Top reads to better understand the horrors of Palestine

With settler colonialism and apartheid taking place in Palestine—with at least 227 Palestinians, 64 of them children, having been killed over the last 11 days, according to Al Jazeera—it is of greater significance now to be aware of the history and events of the region amidst the frenzy of post-truth politics. These books, selected from many notable others, may help the reader obtain a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.


The Question of Palestine

Edward Said

(Times Books, 1979)


A key intellectual figure in postcolonial studies, Edward Said brought the Palestinian issue into public discourse when other scholars shied away. Said was born in Palestine, and this adds to his credibility as he integrates Zionism and Western neo-Imperialism to unveil a formidable force that is the Israeli occupation; and by taking into account the current scenario, the co-dependency perfectly analogises the USA's million dollar political and military assistance of Israel. Said reaches back to the 1880s for Palestine's first encounter with Zionism, and directs the discussion through the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and the occupation of the West Bank in 1967. Throughout his survey, Said stresses on the lack of communication between Palestine and the West and the misrepresentation and "disappearance" of Palestinian lives caused by scanty media coverage.


This critical essay is a tough read, comprising terms that may require further examination for an unspecialised audience, but the purpose of reading should not always be pleasure; it should from time to time make the reader uncomfortable and question the world they live in. The Question of Palestine puts emphasis on the recovery of Palestinian voices, and challenges the Western narrative that persistently supports the Israeli position.


Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation

Cate Malek & Mateo Hoke

(Verso Books, 2014)


Part of Verso Books' 'Voice of Witness' oral history series, whose volumes highlight critical issues suffered by underrepresented voices from around the world, Palestine Speaks presents the many suppressed, dehumanised voices of Palestine. I say suppressed because they have been voluntarily shut down through elusive means of control. The book includes first person accounts of people under occupation from all walks of life in Palestine, including eyewitness testimonies of the 2014 attack on Gaza, and how this systematic despotism has shaped their realities. It is a testimony that contests the Western narrative of the Israeli occupation, not through critical, analytical, or poetic discourse, but rather through "speaking", through recitation of everyday experiences.


As the social media empires limit pro-Palestinian posts and promotes content that "humanise" the Zionist stance, Palestine Speaks amplifies instead the smothered voices, showing us how the Zionist occupation is indeed legally, morally and spiritually indefensible.


Salt Houses

Hala Alyan

(Mariner Books, 2017)


Hala Alyan is a Palestinian psychologist, poet, and novelist whose debut novel, Salt Houses, engages with the Palestinian diaspora and the psychological trauma that occurs with the experience of exile. The novel follows four generations of a Palestinian family, constantly moving places as they try to assimilate a sense of belonging. One chapter in the novel focuses on Mustafa, who spends most of his time at the local mosque, engaging in speeches despite having a "flighty belief in Allah". Such men are portrayed as being radicalised through the Western lens, when in reality the mosque is the only place that connects Mustafa with his displaced identity. Such is the infliction of Zionism on the Palestinian immigrant identity/self. In the novel, such infliction is highlighted also through the character of Souad, who is perceived as "brown" in the United States, and who has a hard time explaining to people that she is a Palestinian despite having lived in Kuwait.


Even though the characters in this novel are not speaking from a place that is under an illegal occupation and never-ending tyranny, their voices are muffled through hegemonic means. Reading about the Palestinian diaspora, alongside the local experience of living in Palestine, accounts for a more informed understanding of the Israeli occupation and how this oppression transcends geographical spaces.


The Case for Sanctions Against Israel

Audrea Lim

(Verso Books, 2012)


Also released by Verso Books, this collection of essays serves as a manifesto of the Boycotts, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The main objective of the BDS movement is to pressurise Israel to comply with international law, and restrict support for the Israeli standpoint to the extent that the illegal occupation becomes unsustainable. BDS does not propose dialogue as dialogue would only enable Israelis to take refuge under the hypocrisy that is the foundation of the coloniser-colonised relationship. The BDS movement urges to withdraw support from the Israeli occupation and institutions in compliance with the apartheid regime, withdraw investments that fund the State of Israel and all international companies that sustain the stance, and finally hold campaigns that put pressure on governments to hold Israel accountable globally for its crimes to eventually end the horrors of Palestine.


Content on the BDS movement is extensively being censored as they unveil the big businesses that are directly/indirectly aiding the apartheid regime. In The Case for Sanctions Against Israel, international commentators from both sides of "the separation wall" comment on the BDS movement while drawing comparisons with the apartheid of South Africa. 



Mahmoud Darwish

(Verso Books, 2000)


A list of books to raise objective awareness on the Palestinian issue would be lacking without paying homage to the national poet of Palestine, Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish is the voice of a traumatised nation, and the internally split persona that he employs in his lyrical monologue mirrors the condition of Palestine. Through fragmented verses, Darwish elusively depicts the pain of dispossession and displacement as the deepest pain that plagues humankind. "Mural" portrays the juxtaposition of life and death, reflecting upon the identical condition of return and exile. Ultimately, his is the poetry of resistance.


"You don't need to kill me – my sickness will

Why not be nobler than the insects?

Be transparently yourself

a visible message to be read by the invisible

Be like love – a storm among trees

don't stand on the threshold like a beggar or tax collector

Don't be an undercover policeman directing traffic

Be strong like shining steel and take off the fox's mask

Be chivalrous glamorous fatal

Say what you want to say:

I come from one meaning and go to another"


While apartheid-Israel is protected by world powers including the sovereignty of social media, it is of utmost emergency to educate ourselves and relentlessly contest the illegal occupation of Palestine. "Contrapuntal Reading", as coined by Edward Said, basically means the act of reading against the grain while maintaining independence, and it is essential in times of such immense media manipulation. This assortment of books, consisting of critical essays, theoretical texts, fiction, and poetry, all necessitate one significant component—the act of resistance, a resistance that must abide.


Labib Mahmud is a freelance writer and designer. His interests lie in subversive literature and discourse. Reach him at [email protected] or @labib.mahmudd on Instagram.


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