Israel and Palestine War: Analysis, Historical Perspective & Bibliography for Ethical Action

The following presentation was given by Frieda Afary to the Current World Events Series program of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association on November 4, 2023.

On October 7, 2023,  Hamas launched a terrorist assault on Israeli civilians in Southern Israel on the border with Gaza,  which killed over 1400 civilians and soldiers.   Over 220were also taken as hostages to Gaza.

Hamas, a religious fundamentalist and militarist organization has ruled the Palestinian population of 2.3 million in Gaza since 2006 when it came into power through a referendum with 44% of the popular vote.   Since then there have been no elections in Gaza and Gaza has been under a blockade by Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.    Amnesty International has called Gaza the Largest Open Air Prison in the world.    The latest poll of the population of Gaza conducted in September and early October of this year indicated that 67% had little to no confidence in Hamas and that a majority supported a two-state solution for resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict.  Please listen to the November 3, 2023 Ezra Klein interview with professor Amaney Jamal  of Princeton University who conducted this poll

Or read the transcript of the interview

The Israeli government which is ruled by an extreme right-wing and mostly religious fundamentalist coalition has responded to the October 7 Hamas assault by launching aninvasion of Gaza.  Israel started with aerial bombing and then launched a ground invasiona few days ago.  Up to now over 9000 Palestinians including over 3000 children have been killed.   Over 1 million Gazans have been displaced.  Residential buildings, Hospitals and educational institutions have been bombed.  Gazans have been denied food, water, fuel and electricity.

The West Bank has also been under intense attack by Israeli settlers and the army which has led to the death of over 120 Palestinians, injuries among a thousand and the forced displacement of over 800.  

The Center for Constitutional Rights has characterized Israel’s attack on Gaza as genocide.   Craig Mokhiber is a longtime international human rights lawyer who served as director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has resigned and has accused the United Nations of failing to address what he calls a “text-book case of genocide” unfolding in Gaza.

Amnesty International has identified Israel as a state practicing apartheid by which Amnesty International means that Israel privileges Jews at the expense of Palestinians through a system of segregation and control of Palestinians,  seizure of property, home demolition, forced eviction  and deliberate impoverishment.

Amnesty International has also issued a report on the state of human rights under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.  It identifies a variety of violations of civil and human rights in general and of women and LGBTQ people in particular.

Currently, around the globe and in the U.S. , we are witnessing an increase in Islamophobic and antisemitic hate crimes  in response to the latest Israel Palestine war.  

At the same time, misinformation and disinformation have increased massively since October 7.   33 journalists have been killed in the current war between Israel and Hamas:    28 Palestinians, 4 Israelis and one Lebanese.

Although there have been many protests around the world, voices of Palestinians and Jews critical of the invasion of Gaza are being silenced in some institutions in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.  Some have been expelled from jobs or cancelled for calling Israel’s invasion genocidal.  

The Palestinians have called for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the blockade of Gaza. The Israeli government has refused to call a ceasefire so far.   It has also rejected a “humanitarian pause” requested by the Biden administration. The U.S. government gives 3.8 billion in military aid to Israel on an annual basis and plans to increase that amount.  Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon receive military and financial support from Iran.

With all of these facts in mind, let’s watch a ten-minute video documentary history of the Israeli Palestinian conflict which was produced by VOX about seven years ago.  Then I will try to suggest some books that can be read and studied for getting a deeper understanding of this conflict and for finding solutions.

Show VOX video (10 minutes )

The video that we just watched did an adequate job in summarizing the origins and history of the Israeli Palestinian conflict since the early twentieth century

Since we are an audience of library staff and patrons, I would also like to single out the main currents in the battle of ideas concerning the history of this conflict and recommend some books for further study.

In general, the conflict is explained by scholars and historians in two different ways:  Either as a colonial and racist project of dispossession of Palestinians backed by Britain and other Western imperialist powers.  Or as a conflict between two nationalisms,  onePalestinian and one Jewish, that could not reconcile with each other.  The latter view argues that Zionism was not a colonial and racist project but an effort to confront European antisemitism by creating a homeland for Jews and that it had different tendencies within it, ranging from humanist socialist to fascist.  

Both the scholars who argue that Zionism was a colonial and racist project and those who argue that it was a form of nationalism promoting Jewish self-determination against antisemitism, agree that had it not been for the Holocaust, Zionism would not have become a mass movement, and millions of Jews would not have migrated to Palestine during and after World War II.

Those who would like to learn more about these debates can read the following books:

For the former vantage point,  you can explore:

Said, Edward. (1992 [1979] ).  The Question of Palestine.  Vintage Press.  

Khalidi, Rashid. (2021).  The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine:  A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance. Picador Press.  

Pappe, Ilan ( 2007)  The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.  One World Publications

For  the latter perspective,  you can read:

Segev, Tom. (1998).  1949:  The First Israelis.  Owl Books.

Segev, Tom.  (2001).  One Palestine, Complete: Jews & Arabs Under the British Mandate.  Picador Press.    

Regardless of whether one agrees with the former or the latter view, the fact is that Israel today is ruled by a right-wing and mostly religious fundamentalist government.   According to U.N. Resolution 242,  it is considered an occupier of the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem.   According to the standards articulated by Amnesty International,  it is an apartheid system that segregates and dispossesses Palestinians.   In 1995,  on this day,  Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an extremist Jewish nationalist for having signed the Oslo Peace Accords with the Palestinians.  The idea of a two-state solution with two independent states for Jews and Palestinians side by side, has been abandoned by the Israeli government.  

There have also been many protests against the Netanyahu government’s assault on the separation of powers and  the modicum of democracy that Israel claimed to offer its Jewish citizens.  

There have also been attempts by Palestinian and Jewish scholars to offer pathways forrethinking the conflict and moving toward peace and mutual coexistence either through a two-state solution or through a binational one-state solution.  These works and the efforts of Jewish and Palestinian peace activists on the ground need to be discussed if we are to find a solution to the current slaughter of Palestinians and Israelis.

The more recent book on this topic are the following:

Barnette, Michael, Nathan J. Brown, Marc Lynch, Shibley Telhami (2023).  The One State Reality:  What Is Israel/Palestine?  Cornell University Press.  

Publisher’s description:  The One State Reality argues that a one state reality already predominates in the territories controlled by the state of Israel. The editors show that starting with the one state reality rather than hoping for a two-state solution reshapes how we regard the conflict, what we consider acceptable and unacceptable solutions, and how we discuss difficult normative questions. The One State Reality forces a reconsideration of foundational concepts such as state, sovereignty, and nation; encourages different readings of history; shifts conversation about solutions from two states to alternatives that borrow from other political contexts; and provides context for confronting uncomfortable questions such as whether Israel/Palestine is an apartheid state.’  “

Butler, Judith. (2012) Parting Ways:  Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism.  Columbia University Press.

Amazon: “Butler engages Jewish philosophical positions to articulate a critique of political Zionism and its practices of illegitimate state violence, nationalism, and state-sponsored racism. At the same time, she moves beyond communitarian frameworks, including Jewish ones, that fail to arrive at a radical democratic notion of political cohabitation. Butler engages thinkers such as Edward Said, Emmanuel Levinas, Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi, Martin Buber, Walter Benjamin, and Mahmoud Darwish as she articulates a new political ethic. . . She revisits and affirms Edward Said’s late proposals for a one-state solution within the ethos of binationalism. 

El Kurd, Dana. (2021).  Polarized and Demobilized: Legacies of Authoritarianism in Palestine.  Oxford University Press.

Review by Jonathan Adler:  “El Kurd [argues that ] Palestinians in the West Bank are more polarized and less mobilized than ever before. Local grassroots organizing has disappeared as the Palestinian Authority (PA) has consolidated its power. In addition, a large percentage of the population has come to depend on the PA for salaries and services. Since the Fatah-Hamas split following the 2006 legislative elections, opposition to the PA among West Bank Palestinians has been silenced either by cooptation into the PA’s patronage networks or through direct repression (p. 12). The Israeli government, which openly advocates for annexing large parts of the West Bank, has contracted with the PA to carry out the dirty work of maintaining the occupation; those imprisoned by PA forces are subject to violent punishments, often in coordination with the Israeli occupation (p. 76).

Graubart, Jonathan (2023).  Jewish Self-Determination Beyond Zionism:  Lessons from Hannah Arendt and Other Pariahs.  Temple University Press.  

Amazon:  “ Jewish Self-Determination beyond Zionism examines the liberal Zionist and Jewish anti-Zionist perspectives that developed in the decades following Israeli statehood. In his timely book, Jonathan Graubart. advances a non-statist vision of Jewish self-determination to be realized in a binational political arrangement that rejects Apartheid practices and features a just and collaborative coexistence of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. The book’s vision advances a distinct Jewish self-determination committed to cultural enrichment and emancipation, internationalism, and the fostering of new political, social, and economic channels for attaining genuine reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.  Jewish Self-Determination beyond Zionism also engages a Humanist Zionist vision to confront the Zionist movement’s foundational sins and demands a full reckoning with the Palestinians. Graubart focuses on two of Humanist Zionism’s most insightful thinkers, Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt, putting them “in conversation” with each other, and synthesizing their collective insights and critical Jewish perspectives alongside the ideas of Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler, Ella Shohat, Edward Said, and other philosophers and academics. Jewish Self-Determination beyond Zionism concludes that an updated, binational program is the best path forward.

In conclusion,  the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association which has organized these Current World Events Discussion series has also issued  a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.  Here is the link.

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