I thought I'd try writing something about each book I read. Mainly for myself, as sometimes I think I read through things too quickly, without enough reflection. (How should you balance out reading extensively and intensively?) Making myself sit down and write something about a book, even if it's just an aspect of the book, will help make me think properly about it. But if I'm writing this stuff I might as well post it up and hopefully see what other people think.
I'll do the first few books in a splurge.
The Palestine-Israeli Conflict by Dan Cohn-Sherbok and Dawoud El-Alami. This book is intended as a primer on the history of the conflict, with half written by an Israeli and half by a Palestinian academic, followed by a little engagement between them.
It is as depressing as you might expect. Zionism (which was both religious and secular) was an understandable reaction to the position of Jews in the 19th and early 20th century. Then the holocaust gave horrible evidence for its arguments. At the same time, it's easy to see the idea of transplanting one group of people into the lands of another as a colonial approach; the people living in Palestine are simply there to be moved around.
It is interesting to see the internal struggles over the nature of the state of Israel laid out. There is a lot of argument over its religious and social character, arguments you can vividly see continuing today when settlers attack troops and billboards featuring women are vandalised.
What's perhaps most disheartening of all is the leadership. Israeli leaders negotiate in bad faith (Ehud Barak accelerating settlement building) or refuse to compromise. Arab leaders frighten Israel (and their own people) without actually improving the position of Palestinians. Most of all, though, the Palestinian leadership has failed at almost every turn. True, they may have been in a difficult position, but it's rare to see such a long struggle with so little good to show for it.