SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Israeli History and the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Module Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 of 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year

This course provides an historical overview of the Israel-Palestine conflict and examines its political, social and cultural reflections, from late Ottoman Palestine to the present day. Alongside the political history, the course will emphasise social and cultural aspects of the conflict. It will bring a variety of perspectives, often contradictory, on the conflict, its underlying causes and dynamics; these perspectives include not only the two “official” narratives, the Israeli and the Palestinian, but also those of voices “from below” of marginalised groups. Architecture, visual art, and film will be discussed as means to analyse and understand the conflict.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course the student will have a clear idea of the complexity of the Arab-Palestinian conflict and a sure grasp of the history of the Jewish community in Palestine starting with the so-called Old Yishuv and then through the period of the Aliyyot and through to the subsequent history of the State of Israel from 1948 until  the present.  The student will be able to see the conflict from a number of perspectives which may challenge  previous assumptions and will have a clear sense of how the differing strands of Zionism impacted upon Israeli policies and development.  She/he will have a sense of the way in which this conflict has marked the development of Israeli and Palestinian societies and cultures and will have knowledge of a number of cultural artefacts expressing the impact of the conflict.  


Two hours per week

Scope and syllabus

The syllabus will include: 

  • The Palestine-Israel conflict: narratives, memories, histories
  • Late Ottoman Palestine and the origins of Arab Nationalism
  • Zionism and Palestine’s Jewish communities, the early encounters between Zionists and Arabs
  • World War I – the local viewpoint, Imperial viewpoints: Sykes Piccot and the Balfour Declaration
  • The British Mandate of Palestine: British visions for Jerusalem
  • The Arab Revolt
  • Arab-Jewish interaction: engagement, collaboration, conflict
  • The End of the Mandate – prosperity, terror, illegal immigration and political confusion
  • 1948: Palestine’s Nakba and Israel’s War of Independence
  • The enduring scars of 1948 in cultural memory
  • Israel between 1948 and 1967: the immigration of Middle Eastern and North African Jews and the question of Mizrahim (“Arab Jews”)
  • The birth of the PLO and the Armed Struggle
  • 1967 and Greater Israel: Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories
  • The first Palestinian uprising, the Intifada (1987-1991)
  • The Oslo Accords; the global and local context of the peace process
  • Palestinian citizens of Israel
  • Religious Fundamentalism in Israel and Palestine
  • From Rabin’s assassination to the second Intifada; the collapse of the peace process
  • Israel: Apartheid State or the Only Democracy in the Middle East? The debate on the “end of the two state solution”
  • Film screening: Arna’s children (2003, Juliano Mer Khamis)

Method of assessment

Assessment will be by two term essays of 2500 words each, submitted by the first days of Terms 2 and 3 respectively (20% of the total mark), and one three-hour written examination in May-June (80%).

Suggested reading

Basic bibliography:
  • Gelvin, J.L., 2007. The Israel-Palestine conflict: one hundred years of war, Cambridge University Press.
  • Smith, C.D., 2009. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents, Bedford/St. Martin’s.
  • Tamari, S., 2009. Mountain against the sea: essays on Palestinian society and culture, University of California Press.
  • Shindler, C., 2008. A history of modern Israel 1st ed., Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Pappe, I., 1999. The Israel/Palestine question, London: Routledge.
  • Kimmerling, B. & Migdal, J.S., 2003. The Palestinian People: A History, Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  • Sachar, H.M., 1996. A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time (Second Edition, Revised and Updated) 2nd ed., Knopf.
  • Morris, B., 1999. Righteous victims : a history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-1999 1st ed., New York: Knopf.
  • Khalidi, R. , 2006. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle Forstatehood, Boston: Beacon Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules