The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza has dominated the news in recent weeks. So I decided to pick up this book, which I had received a while back to explore more of the context for this conflict.
Warning: if you have taken a particular “side” in this conflict, this book, and maybe this review, is not for you. If there is any side the author would take, it is with those who seek a peace that is just and lasting for all parties. Rather, the book is designed as a fact book, organized in a question and answer format to help us understand the history of the region, the peoples, life among Israelis and Palestinians, and the nature of the conflict.
The book begins with a chapter titled “Who, What, Where?” answering questions about the geography, territories, and people. It is followed by a chapter titled, “In the Beginning” which traces the history of the land and its peoples back to their common Abrahamic roots. We learn for example that it is only in the last century that Jews and Arabs have been at war. We learn the meaning of terms like shoah, the Nakba, and intifada. The third chapter explores government and politics within Israel including both Israeli and Palestinian governance and how these interact.
Chapters 4 and 5 explore Israeli and Palestinian life respectively including the religious tensions among Jews and the dominance of Orthodox Judaism, minority groups like the Bedouin and the Druze, and the relationships of PLO, Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the West Bank, and Gaza. Chapter 6 discusses other players including other nations surrounding Israel such as Jordan, which has its own ambivalent relationship with the Palestinians. Chapter 7 summarizes the central issues of the conflict which come down to borders and security, Israeli settlements (in the West Bank), Palestinian refugees, and Jerusalem.
I found the book quite helpful in explaining the context of things we hear on our nightly news. It is also richly illustrated with color photographs, timelines, and charts. It also helped me understand why it is so difficult to reach a lasting peace accord, and why it is so vital to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for Jews, for Christians (many of whom are Palestinian), and Muslims who share this land, and for the U.S., and other parties who provide both aid and peacemaking assistance. This book is part of a series of Skeptics Guides by the same author. The other two volumes in print are Responding to HIV/AIDS and Immigration.