The best books about the shifting dynamics in the Middle East from a back channel witness

Who am I?

Conflict resolution and intergroup relations are my passions. Perhaps because I’m a child of the Holocaust. My parents and I arrived in the U.S. as stateless refugees. The Holocaust primed me to explore why religion inspires so much hate. My career as a criminologist got me interested in the link between religion and violence. My refugee roots led me to an International Rescue Committee report on the Syrian crisis. That report hit me hard and felt very personal because it echoed my own family’s suffering in the Holocaust. I saw an opportunity to build bridges between enemies—Israel and Syria, Jews and Muslims—while also saving lives.  


I wrote...

Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By: How One Woman Confronted the Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of Our Time

By Georgette F. Bennett Ph.D.,

Book cover of Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By: How One Woman Confronted the Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of Our Time

What is my book about?

Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By is my account of taking on an intractable humanitarian crisis through humanitarian diplomacy. It is a largely untold story of unprecedented and improbable partnerships between Syrians and Israelis, sworn enemies, who rose above mutual suspicion to alleviate terrible suffering. We had to navigate politics while keeping a tight focus on delivering life-saving aid. That human story is told against the background of geopolitical obstacles that threatened our work at every turn. While I’ve built what we learned into policy recommendations, Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By is also a guide for anyone who wants to find a way to help but doesn’t know how to get started. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in Syria, making this book particularly timely.  

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Reclamation: A Cultural Policy for Arab-Israeli Partnership

Georgette F. Bennett Ph.D. Why did I love this book?

Joseph Braude has spearheaded historic and courageous initiatives to integrate Israel into the Middle East for the benefit of the entire region. One of these is the Arab Council for Regional Integration, which I’ve been proud to personally support. Reclamation traces the shifting alliances and unlikely converging of interests of the Sunni world with Israel. Braude is extraordinarily knowledgeable and seasoned in back-channel diplomacy.  

Book cover of The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace

Georgette F. Bennett Ph.D. Why did I love this book?

A veritable tome documenting the entire history of Middle East peace negotiations between Israel and its neighbors, including Syria, by Dennis Ross, the envoy who was on the inside throughout. Important revelations and insights emerge from the pages of this in-depth narrative of these torturous negotiations. It debunks the myth that no solutions had been or can be found. But despite agreements on all sides, one party or the other usually walked away. Because of my work in Israel, Jordan, Oman, Syria, and the Emirates, I found this book to be particularly valuable. And, now that I’ve come to know Dennis Ross personally, I value his contributions even more. 

By Dennis Ross,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The respected ambassador and chief Middle East negotiator in both the Clinton and Bush administrations offers an assessment of the peace process from 1988 to the present.


Book cover of Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life

Georgette F. Bennett Ph.D. Why did I love this book?

I was blown away by this narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the Palestinian perspective. Sari Nusseibeh is the scion of one of the oldest and most distinguished Palestinian families. So important are they that the Nusseibehs hold the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and are charged with opening the Church each day. Despite the fact that Sari and his family lost so much when Israel declared statehood in 1948, I was moved by the absence of malice in what I found to be a balanced account of “the Nakbah.” After reading the book, I was eager to meet Sari, who was at the time president of Al Quds University. My husband and I did get to spend a day with him on campus, where we learned even more about the Palestinian side of the conflict.

By Sari Nusseibeh, Anthony David,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Once Upon a Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

These extraordinary memoirs give us a rare view into what the Arab-Israeli conflict has meant for one Palestinian family over the generations. Nusseibeh also interweaves his own story with that of the Palestinians as a people, always speaking his mind, and apportioning blame where he feels it due. Hated by extremists on both sides, his is a rare voice.

"This autobiography? carries the passion that might embolden ordinary Israelis and Palestinians to bypass the politicians and establish the peace that all but the armoured men desperately want." The Independent

"Nusseibeh's formidable achievement? leaves a drop of despair, because of how…


Book cover of Frontline Syria: From Revolution to Proxy War

Georgette F. Bennett Ph.D. Why did I love this book?

Frontline Syria serves as an “after-action report” of a highly complex conflict. I’ve known the author, David Phillips, since he was a teenager. He grew up to be a prominent diplomat and human rights activist and we worked together for a time. His book analyzes the U.S. response to the Syrian civil war and the proxy war that it is. Frontline Syria is erudite, deep, thorough, comprehensive, and accurately reflects what I’ve come to know about the Syrian crisis in my own work. The timeline at the front is a useful tool for following the myriad events that follow. Other tools include glossaries of acronyms and personalities. 

By David L. Phillips,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When the Syrian regime used sarin and other chemical weapons against dissidents in August 2013, an estimated 1729 people were killed including 400 children. President Barack Obama warned that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a "red line", but he refused to take military action. Trump's approach has been even more disengaged and lacking in clarity.

Frontline Syria highlights America's failure to prevent conflict escalation in Syria. Based on interviews with US officials involved in Syria policy, as well as UN personnel, the book draws conclusions about America's role in world affairs and its potential to prevent deadly conflict.…


Book cover of Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War

Georgette F. Bennett Ph.D. Why did I love this book?

This is the best book I’ve ever read on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Goodman does a deep dive into why both Israelis and Palestinians are locked into their positions. He posits that the conflict may be irreconcilable. However, just because the conflict can’t be resolved doesn’t mean that it can’t be shrunk—and ways to shrink the conflict are the focus of his book. He makes numerous practical, doable policy recommendations about how to make life better for Palestinians and how to live together despite differences that can’t be overcome. Ultimately, I found the book to be hopeful.

By Micah Goodman, Eylon Levy (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Catch-67 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A controversial examination of the internal Israeli debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a best-selling Israeli author

"A must for anyone who wants to understand the tectonic forces underlying Israeli politics."-Rabbi Robert Orkand, Reform Judaism

"An eloquent expression of the distant hope that deeply committed human beings can stop, inhale deeply, listen, change, and compromise."-Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

Since the Six-Day War, Israelis have been entrenched in a national debate over whether to keep the land they conquered or to return some, if not all, of the territories to Palestinians. In 2017, best-selling Israeli author Micah Goodman published a balanced…


You might also like...

Those People Behind Us

By Mary Camarillo,

Book cover of Those People Behind Us

Mary Camarillo Author Of Those People Behind Us

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Novelist Music Lover Reader Traveler Cat servant

Mary's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Those People Behind Us is set in the summer of 2017, post-Trump election and pre-pandemic. The story takes place in the fictional city of Wellington Beach, California, a suburban coastal town increasingly divided by politics, protests, and escalating housing prices. These divisions change the lives of five neighbors--a real estate agent, an ex-con, a Vietnam vet, a teenage boy, and an aerobics teacher.

These characters care for elderly parents and rebellious teens and struggle with loss, loneliness, grief, and financial worries. They are also all searching for community in a neighborhood where no one can agree on who belongs. In the end, each neighbor discovers that, despite their differences, they are more connected than any of them would have imagined.

Those People Behind Us

By Mary Camarillo,

What is this book about?

It's the summer of 2017 in Wellington Beach, California, a suburban coastal town increasingly divided by politics, protests, and escalating housing prices-divisions that change the lives of five neighbors.

Longtime resident and real estate agent Lisa Kensington juggles her job, her shopaholic husband, a mother-in-law who knows how to push her buttons, and teenage children with ideas of their own, all while trying to hold on to her own dreams. Her neighbor Ray Gorman is a haunted Vietnam vet who is also caring for his aging mother. Keith Nelson, an ex-con, lives in his car, parked around the corner from…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in international relations, the Middle East, and Palestinians?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about international relations, the Middle East, and Palestinians.

International Relations Explore 258 books about international relations
The Middle East Explore 173 books about the Middle East
Palestinians Explore 38 books about Palestinians