art & literature

22 Books to Learn More About Palestine

Sheena Joseph | May 23 2021
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Israel's occupation of Palestine is one of the most controversial events in recent world history. And most people do not understand the root of the tensions because Israel has been working hard to brand themselves in good light for nearly a century. However, Palestinians are not one to back down without a fight. Here are some books that will help you learn about Palestine and amplify their voices.

1) The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza by Max Blumenthal

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American journalist Max Blumenthal reported on Israel's attacks on Hamas-controlled Gaza in 2014. He was in Gaza and took note of the human stories in harrowing conditions caused by the ruinous war. 'The 51 Day War' is known for the detailing of the attack. He recorded testimonies from residents and documented war crimes.

2) Before Their Diaspora by Walid Khalidi

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'Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of The Palestinians 1876-1948' is a visual journey into the life of Palestinian natives before 1948. The modern Palestinian history is captured in around 500 photographs, gathered from private and public collections. The book is divided into five historical periods, each with details in chronological order.

3) Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights by Omar Barghouti

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Omar Barghouti is a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. This morally compelling book is an account of the racially segregated system of Israel. The author details the racially segregated housing and humiliation of Palestinians at military roadblocks. The goal of the campaign is to push the Israeli government to uphold international laws and universal human rights.

4) Baddawi by Leila Abdelrazaq

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'Baddawi' is a graphic novel about a boy named Ahmad. He was raised in a refugee camp for Palestinians who fled (or were expelled from) their homeland during the 1948 war in northern Lebanon. Ahmed was born in the camp and he struggles to find his place in the world. The protagonist's point of view of his father's past and hopes of returning to their homeland one day resonates with the life of many Palestinians.

5) Returning to Haifa by Ghassan Kanafani

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Ghassan Kanafani's collection of short stories are about the children of Palestine. Each story involves a child who is victimised by political events. They also amplify the need to recover the lost homeland. Ghassan Kanafani (1936-1972) was at the forefront of the movement for the Liberation of Palestine. He was assassinated by an Israeli carb bomb in 1972.

6) A World I Loved: The Story of an Arab Woman by Wadad Makdisi Cortas

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Wadad Makdisi Cortas (1909-1979) was a Lebanese educator and memoirist who grew up in Beirut. Her memoir is an account of many events that fractured the Middle East over the past century. While most of the book is about her dedication to Arab women's education, the final part details the western interference and civil war that tore Palestine apart.

7) The Girl Who Stole My Holocaust by Noam Chayut

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Noam Chayut was an Israeli soldier who later became a leading campaigner against the Israeli occupation. His memoir 'The Girl Who Stole My Holocaust' is his hauntingly beautiful journey from an eager Zionist conscript on the front line of Operation Defensive Shield to question his soldier's calling as well as Israel’s justifications for invasion. It is known as one of the most compelling memoirs by an Israeli figure in the longest time.

8) The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

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'The Almond Tree' is a novel about two Palestinian brothers who are displaced by the occupation on their land by the state of Israel. The plot gives life to two characters - one full of anger and the other trying to find solutions through science. The author tries to convey a message of hope. Michelle Cohen Corasanti is a former lawyer trained in international human rights law. She lived in Israel for seven years, witnessing the struggles of displaced Palestinians.

9) A Map of Absence: An Anthology of Palestinian Writing on the Nakba

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'Nakba' is one of the misunderstood terms when it comes to the colonisation of Palestine. Even though the word roughly translates to 'catastrophe', it does not indicate a single event. Nakba is the process of occupation by Israel on Palestine, not the war of 1948 alone. 'A Map of Absence' is a compilation of prose and poetry by Palestinian writers over seven decades. Writers living in Palestine and abroad voice their thoughts on Nakba in this book.

10) Midnight and Other Poems by Mourid Barghouti

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Mourid Barghouti was a Palestinian poet who was exiled for 30 years. He wrote 13 books in Arabic and read them in refugee camps. ' Midnight and Other Poems' is his first poetry collection to be translated into English. Radwa Ashour, his wife and fellow novelist translated his poems.

11) Palestinian Walks by Raja Shehadeh

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'Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape' is written by Raja Shehadeh, a popular human rights campaigner and lawyer. The book details recent Palestinian history in terms of geography - from Ayn Kenya to the Shukba Caves, the Ramallah hills, and the Dead Sea. Shehadeh is the founder of the human rights organisation Al-Haq.

12) Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak by Norma Hashim 

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'Dreaming of Freedom' is an anthology of accounts by Palestinian children about their arrest and military incarceration. The narrators are Palestinian minors held in Israeli detention facilities in the occupied West Bank. Author Nora Hashim has also written another book - 'The Prisoners' Diaries'.

13) The book of Disappearance by Ibtisam Azem

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This powerful fiction is set in Tel Aviv. It paints a picture of a 'not-so-imagined future in which Israelis discover all their Palestinian neighbors have vanished. The author gives you two different points of view -  a young Palestinian man finding his dead grandmother's journal and Ariel - a liberal Zionist journalist. The story deals with the loss of memory for the Palestinians.

14) The butterfly's Burden by Mahmoud Darwish

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The leading poet of the Arab world Mahmoud Darwish is the director of the Palestinian Research Center. He lived in exile for years before returning to Palestine in 1996. 'The Butterfly's Burden' is the complete text of his works - a memoir-witness poem, love poems, sonnets, and journal entries.

15) The Parisian by Isabella Hammad

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Isabella Hammad's debut novel 'The Parisian sheds light on a crucial period in Palestinian history. The plot follows Midhat Kamal, son of a wealthy merchant from Nablus, a town in Ottoman Palestine. He leaves for Paris to study and returns to find his country under British rule. The novel takes a close look at the changing political landscape of the Middle East.

16) The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa

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'The Blue Between Sky and Water' is an international bestseller by Susan Abulhawa. The plot follows flawed yet courageous women living in a small Palestinian farming village called Beit Daras. Protagonist Nazmiyeh is on a lifelong fight to protect her clairvoyant sister and their mother. The family is forced to leave their ancestral home by the new state of Israel. The plot reveals the fragility of the refugee camp and explores what remains of the community.

17) The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017 by Rashid Khalidi

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When a country has been colonised several times for centuries, it can be confusing for a reader to understand its history. 'The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017' begins in the final days of the Ottoman Empire and goes on to record the project of early Zionists of colonial nature. Several wars and Nakba are given clarity in this book by historian Rashid I. Khalidi.

18) Honourable Mentions

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Some other books to learn more about the history of Palestine are 'Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine' by Noura Erakat, 'Footnotes in Gaza' by Joe Sacco, 'I Saw Ramallah' by Mourid Barghouti, 'The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine' by Ilan Pappé, and 'Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History' by Nur-eldeen Masalha.