My Palestine Bookshelf

Covers to book included in the booklist below

When we asked Yousef Khanfar, executive editor of the “Palestine Voices” special issue, to come up with a list of essential titles about Palestine, he shared with us the following curation of thirty indispensable books, beyond those already recommended by the writers and poets covered in the issue.

Gate of the Sun
by Elias Khoury
translated by Humphrey T. Davies

Gate of the Sun is a Palestinian Odyssey. In story after story, beautifully weaving together haunting events of survival and loss, love and devastation, memory and dream, Khoury humanizes the complex Palestinian struggle in bringing to life the story of an entire people.
 

 

Enemy of the Sun
edited by Naseer Aruri & Edmund Ghareeb

How did a poem called “Enemy of the Sun,” by the Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim, come to be known and published under George Jackson’s name in English translation? George Jackson, a Black revolutionary writer, was incarcerated in California for more than a decade, until he was killed in 1971 by prison guards. Among the ninety-nine books Jackson had in his cell at the time of his death, one was Enemy of the Sun, a collection of Palestinian resistance poetry. For four decades, the title poem of the collection has circulated in Black Panther newspapers and other venues under Jackson’s name.
 

Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000–2010
compiled by Breaking the Silence

“One of the most important books on Israel/Palestine in this generation.”—New York Review of Books

Israeli soldiers themselves reveal in profound, vivid detail how key planks of the army’s program have served to accelerate Israeli acquisition of Palestinian land, cripple all normal political and social life, and ultimately thwart the possibility of Palestinian independence. Our Harsh Logic is a supremely significant contribution to one of the world’s most vexed conflicts. For more information, visit the Breaking the Silence website.
 

I Saw Ramallah
by Mourid Barghouti
translated by Ahdaf Soueif

Winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature

One of the most beloved poets of Palestine. A fierce and moving work and an unparalleled rendering of the human aspects of the Palestinian predicament.

Barred from his homeland after 1967’s Six-Day War, the poet Mourid Barghouti spent thirty years in exile—shuttling among the world’s cities yet secure in none of them; separated from his family for years at a time; never certain whether he was a visitor, a refugee, a citizen, or a guest. As he returns home for the first time since the Israeli occupation, Barghouti crosses a wooden bridge over the Jordan River into Ramallah and is unable to recognize the city of his youth. Sifting through memories of the old Palestine as they come up against what he now encounters in this mere “idea of Palestine,” he discovers what it means to be deprived not only of a homeland but of “the habitual place and status of a person.” A tour de force of memory and reflection, lamentation and resilience, I Saw Ramallah is a deeply humane book, essential to any balanced understanding of today’s Middle East.
 

Hebron Stories
by Yitzhaq Shami
edited by Moshe Lazar & Joseph Zernik

“One cannot escape the ironic conclusion that Shami may be one of the most significant Palestinian writers of this century.”—Arnold J. Band

Yitzhaq Shami (1888–1949) was a Palestinian Jewish and Israeli writer who wrote both in Arabic and Hebrew. He is one of the earliest modern Hebrew writers in Palestine, prior to Israeli statehood. His work was unique for his period, since in contrast with the vast majority of Hebrew writers of the period he crafted his art based on characters who were either Arabs or Sephardic Jews, residing in Ottoman Palestine, and his literary influences were predominantly Arab and Middle Eastern. Shami published short stories, one novella, several poems, and a number of essays.
 

Born Palestinian, Born Black
by Suheir Hammad

“Suheir Hammad has given us a collection of poems that have their roots in a land near the edge of the sea. Here is the voice of one woman who has not forgotten the plight of her people. Born Palestinian, Born Black is about culture, conflict, and consciousness. The poems are political, but then we are in need of such things. I was born black, and Suheir Hammad has taught me what it means to be Palestinian. People must continue to learn from each other. This book opens a door.”—E. Ethelbert Miller, Board Chair, Institute for Policy Studies

UpSet Press has restored to print Suheir Hammad’s first book of poems, Born Palestinian, Born Black, originally published by Harlem River Press in 1996. The new edition is augmented with a new author’s preface and new poems, under the heading The Gaza Suite, as well as a new publisher’s note by Zohra Saed, an introduction by Marco Villalobos, and an afterword by Kazim Ali.

 

Blood Brothers
by Elias Chacour with David Hazard

As a child, Elias Chacour lived in a small Palestinian village in Galilee. When tens of thousands of Palestinians were killed and nearly one million forced into refugee camps in 1948, Elias began a long struggle with how to respond. In Blood Brothers, he blends his riveting life story with historical research on what does Bible prophecy really have to say? And can bitter enemies ever be reconciled? This book offers hope and insight that can help each of us learn to live at peace in a world of tension and terror.
 

 

Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine
by Raja Shehadeh

This “is not a political book,” Anthony Lewis writes in his foreword. “Yet in a hundred different ways it is political. . . . Shehadeh shatters the stereotype many Americans have of Palestinians.”

Strangers in the House offers a moving description of the daily lives of those who have chosen to remain on their land. It is also the family drama of a difficult relationship between an idealistic son and his politically active father complicated by the arbitrary humiliation of the “occupier’s law.”

Internal and External Borders,” Persis Karim’s interview with Shehadeh, appeared in the May 2012 issue of WLT.
 

Speak, Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Arab Folktales
edited and translated by Ibrahim Muhawi & Sharif Kanaana

Were it simply a collection of fascinating, previously unpublished folktales, Speak, Bird, Speak Again would merit praise and attention because of its cultural rather than political approach to Palestinian studies. But it is much more than this. By combining their respective expertise in English literature and anthropology, native Palestinians Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif Kanaana bring to these tales an integral method of study that unites a sensitivity to language with a deep appreciation for culture. Speak, Bird, Speak Again is an essential guide to Palestinian culture and a must for those who want to deepen their understanding of a troubled, enduring people.
 

Palestinian Art, 1850–2005
by Kamal Boullata

“Boullata takes the reader close to the struggle of those visionary, obstinate Palestinian artists who create so that their anonymous heroic land with its ancestral olive trees may survive.”—John Berger

“It is rare and exciting to find an art book full of persuasive, urgent visual imagery whose language and strategies are ultimately unfamiliar, whatever their surface appearance, to the complacent Western eye. As such it represents another advance in international understanding of Palestinian history and aspiration, but determinedly through the artist’s eye.”—The Guardian

This diverse selection features pre-1948 paintings alongside contemporary works, highlighting the political concerns of Palestinian artists and their unique contributions to modern Arab culture. Works by artists who live in Palestine are examined alongside those of artists from the Palestinian diaspora.

A painter and writer, Kamal Boullata’s writings on Palestinian art have appeared in numerous art and academic periodicals, and he recently edited Belonging and Globalisation: Critical Essays on Contemporary Art and Culture (Saqi Books).
 

A Mountainous Journey
by Fadwa Tuqan
edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi
poetry translated by Naomi Shihab Nye

Brother and sister Ibrahim and Fadwa Tuqan are two of the most powerful and darling poets of Palestine. Their poetry is highly recommended and celebrated. A Mountainous Journey is an autobiography of Fadwa Tuqan, an internationally known poet from Nablus. Reading this book gave a whole new dimension to and understanding of her last poem, “Longing Inspired by the Law of Gravity,” which she wrote the year before she died at the age of eighty-six. A marvelous book for a very important Palestinian poetess.
 

Palestine (deluxe edition)
by Joe Sacco

This landmark of comics journalism appear in an expanded and redesigned edition that includes a host of unseen supplemental material, including background notes, sketches, reference photos, a new interview with Sacco, and much more. With the Middle East’s role in contemporary world politics, Sacco’s Palestine has never been more relevant or more valuable to a country desperate to understand this long-running conflict. Based on several months of research and an extended visit to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the early 1990s, Palestine was the first major comics work of political and historical nonfiction by Sacco, whose name has since become synonymous with this graphic form of New Journalism. Sacco interviewed and encountered prisoners, refugees, protesters, wounded children, farmers who had lost their land, and families who had been torn apart by the Palestinian conflict.
 

Forgotten Writings (in Arabic)
by May Ziade

May Ziade (1886–1941) was a Palestinian-Lebanese poet, essayist, and translator known as a prolific writer and a “pioneer of Oriental feminism.” When she moved from Palestine to Egypt, Ziade found herself amongst great male writers and cultural figures in a society gripped by stifling patriarchy. She established a literary salon in the 1920s and 1930s where she received many of the best intellectuals. They fell in love with her intellect, beauty, and elegance. Many asked for her hand in marriage, but she refused them all. Instead, she fell in love with Khalil Gibran, Lebanese author of The Prophet, with whom she exchanged letters for twenty years but never met. All ceased when he passed away on April 10, 1931. After Ziade returned to Lebanon, her nephew Joseph, in an attempt to gain control of her finances, had her admitted into Al-’Usfouriyya, the mental hospital, where she spent years in isolation. After she finally was able to prove her sanity, she moved back to Egypt where she lived alone until her death.

 

Let Me Stand Alone
by Rachel Corrie

“A testament to how deeply we need the power and vision and energy of young women to transform the world.”—Eve Ensler

Rachel Corrie was a twenty-three-year-old American human rights worker who was crushed to death in Gaza by an Israeli military bulldozer. Let Me Stand Alone reveals Corrie’s striking gifts as a poet and writer and tells Corrie’s story in her own words, from her earliest reflections as a precociously creative and assured young child, to her final eloquent emails from Gaza. Above all, the book describes her growing political conscience: her desire to break out of a blinkered American perspective and make a difference in the world. Throughout, Corrie’s writing displays an extraordinary level of eloquence and self-awareness, humor and compassion.
 

The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker
by Sami Al Jundi & Jen Marlowe

“This book is the most authentic account of Palestinian refugees’ painful ordeal that I have ever read.”—Akiva Eldar, chief political columnist, Haaretz

Sami Al Jundi left prison still determined to fight for his people’s rights—but with a very different notion of how to undertake that struggle. He cofounded the Middle East program of the Seeds of Peace Center for Coexistence, which brings together Palestinian and Israeli youth. Marked by honesty and compassion for Palestinians and Israelis alike, The Hour of Sunlight illuminates the Palestinian experience through the story of one man’s struggle for peace.
 

Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History
by Nur Masalha

This rich and magisterial work traces Palestine’s millennia-old heritage, uncovering cultures and societies of astounding depth and complexity that stretch back to the very beginnings of recorded history. Starting with the earliest references in Egyptian and Assyrian texts, Nur Masalha explores how Palestine and Palestinian identity have evolved over thousands of years, from the Bronze Age to the present day. Drawing on a rich body of sources and the latest archaeological evidence, Masalha shows how Palestine’s multicultural past has been distorted and mythologized by biblical lore and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 

Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine
by Noura Erakat

Justice in the question of Palestine is often framed as a question of law. Yet none of the Israel-Palestinian conflict’s most vexing challenges have been resolved by judicial intervention. Occupation law has failed to stem Israel’s settlement enterprise. Laws of war have permitted killing and destruction during Israel’s military offensives in the Gaza Strip. The Oslo Accord’s two-state solution is now a dead letter.

Justice for Some offers a new approach to understanding the Palestinian struggle for freedom, told through the power and control of international law. Focusing on key junctures―from the Balfour Declaration in 1917 to present-day wars in Gaza―Noura Erakat shows how the strategic deployment of law has shaped current conditions. Over the past century, the law has done more to advance Israel’s interests than the Palestinians’. But, Erakat argues, this outcome was never inevitable.

Law is politics, and its meaning and application depend on the political intervention of states and people alike. Within the law, change is possible. International law can serve the cause of freedom when it is mobilized in support of a political movement. Presenting the promise and risk of international law, Justice for Some calls for renewed action and attention to the Question of Palestine.
 

So What: New and Selected Poems, 1971–2005
by Taha Muhammad Ali
translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi & Gabriel Levin

“Despite his spare output and lack of formal education, Ali has become one of the most widely admired Palestinian poets. Composed in a synthetic Arabic that draws both on classical language and colloquial speech, Ali’s vivid free verse conveys the moody resilience of his personality in treatments of the national grief of occupation, exile and the Palestinian Arabs’ ‘endless migration.’”—Publishers Weekly

Taha Muhammad Ali was a revered Palestinian poet whose work was driven by vivid imagination, disarming humor, and unflinching honesty. As a boy he was exiled from his hometown, but rather than turning to a protest poetry of black-and-white slogans to convey this loss, he created art of the highest order. His poems portray experiences that range from catastrophe to splendor, each preserving an essential human dignity.
 

Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories
by Ghassan Kanafani
translated by Hilary Kilpatrick

“Far from being a simple parable, Men in the Sun depicts some often hidden aspects of the complex social and political reality of the Palestinians and is also a well-told story. . . . We should not forget the excellent translation of Hilary Kilpatrick which not only manages to preserve the subtle voice of the narrator, but also matches accurately the sober and lucid prose in Arabic for which Kanafani was hugely admired.”—Samir el-Youssef, Banipal

This collection of important stories by novelist and Palestinian activist Ghassan Kanafani includes  the stunning novella Men in the Sun, the basis of the film The Deceived. In the unsparing clarity of his writing, Kanafani offers the reader a gritty look at the agonized world of Palestine and the adjoining Middle East. His writing has been translated in sixteen languages. He was killed in a car bomb explosion in Beirut in 1972.
 

Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid
by Jimmy Carter

One of the most important books that changed the trajectory of the Palestine/Israel discourse. The Nobel Peace Prize–winning former president shares an assessment of what he believes is necessary to bring lasting peace to Israel while preserving Palestinian dignity, in an account that draws on Carter’s intimate understanding of Middle East history and his personal relationships with regional leaders and political issues.
 

 

The Butterfly’s Burden
by Mahmoud Darwish
translated by Fady Joudah

“Mahmoud Darwish is the Essential Breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging, exquisitely tuned singer of images that invoke, link, and shine a brilliant light into the world’s whole heart. What he speaks has been embraced by readers around the world—his in an utterly necessary voice, unforgettable once discovered.”—Naomi Shihab Nye

Mahmoud Darwish is the leading poet in the Arab world, an artist and activist who attracted thousands to his public readings. The Butterfly’s Burden combines the complete text of Darwish’s two most renowned full-length volumes, linked by the stunning memoir-witness poem “A State of Siege.” Love poems, sonnets, journal-like distillations, and interlaced lyrics balance old literary traditions with new forms, highlighting loving reflections alongside bitter longing.
 

The Selected Works of Edward Said, 1966–2006
by Edward W. Said
edited by Moustafa Bayoumi & Andrew Rubin

The renowned literary and cultural critic Edward Said was one of our era’s most provocative and important thinkers. This comprehensive collection of his work, expanded from the earlier Edward Said Reader, draws from across his entire four-decade career, including his posthumously published books, making it a definitive one-volume source.

Whether writing of Zionism or Palestinian self-determination, Jane Austen or Yeats, or of music or the media, Said’s uncompromising intelligence casts urgent light on every subject he undertakes. The Selected Works is an indispensable resource for scholars in the many fields that his work has influenced and transformed.
 

Mornings in Jenin
by Susan Abulhawa

Mornings in Jenin is a multigenerational story about a Palestinian family. Forcibly removed from the olive-farming village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, the Abulhejos are displaced to live in canvas tents in the Jenin refugee camp. We follow the Abulhejo family as they live through a half century of violent history. Amidst the loss and fear, hatred and pain, as their tents are replaced by more forebodingly permanent cinderblock huts, there is always the waiting, waiting to return to a lost home. Set against one of the twentieth century’s most intractable political conflicts, Mornings in Jenin is a deeply human novel—a novel of history, identity, friendship, love, terrorism, surrender, courage, and hope. Its power forces us to take a fresh look at one of the defining conflicts of our lifetimes.
 

Arabesques
by Anton Shammas
translated by Vivian Eden

Anton Shammas chronicles his life as an Israeli Christian Arab, dramatizing the bitter clash of traditions in a village of the Galilee just after 1948 and his search for personal identity, which leads through Paris to its climax in Iowa City. Arabesques is a classic, complex novel of identity, memory, and history in the Middle East and points beyond. Shammas, the first Arab to write a novel in Hebrew, offers a riveting look at a people we hear too little about: Palestinian Christians. Arabesques was chosen as one of the best books of 1988 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review.
 

The Words of My Father: Love and Pain in Palestine
by Yousef Khalil Bashir

A Palestinian-American activist recalls his adolescence in Gaza during the Second Intifada, and how he made a strong commitment to peace in the face of devastating brutality in this moving, candid, and transformative memoir that reminds us of the importance of looking beyond prejudice, anger, and fear. Amid the tragedy of the ongoing Middle East conflict, The Words of My Father is a powerful tale of moral awakening and of a fraught, ferocious, and profound relationship between a son and his father. Bashir’s story and the ideals of peace and empathy it upholds are a reminder that love and compassion are a gift—and a choice.
 

Traditional Palestinian Costume: Origins and Evolution
by Hanan Karaman Munayyer
photography by Nathan Sayers

“A mesmerizing must-have coffee table book.”—Elle (Middle East)

A joyous celebration of pattern and color in an enduring Palestinian tradition. The historical and cultural richness of Palestine is reflected visually in its costume and embroidery. Distinguished by boldness of color, richness of pattern, and diversity of style, and combined with great needlework skill, these textiles have long played an important role in Palestinian culture and identity and manifested themselves in every aspect of Palestinian life. The sumptuous photography and the author’s well-informed text greatly enrich our appreciation of Palestinian embroidery and make this book a valuable resource that displays this unique art in all its splendor.
 

Mountain against the Sea: Essays on Palestinian Society and Culture
by Salim Tamari

This groundbreaking book on modern Palestinian culture goes beyond the usual focal point of the 1948 war to address the earlier, formative years. Drawing on previously unavailable biographies of Palestinians (including Palestinian Jews), Salim Tamari offers eleven vignettes of Palestine’s cultural life in the momentous first half of the twentieth century. He brings to light the memoirs, diaries, letters, and other writings of six Jerusalem intellectuals whose lives spanned (and defined) the period of 1918–1948: a musician, a teacher, a former aristocrat, a doctor, a Bolshevik revolutionary, and a Jewish novelist. These essays present an integrated cultural history that illuminates a watershed in the modern social history of the Arab East, the formulation of the Arab Enlightenment.
 

Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine
edited by Refaat Alareer

Gaza Writes Back is a compelling anthology of short stories from fifteen young writers in Gaza, members of a generation that has suffered immensely under Israel’s siege and blockade. Their experiences, especially during and following Israel’s 2008–2009 offensive known as “Operation Cast Lead,” have fundamentally impacted their lives and their writing. Their words take us into the homes and hearts of moms, dads, students, children, and elders striving to live lives of dignity, compassion, and meaning in one of the world’s most embattled communities. Readers will be moved by the struggles big and small that emerge from the well-crafted writing by these young people, and by the hope and courage that radiate from the authors’ biographies.
 

This Is Not a Border: Reportage and Reflection from the Palestine Festival of Literature
edited by Ahdaf Soueif & Omar Robert Hamilton

The Palestine Festival of Literature was established in 2008 by authors Ahdaf Soueif, Brigid Keenan, Victoria Brittain, and Omar Robert Hamilton. Bringing writers to Palestine from all corners of the globe, it aimed to break the cultural siege imposed by the Israeli military occupation, to strengthen artistic links with the rest of the world, and to reaffirm, in the words of Edward Said, “the power of culture over the culture of power.”

Contributing authors include J. M. Coetzee, China Miéville, Alice Walker, Geoff Dyer, Claire Messud, Henning Mankell, Michael Ondaatje, Kamila Shamsie, Michael Palin, Deborah Moggach, Mohammed Hanif, Gillian Slovo, Adam Foulds, Susan Abulhawa, Ahdaf Soueif, Jeremy Harding, Brigid Keenan, Rachel Holmes, Suad Amiry, Gary Younge, Jamal Mahjoub, Molly Crabapple, Najwan Darwish, Nathalie Handal, Omar Robert Hamilton, Pankaj Mishra, Raja Shehadeh, Selma Dabbagh, William Sutcliffe, Atef Abu Saif, Yasmin El-Rifae, Sabrina Mahfouz, Alaa Abd El Fattah, Mercedes Kemp, and Ru Freeman.

Palestine +100:Stories from a Century after the Nakba
edited by Basma Ghalayini

“It’s necessary, of course. But above all it’s bold, brilliant and inspiring: a sign of boundless imagination and fierce creation even in circumstances of oppression, denial, silencing and constriction. The voices of these writers demand to be heard—and their stories are defiantly entertaining.”—Bidisha

The first anthology of contemporary science fiction from Palestine, Palestine +100 poses a question to twelve Palestinian writers: What might your country look like in the year 2048, a century after the tragedies of 1948? Along the way, we encounter drone swarms, digital uprisings, time-bending VR, peace treaties that span parallel universes, and even a Palestinian superhero.

June 2021

Editorial note: Khanfar also contributed his “Photography Bookshelf” to WLT’s “Taking Pictures, Telling Stories” double photography issue in 2013.

An award-winning Palestinian author, Yousef Khanfar has published three books, is featured globally in many publications, and is listed as one of the world’s top photographers. He has received appreciation from the White House, US Supreme Court, the UK’s House of Lords, and beyond. The Fulbright Center for Peace in Washington, DC, selected his book to help celebrate the Global Symposium of Peaceful Nations. He was selected as Artist of the Year to promote literacy with UNICEF, and the Palestine mission to the United Nations honored him for “appreciation of his extraordinary service to promoting peace and justice in Palestine through art.”

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