Books and Resources That Give Empathy Toward the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

I have had trouble reading the news lately. My heart breaks for what is happening in Israel-Palestine, not because I want to take a side but because it seems that peace is farther and farther away.

I have a lot of complicated feelings about the region, and I know I’m not alone. As I learn more and more about Liberation Theology, I truly believe that God calls us to stand with the oppressed. I’ve become friends with a Palestinian immigrant this year; our dear friends and neighbors are Israeli-Jewish; Frank’s family is Jewish. Personally, I have a lot of trouble figuring out what I think and feel about this decades-old conflict. (Yes, I say decades-old. I do believe what we are seeing now is a direct result of decisions made in 1948.)

I wanted to share some of the books that have helped me on this journey. These have helped me see the humanity on all sides. I think, regardless of your own conclusions, the longer we create an us-vs-them attitude, the less of a chance conversation and peace will really happen.

UnknownThe Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

This is the first book that opened my eyes to the complexities of this modern conflict. If you only read one book about the history and impact of Israel-Palestine, I’d recommend this well-researched piece. Tolan’s command of storytelling makes it easy to forget you’re not reading a memoir or narrative but this is deeply researched and incredibly balanced. Tolan takes no sides but simply tells stories. (I wrote initial thoughts back in 2015 when I first read it.)

41haVpeNLjL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour

This incredible memoir, written by a Palestinian Christian brought a new depth to my understanding of the region. A Melkite Greek Catholic, Chacour has devoted his life to peacemaking in the region. A refugee from his home nearly his entire life, Chacour chooses to engage in discussion and relationship rather than deepening the divide of oppression. I hadn’t ever thought about the generations of Christians in the region and how this conflict has impacted them, so Blood Brothers gave me a deeper understanding of just how complex all of this is. (Last year, I wrote a post for the Red Couch Book Club if you’d like a more detailed discussion.)

51Fu5TQSL1L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Sharon and My Mother-in-Law by Suad Amiry

This short memoir was an interesting look at what life during the forty-day curfew of Ramallah was like. Amiry is blunt about her feeling of cabin fever, the unfairness of her dog receiving an identity card from Jerusalem when her family could not, and the daily struggle to maintain identity in the midst of a helpless situation.

51X-WC6f9UL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Sadness is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher

This novel about the friendship between an Israeli soldier and Palestinian siblings is a relevant look at what many of the next generations are feeling. Inheriting a conflict creates different perspectives and Rothman-Zecher does a masterful job at remembering why the State of Israel was so important for that first generation of Holocaust survivors and why a “land without a people” is a myth. I will give the caveat that I wouldn’t recommend this novel to my grandmother, as there are some scenes that may make more conservative readers uncomfortable but, as so many novels do, this creates empathy and depth of character in ways that nonfiction can’t.

Other Resources

For a quick overview of the modern conflict, I’d recommend this 12-minute video:

(In short: Let’s not forget the effects of Colonialism!)

Last fall, I took an enrichment class at the University of Denver about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our professor founded an organization called Meet the Middle East, aiming at humanizing Palestinians and bringing about conversation. I’d recommend following along, especially if you’re local to the Denver area.

Global Immersion is another organization whose mission is to train “everyday peacemakers.” They frequently host free webinars focusing on the complex issues surrounding peace in the region and I have learned a lot through those.

Ultimately, I’d recommend digging into the “other side.” I’ve learned so much from remembering that there are no easy answers and that actual people are living in both Israel and Palestine.

What would you add to this list? What books or resources have most impacted and helped your understanding of this particular conflict?

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Blood Brothers Discussion

I have the honor of leading the book discussion of Elias Chacour’s Blood Brothers over at SheLoves Magazine today. This is a challenging and thought-provoking book about the conflict in Israel & Palestine. Here’s an excerpt, but click over to read the whole post and join the discussion!

Photo-2017-02-28-10-29-25-PMNaïvely, I have always viewed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of Jews and Muslims. The descendants of Isaac and the descendants of Ishmael. Of course, nothing is as black and white and the conflict over Israel and Palestine impacts many more people than those two particular groups.

Elias Chacour’s memoir, Blood Brothers reminds me again and again that we are bound by much more than religion, political views, and geography. If we are to truly live out the upside down, peacemaking message of Jesus, it does us no good to divide into separate categories.

Chacour brings his own story of belonging to one of those other groups to life. As a Melkite Greek Catholic, Chacour imagines that his family, who had farmed the same area of land in Galilee, may have “eaten bread and fish miraculously multiplied by Jesus’s hand” (33). That is to say, his family have been Christians since the earliest followers of Jesus and they have lived in Palestine longer.

And yet, when the Zionists began claiming the land of Palestine in the 1940’s, Chacour’s family, supporters of their Jewish neighbors and those who wanted to settle in Palestine, were forced to leave and live out their lives as refugees.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about which “side” is the right side. Our neighbors are from Israel; my husband’s family is Jewish; I was raised with the Evangelical ideal that Americans support Israeli Jews without question. And yet, my heart aches for those who were forced to leave their homes and who have lived in exile for generations. I grapple with my belief that we are called to help the refugee, to pursue peace, to turn the other cheek with the complex idea of justice and how that looks for so many opposing sides.

What Chacour reminds me, is that this particular conflict is the work of politics, not of people.

Read the rest and join the discussion over at SheLoves!