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(Image: Archi Banal)
(Image: Archi Banal)

BooksOctober 24, 2023

A Palestine reading guide

(Image: Archi Banal)
(Image: Archi Banal)

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the Palestine-Israel conflict’s complexity and depth of history, this reading list is designed to help you grasp an overview, before guiding you towards some books to help you self-educate. 

Overviews, list and explainers (online reads)

The Gaza Strip − why the history of the densely populated enclave is key to understanding the current conflict, by Maha Nassar

Nassar is a scholar of Palestinian history and in this article she zooms in on Gaza, answering questions like why is it one of the most densely populated enclaves on Earth? Who are the Palestinians of Gaza? And how has this strip of land become key to the conflict? Read the article on The Conversation, here.

A timeline of the clashes between Palestinian militants and Israel, by Emma Bubola for the NY Times

This bullet point list of events starting in 1949 and running right up until now is a brief and useful way to orient today’s conflict within its recent history and wider political contexts. Read the list online here.

What are the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict? By Chris McGreal for The Guardian

This explainer looks to 1947 and the United Nations’ vote to partition land in the British mandate of Palestine (Palestine was one of several former Ottoman empire territories to be handed to UK administration in 1922 by the League of Nations) “into two states – one Jewish, one Arab – following the destruction of much of European Jewry in the Holocaust”. It answers questions like “What is the Palestine Liberation Organisation?”; “When did Hamas enter the picture?”; and “Why does Hamas control Gaza?” Read more on The Guardian here.

What’s the Israel-Palestinian conflict about and how did it start? By Reuters journalists

This succinct explainer covers the basic history of Israel and Palestine, and tracks they key conflicts since 1948, when approximately 700,000 Palestinians fled, or were forced, from their homes. Read the explainer on Reuters here.

Deeper reading (history books)

The Question of Palestine by Edward Said (1992)

You may well have heard the name Edward Said before: he is a renowned Palestinian-American academic, literary critic and activist. The Question of Palestine was provocative when it was published: it was written for an American audience who, Said believed, ignored the Middle East and needed to understand the history and current plight of the Palestinian people. A useful starting point. For those interested in more context on Said and his ideas, this long read on the New Yorker is excellent.

Gaza in Crisis and On Palestine, both by Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappé

These two books are companion pieces that each reflect on Israel’s assault on Palestine (up until 2015 when On Palestine was published). Chomsky is of course one of the most venerated political critics in the world, and Pappé is regarded as one of Israel’s greatest historians (whose views led him to being forced to resign from the University of Haifa in 2007. He is now professor at the University of Exeter in the UK). You can read an insightful interview with Pappé on Al Jazeera here.

The Iron Cage by Rashid Khalidi

This book came out in 2006 and presented an investigation into the question of why Palestinians have so far been unable to establish an independent state. Khalidi weighs up Palestinian leadership, Israeli advantages, British colonial treachery, and other factors. If you’d like to read a review of the book first, this one is fulsome and offers an excellent analysis of Khalidi’s aims and arguments. 


The Sunday Essay: A Palestinian catastrophe by Tameem Shaltoni (online read)

In 2022 Tameem Shaltoni wrote this vivid essay on being the grandchild of Palestinian refugees who had to flee from Gaza in the  1948 Nabka (when, in 1948, 700,000+ Palestinian Arabs fled/were forced from their homes). Shaltoni describes their gruelling journey and the impact of displacement on their lives, on his parents’ lives and on his own.

In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story and Return: A Palestinian Story, both by Ghada Karmi

Ghada’s 2009 memoir tells the story of her Palestinian childhood and her exile to Britain. Her second, published in 2015, tells the story of her return to her homeland and her experience working with the Palestinian Authority (complicated and controversial). Available for purchase from Verso books here.

Falastin: A cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley

A truly delicious and beautiful journey through Palestine through the eyes and recipes of Palestinian chef Sami Tamimi (co-author of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem). As well as recipes, the book includes travel photography and stories from Palestinians in each area Tamimi and co-author Tara Wigley travel to. Purchase from Unity Books Auckland and Wellington

Graphic/comic book formats

Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza: A Graphic Novel, both by Joe Sacco 

Joe Sacco is a Maltese-American journalist and comic artist. These two books are extraordinary and highly recommended for an immersive experience. Palestine is based on the two months Sacco spent in the West Bank and Gaza Strip between late 1991 and early 1992 (at the time of the first Intifada: when Palestinians protested the Israeli forces in Israeli-occupied areas). The result is a mix of reportage and reflection told through the comic medium, so it’s incredibly involving. Footnotes in Gaza is an investigative work, covering two massacres during the Suez crisis of 1956: the Israeli army swept into the Gaza Strip and killed 275 Palestinians (mostly refugees) in the town of Khan Younis; and then later killed 111 more in Rafah. 

A child in Palestine: The childhood of Naji al-Ali

Naji al-Ali was one of Palestine’s most celebrated cartoonists (he died in 1987). He was seen as a voice for the everyday Arab people and through his work criticised Israeli brutality as well as Palestinian authorities. This book is a collection of this work and includes his most famous character, Handala, who was his young witness to the events he satirised. Naji al-Ali was shot by unknown assailants outside the London offices of al-Qabas, a Kuwaiti newspaper, on July 22, 1987 and died five weeks later.

Baddawi by Leila Abdelrazaq

In this graphic novel, Abdelrazaq explores her father’s childhood in the 1960s and 70s growing up with his Palestinian parents in a Lebanese refugee camp. You can see samples of the book and more of Abdelrazaq’s work on her website here.


Palestine + 100: Stories from a Century After the Nakba, various authors, translated from the Arabic by Raph Cormack, Mohamed Ghalaieny, Andrew Leber, Thoraya El-Rayyes, Yasmine Seale and Jonathan Wright

In this sci-fi anthology, 12 Palestinian writers answer the question “what might your country look like in the year 2048 – a century after the tragedies and trauma of what has come to be called the Nakba?” Writers take a range of approaches, including dystopias, farce, parallel universes, superheroes and drones. Purchase from Unity Books Wellington. 

Light in Gaza: Writings born of fire, edited by Jehad Abusalim, Jennifer Bing and Mike Merryman-Lotz

This is a collection of writing and visual art from Palestinians living in Gaza, including pieces of “futurism as a means of reimagining a better way of living, beyond the violence and limitations of colonialism”. You can read more and purchase from Haymarket books.  

Aotearoa books on relevant subjects 

Self-education about our own history in Aotearoa is one way to develop empathy for the people in crisis in the Middle East. Here is a list of books (there are so many, this is a very brief sample) that share adjacent concerns with the Israeli-Palestine conflict (for example, histories of colonisation, oppression and protest). 

Imagining Decolonisation, by Bianca Elkington, Moana Jackson, Rebecca Kiddle, Ocean Ripeka Mercier, Mike Ross, Jennie Smeaton, Amanda Thomas

There is a reason why this book is continuously on the bestseller lists in this country. It is a hugely pragmatic, short book that unpacks what decolonisation means by offering metaphors for seeing what it is and what it does; and by exploring it in areas such as architecture, wealth distribution and how we (mis)remember our colonial past. You can read Anahera Gildea’s essay about the book here, and purchase it from Unity Books Wellington and Auckland.  

Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of Resistance, Persistence and Defiance by Stephanie Gibson, Matariki Williams and Puawai Cairns (Te Papa Press)

This book is a brilliant history (with amazing archival material) of protest in Aotearoa: from Ihūmatao, to Vietnam, to Greenpeace, to Bastion Point. See a sample of the book here; and purchase from Unity Books Wellington and Auckland

Books about the invasion of Parihaka

There are some great books that explore one of the most major and resonant episodes in our history: the invasion of Parihaka, Taranaki, by soldiers of the Crown in 1881. The Art of Passive Resistance (edited by Te Miringa Hohaia, Gregory O’Brien and Lara Strongman) includes historical artefacts as well as art in response to the invasion (which was brought together for an exhibition at City Gallery Wellington, who co-published the book); Rachel Buchanan’s BWB Text, Ko Taranaki Te Maunga, takes a personal approach, starting with the death of her father, and ending with negotiations for the return of Mt Taranaki.

The Haka Party Incident, a play by Katie Wolfe

Yes, this one is a play but it’s a hugely powerful work of theatre that re-enacts the 1979 He Taua protest against the shameful parody of haka that Auckland University engineering students used to do every year during capping week. You can read Katie Wolfe’s account of why she wrote the play on e-Tangata, here. You can purchase the script from Playmarket here.

These, and more, can be discovered, ordered or purchased from Unity Books Wellington and Auckland. Or check out your local library’s catalogues.

Keep going!