The best passionate and empathic books on the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Who am I?

In books, essays and reportage, I've been writing about Israel and the conflict since moving from the U.S. to Israel in 1982. Even as I write from within my Israeli consciousness, I have tried to understand and convey other perspectives. For Israelis and Palestinians, there is nothing abstract about this conflict; it is, instead, a matter of life and death. My writing is an attempt to simultaneously convey the passions of this conflict and offer an empathic voice for all those caught in this seemingly hopeless situation.

I wrote...

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor

By Yossi Klein Halevi,

Book cover of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor

What is my book about?

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor is a series of letters to an imaginary Palestinian neighbor, in which I attempt to explain who the Jews are and how Israelis experience the conflict. The book was translated into Arabic and placed online for free downloading. Thousands of Palestinians and other Arabic speakers throughout the region downloaded the book, and hundreds wrote me in response. The paperback edition ends with an extensive epilogue of Palestinian responses, modelling a respectful disagreement over conflicting narratives, and sharing visions of an end to the conflict. 

The books I picked & why

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Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001

By Benny Morris,

Book cover of Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001

Why this book?

If you’re going to read only one book on the conflict, this is it. Morris, one of Israel’s preeminent historians, deconstructs cherished myths on both sides. As the ironic title notes, what Palestinians and Israelis share is the certainty that all of justice is on their side. Morris shows how each side acted from a place of desperation, and that each was reacting to the other in a way that felt true to their own historical experience and narrative. Morris’ insights have been essential in shaping my own understanding of the conflict.

Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001

By Benny Morris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Righteous Victims as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Righteous Victims, by the noted historian Benny Morris, is a comprehensive and
objective history of the long battle between Arabs and Jews for possession of a land they both call home. It appears at a most timely juncture, as the bloody and protracted struggle seems at last to be headed for resolution.

With great clarity of vision, Professor Morris finds the roots of this conflict in the deep religious, ethnic, and political differences between the Zionist immigrants and the native Arab population of Palestine. He describes the gradual influx of Jewish settlers, which was eventually fiercely resisted by the Arabs…


Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

By Michael B. Oren,

Book cover of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Why this book?

Oren, a historian and former Israeli ambassador to Washington, broke new ground with this account of the 1967 Six-Day War that transformed Israel, the Palestinian national movement, and the Middle East. Drawing on previously inaccessible documents in Israeli and Arab archives, Oren writes with a novelist’s eye for character, a diplomat’s appreciation of behind-the-scenes negotiations, and a historian’s judgment of human folly. The Six-Day War transformed Israel and the Jewish people in multiple ways – instilling self-confidence in Diaspora Jews, solidifying Israel’s permanence in the Middle East, and also burdening the Jewish state with seemingly insoluble political and moral dilemmas. This is the best book written about the war itself. 

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

By Michael B. Oren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Six Days of War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1967 the future of the state of Israel was far from certain. But with its swift and stunning military victory against an Arab coalition led by Egypt in the Six Day War, Israel not only preserved its existence but redrew the map of the region, with fateful consequences. The Camp David Accords, the assassinations of Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin, the intifada, and the current troubled peace negotiations-all of these trace their origins to the Six Day War.
Michael Oren's Six Days of War is a gripping account of one of the most dramatic and important episodes in the…


The Words of My Father: Love and Pain in Palestine

By Yousef Bashir,

Book cover of The Words of My Father: Love and Pain in Palestine

Why this book?

In this extraordinary memoir, Yousef Bashir describes growing up in Gaza during the Second Intifada of the early 2000s. At age 15, an Israeli soldier shot him in the back. Paralyzed, Yousef was sent to an Israeli hospital, where he gradually recovered, making Israeli friends in the process. That experience of “love and pain” helped transform him into a peace activist. Yousef is one of the Palestinians who wrote a response to my book, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor. (His letter appears in the epilogue.) I know of no better window into the Palestinian experience than this beautiful, wrenching book.

The Words of My Father: Love and Pain in Palestine

By Yousef Bashir,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Words of My Father as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Palestinian-American activist recalls his adolescence in Gaza during the Second Intifada, and how he made a strong commitment to peace in the face of devastating brutality in this moving, candid, and transformative memoir that reminds us of the importance of looking beyond prejudice, anger, and fear.


The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace

By Adi Schwartz, Einat Wilf,

Book cover of The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace

Why this book?

What is the core of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and what is the key to its solution? In this groundbreaking work, Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf argue that the answer is not settlements or holy places or even the absence of a Palestinian state. Instead, the core of the conflict is the Palestinian national movement’s insistence on “right of return” of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to what is now the state of Israel – rather than resettlement in a future Palestinian state. What Palestinian leaders have effectively done, argue the authors, is link the end of the conflict to a “solution” that will mean the end of a sovereign Jewish state. The authors, who support the creation of a Palestinian state, argue that its creation depends on the willingness of Palestinian leaders to give up their dream of destroying Israel through a shift in its demographic balance. Until that happens, no Israeii government is likely to agree to withdraw from the territories.

The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace

By Adi Schwartz, Einat Wilf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The War of Return as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two prominent Israeli liberals argue that for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to end with peace, Palestinians must come to terms with the fact that there will be no "right of return."

In 1948, seven hundred thousand Palestinians were forced out of their homes by the first Arab-Israeli War. More than seventy years later, most of their houses are long gone, but millions of their descendants are still registered as refugees, with many living in refugee camps. This group―unlike countless others that were displaced in the aftermath of World War II and other conflicts―has remained unsettled, demanding to…


Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier's Story of a Forgotten War

By Matti Friedman,

Book cover of Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier's Story of a Forgotten War

Why this book?

One of Israel’s finest non-fiction writers tells the story of Israel’s failed war in Lebanon – the only war Israel lost – through his own experience as a soldier. A powerful meditation on the feelings of vulnerability and loss that are built into the Israeli experience – along with the deep commitment to protecting Israel from threats that unite Israelis across the political spectrum. This is the best book I know of in  English that conveys the complex experience of being an Israeli soldier. 

Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier's Story of a Forgotten War

By Matti Friedman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pumpkinflowers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A book about young men transformed by war, written by a veteran whose dazzling literary gifts gripped my attention from the first page to the last.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Friedman’s sober and striking new memoir . . . [is] on a par with Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried -- its Israeli analog.” —The New York Times Book Review

It was just one small hilltop in a small, unnamed war in the late 1990s, but it would send out ripples that are still felt worldwide today. The hill, in Lebanon, was called the Pumpkin; flowers was the military code…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Israel, Jewish-Arab relations, and refugees?

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