a two-sided, eternal conflict between more or less equal sides. The authors, from the Glasgow University Media Group ,oversaw a large-scale, rigorous research project that examined how the news media represented Palestine and Israel. It goes beyond the headlines and examines the processes that shape these news representations: media ownership, dominant ideologies, and so on.

The book also benefits from a very extensive account of the history – stretching back to the birth of the Zionist movement – that is invariably omitted from media accounts. Current media bias on Gaza indicates why this book, which contains invaluable models and frameworks for examining news media output, retains its relevance. 

8. Cracks in the Wall: Beyond Apartheid in Palestine/IsraelBen White (Pluto, 2018) is both sober and hopeful. White documents how Israel is ‘already a single (apartheid) state’ and is ruthlessly realistic about how grim the situation on the ground in Palestine is and how dreadfully right-wing and racist Israeli politics has become (in both these respects, things have only got worse since 2018).

But it also offers tentative hope by examining the cracks in the wall of support for Israeli apartheid, including the growing divides in American Jewish communities (with more mainly young Jews turning against Israel) and the impact of the global BDS movement and the pressures it has generated. It ends with a strong and cogent case for a one-state alternative based on radically different principles – including respect for the rights of all ethnic and social groups – to the current apartheid regime that stretches from the river to the sea.

9.   Working Palestine: Covid-19, Labour, and Trade Unions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Riya Al-Sanah, Adam Hanieh and Rafeef Ziadah (Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, 2021) is a remarkably thorough report. It is unusual and refreshing in focusing on Palestinian workers, their experiences at work, and their efforts to organise as workers.

The researchers provide a superb overview of the historical and political background before examining the conditions and struggles in a number of sectors: health, education, construction and agriculture. They also outline some ideas about the way ahead for Palestinian workers across historic Palestine. 

10. Poetic Injustice: writings on resistance and PalestineRemi Kanazi (RoR Publishing, 2011) is rather different to everything else in this list. It is a collection of poems by Kanazi, a Palestinian writer based in New York, and it conveys the suffering, steadfastness and resistance of Palestinians on every page.

It may be a book of poems, but it actually has a great deal in common with the other titles here. Though expressed differently, it covers the same ground – as you can see from titles like ‘A Poem for Gaza’, ‘Palestinian Identity’, ‘Coexistence’ and ‘The Dos and Don’ts of Palestine’. At times lyrical, at times satirical, at times uplifting, it really packs a punch. 

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Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).