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It’s not easy to make sense of thousands of years of history. We asked The Globe’s foreign correspondents, reporters and editors for book recommendations that provide context for the events unfolding in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Here are their top picks.

NON-FICTION

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After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives, by Edward W. SaidHandout

After the Last Sky, Edward Said; Columbia University Press In this exquisite and heartbreaking – though in many ways soul-restoring – combination of words and pictures, Palestinian-American philosopher/author/scholar Edward Said teams up with Swiss photographer Jean Mohr to examine places lost to Palestinians scattered around the world, even though they are forever in the collective memory. By showing people clinging to their past while going about their daily lives, Said shows us a people that are very real and unerasable.

Drinking the Sea at Gaza, Amira Hass; MacMillan Publishers In 1993, the Jerusalem-born journalist, whose parents survived the Holocaust, drove to Gaza to cover a story. She ended up staying for years, making friends and learning about life in an area that most Israelis – and indeed most Arabs – have never ventured into. And although Haas’s book was published while the Oslo Accords were very much top of mind in Gaza, the newspaper writer’s chronicles of the daily griefs and joys of a people crammed into 365 square kilometres resonates today.

The Iron Cage, Rashid Khalidi; Penguin Random House While Khalidi was born in New York, his family hails from Jerusalem, and this scholarly work looks at “why Palestinian society crumbled so rapidly in 1948, why there was not more concerted resistance to the process of dispossession, and why 750,000 people fled their homes in a few months.” Khalidi examines circumstances, geopolitical battles between regional powers and lack of cohesion within Palestinian leadership to deliver a consuming read of the forces that threaten that part of the world.

The Seventh Million, Tom Segev; MacMillan Publishers What would have happened if six million Jews not been killed in the Holocaust? Drawing on diaries, interviews and thousands of declassified documents, Segev, an Israeli journalist, delves into how the complexities of that question affected the thinking of David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and Nahum Goldmann and the formation of the nation of Israel, as well as the state’s response to moments such as the Adolf Eichmann trial and even the Persian Gulf War.

In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story, Ghada Karmi; Verso Books The first part of this haunting memoir recounts the life that Karmi and her family had in Jerusalem’s Qatamon neighbourhood, where they lived an upper middle-class life before they were forced to flee the Middle East for the United Kingdom. Her family moved to Golders Green, a north London suburb they did not know was predominantly Jewish. There, she had to rethink and rediscover who she was and how she fit into a Western world as her family struggled to establish themselves. Karmi eventually became a doctor and never stopped striving to figure out where home is.

From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman; Picador The New York Times journalist and three-time Pulitzer winner has spent close to half a century covering the Middle East, and while he has written numerous works about its politics and history, this 1989 book stands out for its memorably rich details and vivid prose. Spanning the years he spent in Lebanon and then Israel (1979-88), Friedman delves into the wide range of personalities he met, from the elderly Englishman who continued to play golf even as bombs dropped on the course, to the Druze militiaman who wanted to know who shot J.R.

Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, David K. Shipler; Crown Although it was published in 1986, this Pultizer-Prize winning book has been revised and updated recently. The monumental work uses meticulous research to examine the stereotypes that Arabs and Jews have of each other, and then deconstructs them to look at how and why war and nationalism can hinder co-existence – yet he also has instances of people who rise above this and learn to live with, and indeed sometimes love, “the other.”

Enemies and Neighbours, Ian Black; Grove Atlantic The Guardian’s former Middle East editor starts at the end of the 19th century, when the first Zionist settlers arrived in the Ottoman-ruled Holy Land, and then uses declassified documents, oral testimonies and his own reporting to take us all the way to the modern era to try and understand the contested history of the region.

FICTION

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To the End of the Land, by David GrossmanHandout

To the End of the Land, David Grossman; McClelland & Stewart The Israeli author started writing this novel in 2003, a year and a half before his son Uri enlisted in the Israeli Defense Forces; by 2006, when Uri was killed, it was almost finished. The novel tells the story of Ora, who has two sons. When her youngest, Ofer, is called back to the army shortly after finishing his military service, she decides to go on a hiking trip she was supposed to take with him in celebration of his discharge. Off in the wilderness, she’ll be shielded from news of the military operation and, most importantly, won’t be home to receive the dreaded news if he’s killed. This is a novel about love, families and loyalty during a time of conflict, where the ordinariness of the day-to-day collides with the random and the extraordinary.

Second Person Singular, Sayed Kashua; Grove Atlantic A married Arab lawyer living in East Jerusalem with his family opens a copy of Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata one day, and out falls a love note written in his wife’s handwriting – only it’s not to him. What follows is a dizzying mystery that picks at his identity in a country he has never truly belonged in. Along the way, he meets Amir Lahab, a poor Arab from the occupied territories who’s seeking to morph into a Jew so he can finally belong. Kashua, an Arab journalist who writes in Hebrew, has crafted a fascinating look at how much you can pass into another culture without one day losing all sense of who you really are.

Judas, Amos Oz; HarperCollins The bestselling, award-winning Israeli writer who died in 2018 once said: “Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – the title ‘traitor’ can be worn as a badge of honour.” In this acclaimed novel, Judas is the most ardent believer in Jesus who presses the authorities to arrest and crucify him so he can rise from the dead. When he doesn’t, Judas takes his own life. In a parallel arc, a woman reveals the story of her father, the only member of the Zionist executive committee to oppose David Ben-Gurion over the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948. Her father is labelled a traitor by many – but is being a traitor necessarily bad? It’s a particularly thought-provoking question considering Oz himself was tarred, by both the left and right, with that label for his position on a two-state solution.

Exodus, Leon Uris; Random House Publishing Group Originally published in 1958, this sweeping bestseller by the American author was on the bestseller list for more than a year and sold more than five million copies in paperback. The 608-page book focuses on an American nurse and an Israeli fighter and is set against the backdrop of the formation of the state of Israel. More than any other work of its time, Uris’s novel is credited with shaping American popular cultural thought toward Israel.

Mural, Mahmoud Darwish, Illustrated by John Berger; Translated Rema Hammami One of the most celebrated Palestinian writers, Darwish has many books of both poetry and prose to his name. This collection contains universal truths about a human’s connection to the land of their birth, their ancestors and what it means to be a stranger not just in another land but in your mind.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, by Guy DelisleHandout

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, Guy Delisle; Drawn & Quarterly The Canadian artist, who won the main prize at the 2012 Angoulême International Comics Festival for this work, deftly uses visual language to report on the daily joys and trials of living in Jerusalem – a city that teems with life, but where death is ever-present.

Tunnels, Rutu Modan, Translated by Ishai Mishory; Drawn & Quarterly The hunt is on for a relic – the Ark of the Covenant – sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Single mother Nili is determined that her archeologist father’s legacy (he’s now suffering from dementia in the U.S.) not be lost to his rival, Rafi, at the Hebrew University. To her consternation (and to make things even more complex than Raiders of the Lost Ark), her brother is working for Rafi. Can an adventure story be a gripping satire on the state of the Middle East? Modan proves that it can.

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, Sarah Glidden; Drawn & Quarterly This debut novel started when Glidden’s mother suggested she take a birthright trip to figure out whether her assumptions about Israel were correct. The result is one part memoir, one part travelogue as she meanders through the places she visited – eventually realizing that the region is a lot more complicated than she thought.

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

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Why Do We Fight?: Conflict, War, and Peace, by Niki WalkerHandout

Why do we Fight, Niki Walker; Owlkids Using bold headlines and a bold palette of yellow, black and white, Walker attempts to explain different types of conflict. Battles, protests, strikes, standoffs – Walker uses real-world examples of disputes that teach children about the personal and the global.

Malala’s Magic Pencil, Illustrated by Kerascoet; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Do you believe in magic? That’s what the Nobel Peace Prize Winner asks at the start of her first children’s book, which was inspired by her own childhood. Along with whimsical, intricate gold etchings embossed over watercolours, the book examines what you could do if you had a magic pencil: Eradicate poverty, root out garbage from your city, make peace – all is possible with a little magic.

What If Soldiers Fought With Pillows?, Heather Camlot, Illustrated by Serge Bloch; Owlkids Although the world may seem to be in constant conflict, perhaps the route to thinking of an alternative way to disagree is to ask a question: what if? That’s the premise behind this lovely middle-grade book that introduces young readers to real people and organizations that put these impossible ideas into action.

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