Arab-Israeli conflict

Menachem Begin and Anwar as-Sādāt signing the Israel-Egypt peace agreement, mediated by US President Jimmy Carter.
Menachem Begin and Anwar as-Sādāt signing the Israel-Egypt peace agreement, mediated by US President Jimmy Carter. [Source: Carter Center]

The Arab-Israeli conflict attracts a disproportionate amount of attention in the news media, international politics and law, and the socio-cultural sphere, despite the fact that numerous other inter-ethnic tensions have generated far higher casualties and involve more significant players on the global scene. This course examines the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict in an attempt to place it in its historical context, while tracing its developments from multiple angles in order to provide a comprehensive understanding of the complex dynamic that constitutes ‘the conflict’. We will conclude the class by looking at several contemporary dimensions of the conflict, including the potent forces of radical and political Islam, the involvement of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the continued evolvement of Israeli and Palestinian identities.

Course expectation and student evaluation

This course represents a combination of a lecture and seminar approaches and individual participation in class dialogues is critical. Most classes include a discussion period for conversation about required reading. Each student will have the opportunity to present a brief review of a text, after which he/she will lead a discussion. At the end of this course, it is hoped that students will have not only a better understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but have developed better research skills, practiced critical thinking and reading, and gained experience collecting and presenting information clearly.

Course grades will be assigned on the basis of several elements:

  1. in-class quizzes (15% total)—a map quiz and five 5-minute quizzes (lowest grade dropped) on critical terms (e.g., Balfour Declaration, Chaim Weizmann, Palestine Liberation Organisation);
  2. pop reading quizzes (10%)—short, random multiple-choice quizzes on major themes of assigned readings;
  3. mid-term paper (20%)—take-home essay on an assigned topic, using only the class readings as sources (5 pages);
  4. final research paper (30%)—each student will write a research paper (about 15 pages) on a topic of their choice relating to the course and making use of literature (at least 6 sources) not assigned as part of the class reading;
  5. class participation (25%)—contribution to in-class and online discussions and attendance, critical to a successful experience (students with over three absences lose their entire participation grade; each additional two absences result in a letter-grade penalty off of the overall course grade), including also a discussion article presentation, where each student presents at least one required reading, emphasising its core argument and leading a class discussion about it.
This division of factors aims to give all students a fair chance at a good grade by avoiding too much emphasis on one examination method. Nevertheless, since a large share of the grade (25%) derives from participation and the discussion presentation, this means that you must attend and participate in class to get a good grade. The key to good participation is reading the assigned texts, so come prepared!

Each student has the opportunity to submit up to two extra credit response papers to contemporary news articles on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In order to receive credit, you must read and submit an article from a newspaper (not a web log!), along with your thoughts on the article (one page). Other extra credit opportunities will be announced periodically throughout the semester; students will be allowed a maximum of five total extra credit opportunities during the term. You are also strongly encouraged to follow Middle East news during (and after!) the semester. Some mainstream newspaper sources:

Required texts

Morris, Benny. Righteous victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881–2001. 1st Vintage Books ed. New York City: Vintage Books, 2001.

Dowty, Alan. Israel/Palestine. 3rd ed. Malden: Polity, 2012.

Said Aly, Abdel Monem, Shai Feldman, and Khalil Shikaki. Arabs and Israelis: Conflict and peacemaking in the Middle East. New York City: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Laqueur, Walter Z and Barry Rubin, eds. The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary history of the Middle East conflict. 7th revised and updated ed. New York City: Penguin Books, 2008.

Recommended texts for further readings

The following texts are recommended for those interested in doing further reading on the subject. These books are not required for purchase.

Tessler, Mark. A History of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indiana series in Arab and Islamic studies. 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

Course outline

Readings from course textbooks appear in small caps. All other readings include full bibliographical citations and are available electronically on the class Desire2Learn website. It is highly recommended that you prepare in advance by downloading and/or printing all online readings at the beginning of the course, so that you can concentrate on reading them over the semester. While ‘recommended reading’ are not obligatory, they may be useful when preparing research papers (those with an asterisk (*) are highly encouraged). Primary source readings are noted below.

I. Introduction and background

  1. Introduction to the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict

  2. Required reading:
    • Dowty, Israel/Palestine, 1-12.
    • Examine the class primer (always review relevant materials and bring the primer to each class).
    Recommended reading:
  3. Jews and Arabs in history

  4. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  5. Zionism and Arabism in the age of nationalism

  6. Map quiz
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  7. Ottoman communities

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
    • Tessler, History, 123-145.
    • Dowty, Israel/Palestine, 12-21, 42-46, 60-71.
    • Isaiah Friedman, ‘The System of Capitulations and its effect on Turco-Jewish relations in Palestine, 1856–1897’, in Palestine in the late Ottoman period: Political, social, and economic transformation, ed. David Kushner (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1986), 280-293.
    • Moshe Maʿoz, ‘Changing relations between Jews, Muslims, and Christians during the Nineteenth Century, with special reference to Ottoman Syria and Palestine’, in Jews, Turks, Ottomans: A Shared history, Fifteenth through the Twentieth Century, ed. Avigdor Levy, 1st ed. (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2002), 108-118.
    • Mim Kemal Oke, ‘The Ottoman Empire, Zionism, and the question of Palestine (1880–1908)’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 14.3 (August 1982), 329-341.
  9. Arabs in Zionist thought

  10. Quiz #1
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

II. The Mandate of Palestine: Jews and Arabs under British dominion

  1. The Emergence of the Mandate of Palestine

  2. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. Zionist and Arab socio-political development

  4. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  5. Rising communal tensions and British responses

  6. Quiz #2
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  7. Towards the partition of Palestine

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

III. States at war: Israel and its neighbours, 1948–1967

  1. The 1948 War

  2. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. Remembering and debating the 1948 War

  4. Quiz #3
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  5. Security, revolt, and war in the 1950s

  6. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  7. The 1967 War

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
    • Morris, Righteous victims, 302-346.
    • Dowty, Israel/Palestine, 113-125.
    • Tessler, History, 378-422.
    • * Michael B Oren, Six days of war: June 1967 and the making of the modern Middle East (Oxford & New York City: Oxford University Press, 2002), 305-327.
    • * Fouad Ajami, ‘The End of pan-Arabism’, Foreign Affairs 57.2 (Winter 1978–1979), 355-373.
    • Joel S Migdal, ‘Changing boundaries and social crisis: Israel and the 1967 War’, in War, institutions, and social change in the Middle East, ed. Steven Heydemann (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 174-199.
  9. The Rise of the Palestinian resistance movement

  10. Mid-term paper due.
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

IV. Changing dynamics and first steps towards peace, 1970–2000

  1. War and peace in the 1970s

  2. Research paper proposal due
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. War and protest in the early 1980s

  4. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  5. Protest and revolt in the late 1980s

  6. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  7. Dialogue and negotiation in the 1990s

  8. Quiz #4
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  9. The Collapse of the Oslo Accords

  10. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

VI. Disengagement, stalemate, and beyond, 2000–present

  1. Disengagement and conflict with Lebanon and Gaza

  2. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab stalemate

  4. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  5. ḤaMĀS, Ḥizb-Allāh, and radical Islam in the Arab-Israeli conflict

  6. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  7. Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  9. Israeli and Palestinian identities

  10. Quiz #5
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  11. Open topic class

  12. Research paper due
    Required reading:
  13. Whither the conflict?

  14. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

Upcoming talks and lectures

Please note that not all of these events are open to the general audience; please check with the organisers to confirm.
  • 19–21 October 2017—‘Iranian exiles in Istanbul and Ottoman–Qājār relations’ (10th annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa): Key Bridge Marriott Hotel, Washington, DC.
  • 18–21 November 2017—‘Call-and-response battles in Syria and Iraq: The Literary construction of Islamic collective memory’ (51st annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association): Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, DC.
  • Past events ► click to expand