3 Books about Palestine I’ve Read this Year

3 Books about Palestine I’ve Read this Year

Book reviews have been my focus for a couple of years, but this year I haven’t had the time or energy to read, and when I do, I definitely don’t have the time or energy to write reviews. The books I’ve been reading are largely about Palestine, or socialism—both of which I’m new to and find politically dense and hard to read. (Most of what I read is usually new to me, because I can never stick with one topic for very long before I find another new and exciting hyperfixation. Such is life.)

For example, I’ve actually read three books about Palestine beyond just Light in Gaza in 2024.

Except for Palestine

I was so excited to pick up Marc Lamont Hill’s and Mitchell Plitnick’s Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics that I went to my local bookstore the minute it opened on the day that the book restocked. The title was such an “aha!” and I wanted to know why progressives will talk about seemingly anything except Palestine—especially over the last nine months. It’s been a while since I finished this book, but while it was dense and relatively short, I don’t know if it answered my question. In fact, my exploration of socialism, my embrace of further-left beliefs, and the way that Palestine has ended my faith in liberalism and the Democratic Party, has answered the question better than the book did.

I’ve found that Palestine is not the exception for progressives, just a visible one. Everyone who claims to be progressive has a line they won’t cross because they’re afraid for their brand. Taylor Swift, beacon of white liberal feminism, doesn’t just not talk about Palestine, she doesn’t talk about anything more radical than the unseasoned soup that is “girl power.” The Human Rights Campaign and the Trevor Project have said exactly nothing about Israel’s genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, which for some reason is seen as more radical than what they do fight for, like an end to suicide in young LGBTQ+ people.

It boils down to the ease with which liberals can criticize individual effects of capitalism and imperialism, but expressing solidarity with Palestine or doing other more “controversial” tasks like accepting their own unions or calling for the abolition of police and prison would actually require them to face the fact that everything they care about—and everything they don’t—is tied up in the capitalist web that they are doing nothing to eradicate.

But that’s just my opinion.

Erasing Palestine

I haven’t seen Erasing Palestine: Free Speech and Palestinian Freedom by Rebecca Ruth Gould featured much, so I’m glad I came across it at Kramers bookstore in DC. The timing of this find could not have been better. Following an early chapter on the harrowing checkpoints for Palestinians going between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the book was largely an analysis of antisemitism: what it really is and how it’s been weaponized.

I happened to start reading the section on weaponized antisemitism from within the University of Pittsburgh’s Gaza Solidarity Encampment in late April 2024. Of course, a result of the encampments and the moral panic about antisemitism was that the House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act on May 1st. If it becomes law, H.R. 6090 would enshrine the IHRA definition—which I had just read about—into law.

My perspective at the encampment as I sit on a black and white plaid blanket on the grass. To the left of the blanket is a folded beach chair and a small cardboard Palestinian flag. On the blanket are a tambourine with red, green, black, and white ribbons, a keffiyeh, the book Erasing Palestine, and a plate of vegetarian food.
My spot at the Pitt Palestine Solidarity Encampment

The problem with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism is that it includes:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
International Holocause Remembrance Alliance, Working definition of antisemitism

This would mean that claiming that Israel is a racist state, or comparing its genocide of Palestinians to the Nazi genocide of Jews, would be illegal.

The post I didn’t write

Erasing Palestine seemed so cosmically related to the current political moment that I had decided to write a post on it and had researched for days. I was eager to write out the connection between this book and the student movement. However, when I started writing, I realized that anything I wanted to say about the moral panic about campus protests and weaponized antisemitism had already been said. I watched Matt Bernstein’s podcast episode Everything the Media is Getting Wrong About the College Protests the morning before writing, but by the time I was finished I realized I didn’t have much to say that he hadn’t already covered.

This video received about half the views of the videos released before and after it, despite covering a massive topic in the news at the time.

Erasing Palestine quotes

Gould’s writing seemed at times prophetic, from the trial (in everything but name) of Columbia president Minouche Shafik…

Antisemitism is not going to go away anytime soon, no matter how many definitions we formulate to describe it, how much we legislate against it, or how many professors we fire or activists we ban in order to keep it on the margins of society. Discursive change alone cannot form a solution to dealing with any kind of racism. Meanwhile, the collateral damage done when the struggle against antisemitism is appropriated by xenophobic and Islamophobic political agendas that also undermine freedom of speech may contribute to a net increase in antisemitism around the world, as well as racism more broadly. Such substitutions, whereby xenophobic political agendas, Islamophobic policies, and anti-Palestinian sentiment are wrapped up into right-wing crusades against antisemitism, have the effect of suppressing pro-Palestinian speech and freedom of inquiry in general.

Rebecca Ruth Gould, Erasing Palestine, p. 129

…to Congress’s impending acceptance of the IHRA definition of antisemitism as law:

Whereas the materialist recognizes that racism originates in social conditions, the idealist seeks to resolve antisemitism by defining it. But defining is not understanding: every definition recreates the object being defined in its own image. In philosophy, this is called reification. The formulaic insistence that in order to oppose antisemitism we must first define it is one of the most recurrent slogans used by those who promote the adoption of the IHRA definition. Idealism unhelpfully inverts the materialist approach advocated by [Abram] Leon. A definitional approach to racism assumes that the act of naming determines the reality to which the name refers, rather than the other way around. Hence, in naming antisemitism, proponents of the IHRA definition exert control over the narrative around it. The power to name antisemitism morphs into control over Jewish identity itself, and other issues tangentially related to this conflict — Israel; Palestine; the scope, range, and legitimacy of leftist activism — are swept up into this monolithic narrative.

The problem with the idealist approach to antisemitism is that it leads to political stagnation and simplifies the challenge of combating racism. In addition, it silences those who do not agree or consent to the idealist position. When the fight against antisemitism becomes restricted to the act of naming it, we are bound to lose sight of the conditions that create it. But it is the conditions that generate racism rather than the words associated with it that must be overturned in order to bring antisemitism to an end. When words are elevated over material conditions, the fight against antisemitism is reduced to a battle for control over the right to name. Any effort to overturn the conditions of antisemitism’s genesis is thereby undermined. The illusion of action that nominalist and idealist definitions facilitate obscures the ways in which antisemitism continues to flourish in places where proponents of the IHR A definition are least likely to look: government policies that are favourable to Israel and laws that ban criticism of Israel.

REBECCA RUTH GOULD, ERASING PALESTINE, pp. 85-86

As the above quote evidences, this book also introduced me to material analysis as a practical way to assess the suitability of any given response to or analysis of something. And we all know that what women really want isn’t flowers or chocolate; it’s material analysis.

A line of people linking arms stands in front of a lawn. You can slightly see a tent with a second line of people on the lawn. There are trees around and a flowerbed in the foreground. In the background is the Cathedral of Learning.
Students and community members defend an encampment on the Cathedral of Learning lawn from Pittsburgh police. Learn more about the Pitt Encampment here.

The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine

Finally, I just finished Rashid Khalidi’s The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017 after taking an embarrassingly long time to get through it.

I’d seen this book everywhere, and I’d even recommended it to a friend as an introduction to the history of Palestine. It was more accessible than Palestine: A Socialist Introduction, but not by much. It, too, was politically dense and hard to finish. I appreciated Khalidi’s familial and personal connections to so much of Palestine’s history. I just needed more first-person stories; this is why I still believe that Light in Gaza is the best introduction to Palestine I’ve read so far.

Israel’s crimes, history’s rhymes

The most striking aspect of The Hundred Years’ War for me was just how much of the 2024 genocide has happened before, even in the last 50 years.

1953“Israel’s retaliation for the casualties inflicted by Palestinian cross-border infiltrators, known as feda’iyin (meaning ‘those who sacrifice themselves’) was massive and disproportionate, and the Gaza Strip bore the brunt of these attacks.” p. 91
1956“As the occupying Israeli troops swept through the Gaza towns and refugee camps of Khan Yunis and Rafah in November 1956, more than 450 people, male civilians, were killed, most of them summarily executed. […] News of the massacres was suppressed in Israel and veiled by a complaisant American media.” p. 94
1982“On that Friday, Israeli warplanes bombed and flattened dozens of buildings, including a sports stadium near the Fakhani neighborhood, on the pretext that they housed PLO offices and facilities.” p. 141
1982“It was so unrelenting that even Ronald Reagan was moved to demand that [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin halt the carnage. Reagan’s diary relates that he called the Israeli prime minister during the ferocious offensive, adding, ‘I was angry–I told him it had to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered. I used the word holocaust deliberately & said the symbol of his war was becoming a picture of a 7 month old baby with its arms blown off.'” pp. 155-156
1982“No amount of sophisticated propaganda by Israel and its supporters sufficed to erase these indelible images, and as a result, Israel’s standing in the world was severely tarnished.” p. 164
2000“In these three major attacks, 3,804 Palestinians were killed, of them almost one thousand minors. A total of 87 Israelis were killed, the majority of them military personnel engaged is these offensive operations. The lopsided 43:1 scale of these casualties is telling, as is the fact that the bulk of the Israelis killed were soldiers while most of the Palestinians were civilians.

“One might not have known this, however, from much of the mainstream US media coverage, which focused heavily on Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket fire at Israeli civilian targets. […] The coverage succeeded in obscuring the extreme disproportionality of this one-sided war: one of the most powerful armies on the planet used its full might against a besieged area and forty square miles, which is among the world’s most heavily populated enclaves and whose people had no way to escape the rain of fire and steel.” pp. 222-223
2012“At no point then or subsequently did [President Obama] seek to disturb the false narrative whereby what was underway in the Gaza Strip during these ferocious onslaughts was a righteous response to terrorist rocket fire aimed at Israeli civilians. At no point did his administration interrupt the flow of American weapons that were used to kill some three thousand Palestinian civilians and maim many more. Indeed, deliveries were accelerated when Israel deemed that necessary. At no point did Obama decisively confront Israel over its siege of the Gaza Strip.” pp. 234-235
2014“This is especially true in a place as overcrowded as the Gaza Strip, where people have nowhere to flee even if they are given prior notice that their homes are about to be destroyed.” p. 224
A crowd of people march down the streets of Pittsburgh with buildings in the background. Signs say "Stop Genocide" and "You have Blood on your Hands." Rising above the crowd and other signs is a large Palestinian flag against a sunny sky with a few clouds.
The protest on the last full day of the Pitt encampment.

More books about Palestine

I have a handful more Palestine books on my shelf, including Edward Said’s The Question of Palestine, Ilan Pappé’s Ten Myths About Israel, and Ahed Tamimi’s They Called Me a Lioness. I’m excited to get back into writing, and I hope to have some new blog posts for you soon! In the meantime, please consider following my union’s new Instagram page at @theaucollective.