Zionism, Israel, and the Palestinians – Book Recommendations

In the past month, two events rocked the Jewish world and challenged the liberal American Jewish relationship to Zionism and the State of Israel.

Peter Beinart, a long-time supporter of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, articulated in a long essay in Jewish Currents and in an op-ed in the New York Times why he now believes that a two-state solution is dead. Instead, he advocates for one democratic state in which the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples can live equally in their respective national homes in what he calls “Israel-Palestine.”

Josh Rogen, the American Jewish film-maker and comedian, in an interview with Marc Maron on his podcast in advance of the release of Rogen’s film “An American Pickle,” reflects the conflicted state of his own Jewish identity and many in his generation vis a vis antisemitism, Jews, and Israelis.

Whereas Peter Beinart is a highly educated and informed Jewish intellectual and journalist, Josh Rogen, though growing up in a Vancouver Jewish Day School and a left-wing Habonim Dror summer camp, seems not to understand what Israel and Israelis are really all about, what Jewish peoplehood means today, and why a Jewish State in all its complexity is a miracle in 2000 years of Jewish history.

The tragedy of Covid-19, the historic economic collapse, massive unemployment, racial divisions, and the charged American presidential race have consumed so much of our energy and attention these past 6 months. Few American Jews except those who are most passionately pro-Zionist and pro-Israel aren’t thinking much about Israel these days. Perhaps, this is an opportunity with so much time on our hands for us American Jews to deepen our knowledge and understanding of Zionism, Israel, and Palestine.

To that end, I’ve compiled a list of volumes that educate and enlighten the history of the Jewish State, the Zionist dream, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These volumes explain why a Jewish state matters so much to the Jewish people, and why a two-state solution is the only viable option for peace, security, and justice for both Jews and Palestinians.

ISRAEL – A HISTORY – Anita Shapira, one of Israel’s most notable scholars, provides a breath-taking history of Israel from the origins of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century to the present day. 

THE ZIONIST IDEA – A HISTORICAL ANALYSIS AND READER – Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg – An anthology of writings of the leading thinkers of the Zionist movement. The 80-page historical introduction is among the finest in print.

THE ZIONIST IDEAS – VISIONS FOR THE JEWISH HOMELAND – THEN, NOW, TOMORROW – Gil Troy with a Forward by Natan Sharansky. This recently published volume is a continuation of Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg’s seminal work above.

1948 – Benny Morris – A revisionist history of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.

THE PALESTINIANS – Benny Morris – A study of the development of the Palestinian national consciousness in response to the establishment of the State of Israel.

BE STRONG AND OF GOOD COURAGE – HOW ISRAEL’S MOST IMPORTANT LEADERS SHAPED ITS DESTINY – Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, two American diplomats, review the contribution of four leaders present at the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 who became Prime Minister and demonstrated strong leadership – David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon.

THE LEMON TREE – Sandy Tolan – A true story of the experience of exiled Palestinians who return to their home in Jaffa from which they had been driven out by Israeli forces in the War of Independence to discover Holocaust survivors as the new occupants. The book tells the story of the evolving personal relationship between the two families set in the historical context of the founding of the State of Israel.

SIX DAYS OF WAR – Michael Oren – An exhaustive study of the period leading up to and including the 1967 Six Day War. Oren reviews all communiqués from Israel, the Arab world, the United States, and the Soviet Union, and crafts a compelling narrative behind the events that changed the Middle East. The author would become Israel’s Ambassador to the United States.

TALES OF LOVE AND DARKNESS – Amos Oz – The autobiography of one of Israel’s greatest writers and peace activists from his early years as the nephew of a prominent Zionist revisionist to his own evolution as a member of a left-wing kibbutz.

ONCE UPON A COUNTRY – A PALESTINIAN LIFE – Sari Nusseibeh with Anthony David – A personal memoir of the President of Al Quds University whose story dramatizes the consequences of war, partition, and terrorism.

IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL – Amos Oz reflects on his conversations with workers, soldiers, religious zealots, aging pioneers, new immigrants, desperate Arabs, young fanatics, dreamers, and visionaries.

SIDE BY SIDE – PARALLEL HISTORIES OF ISRAEL–PALESTINE – Edited by Sami Adwan, Dan Bar-On, and Eyal Naveh. Israeli and Palestinian educators reflect on the conflicting Israeli and Palestinian narratives.

FROM BEIRUT TO JERUSALEM – Thomas L. Friedman – The former bureau chief for The New York Times in Beirut and Jerusalem.

THE MISSING PIECE – Dennis Ross – A comprehensive review of the Oslo Peace process by one of the key negotiators for the United States.

KILLING A KING – THE ASSASSINATION OF YITZHAK RABIN AND THE REMAKING OF ISRAEL – Dan Ephron reflects on how the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister was the beginning of the end of the Oslo Peace process and changed history.

A NEW VOICE FOR ISRAEL – Jeremy Ben Ami – A personal memoir and political analysis of what American Jews need to do to advocate for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Washington before the administration and legislative bodies by the founder and President of J Street, a pro-Israel pro-peace political and educational organization. 

THE CRISIS OF ZIONISM – Peter Beinart – A controversial analysis of the current state of American Jewish politics and our relationship to the State of Israel based upon Zionism’s founding ideals.

TO THE END OF THE LAND – David Grossman – A novel by one of Israel’s great writers offers with extraordinary power a story about family life and the costs of war.

PATHWAYS TO PEACE – AMERICAN AND THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT – Edited by former US Ambassador to Egypt and Israel, Daniel C. Kurtzer, with a Foreword by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former National Security Advisor Samuel Berger – A series of articles by experts on how to advance the peace process.

ISRAELIS AND THE JEWISH TRADITION – AN ANCIENT PEOPLE DEBATING ITS FUTURE – Rabbi David Hartman, founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and dedicated to religious pluralism, discusses the increasing divide between Israel’s secular Jewish community and its religious Zionists.

LETTERS TO MY PALESTINIAN NEIGHBOR – Yossi Klein Halevi wrote letters to the Palestinians living near him on the other side of the separation fence. Published first in English and then translated into Arabic, Klein Halevi received many responses from Palestinians with whom he subsequently entered into dialogue and established friendships.

CATCH–67 – THE LEFT, THE RIGHT, AND THE LEGACY OF THE SIX-DAY WAR – Micah Goodman reflects on the ideas that have shaped Israelis’ thinking among secular and religious Jews about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

LIKE DREAMERS – THE STORY OF THE ISRAELI PARATROOPERS WHO REUNITED JERUSALEM AND DIVIDED A NATION – Yossi Klein Halevi tells the stories of many Israeli combatants during the 1967 War who created Shalom Achshav (a left-wing peace movement advocating exchanging land for peace) and Gush Emunim (a right-wing organization advocating for one Jewish state in all the land of Israel).

A PATH TO PEACE – A BRIEF HISTORY OF ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATIONS AND A WAY FORWARD IN THE MIDDLE EAST – George J. Mitchell – Former U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace who negotiated peace in Northern Ireland discusses the difficulties of doing so for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

APEIROGON – A NOVEL – Colum McCann The true story in novel form of the tragic deaths by terror of a Jewish Israeli girl and a Palestinian girl as experienced by their fathers who come to be close personal friends in their grief as part of Combatants for Peace.

THE STORY OF HEBREW – Lewis Glinert – How the ancient language of the Biblical period became a bridge to Greek and Arab science, and today is the first language of millions of Israelis.

About the Author
John L. Rosove is Senior Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street and immediate past National Chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). He serves as a member of the newly created Union for Reform Judaism's Israel and Reform Zionism Committee (IRZC). John was the 2002 Recipient of the World Union for Progressive Judaism International Humanitarian Award and has received special commendation from the State of Israel Bonds. In 2013 he was honored by J Street at its Fifth Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles. John is the author of two books - “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove” (Nashville: Jewish Lights Publishing, a division of Turner Publishing Company, 2017) and "Why Israel [and its Future] Matters - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" (New Jersey: Ben Yehuda Press, 2019). Both are available at Amazon.com. John is married to Barbara. They are the parents of two sons - Daniel (married to Marina) and David. He has one granddaughter.
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