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

Georgette F. Bennett Ph.D. Author Of Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By: How One Woman Confronted the Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of Our Time
By Georgette F. Bennett Ph.D.

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.  

The books I picked & why

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Reclamation: A Cultural Policy for Arab-Israeli Partnership

By Joseph Braude,

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

Why 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.  

Reclamation: A Cultural Policy for Arab-Israeli Partnership

By Joseph Braude,

Why should I read it?

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


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

By Dennis Ross,

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

Why 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. 

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

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.


Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life

By Sari Nusseibeh, Anthony David,

Book cover of Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life

Why 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.

Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life

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…


Frontline Syria: From Revolution to Proxy War

By David L. Phillips,

Book cover of Frontline Syria: From Revolution to Proxy War

Why 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. 

Frontline Syria: From Revolution to Proxy War

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.…


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

By Micah Goodman, Eylon Levy (translator),

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

Why 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.

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

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…


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