The Arab-Israeli Conflict by Ian J. Bickerton

9781861895271.jpgNonfiction — print. Reaktion, 2009. 244 pgs. Library.

For the past sixty plus years, the Arab-Israeli conflict been one of the world’s longest and most deadliest conflicts that divides the world into the (seemingly easy to define) categories of pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. Since reading Palestine by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, I’ve been on the lookout for a book on the conflict that is not decidedly pro-Israel or pro-Palestine and offers more information about the conflict than I can find in the newspaper. I believe I’ve finally found it.

Framed in the context of world history rather than Israeli history post-1948, this book offers a fair and balanced view of all countries involved and affected by this conflict — Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, the United States, Britain, etc. — that places appropriate blame on everyone. One of the most interesting aspects of the book for me was Bickerton’s use of “facts on the ground”, meaning the rush to find and develop tangible items that prove the rightful existence of one group over another. (I previously read about this phenomenon in Nina Burleigh’s Unholy Business.) Facts become twisted to serve the viewpoint of those involved in order to justify preemptive strikes, declarations of war, settlement building, and suicide bombings.

“Participants in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and partisan observers, believe that the more facts you know the greater your understanding of the conflict. This is a mistaken notion. Many participants in any conflict seek always to justify their position. One of the ways they do this by accumulating so-called facts, the more the better, they think. There is not nd to the number of facts that can be educed in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict — or any other conflict for that matter. It is ridiculous to think you can add up all the facts. Facts are no more than carefully selected events that are woven together to form a narrative that supports a particular viewpoint. Participants all too frequently find facts to confirm their predisposition. They seek to find who fires the first short –if you like, the shot heard around the world. They point is not who fired the first shot, the point is that a shot was fired at all. And that a second shot was fired in return. Once the parties take up a gun, this is, once they resort to military force, there is no moral high ground, it is just a question of who wins, if in fact there is such a thing as winning a war. After seven wars and sixty years of intermittent warfare, no one has won the Arab-Israeli conflict. It continues unresolved, and there are no winners. That is because shooting does not solve problems, it just creates new ones” (pg. 21).

Almost important to me as finding a book that’s fair with both sides of the conflict was finding one that is easy to read and follow along because this is such a difficult, touchy subject for everyone involved. This book is exactly that, and I think it has lain a great framework for conversations with friends active in Hillel at my university and those active in the Palestinian rights group as well as for my class on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East because the book provides a great wealth of information on all involved (especially the expanding role of the United States) without picking sides.


  1. Lu

    This is one I’d definitely be interested in reading. I work at a Jewish Community Center summer camp as a counselor and one of the required activities for the kids is Israeli Culture. It’s absolutely fascinating, but certainly one-sided. Next week we’re learning all about the Israeli army, so I’m going to be interested to see how they handle the conflict.


    • I read an interesting article about a Brooklyn Jewish day school that has students from a variety of religious backgrounds, and one of it’s big problem is how to teach about Israeli culture. ( Very interesting article, and your comment reminded me of this article.

      Hillel, the Jewish student organization at my university, is completely one-sided, and the Students for Palestinian Rights group is completely one-sided so I wanted to find a good book that doesn’t heavily lean one way or another.


      • Lu

        Update! We had Israeli army week and they didn’t talk much about the conflict at all, but instead focused on Gilad Shalit. In my opinion, prisoner of war is nothing something I want to be explaining to 6-8 year olds, but that was the extent of my disagreement with how it was handled. The rest of Israeli culture they went through basic training, which was pretty cute ;). I’m going to have to check out that article! Sounds fascinating!


  2. Oh wonderful, thanks for reviewing this, it’s the kind of book that I’ve been hoping to find – one that tries to present all sides. I’ve read some fiction that’s got me fascinated in the conflict – and saddened too – and Naomi Klein touched on it in The Shock Doctrine. I definitely want to know more about it.


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