I am often asked to recommend a list of materials for individuals and families traveling to Israel. Some of the following suggestions may be helpful before traveling; others are meant for anyone who, after returning, desires a more in-depth study of Israeli and the Israelis; the Palestinians and the Arabs, the Middle East, and the history of the Middle Eastern conflict.
Geography: It is difficult to get a sense of where one is while traveling around the country of Israel. You will be given a map of the country when you arrive. Bring a highlighter to highlight the routes we travel. This will help you know where you are and will help you remember what you did and where you were when you return home, especially if you are keeping a daily journal (highly recommended) and/or taking pictures.
Before leaving for your trip, consider printing out a topographic map of Israel that contains no city names. A fairly good one is found Here. Study the terrain of the land, especially the mountain ranges and the valleys. Israel’s history has been largely determined by its location relative to ancient history’s great powers, both north and south of her. Ask yourself where you think major cities were built and battles fought, and why. Then go to www.google.com to find the following locations and write them onto your topographical map: Shechem, Mt. Gerizim, Mt. Ebal, Megiddo, Caesarea, Joppa (Jaffa), Jerusalem, Beersheva, the King’s Highway, the Patriarch’s Highway, the Via Maris, Tel Aviv, Ein Gedi, the Dead Sea, Masada, Banias (Caesarea Philippi), Mt. Carmel, and Ariel. You may even want your map to show the ancient, biblical people-groups that existed alongside the Jews: Canaanites, Philistines, Hiittites, Ammorites, Phoenicians, Ammonites, Edomites, Kenites, Moabites.
The Arab-Israeli wars and the Holocaust have also greatly defined contemporary Jewish existence and perspectives. Some suggested resources defining these conflicts (all available from amazon.com or a good library):
a. The Diary of Anne Frank is a classic, especially for middle & high schoolers. If you happen to have a layover in Amsterdam, the Frank house/historical museum is within walking distance of the downtown train station. Take a train from within the airport terminal. The walk through quaint, downtown Amsterdam is worth the effort if you have enough time. A little further on the train line (past Amsterdam) is the family home of Corrie Ten Boom. It is a historical site and one may purchase a clock from the Ten Booms. Check google.com.
b. Anne Frank and the Children of the Holocaust by Carol Ann Lee fleshes out the Diary of Anne Frank by offering an in depth look at the life of Anne and the intimate history of the young people who experienced the Holocaust.. For grades 6 and up.
c. Night by Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. Short autobiographical account of 15 year old Wiesel as he lived through the holocaust. Frank and honest, yet graphic. Not for young children.
d. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom is a classic of evil and forgiveness. Inspirational.
a. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jewish History & Culture. In spite of its title, this really is a good, general book written on just what the title says. It is filled with the humor for which the Jewish people are famous.
b. The Christian and the Pharisee is a series of letters written between a well-known Christian theologian and a well-known Jewish Rabbi discussing how they each interpret the Bible from their own perspectives. This book is for everyone who wonders the following about the Jews: What about Jesus makes Jews unable to believe in Him? What was the difference between a Pharisee and Sadducee? How can a Jew remain Jewish and not believe in God? Why do Jews believe faith is not relevant to salvation? Why is the Bible not God’s final revelation? Why do some Jews consider attitudes to the land of Israel idolatry? Why are Jews so offended when Christians seek to proselytize them? Why do Jews hate the term “Messianic Jew” (or, “Messianic Christian”)? Why do Jews reject the idea of original sin and the “fall of man”? What do Jews think about the building of a third Temple? Why don’t Jews believe blood must be sacrificed for sin? Much more…
c. The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai. This book will open doors to the Arab worldview on just about every aspect of their way of life and thought. Reading this book will cause many things that are happening in the Muslim and Arab world today to become clear. You will understand the difference between Arabs, Muslims and Bedouin. You will be able to answer the question, “Why can’t the Arab peoples get their act together? Why are they against one another as much as they are against the Jews?” You will also be astonished at how much we differ from one another and how important those differences are. Needs a deep interest in the subject as it is very detailed. Worth the effort if you want to understand the Arab mind. Some chapters not appropriate for the young.
d. Eichmann in My Hands. Adolph Eichmann was the man who invented the Nazi death camps, Hitler’s “Final Solution”. This is the fascinating true story of how Israel’s Secret Service finally discovered the whereabouts of one of 20th century’s most elusive and sought-after war criminals and how they prepared for months to capture him. The story is enthralling and heart stopping (and better than the movie). This is the autobiographical account of the Israeli secret agent who led the team and who captured the only man ever executed by modern-day Israel. The story is made more interesting because it opens a window into the mind of a modern-day Jew as he struggles with the meaning of the Holocaust. The discussions between the Mossad agent and Eichmann are, alone, worth the cost of the book. May not be appropriate for some families.
e. Son of Hamas. Poignant and extremely insightful perspective of the Arab-Israeli conflict from inside one of the Palestinian’s most dangerous terrorist organizations, Hamas. Mosab Yousef is the eldest son of Hamas founder, Sheik Hassan Yousef, whom he was to eventually replace as the organization’s leader. However, during a period of deep personal struggle to understand the hatred and killing going on around him, a chance encounter with a Christian led Mosab to the Prince of Peace. An autobiography of betrayal, family shame and heartbreak as Mosab became an undercover informant for Israel’s Internal Security Agency, the Shin Bet, while still a confidant of both Yasser Arafat and the leadership of Hamas. Yousef states that world leaders are incapable of understanding the Arab-Israeli conflict because they neither understand the players nor Islam. He provides his readers with an insider’s view of the two faces of Islam and of one of its most dangerous terrorist organizations. Read this along with The Arab Mind for an understanding of the Arab people and the so-called Palestinians.
For an understanding of the history of the Middle East and Israel.
a. My Glorious Brothers by Howard Fast is set in the 2nd Century BC. It is the true story of how an old Jewish priest and his 5 sons led the liberation of Israel from her oppressors following the death of Alexander the Great. I read it aloud to my sons and it became my family’s favorite all-time book of historical fiction. Many insights into the Jewish mind. Amazing battle scenes.
b. Desert Queen by Janet Wallach. This biography of Gertrude Bell, wealthy British citizen, explains how the modern-day countries of the Middle East came into existence after WW I. Bell, who became Britain’s expert on the Middle East, was friend to virtually every famous Arab sheik, and confidant to Lawrence of Arabia. She is credited with almost single-handedly creating the countries of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. With this understanding of the rise of the Arab Middle East, you gain even more insight into why Arabs cannot get along with one another and just how much of an afterthought Israel’s existence was to the victorious nations of England, France and the U.S. Lots of her personal correspondence referenced, some not appropriate for young children.
c. Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine, by Samuel Katz is “an in-depth analysis of the bitter hostilities and a factual account that will destroy and tread underfoot the propaganda, myths, distortions, fabrications and outright lies that have served to deceive the public at large of what the situation in the Middle East is really all about.” For serious students of Israel’s history and its current struggles.
d. From Time Immemorial, the Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine. Journalist and White House Consultant on the Middle East, Joan Peters, set out to chronicle the plight of the Palestinian “refugees” and, after seven years of painstaking research, wrote a history of the Arab-Jewish conflict that took an issue which has seemed too complicated to understand and has brought forth irrefutable conclusions that startled even herself. The reader will need a deep interest in this issue or he/she will quickly become bogged down in the book’s detail. The reward for your effort will be an understanding of what is really going on and how things progressed to where they are today.
e. Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel. Eric Cline, Associate Professor of Ancient History and Archaeology in the Department of Classical and Semitic Languages and Literature at George Washington University, has written a scholarly history of the city of Jerusalem. Dr. Cline takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through 4,000 years of conflict over the “City of Peace”. At little more than 12 acres, Jerusalem has been called, “The most contested piece of real estate on earth.” Located between the major empires of the world, Jerusalem has witnessed 118 separate conflicts, has been surrounded by armies 23 times, has been attacked an additional 53 times, has been captured and recaptured 44 times, and has been totally destroyed twice. Dr. Cline’s writing style is easy and interesting and not at all stuffy. Anyone interested in what goes on today in Israel and, especially, in Jerusalem, will benefit from this read.
f. Article, Escape From Atlit can be read Here. In its history, the Jewish people have often worked against one another and the results have been disastrous. This little story of a post-Holocaust escape of a group of Jews from a detention camp within Palestine shows what happens when Jews work together toward the common goal of survival.
g. Islamic Tsunami by David Rubin. Rubin, formerly a non-religious Jew, became Orthodox and was eventually elected Mayor of the modern Jewish “West Bank” settlement of Shiloh which overlooks what was Israel’s first capital during the days of the High Priest, Eli, and the prophet, Samuel. Rubin writes that both Christians and Muslims have oppressed his people for centuries and he asks if this oppression is due to the followers of these two religions being faithful to their respective founders’ teachings and theology or if, as is often suggested, these are peaceful religions containing a few radical elements. The book demonstrates Rubin’s deep knowledge of both Christianity and Islam and provides a well-reasoned look at the founder and theology of Islam which leads the reader to conclude the world is in for a potentially dangerously transformed future.
h. The Case for Israel. In his book, internationally known Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz, brings the nation of Israel before the court of public opinion and there presents the 32 most damning criticisms the world brings against Israel. Each criticism is presented along with direct quotes from the prosecutors. The Professor then refutes each criticism, bringing irrefutable evidence as to why that criticism does not stand up to the proof of history and law. Anyone truly interested in understanding reality must read this book!
i. The Israeli Solution is a new book by Caroline Glick which I consider a must read for anyone wanting to understand why peace between Israel and the Palestinians (in fact, in the Middle East as a whole) is not possible as long as the Palestinians’ only goal is a Middle East without any Jewish presence. Ms. Glick is a Harvard educated scholar, editor of Israel’s Jerusalem Post Magazine, former IDF Army Captain, and former member of the Israeli negotiating team seeking a solution with the Palestinians. If you read only one book related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, make it this one!
Interesting books to understand the unique character of the Israeli people, her leaders, her youth, and what she faces as she tries to stay alive:
a. The Israelis, Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land. Donna Rosenthal has done a credible job of answering the question, “Why is it that two Israelis will offer you three different opinions?” Each chapter of her book profiles a different sub-group of Israeli citizen: from the Ultra Orthodox to the anti-religious. You will understand why the Jewish people fight one another when they are not fighting the Arabs and how each group considers itself the “true Israeli”. Rosenthal is not a “religious” Jew and some Orthodox Jews do not believe she is capable of accurately portraying those who are.
b. A Village by the Jordan, the Story of Degania. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, groups of young, idealistic, Jews, mostly from Russia, came to Israel to begin restoring the land through agriculture. They did not know agricultural methods but believed they would eventually learn what they needed to know. They were not prepared for the hardships that awaited them; so bad were conditions that some even committed suicide. But, as they struggled to make life work in a socialistic, nonreligious commune, the inhabitants’ determination eventually won out. This book is the true story of Degania, the very first of Israel’s communes (known as Kibbutzim). It details the triumphs and tragedies of its new immigrants. Joseph Baratz, one of Degania’s founders, gives his first-person account of the initial 50 years in the lives of this village at the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee on the Jordan River.
c. Six Days of War by Michael Oren. Captivating story of the lead-up and execution of the war of 1967 which could have destroyed Israel. Explains how Israel ended up with territory which has since become the main source of disagreement frustrating peace efforts. You will understand how Israeli leaders think and make decisions, and you will understand why this territory can never be returned to the Arabs. Dr. Oren is an Israeli historian and former Israeli Ambassador to the United States.
d. Start-up Nation by Dan Senor demonstrates why Israel’s economy is so strong and how the requirement for national army service changes the character of each young person into the country’s future leaders. Inspiring.
e. The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner. Avner held the position of speech writer and note-taker for several successive Prime Ministers, requiring him to attend every meeting and decision-making session held between a Prime Minister and his staff or leaders of other countries. His personal insights into the character of each of Israel’s leaders, as well as of their counterparts around the world, are priceless. Most of the book contains word-for-word accounts of heretofore unknown private meetings and discussions. In spite of America being Israel’s only true ally in the world, you will be amazed at how little the American presidents understood Israel’s security needs and with what little respect they treated their “friend”, constantly punishing Israel for trying to protect herself from those who seek her destruction. Reading this book will give you deep insights into how decisions are made at the highest levels and the worldview that drives these decisions.
f. The Young Inheritors by Yehuda Avner (author of The Prime Ministers). Out of print and somewhat difficult to find (30 years since its publication), this oversized, hardback picture-book, may just be the most important single volume that could be read by someone interested in understanding what “drives” modern Israelis. In its pages, Israel is portrayed through the lives of the first three generations of her post-1948 youth, who have grown up with very different ideas than the country’s idealistic founders could have imagined. With so many ethnic, cultural, and religious groups crammed into such a tiny geographical space, Israelis are still struggling to decide their national identity. Two years before Joshua entered the Promised Land, with the younger generation of Hebrews fresh from their desert wanderings, a heathen prophet declared, “This is a people that shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9). This book does better than any other to explain why this prophecy remains true even today.
g. The New Anti-Semitism by Dr. Phyllis Chesler. Dr. Chesler is a world-renowned author, professor, and feminist who takes on her own kind in this insightful look at what she calls a new form of anti-Semitism that is sweeping the world, especially on the world’s campuses. I consider this book one of the most important I have ever read on the subject of anti-Semitism. It is a must read for anyone interested in understanding people’s negative attitudes toward the Jewish people and Israel.
h. A Wall Street Journal article worthy of your time can be read here: Where Does All That Aid for Palestinians Go?
Sarah Zoabi is an Israeli citizen and a Muslim. In this video, Sarah gives a unique perspective of what life is really like for Muslims in modern Israel.
The most important Bible study relating to modern-day Israel:
The Last Word On the Middle East by Cambridge scholar and internationally known Bible teacher, Derek Prince. Prince was a British soldier stationed in Jerusalem during the tumultuous days of the founding of the nation of Israel. He brings his unique biblical scholarship to demonstrate how today’s headlines are the fulfillment of the words of Israel’s ancient prophets. Prince challenges his readers to appreciate the honor (and responsibility) of being alive during a time to which previous generations could only look with faith and longing.
What to Watch:
a. A Christian Arab girl talks about the reasons she joined the IDF (Israel’s Defense Force): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGv9mym3Sqk
b. Fiddler On the Roof: Many years ago, I asked an Orthodox Jew what it was like being Jewish. His only response was, “Watch the movie Fiddler on the Roof“. Enough said.
c. Exodus. Although this is an old movie, it does a good job depicting the turbulent times of the founding of Israel as a nation. What is often missed, however, is the difficulty the non-Jewish heroine faces as she struggles to comprehend the forces driving the post-Holocaust Jewish immigrants as they willingly offer their lives to make the fledgling nation a reality.
d. Against All Odds: Israel Survives Now. Available on the internet, this 13-part video series is by investigative reporter Michael Greenspan, a non-religious Jew who sets out to discover why many Jews consider the survival of Israel to be a miracle. He interviews Israelis from all walks of life (military leaders and ordinary Israelis) who have experienced supernatural interventions in situations they could only attribute to God. Watch and see if you are convinced.
As always, if you have questions, comments or suggestions, don’t hesitate to share.