The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict (seventh revised and updated edition)
Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin, eds.
(New York: Penguin Books, 2008), 640 pp.

Reviewed by Lewis Brownstein, Ph.D., Professor of International Relations, State University of New York-New Paltz, New Paltz, NY

It is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to study the Israeli-Arab conflict dispassionately and objectively. However much one attempts to put aside one’s prejudices and emotions, they color one’s interpretation and understanding of the facts. That is why The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict is so important to students and scholars alike. In a class by itself, it collects together in a single volume many of the key documents which narrate this very complex and contentious history. Currently in its seventh iteration, it is indispensable and, with some few exceptions, comprehensive. As the authors point out in their introduction, it is almost unprecedented for a volume like this to stay in print for so many years. That is has done so is a testament to its quality and its usefulness.

The documents collected in the book date back to the beginnings of the Zionist movement and end with the statement by President George W. Bush at the Annapolis Conference in 2007. They are arranged chronologically (with a couple of exceptions) and divided up into five parts. They cover the pre-Mandate, Mandate and post-Mandate periods, the wars, diplomacy, peace agreements and failures over a period of 125 years. The reader will find the verbatim texts (sometimes in excerpt form) of major speeches, commission reports, peace treaties, party platforms, United Nations resolutions and a few newspaper articles and secondary analyses by scholars. The book includes statements and documents across the spectrum of the conflict from Israelis, Palestinians, leaders of neighboring states, the British, the Americans, and the Soviets.

As might be expected in a topic so vast and of such duration, there are some lacunae. There are no documents or statements on the 1956 Suez War or its aftermath, for example. One also will not find the Khartoum Communiqué of 1967 or the first Rogers Plan of 1969. These are, however, relatively small points. Of greater concern, the book is in need of some editorial changes which would make it even more useful, including the elimination of all secondary material and opinion pieces; clear identification of the sources of all the documents; the creation of more clearly defined sections into which the articles are grouped; inclusion of an index or, a cross-referencing of the documents; and the inclusion of a selected bibliography including useful websites.

In looking back over previous editions I note that secondary materials were eliminated as they became dated. In the current volume, a few remain, some added over the years. They add little to the text and, given limits on space, fail to cover the full range of opinion on the topic. Eliminating them would free up space which might be better used in other ways. Second, since some of the documents are translations, readers need to know where they were found and who translated them. All documents should be sourced. Third, the current titles of the five parts are not as useful as those in previous editions. The editors should increase the number and focus of the sections. As it stands now, the reader has to skim over too many documents in each section to determine its content. This is particularly difficult for anyone (students included) who lack background in the subject. It probably makes sense to keep the chronological organization, although as time goes on this become more and more problematical. Fourth, either an index or a cross-reference table is needed to help the reader find the documents for which they are searching. Finally, the book needs to go back to inclusion of one, or perhaps more than one, bibliography including modern web sources. While such bibliographic material could not possibly be comprehensive in scope, it is essential for students who wish to continue their research on topics the book covers.

These criticisms aside, let me reiterate my overall evaluation: this is a fine collection which I have referred to again and again in my career and which I have assigned to legions of students over the years. Given that this conflict is not likely to be resolved any time soon, I suspect students and scholars will continue to rely on it in the years ahead.